Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.07.51 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.07.51

Rada Varga, Viorica Rusu-Bolindeţ (ed.), Official Power and Local Elites in the Roman Provinces.   London; New York:  Routledge, 2016.  Pp. xix, 193.  ISBN 9781472457318.  $145.00.  

Reviewed by Danijel Dzino, Macquarie University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The research of provincial elites is undoubtedly important for a better understanding of the Roman empire. Provincial elites represented an important node in imperial networks that connected the provincials, municipal elites and imperial elites. Their individual and collective actions initially influenced the degree and speed of provincial integration, and later provided crucial support for the proper functioning of the Roman empire.1 The present volume brings ten different studies dealing with the relationship between provincial elites and official power throughout the Roman empire in a wide chronological period spanning from the 1st century BC to late 5th century AD. The focus and methodology of the papers is diverse, but most of them utilize archaeological and epigraphical sources, except the chapters of Zaccaro, and especially Wangerwelf and Dodd, who rely more on written sources. While a good part of the empire is represented in these studies, it is difficult to claim that "… all areas within the empire are covered" (p. xvii) as studies from some areas are missing — such as Roman Africa, Egypt, Dalmatia, Moesia, Pannonia, etc.

Some criticism could be aimed at the editors, in particular the fact that a proper introduction (or afterword) outlining the theoretical concepts, methodology, recent scholarship and the problems in research is missing. Only a short preface with the contents of individual chapters is provided. A proper introduction would be necessary to strengthen the consistency of the volume, which is diluted with such a wide chronological span of individual studies, as the position and role of provincial elites was different in different periods. Finally, an introduction would have provided a necessary platform where the editors could properly define the overarching term of the study –"provincial elites."2 The term is very broad and could include elites of local origins, urban and/or rural elites, senatorial elites with possessions in the provinces, military elites, etc. The contributions utilise very different definitions of elites, encompassing pretty much all those categories, which adds to the blurring of the volume's methodological focus to some degree.

The first group of contributions discuss early provincial elites and different ways of their integration in the empire. The chapter of Ourania Pall, Georgios Riginos and Vasiliki Lamprou provides a clear and condensed overview of evidence for local elites in West Roman Greece looking into settlement patterns, villas and burials. It provides excellent information in comparative perspective with the other provinces, showing local particularities in balancing between the Greek and Roman cultural patterns in Thesprotia and Preveza, as well as the evidence for the survival and continuing influence of the local elite after the Roman conquest. Benedict Lowe successfully argues that patronage was an important method of communication between provincial elites and Roman administration in Iberia, acting as an instrument of efficient integration in the imperial power-networks. The contribution of Hannah Cornwell is particularly interesting as she puts more light on the king Cottius and his intelligent use of a geographically advantageous position in the high mountain-passes of Western (Cottian) Alps in negotiations with the Romans. Cottius not only negotiated ways to remain in power, but also adopted the Roman language of administrative power to strengthen his political position locally, and promote a message of continuity to his subjects.

The next batch of chapters deals with elites in the High empire. Francesca Zaccaro analyses the changing meaning of the term (praotēs) in the writings of Plutarch and the epigraphy of the island of Amorgos and city of Aphrodisias. Lydia Langerwelf focuses on the literary strategies of Pausanias in his description of the Messenian revolt against Sparta, and the Acarnanian revolt against the Romans. She sees, justifiably, Pausanias as an imperial writer who critically revised nostalgic local histories, blaming both the Messenians and Acarnanians for squandering their freedom. Stefano Magnani and Paola Mior reveal how local elites in Palmyra negotiated different cultural matrices in order to construct unique local identities in the High empire. Rada Varga and Viorica Rusu-Bolindeţ analysed a rich corpus of inscriptions from the praetorium consularis in Dacian de facto capital Apulum. They described in some detail particular ways in which official power was expressed in the Dacian province—through artifacts, votive monuments and funerary inscriptions. Analysis of epigraphic evidence reveals different identity-strategies of the military elite in this context, depending of their rank. The names of higher commanding officers are very uniformly Roman, while some lower officers use indigenous names showing, in the authors' opinion, Thracian origins.

