Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.02.59 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.02.59

Elena Muñiz Grijalvo, Juan Manuel Cortés Copete, Fernando Lozano Gómez (ed.), Empire and Religion: Religious Change in Greek Cities under Roman Rule. Impact of empire, 25.   Leiden; Boston:   Brill, 2017.  Pp. xvii, 221.  ISBN 9789004347106.  $127.00.  

Reviewed by Kristan Ewin Foust, University of Texas at Arlington (

Table of Contents

The overall purpose of the work is to consider continuity and transition in Greek religion as the Greeks came under Roman control. The work considers continuity and transition of religion in three themes: the prevalence of unique local features, shaping imperial policies territory by territory, and local responses to the implementation of empire-wide religious directives (vii-x).

In Chapter 1, “Priesthoods and Civic Ideology: Honorific Titles for Hiereis and Archiereis in Roman Asia Minor,” Anna Heller draws upon her database of titles used in 20,000 inscriptions, noting variations in local regions as well as changes in the honorific titles used in Roman-ruled Asia Minor. She uses this statistical data to show that the individual cities remained a central focus under the Romans. Her epigraphic analysis measures continuity and change in the titles of local religious officials. For example, some honorific titles like philopatris, philosebastos, philoromaios, and philokaisar emerged in the civil wars and in Augustus’s reign. Heller challenges a current idea that philosebastoi were part of the imperial cult in Roman Asia Minor (1). She also looks at a wide range of additional priestly titles catalogued by geography, typology, gender, citizenship (status). Her work includes tables and graphs to show the regionality and gender-specificity of some titles (3-4, 6-7). She disproves a commonly held belief that an elite group of families dominated public offices, proving this was an irregular practice (9). While extremely rich in data, one drawback to Heller’s chapter is that she frequently cites her forthcoming database publication, which will undoubtedly be a valuable source for scholars.

Elena Muñiz Grijalvo notes, in “Public Sacrifice in Roman Athens” (Chapter 2), that in Roman-ruled Athens certain public sacrifices continue, but the inscriptions associated with them change, especially in the elimination of wordy formulas (22). She seeks to explain both the change and continuity. She concentrates on the sacrifice offered by the prytaneis before the meeting of the dêmos (the people, including women and children), and the sacrifices given by the tamiai (treasurers) for the benefit of the boulê and the dêmos (22). Grijalvo finds, in the first century BCE, the role of the boulê decreases while that of the prytaneis increases; the inscriptions become shorter and the mention of the deity and type of offering are no longer included. The tamiai were probably still financing the sacrifices, but they and the prytaneis are mentioned less, while explicit mention of named individuals and their private funds appear more often (24-25). Grijalvo counters J. H. Oliver’s position that Athenians eschewed religious obligations because of economic decline.1 Instead, Grijalvo proposes that Roman influence altered who among the local elites were involved in euergetism as the purpose of public sacrifice became more of a tool for the elite to appear as societal benefactors (25-35).

Francesco Camia’s “Cultic and Social Dynamics in the Eleusinian Sanctuary Under the Empire” (Chapter 3), reveals the transition of the Eleusinian cult under the Roman Empire including the emperors’ participation and emperor worship (46-51), and argues that the cult was essential in the Panhellenic program centered in Athens (57-62). Camia further contends that the priesthoods of the mystery cult were used to gain prestige, linking the priestly roles (and the “quasi-priestly” positions in which they placed their children) to state office holders (54-62). In Chapter 7, “Hadrian among the Gods,” Juan Manuel Cortés Copete continues the topic of the Eleusinian cult by proposing that the Eleusinian cult was essential in the premortem deification process of Hadrian (129- 133).

Cristina Rosillo-López’s contribution, “Communication between Sanctuaries and Rulers: An Analysis of Religious Resistance to Roman Abuses in the Greek East during the Roman Republic” (Chapter 4), sheds light on the use of temple embassies. The investigated cases center on extortion and spoliation. The embassy process includes five steps: sending the ambassadors, the ambassadors’ registration, the introduction of the embassy to the Senate, the Senate committee’s research, and the Senate’s verdict (70, 76). Rosillo-López suggests the Greek embassies were more successful than those sent by other provinces, but only provides two Hispanic examples to counter several Greek examples, which does not, on its own, prove that the Greek temples had an elevated relationship with Rome, as contended in the chapter (71, 76). Rosillo-López notes that the Greeks played to their strengths with their ancient past and that the prestige of certain temples, cities, and people were used to make their case to the Senate. Rosillo-López’s section on “Abuses by the Publicani” describes four embassies, but only provides the results of two of these (72-76). The two cases given without results were successful, which would have helped Rosillo-López’s argument. 2

Chapter 5, “Trajan and Hadrian’s Reorganization of the Agonistic Associations in Rome,” written by Rocío Gordillo Hervás, discusses the absorption of Greek games into the Roman world and the transitions they underwent through this process (84-97). The primary shifts occur with the reorganization of athletes and technitai (drama and music associations) by the introduction of the Entire Portico (an athletic association from the second to third centuries CE). This chapter hardly touches on the religious interaction within the games, though it does provide a helpful table of names, inscriptions, and dates of the Entire Portico directors and the xystarch (game managers) (87-91, 93-95). I was surprised not to see Donald G. Kyle’s Sports and Spectacles in the Ancient World cited, as it seems essential for Gordillo Hervás’s topic.3

