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CJ-ONLINE  November 2007

CJ-ONLINE November 2007

Subject:

CJ-Online 2007.11.04 UZZI, Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome

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Mon, 26 Nov 2007 17:41:15 -0600

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Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome. By JEANNINE DIDDLE UZZI. 
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xiii + 252. Cloth, $80.00. 
ISBN 0–521–82026–X.

Order this text for $59.50 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
CAMWS and the Classical Journal: 

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20

Jeannine Diddle Uzzi (U.) is right that it is time for visual materials to 
be taken more seriously in studies of the Roman family and Roman 
expressions of imperialism. Unfortunately, her own analysis is inconsistent 
and denies the complexity of both the iconography and questions of culture 
and politics. Even so, this well-produced monograph with over 70 useful 
black-and-white photographs, Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome, 
makes a contribution to studies of Rome by drawing attention to valuable 
evidence and presenting it in careful detail.

The book presents images of children in official Roman art largely from the 
reigns of Augustus through Septimius Severus. Definitions for her terms are 
set forth in the second chapter, “Primary Sources.” U. focuses on 
anonymous, mortal children and explicitly excludes those from an imperial 
family, mythology, those shown serving as religious attendants and slaves. 
In explaining these choices, she discusses problems in identifying Roman 
concepts of youth and childhood, including use of the term “child” to 
indicate anyone deprived of knowledge or power, such as a slave, and how in 
art the size of human figures may similarly be used to indicate social 
hierarchy rather than age. U. then delineates her subject matter (p. 30):

For the purposes of this study … a child may be Roman or non-Roman as 
assessed by costume and hairstyle. A child may be either male or female or 
of indeterminate gender. Finally, I consider as children those who are 
ap-proximately one-half to two-thirds the size of adults of the same gender 
(if known), with round faces and bodies (again, if possible to determine), 
and without secondary sex characteristics or other indications of 
marriageability.

Art, for U., is “official” based on the patron being the emperor or a 
member of the ruling elite, a wide public audience and the “message or 
function of the work” (p. 17). The result is a corpus of images of 
approximately 140 children from 13 monuments, 9 sarcophagi and 11 coin 
types. Gathering these scenes and analyzing costumes, gestures, composition 
and artistic contexts adds significantly to the study of children in the 
Roman empire.

Although U.’s review of earlier scholarship focuses on studies of the Roman 
family and her desire to fill a gap in “the details of child life and the 
significance of children in their own right” (p. 10), in her introduction 
she situates her analysis within modern debates about the status of Rome as 
a “nation” and the nature of Roman imperialism. The book is organized 
around the primary thesis that the “contrast … between the official 
artistic contexts in which Roman and non-Roman children appear opens up a 
narrative of Roman identity in which Roman children act as the future of 
Roman citizenry, and non-Roman children appear as captive or submissive 
figures” (p. 1). After the methodological chapter discussed above, Chapters 
Three and Four present synchronically the contexts in which Roman children 
are depicted, including portrayals of imperial largesse, address 
(adlocutio), sacrifice, games and processions. Chapters Six, Seven and 
Eight discuss representations of non-Roman children, scenes of submission, 
triumphs and violent military activity, respectively. U. also addresses 
anecdotal issues of interpretation associated with particular monuments, 
most importantly the Anaglypha Traiani/Hadriani in Chapter Five and Ara 
Pacis Augustae in Chapter Nine.

U.’s larger conclusions are convincing. The contrast between the depiction 
of Roman children and their non-Roman counterparts is stark, and as a 
collective the images certainly work to create that distinction. U.’s 
insistence on her primary argument, however, at times obscures finer shades 
of analysis. For example, the method of separating the study of Roman and 
non-Roman children hides the manner in which a particular monument might 
work to construct such contrasts. Trajan’s column alone provides all the 
images of Roman children attending sacrifices, a good proportion of those 
at games and processions and by far the majority of scenes of non-Roman 
children in the midst of battlefield violence. Moreover, since none of the 
relevant scenes on the column takes place in Rome, who are these “Roman” 
children? The artists who crafted this monument must be presenting a more 
complex message about provincial membership in empire and the possibilities 
for those living on its frontier than U. allows.

U.’s insistence on the differences between “Roman” and “non-Roman” also 
leads her to dismiss similarities between depictions of the emperor 
interacting with the children in these groups (p. 159). Since she paints 
the Roman father as an absolute patriarch with the power of life and death 
over his children, she discusses the paternalism of the emperor only in the 
context of scenes of non-Roman children (p. 107). But there must be a 
reason why “Roman children … with a few notable exceptions … always appear 
in public gatherings before the emperor” (p. 33, emphasis mine). As many 
scholars have shown in recent years, the Roman father was a more complex 
cultural figure than this, and his roles included mastery over household 
slaves in addition to a more benign and beloved ideal relationship with his 
freeborn children. The Roman familia encompassed a number of groups that 
would have allowed artists to articulate the role of emperor as a father 
(Pater Patriae) while recognizing status distinctions among his charges or 
subjects. Recall U.’s observation that a Roman definition of childhood is 
difficult to perceive because associated terms and images were used 
analogously to identify those at the lower end of other status-hierarchies 
(p. 25). The notion that images of children both Roman and non-Roman were 
used to construct the emperor’s authority would have gone a long way toward 
explaining why such images arise in the imperial period, a question with 
which U. otherwise struggles (pp. 74–5).
 
Finally, U.’s aim of revising current theories of imperialism and 
Romanization fall short in the end, in this case due to overly simplistic 
readings of secondary sources. She complains that Ann Kuttner “presents a 
surprisingly positive view of Roman imperialism in which the emperor 
cherishes non-Romans” (p. 160). But Kuttner here is not describing the 
facts of life under the Romans; she is interpreting the message an ancient 
image was crafted to convey. As Kuttner herself writes two pages later (p. 
89),

…this formulation is all from the point of view of the rulers and not of 
the ruled. Images of submissive and grieving subject peoples are probably 
nearer the case as far as the feelings of the subjects themselves go. What 
we are interested in here, however, is the interpretation that the rulers 
put on their own rule.

U. too often misses this distinction.

The author draws attention to the fact that this book derives from her 1998 
dissertation (pp. 9, 32, 170). Better guidance in this act of 
transformation could have brought out more the potential of her evidence. 
As a final example, it is disappointing that the analysis of images of 
imperial children included in the dissertation was left out of the book, 
since U.’s own argument that children tend to serve in official art as 
symbols of the future seems to derive from this study (pp. 169–70, esp. n. 
16). This material appears much more relevant to her arguments than the 
comparanda which are included, an appendix of images of children in private 
and funerary art, which clearly serve purposes different from those under 
primary investigation. In sum, U. argues that the “narrative of Roman 
visual imagery … is a relatively simple one” (p. 161). I disagree. 
Fortunately, in this book we have a useful collection of evidence through 
which to continue the debate.

BETH SEVERY-HOVEN
Macalester College


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