Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.02.52 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.02.52

François Lerouxel, Anne-Valérie Pont (ed.), Propriétaires et citoyens dans l’Orient romain. Scripta Antiqua, 84.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius Éditions, 2016.  Pp. 364.  ISBN 9782356131522.  €25.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Georgy Kantor, St John’s College, Oxford (

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

The last decade has witnessed an explosion of studies of the role of local laws and legal institutions in the eastern part of the Roman world; while initially these mostly addressed the law of procedure and the law of status, scholarly attention is now expanding into other areas of substantive law, most notably the law of property (I have to declare a sympathetic interest here, as I am co-editing an interdisciplinary volume on legalistic aspects of property and ownership from historical and anthropological perspectives).

The fine volume edited by Lerouxel and Pont is an important contribution that takes its own distinct route through this expanding field. Unlike the recent volume on Roman property edited by P. Erdkamp, K. Verboven and A. Zuiderhoek, which also contained contributions on the situation in the eastern provinces,1 it takes a more (though certainly not entirely) ‘emic’ approach and proceeds not from the New Institutional Economics or other modern models but from immersion in the minutiae of ancient evidence. Insofar as the editorial introduction (pp. 9–13) makes a reference to theory, it is to Aristotle (Pol. 1318b), and only one chapter (Andrew Monson on Augustan tax reforms in Egypt) contains any graphs. All chapters, in their different ways, explore the connections between property regimes and citizen status, and the impact of Rome in this sphere, with particular attention devoted to the enfranchisement of provincials and the settlement of Italians in the Greek East, and to the introduction of new fiscal systems (a topic for which we now also expect the forthcoming monograph of Lisa Eberle, based on her Berkeley thesis).2

Insofar as the volume speaks to contemporary concerns, the overriding one is that of wealth inequality: this is, implicitly, the world of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, rather than of the search for minimising transaction costs. A ‘prologue’ by Olivier Picard (pp. 15–21), following the introduction, puts wealth inequality into the broader context of the transition to a more stratified structure of the polis society with the coming of Rome, with particular emphasis on the institutional transformation of city councils, and the emergence of philosebastoi and philokaisares as a category of ‘super-citoyens’, as a possible index of changes in the relationship between (to coin a phrase) the ‘haves’ and ‘have-a-lots’.3 This emphasis on the Hellenistic background is significant: the volume takes on the topic from the Greek rather than the Roman perspective, and the authors are more concerned about social implications of property regimes and property distribution than about the minutiae of legal interpretations. The passages of Gaius on the status of provincial land are mentioned just once in a footnote (p. 167).

Geographically, the volume covers all the main regions of the Greek East under Rome: mainland Greece, both coastal and inland Asia Minor, the Levant, Egypt, and even the landholdings of Greek senators in Italy and Sicily; chronologically, it sometimes extends into the late antiquity, with Julien Aliquot (p. 111–138) adducing evidence from the Notitia Dignitatum and early Byzantine hagiography, François Chausson (p. 289) starting his study of senatorial properties from a letter of Celestine I, and Ilias Anagnostakis and Thibaut Boulay looking at early Byzantine evidence in their study of Bithynian viticulture (pp. 25–49). If there is a deficiency, it is that neither the organization of the volume nor the editors’ concluding remarks convey a very clear sense of evolution over time beyond the initial impact of Rome, perhaps deliberately: this is Fergus Millar’s empire, changing very slowly indeed after Augustus, but without much discussion of that assumption. It is perhaps telling that the index to a volume on property regimes and citizenship does not contain a single reference to P.Giss. 40. Most chapters address the themes of the volume on the level of a particular region or locality, but there are two important exceptions: Cédric Brélaz’s contribution on communities of Roman citizens in the territory of Greek cities (pp. 69–85), and Béatrice Le Teuff’s careful study of land registries in the cities of the Roman East in the High Empire (pp. 157–173).4

The studies are grouped in three large sections: on ‘changements agraires’ (which includes both changes in the nature of the landowners and changes in agricultural practices) in the imperial period; on the relation between property and fiscal regimes; and on inequality of ownership and its effect on the city, picking up on the problems raised in Picard’s prologue, if not directly on his chosen examples.