Alessandro Galimberti makes a fascinating contribution on the cult of Antinous. The content of “P.Oxy. 471: Hadrian, Alexandria, and the Antinous Cult” is rich, though it has several typos, is a bit unorganized, and is sometimes hard to follow (Chapter 6). Galimberti suggests that the cult was prosperous because of its prominence in Egypt and because of the philhellenic stance of Hadrian. The cult was successful despite the relationship between Hadrian and Antinous (98). P.Oxy. 471 is not explicitly about Hadrian or Antinous, but rather comes from the anti-Roman Acta Alexandrinorum literary tradition. Galimberti’s interest here is on accusations in the text against Maximus and his young male lover. Galimberti proposes that the papyri must be read with the parallel of Hadrian and Antinous’s relationship in mind. It would be helpful to emphasize the comparison with excerpts from the papyrus, but the text is not included. Galimberti first describes the characters in the papyri and then Hadrian and Antinous (99-104), going on to explain the death and subsequent cult of Antinous (104-105). Galimberti provides five reasons for the spread, organization, and success of the Antinous cult: Greek and Egyptian syncretism, connection to mystery cults, strategically establishing cities with this cult, instituting games honoring Antinous, and elite promotion. All the while, in Rome, the cult was despised (106-108).

Cortés Copete’s chapter, “Hadrian Among the Gods” (Chapter 7), traces the process of Hadrian’s divinity suggesting that in the provinces his divine status, was reached while he was alive. Hadrian, as a Greek benefactor, was adopted into Greek local religions through various factors: he was inducted into the Eleusinian Mysteries as a stepping stone to his deification (a pathway of men becoming gods previously established by the Dioscouri, Asclepius, and Heracles, to whom Hadrian was compared); and integrating the imperial cult to such a benefactor was beneficial as a demonstration of loyalty (125-133). In showing this gradual deification process through several inscriptions and his acquired title of Olympian Zeus, Cortés Copete has argued against A. M. Woodward’s dating of a Spartan inscription by Caius Iulius Theophrastus, son of Theoclimenes (112-115, 121-124).

In “Some Thoughts on the Cult of the Pantheon (‘All the Gods’?) in the Cities and Sanctuaries of Roman Greece” (Chapter 8), Milena Melfi considers temples and altars dedicated to “all gods” and “all gods in common” for what they reveal about the nature and rituals of the cult(s) (137-143). The Pantheon cult spread with Hadrian and with his successors, but Melfi questions if there were two cults involved, as Pausanias considered “all gods” and “all gods in common” separate (141, 143-146).

Fernando Lozano’s chapter, “Emperor Worship and Greek Leagues: The Organization of Supra-Civic Imperial Cult in the Roman East” (Chapter 9) is one of the most valuable contributions of the book. His well sourced and organized work reveals that the imperial cult was not orchestrated by provinces, but rather by leagues and at times by organized collections of these leagues he calls supra-civic (150-160). Lozano proposes a terminological change away from the term “provincial cults” to prevent further misinformation in the field (162-163). He also offers a historiography that shows why previous historians have suggested the term “provincial cults” when discussing emperor worship. However, Lozano advocates the use of more specific terms: “koinon cult,” “league cult,” or “federal cult” as appropriate (150-151, 160-162, 169).

Athanasios D. Rizakis contributed the tenth and final chapter, “Le paysage culturel de la colonie romaine de Philippes en Macédoine: cosmopolitisme religieux et différentiation sociale.” Rizakis focuses on the change in religion at Philippi. The chapter looks at temple design and excavation, and the elite adoption of the cult of the emperor that followed Rome’s take-over. Rizakis discusses the location of the temples based on the nature of the divinities (180-183), and has noted syncretism between Thracian and Greek deities (192-196).

Aesthetically, the book is pleasing. Color pictures are included in the final chapter. The book successfully reaches its goal in spurring discussion and debate regarding religion in the Greek territories under Roman rule. Each of the authors’ contributions could develop into a worthy book. The authors delve deeply into their subject area, and, as a result, almost all of the essays jump into their specific topic without clearly defining terms. Such narrow and complex topics condensed into single chapters make the book a slow read, and some chapters require background knowledge and preliminary research before reading. A few of the chapters struggle with organization and clear thesis and logical sentences, and there are a fair number of typos. Regarding the content as a whole, while a brief mention was made in Chapter 7, by Cortés Copete (129-133), about the Second Sophistic, the way second sophists approached philosophy, their public role, and their twisting of mythology and history would be an excellent addition to the text. As many of the chapters focus on Hadrian, he seems a bit over emphasized in the collection. But again, this book is a worthwhile read and contributes to a glaring hole in the historiography of religion in the Greek provinces under Roman rule.


1.   Oliver, J. H. “Patrons Providing Financial Aid to the Tribes of Roman Athens,” AJPh 70, no. 3 (1949): 299-308.
2.   For the result of the embassy of the sanctuary of Athena Polias of Priene see Sheila L. Ager, Interstate Arbitrations in the Greek World, 337-90 B.C. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996, 508-509. For the result of the embassy of the sanctuary of Artemis in Ephesus led by Artemidoros, see Annalisa Marzano, Harvesting the Sea: The Exploitation of Marine Resources in the Roman Mediterranean. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, 62.
3.   Kyle, Donald G. Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome. London: Routledge, 1998, especially 259-264, 274-278, 333-339.

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