Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Beneath (in front of?) the Temple of Vespasian, Roman Forum, Rome.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inventory number: NCE 2529
135 CE Sep 15th to 135 CE Dec 9th
Fragment of a marble slab, originally c. 2m in length. Werner Eck has noted that shape of the slab is indicative that it was originally attached to a small arch or statue base (Eck, “Hadrian, the Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Epigraphic transmission”, p. 162).
Height: 90 cm
Width (of surviving fragment): 70 cm
Letter heights: 0.13-0.062 cm
CIL VI, 974 = CIL VI, 40524
Excavated from beneath the remains of the podium and three columns of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus in the Roman Forum, this fragment was originally part of a dedicatory inscription that accompanied an honorific monument for the Emperor Hadrian. Although the text is heavily restored and we cannot be certain that the proposed reconstruction reflects the missing fragment of the dedication, the wording of the inscription and its location beneath the Temple of Vespasian nonetheless suggests that in the capital of the Empire, Hadrian’s victory against Bar Kokhba was presented as a continuation of the Flavian conquest of the Jews.
The inscription records that a monument of some kind was dedicated to Hadrian by the Senate and the People of Rome (Senatus populusque Romanus); Werner Eck has noted that the shape and size of the surviving panel indicates that it most likely adorned an honorific arch or a large base, either of which likely supported a monumental statue of the emperor, much like the arch and statue dedicated to him at Tel Shalem (Eck, “Hadrian, the Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Epigraphic Transmission,” p. 162). Following the identification of the dedicators, Hadrian’s official titles are given, from which a date of 15 September – 9 December 135 CE can be securely established, based on the second acclamation as emperor and the number of times that he had held the tribunician power (tribunicia potestas) (see the data given in Eck and Foertster, Triumphbogen, p. 312). The final three lines of the inscription contain the most interesting details of the text; if Geza Alföldy’s reconstruction is correct, they praise the Roman war effort against the Jews and record that Hadrian is being honoured by the city of Rome because he “liberated Syria Palestina from the enemy” (Syriam Palaestinam ab hoste liberaverit). ‘Syria Palestina’ was the new name that had been given to the province of Judea following the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt; it was a deliberate move by Rome to abolish all trace of the Jewish presence there and assert Rome’s presence as the ruling force. The province is presented as entirely Romanised, with the Jews blatantly characterised as an enemy (hostis) from which Rome and her interests must be protected; although not explicitly referred to as such in the inscription, the inference of the text was that the enemy against which Rome had been forced to fight did not belong in the province; they were ‘foreign,’ no longer connected to the land in which they were fighting by name or religious practice.
If restored correctly, the inscription also recorded that the army sent to Syria-Palestina by Hadrian was “fighting with great enthusiasm” (summo pugnandi ardore). The losses suffered by the Roman army possibly resulted in the emergency transfer of legions (see Conscription in the Roman provinces for further discussion of this issue) from across the empire to support the campaign, and Cassius Dio reported that the war had grown so serious that Hadrian omitted the customary salutation to the Senate reporting the good health of the army (Roman History 69.14.3; for the movement of legions, see Eck, “Bar Kokhba,” p. 76-89; for a contrary interpretation, see Mor, “Geographical Scope”, p. 107-131). The conjectured statement of the army’s enthusiasm for the war in the inscription here is perhaps an attempt to reformulate the nature of the conflict for the senatorial audience of the capital; the dire state faced by Rome’s military has been replaced with a permanent record of the ideal martial attitude, and the great general who led them. Interesting.
As well as the text of the inscription, the location selected for this honorific monument is certainly worthy of note. It appears to have been set up beneath the Temple of Vespasian and Titus on the slope of the Capitoline Hill in the Forum of the city of Rome. This temple had been begun by Titus at the end of 79 CE and was completed by Domitian, following his brother’s death in 81 CE. It is mentioned in an inscription of the Arval Brothers in 87 CE, so must have been completed and dedicated by this date (De Angeli, Templum Divi Vespasiani, p. 137). The Temple had been squeezed in between the Temple of Concordia and the Temple of Saturn, and alongside the much older precinct of the cult of the Deum Consortium (of the Harmonious Gods) which had been introduced to Rome in the late third century BCE (Claridge, Rome, p. 82-83). To its rear was the wall of the Tabularium on the Capitoline Hill, which gave the temple its odd, square shape. Werner Eck has suggested that this choice of location for a monument that potentially celebrated Hadrian’s victory and suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt was a deliberate attempt to align the emperor with the memory of the Flavian dynasty, whose conquest of the Jews had been memorialised in a series of monuments across the centre of Rome (see Temple of Peace, Flavian Amphitheatre, Arch of Titus, Arch of Titus (Circus Maximus)). The conquest of Judea had been formulated by the Flavians as the defining achievement of their rule, and they had advertised it as such on coinage and in architecture for the duration of their dynasty’s hold on power. By permitting the Senate to erect a monument in celebration of his victory against the Jews, Hadrian reformulated what had begun as a provincial rebellion as a continuation of Vespasian and Titus’s war against an external foreign enemy. The placement of this monument within sight of the Flavian temple made a clear statement of how Hadrian’s achievement should be considered, and the extent of its political importance (Eck, “Hadrian, Bar Kokhba and the Epigraphic Transmission”, p. 162-163).
This point gains even greater significance if we consider how the Bar Kokhba revolt may have appeared in the context of Hadrian’s reign as a whole. The Hellenic idealism with which he had approached much of his work across the empire had certainly improved the infrastructure and aesthetic of many of the places that he had visited, but it cannot have been without criticism from the senatorial elite of the city of Rome, who must have disdained on some level the blatant philohellenism of the emperor. The Bar Kokhba revolt, although devastating within the province of Judea and costly for Rome’s army, provided Hadrian with the opportunity to prove that he was as strong a military general as he was a patron of the arts; by physically joining his legions there, albeit briefly, he demonstrated the same martial virtus exemplified by other ‘good’ emperors, such as Vespasian and Titus (Speller, Following Hadrian, p. 205). By advertising a definitive conclusion to Rome’s interactions with the Jews, Hadrian was able to promote his popularity in the city of Rome, where his military success could be elevated to the same status and context as those of Rome’s earlier heroes. The construction of a monument in front of their Temple created a permanent visual link that emphasised the connection between the two sets of emperors and communicated the ‘public’ nature of the victory, won in the name of all Roman people and not simply for the emperor (Eck, “Hadrian, Bar Kokhba and the Epigraphic Transmission”, p. 165). If Geza Alföldy is correct, and the statue base did indeed refer to the new name of the province, Syria Palestina, then the monument was perhaps intended not only to connect Hadrian’s success with the celebrated victory of his predecessors, but even to show that his achievement was the greater. Vespasian and Titus’s subjugation of Judea had not lasted long into the following century, with Jewish communities in multiple locations rising up against Rome in a demonstration of their continued defiance of her control, but Hadrian had managed to put an end to their rebellion once and for all; he had banned them from their most holy city and renamed the entire province in a deliberate assertion of Rome’s political and religious superiority. His monument in the city of Rome was the final declaration that the matter was concluded.
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