Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.01.06 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.01.06

Babett Edelmann-Singer, Koina und Concilia: Genese, Organisation und sozioökonomische Funktion der Provinziallandtage im römischen Reich. Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien, 57.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2015.  Pp. 363.  ISBN 9783515111003.  €59.00.  


Reviewed by Ching-Yuan Wu, University of Pennsylvania (wu9@sas.upenn.edu)

Edelmann-Singer’s Koina und Concilia is a work aimed to highlight socio-economic aspects of provincial councils, which have often been downplayed or ignored in discourses concerning Roman provincial administration; but there is much more. Building upon seminal studies by Larsen (Representative Governments in Greek and Roman History, 1955) and Deininger (Die Provinziallandtage der römischen Kaiserzeit, 1965), Koina und Concilia attempts to shift away from the practice of studying the provincial councils separately as koina of the Greek East and concilia of the Latin West, a separation exemplified by the important works by Fishwick (Imperial Cult of the Latin West, 1987-2005) and Price (Rituals and Power, 1984). The result is a general theory regarding the origin, formation processes, and functions of Roman provincial councils.

Koina und Concilia is organized thematically: a literature review and the methodology of the book in the introductory chapter (chapter I, p. 13-40); historical analyses of koina and concilia in chapter II (p. 41-140); institutional analyses of the provincial councils’ legal basis and their personnel in chapter III (p. 141-192); evidence on the provincial councils' socio-economic functions and their fostering of provincial identity in chapter IV (p. 193-309). Chapter V (p. 309-312) rehearses the main arguments.

The main thrust of the book, as set out in the introduction, is Edelmann-Singer’s objection to Deininger’s view that provincial councils were of limited significance to the administrative and economic aspects of Roman provinces (p. 16-24). Her fourth chapter marshals a considerable amount of evidence to show that the members of provincial councils were involved in regional and trans-regional socio-economic activities, at times even taking on administrative tasks such as tax collection, census surveys, construction and maintenance of road networks, providing logistical support for large scale movement of troops, and monetizing the local economy.

Edelmann-Singer attributes much of the disinterest in academia regarding the importance of the provincial councils to Deininger’s influential view that provincial councils were only concerned with the provincial imperial cult, the hosting of provincial games and festivities, and representing the interests of provincials against Roman provincial administration, and thus had little real impact on the life of a Roman province (p. 193). Edelmann-Singer compiles the known cases of the provincial councils’ regular and extraordinary revenues and expenditures, and examines the individual activities of their leading men, to refine Deininger’s paradigm. In the following, I provide further synopses and observations.

The second chapter deals with questions of the origin and dissemination of provincial councils. Edelmann-Singer argues that the similarities in the structural design of pre-Roman and Roman koina suggest affiliation in concept (p. 35; p. 44-45), particularly with Classical and Hellenistic traditions of city-leagues that had political-institutional, religious functions, and communicative-ritual aspects (p. 54). One could perhaps understand her position as a convergence of Deininger’s Hellenistic “precursor” proposal (Deininger, Provinziallandtag, 1965, p. 7-12) and Larsen’s “hybrid” model (Larsen, Representative Government, 1955, p. 128-9), but with a historical approach or "Transferprozess" (II.6). She identifies several phases based on known foundation dates of eastern and western provincial councils to construct a dissemination narrative. The experimental phase of the Roman provincialization process with Hellenistic and Late Republican eastern koina is presented in II.2 to II.3, followed by the Augustan dissemination as described in Cassius Dio’s account of the foundation of the cult of Roma and Augustus in II.4, then to II.5, where she discusses the numerous provincial councils that appeared in a relatively short span during the early Julio-Claudian period. Most important is Edelmann-Singer’s observation that the Julio-Claudian foundations were readily found across the empire, and already consisted of varied forms of local and Roman initiatives. This observation is a strong challenge to both the so-called Lex Krascheninnikoff (that less “civilized” provinces in the Roman west were first to be installed with a provincial council and the imperial cult), as well as to Fishwick’s argument that koina and concilia established during the Julio-Claudian period were planned, while Flavian foundations were spontaneous (p. 137; also see p. 114-126 for Edelmann-Singer's objection to Fishwick's Flavian dating of the so-called Lex Narbonensis).

The third chapter deals with the organizational aspect of provincial councils, focusing on their legal basis and officials. Edelmann-Singer asks what were the legal bases for provincial councils to possess right to assemble, to maintain independent control of revenue and expenditure, and to petition (p. 142-153). Edelmann-Singer assumes that Cassius Dio’s passage describing the foundation of the worship of divine Augustus in Pergamon and Nikomedeia implies that the provincial councils in Asia and Bithynia received a new legal status as a religious association, though this could not be proved (p. 143-144). To further substantiate this claim, she highlights literary and epigraphic evidence demonstrating that the provincial councils were treated by Roman authorities as subordinate although independent (Tac. Ann. 15.20-22; Aelius Arstides εἰς Ῥώμην 32; Cicero Verr. 2.2.137 & 145; Cod. Theod. 12.12.1 & 12.12.9). The most definitive piece of evidence seems to be the Calendar Decree of Asia, in which a letter issued by the proconsul to the Koinon of Asia included a diatagma-edictum, ordering the provincial council to reform the calendar of Asia to observe Augustus’ birthday, effectively rendering the koinon a subordinate institution (p. 150). Another important document is the so-called Lex Narbonensis (p. 148-149), which provides a glimpse of a lex collegii, with which Edelmann-Singer bundles the Dionysiac Technitai together as a reconstruction of what a provincial council might have looked like had it been indeed a private collegium (as opposed to the amplissima collegia and the sodalitates sacrae, p. 147-148). Regarding the officials of the provincial councils, Edelmann-Singer discusses in particular the provincial priesthood (III.2.1) and the koinarchy (III.2.2). She argues that the two offices represent two stages of the historical development of the provincial council in the east (p. 174). One could perhaps also read these subsections as an attempt to revise the mainstream honor-oriented discourse (such as Lendon’s approach in Empire of Honour 1997, p. 166-172) from a "provincial" perspective. While local elites indeed took part in the activities of the provincial councils in order to display wealth and prestige, the accumulative experience led to a qualitative change. Elites participated in the fostering of a “province-based" system of honor, and in turn defined a sense of provincial belonging and self-identity (p. 174-179).

