- Emperors and Emperorship in Late Antiquity. Images and Narratives ed. by María Pilar García Ruiz, Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas
Since the second half of the last century, and increasingly in recent years, both late antiquity and the Byzantine age have received renewed attention. This volume of collected essays, edited by M.P. García Ruiz and A.J. Quiroga Puertas, pertains to this milieu of "rediscovery," reinforced by the many research methodologies contained within. The collection aims to shed fresh light on an historical period which continues to benefit from detailed analysis. Two principal starting points for this project were the Spanish government-funded Romanitas Principum, directed by García Ruiz, and the 2017 workshop it sponsored, Emperors and Emperorship in Late Antiquity: Images and Narratives. The authors adopted a "multimodal approach" (García Ruiz 2021: 3), i.e., a method suitable to develop a multi-level reflection about the perceptions and values of emperorship throughout the fourth century, a crucial period for the construction of the image of an emperor's power, especially because of the influence of religion.
The thread that links the nine chapters details "how (the emperor) became a symbol upon which politics, culture and religion ultimately converged" (García Ruiz 2021: 1). Therefore, the book aims to illustrate the images of the fourth century emperors as they appear from very different sources, in order to create a portrait of them from several perspectives. The basileis taken into consideration are, of course, Constantine (Chapters 1–3), Julian (Chapters 4–5), Valens, the two Valentinians up to Theodosius I (Chapters 6–9), thus covering the whole century, from 305 to 395 AD.
Within the first section, devoted to Constantine, the reader travels from the representation of the "internal enemy within public media in imperial Rome" (García Ruiz 2021: 15), with particular attention to the ways of designating the tyrant in Rome (tyrannus, usually drawn as a drakon), to the iconographical program on the Arch of Constantine, but also to Eusebius' panegyrics addressed to the emperor, very close to the so-called basilikos logos.
The next two chapters, on Julian, although they comprise the shortest part of the volume, connects many interesting points. Chapter 4 is about the emperor's work The Caesars (the English translation still in use is by W. Cave Wright, The Works of the Emperor Julian, II vol., Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1913), in which García Ruiz highlights the strategies adopted by Julian to present and depict his predecessors. On the other hand, Chapter 5 emerges as the most fascinating part of the entire volume. This chapter, by Á. Sánchez-Ostiz, is about the natural phenomena (falling stars, comets, eclipses, rainbows) that Ammianus Marcellinus records in reference to some of Julian's actions. This analysis is particularly attractive not only for the great importance that the ancients accorded those signs, but also for the threefold interpretations that the historian gives them: the points of view of the people in general, the narrator himself, and of the character to whom the event refers (pp. 117–119). The emperor oscillates between acceptance and rejection of the celestial signals and this is just one of the traits that express Julian's internal problematics. On this particular basileus it is worth mentioning, at least, the recent book Giuliano. L'imperatore filosofo e sacerdote che tentò la restaurazione del paganesimo (Roma, Salerno Editrice, 2019) by A. Marcone, in which the Italian scholar traces a [End Page 95] deeply detailed overview of the last pagan emperor and the cultural and social peculiarities of his time.
The third and last section covers the period from the first "separation" of the imperial power (Valens and Valentinian I) to Theodosius the Great, under which Christianity assumed the features of a state religion. This part pays specific attention to artistic representations, particularly in portraiture on statues and coins (see Chapter 6 by Guidetti), but also to particular events. In...