Over a north-south road in Segusio (Susa), Italian Alps, which linked Italy with Gaul.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
13 BCE to 9 BCE
Single, free standing archway over a road. The arch is made of white marble – possibly Forest or Chianocco – with a grey limestone base and column plinths. The corners are marked by three-quarter height columns with Corinthian capitals, which support an entablature decorated with a frieze relief. The four-line inscription is found on the north and south sides of the arch, above the entablature, and was originally inlaid with bronze letters.
This inscription records the dedication of a monumental arch to the emperor Augustus by the leader of a native dynasty – the Cottians – from the central region of the western Alps. It is an important text for understanding not only the Roman approach to so-called ‘client kings’ and ‘friendship’ with foreign kingdoms, but also for how a relationship with Rome might be presented and legitimised by a native dynasty to their domestic audience (Roncaglia, Client Prefects, p. 353).
The central and western Alps were finally conquered and pacified by Rome at the end of the first century BCE. Augustus had campaigned in the region over the course of more than two decades, with military action taking place on a number of occasions in 35-34 BCE and again in 28-27 BCE (see Strabo, Geography, IV.6.6-7; Cassius Dio, Roman History, LIII.25.3-5), but the area was not fully pacified until 14 BCE, when the native inhabitants of the majority of these regions were brought under Roman control and reorganised into different administrative districts (Pothecary, Strabo, p. 387-438). However, the central region of the western Alps was left to the control of the Cottians, who governed it as ‘friends’ of the Roman state, creating what Fergus Millar described as a “two-level monarchy” in which the native power performed an indirect version of Roman rule over their territory and people (Millar, Rome, the Greek world and the east, p. 224. For a survey of allied kings under Rome, see Braund, Rome and the Friendly King). Although often described as ‘client kings,’ this phrase does not appear in the ancient sources, who refer rather to ‘allied kings’ (reges socii) or ‘friends of the Roman people’ (amici populi Romani) to describe this classification of arrangement (Roncaglia, Rome and the Cottians, p. 354). The ‘friendship’ of Rome was an ideological tactic employed particularly by Augustus to convey the positive nature of Roman accord and the benefits that it might bring, as well as supporting the presentation of Roman conquest as ‘just’ and ‘merciful’. In the context of the arch dedicated at Susa, however, it is possible to identify the way that this friendship was presented by the favoured leader of the Cottians M. Iulius Cottius who dedicates the arch, and how it was used to construct a particular version of the power relationship that existed between Rome and this native dynasty.
The inscription on the arch dedicated to Augustus reveals that rather than accepting subjugation by Rome, Cottius sought to play an active role in the new administration in order to retain his own personal authority, and that of his descendants. This is clear from the titles that Cottius uses to describe himself; although he had inherited the monarchy from his father, Domnus, he is careful to draw a clear distinction between their roles. Cottius is Marcus Julius Cottius (Marcus Iulius…Cottius), demonstrating that his loyalty to Rome had been rewarded with Roman citizenship, which enabled him to adopt the tria nomina, including the nomen of the imperial household – Julius – as well as a praenomen ‘Marcus’, possibly in honour of Augustus’s adopted son Marcus Agrippa, who was also honoured with inscriptions of dedication in Segusio (Cresci Marrone, Segusio e il processo di intergrazione, p. 52-3). The tria nomina was a mark of citizenship, which must have been bestowed upon Cottius in return for accepting Rome’s occupation of the region. He is also defined by his title, ‘prefect’ (praefectus). Cottius follows Roman naming practice by also acknowledging his family line, stating that he is the son of Donnus (filius…Donni), but it is here that he makes the distinction most keenly felt, through the definition of his father as a king (rex). It is to be assumed that this was a title that Cottius himself had inherited, but that was given up in favour of the Roman praefectus as part of the agreement to the new alliance. Whether this was done voluntarily or by force is not possible to say, but it is clear that Cottius accepted the title as a means of maintaining his own personal prestige and superiority within the new context of Roman rule. His former royal status is indicated by the filiation given in his nomenclature, but it is clear that Cottius is aware of the power of Roman titles and has thus chosen to define himself according to this new set of standards and identifications. Cottius was not simply a praefectus, however. The inscription reveals that he was a praefectus civitatium, or a ‘prefect of communities,’ the list of which he governed given in lines 3-4 of the inscription. This is not a widely used prefecture in the Roman provinces, and it is in fact unattested until the example of Cottius in the final decade of the first century BCE (Roncaglia, Client Prefects, p. 357). In the early principate there were a few further instances in which the title was given, usually in order to describe the governorship of areas only recently brought under the administration of Rome and under Augustus (Cornwell, “The King who would be Prefect,” p. 52. For a list of other attestations, see ibid., p. 52-3). By accepting this title, not only was Cottius agreeing to the alliance, but agreeing to it on terms that appeared to suit both Rome and his own agenda; Cottius was now praefectus, rather than rex, which supported Augustus’s claims to have ‘conquered’ the entire Alpine region, and yet the title also indicated a position of authority within the Roman state without having to define it too precisely (Roncaglia, Client Prefects, p. 358).
