Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Survival and Supremacy of Rome: The Unity of the Shield of Aeneas*

  • S. J. Harrison (a1)

What is the most plausible connection which can be constructed between the various scenes from Roman history selected for depiction on the Shield of Aeneas, described in Aeneid 8.626–728? This question has found a variety of answers since Warde Fowler raised it in 1918, but none is entirely satisfactory. The order of presentation of the individual scenes is evidently chronological, from the beginnings of Rome to the poet's own day, but the poet's own explicit programme, that the Shield contains res Italas Romanorumque triumphos (626), is very general, and could apply equally well to the Show of Heroes in Aeneid 6. The reader feels that a more specific criterion of selection is in operation — why these particular pieces of Roman military history?

The most significant modern proposals for such a criterion are reviewed by West in an important article. For instance, Drew's argument that the scenes represent the four imperial virtues of virtus, clementia, iustitia, and pietas ascribed to Augustus on the golden shield presented to him by the Senate in 27 B.C. (Res Gestae 34.2, CIL VI.876), a stone copy of which survives at Arles, laudably makes the connection with a real, contemporary, and ideologically significant shield, but (as West points out) it is too schematic and does not account for all the details (how are the she-wolf and the rape of the Sabines to be accommodated under those labels?). West's own answer, that the scenes chosen are those particularly suited to depiction in plastic art, has many attractions, but it is difficult to see it as the sole criterion for selection: this is too important an ideological moment in the Aeneid for such a purely aesthetic explanation.

Hide All

1 Fowler, W. Warde, Aeneas at the Site of Rome (1918), 103–5.

2 West, David, ‘Cernere erat: the Shield of Aeneas’, PVS 15 (19751976), 17, reprinted in Harrison, S. J. (ed.), Oxford Readings in Vergil's Aeneid (1990), 295304.

3 Drew, D. L., The Allegory of the Aeneid (1927), 2631.

4 Conveniently illustrated in Zanker, P., The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1988), 95, fig.79.

5 loc. cit. (n. 1).

6 It is notable that this shield is later brandished by Aeneas as a token of forthcoming victory, and that it depicts Augustus victorious and stans celsa in puppi 8.680), the same phrase used of Aeneas as he brandishes it (10.261): for this parallelism see conveniently S. J. Harrison's commentary (1991) on Aeneid 10.242–3 and 10.261–2.

7 Woodman, A. J., ‘Virgil the historian: Aeneid 8.626–62 and Livy’, in Diggle, J., Hall, J. B., and Jocelyn, H. D. (eds), Studies in Latin Literature and its Tradition in Honour of C. O. Brink, Cambridge Philological Society supplementary volume 15 (1989), 132–45.

8 For Rome's position in Italy in this period see Cornell, T. J., The Beginnings of Rome (1995), 208–14.

9 There was indeed a tradition in which the Capitol too was said to have been captured, quite possibly recording historical reality, naturally obscured by Roman historians: cf. O. Skutsch, The Annals of Quintus Ennius (1985), 408.

10 For further connections of the Lupercalia with Romulus and Remus see the interesting speculations of Wiseman, T. P., Remus: A Roman Myth (1995), 7788.

11 For the Luperci cf. Wissowa, G., Die Religion und Kultus der Römer (2nd edn, 1912), 559–61; for the Salii, idem, 555–9.

12 The point is made by Kraus, C. S., Livy: Ab Urbe Condita Book VI (1994), 109.

13 Griffith, J. G., ‘The Shield of Aeneas’, PVS 7 (19671968), 5465. The absence of Hannibal in a list of dangers to Rome on the Shield is indeed striking, but the Punic Wars are particularly well covered in the Show of Heroes (both Scipios, Regulus, and Fabius Maximus at Aeneid 6.842–6).

14 Vergil's reading of Sallust here is suggested by Syme, R., Sallust (1964), 286 and Woodman, op. cit. (n. 7), 145 n. 61.

15 I owe this last point to Dr Peta Fowler, and am most grateful to her for allowing me to include it here.

16 cf. Syme, R., The Roman Revolution (1939), 305: ‘When the Triumvir Antonius abode for long years in the East men might fear lest the city be dethroned from its pride of place, lest the capital of empire be transferred to other lands’.

17 This is of course a classic example of the feature identified by Edward Saïd's Orientalism (1978).

18 Res Gestae 20.4 states that this building programme was carried out in 28 rather than 29 B.C., butlike the dedication of Palatine Apollo in 28 it was all surely part of Augustus’ self-presentation on his return to Rome; in his account of the triumph, Vergil sees this and in effect collapses the events of the two years together.

19 For the parallel between Camillus and Augustus cf. Kraus, op. cit. (n. 12), 345; one might also add that both celebrated triple triumphs (cf. Livy 6.7.4, triplicem triumphum; Aeneid 8.714, triplici… triumpho).

20 Plutarch, Antony 61.2–6, mentioning North Africa, many cities of Asia Minor, the Euphrates, and Armenia (the country of the Araxes).

21 For the Geloni cf. Horace, , Odes 2.9.23 with the commentary of Nisbet and Hubbard (1978); for the Rhine and Germany cf. Vergil, , Georgics 1.509, Horace, , Odes 4.5.26; for the Dahae and the region of the Caspian cf. Aeneid 6.798.

22 West, op. cit. (n. 2); Hardie, Philip, Virgil's Aeneid: Cosmos and Imperium (1986), 336–76.

* I am most grateful to the Editorial Committee for its helpful comments and suggestions.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Roman Studies
  • ISSN: 0075-4358
  • EISSN: 1753-528X
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-roman-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed