the symbolism of laurel in cameo portraits of livia

of 27 /27
The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia Author(s): Marleen B. Flory Source: Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol. 40 (1995), pp. 43-68 Published by: University of Michigan Press for the American Academy in Rome Stable URL: . Accessed: 14/11/2014 18:56 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. . American Academy in Rome and University of Michigan Press are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Upload: marleen-b-flory

Post on 19-Mar-2017




14 download

Embed Size (px)


Page 1: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia

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

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].


American Academy in Rome and University of Michigan Press are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,preserve and extend access to Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 2: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


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

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 3: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


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 later period the kind of wreath seen on portrait heads of Sabina and diva Faustina is not clear. H. Mattingly and E. A. Sydenham, The Roman Imperial Coinage 3 (London 1930) 70, no.357b with note (corn ears?). H. Mattingly, BMCRE 3 (London 1936) 539, no. 1893 on a supposed laureate portrait of Sabina: "Is the laureate crown in these varieties not rather a corn-wreath, poorly rendered?" Alf6ldi 1973, 124, misidentifies the wreath worn by Antonia on coins of Claudius as laurel and, cit- ing that and the dubious coins of Faustina and Sabina, comes to some far-reaching conclusions. M. Mitchiner ("Imperial Portrait Tesserae from the City of Rome: Imperial Tax Tokens from the Province of Egypt," NC 144 [1984] 104 with n. 24) follows M. Rostovtzeff in identifying a bust of Antonia, the mother of Claudius, on a tessera obverse of A.D. 41 as laureate. I have not been able to consult the original publication, Tesserae plumbeae Urbis Romani et Suburbi (St. Petersburg 1903). Coins, however, struck in A.D. 41 in honor of Antonia show her with a crown of wheat sheaves. See H.-M. von Kaenel, Miinzprdgung undMiinzbildnis des Claudius (Berlin 1986) 63-67, pl. 5, nos. 337-78.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 4: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


with mural crown, helmet, and laurel wreath in the Museo Chiaramonti in Rome, variously identified as Octavia, Claudia, Nero and Poppaea's baby daughter, or Messalina. These two portraits are instructive for their union of laurel with other attributes that suggest allegorical interpretation, for example, Magna Mater or Dea Roma. There may be a few more undiscov- ered examples, but the situation for portrait heads and statues is clear enough: laurel wreaths, a distinctive masculine attribute, were not appropriate for Imperial women.5 They do, of course, appear on the heads of both men and women in the religious procession depicted on the Ara Pacis Augustae, but laurel was a normal attribute of participants in religious proces- sions. Although the laurel wreaths on this public monument may also suggest either status or family, they more likely refer to a sacred moment.6

The laurel crown does, however, appear in cameo portraits of such Julio-Claudian women as Livia, Agrippina the Elder, Livilla, the wife of Drusus the Younger, Drusilla, Agrippina the Younger, and others.7 These crowns were initially interpreted as designations of a specific rank but have more recently been read as indicators of family affinity. As early as 1886 Ber- noulli, in his discussion of a laurel-wreathed portrait of Livia on a sardonyx in St. Peters- burg, suggested that the wreath indicated the rank of Augusta.8 Zadoks-Josephus Zitta calls this an early Imperial development: "The three personages in the upper zone all wear laurel crowns, originally the prerogative of the victorious imperator but already in early imperial times mostly confined to those who bear the title augustus (augusta)."9 Jucker emphasizes divae as well as living Augustae: "Der Lorbeer, den iulisch-claudische Augustae und Divae 6fter auf Kameen . . . erhalten."10 Yet not all the women who wear laurel crowns on cameos re- ceived the title of Augusta or were deified. Neither Agrippina the Elder nor Messalina, for

'On the Dresden statue: Sande, esp. 217 with illus. 16- 17. On the statue in the Museo Chiaramonti: Sande (Octavia), 208-9, ill. 18-19; S. Wood, "Memoriae Agrippinae: Agrippina the Elder in Julio-Claudian Art and Propaganda," AJA 92 (1988) 423, fig. 14 (Messa- lina?); H. Wrede, Consecratio in Formam Deorum, Vergottlichte Privatspersonen in der romischen Kaiserzeit (Mainz-am-Rhein 1981) 304-5, cat. no. 290, pl. 36, 2-5 (Nero's baby daughter Claudia?). Published photographs do not make clear whether laurel is a part of the wreath "composto di foglie, di spighe e di papaveri" on a statue of Livia from the theater at Leptis Magna, as Wrede be- lieves. See G. Caputo-G. Traversari, Le sculture del teatro di Leptis Magna (Rome 1976) 76-79, no. 58, pl. 54-55. On Aphrodisias, K. T. Erim, "Recentes decouvertes a Aphrodisias en Carie, 1979-1980," RA (1982) 163-69, fig. 6 with comment: "personnage symbolique ou princesse julio-claudienne (?)." An interesting later ex- ample of laurel as a royal crown for a woman is a por- trait of the mother of the (foreign) queen Salome on a marble panel from Petra, sculpted perhaps in the sec- ond century A.D. Illustration and discussion in J. M. C. Toynbee, Roman Historical Portraits (London 1978) 151, pl. 303. On laurel combined with other foliage, Trillmich, 140, n. 28. 6 H. Jucker and D. Willers, Gesichter: Griechische und romische Bildnisse aus schweizer Besitz (Bern 1982) 291, no. 164. They suggest that the laurel represents the renown and family unity of the Julio-Claudian dy- nasty and this explains laurel wreaths for women on the Ara Pacis. I The identification of the individuals on cameos is

often controversial, and there are regularly multiple candidates. In the British Museum cameo, inventory no. 3604, the woman in a laurel wreath has been iden- tified as Drusilla, Messalina, Agrippina the Younger, or a sister of Drusilla (i.e., Livilla or Agrippina the Younger. See Megow 1987, 302, D35, with earlier bib- liography. The seated female figure to the left of Tiberius in the Grand Camee in the Cabinet des Medailles in Paris has had five different identifica- tions. See Jucker: Livia, Antonia the Younger, Sabina, Agrippina the Younger, Magna Mater (as well as a reworked portrait of Katharina Medici). The cameo of a female figure with cornucopia (Paris, Cabinet des Medailles, no. 277) with two smaller figures has been identified as Messalina, Drusilla, Agrippina the Younger, and Milonia Caesonia. Bibliography at Megow 1987, 303, D39, to which add M. Fuchs, "Le sculture dello scavo Calabresi (1840)" in M. Fuchs, P. Liverani, P. Santoro, Caere: II teatro e il ciclo statuario giulio-claudio (Rome 1989) 77 with n. 14. Other women with laurel are listed in Megow's cata- logue with a history of the bibliography and prob- lems of identification: See A22, 64, 81, 85, 97, 98; B14, 16, 18, 19, 23; C26; D14, 15, 17, 19, 30, 35, 36, 37, 38, 40, 42, 43, 44, 45. 8Bernoulli (as n. 3) 2.1:105, pI. 27.5. 9A. N. Zadoks-Josephus Jitta, "Imperial Messages in Agate," BABesch 39 (1964) 157: "And yet, when we see three laurel-crowned personages highly exalted above the reigning emperor, we have to think of three augusti. " 10 See Jucker, 226.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 5: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


example, became Augusta, and only Livia, Drusilla, Poppaea Sabina, and her child Claudia became divae."1 Kyrieleis has opened up this subject for more interesting discussion, writing that the laurel indicates membership in the Julio-Claudian family and thus becomes a symbol of kinship and family relations,12 whether mother, daughter, or wife. Since the Julio-Claudian family held the premier rank in Rome, the crown simultaneously indicated exceptional pres- tige and rank, as earlier scholars noted.

If only passing attention has been paid to the laurel in Imperial cameo portraits of women, it may be because viewers bring certain presumptions about the meaning of laurel to these portraits. Since Livia is the first woman to wear the laurel wreath'3 and the first to be named Augusta, we might assume-mistakenly-that the wreath is a "borrowed" attribute of her husband with the same significance for her as for Augustus. That the feminine form of the name Augustus had the same social and cultural implications or conveyed the same idea of status to the Roman public as the masculine is itself open to question.'4 This idea leads to political interpretations of the wreath that cannot be historically verified. One scholar, for example, interpreted the laurel wreaths found on the heads of an Imperial couple in a double jugate cameo in Vienna as proof of coregency. Others have proposed that the laurel wreath represents a form of usurpation by arrogant Imperial wives of their husbands' symbol of po- litical and military supremacy,'5 or refers to a husband's achievement and is therefore an at- tribute of the wives of military commanders.'6 These views come back to the notion that the laurel represents a borrowed badge of status that must be interpreted within the masculine

"1 Messalina did not receive the title (Cass. Dio 60.12.5; cf. Juvenal's ironic use of it at 6.118) nor did Agrippina the Elder and probably not Drusilla, Caligula's sister al- though Hoffsten, on the basis of Cass. Dio 59.11.2, claims she did. See R. B. Hoffsten, Roman Women of Rank of the Early Empire in Public Life as Portrayed by Dio, Paterculus, Suetonius and Tacitus (Philadelphia 1939) 57 with n. 40. The passage says that all the honors that had been granted to Livia were voted to Drusilla, but she does not appear in any inscription with the title Augusta, although she is memorialized as Diva Drusilla. Cf. F. Sandels, Die Stellung der kaiserlichen Frauen aus dem julisch-claudischen Hause (Darmstadt 1912) 20-23, 45- 50; H. Temporini, Die Frauen am Hofe Trajans: Ein Beitrag zur Stellung der Augustae im Principat (Berlin 1978) 27-3 1; PIR 4.2 (1966) 315, s.v. lulia, no. 664. 12 Kyrieleis 1971, 168, says that the green laurel branch was at first a personal attribute of Augustus, later becom- ing a distinguishing characteristic of the Julio-Claudians. 13 Megow 1987 lists (B14, B16, B18: laurel in a compos- ite crown) three cameos of Livia as Tiberian in date. Earlier bibliography supports these dates. The Marl- borough gem in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has also been dated to the early Tiberian period. A second possibility is that the laurel wreath was an attribute cre- ated in a later period, e.g., Claudian, for another Impe- rial woman, but a later date has not been proposed for these four cameos. Fittschen and Zanker (as n. 3) trace the development of a Ceres portrait for Livia to the Tiberian period, to which it may be possible to connect the laurel crown. 14 On the bestowal of the name on Livia, H.-W. Ritter, "Livias Erhebung zur Augusta," Chiron 2 (1972) 313- 38; for a conspectus of Augustae from Livia to Iulia

Domna, Temporini (as n. 11) 27-47. Temporini (p. 36) argues that the wife of the Augustus became an Augusta in order that she and her husband, the pater patriae, be- come parentes patriae. Her subject is primarily Trajan and Hadrian. For argument against the case for Sabina and Hadrian, W. Eck, "Hadrian als 'pater patriae' und die Verleihung des Augustatitels an Sabina," in Romanitas-Christianitas. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Literatur der romischen Kaiserzeit, ed. G. Wirth (Ber- lin 1982) 217-29. For the idea that the title Augusta con- ferred a certain share in political power, see, e.g., E. Kornemann, Doppelprinzipat und Reichsteilung im Imperium Romanum (Leipzig/Berlin 1930) 35-42. 5On coregency, Alfoldi 1935, 21 (with pl. 22) H.

