Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Old Forum of Lepcis Magna, beside the Severan exhedra
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
193 CE to 235 CE
Moulded statue base. The inscription is found on one face within a moulded panel.
Width: 74 cm
Height: 180 cm
Depth: 70 cm
AE 1926: 159
This inscription records a dedication to the wife of the emperor Septimius Severus, Julia Domna; it associates her with the goddess Juno, in an apparent echo of the relief decoration of the Tetrapylon Arch dedicated to the emperor in his hometown of Lepcis Magna. It is an important text for demonstrating the role of Julia Domna in Severan imperial ideology, and her individual significance in public acts of dedication, particularly in the North African provinces.
The inscription is found on a statue base in the Forum Vetus (‘old’ Forum) of the city, close to the portico of the Forum. It was dedicated by one Quintus Fulvius Dida Bibulianus, in “fulfillment of a vow” (votum solvit); the same dedicator appears again in a further inscription from Lepcis Magna (IRT 572), in which he and his wife honour her brother, a prefect of the city responsible for various municipal duties including the regulation of inheritances. In this inscription, Dida Bibulianus has dedicated a statue base to the emperor’s wife Julia Domna, awarding her the honorific title Augusta, “empress”, but it is the phrase that follows at the end of line 2-3 that reveals the extent of her influence and importance. Julia Domna is described as dea Iuno orbis terrae, or “goddess Juno, of the world”. The association had also been made on the Tetrapylon Arch of Septimius Severus in Lepcis, which is believed to have been dedicated to the emperor and his family by the members of the municipal elite (see Tetrapylon Arch of Septimius Severus). The north-eastern exterior panel of the arch contained a relief depicting a scene of sacrifice; the imperial family is shown with other figures – presumably dignitaries – to witness the sacrifice of two oxen. Although now lost, the centre of the relief is believed to have depicted the figure of Roma or Virtus, with Julia Domna and Caracalla to the left and Septimius Severus and Geta to the right (see Kleiner’s description, Roman Sculpture, p. 343; Newby, “Art at the crossroads,” p. 209). Francesca Ghedini has argued that this representation of Julia Domna was deliberately placed on a perfect axis with the depiction of Juno, sitting in the background, suggesting the empress’s role as her earthly counterpart (Ghedini, Giulia Domna tra oriente e occidente, p. 80-88; p. 125). Although the association between the goddess and Julia Domna is only cautiously identified in this relief panel, Ghedini noted that in a relief decorating the interior of the south-western side of the arch, the imperial family is again depicted in which Julia Domna is almost “transfigured into the goddess” (Ghedini, Giulia Domna tra oriente e occidente, p. 125). Julia-Juno is represented on this inner relief along with Septimius, who bears the attributes of Jupiter, including the sacred peacock at his feet, and a third figure who may have been intended to be Minerva, linking the imperial couple to the Capitoline Triad (Bartoccini, “L'Arco quadrifronte dei Severi a Lepcis,” p. 80). Although the lettering of the inscription is not fully legible at the precise point at which Julia is described as Juno in this inscription, the evident association drawn between the empress and the goddess in these reliefs led Erich Ketterhofen to confirm the reading in his study of the dynasty (see Die syrischen Augustae in der historischen Überlieferung. Ein Beitrag zum Problem der Orientalisierung, p. 125). This was finally corroborated by a further inscription from North Africa, discovered at Vicus Maracitanus (Ksar Toual Zammer in Tunisia), which was dedicated to Iovi Optimo Maximo Lucio Septimio Severo Augusto Iunoni Reginae Iuliae Domnae (“to Jupiter Optimus Maximus Lucius Septimius Severus Augustus (and) to Queen Juno Julia Domna”; see AE 1949, 109). This association between Domna and Juno is attested epigraphically only in North Africa, and has been interpreted by Barbara Levick as an indication of the “universalizing tendencies” that were implied by the Antonine title ‘Lord’ – dominus – of the inhabited world; although Julia Domna was “debarred…from formal power” because of her gender, the title Augusta and the association with Juno orbis terrae symbolised her precedence over the entire inhabited world, “or, in its extreme form, the universe” (Levick, Julia Domna, p. 131). Francesca Ghedini also noted the sense of supreme power suggested by the association, suggesting that it was the specific aspects of the Capitoline Juno that were attributed to the Augusta; this link with the most important cult of the Roman pantheon emphasised Julia Domna’s political importance in a way that although not formally recognised by the Roman imperial system, was suitably honoured by her characterisation as one of Rome’s most important goddesses (Ghedini, Giulia Domna tra oriente e occidente, p. 127).
There was a further reason to make the association too; Livia, the wife of the first emperor of Rome, had also been identified with Juno on coinage and in inscriptions throughout the emperor, in “an inevitable comparison to balance Augustus’ association with Jupiter” (Barrett, Livia, p. 209). Coins from Thessaly, Pergamum and Tarsus identified Livia with Hera, Juno’s Greek counterpart, and in inscriptions dedicated after the Battle of Actium she was honoured as Iunoni Liviae; Anthony Barrett has suggested that the dedication was to “the Juno of Livia” rather than “Juno Livia”, as an attendant spirit rather than direct personification, but the divine quality and association was clear, and it was this that the characterisation of Julia Domna appears to have attempted to emulate (Barrett, Livia, p. 209). Other titles and epithets honouring Julia Domna also attest to the Livian-model in which the empress had firmly cast herself; the importance of family and the assertions of stability that the new Severan dynasty brought to the empire were messages inspired directly by Livia’s presentation as the ‘mother’ of the Julio-Claudian line, a fact emphasised by Julia Domna’s restoration and patronage of the temple of Fortuna Muliebris in Rome. The temple and its cult were strongly connected with marriage and themes of family life, and had been founded by Livia in her role as the mater of Rome’s morals, as well as its future leaders (Hekster, Emperors and Ancestors, p. 146). From 202 CE onwards, Julia Domna was celebrated as mater Augustorum (“mother of the emperors”) and even as mater castrorum (“mother of the camps”) emphasising her popularity amongst the military. In every sphere of public life Julia Domna was presented as an essential component of the dynasty, and in such a way that recalled the presentation of the first empress, Livia, and her own divine associations (Hekster, Emperors and Ancestors, p. 147). Although the inscriptions honouring and assimilating Julia Domna with Juno are only found in North Africa, the imperial message of her divine potential and significance was promoted and understood empire wide. It drew on the precedents set by the first Augusta but was stated more directly than previous presentations had permitted; the relief decoration of the arch in Lepcis Magna visually communicated the association of goddess and empress, with the success of that communication indicated by its explicit description in this inscription.
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