A City of Marble: The Rhetoric of Augustan Rome

A City of Marble: The Rhetoric of Augustan Rome

A City of Marble: The Rhetoric of Augustan Rome

A City of Marble: The Rhetoric of Augustan Rome


In A City of Marble, Kathleen Lamp argues that classical rhetorical theory shaped the Augustan cultural campaigns and that in turn the Augustan cultural campaigns functioned rhetorically to help Augustus gain and maintain power and to influence civic identity and participation in the Roman Principate (27 b. c. e.--14 c. e.).Lamp begins by studying rhetorical treatises, those texts most familiar to scholars of rhetoric, and moves on to those most obviously using rhetorical techniques in visual form. She then arrives at those objects least recognizable as rhetorical artifacts, but perhaps most significant to the daily lives of the Roman people--coins, altars, wall painting. This progression also captures the development of the Augustan political myth that Augustus was destined to rule and lead Rome to greatness as a descendant of the hero Aeneas.A City of Marble examines the establishment of this myth in state rhetoric, traces its circulation, and finally samples its popular receptions and adaptations. In doing so, Lamp inserts a long-excluded though significant audience--the common people of Rome--into contemporary understandings of rhetorical history and considers Augustan culture as significant in shaping civic identity, encouraging civic participation, and promoting social advancement.Lamp approaches the relationship between classical rhetoric and Augustan culture through a transdisciplinary methodology drawn from archaeology, art and architectural history, numismatics, classics, and rhetorical studies. By doing so, she grounds Dionysius of Halicarnassus's claims that the Principate represented a renaissance of rhetoric rooted in culture and a return to an Isocratean philosophical model of rhetoric, thus offering a counterstatement to the "decline narrative" that rhetorical practice withered in the early Roman Empire. Thus Lamp's work provides a step toward filling the disciplinary gap between Cicero and the Second Sophistic.


The role of rhetoric in Rome after the fall of the republic has been debated for two thousand years. in City of Marble: the Rhetoric of Augustan Rome, Kathleen S. Lamp synthesizes scholarship from rhetorical studies and several related fields to create a fresh understanding of rhetorical theory and practice in the principate of Augustus, who ruled Rome from 27 B.C.E. to 14 C.E. Lamp finds that rhetoric in the Augustan age was deeply rooted in earlier rhetorical theories and practices, that it was civic in its themes, that it was widely practiced, and that rhetoric was both verbal and visual, practiced in epideictic oratory, coins, altars, images, wall paintings, public buildings, city planning, and monuments, all working to define the state and the civic role of audiences high and low.

Lamp argues that Augustus was faced with the rhetorical problems not only of how to consolidate his rule in Rome, but also how to create a new system of government and to create rhetoric that defined, legitimized, and popularized it. Enlarging the scope of rhetoric beyond forensic, deliberative, and epideictic speechmaking to include visual and other media, Lamp illustrates, is not simply a projection of twenty-first-century rhetorical perspectives onto Roman rhetoric; rather, Roman rhetoricians themselves included these media in their theories and their practices. a detailed review of Roman theories and beliefs permits Lamp and her reader to engage the multimediated rhetorical practices of Augustan Rome in rhetorical terms—as the Romans themselves would have experienced and understood them.

Beginning with the Ara Pacis—the Augustan Altar of Peace—Lamp illustrates the development of the Augustan myth, which rooted the principate in the stories of Aeneas and of Romulus and Remus, establishing sole authority without identifying with the mythically expelled system of Roman kings. She shows how the development of the Augustan myth appealed to and gave a role to the common people of Rome. This was not democracy, but it was broadly popular civic participation, and, while it asserted the authority of the ruler, it implicitly acknowledged the obligation of the ruler to establish and sustain his legitimacy through rhetorical means that were widely shared.

                                                                             Thomas W. Benson . . .

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