Gabelmann ("R6mische Kinder in Toga Praetexta," JdI 100 [1985] 538, n. 191) suggests a usurpation of a tri- umphal insignia. W. Trillmich ("Julia Agrippina als Schwester des Caligula und Mutter des Nero," HSAB 9 [1983] 32, n. 64) says that it is a mark of special honor or presumptuousness. Both Gabelmann and Trillmich agree that the meaning of the laurel wreath in women's portraits is still unclear. Not surprisingly, the argument that the laurel wreath has been inappropriately appro- priated by women focuses on Agrippina the Younger. See, e.g., Trillmich, 140. For a similar masculine reading of other attributes for Agrippina the Younger (helmet of Roma proves a masculine character), S. Fuchs, "Deutung, Sinn und Zeitstellung des Wiener Cameo mit den Fruchthornbiisten," MdI(R) 51 (1936) 231. Basic to these interpretations is the unexpressed equation that Augustus = Augusta and that the term, used of a woman, has political implications. Cf. Gross, 11: "Staatsname Au- gusta. "

16Jucker and Willers (as n. 6) 291, no. 164.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 6: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


sphere of achievements. With Kyrieleis's statement in mind, the present study rereads the laurel wreath, arguing that a new female symbolism can be found in this traditional emblem of masculine wartime achievement.

Kyrieleis has maintained that there exists no certain example of a laurel-wreathed Helle- nistic queen, and, therefore, the idea of the laurel wreath is more than likely Augustan in ori- gin.'7 A few portraits of women with laurel wreaths have been identified as Hellenistic-an amethyst with a portrait of a laurel-wreathed woman in the Cleveland Museum of Arts, inter- preted by Vollenweider as a portrait of Arsinoe II, and three portraits of women with laurel wreaths in the Hermitage Museum.'8 None of these attributions is certain, but even if they were, it is not the greater numbers of Imperial cameos with laurel-crowned women that is at issue but rather the new significance that an attribute can acquire as historical circumstances change."9 At present the surviving evidence seems to bear out Kyrieleis's remark. We have so many fewer Hellenistic examples (and none secure) than Julio-Claudian ones that we can, in the current state of research, tentatively claim it as an Augustan development.20

The appearance of laurel-wreathed Julio-Claudian women in cameos coincides with a new interest in and focus on laurel in art and literature of the Augustan period. Poets and artists responded to Augustus's claim to laurel as a personal symbol by reinterpreting the meaning of laurel in relation to the new princeps. For instance, laurel appears in artistic monu- ments entwined with Dionysiac ivy on the Ara Pacis to suggest the dominance of Apollo- Augustus over Antony-Dionysus. Laurel supplants olive as the attribute of Pax on coins struck by Octavian in the East, once again to contrast with the ivy crown of Dionysus. Laurel also appears in Ovid's Fasti as a symbol of both Pax and Conc6rdia, interrelated concepts in the Augustan period. Ovid's analysis of the laurel planted at Augustus's house on the Palatine, noted above, repeats some traditional ideas about laurel but also reflects a very contempo- rary, Augustan outlook.2"

17 Kyrieleis 1971, 166-67 with n. 14. 18 Vollenweider, 12-16, pl. 3. This identification is re- jected by Kyrieleis 1971, 167, n. 14. Cf. E. Brunelle, Die Bildnisse der Ptolemderinnen (Frankfurt 1976) 25, in ref- erence to the gem in Cleveland. He comments that the laurel crown is an unusual attribute for Arsinoe. 0. Neverov, Antique Cameos in the Hermitage Collection (Leningrad 1971) Cleopatra VII (?) 77, no. 8; Antique Intaglios in the Hermitage Collection (Leningrad 1976) Berenike II, 62-63, no. 57; Arsinoe III (?) 63, no. 59. Cf. Zwierlein-Diehl, 76, no. 76, who identifies the por- trait in the Hermitage Museum as probably Arsinoe III. Doubts of a Hellenistic origin expressed by Kyrieleis 1975, 97, n. 391. '9Megow 1985, 445-96, esp. 463-64. 20 E. Nau ("Iulia Domna als Olympias," JNG 18 [1968] 49-66) argues that the laurel wreath is the attribute of Dione, mother of Aphrodite, and was borrowed by Olympias in cameo portraits, influencing in turn portraits of Julia Domna and, before her, Livia. Nau claims that the laurel is typical for the portrait of Olympias (p. 50), but the single piece of evidence cited is the Gonzaga Cameo in the Hermitage Museum, long thought to be Ptolemaic, but now almost certainly identified as a Ro- man Imperial couple (see Kyrieleis 1971, n. 12). The author claims it is logical to see a new Olympias in the mother of the emperor (p. 57) and that the portrait rep-

resents Livia as Olympias. Since there is no proven lau- rel-wreathed portrait of Olympias, the comparison is not convincing. Nau argues that Greek coins that have a ju- gate portrait of Zeus and Dione, with stephane and lau- rel, in reference to Dodona, show that laurel was an at- tribute of Dione, mother of Aphrodite, the grandmother of Aeneas, and that the laurel equates Livia with Dione (p. 58). But coins of third-century B.C. Epirus are not proof of the meaning of laurel for first-century B.C. Rome. The cameos' meaning is related to the ideas current at their creation. There is also little evidence to support any regular identification of laurel in Roman society with Venus/Aphrodite in contrast to the regular literary and artistic references to her with myrtle. The statement that laurel is an attribute of Venus by Ganszyniec, RE 11.2 (1922) s.v. Kranz, 1593, is based on one artistic monu- ment. Laurel has also been claimed to signify the divin- ity of the person represented (e.g., Vollenweider, 12), but supporting evidence is lacking. 21 Vegetation motifs on the Ara Pacis: G. Sauron, "Le mes- sage symbolique des rinceaux de l'Ara Pacis Augustae," CRAI (1982) 81-101, esp. 83-84; Laurel attribute of Pax: E. Simon, Eirene und Pax: Friedensgottinnen in derAntike (Stuttgart 1988) 74, n. 50 and 77-78; Cf. D. Mannsperger, "Apollon gegen Dionysos. Numismatische Beitrage zu Octavians Rolle als Vindex Libertatis," Gymnasium 80 (1973) 381-404, tab. 21.2; Ovid Fast. 1.711-712 (Pax),

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 7: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


Cameo portraits presuppose a different audience from a coin or a public statue, as im- plied by the limitation of the laurel wreath worn by women to cameos. In 1621 the French collector and scholar Claude Fabri de Peiresc made some important and still helpful obser- vations about cameos in a letter to Peter Paul Rubens. He wrote that cameos, the commis- sions of the emperor and the Imperial household, reflected the tastes of these individuals and a private artistic milieu. For this reason, he argued, cameos had to be viewed differently from art created for public display and would therefore be difficult to interpret. Jucker thought Imperial cameos were gifts for the court or created by its members, emphasizing their celebratory yet intimate character and the bolder, more symbolic language possible in this medium. Simon has suggested that the treasury of the Imperial household served as the re- pository and/or display area for the cameos. Most recently, Megow has written that we can now be certain that cameos were part of the Imperial treasury, later transferred to Constantinople; their pictorial images and propaganda effects were linked to the individuals who owned them and to the dynastic succession of the Imperial household.22

Cameos may use symbolism and attributes easily understood by a viewer outside the Im- perial circle-for example, the thunderbolt (= Zeus) or the radiate crown (= deification)- but invest them with a private significance intelligible only to the intimate circle in which cameos circulated. Much as families today-or at any time-have their own common experi- ences and "code words," a private language arising from shared lives, a personal experience of a member of the court for whom a cameo was created could give new complexity to a familiar attribute. Moreover, a private circle might accommodate some ideas and attributes that were unacceptable or inappropriate for a wider audience. It is therefore worth exploring the range of possible meanings of laurel worn by women, using artistic evidence as well as written evidence, which has generally been ignored. The Marlborough gem in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which depicts Livia in a laurel wreath as Venus Genetrix, supplies a key piece of evidence because of its date and iconography. A famous anecdote from Livia's lifetime connects laurel with Livia and female fertility; it became a "living" story that died only with the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. This story, part of the personal mythology of Livia and Augustus's family, provides an imaginative link between laurel and the significance of the crown.

Before turning to this evidence, however, we need to examine the laurel wreath in cameo portraits, where the women's wreath differs from that worn by men. Surviving cameo por- traits occasionally show a frontal but more often a profile view of an emperor's face. If he is wreathed in laurel, the neck closure is ordinarily visible, unless, for example, he wears a lau- rel-wreathed helmet, as does the male figure in the Cameo Gonzaga in Vienna. A ribbon tied in a "bow tie" closes the wreath at the nape of the neck and flutters down in two long stream- ers (figs. 1-2). The tie and streamers (leminisci), a mark of honor, comprise an integral and even prominent aspect of the wreath. Coins from the Republican era display many examples

6.91-92 (Concordia). See detailed discussion of a con- troversial portrait, a glass copy of an amethyst now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, in Zwierlein-Diehl, 140, no. 267. She identifies the laurel-wreathed female figure as Fortuna or Pax, datable to 20-10 B.C. Against the identification of Fortuna speaks the laurel, which is not typical for the god- dess. The author suggests Pax or Concordia and specu- lates that the gem was created at the time of the Ara Pacis Augustae and for similar reasons. This could be a new in- terpretation of laurel.

22 letter to Rubens is quoted in part by M6bius, 33. See the same article, 33-41, for a summary of views on the purpose of cameos. H. Jucker ("Romische Herrscher- bildnisse aus Agypten," ANRW2.12.2 [1981] 672) writes that the cameos, because of their limited audience, made use of a far bolder and more inventive pictorial language. Idem, "Ikonographische Anmerkungen zu friihkaiser- zeitlichen Portratkameen," BABesch 57 (1982) 100. E. Simon, "Beobachtungen zum Grand Camee de France," KolnJb 9 (1967/68) 16; Megow 1987, 1-3.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 8: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


of the victor's laurel wreath with two streamers hanging from it. The tie and ribbons belong to a triumphator, and the wreaths of emperors in cameo portraits fit into the tradition of the Republican period. This closure does not appear on women's wreaths, for which it would be inappropriate."2

There emerges no fixed style for women comparable to the standard representation of the emperor's crown secured by its tie and ribbons. First of all, the whole wreath may not be visible, as in jugate portraits where the wreath closure is obscured by the man's head or when the woman is veiled. In the example of the double jugate portrait on the cornucopia cameo from Vienna, the laurel adorns the helmet of the Imperial woman represented as Dea Roma (fig. 2). The variations in the women's portraits suggest that the foliage, not the format, is significant for the women, who had no laurel wreath tradition. When the gem cutter does depict the whole wreath and a tie is shown, we see a closely knotted ribbon, probably of wool, that resembles a tiny string of pearls and is often called by the German term perlschnur as well as fillet. More recent scholars seem to prefer the more neutral terminology of astragalbinde or wollbinde over fillet. To my knowledge, in cameos the tie always takes this knotted or beaded form, never imitating the smooth ribbon of the emperor's wreath. The knotted ribbon, the term adopted here, is also the tie for the crown of Ceres that appears in cameo portraits of some Imperial women. Sheaves of grain, poppies, and sometimes olive and laurel make up these composite wreaths.

