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2005 Sarah Pothecary


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Last updated: September 2007

In AD 14, the emperor Augustus had died and been succeeded by his adopted son and heir, Tiberius. I take the view that Strabo started writing out the manuscript of the Geography some three years later, starting book one in AD 17 and finishing the last book (book seventeen) in AD 23. Page numbers in brackets below are references to Pothecary (2002), unless otherwise noted; see also Dueck (1999).

The key events to which Strabo makes reference are, in the order in which they appear in the narrative:

  • the disposition of legions by Tiberius in Hispania (Pothecary [2005b] 166-7)
  • the thirty-third year of peace in the Alps, reckoned from Tiberius’ military campaigns of 15 BC (398-9)
  • the existence of the tomb of Augustus, as well as the tombs of his relatives and friends, within the Mausoleum in Rome (388, n. 3)
  • the extinction of the Cappadocian royal line in AD 17 (405)
  • the fact that Tiberius has succeeded Augustus, and that Tiberius is helped by his sons Drusus and Germanicus (400)
  • the celebration by Germanicus of his military success in Germany, a celebration which took place in Rome in AD 17 (401, 427-9)
  • Strabo’s uncertainty over the contemporary situation in Cappadocia following its establishment as a Roman province in AD 18 (401-5)
  • the death of Archelaus (which marked the extinction of the Cappadocian line already noted) in AD 17 (403, 405-6)
  • the widow Pythodoris, who had been married to Archelaus and therefore became his widow in AD 17 (406)
  • the widowing of Pythodoris’ daughter, following the death of her husband, Cotys, in AD 18 or 19 (12.3.39 – overlooked in Pothecary [2002])
  • the earthquake which devastated several cities of Asia Minor in AD 17 (407)
  • the beneficence of Tiberius following the earthquake in AD 17 (407-8)
  • the enthronement of Zeno/Artaxias in Armenia in AD 18 (406-7, cp. 417-9)
  • the inclusion of the son of Theophanes of Mytilene among the closest associates of Tiberius
  • the surviving sons of the Persian king, implying the death of Vonones in AD 19 (424-5)
  • the incorporation of Commagene into Roman territory in AD 18 (408-9)
  • the death of Juba, king of Maurusia, in AD 23 (409-13)
  • Ptolemy’s succession to the throne of Maurusia following Juba’s death in AD 23 (411-2)

The recent succession of Tiberius should be borne in mind when interpreting Strabo. For example:

The building programme in Rome (Book 5.3.8)

  • Strabo notes the contributions of ‘the sons, friends, wife and sister of Augustus.’ The phrase ‘sons of Augustus’ repays closer scrutiny. Augustus had fathered no natural sons, but he had adopted various relatives, who had then been treated as sons for inheritance and succession purposes. Augustus had adopted his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, in 17 BC but they had died while still young, in AD 4 and AD 2 respectively. The current emperor, Tiberius, had been adopted by Augustus in AD 4. Strabo uses the phrase ‘the sons of Tiberius’ (6.4.2) to mean Drusus and Germanicus, the former being Tiberius’ natural son and the latter his adopted son. Strabo’s two phrases – ‘the sons of Augustus’ and ‘the sons of Tiberius’ -- emphasise the legitimacy of the dynastic position of all three individuals, Tiberius, Drusus and Germanicus. Tiberius is the linchpin: Tiberius’ adoption as a son of Augustus had brought both Tiberius and Drusus into the Julian family of Augustus; and had enabled Tiberius to bring Germanicus likewise into the Julian family by adopting Germanicus (also AD 4).
  • As concerns buildings in Rome by Augustus’ ‘sons,’ Gaius and Lucius had been too young to make any real contribution, although a colonnade had been erected by Augustus in their names in 2 BC and possibly another in AD 12. The contribution of Tiberius was greater, including the rebuilding of the temples of Castor and Concord (while Augustus was still emperor) and several projects in the first few years of his own reign. These latter projects were generally represented as the completion of projects begun under Augustus: in AD 16, Tiberius dedicated the temple of Fors Fortuna and an arch near the temple of Saturn; in AD 17, he dedicated the three temples of Flora, Janus and Ceres. (It may be that the recent completion of the latter lies behind Strabo’s cryptic remark on the ‘recent disappearance’ of a famous Greek painting, taken by the Romans after they sacked Corinth in 146 BCE; the painting had hung in the temple of Ceres until the temple was burnt in a fire in 31 BC: 8.6.23; Pothecary [2005a], 13).
  • Strabo notes that Augustus’ Mausoleum in Rome contains the tombs of Augustus’ ‘relatives,’ as well as Augustus himself. Augustus had ordered the construction of the Mausoleum in ca 28 BCE, well in advance (as it would turn out) of his own death. There had followed a period of over forty years during which relatives who died might, if Augustus wished it, be interred in the Mausoleum. Marcellus (nephew and, briefly, son-in-law of Augustus) and Drusus (Augustus’ stepson) were definitely interred in the Mausoleum. Octavia (Augustus’ sister), Lucius (Augustus’ adopted son) and Gaius (also adopted) were probably interred there. Thus, by the time the remains of Augustus himself were laid in the Mausoleum, it already contained the remains of those relatives who had predeceased him in 23 BC (Marcellus) and 9 BC (Drusus); and, probably, of those who had predeceased him in 11 BC (Octavia), AD 2 (Lucius) and AD 4 (Gaius).

In AD 19, the Mausoleum was to receive the remains of Augustus’ grandson, Germanicus; and in AD 23, the remains of another grandson, Drusus. These deaths lay in the future when Strabo wrote about the ‘relatives of Augustus’ in Book 5; but they had come to pass by the time that Strabo wrote the concluding book of the Geography in AD 23. Strabo’s words in Book 5 thus came to have a greater compass than he had originally intended.

  • Strabo refers to a ‘wall of white marble around Augustus’ place of cremation.’ It is likely that Augustus had chosen his future place of cremation well in advance of his death, just as he had chosen the place where his ashes would be interred and had built the Mausoleum for this precise purpose. It is less certain that Augustus had himself built the ‘wall of white marble.’ Andrew Gallia has drawn my attention to an article by Boatwright (AJA 89, 485 ff), with its observation that such monuments were probably built after, rather than for, the cremation. Gallia thus raises the possibility that the ‘wall of white marble’ was a Tiberian construction. At any rate, Gallia considers it unsafe to conclude that the wall of white marble must be of Augustan date purely on the basis that Strabo mentions it: see Gallia’s review (BMCR 2007.08.21) of Paul Rehak, Imperium and Cosmos. Augustus and the Northern Campus Martius. Edited by John G. Younger (Madison, WI:  The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006).
  • Strabo makes a general reference to the amazement felt by ‘one’ (Strabo certainly had the experience himself: Dueck [2000a]) on seeing the fora, basilicas, temples, and works of art housed on the Capitol and Palatine. Strabo refers to the colonnade of Livia by name. Livia was, of course, Tiberius’ mother. The colonnade had been dedicated in 7 BC as part of the triumph celebrated by Tiberius in that year.

More generally, the Geography reflects Tiberian literary tastes. Tiberius was known for his interest in and appreciation of literature written in Greek, and for his predilection for geography, mythology and Homeric studies. From a political point of view, Strabo’s omissions (for example, his failure to mention Gaius Caesar at all, let alone his eastern campaigns of AD 1) are the result of the desire by Strabo to avoid subjects which might not meet with Tiberius’ approval.