- The Shape of the Roman Order: The Republic and Its Spaces by Daniel J. Gargola
Early in the Aeneid, the goddess Venus pronounces what would become one of the poem's most resonant questions: quem das finem, rex magne, laborum? (1.241). What limit is there to toil, she asks Jupiter, and though the poem continually redefines what an "end" or "limit" might actually mean, the great god doesn't miss a beat: imperium sine fine dedi, he says, drawing out an empire bound by neither space nor time, forever reinventing its own capacity for acquisition and glory. It should surprise nobody that Vergil has his finger on more than just a poetic pulse; as Daniel Gargola shows in this new book, Romans throughout their history were concerned with the question of fines: what boundaries could be drawn, where, and what, in the end, was contained within them.
How would a Roman have envisioned his (I use the masculine pronoun advisedly) world? He would have been familiar, one presumes, with the highways and byways of his native city, and, whether or not he was political, he would have frequented the Roman forum, as viewer or participant in the city's political and legal dramas. Beyond Rome, the picture might have grown more hazy, but just as today the infrastructure of mass transportation—highways and airports and train stations—shapes the way we know the world, so too Rome's system of roads indelibly shaped the way Romans inhabited theirs. It was along Rome's expanding systems of roads that magistrates and armies traveled, and in consequence it was those routes and the people living along them who saw the ebb and flow of an empire at work. Roads determined the order of the Roman tribes—a Parisian centrifuge emanating from the center along the routes of the radial road system—and the regions of Italy. And while roads were not the only [End Page 350] means by which Romans organized their geography of empire, the basic fact of their existence suggests the primary rhythm of Roman life: in and out of the city, a drumbeat of departure and return.
This rhythm, and the people who enacted it, are the main organizing principle of Gargola's book. At the heart of it are the Roman elite, and specifically its magistrates, who acted in and outside of Rome on behalf of the Roman people, and whose sphere of operation needed to be carefully defined and regulated. All the more so the further from hearth and home: regulating mechanisms came dense and close together in the city, less so the further away one got. Here, the augurs play a primary role, and Gargola's discussion of them begins to make sense of what is often a bewildering and obscure discipline. The augurs were a college of priests charged with taking the auspices, the better to ensure divine goodwill towards Rome and its various endeavors. In order to do so, they defined templa (demarcated areas in the sky or on the ground) which bound the auspicant's field of vision and limited was what fair game for interpretation. The preoccupation with boundaries is here generalized: "the augurs clearly were concerned with movement across spaces and a magistrate's changing relationship with the center and its gods while doing so" (143).
Not all movement was created equal. At the center, regulation was dense and longstanding, to the point where magistrates presiding over the elections, for instance, might have observed a "series of auspications" (137) as they moved across various types of spaces. First the pomerium, Rome's sacred boundary, then the amnis Petronia, which flowed between the city and the site of the elections at the campus Martius, and finally when they arrived at the site of the elections itself. Whether Roman magistrates, busy people all, actually observed all the scruples of their religion is ultimately unknown, but the density of spatial parsing at the center...