In portrait busts and statues the knotted ribbon appears at times as an attribute of Impe- rial women, although usually in a different form from the crown tie characteristic of cam- eos.24 The long knotted ribbon forms a band across the crown or brow of the head and hangs down along the sides of the head to the shoulders (fig. 3). This knotted ribbon often appears in combination with foliage wreaths or a diadem, running along the bottom edge of the crown. Depending on the identity of the portrait, its date and attributes, the knotted ribbon has been described as a characteristic of a deity, a priestess in the Imperial cult, a priestess gener- ally, an Imperial woman in the guise of a deity, or as a sign of membership in the Imperial household or simply of rank and status.25 Currently, we do not clearly understand the

23 For examples of the style of closure of the emperor's wreath, see Megow 1987, e.g., pl. 2.5; 8.9; 10.10; 10.13. Examples of the wreath on Republican coins: M. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage (Cambridge 1974) 71.a, xiv; 246.1, xxxvi; 253.1, xxxvii; 280.1, xxxix; 419.1e, li; 545.1, lxiv. On leminiscus as a sign of honor: Plin. HN 21.6: "accesseruntque et lemnisci, quos adici ipsarum coronarum honor erat"; 16.65; Serv. (citing Varro) Aen. 5.269.: "magni honoris." Cf. Jucker, 226, with his comment that the laurel worn by women never has the bow-tie fastening at the nape of the neck that is obligatory for emperors. 24 For examples of a knotted wreath tie on portrait stat- ues of Imperial women, C. Bliumel, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Katalog der Sammlung antiker Skulpturen. Romische Bildnisse (Berlin 1933) 11, R25, pl. 17; Wrede (as n. 5) 304, no. 290, pl. 36, 2-5. 25 For an example of the knotted ribbon in the form of a circlet without attributes, see, e.g., B. Andreae, "Archaologische Funde im Bereich von Rom 1949-1956/ 57," AA (1957) 227, no. 8, with K. Polaschek, "Studien zu einem Frauenkopf im Landesmuseum Trier," TrZ 35 (1972) 175, fig. 10.6. For the knotted ribbon with a dia-

dem, see, e.g., C. Saletti, "Tre ritratti imperiali da Luni: Tiberio, Livia, Caligola," Athenaeum 51 (1973) 34-48, fig. 2; for the knotted ribbon with a foliage wreath, see, e.g., Caputo-Traversari (as n. 5) 78, no. 58, tab. 54, 55. The issue of this type of knotted ribbon (different from the wreath closure), especially in conjunction with the diadem, is long and controversial. J. Six ("Ikono- graphische Studien," MdI[R] 10 [1895] 190) considered it in conjunction with the diadem as a sign of divinity. A. Furtwangler, Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik (Leipzig/Berlin 1893) 557, called it a priestly attribute of the Imperial women. A. Rumpf (Antonia Augusta [Ber- lin 1941] 25-33) misidentified the knotted ribbon as the tutulus, and this opinion has continued to influence in- terpretation, e.g., J. M. C. Toynbee, JRS 48 (1958) 200 ("the tutulus, or knotted woolen fillet, which marks the subject as priestess of an imperial Divus"), M6bius, 59, with an identification of the knotted ribbon in the Pa- latine cameo of Livia as a tutulus. Criticism of this idea in R. Tolle-Kasterbein, "Juno Ludovisi: Hera oder Antonia Minor?" MdI(A) 89 (1974) 246-49 and K. Polaschek (Portattypen einer claudischen Kaiserin [Rome 1973] 15 with n. 20-22) argues that the knotted ribbon

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 9: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


significance of these knotted ribbons. Although the appearance of the knotted ribbon in cam- eos differs from that in portrait statues, it is reasonable to assume that the two are in some way connected. The meaning of the knotted ribbon is similarly difficult to interpret in glyptic art.

In cameos the knotted ribbon has no standard style of appearance, which may be due to each artist's particular understanding-or lack of it-of the ribbon as well as of the meaning of the tie itself. A few examples demonstrate a considerable variation in the visual focus on the tie. In a cameo in St. Petersburg, probably of Tiberian date, Livia appears in profile, unveiled, wearing the laurel wreath . The strands of a knotted ribbon lie below the mass of hair gathered at the neck and virtually merge into the folds of her garment ,26 On the Grand Camee Livia again appears unveiled and wears a laurel wreath, the knotted tie of which ap- pears as a series of tiny dots along the hair gathered at the nape of her neck and along her shoulder (fig. 4), but here the issue is complicated by the portrait's simultaneous depiction of Livia as Ceres.27 These two portraits present a tiny, inert ribbon that clings to the shoulders or hair and conforms to them. By contrast, the free-floating ribbons of the masculine wreath at times seem almost endowed with a living energy.28 Megow has isolated a group of portraits that date from the Caligulan-Claudian period; some of these certainly represent Drusilla. Here the knotted ribbon, as Megow points out, looks much like the tie of the emperor's wreath: a bow tie, whose ends float free behind the head, closes the wreath (fig. 5)29 The double fron- tal portrait of an Imperial couple in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts offers a particularly interesting case (fig. 6). The man wears a laurel wreath; his toga is pulled up to cover the back portion of his head. The woman also wears a laurel wreath, and the artist has drawn the knotted tie forward, laying it along both her shoulders as if to display it. The portrait does not show the ribbon realistically but spotlights it as a significant attribute of the high-rank- ing Imperial woman whom the cameo portrays.

No final solutions have yet emerged to the vexed problem of these ribbons and their varied appearances. The suggestions made here are only tentative and incline to a cautious interpretation. We must recall that the laurel does not always appear as a closed and tied

indicates a priestess but not necessarily a priestess of the Imperial cult since it is attached to sacred implements as well as animals. Sande, 176, says that the knotted ribbon is ambiguous and cannot be used to identify a woman as a priestess, a priestess of the Imperial cult, or a diva. W. Trillmich ("Ein Kopffragment in Merida und die Bildnisse der Agrippina Minor aus den hispanischen Provinzen," in Homenaje a Saenz de Buruaga [Madrid 1982] 114) ar- gues that the diadem and "astragalbinde" could indicate a high position and function. In discussion of a coin re- verse that shows two torches bound together by a knot- ted ribbon with the legend "sacerdos divi Augusti," minted by Claudius, Trillmich says it is not clear that the torches refer to the priestly duties of Antonia and that the answer is connected to the issue of the meaning and sig- nificance of the knotted tie. Commenting on the portrait of the personification of Constantia with the "perlschnur" on her head, Trillmich (as n. 4, 70, n. 203 and n. 202) writes that its meaning is still very unclear. M. Fuchs (as n. 7, 76) sees the knotted ribbon as a sign of rank. Cf. Trillmich, 140 with n. 23, on a statue of Agrippina Maior with diadem and knotted ribbon. Most recently in a study of a portrait bust of Antonia Minor, A. M. Small ("A New Head of Antonia Minor and Its Significance," MdI(R) 97 [1990] 217-34) argues that the two types of ribbons seen

on a head of Antonia in Alberta and the other on the "Juno Ludovisi," the first of twisted wool, the second a fillet strung with beads, "symbolize the same thing, that is Antonia's role as priestess of the deified Augustus." 26Neverov (as n. 18) 90, no. 80. 27Jucker 1976, 226 n. 56, suggests that Livia could be simultaneously represented as Ceres and as priestess of divus Augustus. The knotted ribbon is in this form, in his opinion, not a characteristic attribute of the sacerdos divi Augusti. 28 B. Schweitzer, "Der grosse Kameo des griunen Gew6lbes in Dresden," MdI(R) 57 (1942) 103-4. 29Megow 1987, 148. He speculates that she may be por- trayed as an empress but says the issue is irresolvable. We might compare portraits of Hellenistic queens in dia- dems with two dangling ribbons. See, e.g., E. D. Reeder, Hellenistic Art in the Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore 1988) 246, no. 141; 247, no. 142; Kyrieleis 1975, pl. 88.1; pl.107, 1-7. The portrait head in the Museo Chiaramonti (bibliography, n. 5 above) has a knotted wreath tie. If Wrede's suggestion that she is the daughter of Nero and Poppaea is correct, then the tie could by that era have become a symbol of the rank of Augusta since the child, an Augusta, died at the age of four months and a priestly role cannot come into question.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 10: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


wreath, so its meaning does not depend on that of the ribbon. A knotted ribbon should indi- cate the sacred nature of the object to which it is attached, as much artistic evidence attests, particularly reliefs of sacrifices where ribbons crown animals that are about to be sacrificed and are thus sacer. Religious implements carry them as well. A knotted ribbon, for example, hangs down behind a canistrum carried by an attendant to a religious ceremony in a fragmen- tary relief from Rome (fig. 7).30 Laurel was already a sacral plant in Roman society when Augustus had it planted by the doors of his house and reasserted its religious significance in terms of his own family line.31 Since Livia is depicted with a wreath and knotted ribbon in at least one cameo from the Tiberian period, should we assume that it portrays her as the sacerdos divi Augusti? In other words, is she wearing a wreath that points to cult duties and cult par- ticipation, as did that of the flaminica Dialis, with whom Livia is sometimes compared? The wreath of the wife of the flamen Dialis was of pomegranate and fastened by a white woolen tie. The one labeled portrait we have of a sacerdos diviAugusti is that of Antonia, the mother of Claudius, on a coin struck in A.D. 41. The wreath is of sheaves of wheat-we should hardly expect laurel on a coin-and the ribbon is either knotted or smooth depending on the die (fig. 8). The obverse shows torches from which hang knotted ribbons (fig. 9). Antonia's rib- bon is a far more significant aspect of the wreath than is the tie on Livia's wreath in the St. Petersburg cameo discussed above. Literary evidence confirms that the ribbon contributes to the meaning of the wreath as signifying office, rank, or priesthood,32 as does a cameo portrait of Livia that shows her far more clearly and unambiguously as a priestess. In the fragmentary cameo from Rome in the Capitoline Museum, Livia is veiled and wears a wreath of wheat sheaves, poppies, olive, and laurel, a type of foliage crown characteristic of Ceres and of Livia's portrait statues in a cult setting. The artist has carefully depicted the knotted ribbon, first by a series of dots within the wreath to show that the ribbon wound around it, second by a long trailing tie that lies along her shoulder (fig. 10). The artist drew the tie forward to emphasize its presence.

In sum, the ribbon in conjunction with the laurel-and this is the simplest solution- could suggest participation in the cult of the gens Iulia, of which laurel had become a symbol and, with the succession of emperors, the cult of the divi Augusti. Like the laurel the tie could represent a prerogative that also indicated social eminence and exclusivity. The wreath and tie could further suggest the more specific role of the sacerdos divi Augusti for those women for whom this priesthood is attested.33 For some Imperial women, especially in the art produced during the rules of Caligula and Claudius, the tie and floating ribbon seem rather to point to the high status of the wearers by assimilating the style of the male version of the wreath (without precluding an underlying cultic origin). A change in significance between portraits of Livia and Agrippina is certainly conceivable. The exact implication of the tie in conjunction with the laurel in individual cameo portraits must remain an open

30 For ribbons on animals, I. Scott Ryberg, Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art (Rome 1955) pl. 8, fig. 17b; pl. 21, figs. 36a, 36c; pl. 29, fig. 45e. On the relief of the religious attendant, G. M. Koeppel, "Die historischen Reliefs der r6mischen Kaiserzeit," BJb 183 (1983) 113, no. 22, ill. 27. 31 See Alfoldi 1973, 1-17. 32Plin. HN 16.65; 21.6; Paul. Fest. P115M. Pliny (HN 18.6) describes the wreath of the Arval Brethern as sheaves tied with a white fillet, which he calls the insig- nia of priestly office. Cf. Gel. 7.7.8. 33 The evidence about this priesthood is skimpy. We know that Antonia was selected by Caligula as the second priest-

ess of the cult in A.D. 37 (Cass. Dio 59.3.3-4), leaving a hiatus of eight years after Livia's death in A.D. 29. Agrippina was appointed two lictors after Claudius's death, when she became priestess of her deified husband (Tac. Ann. 13.2.3). See W. Weber, Princeps. Studien zur Geschichte desAugustus (Berlin 1936) 97, esp. n. 427. He suggests that the second lictor was for her position as sacerdos divi Augusti, unattested for Agrippina in our sources. Discussion in Sandels (as n. 11) 29-30; G. Grether, "Livia and the Ro- man Imperial Cult." AJP 67 (1946) esp. 233-45. Cameos at times show women in a cultic garment. See Zwierlein-Diehl, 52, no. 6, pl. 6; idem, "Der Divus-Augustus-Kameo in K6ln," KolnJb 17 (1980) 42.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 11: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


question. When artists introduced laurel as a new attribute, however, their first concern was to strip the wreath of its political and military significance. We need now to look at evidence to show how this laurel wreath, divested of its masculine associations, came to acquire mater- nal and reproductive symbolism.

