Claudian's last panegyric and imperial visits to Rome

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Claudian of Alexandria's last datable poem, the Panegyric on the Sixth Consulship of Honorius, was delivered in Rome in 404, presumably on 1 January. This performance occurred in the course of the first visit to Rome by an emperor for nearly a decade and a half. Imperial visits to Rome were notoriously rare in the fourth century and, in a well-known passage of that poem, the goddess Roma herself muses on their rarity: she had only seen an Augustus three times in the last hundred years (VI Cos. 392–3). This is not quite true, but the only legitimate emperors known to have paid formal visits to Rome in that period were Constantine in 312–13, 315 and 326, Constantius II in 357, and Theodosius I, accompanied by his four-year-old son Honorius, in 389. In this article I shall begin by making an observation about the court's intentions in moving to Rome in late 403 (Section I), and then deal with two problems bound up with the interpretation of this poem and with the circumstances of imperial visits. The first problem (Section II) concerns the visit of Honorius during which the poem was first performed. In Claudian's narrative the description of Honorius' triumphal entry leads into a description of his assumption of the consulate, and scholars have sometimes asserted that he made a triumphal entry as consul on 1 January 404. This is clearly wrong: Honorius arrived in Rome weeks or months before. But even when this point is recognized, it is often asserted that the poem blends triumphal and consular imagery, and elements of the triumphal entry are confused with the assumption of the consulship (most recently by Michael Dewar in his generally outstanding commentary on the poem). My argument therefore moves from the chronology of Honorius' visit to elucidating the structure and imagery of Claudian's poem, as well as casting light on the patterns of the late antique imperial aduentus more broadly. The second problem (Section III) concerns the description of Honorius' previous visit to Rome with his father in the summer of 389. Here it has sometimes been inferred (including again by Dewar) on the basis of Claudian, and of late chronicles, that Honorius was created Caesar by his father on 13 June, the day of the aduentus. I shall show on the basis of a critical examination of the chronicle tradition, as well as a survey of contemporary numismatic, epigraphic and literary evidence, that this belief is unfounded, and that the relevant passages of Claudian require a different interpretation. However, this evidence also makes clear that signals were being sent in 389 about Honorius' imperial future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-357
JournalThe Classical Quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2016


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