Any general study of property in the Eastern Mediterranean in this period will now utilise the admirable richness of detail in this volume and the fine detective work in tracing the patterns of land ownership: for Iasos (A.-V. Pont), Kibyra (T. Corsten), Dorylaion (A. Avram), Bithynia (T. Corsten), the Hermopolite Nome (R.-L . Chang), the Levant (J. Aliquot), the Anatolian estates of the Claudii Severi (M. Christol), the estates of oriental senators in the Roman West (F. Chausson). Two connected themes particularly stand out: the role of Roman citizens as landowners within or alongside Greek communities (somewhat unreliably reflected in the subject index) and the changes in the status and role of local landowning elite.

The pervasiveness of absentee Roman citizen ownership of polis land is striking, despite the difficulty of tracing it, stressed by Avram for Dorylaion (pp. 106–107), and obvious problems with any attempts at quantification where land registers or detailed papyrological evidence are absent. Of the texts attesting estate managers assembled by Corsten, at least seven out of eleven from Nikaia, probably three out of four at Nikomedeia (assuming Reglianus to be a Roman cognomen), one of the two at Prusa, and two out of three at Kios refer to Roman citizens (pp. 266–268). This context is important for one of the conceptually most important contributions to the volume, a rich study of the elite of Iasos in Karia, a subject community with a significant presence of Italian negotiatores, by Anne-Valérie Pont, one of the volume’s editors (pp. 233–260). She argues convincingly for the emergence of a ‘depoliticised’, supra-polis elite of absentee landowners, with a certain degree of homogeneity among themselves, that no longer placed the civic community at the centre of their activities. Their exact legal status appears to become a secondary consideration, with the example of a local benefactor (eloquently named Potens: epigraphic dossier on pp. 251–252) being particularly interesting in this regard. This is connected to changes in imperial treatment of status, and the emergence of the category of honestiores, a theme of wider significance.

The theme of status is apparent (if not brought out as explicitly) in other contributions to the volume, and over a longer term the impact of the development of new elites on agricultural patterns is meticulously explored by Ilias Anagnostakis and Thibaut Boulay for Bithynian vineyards (pp. 25–49) and by Athanasios Rizakis for the province of Achaia, building on his own earlier work (pp. 51–67). One should note his emphasis on the survival of small and medium landowners alongside the grand families of Roman Athens (p. 55), and on rather limited attestation in Greece of landowning on a genuinely big scale by Italian standards (p. 57): these are points of significance for anyone exploring the elite capture of the Roman polis.

Cédric Brélaz’s persuasive attempt to see κόλωνες in Pisidian Apollonia and in Neapolis in Phrygia Paroreios not as Roman colonists within the polis, but as Hellenistic katoikoi from Lycia and Thrace adopting a new Latinising title (pp. 76–78), is of considerable significance both for Roman property in Greek cities and more widely for presence of Roman settlers in Asia Minor, demolishing as it does one of the key planks in the idea of ‘non-colonial coloni’ that goes back to T.R.S. Broughton. I am less persuaded by Brélaz’s neat suggestion that communities of sympoleteuomenoi Rhomaioi in cities such as Attaleia and Amisos should be treated not as communities of resident Romans given citizenship in their city of residence as a group, but rather as recognized politeumata (pp. 70–73). Evidence usually adduced for the use of the latter term (which attracted considerable literature in the context of the status of Jewish communities) in Roman Asia Minor is essentially limited to the somewhat uncertain text of a Sardian decree in favour of the local Jewish community quoted by Josephus (AJ 14.259–260). The decree refers to οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐν τῇ πόλει Ἰουδαῖοι πολῖται (an unusual construction, where the word ‘citizens’ may have been interpolated) and to the right of the community members πολιτεύωνται (the word is not in all manuscripts); it is, in any case, possible that Sardian Jews did have local citizenship.

Among papers dealing with the fiscal aspects of property, Andrew Monson’s argument for Augustan fiscal reforms lowering the Ptolemaic tax burden on property and particularly benefitting the metropolite group (with obvious repercussions for wealth inequality, linking it to François Lerouxel’s piece on the wealthy in Roman Egypt that follows it), stood out for this reviewer; it provides a good introduction to themes explored in his recent monograph (pp. 187–210).5 In a paper which perhaps shares the common concerns of the volume to a lesser degree, Ségolène Demougin (pp. 141–155) explores active imperial policy in the fiscal sphere, offering an imporant new survey of the growing competences of procurators in the province of Asia.