Cottius’s willingness to acquiesce in such a way can perhaps be understood by the list of tribes governed by him that follows the definition of titles in the inscription. Fourteen tribes or communities are listed as sub eo praefecto fuerunt (‘they were under this prefect’), emphasising their relative positions in respect to his own prefecture. There has been some debate in the scholarship regarding exactly who these communities were, however, with some – such as Cesare Letta – suggesting that ‘fuerunt’ should be understood as referring to a second group of unnamed communities, who were once governed by Cottius but which had been released from his administration by the time the arch was dedicated, and yet whom were party to the dedication alongside him (Letta, La dinastia dei Cozii, p. 37-76; Postille sulle iscrizioni, p. 112-127; see Cornwell, “The King who would be Prefect,” p. 53-5, esp. n. 61 for a synthesis of this argument). Those tribes named in the inscription were therefore those that remained under his leadership. However, as Hannah Cornwell has rightly noted, it would be extremely odd “to have a group of civitates who are not named, following a group of civitates who are…particularly if we are claiming that they are co-dedicants of the arch” (“The King who would be Prefect,” p. 55). She suggests that rather than focusing on the dedication to Augustus, the inscription should be considered as an expression of Cottius’s – and his community’s – new position in the Roman world, with the list of tribes governed by him given to emphasise the territorial boundaries of his control (Cornwell, “The King who would be Prefect,” p. 55-6). This may indeed have been the primary benefit of accepting Roman rule; not only did the end of hostilities bring peace – and therefore survival – to the region and its inhabitants, but the Roman reorganisation of the area expanded the extent of Cottian territory, as far as Ocelum in the west, to the border of the Maritime Alps in the south and perhaps as far as the Orco river in the north (Strabo, Geography, IV.1.3; Prieur, La province romaine des Alpes cottiennes, p. 21-6; 92-107). Segusio, the main stronghold of Cottian territory, was a strategic point in the Alpine passes that divided Italy from Gaul; they commanded control over three of these passes, which was of obvious interest to Rome in terms of the possibilities of access and communication that this offered (Cornwell, “The King who would be Prefect,” p. 48). There was an ideological component to the Alps too, with many ancient authors describing them as ‘walls’ (moenia or mures), emphasising their protective nature as a barrier that protected Rome and her interests from the dangers beyond (Servius, Aeneid, X.13; Livy, History of Rome, XXI. 35; Polybius, Histories, III.54.2; see Prieur, La province romaine des Alpes cottiennes, p. 54-9). Securing Cottian territory was therefore of practical and ideological importance to Rome, which Cottius himself exploited in order to maintain his own position. By accepting inclusion into the Roman state, and a role in that administration as praefectus,Cottius was able to extend the geographic region over which he had power and ensure his continued prominence, factors that are both celebrated in the inscription on the arch at Segusio.
