Nero’s Ancestry and the Construction of Imperial Ideology in the Early Empire. A Methodological Case Study
Number of pages
SourceJournal of Ancient History and Archaeology, 1, 4, (2014), pp. 7-27
Article / Letter to editor
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Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology
SubjectEurope and its Worlds before 1800; The Ancient World
Within the discipline of ancient history, diverse types of sources, such as coins, inscriptions, portraits and texts, are often combined to create a coherent image of a particular ruler. A good example of how such a process works is the way in which reconstructions by modern scholars of the emperor Nero tend to look for a clearly defined ‘Neronian image’, by bringing together various types of primary evidence without paying sufficient attention to these sources’ medial contexts. This article argues that such a reconstruction does not do justice to the complex and multi-layered image of the last Julio-Claudian. By focusing on one particular aspect of Neronian imagery, the propagation of this emperor’s ancestry, we will argue that different types of sources, stemming from varying contexts and addressing different groups, cannot unproblematically be combined. Through an investigation of the ancestral messages spread by imperial and provincial coins, epigraphic evidence and portraiture, it becomes clear that systematic analysis of ancient media, their various contexts and inconsistencies is needed before combining them. Such an analysis reveals patterns within the different sources and shows that, in creating imperial images, rulers were constrained by both medial and local traditions. Modern studies of ancient images should therefore consider this medial and geographical variety in order to do justice to the multi-faceted phenomenon of imperial representation.
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