Bread & Circuses: Euergetism and Municipal Patronage in Roman Italy

By Kathryn Lomas; Tim Cornell | Go to book overview

6

IMPERIAL BUILDING AT ROME

The role of Constantine

E.D. Hunt


I

After his forces had routed Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312, Constantine entered Rome the following day to be greeted by the familiar protocol of imperial victory. 1 The traditional imagery of panegyric depicts senators and people thronging to hail their new-found liberator, who responded with the expected displays of triumphal generosity. Days of shows and games provided the opportunity for the populace to feast their eyes upon their benefactor, and bask in his liberality; while the Senate listened with appropriate gratification to imperial speeches denouncing the fallen régime, and restoring lost fortunes and ancient dignity (see principally Pan. Lat. 12(9).19-20, 4(10), 33-4). In the name of the whole of Italy, Constantine was accorded a golden shield and crown to honour his victory (Pan. Lat. 12(9).25.4). This official mood stands prominently reflected to this day in the surviving arch dedicated by a grateful SPQR to the liberator urbis who, in true Augustan fashion, had avenged the state on the tyrant and all his faction, and where scenes of traditional military success are complemented by reliefs which depict the emperor greeting, and bestowing largesse upon, his new Roman subjects arrayed before him. 2

The overthrow of Maxentius appears thus as the prelude to a classic parade of imperial beneficia enacted at the heart of the empire. Yet the political realities of Constantine's arrival in Rome were far less benign than these rhetorical images of conventional generosity. The scenes of celebration and largesse were pointedly accompanied by the grisly display of the severed head of Maxentius, detached from the mutilated body fished out of the Tiber and stuck on a spear (Pan. Lat. 12(9).18.3, 4(10).31-2; Origo Const. Imp. 12; Zos. 2.17.1). For Constantine's panegyrists this was a spectacle to arouse joy and ridicule in a populace freed from tyranny; but more realistically in the immediate aftermath of civil war it sent a grim message to erstwhile adherents of his defeated adversary. It is important not to under-estimate the extent of the Roman support which Maxentius' six-year régime had enjoyed, difficult though it is to penetrate the damning distortions of the Constantinian version of history, and despite the reputation for acts of savagery and financial exorbitance which clung to his government: the fact remains

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Bread & Circuses: Euergetism and Municipal Patronage in Roman Italy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Patron as Banker 12
  • 2 - Public Building, Urban Renewal and Euergetism in Early Imperial Italy 28
  • 3 - The Development of Public Entertainment Venues in Rome and Italy 46
  • 4 - Euergetism in Its Place 61
  • 5 - The Emperor and the Cities of Italy 89
  • 6 - Imperial Building at Rome 105
  • 7 - Favor Populi 125
  • 8 - 'Restored Utility, Eternal City' 142
  • Index 167
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