Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.03.12


Charlotte Roueché, Performers and Partisans at Aphrodisias in the Roman and late Roman periods. J.R.S. Monograph no.6. Society for the promotion of Roman Studies, London: 1993. Pp. 282; xxiv plates.


Reviewed by W.J. Slater, McMaster University.

This book offers the reader far more than the title suggests. The present volume follows from the author's best known articles in Aphrodisias Papers 2 and on acclamations in JRS 74 (1984) 181-199. Once again, starting from the inscriptions of Aphrodisias, old and new, she manages in the finest tradition of Louis Robert to illuminate areas of social life and the history of drama where our literary sources are fragmented and incoherent. This book best stands comparison with Alan Cameron's Circus Factions, which must almost be read along with it, in view of the constant cross references. But it fills in the chronological area which Cameron had to pass over quickly, and which will be of interest to most classicists, viz. the rise of the claques and the theatrical industry of imperial Rome, and the sudden decline of the gymnasia in the fourth century, and the slow disappearance of the spectacles thereafter. I am not aware that these issues have ever been treated with such clarity in such a brief compass as here.

The range of Dr. Roueché's scholarship is startling. Saints' lives, papyri, inscriptions from all over the empire are assembled on almost every page, for though the impetus for the publication comes from the inscriptions of Aphrodisias, the importance of the book lies in the extensive commentary, which surrounds them. Particularly to be praised are the brevity and precision of reference. Footnotes remain footnotes, referring to primary sources. The text itself is written in a lively style and in beautifully clear English. Considering that the subject matter is often illiterate graffiti, it is paradoxical that the material is so fascinating that it is difficult to put this book down. It would have been easy simply to have published these texts with the usual brief technical notes. Classicists will be glad that Dr. Roueché has seen fit to give us the kind of commentary that should serve students as a model of what can be achieved with epigraphy.

The inscriptions come from the theatre, the odeum and the stadium; they are scratched or carved on the seats and on the walls. These are treated under the general headings of "Perfomers" and "Audience". An important conclusion deals with the growth of the factions. In lengthy appendices we find published and republished most of the agonistic inscriptions from Aphrodisias, and inscriptions about the artists' guilds, again with an important survey of the material. I treat now the chapters individually.

We start with a brief and useful survey of the growth and decline of festivals in the empire, with a discussion of the methods of their financing. The decline in euergetism, encouraged by the massive inflation of the third century, is only partly compensated by imperial grants and specific tax measures. Christian emperors did not by themselves bring about the end of spectacles, even gladiatorial events. But responsibility for the financing also involved the imperial administration more than ever in the hothouse politics of such games as survived.

The section on performers deals first with mimes and pantomimes on the basis of seven graffiti from the theatre. In order to know where these are one must go to Aphrodisias Papers 2: the sketch and the description are insufficient to orient the reader. The use of "stage" or "stage front" are inadequate, and there should be here and in other works of theatre architecture greater precision. The mimes acted in front of the pillared proscaenium, on the part of the original orchestra left when most of the orchestra had been dug out to form a pit for venationes. The original logeion was at some point abandoned. The six rooms behind the proscaenium would have been very dark, especially if the pillars were already walled up (p.32). The texts themselves are unparalleled and puzzling. A name in the genitive is followed by DIASKEUH and AMAXA. Roueché opts for "unbeatable equipment of X". This is logical, though no such work as DIASKEU=OS exists. But surely no-one puts up such an acclamatory graffito to indicate possession of equipment. C.P. Jones suggests separating DIA/ and SKEU/H, "for the equipment"; this is not obviously better. The problem resides in the neuter plural A)/MAXA, which I cannot find used elsewhere as an acclamation. Should it not be seen, despite the grammar, as a fixed term like the verbal acclamation NIKA=| which is used with plural subjects, like our "bravo"? DIASKEUH/ has then the meaning, usual in late Greek, of comic performance. Or is it an unknown word; I think e.g. of the word R(E/MMAXOS [H)/MALLOS is conjectured by Jordan] found twice in the defixio against Hyperechios (no.15, 16 Audollent) meaning perhaps pantomime?

Even with these problems, the inscriptions are suggestive, since e.g. two of the names are stated to be victors in Asian and Olympic games, a new honour for mimes. These and related problems are integrated into a full discussion of the status and development of mimes and pantomimes in the later empire, where they and their factions were integrated into the circus colours. Here there is much of value for all classical scholars.