In his proem to book 1 of the Georgics, written during the turmoil of the triumviral pe- riod, Vergil refers to Octavian's descent from Venus when he imagines the young imperator "winding myrtle, your mother's plant,34 around your head": cingens materna tempora myrto (Georg. 1.28; cf. Aen. 5.72). Through this picture Vergil also expresses his hope for a blood- less victory over Antony, for the myrtle represented a war won sine cruore (Plin. HN 15.125). Successful generals wore myrtle in an ovatio, a less prestigious award for a victory that came leniter (Plin. HN 15.125), or in an illegally declared war, or in a war against enemies of un- worthy character: "ovandi ac non triumphandi causa est, cum aut bella non rite indicta neque cum iusto hoste gesta sunt aut hostium nomen humile et non idoneum est, ut servorum piratarumque" ("The reason for an ovatio rather than a triumph is if wars have not been declared with the correct procedure or have not been fought with a legally declared enemy or the enemy is of mean or contemptible character as is the case with slaves and pirates" [Gel. 5.6.20-21]). When the Senate voted Crassus an ovatio after he disposed of the rebellious gladiator Spartacus, he used his personal influence in the Senate to gain the more coveted lau- rel crown: "ac murteam coronam M. Crassus, cum bello fugitivorum confecto ovans rediret, insolenter aspernatus est senatusque consultum faciundum per gratiam curavit, ut lauro, non murto, coronaretur" ("Marcus Crassus insolently rejected a myrtle crown when he returned to Rome and had an ovaton for the completion of a war with run away slaves; he used his influ- ence in the Senate to have himself decreed a crown of laurel not myrtle" [Gel. 5.6.23]).

Augustus gradually closed off triumphs to men outside his own bloodline so that the laurel crown became his household's prerogative. The Senate's grant of laurel for Augustus's house also linked the plant with Augustus's family, and an omen, to be analyzed in detail below, boldly claimed the triumphal insignia of the laurel as a Julio-Claudian possession. Myrtle, although the most usual plant associated with Venus and the attribute of Venus Victrix (Plin. HN 15.125), did not suit Venus Genetrix, the mother of the gens Iulia. Laurel signified the victory in war that Julius Caesar, Augustus, and his descendants boasted as their god- dess-given, hereditary right. And so we understand why the foliage crown of Venus Genetrix is laurel and not myrtle in a cameo portrait of her in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (fig. 11).

The Boston cameo is a green turquoise, a color that Winkes associates with fertility. The broken cameo, pieced back together, is missing its lower portion. To the right is a female figure in a chiton who wears a laurel wreath, to the left a smaller male figure also crowned with a wreath. There is virtually no question that the woman is Livia in the guise of Venus Genetrix.35 The chiton slips down to bare her left shoulder. Scholars have identified this slip- ping drapery motif with the sculptural type called the Venus Genetrix, connected with the statue in Rome commissioned by Julius Caesar from Arcesilaus for the temple of Venus

34 In Rome myrtle is regularly identified with Venus, e.g., OvidAA 3.181; Fast. 4. 869-70; Plin. HN 12.3, 15.119- 21; Verg. Ecl. 7.62. For other references, RE 16.1 (1933) s.v. Myrtos, 1171-83; ThLL, s.v., Myrtus, 1751, 35ff.; P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, "Myrtle and the Eleusinian Myster- ies," WS 6 (1972) 145-61. Myrtle apparently was worn in triumphs on occasion, e.g., Val. Max. 3.6.5, other refs. in RE article cited above (1182), but this was not true in the Augustan period. 3S Inventory no. 99.109, H. L. Pierce Fund, Museum of

Fine Arts, Boston. The most recent and detailed discus- sion by R. Winkes, "Der Kameo Marlborough: Ein Urbild der Livia," AA (1982) 131-38. There had been no ques- tion about the identification of the woman as Livia until W. H. Gross, in a review of Vollenweider (GGA 220 [1968] 58) introduced the name of Antonia Augusta. Gross, how- ever, argues solely from the fact that she was also a priest- ess of Augustus. M6bius, 53, following Gross, argues for Antonia and a Claudian date on the basis of hairstyle, but for detailed arguments against this attribution, see Winkes.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 12: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


Genetrix, which he built in 46 B.C. to honor Venus as the mother of his family line. The ap- pearance of this statue is a matter of controversy. Some surviving statues of Venus Genetrix that show the slipping drapery style depict the goddess with one breast bared, although at a later date statues of Sabina as Venus Genetrix bare only the shoulder, perhaps for reasons of modesty, as with the portrait on the Marlborough cameo.36 Livia-Venus Genetrix wears a wreath of laurel that is not fastened at the nape of the neck but whose ends disappear into her hair; her open and untied wreath is an attribute of the goddess.37 The patron or artist, whose understanding of the laurel as a symbol of the gens Iulia we can take for granted, adorned Venus Genetrix with a new and appropriate foliage crown.

The laurel wreath also has meaning for Livia in this double portrait. As the mother of Tiberius, Livia was the second founding mother of the gens Iulia, and her adoption into the Julian family made her the direct descendant of the goddess. The Marlborough cameo has been dated to the early Tiberian period,38 and historically it would be logical to imagine Livia first appearing in a laurel wreath only after her adoption in A.D. 14 into the gens Iulia. Some statues produced after this date assimilate her hairstyle to that of Venus.39 The laurel wreath on Livia's head contrasts with the crown of oak-the corona civica, emblem of the pater patriae-worn by the smaller male figure to her left.40 The wreaths allude to maternal and paternal roles. Livia and Venus are the mothers of their country via the offspring they have produced to rule Rome, while the male figure, the emperor, stands in a paternal relationship to the Roman world. The use of laurel for Venus Genetrix and the comparison between Livia and Venus show that laurel is now an attribute of the human as well as the divine mother of the gens Iulia.

Livia's own biography yields further evidence for the laurel as an allusion to maternal and procreative roles. Three surviving accounts relate a famous omen that befell Livia. Pliny (NAT. 15. 136-37), Suetonius (Gal. 1), and Cassius Dio (48.52.3-4) report that an eagle, car- rying a white hen with a sprig of laurel in her beak, dropped the bird unharmed into Livia's lap. Suetonius tells us that this happened when Livia "was returning to her property at Veii" (Veiantanum suum revisenti) shortly after her marriage. Pliny also may imply that Livia was traveling (presumably in an open carriage) when he writes that the bird fell from the open sky into Livia's lap while she was sitting down: "gallinam conspicui candoris sedenti aquila ex alto abiecit in gremium inlaesam" ("From the sky an eagle dropped a hen of remarkable whiteness unharmed into her lap while she was sitting down"). The laurel was planted, and the chicks that hatched were cared for at the villa Caesarum on the bank of the Tiber near the ninth milestone of the Via Flaminia. Pliny says that Livia planted the laurel and tended the hen at the order of the haruspices, but Cassius Dio and Suetonius suggest that Livia herself

36 The statue of Venus Genetrix in Caesar's temple: Plin. HN 35.156. Views about the appearance of the statue of Arcesilaus summarized by R. Schilling, La religion romaine de Venus depuis les originesjusqu'au temps d'Auguste, 2nd. ed. (Paris 1982) 310-13. 'Slipping drapery" motif: M. Bieber, Ancient Copies (New York 1977) 46-47. 37 On the untied or open wreath associated with deities, see Mannsperger (as n. 21, 396); Leiden (as n. 2, 114 with additional references at n. 22). 38 Vollenweider, 75, dates the cameo in relation to a Tiberian version of a portrait of Augustus created be- tween A.D. 14 and 20; Megow 1987, B 19, 256-57 (early Tiberian date). Winkes (as n. 34) 137, says the cameo was commissioned beween 19 August and 13 September A.D. 14, the dates, respectively, of Augustus's death and deification. 39See B. Freyer-Schauenburg, "Die Kieler Livia," BJb 182

(1982) 209-24, esp. 222. Cf. Sande, 169-70, for a dis- cussion of how the attributes of the Magna Mater were bestowed on Livia in the Claudian era to emphasize her Claudian ancestry. On the adoption of Tiberius in A.D. 4 Livia might also have appeared in laurel, but this seems less likely than in A.D. 14, her son's accession. 40 The debate about the identity of the male figure has been intense and has made this cameo extraordinarily controversial. The male figure was first identified as Tiberius, and this attribution was generally accepted until Vollenweider, 75, n. 62, argued that this portrait (in con- junction with two others) was a Tiberian version of the portrait of Augustus, created between A.D. 14 and 20 and stylistically close to portraits of Tiberius. Vollenweider's idea has been influential. See Megow 1987, 256, B19, and his arguments for moving back to the original attri- bution of Tiberius.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 13: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


decided to raise the bird and plant. The house was named ad gallinas (Plin., Suet.), and the single laurel branch miraculously grew into a plantation. Thereafter, all the emperors picked laurel here for their triumphs: "tale vero lauretum, ut triumphaturi Caesares inde laureas decerperent" ("Such a great plantation grew that the Caesars, whenever about to celebrate a triumph, picked laurel from it" [Suet.]); ij tE v pL(LwEiga rpJuTEV (J)UTE KaL TOL Ta ETrLVIKLa

IIETa TOVTO 1TEIi4taULV EiTL 1TXdGTOV EtapKEfaa ("The laurel sprig took root and grew, and for the most part, supplied those celebrating triumphs from this time on" [Cass. Dio]). The pregnant hen proved equally prolific: "tanta pullorum suboles provenit, ut hodieque ea villa 'ad Gallinas' vocetur" ("so great a brood of chicks was hatched that still today this country house is called 'ad gallinas"' [Suet.]).41

Columella (8.2.7) advised against white hens in the farmyard, for they not only frequently fell victim to predatory birds like hawks but they were, so he believed, infertile. The eagle's refusal to kill its prey, the extraordinary brood of chicks, and the abundant laurel confirmed a miraculum (Plin. HN 15.136). The laurel represents military success, as do the chicks since pulli were used to take auspices before battle, and the successful commander was also a bonus augur. The omen dates to the period (38-37 B.C.) when Octavian, mounting his final campaign in an unpopular war against Sextus Pompey in Sicily, borrowed an omen of success from his father. A kite had dropped a branch of laurel on one of Julius Caesar's men as he prepared to leave Brundisium for a final encounter with Pompey (Cass. Dio 41.39.2); this omen predicts a similar victory for Caesar's son against Pompey's son under the auspices of Jupiter.

