Augsburg Altar and dedicatory inscription (AE 1993, 1231)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
On the Roman side of the river Lech (Augsburg-Gänsbühl). Augusta Vindelicum, Raetia (Bavaria, Germany).
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Roman Museum, Augsburg (Bavaria, Germany); inventory number: Lap. 1201. 1200.
260 CE Sep 11th
Physical Characteristics: 
Altar; originally dedicated to Alexander Severus but reused with a new inscription added to celebrate the victory of a Roman army over the tribe of the Juthungi, near the provincial capital of Rhaetia, Augusta Vindelicorum, during the reign of the ‘rebel’ emperor Postumus.
The original inscription to Alexander Severus survives above the new dedication, hidden under the protruding lipped lid of the altar. The sides of the altar are decorated with the figure of Mars, on the left, and a winged Victoria on the right; she raises a wreath in her right hand and holds a palm branch in her left, with the figure of a barbarian kneeling before her.
Width:  97 cm
Height: 156 cm
Depth: 75 cm
AE 1993, 1231 (cf. AE 1997, 1204)
This inscription is found on an altar dedicated to Victory, that was set up in modern Augsburg in 260 CE; it is an important record for the so-called ‘Gallic Empire’ that was set up by the “rebel-emperor” Postumus, in the north western provinces of the Roman empire, which he governed separately from the “Roman” empire of Gallienus in Italy and beyond. The altar records the 259 CE invasion of the German frontier, the limes Germanicus, by the northern tribes the Jugunthi and the Suebi, and the capture of thousands of Italians as their captives. The discovery of the altar in 1993 provided the first evidence for this dramatic event, as well as further clarifying the expansion and chronology of Postumus’ rival empire and the framework within which he attempted to govern.
The inscription was set up on a re-used altar that had previously been dedicated to Alexander Severus; the initial dedication to him is just visible below the protruding edge of the top of the altar, which may also have carried a statue of the goddess Victoria. Reliefs on the two sides of the altar depict scenes that fit with the martial record inscribed on the face, with an image of an armoured Mars to one side, and the personification of Victoria, bearing a laurel crown, before a kneeling captive on the other. The new inscription, which appears – from the consulship named in the final line – to have been inscribed in 260 CE, was set up by one Marcus Simplicinius Genialis to commemorate the successful retaliation of his army against the “barbarian peoples of the Semnoni or Juthungi” (barbaros gentis Semnonum / sive Iouthungorum), who were “killed and put to flight” (caesos / fugatosque), “by soldiers from the province of Raetia, and also troops from the Germanies and the same population” (a militibus prov(inciae) / Raetiae sed et Germanicianis / itemque popularibus). The inscription records that “many thousands of Italian captives were freed” (excussis / multis milibus Italorum captivorum), indicating that they had been taken hostage by the invading tribes, and that it was on account of their liberation that Marcus Simplicinius Genialis set up the monument to “sacred Victory” (deae sanctae Victoriae…compos votorum suorum). This event went entirely unrecorded in the literary sources, but it does correspond to incursions that are known to have taken place in the autumn and winter of 259 CE, when the Jugunthi – named in the inscription – invaded Italy through the German frontier; the emperor Gallienus defeated German raiders at Mediolanum (modern Milan, Italy) in 260 CE, but not before the Jugunthi had moved further north with their Italian hostages in tow (for discussion of the chronology of these events and which tribes were taking part, see Bakker, “Raetien unter Postumus,” p. 269-283; Drinkwater, The Alamanni and Rome, p. 43-59). As the inscription indicates, it was the Jugunthi that Marcus Simplicinius Genialis met, having rallied soldiers from the province of Raetia – in the capital of which, Augusta Vindelicorum, the altar was set up – and the German territories, supplementing their number with members of “the same population” (itemque popularibus), or civilians (for a discussion of the meaning of popularibus, see Le Roux, “Armées, rhétorique et politique dans l’Empire gallo-romain,” p. 281-284).