There follows a mixed bag of inscriptions and graffiti from the odeum and theatre. These are mostly standard acclamations, though a zetema (p.41) is now correctly identified. The most interesting is no.12, where the incoherent translation shows the difficulty: "Power to Ourania the great, fortune of your servant! Power to Chrysomallos, who fixed the marble." The first part must be a confusion of two normal acclamations: "Power to the great fortune of Ourania" = Aphrodite, and "Help your servant..." [cf . no.2 on p.31]. Chrysomallos ought to be a pantomime, and so must have paid for the repair that lies next to the inscription. Roueché provides a valuable commentary on the signs of the circus factions in the theatrical industry. Important is her critique of Cameron's thesis that the imperial government took over the provision of entertainment. Roueché argues rather that the government encouraged the circus factions to undertake to organize all forms of entertainment in view of the decreasing ability of the private sector to fund games.

Chapter 4 consists of a discussion of the organization of the performers from horse racing to the minor events. Roman organizational methods, especially the complex infrastructure of the circus events, were introduced into the Greek world at some time around 300 A.D.; the Greens and the Blues eventually dominate the entertainment industry. Roueché documents the rise and fall of the Artists of Dionysus and their close association with the athletic union and eventual inclusion of pantomimes; their powers and privileges were equally great. But there will always have been the small travelling groups of entertainers not affiliated with either of the above. Roueché argues that the Guild survived until about 400, and agrees [p.57] with Cameron that the circus factions then subsumed the theatre performers into their organization. She concludes by further emphasising her view that the imperial authorities were trying to streamline the performance of the games without exercising direct control. This would have started in the fourth century and been completed in the fifth.

Chapter 5 deals with the gladiatorial shows and venationes on the basis of inscriptions and relief sculpture. Though there is not much to add to the discussions of Robert and Ville, yet Roueché's commentary sums up a great deal of widely disparate material. Gladiators are last attested about 440 but had died out long before, especially in the East, in smaller centres; the main reason was their cost. Beast hunts went on until after 500. In Aphrodisias gladiators were extremely popular in the theatre, and we have proof of as many as 8 pali.

Chapter 6 is the longest, devoted to the spectators. The inscriptions on the seats of the stadium give rise to a discussion of the seating pattern in various theatres. This allows us an insight into the social structures of the cities, as we find seats reserved for individuals, the religious colleges, associations of artisans, neighbouring cities, the gymnasium groups, and oddities like "the older Hebrews". Roueché's discussion here is particularly wide ranging, raising the whole problem of the internal organization of imperial cities in terms of craft and neighbourhood groupings.

Roueché turns now, in what I should regard as the most important section of the book, to the organization of the partisans. Following after Cameron, she firmly links Blues and the Greens to the importance of the claques. These in turn are tied to the young men's associations of imperial Rome, with roots in the gymnasia of hellenistic Greece. Despite the many books recently published on the iuvenes, Roueché's discussion is the most important and wideranging, despite its brevity. The financial collapse of gymnasium culture in the third century left a quasi-university culture without the social framework; the young men and their followers found their home in the factions. This is a compelling picture. I believe myself that the young men were always a leading force in the claques from the earliest times. The financial crises and the arrival of the circus factions simply brought them to the fore.

It is only reasonable that the last section should tackle the many questions surrounding the factions of later imperial times. Roueché emphasises that the young men had always been part of city ceremony. Likewise they had always been a focus of trouble making. She shows that the factions are associated regularly with both order and disorder. But the difference lay in the concentration of power and wealth within the factions, which operated across the empire, and developed a considerable administration. Just how much influence the imperial authority exercised cannot be determined, but financial support for spectacles was increasingly dependent on the emperor's goodwill. Roueché holds that the factions by themselves did not hold fixed political positions, but, as the spectacles became the only place where the people could gather, the factions became the primary means of mobilising political support by the manipulation of acclamations. In the seventh century the claques returned to their original role, "that of articulating acclamations, and validating imperial power" [p.156].

Appendices give a list of the agonistic inscriptions of Aphrodisias, attesting to at least 15 different events, and many performers and athletes, of whom a surprising number are of the upper class. Most of these have been published before, but it is useful to have them collected here, many in improved form, in view of the poor quality of MAMA VIII. There are two further sections on agonistic images on imperial sarcophagi, and sketches of gameboards. The book is completed by six good indices and a concordance as well as plates of the major inscriptions and reliefs. All in all, this is a very fine book, that will be of central importance to everyone who wishes to have at hand a survey of theatre and spectacle in the Roman Empire, and how they operated; the extensive use of Robert's work allows it to be used as an index to his many publications as well. In particular the sociology of the theatre is illuminated from the primary sources as never before. There is, it is true, repetition from chapter to chapter, but it was no more disturbing than the occasional misprint.