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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Spectacles as a medium for dynastic promotion in the Severan age Brothers, Bethany Allison


This dissertation examines Roman spectacles from the Severan period as a medium for dynastic promotion. Recently scholars have shown a renewed interest in the Severan age. It is the intention here to investigate how the Severan emperors used spectacles to legitimize themselves and to maintain their power, authority, and control over Rome, something especially important given the tumultuous nature of the period. My investigation includes analysis of the literary sources, epigraphy, numismatics, mosaics, reliefs, and archaeological remains in order to better understand spectacles and their use for dynastic promotion. The introductory chapter outlines the issue of Severan spectacles, demonstrating the importance of further investigation in this area. It also includes a discussion of definitions of spectacle, a commentary on the main literary sources (Cassius Dio, Herodian, the Historia Augusta, and Tertullian), and an exploration of the events that led to the establishment of the Severan dynasty. Chapter 2 examines annual ludi (festivals) and the Secular Games (ludi saeculares) of Septimius Severus held in 204 CE. Also included is an analysis of the revival of Greek-style athletics and competitions (agones) in Rome and Elagabalus’ midsummer festival. Chapter 3 looks at festival buildings in Rome, while Chapter 4 studies spectacles and pomp, focusing on processions (pompae) preceding the games, triumphal processions, and the profectio and adventus in Rome. Chapter 5 investigates dynastic events including birthdays (dies natales), funerals (funera censoria), and weddings (nuptiae). Chapter 6 focuses on an examination of spectacles in the provinces, including the revival of the Pythian Games under Severan influence, local agonistic festivals held in honour of the emperor, provincial adventus and festivals coinciding with imperial visits to provincial areas and military spectacles. This dissertation expands our understanding of spectacles in the Severan age. In a period, fraught with civil strife and conflict, spectacles offered an opportunity for the emperor to demonstrate his benefaction, to create a positive public image for himself, and to associate himself with the great emperors of the past, especially Augustus. Through its use of spectacles, the Severan dynasty left a lasting impression on the Roman world.

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