This is a carefully edited and genuinely important volume, with a uniformly very high level of contributions. Anyone interested in the socio-economic history of the Greek East in the Roman period, in the spread of Roman citizenship before the Constitutio Antoniniana or in the impact of Rome on provincial law and institutions will be well advised to consult it. It is a pleasure to note in this context that French academic publishers still manage to keep their books affordable.

Authors and titles

François Lerouxel et Anne-Valérie Pont, Introduction
Olivier Picard, Prologue
I. Changements agraires induits par l’intégration à l’empire
Ilias Anagnostakis et Thibaut Boulay, Les grands vignobles bithyniens aux époques romaine et protobyzantine
Athanase Rizakis, Statut foncier, habitat rural et pratiques agricoles en Grèce sous l’Empire
Cédric Brélaz, Des communautés de citoyens romains sur le territoire des cités grecques : statut politico-administratif et régime des terres
Alexandru Avram, Propriétaires et citoyens à Dorylaion : enquête sur les citoyens romains et les villages sur le territoire
Julien Aliquot, Le domaine d’Untel. Toponymie et propriété foncière dans le Proche-Orient romain et protobyzantin
II. Propriété foncière et fiscalité
Ségolène Demougin, “Rien n’est insuffisant pour le secours des cités” : procurateurs en Asie
Béatrice Le Teuff, Enregistrer les propriétés dans les cités de l’Orient romain : archives civiques et documents cadastraux sous le Haut-Empire
Ruey-Lin Chang, Fiscalité et propriété foncière dans le nome hermopolitain au iie s. à partir de trois rouleaux fiscaux d’époque romaine conservés à la BNU de Strasbourg (P. Stras. 901-903)
Andrew Monson, Landowners and Metropolites: The Benefits of Augustus’s Tax Reforms in Egypt
III. Inégalités foncières et relation à la cité François Lerouxel, Y a-t-il des riches en Égypte romaine au i er s.?
Anne-Valérie Pont, Élites civiques et propriété foncière: les effets de l’intégration à l’empire sur une cité grecque moyenne, à partir de l’exemple d’Iasos
Thomas Corsten, Bauer und Bürger: Einflußmöglichkeiten von Landbesitzern auf das städtische Leben im kaiserzeitlichen Kleinasien
Michel Christol, Les domaines des Claudii Seueri en Asie Mineure
François Chausson, Pour une histoire des patrimoines des sénateurs orientaux en Occident (Rome, Italie, Sicile)
François Lerouxel et Anne-Valérie Pont, Inégalités foncières, évolution des cités grecques et intégration dans l’empire


1.   P. Erdkamp, K. Verboven, A. Zuiderhoek (ed.), Ownership and Exploitation of Land and Natural Resources in the Roman World (Oxford 2015).
2.   See, for the time being, L.P. Eberle, ‘Law, Empire, and the Making of Roman Estates in the Provinces’, Critical Analysis of Law 3.1 (2016), 50–69.
3.   For the transformation of city councils, M. Piérart, ‘Une nouvelle proxénie argienne de la basse époque hellénistique et les synèdres d’Argos’, in A.I. Ivantchik (ed.), Monumentum Gregorianum (Moscow 2013), 275–89, significantly bears on the themes raised by Picard. I wonder whether the title philosebastoi was everywhere as socially divisive as Picard seems to suggest: see recently G.M. Rogers, The Mysteries of Artemis of Ephesos (New Haven 2012), 145–204, for a somewhat different usage.
4.   For the Tetrarchic land registers, not touched upon in this volume, compare P. Thonemann, Chiron 37 (2007), 435–78; 39 (2009), 363–93; K. Harper, JRS 98 (2008), 83–119.
5.   A. Monson, From the Ptolemies to the Romans: Political and Economic Change in Egypt (Cambridge 2012), reviewed by P. Nadig, BMCR 2013.06.03.

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