Some mention must be made of the frieze relief that decorated the entablature of the arch; when read together with the inscription it is clear that the monument as a whole served a commemorative function. The friezes on the north and south sides of the arch, above the inscription, depict a scene of suovetaurilia, in which a pig, sheep and bull were sacrificed to Mars in order to bless and purify the land. As Carolynn Roncaglia has stated, to commemorate such an archetypal Roman ceremony on the arch suggests that Cottius was deliberately playing up his new Roman status to his local audience, emphasising and celebrating his partnership with the Roman state (Client Prefects, p. 360). On the west side of the arch, the relief has been understood as a celebration of the friendship (amicitia) of Augustus and Cottius, or a depiction of the census taking place (Felletti Maj, Il fregio commemorativo dell’arco di Susa p. 135-6; Calvi, Osservazioni sul fregio dell’arco di Susa,p. 121-2). The eastern side of the relief detail is badly weathered and therefore hard to read, but it is possible that it depicts a similar scene, based on the pairing of narrative units on the north-south sides (Cornwell, (“The King who would be Prefect,” p. 58). Jean Prieur suggested a continuous narrative that started on the east side with a scene of the submission of the Cottians, followed by the celebration of a sacrifice on the north side, the creation of the prefecture on the west side of the frieze, and a final sacrifice to confirm the office ending the narrative on the south (Prieur, La province romaine des Alpes cottiennes, p. 196-9). However, as Hannah Cornwell has demonstrated, this reading is problematic owing to the placement of the arch across a road, giving the monument two ‘starting points’ from which its message can be read. The fact that the inscription is also placed above the same scene of sacrifice on the north and south sides of the arch again indicates that we are dealing with two self-contained scenes rather than one continuous narrative (Cornwell, (“The King who would be Prefect,” p. 60). In the depiction of the ‘friendship’/census on the lateral sides of the arch, fourteen figures wearing togas and holding scrolls can be seen, who are perhaps representative of the fourteen tribes listed in the inscription as under Cottius’s government. If this is the case, then the frieze was clearly intended to be read with the inscription, providing a visual illustration of the power relationship that the text described.
As well as the construction of the arch, the location at which it was set also made a statement about Cottius’s new role in relation to Rome; the arch spanned a road built through Cottian territory by him, monumentalising the Col de Montgenève, the lowest major pass in the western Alps (Roncaglia, Client Prefects, p. 363). An account of the road built by Cottius is found in Ammianus Marcellinus, who described it as a ‘remarkable gift’ (Res Gestae, XV.10.2: ‘memorabilis muneris’), emphasising the euergetism of the act. However, the building of the road, and the commemorative archway that marked it, was enormously symbolic; the road linked Cottius’s territory to the surrounding area, all of which now lay under Roman control, making accessible to him the road and river systems of southern Gaul and northern Italy, which improved trade and communication, and by extension his popularity in the region. The actions of Cottius, although steeped in the language of the Roman administration, were clearly aimed at a domestic audience; he presented his place within the context of Roman government, but in a way that avoided any suggestion of subjugation. Unlike the victory monument at La Turbie (Tropaeum Alpium – Trophy of the Alps (7/6 BCE)), which celebrated Augustus’s domination of the Gallic tribes, the arch at Susa was an overt statement of Cottius’s integration in the administration of Rome. Rather than appearing to capitulate to Rome, Cottius used the visual language and infrastructure of the Augustan regime, as well as a new name and title, to emphasise the active partnership of his dynasty with the Roman state. In the construction of the arch, Cottius played up the powerfully ambiguous nature of his position, a Roman prefect descended from kings, but fully immersed in the organisation of the region by his Roman colleagues. The arch at Susa is an excellent example of how a local leader was able to engage with Rome’s interests and image of their empire, whilst maintaining some semblance of autonomy. Cottius ‘integrated himself into Roman power structures...[transforming] his pre-existing position of authority into something palatable to Rome…[illustrating] the malleability of provincial administration in the early principate’ (Cornwell, “The King who would be Prefect,” p. 46).