According to Pliny (HN 15.137), Augustus wore and carried laurel from this famous plan- tation in his triumph of 29 B.C.: "ex ea triumphans postea Caesar laurum in manu tenuit coronamque capite gessit" ("And later when the emperor celebrated a triumph, he carried laurel from this grove in his hand and wore a wreath of it on his head"). A coin struck in that year shows Octavian as triumphator, standing in an elaborately decorated quadriga. The leg- end reads IMP(erator) CAESAR and clearly visible are a wreath on his head and a branch in his hand.42 Augustus's successors adopted the custom of picking laurel from this grove for their triumphs. This detail, given by Suetonius, suggests the exclusion of others from the grove. Both Suetonius and Pliny add some further information about another interesting cus- tom: The emperors immediately planted a new branch where they had picked laurel in the grove. Pliny says it was the same branch(es) they had plucked and that the stands of bushes were marked with the names of the emperors and so formed a living stemma of the triumphatores in Augustus's line. As each emperor died, so did the bushes that represented him, and the "laurels planted by Livia" (ai 8d4vat ai v-ro T1s ALoULa3 4wTeUOEIaL) per- ished along with the flock of pulli when Nero committed suicide (Cass. Dio 63.29.3). These symbols of the Julio-Claudian family appropriately vanished with the end of the family line.43

41 M. M. Gabriel (Livia's Garden Room at Prima Porta [New York 1955] 3) suggests the villa was built between 30 and 25 B.C. or "possibly as early as 38 B.C. when Livia married Octavian." The villa, with its grove, was also the findspot of the famous Prima Porta statue of Augustus, a connection that has been not much emphasized by schol- ars. But see for a discussion of the grove and statue, H. Kahler, DieAugustusstatue von Primaporta (Cologne 1959) 27-28; idem, "Der Augustus von Primaporta," Gymna- sium 63 (1956) 345-50; E. Simon, Augustus. Kunst und Leben in Rom um die Zeitenwende (Munich 1986) 56, ill. 59. Recently, G. Zinserling ("Die Programmatik der Kunstpolitik des Augustus," Klio 67 [1985] 74-80) con-

nects the statue and locale with dynastic manipulations of Livia. For a discussion of this omen in its political con- text, see M. B. Flory, 'Octavian and the Omen of the Gallina Alba," CJ 84 (1988) 343-56. 42 An enlarged illustration in N. Hannestad, Roman Art and Imperial Policy (Aarhus 1986) 57, ill. 36. 43 Nero's successor Galba set up a family stemma in the atrium of his house, claiming descent from Jupiter and Pasiphae (Suet. Gal. 2). He may well have felt the need to counter the myths of the Julio-Claudians with a dynastic myth of his own since he had no blood tie to the house of the Julio-Claudians, although he also emphasized a tenu- ous link with Livia: Suet. Gal. 5.2; Plut. Gal. 3.2.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 14: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


The grove-exclusive, sanctified by the gods, and identified with the bloodlines of Caesar and Augustus-symbolically yet very concretely manifested the political dominance of Augustus's family.

Apart from its political and historical implications, the story is a marriage omen. Pliny dates the omen to the time (between October of 39 B.C. and January of 38 B.C.) "cum pacta esset illa Caesari" ("when Livia had been betrothed") while Suetonius puts it "post Augusti statim nuptias" ("immediately after her marriage") when she was returning to Veii, that is, possibly even the very day of the marriage. In early Rome the auspices had been taken for every important private event, but the custom had died out except in the case of marriage, and even there the practice had deteriorated into simply inviting an augur to the ceremony. Not only do we have a reference to the original custom,44 but no more favorable nuptial sign could appear than the bird of Jupiter with the pregnant hen, prophesying a prolific family of triumphatores.

Many details of the omen emphasize the birth of children, fertility, and maternal nurtur- ing. The sprig that the hen holds in her beak, a generative portion of the plant, is "ramum onustum suis bacis" ("laden with berries" [Plin. HN 15.136]) and, once planted, produces a whole plantation of laurel bushes (Plin. HN 15.137; Suet. Gal. 1), while the hen equals the miraculous fertility of the laurel (Suet. Gal. 1). The twig (ramulus in Suetonius; KXUVLoV in Cassius Dio) is the living shoot or "scion" which the gardener cuts from the mother plant to root it and produce a new plant, for sprouts are the "children of trees" (Artemidorus 2.9.17).45 All three versions include one similar and significant detail: the hen and its laurel fell or were dropped into Livia's lap (bosom): gremium (Suet.); gremium (Plin.); K6XTrog (Cass. Dio.). The word gremium (as also KOXTro;) is synonymous with the womb,46 but because parents hold their children on their laps, gremium also takes on the metaphorical sense of parental love or protection since a father's or mother's lap offers shelter and warmth for a small child, just as the child may also be held close to and sheltered against an adult's chest.47 The same meta- phor appears in two anecdotes about Octavian as a child. Suetonius and Cassius Dio recount how Catulus, the consul of 78 B.C., dreamed prophetic dreams on two successive nights. In the first he saw a group of young boys playing around the cult statue of Jupiter in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline. He observed that Jupiter placed a statue of Roma that he held in his hand into the front of the toga of one little boy-Octavian-for safekeeping. While Suetonius (Aug. 94.8) says that it was the sinus where the statuette was placed, Cassius Dio tells us, in exactly the same language he used to describe the omen of Livia, that Jupiter "cast the statuette into Octavian's lap" (es TOV EKELVOV KO6X1OV E'1iPEPXT1KE'VaL

[45.2.4]). In the second dream, Catulus thought he saw the same little boy who had been

44Val. Max. 2.1.1; cf. Cic. Div. 1.28; Plin. HN 10.21, where the aegisthus, lame in one foot, is listed as a bird of aupicious omen for marriage contracts. 41 wTrTEp 5E TOV 8EVbpWV TeKVa EiLiV oi pXaoroT. This passage is bracketed as an editorial deletion by R. A. Pack, Artemidori'Daldiani Onirocriticon Libri V (Leipzig 1963). 46 For the sexual meaning of gremium and KOXTrOg, e.g., Catull. 67.30; Verg. Georg. 2. 326; Stat. Theb.1.234; Eur. Hel.1145; Paus. 7.17.11. Cf. ThLL, s.v. gremium, 2322, 36ff. and 60ff. On love gifts, such as apples, placed in the bosom or lap: B. 0. Foster, "Notes on the Symbol- ism of the Apple in Classical Antiquity," HSCP 10 (1899) 39-55. The verbs used by Suetonius, Pliny, and Cassius Dio-demisit, abiecit, evepaXe-make clear divine provi-

dence is at work. 47 See, e.g., Suet. Aug. 34.2; Gai. 25.4; Cl. 27.2; Gal. 4.3; Quint. Inst 1.2.1; Cic. Leg. 2.25.63; Hom. II. 6.400, 467. Suetonius tells the story of how Caligula ordered mud to be thrown on Vespasian when, as aedile, he failed to keep the streets clean. The mud, heaped up into the front of his toga, is interpreted to mean that the state would come under his guardianship velut in gremium (Ves. 5.3). The lap of the statue of Jupiter was the place where the general lay down his laurel, although the first attesta- tion of gremium that I can find is Plin. HN 15.134; Plin. Pan. 8.3. The verb deponere, used of the deposit of the laurel on the Capitoline, could have the same meaning, e.g., Aug. Anc. 4.1.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 15: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


entrusted with the statuette sitting on the lap of the cult statue (in gremio Capitolini Iovis); Catulus ordered the boy's removal but was prevented by a warning from the god that the child "tamquam is ad tutelam rei publicae educaretur" ("was being reared to protect the state" [Suet. Aug. 94.8]). Augustus obviously liked this domestic image, which suited either his personal taste or his position as the father of his country. All three stories make the same point: The items placed in the lap (of Livia, Octavian, Jupiter) are symbolic children to be reared by the person in whose lap they sit. Thus, Livia is the mother to the hen and the laurel, both of whom she cares for and rears. She nurtures the hen (Suet., Gal. 1) and puts it under her special care (Cass. Dio 48.52.3). Both Suetonius and Cassius Dio write that it is Livia herself who plants the laurel branch, and Suetonius connects her planting and tending of the plant and bird with their productivity: "cumque nutriri alitem, pangi ramulum placuisset, tanta pullorum suboles provenit

. . tale vero lauretum" ("And when she had decided to rear the hen and plant the branch, such a brood of chicks was hatched and such a great plantation grew" [Gal. 1]).48

It is possible to show the continued life of this story and its potential to inspire artistic depictions. That the story of the grove and laurel ends with the death of Nero suggests a living family tradition. So do other variations in the details of the story, beginning, for ex- ample, with Pliny's contradictory account of the type of laurel that was "quae . . . missa e caelo est" ("sent from heaven" [15.130]). Pliny says that the early Roman triumphatores used the so-called Delphic laurel with "maximis bacis" ("its extremely large berries" [15.127]) for their wreaths. "Some" of his sources (aliqui at 129 continued by a later iidem) call a kind of laurel that "has no berries" ([laurum] sterilem earum [i.e., bacarum], 15.130) the triumphalis, and victorious generals wore it. In a later book (HN 17.61) Pliny writes that the laurus triumphalis could only be propagated by a cutting or talea, whereas other laurels were propa- gated by layering or, as was more usual, by their berries. Pliny questions his sources ("quod maxime miror," "I am amazed at this" [15.130]), about the use of the berryless laurel for the triumphator's celebration, perhaps, although he gives no particular reason, because it seemed inappropriate for a sterile plant to represent joy and peace. Pliny reasons that the custom,

