the symbolism of laurel in cameo portraits of livia

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  • The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of LiviaAuthor(s): Marleen B. FlorySource: Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol. 40 (1995), pp. 43-68Published by: University of Michigan Press for the American Academy in RomeStable URL: .Accessed: 14/11/2014 18:56

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    Marleen B. Flory

    P[olacco] offers no comment on the wreath that Livia is wearing. Is it of laurel or of myrtle? What is its significance?

    -J. M. C. Toynbeel

    L aurel was a ubiquitous feature of public and private rites and celebrations in the Ro- man world. It was used in rituals of supplicatio and purification and, fastened to the

    doorposts of a house, announced an occasion of domestic happiness such as a wedding or a birth. Attached to the fasces or bound to official letters from a war zone, laurel simultaneously proclaimed the end of a war and the beginning of peace. Surviving Imperial portrait busts, statues, and reliefs show laurel wreaths as the attributes of priests, worshippers, artists, and even children. For male members of the Imperial household the laurel wreath, secured at the nape of the neck by a bow tie with two fluttering ribbons, signified the privileged position of triumphator and emperor or potential emperor. Julius Caesar broke with the Roman tradition of wearing the laurel wreath only on the day of a triumph to wear it at all public events. Augustus, following Julius Caesar's apparent intentions, appropriated the laurel wreath of the victorious general as a personal attribute. By vote of the Senate in 27 B.C. two laurel bushes became a permanent fixture on either side of the entrance to Augustus's house on the Pa- latine. To be sure, the two laurel bushes suggested analogies between Augustus's house and other sacred areas such as the Regia, the Curiae Veteres, and the Atrium Vestae. Ovid (Tr. 3.1.39-46) also lists a whole variety of symbolic meanings of these plants-victory in war, peace, Apollo, domestic felicity, the eternal rule of Augustus's family. But the two bushes also proclaimed that the laurel, to which any general might aspire in the Republican era, was now the family property of the princeps.2

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who offered me suggestions, advice, encouragement. I am grateful for the help of A. Ajoutian, N. deGrummond, M. Marvin, B. Rose. I A comment made in her review of L. Polacco, II volto di Tiberio: Saggio di critica iconografica (Rome 1955) in JRS 46 (1956) 159 and in reference to the Marlborough gem in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her comment inspired this investigation. The cameo, which shows Livia as Venus Genetrix wreathed in laurel, is discussed below. 2 On the decree to Augustus: Alfoldi 1973, esp. 1-17. Decree of laurel to Caesar, Suet. Iul. 45.2; Cass. Dio 43.43.1. Discussion in S. Weinstock, Divus Iulius (Ox- ford 1971) 19-22, 97, 107, 207, 271, 328, 397. On laurel in folklore and religion, M. B. Ogle, "Laurel in Ancient Religion and Folk-lore," AJP31 (1910) 287-3 11; RE 13A (1927) s.v. "Lorbeer,"1431-42. Controversy about the

    form of the laurel at Augustus's house (planted bushes? cut branches?): W. K. Lacey, "Laurel Bushes," Liverpool Classical Monthly 6.4 (1981) 113; B. Curran and F. Wil- liams, "Laurel Boughs," Liverpool Classical Monthly 6.8 (1981) 209-12; W. K. Lacey, "Laurel Bushes Again-Res Gestae 34.2," Liverpool ClassicalMonthly 7.8 (1982) 118. Recent scholarship has corrected an opinion that started with Th. Mommsen that the laurel wreath came to be the exclusive insignia of the emperor. For a list of wear- ers of the laurel crown who are not emperors, W. Oberleitner, "Zwei spitantike Kaiserk6pfe aus Ephesos," Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen 69 (1973) 127-29 with n. 5 for the history of Mommsen's discus- sion. K. Fittschen (rev. of C. Saletti, I ritratti antoniniani di Palazzo Pitti [Florence 1974] in Gnomon 49 [1977] 221-23) points out that laurel occurs even on portraits of children and may have an allegorical significance in

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    To a Roman viewer in the Augustan age the laurel wreath of an emperor or male member of his family must have suggested military accomplishment, its traditional association, and, as time went on, the political supremacy of the Julio-Claudian family. It is hardly surprising to find that coins and portraits of Julio-Claudian women may have foliage wreaths of wheat sheaves and poppies or myrtle-plants connected with female divinities, fertility, and mater- nity-but not laurel, which represents male achievements.3

