THE TOGA AND ROMAN IDENTITY

Ursula Rothe

Bloomsbury (2020) h/b 241pp £85 (ISBN 9781472571540)

It is a great pity that the selling price of this book is rather high and may put it out of the reach of some, since it is a must-read for all those interested in Roman social history.  It is readable, written in a clear style, and helpfully illustrated with photographs throughout the text.

Making excellent use of the latest research, including her own in the Roman northwest, the author opens a window on this central feature of Roman identity.  Not only does she describe all the material aspects of the toga from Etruscan tebenna to late antique trabea and finally imperial Byzantine loros,  its varying sizes and shapes, its fashions and draping styles, but she analyses its evolving meanings in society as ‘the quintessential symbol of Romanness’.  The book begins and ends (chapters 2 and 7) with chronological overviews of the material toga and ranges geographically from Rome and Italy to the provinces (chapter 6), although the focus, given the spread of evidence, remains on Rome and Italy.  Chapter 3 discusses the toga as a gendered symbol and expression of Roman manhood in all its sense of sturdy piety, responsibility and dutifulness.  In chapter 4 the toga is examined as an expression of social status among freedmen and the non-elite as well as the elite, as the mark of citizenship and of upward mobility in society: Romanness could be put on like a garment.  While chapter 5 looks at the toga and politics and is thus inevitably Rome-centred, turning to the provinces, in the next chapter the author discusses the variety of ways in which varieties of toga were used to express as much of a Roman identity as the wearer wished.

So the books fulfils its purposes: it combines the evidence we have for the toga, whether written or visual; it reveals the role of the toga in non-elite circles and in the provinces; the toga is put at the centre of Roman ideas of identity and how it worked out in practice.

I thoroughly recommend it.

Inga Mantle                    

The Open University in Scotland

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