Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.04
Dilyana Boteva-Boyanova, Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba, Octavian Bounegru (ed.), Pax Romana: Kulturaustausch und Wirtschaftsbeziehungen in den Donauprovinzen des römischen Kaiserreichs. Akten der Tagung in Varna und Tulcea 1. - 7. September 2008. Antiquitas, 1. Kaiserslautern; Mehlingen: Parthenon Verlag, 2012. Pp. 258. ISBN 9783942994019. €29.80 (pb).
Reviewed by Craig H. Caldwell III, Appalachian State University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Table of Contents
This volume collects 16 papers from a conference held in Bulgaria and Romania in the autumn of 2008. As BMCR reviewers have observed on many occasions, the publication of conference papers often yields a sort of scholarly potluck, where the reader is encouraged to pick from varied offerings without a clear theme or even shared analytical categories that place the authors’ work into a common conversation. But this book challenges that stereotype in several respects: it combines the work of modern Dacians and Moesians across national boundaries, it shows a sense of its own place in the study of the Danubian provinces over the past 300 years, and it endeavors to make eastern European scholars’ research accessible in the academic languages of western Europe (German, French, and English).
The first paper in the collection, “Das römische Zivilisationsmodell und die balkanischen Provinzen,” is the opening address to the conference by Margarita Tatscheva. Although her death shortly after the conference did not permit revisions to her contribution, her essay interprets the Pax Romana in ancient Moesia and Thrace and anticipates how other papers in the volume will relate to its general themes. She highlights the great Bulgarian ancient historians of the past century, providing an essential historiography of the study of ancient Moesia and Thrace, and she regrets the absence of much of this research in recent discussions about “Romanization.” In her explanation of a “Roman model of civilization,” Tatscheva describes a policy of integration manifested in a variety of different areas of provincial life, and its success is evident in the dramatic economic expansion of the region and the attraction of brand-new cities for immigrants from the Greek East. Much of the evidence for religious integration depends upon the veterans drawn from and resettled in these provinces; the soldiers’ affinity for the cult of Mithras and the “Danube Rider” explains their spread across the region, according to Tatscheva.
With one salient exception, the subsequent papers in the collection fall into the categories of economic relations, cultural exchange, and population mobility introduced by Tatscheva, but the editors have not chosen to organize the contributions in that way. (The order of the papers is roughly alphabetical.) Because the three conference themes are the most relevant aspect of the book to readers of BMCR, the reviewer will briefly consider each paper within a thematic grouping and then select one contribution in each category for closer examination.
Three contributions emphasize the economic characteristics of Roman imperial intervention in Moesia and Thrace. In “The origin of the tradesmen in Dacia” Florian Matei-Popescu confirms two observations about commerce in the Danubian provinces: “eastern entrepreneurs” were the most numerous businessmen, and trade followed the concentration of wealth in the gold mining region of north-central Dacia. Hristo Preshlenov emphasizes the importance of the coastal ports as markets for the provinces of Moesia and Thrace in “Die Südwestliche Schwarzmeerküste in orbis Romanus: Orte und Instrumente des Austausches”; numismatic evidence guides his reconstruction of the appearance of harbors and suggests the “circulation milieu” of coins (especially local bronze issues) in regional trade. Octavian Bounegru’s analysis of the people involved in Thracian commerce in “Marchands thraces dans les sources épigraphiques des provinces romaines Mésie et Thrace” reveals the “small businessmen” whose local social significance is generally overshadowed by the evidence of the great merchants. Bounegru assembles the inscriptions to highlight peddlers in cities like Serdica, where he also identifies a category of “producer-vendors” who manufactured and sold items such as wool. Merchants who sold their wares from market stalls appear only in southern Thrace as ropopolai, a term which Bounegru connects to merchants elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. Comparing Matei-Popescu’s paper on Dacian trade with Bounegru’s Thracian analysis yields ample evidence for eastern influence or direct involvement in Danubian commerce, both in long-distance and local trade.
Cultural exchange between Romans and non-Romans is the topic of six papers in the volume. Radu Ardevan compares the cultural development of Ilișua and Gherla, two sites of Roman military settlements, in “Die kulturelle Entwicklung in zwei Militärsiedlungen Norddakiens.” Ardevan’s northern Dacia included wealthy vici that had connections to Pannonia and Noricum as well as modest communities with less “high culture appreciation.” In Dilyana Boteva- Boyanova’s “Über den Kulturaustausch, die kulturellen Einflüsse und den religiösen Synkretismus in Moesia inferior und Thrakien,” Greek gods and goddesses join the Danube Rider on funerary reliefs, and she calls attention to some “almost kitschy” iconography of the riding versions of Zeus and Dionysus. A close study of inscriptions in “Données épigraphiques concernant le culte imperial en Mésie Supérieure” allows Iulia Dumitrache to confirm a phenomenon in Moesia Superior that has been observed in other Danubian provinces: the flamen of the cult was a distinctly different office from the others, though the reason for its separate pattern of office holding is unclear. Kalin Stoev notes the correlation between the presence of Thracian and Geto-Dacian names and the persistence of dedications to “native” deities in different parts of the Balkans in “Uber die Romanisierung der thrakischen und geto-dakischen Namen: Eine mögliche Deutung des Vorkommens einheimischer Namen in lateinischen und griechischen Inschriften.” After collecting the evidence for coin finds in graves in “The provincial societies of Lower Moesia and Thracia viewed through the innovated burial customs,” Alena Tenchova concludes that the coin deposits are unrelated to the Greek myth of Charon, and she observes that the practice persists in the region into the medieval period. Alexander Minchev’s paper, “Gladiatorial games in Odessos and Marcianopolis,” explores the arrival of gladiatorial games in Moesia and deploys epigraphic evidence from Bulgaria to develop the theme of uneven Romanization. Minchev places the heyday of the games during the Danubian frontier’s economic boom under the Antonine and Severan dynasties, and he generally credits the economic and military crises of the mid-third century AD with ending these expensive public entertainments. This schematic view permits glimpses of local variety: the beast hunts in the coastal city of Odessos (Varna) included specialized laquearii who lassoed wild buffalo, and in Marcianopolis (Devnya) the emperors Diocletian and Galerius may have rehabilitated the gladiatorial scene in the early fourth century. Minchev’s approach is replete with such details, but readers are left to wonder whether the inclusion of recent scholarship on the Roman games as well as civic euergetism might have suggested how these phenomena were adapted to their Moesian context.1 This observation should not obscure the paper’s usefulness: it assembles a large body of research on Odessos and Marcianopolis, much of it available only in Bulgarian, and offers its gems to a scholarly audience in English.