48 To this omen we might compare a story told by Suet. (Tib. 14.2) and Pliny the Elder (HN10.154). Livia, preg- nant with her second child, is anxious to discover its sex. She takes an egg from under a sitting hen and warms it in her breast. She hatches the egg and a crested cock is born, a prediction of Tiberius's future greatness. The language- fovere, excludere-used of Livia is that used of hens hatch- ing eggs, as Livia literally becomes the hen. This story should date to a time before the omen of the gallina alba since it concerns Tiberius's birth but may have been cre- ated later when Tiberius's future fortunes became clearer. Interestingly, Livia was pregnant with Drusus at the time of the omen of the gallina alba, at least according to its timing in Suetonius and Pliny. In Dio the omen would have occurred after Drusus's birth. No source mentions that fact, perhaps because she was pregnant with another man's and not Octavian's child. The prediction of the greatness of an unborn child or children is a frequent motif in Greek and Roman times, often occurring in the form of a dream that comes to a pregnant woman or to her relative. Cf., e.g., Herod. 1. 107-8; Cic. Div. 1.42; Ov. Fast. 3.29-33; Suet. Aug. 94.4. Cf. Artemidorus 5.57. The story of Vergil's birth shares features with the story about Livia. The pregnant mother dreams that she gives birth to a lau-

rel branch, which at the touch of the ground springs at once into a mature tree filled with fruits and flowers. In another tale of the birth a poplar twig is planted in the place of childbirth and grows into a wondrous tree. Cf. Suet. Verg 3-5. Where did Livia give birth? Drusus was born on 14 January, and Livia was married on 17 January 38 B.C., but literary evidence says she married Octavian when she was six months pregnant. Radke has proposed a solution. Drusus's birthdate (not in any calendar but reported by Suet. [Cl. 11.3]) was the same as Antony's, whose date of birth must have been different in the pre- Julian calendar. Radke proposes 28 March as the date of Antony's and Drusus's birth and thus solves the difficulty, as Drusus would now be born "intra mensem tertium" (Suet. Cl. 1.1) of Livia's marriage. See G. Radke, "Der Geburtstag des alteren Drusus," WuirzJbA 4 (1978) 211- 13. According to our sources, then, she would have been traveling back to Veii to await his birth. Such a detail would connect the grove with the place Drusus was born. If correct, the fact is completely suppressed in our sources. Drusus was born 'intra Caesaris penates" (Vell. 2.95.1; cf. Tac. Ann. 5.1.3; Dio Cass. 48.44.4), which indicates that Livia gave birth as the wife of Octavian but does not specify the place.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 16: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


that is, the change in the type of laurel plant, began with Augustus (130). When, however, he actually tells the story of this laurel some chapters further on, the source on which he is now relying describes a branch that is "laureum ramum onustum suis bacis" ("heavy with berries" [137]) as the miraculous laurel plant Augustus received from the gods. In the final chapter Pliny writes that it was the custom for the triumphatores from Augustus's family to pick lau- rel in the plantation that grew from the laurel branch and plant the branches that they held; perhaps this was the occasion for a change in the type of plant used in the triumph. Thus, the berryless laurel triumphalis mentioned earlier would have yielded place to the berried laurel given to Augustus. However, the earlier story still presents a contradiction, for Pliny had said that the sterile laurel had substituted for the Delphic laurel, "maximis bacis" ("with its very large berries"). While Pliny prefers the idea that the famous laurel had berries, another source clearly had stated that the triumphal laurel worn by Augustus was the sterile male laurel. Both types of laurel, berried and berryless, fit ideas that the tellers of this tale wished to emphasize. The berried laurel suggests the future pregnancies of Livia, while the male laurel represents the exclusivity of this special laurel, which could only be grown from a cutting. Only the triumphatores of the Julio-Claudian family could enter the sacred laurel plantation and cut the laurel, which they replanted in the same place. It is not difficult to imagine that the berried version of the laurel preceded the identification of the plant as the sterile male, for the first version emphasizes Livia's potential as a mother, tragically never realized with Augustus, and would have been appropriate to the first years of her marriage, to which our sources date the story. The second version closely accords with later historical reality-the closing off of triumphs to men outside the Julio-Claudian family-just as the magical laurel plant remains inaccessible in its sacred grove and once any portion of it is removed, even if only a twig, it must be instantly returned. At a deeper level the variant laurel types present a contradiction between the female fertility necessary to the production of children and the mystical self-regeneration of male power.

In his book on Pliny's sources Miinzer points out that Pliny's account differs from those of Dio Cassius and Suetonius in one important particular: Pliny (15.137) writes as if the grove still survived, but Cassius Dio and Suetonius tell us that it had withered and died. Miinzer suggests as Pliny's source Masurius Sabinus, a jurist and antiquarian contemporary of Tiberius, whose life, of course, antedated the end of the grove. In turn, he says that the source for Suetonius and Cassius Dio may have been Pliny the Elder's history a fine Aufidii Bassi.49 Yet these two sources also differ. Cassius Dio, for example, does not connect the omen with the marriage of Octavian and Livia but lists it as an addendum to prodigies that occurred in 37 B.C. on the eve of the war in Sicily. Moreover, his version emphasizes public reaction to the omen in a way that neither Suetonius nor Pliny does. We hear of the fear of the people when the omen is reported and of a slightly wry but malicious interpretation of Ko61Tos with the possible sexual innuendo that Livia will hold the power of Octavian in her lap: "And then an event happened to Livia which was a source of pleasure to her but made others fearful . ..

that Livia was about to hold the power of Caesar in her hands and would rule him utterly" (TO TE T) ALoULa aviL[a[v LKELVf3 11EV KaO' ri8oviiv E'E VETO, TOlS 5' aXOlS SEOS EVEOLflUE

.. TE ALVLoa EyKOXrrCEUa0aL KaL TflV TOV KaLuapog LCXjV Kai EV mTicrLv aVTOlJ KpaTTFUELV

E[IEXXE [48.52.4]). Dio's version sounds as if it comes from a source contemporary with the events of the 30s and preserves a bonafide contemporary reaction: An unpopular war

49The discrepancy in accounts first noted by L. Urlichs, Chrestomathia pliniana (Berlin 1857) 199, cited by F.

Miunzer, Beitrdge zur Quellenkritik der Naturgeschichte des Plinius (Berlin 1897, repr. 1988) 120-21 and n. 1.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 17: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


generated hostility against Octavian, whose enemies attempted to discredit the omen. The origin of the omen may have partly lain in the efforts of Octavian to counter the family pro- paganda of Antony. Dio's version, which chronicles public reaction, may even suggest official notice of the omen, for instance, in the acta diurna, which could have stimulated the negative interpretation of an anti-Octavian and pro-Antonian source.50 The word play on KOX1Tor cor- roborates the interpretation offered here of this element of the story. Suetonius gives a straight- forward account, neither anti-Augustus (Cassius Dio) nor pro-Augustus, in contrast to Pliny's encomiastic account, which dwells on the miraculous nature of the event. The discrepancies in the three versions imply that more than one version of the story was in circulation, that it was modified as time passed (e.g., the kind of laurel, the adulatory later version of Pliny ver- sus the hostile earlier version in Dio's source), and that, as a living story, it continued to be told and written about at various periods in history.

That Pliny's version may depend on an author contemporary with Livia is of no small interest, for it shows that the story was current and attracting attention at the very time that Livia first appears in a laurel crown in cameo portraits. The detail that Livia Drusilla later received the name of Augusta (15.136), if from Pliny's source rather than his own notation, would place this version after Augustus's death. This is the only account that documents Livia's personal reaction to the event, for she accepts the omen "intrepide miranti accessit miraculum" ("with wonder but without fear" [136]). The story could have been revived when Tiberius came to the throne as a compliment to Livia, for given Livia's failure to produce children, despite the joyous prediction of the omen, the story could only have been an embarrassment in the decades after the 30s and perhaps fell into, obscurity. The accesson of Tiberius to the throne, however, provided an appropriate moment for its revival, perhaps by Livia herself, who was the ultimate oral source of the tale. We will turn to this point again when we look at the occasion for the creation of the Marlborough gem and its portrait of Livia. One final point is worth making about the powerful hold of this story. When Vespasian came to the throne in A.D. 69, he circulated a story about an oak tree in which he connected the sprouting of its branches to the fortunes of members of his family (Suet. Ves. 5.2). As one commentator has written, it bears a surprising resemblance to the story of the laurel tree told of Augustus.51 His imitation proves the charismatic power of this story and popular knowledge of it.

The omen alludes to the formation of a powerful new dynasty through the marriage of divi Iuli filius and a scion of the patrician Claudii. Such dynastic claims were part of the rhetoric of the 30s, although there may have been other reasons for the omen's creation. Livia and Octavian were both the subject of considerable scandal at the time of their marriage. Octavian had to endure charges of wife-snatching, while the speed of his marriage to the six- months-pregnant Livia spawned jokes about three-month children and the true paternity of Drusus. The omen drew for its meaning on ideas old in Roman society: the magic or fateful tree, common in folklore, the omina imperil, the divinely chosen ruler.52 Inherent in it may have been another traditional idea of the cause-effect relationship between fertility and

50 For discussion of Dio's use of urban annalistic sources, P. M. Swan, "Cassius Dio on Augustus: A Poverty of Annalistic Sources?," Phoenix 41 (1987) 272-91. "1 K. Scott, The Imperial Cult under the Flavians (Stuttgart/Berlin 1936) 5, n.1: "The parallel .. . with the laurel tree of the Julio-Claudians is striking." 52 the tree of life see, e.g., F. B. Krauss, An Interpre- tation of the Omens, Portents, and Prodigies Recorded hy Livy, Tacitus, and Suetonius (Philadelphia 1930) 133-38;

E. 0. James, The Tree of Life: An Archaeological Study (Leiden 1966); V. Hehn, Kulturpflanzen und Hausthiere (Berlin 1894) under individual plant species; K. Botticher, Der Baumkultus der Hellenen (Berlin 1856). On the omina imperii, J. Rufus Fears, Princeps a diis electus: The Divine Election of the Emperor as a Political Concept at Rome (Rome 1977); idem, "The Theology of Victory at Rome: Approaches and Problems," ANRW 2.17.2 (1981) 736-826.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 18: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


female chastity. For example, an accused priestess of Vesta attempts to argue with Domitian that his success in war proves her purity (Plin. Ep. 4.11.7) since sterility and failure are linked in the ominal sphere to impurity. Livia, too, is chosen by the gods; the omen casts a charis- matic aura about her, elevates her above the scandal surrounding her marriage, and endows her with the feminine pudicitia, which corresponds to masculine virtus. In the stories and myths that surrounded the Vestals we see the same idea of selection by the gods." We should not, of course, conclude that the Romans would have viewed her (and Augustus's) later infer- tility as any index of her moral character.

We would misread this story if we were to see this omen as directed at Livia, even though she is the sole human actor in this dramatic little tale. She serves only as the me- dium of succession. The laurel is given to her to plant and tend in a symbolism that is transparent. Her status will rest on her fertility, which can confer on her a prestige that the ordinary mother, however prolific, cannot acquire, for the emperor's wife serves as the me- dium of divine succession. Yet at the same time the importance of motherhood and of en- suring the family name constituted the most basic of Roman social values at any level of Roman society. The omen introduces no new ideas about the role of a woman, nor does it spotlight Livia as an individual or even as a wife. It focuses only on motherhood, the pri- mary role of Roman women and their source of approbation and prestige in their family or the wider public circle.

Actual events show that these ideas were historical reality, for during the Julio-Claudian rule special honors and, in particular, the title of Augusta were intimately connected with the birth of a child or an adoption of the child of the emperor's wife if he had no blood heir of his own. Tacitus writes that the adoption of Nero and Agrippina's receipt of the title of Au- gusta were virtually simultaneous (Ann. 12.26.1-2), and although Claudius did not allow Messalina the title of Augusta on the birth of their son Britannicus, a passage in Dio shows the connection between the two events (60.12.5). Nero had the title of Augusta conferred on Poppaea Sabina at the time she gave birth (Tac. Ann. 15.23.1). In a somewhat different but related case, Caligula apparently made his sister Drusilla the heir of his estate when he be- came seriously ill and had not yet produced an heir (Suet. Cal. 24.2). Her husband, Aemilius Lepidus, might have succeeded to the throne if Caligula had not recovered. Drusilla derived high status from her power to transmit the succession, an idea to which her posthumous identification with Venus Genetrix also points. She merits the title "mother of her country" not because of any child she bore but because of her role in the succession. We connect Livia's title of Augusta with the death of her husband and his testamentary bequest, but the continuing history of the title suggests a truer connection with the ascendancy of her son to the throne.54 Some of our sources exaggerate Livia's fertility and maternity-for instance, the unknown author of the Consolatio ad Liviam, whose unctuous words could reflect the per- spective of Livia and possibly her family circle: "nec genetrice tua fecundior ulla parentum"

5 On the relationship between fertility/success and chastity: E. Fehrle, Die kultische Keuschheit im Altertum (Giessen 1910); A. Fraschetti, 'La sepoltura delle Vestali e la citta," in Du chdtiment dans la cite (Rome 1984) 97-128. On the "tests of chastity" of Vestals and selection by the gods, A. D. Nock, "A Diis Electa: A Chapter in the Religious History of the Third Century," HThR 23 (1930) 251-74. In 35 B.C., three years after her marriage, Livia received freedom from tutela, one of the privileges of the Vestal Virgins (Cass. Dio

49.38.1). By the time of her death in A.D. 29 the equa- tion between Livia and Vestal had been repeatedly made, for example, in her taking a seat with them at the theater in A.D. 21 (Tac. Ann. 4.16.6), in her right to a carpentum, in the bestowal of the ius liberorum on the Vestals after Livia received it (Cass. Dio 56.10.2). After Livia's death her cult was entrusted to the Vestals (Cass. Dio 60.5.2). 54 For a discussion of the relationship between the title Augusta and the birth of an heir, Temporini (as n. 11).