    Neither coins nor portraits yield any firm examples of laurel-wreathed Julio-Claudian women. From the accession of Augustus through the rule of Nero, the period under discus- sion here, there is apparently only one example-on a coin of the early Imperial period-of a laurel-wreathed wife, mother, or female relative of the emperor, and here the use of the wreath must be an error. An aes series struck in Thessalonica, starting in A.D. 22/23, bears the un- crowned head of Tiberius on the obverse and the laurel-wreathed head of Livia on the re- verse. W. H. Gross considers this political impossibility to be the result of the ignorance and slovenliness of the diemaker.4 There do exist some isolated statues or portrait heads of Julio- Claudian women with laurel wreaths-for example, the portrait of a young girl with a mural crown and laurel wreath in the Dresden Museum, recently identified by Sande as Octavia, daughter of Claudius and wife of Nero, and the badly battered portrait head of a woman

    grave portraiture. N. Leipen ("A Roman Portrait in the Royal Ontario Museum," AJA 82 [1978] 109-14) re- marks that laurel wreaths usually imply people of high status but do not "necessarily seem to be limited to por- traits of rulers." The tie-less laurel wreath Leipen dis- cusses could, the author suggests, refer to Apollo. See p. 114 and esp. n. 22. 3Alfoldi 1935, 21, contrasting the laurel crown of the emperor with representations of women with a crown of wheat sheaves or the turreted crown, etc., writes that the crowns, typical of representations of goddesses, are an attempt to find a wreath to indicate the rank of the Augusta just as the laurel indicated the rank of Augustus. See too G. Grether, "Livia and the Roman Imperial Cult," AJP 67 (1946) 227, n. 24: "The crown of Ceres soon became one of the commonest attributes of Roman empresses and corresponded more or less to the laurel crown of the emperor." Examples of Livia in wheat sheaves in statuary art in K. Fittschen and P. Zanker, Katalog der romischen Portrdts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom III: Kaiserinnen- und Prinzessinnenbildnisse Frauenportrdts (Mainz 1983) 4, n. 9. Livia with an olive wreath in the Vatican Museum: W. Helbig, Fuhrer durch die offentlichen Sammlungen klassischer Altertiimer in Rom, 4th ed., 1 (Rome 1963) 792, no. 1101. An Imperial woman (Livia) in an olive (?) wreath from the macellum in Pompeii in J. J. Bernoulli, Die Bildnisse der romischen Kaiser 2.1: Das Julisch-Claudische Kaiserhaus (Berlin/ Stuttgart 1886) 90-91, no. 2, tab. 5. A statue of Livia (?) in a myrtle wreath in the British Museum: A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the British Museum 3 (London 1904) 184, no.1988. A crown of flowers on a statue of Livia in the Louvre in Musee du Louvre: Catalogue des portraits romains 1 (Paris 1986) 102, no. 45. 4Discussion of the coin in Gross, 63-64 and tab. 10, 1- 4. Cf. I. Touratsoglou, Die Miunzstdtte von Thessaloniki in der romischen Kaiserzeit (Berlin/New York 1988) 31

    with n. 24. Some type of wreath serves as a border on the reverse of a rare issue discovered in Trier that may show a veiled bust of an eldery Livia. See M. Grant, Roman Anniversary Issues (Cambridge 1950) 62, pl. 2, no.1. Grant doubtfully identifies the wreath as "oak (?)." No coin minted during Tiberius's reign shows Livia in a foliage crown. During Claudius's reign coins honor Antonia Augusta as sacerdos divi Augusti; she wears a crown of wheat sheaves. See W. Trillmich, Familien- propaganda der Kaiser Caligula und Claudius: Agrippina Maior und Antonia Augusta auf Miinzen (Berlin 1978) 19-20, 69-77, tab. 6. A laurel wreath is a border to a coin with the head of Agrippina the Younger. C. H. V. Sutherland and R. A. G. Carson, The Roman Imperial Coinage 1 (London 1984) 185, no. 609 (= BMCRE 424), no. 612 (= BMCRE 427) from Caesarea Cappadociae. At a