Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.10.08

Michael C. Hoff, Susan I. Rotroff, The Romanization of Athens: Proceedings of an International Conference held at Lincoln, Nebraska (April 1996). Oxbow Monograph 94.   Oxford:  Oxbow Books, 1997.  Pp. 208.  $40.00 (pb).  

Contributors: Susan E. Alcock, Christian Habicht, Daniel J. Geagan, Michael C. Hoff, Hermann J. Kienast, Susan Walker, Olga Palagia, Susan I. Rotroff, Elizabeth Lyding Will, John H. Kroll, Robert Lamberton, Antony J.S. Spawforth

Reviewed by Nigel M. Kennell, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Word count: 2736 words

The day is fast approaching when it will no longer be possible to begin a work on Roman Greece with the customary lament for the paucity of published research on the subject. Recent years have seen a burgeoning of interest in the province of Achaia and its affiliated free cities. Oddly, Athens has not figured very prominently in the modern reassessment of evidence and attitudes. But now, scholars associated with that most Athenian of institutions, the American School of Classical Studies, have girded its impressive loins to reinstate later Athens ἐν μέσῳ τῶν Ἑλλήνων. The effort is welcome, for Michael Hoff and Susan Rotroff assembled researchers from a wide variety of disciplines for the conference that gave rise to The Romanization of Athens and have provided readers with a useful snapshot of current thinking on some central problems in the history of Athens under Roman rule. The balance of the essays tilts toward archaeology, understandably considering the editors' research interests. Chronologically, the collection concentrates on the first century B.C., paying less attention to Athens' cultural renaissance in the high empire.

Susan Alcock's introductory essay, "The Problem of Romanization, the Power of Athens" (pp. 1-7) includes the customary precis of the papers that follow, along with a useful sketch of the newly-recognized pitfalls in the concept of "Romanization" itself. Historians of the western provinces in particular no longer view Romanization as a unidirectional, uninterrupted flow of influence from center to periphery. Now they bring into play the reactions of provincial populations, elite and non-elite, their accommodation with and resistance to Roman hegemony in its varied forms, cultural, political and economic.1 The Greek East's incomparably richer evidentiary resources should facilitate the study of these phenomena in much sharper detail than is possible in the western provinces. Alcock wisely questions the value of the term "Romanization" itself as an investigative tool, given the multiplicity of responses to Roman power. Paradoxically, hers is the only paper to address the theoretical difficulties inherent in the concept. For a term of such crucial importance to pass virtually unexamined in the papers delivered at the conference itself points at the very least to an unwillingness on the part of editors and contributors to confront the question: "What was Romanization?" And without this discussion, readers have few means discerning whether the contributors are describing the same phenomenon.

The first paper is Christian Habicht's "Roman citizens in Athens (228-31 B.C.)" (pp. 9-18), in which an acknowledged authority on Hellenistic Athens catalogs the Roman visitors to the city. A common theme makes its first appearance here: Athenians showed a marked reluctance to honor Romans or to accept Roman citizenship themselves until quite late in the period. As other papers also make clear, such aloofness from Rome and Roman influence in many areas, both cultural and material, was a preeminent characteristic of Athens in the first century B.C. In addition to this, Habicht provides a useful, if rather superficial, account of individual Roman interaction with Athenians. Further analysis would have been welcome in the case of Cato's notorious speech in Latin to a unilingual Athenian audience alluded to in a single sentence (p. 9), and of Lucius Gellius' forlorn attempt to reconcile the philosophers (p. 11), two incidents recently reinterpreted by Erich Gruen.2

In the next paper, "The Athenian Elite: Romanization, Resistance, and the Exercise of Power" (pp. 19-32), Daniel Geagan offers a prosopographical analysis of leading figures in Athens from the mid-first century B.C. to the mid-first century A.D. He reveals the divisions in the elite between supporters and opponents of Roman rule and argues persuasively for the importance of the hoplite generalship as a vehicle for exerting Roman influence over the city (pp. 21-24). Though here too Attic reticence can be found: no hoplite general held Roman citizenship before the reign of Claudius (p. 24). Under Claudius appears a new office, the epimelete of the city, roughly equivalent to the city manager in larger urban centers today, which served as yet another means of establishing imperial control (p. 26). The last officials Geagan considers are the epimeletai Ti. Claudius Theogenes and Ti. Claudius Novius. In a rather confusing set of paragraphs, he argues that Novius held a life-long epimeleteia beginning in 60/1 or 61/2, which was followed under Vespasian by Theogenes (pp. 27-28). The dating appears sound, which cannot be said of his unconvincing attempt to equate the position of Theogenes' friend Spartiaticus, the tyrant of Sparta, with the Athenian office of epimeletes. Nor can it be said of the speculation as to Nero's motives in instituting an epimeleteia dia biou for Novius prior to the imperial tour of Greece in 66/7 (p. 28). Geagan appears to believe that Novius was expected to calm Athenian restiveness at the prospect of Nero's visit, despite the clear evidence that he never intended to go to Athens.3

In "Laceratae Athenae: Sulla's Siege of Athens in 87/6 B.C. and its Aftermath" (pp. 33- 51), Michael Hoff presents an overview of the evidence for the Roman general's notorious attack and slow rebuilding of the city during the first century B.C. He brings together much evidence from several excavation campaigns, mostly in the Agora, to illuminate the progress of Sulla's forces through the city and the extent of the destruction they wrought. Furthermore, he argues for a long delay in the reconstruction of many buildings on account of the Athenians' abysmal financial state during most of the first century B.C. I have no serious doubt that Hoff's overall picture is a true one, though I am troubled by what seems to me an excessive facility in correlating evidence for a building's damage or destruction with Sulla's activities. The archaeological evidence is far from unequivocal in some cases, and Hoff tends to gloss over the difficulties in interpretation. For instance (pp. 40-42), after claiming Sulla's religious scruples kept him from harming religious edifices in the Agora, he alleges the Roman general destroyed the Erectheion, for whose repair he propounds an Augustan date.4

Hermann Kienast offers a detailed and lucid description of one of later Athens' best known monuments in "The Tower of Winds in Athens: Hellenistic or Roman?" (pp. 53-65). He untangles for the non-specialist the complexities of this singular building, contending that it was not erected in the first century and so can have nothing to do with any "Romanization" of the city (p. 60-61). So it is perplexing, in light of his views, that the editors chose Kienast's picture of Boreas from the Tower's frieze as the book's cover photograph.

Susan Walker in "Athens under Augustus" (pp. 67-80) uses comparative material from Ephesus and Cyrene to interpret the changes effected in the Athenian agora during the early principate. The centers of all three cities evidently underwent similar redevelopment that established the imperial cult centrally and emphasized the prominent participation of Romans and members of the urban elite in local affairs, while simultaneously drawing attention to the cities' legendary histories. She provides a checklist of common features of urban development in the early principate which many readers will, no doubt, try to match up with cities they know well. For instance, the Spartan agora as described by Pausanias shares several of the features in her list (Paus. 3.11.2-11). Suitably tentative though her conclusions are, Walker's article is a useful first step towards a comprehensive understanding of the effect Augustan rule had on the physical aspect of Greek cities.

As Olga Palagia tells it in "Classical Encounters: Attic Sculpture after Sulla," (pp. 81-96) Athenian sculpture was at a low point in the immediate post-Sullan period. Once boasting a vibrant school of sculptors (second century B.C.) that provided expertise for monuments at Rome, Athens after Sulla had to import Roman talent to repair the Odeon and rebuild Eleusis (pp. 80-81), having suffered what she calls "a failure of nerve." So little native Athenian work survives from the middle years of the first century B.C. that Palagia can consider only two fragmentary examples of monumental sculpture -- the cistophoroi from Appius Claudius Pulcher's striking revamping of the propylon at Eleusis. Her detailed analysis reveals them as an eclectic, anachronistic, and rather pedantic mixture of elements drawn from Hellenistic, classical, and archaic sculpture, that exerted an extraordinary influence on Roman sculpture of the later Republic (pp. 89-91). As Palagia points out, such eclecticism came to an end with Augustus, when sculptors preferred to return to the classical models themselves. Persuasive though the paper is, the two badly-damaged statue fragments are forced to carry a very great burden as the sole representatives of an entire period in the history of sculpture at Athens.

What many have suspected, Susan Rotroff proves, at least for Athens. In "From Greek to Roman in Athenian Ceramics" (pp. 97-116), she shows that there is no simple correlation between significant historical events, in this case the Sullan siege, and the pottery record. She points out that there is no evidence for a wholesale, rapid adoption of western shapes and techniques after 86 B.C. Rather, the changes that did take place over a longer period had many causes, cultural as well as economic, only a few of which may ultimately be attributable to the disruption of life following Sulla's attack (p. 106). Without the written record, the siege leaves no clear trace in the ceramic evidence. Rotroff's conclusions, as she is aware (pp. 111-113), might have their greatest impact on the work of pre-historians (if they take note of her work), since they often tend to view even the slightest changes in pot decoration or shape as precise indicators of cataclysmic historical occurrences.

Elizabeth Lyding Will's considerable expertise in amphora studies is evident in "Shipping Amphoras as Indicators of Economic Romanization in Athens" (pp. 117-134). She revisits the evidence for the importation of Roman wine and oil in the late Hellenistic period, maintaining that the distribution of amphoras directly reflects trade in the commodities they once contained (p. 120). Her method allows her to draw quite precise conclusions from the evidence, about the career of the Sabellian trader Trebius Lusius for instance (pp. 122, 126). But on the other hand, a comment Cicero put into the mouth of a second-century consular to the effect that Rome forbade the Gauls to produce wine and oil so that Italy's producers might prosper, whose implications are at best debatable, provides Will with the pretext for suggesting that the Roman government intervened in trade to a quite unprecedented degree (pp. 121, 127).5 Will's paper is clear and well written, communicating much to this grateful non-specialist, but of all the papers in the collection it suffers the most from not examining the concept of Romanization. I find it hard to agree that an increase in imports of wine and oil from the west is an index of Athenian "Romanization," however defined. These products had cultural and symbolic value beyond their nutritional attributes, values which were not the same in every part of the Empire. Italian wine and olive oil were simply two more food options in the East where their consumption was part of the fabric of life; in the West, they were harbingers of an entirely different culture and style of life. In modern terms, wine from Italy was merely Italian wine to the Greeks; to the Celts of the West, it was Coca Cola. Thus, the appearance of wine amphorae is more significant in pre-conquest sites of Roman cultural influence on British tribes than it is in a Greek city such as Athens.

Problems of definition do not bedevil John H. Kroll, who quantifies Roman influence on Athenian coinage with ruler and scale in his "Coinage as an Index of Romanization" (pp. 135-150). Lucidly summarizing his evidence, he describes the conversion of Greek coinages to systems based on a Roman standard during the later first century B.C., apart from Athens. He shows that Athenian coinage per se, by never abandoning its traditional weights nor carrying imperial portraits, remained a tangible expression of Athenian archaism. On the other hand, the true currency at Athens was undoubtedly Roman, as major transactions used denarii and aurei, with the majority of Athenian bronzes functioning as little more than "token money for spicing up festivals" (p. 146).

Robert Lamberton's "Plutarch and the Romanization of Athens" (pp. 150-160) is descended from a paper he first presented at a panel on archaism in Greek cities of the Roman Empire that the late Sara Aleshire and I organized for the 1994 APA meetings. It has kept much of its force, though Lamberton's proposition that Plutarch's writings were intended to make Athens the center of a Hellenism that could match the Romans in martial vigor seems a little less radical now that Simon Swain's book and recent work on Pausanias have revealed the extent to which Greek intellectual culture shifted from relatively diverse and even "modernist" attitudes in the first century B.C. to the exclusivist self-conscious classicism of the second and later centuries of our era, in which Athens naturally played a significant part.6 However, his emphatic statement that "Athens as the seat of the Panhellenion became the center of the Greek world" (p. 154), should be revised in light of C.P. Jones' recent article, which argues that the Panhellenion was a religious organization centred at Eleusis and did not have quite the cultural or political baggage modern scholars have bestowed on it.7

Despite its title, Kevin Clinton's "Eleusis and the Romans: Late Republic to Marcus Aurelius" (pp. 161-182), is actually concerned with Eleusis and the Roman imperial family. In particular, he discusses the evidence for the establishment of the imperial cult in the area of the sanctuary. According to Clinton, Eleusis was the site of the earliest Athenian monument to the ruling emperor and may have had its own priest of Augustus and later a Sebasteion, for which he proposes as a candidate a colonnaded structure outside the sanctuary near the south tower of the peribolos (pp. 163, 165, 172). In second century, the sanctuary was, in Clinton's words, "Athenianized" "to unite Eleusis visually, through architecture, with the center of the city" (p. 175). The monumental arches and propylaia imitating the arch of Hadrian and Mnesicles' propylaia on the Acropolis respectively were dedicated in such a way as to emphasize the link between the Panhellenes, the emperor, and the Two Goddesses (pp. 174-175), and Eleusis' position as Athens' Panhellenic sanctuary. Here Clinton unwittingly approaches Jones' view of the Panhellenion in the article cited above, acquaintance with which would have benefited this paper.

The final paper, Antony Spawforth's "The Early Reception of the Imperial Cult in Athens: Problems and Ambiguities" (pp. 183-202), returns to the theme of Attic reticence. Although the epigraphical evidence cannot reveal the reactions of individual Athenians to the imperial cult's embodiment of the "dependent power relationship" (p. 192) their city now had with Rome, Spawforth is able to tease out from this material a convincing picture of an elite initially somewhat reluctant to identify themselves with the new ruling power. He associates the change in attitude with the career of one man with close Italian ties, Ti. Claudius Novius, who vigorously promoted the imperial cult in the mid-first century A.D. (pp. 92-193). For the most part, Spawforth concerns himself with the emperor cult's institutional history; along the way, however, he handily disproves the existence of an "Italian" cult of the emperors at Athens (p. 189) and mounts a serious challenge against the chestnut that the Temple of Ares in the Agora was somehow connected with honors given Gaius as the new Ares en route to the Parthian campaign (pp. 186-188).

The serious study of Roman Greece is still in its infancy. The Romanization of Athens represents a stage in its development. Lacking a single narrative source for the period, students of later Greece must utilize the results of research from many different disciplines; this collection will make their task easier for early Roman Athens. That Athenians kept themselves aloof from Roman institutions is a valuable insight, although details will undoubtedly be challenged or revised.8 Every book has its flaws, and the emphasis here on the earlier years of Roman Athens tends to skew the picture. More regrettable is the lost opportunity this collection represents: a theoretical examination of "Romanization" in relation to a city whose institutions and physical aspect are singularly well documented would have been most illuminating.9 Nonetheless, The Romanization of Athens definitely fills a need and will be consulted.


1.   These issues are dealt with by the contributors to D. Mattingly ed., Dialogues in Roman Imperialism. JRA Supp. 23 (Ann Arbor, 1997).
2.   E. S. Gruen, Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome, (Ithaca, 1992): 64-65, 68-69, part of an illuminating reassessment of Cato's attitudes to Hellenism (52-83); 250-251 on Gellius and the philosophers, characterizing the incident as a joke.
3.   Among other testimony, the Alexandrian coins issued in connection with the tour are programmatic, refering only to the cities of the Panhellenic agonistic periodos; see my "NERWN PERIDONIKHS," AJP 109 (1988): 239-251.
4.   On the strength of a single, inadequate reference (p. 50 n. 69). His use of Rotroff's conclusions is equally cavalier (p. 42; cf. her words p. 100).
5.   What she calls "protectionism" in these instances looks to me more like "dumping," if we must insist on using anachronistic terminology.
6.   On the development of Atticism, see S. Swain, Hellenism and Empire (Oxford, 1996): 17-42. On the lack of interest in Hellenistic history during the High Empire, see D. Musti, "La struttura del discorso storico in Pausania," in J. Bingen ed., Pausanias historien, Entretiens Hardt 41 (Vandoeuvres & Geneva, 1994): 18-19, and W. Ameling, "Pausanias und die hellenistische Geschichte," op. cit. 117- 160.
7.   C. P. Jones, "The Panhellenion," Chiron26 (1996): 29-56.
8.   For instance, G. Schmalz, "Athens, Augustus and the Settlement of 21 B.C.," GRBS 37 (1996): 381-399, reinterprets Athena's spitting blood on the acropolis and reevaluates the reforms Augustus subsequently introduced at Athens.
9.   The proofreading is of a generally high standard, apart from some unfortunate typos in the front matter and in n. 8 on p. 177, where my name contains 2 errors.

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