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 19: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


("No mother is more fertile than yours" [81])."5 In 9 B.C. her maternity was publicly recog- nized when the Senate, as a gesture of consolation for the death of her son Drusus, voted her the ius liberorum (Cass. Dio 55.2.5-6). The idea that the laurel wreath on cameos represents the status of Augusta suggests an even greater complexity of meaning, for the title can sug- gest motherhood, of which laurel is a symbol.

The first cameo portraits of Livia with the laurel wreath probably do not appear until after A.D. 14,56 and their commissioners are not known, so Livia herself must be brought into consideration. Cameo portraits flattered their subjects, who were probably often also the re- cipients of the portrait, with images and attributes designed to appeal to their ego and vanity. Livia was now at once widow of divus Augustus, his priestess, Augusta, and a Julian, as well as mater Augusti. An attribute was needed to express these new identities. Laurel was a mul- tifaceted symbol: of the maternal power to transmit the sucession by the divine and real mother of the gens Iulia, of the family of Augustus, and of the worship of the head of the Imperial household and its first divus. This crown, if that is what we should call it, is not the precise equivalent of the laurel wreath of the Augustus. It is an analogous symbol of stature but has a wealth of female symbolism all its own.

The Marlborough cameo in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (fig. 11), created in Rome early in the period of Tiberius's rule,57 is, I believe, the first portrait of Livia in laurel. It not only introduces a new attribute for Livia but also explains it. In this controversial double portrait lies the key to the significance of laurel in the Julio-Claudian family. Although schol- ars are generally united in identifying the female figure as Livia, some identify the male fig- ure as Augustus, others as Tiberius. Recently, Megow has reexamined the cameo and argued that the smaller portrait is not, as is often stated, a statuette-that is, a religious icon used in worship. Rather, he suggests that the cameo shows Livia in intimate conversation with her small son, whose mien and gaze resemble those of a living and lively child.58 Megow proposes that the cameo is retrospective, showing Livia with her small son long before his succession to the rule could even have been imagined. The portrait depicts a distortion of history, the inevitable certainty from his earliest childhood of the rise to the throne of Tiberius, whose oaken wreath points the way to future destiny. The commissioner may well have been Livia. The cameo, whose focus is the woman and not the far smaller figure of the child, shows her as the gentle mother who gazes with maternal love toward the little boy. The cameo presents ideas central to the omen and the meaning of the laurel: The future of Rome rests on the divine/human mother whose fertility produces the successors. Livia could have inspired or even invented the detail of the laurel attribute for this cameo. If the cameo does indeed por- tray Tiberius as a young child, it may have an even more interesting link with the famous omen. The marriage of Livia and Octavian, the occasion of the omen, took place in January

"5Cf. 1: "visa diu felix 'mater' modo dicta 'Neronum"'; 81: "nec genetrice tua fecundior ulla parentum;" 341: "optima mater"; 379: "es fetibus aucta duobus." A. Witlox comments (Consolatio ad Liviam [Groningen 1935] 16) that the poet describes Livia, the mother of only two children, as a virtual Niobe. J. Richmond dates the Consolatio ad Liviam to after A.D. 12 and before A.D.

37, suggesting the poem was written specifically for Livia. See "Doubtful Works Ascribed to Ovid," ANRW 2.31.4 (1981) 2768-83. More recently, a date of A.D. 20 has been suggested: P. H. Schrijvers, "A propos de la datation de la Consolatio ad Liviam," Mnemosyne 41 (1988) 381-84. The death of Germancius in the prior

year would have revived the memory of his father Drusus. "6Megow 1985 has argued that the Berlin fragment, which shows a laurel-wreathed female jugate with a man in a helmet, is a portrait of Livia reworked from a portrait of Cleopatra. This, however, was a cameo created for an- other, non-Roman recipient, for whom the laurel must have had its own significance. "For the date see n. 37 above. 58Megow 1987, 133-34, 256-57. Cf. Trillmich, 140, n. 27. He also argues that the statuette represents a child. I have seen the cameo in the Museum of Fine Arts, Bos- ton, and agree with this opinion.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 20: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


of 38 B.C., when Tiberius was just over three years old. The cameo's frame of reference is the time of the famous omen. If Livia is first portrayed in laurel on this cameo which refers to the young boyhood of Tiberius, then we may have a deliberate recollection and final confirma- tion of the famous omen, whose meaning had turned out rather differently from the original intention of Octavian.

There remains one final suggestion about the laurel crown in relation to Julio-Claudian women. On their wedding days, according to a single notice in Festus, brides picked a special bouquet of flowers, plants, and herbs and wove them into a marriage wreath: "corollam nova nupta de floribus, verbenis herbisque a se lectis sub amiculo ferebat" ("The new bride wore under her veil a small wreath of flowers, aromatic leaves, and herbs which she herself had gath- ered" [P63M]). We know from a handful of written sources that myrtle, naturally enough as the plant of Venus, and olive and laurel as well as flowers were used in weddings." The bride may have picked plants and flowers that she especially liked or that had a sentimental or per- sonal meaning for her. Since the wreath was worn under the veil, we have skimpy evidence of it. A relief in poor condition from Naples does show the bride preparing to wreathe her head, but the flowers and plants are not identifiable. Rossbach sees a crown under a bride's veil on a relief from Mantua.60 Laurel was a plant particularly associated with domestic festivity. Ovid says the laurel on the door posts of Augustus's house shows that the house was festa or, in turn, made Rome festa (Tr. 3.1.43) while Pliny calls laurel gratissima domibus (HN 15.127), and any household might be draped in laurel on a bride's wedding day. What would have been more appropriate for the marriage of the wives and mothers-to-be of the Julio-Claudian emperors than to wear a bridal crown woven from the famous laurel planted by Livia?

There may be some artistic evidence to support this idea, although it is far from conclu- sive. Reexamining the Gonzaga cameo in the Hermitage Museum, Kyrieleis has argued for a Roman Imperial date for this cameo, long accepted as Ptolemaic (fig. 12).61 One of his argu- ments is based on the presence of laurel for the woman, for which he finds no Hellenistic precedent. Kyrieleis's dating of this cameo to the Roman period is now widely accepted, al- though the debate about the identity of the couple depicted continues. The exemplar for this portrait is a cameo in Vienna of a Ptolemaic couple, possibly Arsinoe II and Ptolemy II Phila- delphus.62 The man wears military gear, including a helmet and aegis, as does the very simi- larly accoutered man on the Imperial cameo. The Ptolemaic queen wears a veil and a head- dress that consists of a flat band with a conical top. Kyrieleis has tentatively suggested, on the basis of similar female headdresses in marriage scenes on southern Italian vases, that the headdress is that of a bride.63 Thus, the attributes in the Ptolemaic portrait represent the couple in their essential masculine and feminine roles of soldier and wife. While the male figures on the two cameos wear similar apparel, the woman on the Roman cameo wears a laurel wreath and veil. Although the meaning of wreath and veil for individual figures is by no means clear in cameo portraits, there is some reason to see these as the attributes of a bride or wife in a double portrait. The Vienna cameo offered a model that the artist had to

s9 Cat. 64.288-93; Juv. 6.51-52; 79; Apul. Met. 4.26; Claud. Epith. 202-9; Carm. Min. 29. 28-29. On the cus- tom of the bridal wreath, A. Rossbach, Untersuchungen uber die romische Ehe (Stuttgart 1853) 292-93. 60 A. Rossbach, Romische Hochzeits-und Ehedenkmdler (Leipzig 1871, repr. 1973) 156. For an illustration of the relief in Naples, L. M. Wilson, The Clothing of the An- cient Romans (Baltimore 1938) fig. 95. 61 Kyrieleis 1971.

62 W. Oberleitner (Geschnittene Steine. Die Prunkkameen der wiener Antikensammlung [Vienna 1985] 32, tab. 14) thinks of the cameo as a marriage gift from the groom to the bride. Idem, "Der Ptolemaer-Kameo-doch ein Kameo der Ptolemaer," in MOTEIKOEANHP. Festschrift fiur Max Wegner zum 90. Geburtstag, ed. 0. Brehm and' S. Klie (Bonn 1992) 329-38. 63 Kyrieleis 1975, 81, with n. 321 and 322, suggests that Arsinoe may be represented as a bride.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 21: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


change to suit Roman customs. The laurel wreath and veil could represent this Imperial wife as a bride.',

This interpretation of laurel as an allusion to fecundity and maternal stature fits the fe- male attributes in Imperial cameos, many of which, also alluding to fertility and maternity, must have celebrated significant dynastic events such as marriage and the birth of children. A cameo in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin represents an Imperial woman with a wreath of wheat sheaves and poppies and two small children silhouetted against her breast, one of whom clasps a cornucopia (fig. 13). The crown of Ceres obviously alludes to fertility, the birth of children, and the securing of the succession. In addition to wreaths of wheat sheaves and poppy we see necklaces from which hang small single jewels. On the Gemma Augustea a seated figure, often identified as Italia or Tellus, sits wreathed in ivy, half-clothed, holding a cornucopia, with two children beside her. Around her neck, dangling from a chain, hangs a smooth, heart-shaped stone.65 The cameo in the Staatliche Museen also shows a heart-shaped jewel around the woman's throat (fig. 13), and this type of pendant appears in other cameos (fig. 12). Such pendants have regularly been described as bullae, but this, as has been persua- sively argued, is a misinterpretation. The heart-shaped stone is an amulet of fertility and ma- ternity, a stone that points to the continuation of the family line.66 The funerary relief of Ulpia Epigone, a Roman freedwoman of the Imperial period, depicts her in the guise of Venus with a similar heart-shaped amulet around her neck.67 This interpretation of the pendant gives new meaning to the exquisite blue heart-shaped sapphire in the Fitzwilliam collection, Cam- bridge, datable to the Imperial period, on which is carved a scene of Venus feeding an eagle, an image of nurturing and fertility. It was meant to be worn as a pendant.68 This may indeed be the kind of scene represented on the heart-shaped jewels worn by Imperial women on cameos, to which we can compare the mythical stone, the paneros, described by Pliny. Un- able to conceive, the queen Timaris gained possession of this magical stone, became preg- nant, and dedicated a poem of gratitude to Venus because the stone had "helped her become fertile" (HN 37.178).69