The fourth chapter is the longest and most complex of the book. Edelmann-Singer argues that the provincial councils were similar and comparable institutions across the empire, because the collated evidence from both the Greek East and Latin West indicates that provincial councils provided services with self-sustaining revenue structure based on trading, banking, financing, and minting operations, in addition to their relatively better known activities such emperor worship and imperial communications relating to petitions or arbitration (IV.1-IV.3). Particularly interesting is the scale of ordinary revenues that could be deduced from the epigraphical evidence found at Myra and Kaunos. If assuming an average contribution of each of the 33 cities of the Lycian koinon, one would expect no less than 165,000 denarii in annual contributions (p. 235-239). Yet, with no evidence for salaries paid to middle-status personnel, and with no comparable evidence on expenditure and revenue from provincial councils other than Lycia, the significance of the Lycian financial data becomes difficult to ascertain. Edelmann-Singer also argues that provincial councils could be tapped by imperial authorities from time to time to provide many services, such as conducting the census, collecting taxes, supplying and quartering of troops, constructing roads, and policing, among others. The proposal is intriguing, but the evidence available seems to indicate that these were extraordinary services, as Edelmann-Singer herself observed while discussing the case of Caius Valerius Arabinus, a high priest of the provincial council of Hispania exterior, who was awarded an honorific statue for having faithfully administered the office of the census (p. 260-266).

Edelmann-Singer introduces transaction cost theory from New Institutional Economics to explain why koina and concilia were attractive to Roman administrators and provincial elites (IV.4.1-IV.4.3, p. 193-253; IV.4.4, p. 253-269). For Tres Galliae in particular, eleven inscriptions concerning the treasury of the provincial council that honor members of the local elite show that nearly 40% of the men who worked at the treasury were members who worked in business corporations, some even having attained senior positions, and about 55% of the treasury staff had links to the private sector or served as extraordinary financial controllers for Roman administrators (p. 253-257; esp. 254). Edelmann-Singer interprets this information as indicative of the members’ networking with each other and their awareness of lowering and stabilizing transaction costs, a speculative but nevertheless intriguing way to approach the limited evidence at hand.

Finally, Edelmann-Singer discusses provincial coinage (IV.5). Cistophoric and Macedonian provincial issues are used in particular to discuss questions concerning rights of coinage, economic benefits, and the fiscal and political importance of provincial issues. Provincial coinage was issued to prepare for the large movement of troops during large military campaigns and to prepare to receive the large retinue of the emperors during imperial visits, but it was also issued to bolster the visibility of the provincial council as an active and competent body, and hence a legitimate agent, authority, and partner for a variety of purposes.

One curious choice Edelmann-Singer makes is to leave out the so-called “landschaftliche Koina” (as coined by Kornmann in his 1900 RE article) – namely the leagues of cities that were region- instead of province-oriented, such as the Boiotian, Phokian, Thessalian, Arkadian and the Eleutherolakonian “leagues” in Provincia Achaia – with relatively little explanation, other than that they were not “provincial” and did not last into Late Antiquity (p. 28). This exclusion of the "landschaftliche Koina" and the reasoning behind it seem to follow Deininger’s methodology (Deininger, Provinziallandtage, 1965, p. 6). Occasionally, the distinction between these categories breaks down, as in the case of the Messenians and the Achaian koinon honoring Ti. Flavius Polybius with two statues in Olympia in the second century CE, where Edelmann-Singer even adds a footnote stating that the self-presentation of elite representatives of the regional councils shows a similar pattern to that of the members of the provincial councils (p. 177, fn. 193). Perhaps further treatment comparing regional and provincial councils would enhance our understanding of regional vs. provincial associations.

To conclude, Edelmann-Singer’s book has the potential to change the discourse on provincial councils and Roman provincial administration altogether. Her extensive review of the origins, formation processes, legal bases, personnel, expenditures, revenues and activities of provincial councils in the Greek East and the Latin West, as well as her introduction of New Institutional Economics and the numismatic approach to flesh out the significance of provincial councils, demonstrate how the study of provincial councils ought to be extended from existing discourse on honor and emperor worship to socio-economic and even cultural factors. Perhaps more tabulations are needed to bring clarity to each chapter, since foundation dates and the changing status, rights and activities of provincial councils through time can be hard to follow. Nevertheless, Edelmann-Singer’s work provides an extensive dossier of evidence pertaining provincial councils as well as a intriguing set of theoretical proposals which will enable students of Roman provincial administration to reconsider existing analytical paradigms.

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