Five papers consider the movement of populations in the Danubian provinces. In “Römische Flussflotten im Rahmen der spätantiken Grenzverteidigung an der Donau,” Christoph Schäfer considers the evidence for the Roman river fleets that defended the Danube in late antiquity, and he concludes that the aspiring emperor Julian could actually have moved his soldiers more than one thousand kilometers down the Danube in eleven days during his civil war with Constantius. Lucreţiu Mihailescu-Bîrliba’s “Les Pontobithyniens à Troesmis” indicates that most of these immigrants from Asia Minor were not soldiers, but rather merchants and craftsmen. The connection between the Rhine and Danube frontiers is Krešimir Matijević’s topic in “Zur Mobilität zwischen dem Donauraum und dem Rheinland in römischer Zeit,” but he cautions against pushing the evidence too far. Contrary to previous assessments, his onomastic analysis of inscriptions does not prove a greater immigration from the Rhine to the Danube than vice versa, though Raetia (modern Switzerland and Austria) does show intermingling of “Germans” and “Danubians.” Hristo Kouzov explores “The early Byzantine defensive line and the meridional travelling routes in the easternmost ridges of the Balkan mountains” to reveal the complex system of fortifications, roads, and sentry posts that functioned as impediments to population mobility. To determine the precise routes of defensive lines in difficult terrain, Kouzov returns to the work of Bulgarian archaeologists in the early twentieth century, and he impresses the reader with close attention to the spatial reality of particular mountains and valleys. To answer the question of who filled the ranks of the Roman army in Moesia Inferior, Oleg Alexandrov analyzes dedicatory inscriptions in “Ethnic and social composition of the Roman army in Lower Moesia.” Drawing from the research in his dissertation, Alexandrov defines three groups: the ordinary soldiers, who left few Latin dedications and those that did were made to local deities; the principales, noncommissioned officers whose dedications followed the Hellenistic patterns of the eastern provinces; and the centurions and senior military officers, who appear epigraphically identical to Romans elsewhere. Alexandrov’s contention that the linguistic capacity of a soldier defined his role in the army is debatable, but his picture of a heterogeneous army is a welcome addition to ongoing discussions about the nature of Romanization.
One contributor abandons the Danubian provinces for the plain of northern Italy, where Robin Brigand’s focus is Roman land measurement in “L’étude des centuriations romaines: acquis anciens et nouvelles perspectives.” The historiographical introduction to centuriation and a summary of recent research elsewhere in the Mediterranean are valuable, but the absence of a clear connection to the landscape explored in the rest of the volume is unfortunate.
The great utility of this book is the spotlight its contributors shine on particular valleys or settlements of the Danubian region. Each paper includes its own bibliography; many of these introduce readers to the rich trove of underexplored eastern European scholarship. Some readers might wish for greater theoretical illumination, however. Because many papers in the volume describe the impact of “Romanization” as the divergence between pre-Roman and Roman provincial life, their approach can obscure the types of continuities observed elsewhere in the region.2 Moving from landscapes to print, the image quality is generally good except for some charts which suffered in the transition from color to black and white; in several cases, the reader has to consult the text for insight instead of an almost uniformly gray pie chart.
The volume remains a welcome contribution to our understanding of the Danubian provinces, and the editors’ observation about the work of Margarita Tatscheva, to whom the volume is dedicated in memoriam, is a fitting summation of the collection: a milestone in ancient history that does not belong to any single modern country.
1. Minchev leaves the state of the gladiatorial question in the hands of Michael Grant (1971) and Roland Auguet (1972); his work deserves engagement with the likes of Alison Futrell’s Blood in the Arena: the Spectacle of Roman Power (Texas, 1997) and now Garrett Fagan’s The Lure of the Arena: Social Psychology and the Crowd at the Roman Games (Cambridge, 2011).
2. For example, Ioana A. Oltean, Dacia. Landscape, Colonisation, Romanisation (Routledge, 2007), reviewed in BMCR 2008.09.10.