We cannot separate laurel from attributes of fertility such as the pendants, the poppies and wheat sheaves, or the cornucopia, for laurel is combined with them. On the Gonzaga cameo the female figure wears a laurel wreath and a heart-shaped pendant; laurel is used in conjunction with wheat sheaves and poppies on the Grand Camee and is a symbol of Dea

64 The Rothschild cameo shows Honorius and Maria, she with a laurel or myrtle wreath and a veil. Delbrueck sees this wreath as possibly the bridal brown and the cameo as created to celebrate their marriage. See R. Delbrueck, Spdtantike Kaiserportrdts (Berlin 1933) 206, pl. 105. Sande, 188, argues that the Rothschild cameo is a re- worked portrait of Claudius and Agrippina created at the time of their marriage, supporting the idea of the veil and wreath as symbols of a marriage in this context. 65 H. Kahler, Alberti Rubeni Dissertatio de Gemma Augustea (Berlin 1968) 25, pl. 10. 66 H. Wrede, "Der genius populi Romani und das Fiinfsaulendenkmal der Tetrarchen auf dem Forum Romanum," BJb 181 (1981) 117, with fuller discussion by H. R. Goette, "Die Bulla," BJb 186 (1986) 133-35. Kyrieleis 1971, 171, comments that the pendants (although using the term bulla) are worn byJulio-Claudian women in conjunc- tion with attributes such as the foliage crown, the cornuco- pia, and other fertility symbols suggesting the maternal and nurturing role of these women. He notes that the Fitzwilhiam

sapphire has the same symbolic content. 67E. D.'Ambra, 'The Cult of Virtues and the Funerary Relief of Ulpia Epigone," Latomus 48 (1989) 392-400. 68 The most comprehensive discussion of this stone by Vollenweider, 81-85, who interprets it as a product of the Imperial court at the end of the first century B.C. Venus, the mother of the Julian race, feeds ambrosia to Jupiter, who symbolizes the imperium Romanum. On the basis of the cutting, Vollenweider, 12, identified the stone as a bulla. W. H. Gross (GGA 220 [1968] 50) corrects the interpretation of the gem as a bulla, pointing out that it is pierced so as to be worn as a pendant and that the bulla was worn by children but that this stone was cer- tainly meant for an adult. Cf. Mobius, 54-55. Megow 1987, D32, 300, agrees that the stone is not a bulla and that the heart shape must have been essential to the mean- ing of the stone. 691 Ifollow the text of E. de Saint-Denis, Pline l'ancien, histoire naturelle, livre XXXVII (Paris 1972) ad loc. with adiutam for the variant reading of additam.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 22: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


Roma on the cornucopia cameo in Vienna. Laurel intwines with poppy and wheat sheaves in the crown that Livia wears on the Palatine cameo. While the laurel wreath may allude to the status of Augusta, it also reveals the basis of that status: female fertility. The Julio-Claudian women who have the title Augusta either bore sons who became emperors or, as in the case of Poppaea Sabina, had given birth at least once. When Nero extravagantly conferred this title on his baby daughter, he was already dreaming of the sons she would one day produce to continue his family line. While the laurel wreath may allude to family membership, the basis of female status in that family was the birth of male children. The wreath may extol a woman's potential for bearing male children in the future as well as celebrate her achievement in childbearing in the past.

While laurel does not appear in the official or quasi-official lists of felix/infelix plants that survive in the writings of Pliny and Macrobius, the Romans commonly believed in the lucky traits of this plant. Plants that were struck by lightning were infelix, but general super- stition held that laurel was never struck by lightning (Pin. HN 2.146; Serv. Aen. 1.394). In general, plants that produced fruit were felix (Plin. HN 16.108). In a definition of the arbor felix that recalls the laurel sent from heaven, Fronto says it has branches "bacis pomisque onusti" ("laden with berries and fruit" [Amic. 2.7.14]). By a logical extension of that mean- ing, fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing plants became lucky and unlucky.70 According to Aulus Gellius (10.15.28), the flaminica Dialis wore a twig from a plant that was felix on her head. An expansion of that brief notice (Serv. Aen: 4.137) tells us that it was the "virga ex malo Punica incurvata ... vinculo laneo albo" ("pomegranate, bent to form a wreath, and bound with a white woolen tie").71 The botanical term for a cutting, surculus, which Gellius uses, could indicate that the twig she wore was still green and alive, having inherent within it the power of reproduction.72 Her wreath could have alluded to a deity like Juno but more likely was a symbolic reference to the ideal of fertility, exemplified in the many-seeded pomegran- ate fruit, since her marriage to her husband had to be ritually unblemished and in their un- broken union lay prosperity for the whole Roman people.73 Such ideas, deeply embedded in Roman folk belief and agricultural lore, are implicit in Livia's crown. The laurel wreath both

70Onfelix and infelix plants, Festus P92M; Macr. 3.20.2; Plin. HN 24.68; Verg. Aen. 6.230 (with Servius's com- ment ad loc.); Other sources collected in K. Botticher, DerBaumkultus der Hellenen (Berlin 1856) 302-12, with addendum in W. A. Oldfather, "Livy 1.26 and the Supplicium de More Maiorum," TAPA 39 (1908) 70, n. 4. Discussion of sources and dates of official lists in J. Andre, "Arbor felix, arbor infelix," Hommages d Jean Bayet (Coll. Lat. 70, 1964) 35-46. Tiberius wore a laurel wreath during thunderstorms (Plin. HN 15.135); E. McCartney, "Why did Tiberius Wear Laurel in the Form of a Crown during Thunderstorms?," CP24 (1929) 201- 2. Citation of Fronto from the text of M. P. J. Van den Hout, M. Corneliifrontonis epistulae (Leipzig 1988). 71 The same wreath is also attested for the wife of the rex sacrificorum by Festus (P113M). 72 On the use of surculus to mean a "scion," see, e.g., Cat. Agr. 41.3; Var. RI.41.5; Plin. HN17.68, OLD s.v. surculus, 2. 73 The marriage of the flamen Dialis could not be dis- solved by divorce: Gell. 10. 15.23; Plut. QR 50. If his wife died, he had to relinquish the priesthood: Gell. 10. 15.22; Plut. QR 50. Theflaminica Dialis is a univira: Ovid, Fast.

6. 232. Other evidence in RE 6 (1909) s.v. flamen, 2491- 92. On interpretation of the holy wedlock of the flamen and flaminica Dialis and its symbolic meaning for Rome, N. Boels, "Le statut religieux de la flaminica Dialis," REL 51 (1973) 77-100. On avoidance of contact with death, J. H. Vanggaard, The Flamen: A Study in the History and Sociology of Roman Religion (Copenhagen 1988) 88-104. On the fertility symbolism of the pomegranate, F. Muthmann, Der Granatapfel: Symbol des Lebens in der alten Welt (Bonn 1982) passim. Was Livia's own priest- hood related to that of the flaminica Dialis? There are conflicting opinions. See, e.g., H.-W. Ritter (as n. 14) 324, who argues for an intrinsic connection between the two priesthoods. W. Weber (Princeps [Stuttgart/Berlin 1936] n. 427) calls Livia's priesthood exceptional and non-Roman. M. Grant (Aspects of the Principate of Tiberius [New York 1950] 119) disagrees with Weber. Although Grant sees the flaminica Dialis as a partial pre- cedent (since she also sacrificed to a male deity), he em- phasizes the analogy of the Vestal Virgins. Still open is the issue of whether the wreath of the flaminica Dialis may have been one model for the foliage crown with knotted ribbon for Imperial women.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 23: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


is blessed in itself and brings blessing to others. The laurel is truly, in these artistic depic- tions, a plant of hope, promise, and happiness, Ovid's "plant of joy" that draped a household's doors on a bride's wedding day. The laurel-wreathed women in Roman court cameos are, to borrow Vergil's phrase, felix prole virum (Aen. 6.784).


Alfoldi, A., Die zwei Lorbeerbdume des Augustus (Bonn 1973). ,"Insignien und Tracht der romischen Kaiser,' MdI(R) 50 (1935) 1-17 1.

Gross, W. H., Iulia Augusta (Gottingen 1962). Jucker, H. "Der Grosse Parisier Kameo: Eine Huldigung an Agrippina, Claudius und Nero," JdI 91

(1976) 2 11-50. Kyrieleis, H., Bildnisse der Ptolemaer (Berlin 1975).

" Der Kameo Gonzaga," BJb 171 (1971) 162-93. Megow, W.-R., Kameen von Augustus bis Alexander Severus (Berlin 1987).

, "Zu einigen Kameen spathellenistischer und friuhaugusteischer Zeit," JdI 100 (1985) 445-96. Mobius, H., "Zweck und Typen der romischen Kaiserkameen," ANRW 2.12.3 (1985) 32-88. Sande, S., "Romische Frauenportrats mit Mauerkrone," ActaAArtHist, ser. 8, 5 (1985) 151-245. Trillmich, W., "Beobachtungen am Bildnis der Agrippina Maior oder: Probleme und Grenzen der

'Typologie'," MdI(M) 25 (1984) 135-58. Vollenweider, M.-L., Die Steinschneidekunst und ibre Kunstler in spatrepublikanischer und Augusteischer

Zeit (Baden-Baden 1966). Zwierlein-Diehl, E., Glaspasten im Martin-von-Wagner-Museum der Universitdt Wurzburg (Munich 1986).

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 24: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


Fig. 1. Bust ofAugustus wearing the aegis. New York, The Metropolitan Museum ofArt, purchase 1942,

Joseph Pulitzer bequest 42.11.30 (courtesy Museum).

Fig. 2. Gemma Claudia. Vienna, Kunsthis.orisches Museum IXa.63 (courtesy Museum).

. . . ..... .~ ~ ~ ~~~~~~~~:...

Fig. 3. Ekerly woman wearing knotted ribbon. Rome, Museum Nazionale delle Terme 125713 (courtesy DAI).

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 25: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


Fig. 4. Grand Camle de France. Paris Biblioth~que Nationale, Cabinet des MIdailles 264 (courtesy Bibhioth?que)-


Fig. 5. Imperialprincess. Paris, BibliothFque Nationale, Cabinet des Mcdailes 280

(courtesy BibliothFque).

.! 2

.: .. . ... ..;.

Fig 6 Imperial couple Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 98754 H L Pierce Fund (courtesy Museum)

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 26: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia



Fig. 7. Attendant carryinga canistrum. Rome, MuseeoNuovo Capitolino, 1881 and 2830 (courtesy DAI).

Fig. & Aureus, obverse:ANTONIA AUGUSTA. London, British Museum

(courtesy Museum).

Fig. 9. Aureus, reverse: SACERDOS DIVI AUGUSTI. London, British Museum

(courtesy Museum).

'i.'ilg.-g::-.9.-...-.1.'.:::R..Q ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~. ...

Fig. 10. Livia. Rome, Museo Capitolino 121. After M. -L. Vollenweider, Die Steinschneidekunst und ihre Kunstder in spatrepublikanischer

und Augusteischer Zeit, pl. 73.7.

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Page 27: The Symbolism of Laurel in Cameo Portraits of Livia


Fig. 11. Livia and Tiberius. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 99.109. H. L. Pierce Fund (courtesy Museum).

Fig. 12. Cast. Imperial couple. St. Petersburg. Ermitage Z291 (Courtesy DAI).

Fig. 13. Imperial princess. Berlin, Antikensammiung,

Staatliche Museen 11096 (courtesy Museen).

This content downloaded from on Fri, 14 Nov 2014 18:56:54 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions