Water and benefaction as an expression of Julio-Claudian power



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In the arid Mediterranean world the careful management of water was essential for survival. Control of this resource was akin to political power. Rome and its environs were no different: water was an important status symbol and granting public access to it was considered a particularly generous gesture. During the principate a successful emperor was expected to demonstrate concern for the needs of the populace and one of the most effective ways for him to do this was by providing abundant quantities of water. As a political tool, water proved to be invaluable in its versatility. Imperial gifts could manifest in the form of access to drinking water, leisure spaces such as public gardens and baths, or even spectacular games and shows given on purpose-built artificial lakes. Additionally, massive engineering works such as aqueducts, harbors, and drainage projects, aimed at improving the water and food supply, were carefully designed to showcase the resources and generosity of the imperial patron. This study traces the origins of these forms of largesse, following their development from the Republican period to the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. By examining the water-related monuments and spectacles of each individual Julio-Claudian emperor in the context of their time, this dissertation aims to reconstruct the structures themselves, their intended audiences, and the water policies and patterns of influence created by each Julio-Claudian emperor. The first principes of Rome were still shaping their role and exploring ways in which they could balance their exercise of power with their expected responsibilities to the different strata of Roman society. The early principes began to experiment with water related munificence, and created many new forms of buildings and displays for the public that would eventually become canonical components of Imperial largesse and legitimization.