The last group of essays deals with Late Roman and post-Roman provincial elites. Rob Collins examines archaeological evidence from Hadrian's wall, concluding that the relationship between late Roman commanders and soldiers in this part of the empire changed on several levels from the 4th century. The commanders were recruited locally from less prominent families. They expressed a privileged position in archaeologically less visible ways—through feasting and personal connections, rather than through the opulence of a commander's domus. The contribution provides very interesting evidence and conclusions showing increasing regionalization of late Roman army units in Britain, and changed ways in which military commanders showed their rank. Similar regionalization of elites in an even later period is noticed by Leslie Dodd, who in the examples of Caesarius of Arles and Avitus of Vienne sees the transition from affiliation with imperial identity towards appearance of local identities in post-Roman "barbarian" kingdoms. Finally, Mariana Bodnaruk examines the presence of equestrians (the clarissimi) in honorific inscriptions from 4th century Roman provinces, questioning with good reason the existing paradigm that the equestrian order disappeared with Constantine's reform of 324.

Generally, there is not much to object to in individual contributions The conclusion of Varga and Rusu-Bolindeţ that some lower-rank officers from Apulum are of Thracian origins becomes partially problematic due to the wrong identification of Dasas, the son of Scenobarbus, from the inscription CIL 3.7800 as ""completely Thracian (personal name and filiation")" (p. 122).3 It is also a pity that Collins did not engage with Gardner's study of the late Roman army in Britain,4 as it would strengthen his arguments and deepen the theoretical framework of the paper.

Despite some editorial problems in defining the field of study and putting it in proper scholarly context, the volume is a valuable contribution to scholarship, providing good coverage of provincial elites in the Roman empire. It is overall a clearly written and scholarly relevant collection of essays providing interesting case studies, which can be used in comparative research of provincial elites in the Roman empire.

Table of Contents

Rada Varga, "Preface", p. xvii
Ourania Pall, Georgios Riginos and Vasiliki Lamprou, "Local elites in West Roman Greece: The evidence from Thesprotia and Preveza, p. 1
Francesca Zaccaro, "Collective mentality and πραότης (praotēs): Ruling classes in the Eastern provinces in literature, linguistics and epigraphy. A 'vademecum' for the politician", p. 22
Benedict Lowe, "Roman state structure and the provincial elite in Republican Iberia", p. 33
Hannah Cornwell, "Routes of resistance to integration: Alpine reactions to Roman power", p. 52
Lydia Langerwerf, "The futility of revolt: Pausanias on local myths of freedom and rebellion", p. 77
Stefano Magnani and Paola Mior, "Palmyrene elites: Aspects of self-representation and integration in Hadrian's age", p. 95
Rada Varga and Viorica Rusu-Bolindeţ, "Provincial landmarks of the official power. The praetorium consularis of Apulum", p. 115
Rob Collins, "Power at the periphery: Military authority in transition in late Roman Britain", p. 127
Mariana Bodnaruk, "Administering the Empire: The unmaking of an equestrian elite in the 4th century CE", p. 145
Leslie Dodd, "Kinship, conflict and unity among Roman elites in post-Roman Gaul: The constrasting experiences of Caesarius and Avitus", p. 168


1.   Amongst others: M. Cebeillac-Gervasoni and Laurent Lamoine (eds.), Les élites et leurs facettes: les élites locales dans le monde hellénistique et romain (Rome, 2003); C. Ando, Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire, (Berkeley–Los Angeles, 2000), etc.
2.   See D. Slootjes, "Local Elites and Power in the Roman World: Modern Theories and Models (review of J. Perkins, Roman Imperial Identities in the Early Christian Era", Journal of Interdisciplinary History 42/2 (2011), p. 236, who is asking similar questions in relation to the term "local elites".
3.   The name Dasas/Dazas, gen. Dasantis seems to be of Dalmatian origin, most frequently found in the modern-day Central Dalmatian hinterland, western Herzegovina and southwestern Bosnia where pre-Roman indigenous Delmatae lived. Occurence of the name in Dacia should be ascribed to the miners and soldiers of Dalmatian origins: J. J. Wilkes, Illyrians (Oxford–Cambridge, 1992), p. 75. The entries in Epigraphic Database Heilderberg register this name only in Dalmatia and Dacia, with two occurrences in Moesia and one soldier of Dalmatian origins in Germania Superior, but not in Thrace. The name Scenobarbus also appears exclusively in Dalmatian and Dacian inscriptions.
4.   A. Gardner, An Archaeology of Identity: Soldiers and Society in Late Roman Britain (London, 2007).

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