As well as narrating that this incident took place, the inscription from Augsburg is an important source for understanding how the “Gallic empire” of Postumus was understood by contemporaries, and what the nature of its power really was. Postumus, a Roman commander of provincial origins who was then the governor of Germania Inferior, had defeated a German raiding party as it crossed back over the Rhine with its booty, which the emperor Gallienus’ deputy in the region, Silvanus, demanded be turned over to him. When Postumus refused, giving it to his troops instead, they acclaimed him emperor and the group marched to Cologne, where he established a separate empire in the west, including Gaul, Britain and Spain, as well as the Germanies (see Aurelius Victor, On the Caesars, 33.8; Zosimus, New History, I.38.2. For discussion of when in 260 CE this took place, see Christol and Loriot, “À propos de l’inscription d’Augsbourg,” p. 223-227). Until the discovery of the Augsburg altar, the province of Raetia was not known to have been part of it this rival empire (for Postumus’s revolt, see Drinkwater, The Gallic Empire, p. 21-27). His ‘empire’ was to last almost a decade, before he was assassinated by his troops in early 269 CE, and yet his reign was largely excluded from the literary sources in what appears to be a deliberate exclusion from the “genealogy of legitimate power,” which also saw the names of Postumus and Genialis erased by damnatio memoriae (Ando, Imperial Rome, p. 160).
It is clear from evidence such as the Augsburg inscription, however, that the “state” that Postumus ruled was clearly intended to be independent from that of the “Roman” empire across the Alps; at no point did he attempt to cross that frontier into Italy and pose a direct threat to Gallienus in Rome, leaving him to govern the central empire of Italy, north Africa, Egypt, Greece and the Danubian region (Drinkwater, “Maximinus to Diocletian,” p. 45-46).  However, in spite of the seeming independence of Postumus’s empire, the inscription reveals that the cultural and political framework within which it existed was “utterly Roman” (Ando, Imperial Rome, p. 161). The earlier inscription to Alexander Severus remained partially visible, including its dedication “to the divine house” (domus divinae), and the goddess to whom the altar was dedicated – Victoria – represented a clear act of pietas, which was mirrored by the virtus of the military activity described in the inscription and in the soldiers’ liberation of the captives. These were the principles of empire upon which Rome’s power had been founded, and which earlier emperors had celebrated in their coinage and adoption of honorific titles. Marcus Simplicinius Genialis, the dedicator of the altar, is described as vir perfectissimus, in a clear continuation of the specific Roman titulature used to denote Roman social ranks, and his office is described in the “language of Roman law” (agens vices praesidis – “acting the place of the governor”). Postumus is named Augustus, and the date is given by reference to the consulship that he held with Honoratianus (Postumo Augusto et Honoratiano consulibus). Coinage and other inscriptions reveal that as well as taking on the consulship, Postumus asserted himself to hold tribunicia potestas and was also pontifex maximus. As David Potter has noted, his expression of imperial office was steeped in the titulature and structures of the central Roman government: “the language of Roman imperial power provided a vocabulary for the expression of ideas about power, but it did not prescribe the exact form that these local responses would take” (The Roman Empire at Bay, p. 261). This would then explain the large number of ‘officials’ raised into positions of power by Postumus whose nomenclature reveal decidedly ‘local’ origins, meaning that the upper levels of his administration must have been “rapidly Gallicized” (ibid; see Drinkwater, The Gallic Empire, p. 125-126 for examples of these ‘local’ names). In spite of this ‘Gallic’ imperial government there appears to have been little interest in any expression of “nationalist” ambition nor the desire to overthrow Rome itself; as Clifford Ando rightly states, “there is no evidence that Postumus or any resident of his empire wished to overthrow Rome or…to fashion themselves by some means as somehow non-Roman” (Imperial Rome, p. 162). There’s was an ‘empire’ separate from Rome, which was able to govern and protect itself without recourse to the structures in place in Italy, but which saw itself clearly in its maker’s image, and particularly in the centralising nature of Rome’s cultural and political influences.
Bibliographical references: 
Drinkwater, John, Maximinus to Diocletian and the crisis, in The Cambridge ancient history: The crisis of empire, A.D. 193-337 (ed. A.K. Bowman, P. Garnsey, A. Cameron; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 28-66
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Augsburg Altar and dedicatory inscription (AE 1993, 1231)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Sun, 08/12/2018 - 23:05
Visited: Mon, 02/18/2019 - 23:51

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