UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ex manubiis : literary representations of Flavian spectacle Odell, Heather Miranda


The Roman emperor Vespasian was declared emperor in absentia at the end of 69 CE, the Year of the Four Emperors; he was the first man from outside the Julio-Claudian family to hold imperial power for more than a few months, remaining in power until his death in 79 CE and succeeded by his son Titus. Vespasian won the conflict with military force, but once in power he faced the unique challenge of demonstrating the legitimacy of his reign without the pedigree of an old Roman family name to draw upon, and so he relied on other means of stabilizing his power. Vespasian returned to Rome bearing an influx of wealth from the Judaean War, and he funded lavish spectacles and buildings like the Colosseum from the spoils (ex manubiis). Vespasian’s buildings and spectacles were impressive displays of his wealth and generosity to the people of Rome, but spectacles can only awe and impress the immediately present audience in Rome for the short time that they last; the Colosseum stays standing as a reminder, but it is inert without its shows. Written descriptions of the spectacle, on the other hand, could travel widely and cheaply, extending the reach of Vespasian’s grand displays through time and space. This thesis is concerned with two such pieces of writing: Josephus’ description in Bellum Judaicum of Vespasian and Titus’ double triumph in 71 CE; and Martial’s Liber Spectaculorum, a collection of epigrams about the inaugural games of the Colosseum in 80 CE. I argue that these literary representations of spectacle effectively reproduced the original spectacles for the reading audience through a variety of rhetorical and literary techniques, ultimately presenting an affirmative view of Flavian rule over the Roman empire, and Roman rule over the world.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada