Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.04.09

Christian Marek, Pontus et Bithynia. Die römischen Provinzen im Norden Kleinasiens.   Mainz:  Philipp von Zabern, 2003.  Pp. 199.  ISBN 3-8053-2925-3.  €41.00.  

Reviewed by Jens Bartels, Ancient History, University of Bonn (
Word count: 1409 words

So far there has been no series of monographs that proposed covering all the provinces of the Roman Empire and actually reached its aim. After several attempts which lost their momentum too soon, Philipp von Zabern has launched a new project called Orbis Provinciarum. Given the Mainz publisher's high quality of archaeological publications and ability to produce good books with a view to public appeal there is hope that this time the goal will be met. Of course these books have to have selling points. The first of these is the massive use of pictures, many of them coloured (which rather seems to be an improvement). Secondly, the volumes of this series are not intended to be an in-depth analysis of Roman provincial history in every single aspect. This may be called a disadvantage, but I think the publishing house and its advisory board have so far compensated it by selecting authors who are well known for their long and successful work on the respective regions.

With Christian Marek's book on the twin provinces of Pontus and Bithynia now the second volume is available. M(arek) is -- like Th. Fischer, the author of the Noricum volume -- a scientist well versed in the archaeology, history and the crucial epigraphic record of the regions dealt with. Nearly 20 years of surveys and work on the history and inscriptions of northern Asia Minor are documented by a plethora of articles and, above all, M.'s impressive Habilitationsschrift "Stadt, Ära und Territorium in Pontus-Bithynia und Nord-Galatia (1993)". So the present volume seems to be a kind of quintessence of M.s previous work. As one would have expected, it turns out to be a well-made introduction to the geography, history and culture of Pontus-Bithynia.

After an introduction ("Einleitung", pp. 4-29) on the position of northern Asia Minor within the Roman world, the geography of Bithynia and Pontus and the sources and previous scholarly work on the region, M. begins with a short review of the pre-Roman history and the process of provincialization initiated by the Mithridatic Wars and crucially influenced by Pompey ("Vorrömische Verhältnisse und die Einrichtung der Provinz", pp. 30-43).

Since the borders of the province(s) were by no means constant even after their founding, the chapter on the provincial government ("Provinzsystem und Regierung in Kaiserzeit", pp. 44-62) has to deal first with these changing borderlines. After that M. discusses the imperial administration of the province and its representatives, the developing road system and the army as impact of the Empire on northern Asia Minor.

One of the longest chapters deals with the cities ("Städtewesen", pp. 63-103). It is divided into five sections on five important aspects of city life in the Greek-speaking half of the Roman Empire.

First M. provides an outline of the cooperation and rivalries of the cities on the provincial (or nearly provincial) level. Here he repeats his thesis that even in northern Asia Minor there existed different koina though each was called "koinon of Pontos".1

Next comes a very interesting chapter on the subdivision of the cities. M. emphasizes the deep gap between Greek and non-Greek inhabitants:2 only the former possessed full citizen-rights and were organized in phylai3 whereas the non-Greek population lived mainly in the chora and were organized in komai or demoi.

After that M. provides an overview over the municipal officials and their duties. Here I would like to put forward a small objection to the understanding of the argyrotamias ton bouleutikon chrematon (p. 87): I do not think that he was especially responsible for the summae honorariae of the members of the city council. In fact we do not know who got these summae, if they had to be paid. Instead we know that in a lot of cities the boulai had their own funds and could receive payments and donations.4 So it seems perhaps better to understand the competence of this argyrotamias in a less restricted sense as the funds of the boule.

As is inevitable, M. also deals in this section with the phenomenon of euergetism. In respect of the inscription I.Prusias 20 (p. 88) I would like to stress a different interpretation: ἀγορανομήσαντα ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὑιοῦ to my mind seems to point to the well documented fact that fathers administered offices in the name of their sons if they were not old enough to meet the age requirements. M. follows W. Ameling, who denied this because the son was already a military tribune. In fact that does not mean he was old enough to become agoranomos, which required the age of 25 at least.

Closely connected with the euergetism follows a very illuminating description of the problems with the municipal building policy that are well known for Bithynia, thanks to Pliny's letters and Dion of Prusa's orations. M. rightly stresses the problem of incompetence among local politicians, not quite unlike the situation in modern cities.

Rather more important in Greek city life were the agonistic events, to which were added gladiatorial combats and venationes at the end of the first century A.D. M. describes the most important agones, Pliny's dealings with the athletic guilds and the most successful competitors. Perhaps I may point here to two biographical addenda: Pliny's letter on the athletic guilds is discussed in an often overlooked paper by P. Weiss (Textkritisches zur Athleten-Relatio des Plinius (ep. 10,118), ZPE 48, 1982, 125-132). As for the various and contradictory positions of Christians regarding Greek athletics there is the very useful article of E. Winter (Die Stellung der frühen Christen zur Agonistik, Stadion 24, 1998, 13-29).

Due to Roman cultural influence the cities of Bithynia and Pontus started to organize gladiatorial combats -- like the whole Greek East -- in close connection with the municipal and provincial priests of the imperial cult. A curious document illustrating this phenomenon is a gladiator-shaped monument (fig. 146-147) from Bithynion-Klaudiupolis which names twelve gladiators (most of whom had won a lot of victories), who fought on three consecutive days in one, one and four pairs respectively. The stone was erected by the priest (ἱερεύς) Secundus. While some understand it as a commemorative monument of the combat,5 M. opts for a gravestone for the gladiators killed during one combat (p. 100).

The chapter on "Religion" (pp. 104-125) puts a special focus on the synkresis of indigenous and Hellenic cults. In a book on Bithynia and Pontus there must of course be a note on the famous Alexander of Abonuteichos. Here as everywhere in the book M. presents the essentials of the story in a well-made combination of literary, epigraphic and numismatic evidence. After presenting this late development of pagan religious tradition M. shifts to the evolution of the Christian religion from its early beginnings at the end of the first century A.D. to the victorious Church in late antiquity.

The longest section of the book provides insights into the social and economic history of the region ("Leben in der Provinz", pp. 126-178). The two main items in M.'s description are the analysis of burial customs and their relation to social status (pp. 129-137) and a portrait of family life (pp. 137-142), two highlights in this book. Additionally he presents the cultural achievements of Bithynia and Pontus in literature, philosophy, rhetoric and jurisprudence. The final part of the section examines the region's main products, the famous Bithynian merchants or shipowners and the monetary policy of the cities.

Finally M. tries to figure out which of the mentioned aspects of Pontus and Bithynia were special and which were rather general phenomena of the whole Greek East during the Roman Empire ("Pontus et Bithynia -- besonderes und allgemeines", pp. 179-180).

The Appendices contain a chronological table, a glossary, an index and a bibliography. Apart from five modern historical maps we find one medieval map, one chart from the 19th century, two sections of the Tabula Peutingeriana and a city plan of Amasra. They are well made and I recommend them strongly as models for all the future volumes of this series.

Throughout the book one senses deep knowledge of the region's history, archaeology and epigraphy. 281 photographs, most of them taken by the author himself, show that M. is a brilliant photographer as well. They provide not only a good documentation of numerous inscriptions and other monuments but also impressive pictures of northern Turkey's landscape and its modern inhabitants.

In short, this reviewer really enjoyed reading the book. It promises well for the future of the Orbis Provinciarum series.


1.   For a more detailed discussion of the question see C. Marek, Stadt, Ära und Territorium in Pontus-Bithynia und Nord-Galatia (1993) 73-82.
2.   Cf. already W. Ameling, Die Inschriften von Prusias ad Hypium (1985) 79.
3.   More details on the phylai of the cities of Bithynia, especially of Klaudiupolis, in C. Marek, Die Phylen von Klaudiupolis, die Geschichte der Stadt und die Topographie Ostbithyniens, Museum Helveticum 59, 2002, 31-50.
4.   Cf. for example the boule in Styberra in Upper Macedonia: IG X,2,2, 336.
5.   R. Merkelbach -- J. Stauber, Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten II: Die Nordküste Kleinasiens (2001) 237-238.

Read Latest
Index for 2004
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:29:14, Friday, 03 April 2009