Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.03.61 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.61

Jean-Louis Ferrary, Rome et le monde grec: choix d'écrits. Epigraphica, 9.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2017.  Pp. 590.  ISBN 9782251446349.  €55.00 (pb).  

Contributors: Denis Rousset, Anna Heller

Reviewed by Sophie Lalanne, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, ANHIMA (UMR 8210) (

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A book published by Jean-Louis Ferrary deserves special attention: for French scholars interested in the institutions of the Greek city in the late Hellenistic period, it is as important as a publication by Louis Robert or Philippe Gauthier. Rome et le monde grec impressively assembles twenty-six articles published between 1976 and 2017, reprinting the original text but with a completely new pagination. All of them concern the "complex dialogue" between Greek cities and the Roman Republic which has been Ferrary’s focus throughout his career. The volume compliments hisRecherches sur les lois comitiales et sur le droit public romain.1 For Hellenists, it is also the continuation of the excellent Philhellénisme et impérialisme.2 Among the penetrating insights that Ferrary shares with his reader, two major ideas stand out: first, the internal factors in the Greek cities’ evolution which may have satisfied Rome without having been imposed, or even requested;3 secondly, Rome’s efforts to halt European Greece’s decline in comparison with Asia.

The twenty-six articles of Rome et le monde grec are divided into five sections. The first section deals with "political ideas and regimes", especially democracy. The first chapter (I) analyses Cicero’s description of Rhodian institutions in his De Republica, and demonstrates not only the sovereignty of the popular assembly in this Hellenistic democracy but also a judicial system similar to the Athenian Heliaia. The next two chapters (II, III) offer a wider treatment of the significance and evolution of demokratia in the Hellenistic period. Ferrary asserts that the same chronological rupture can be observed with democracy as diagnosed by Philippe Gauthier with euergetism. In fact, in the 2nd-1st centuries B.C., the democratic regimes which predominate in all Greek cities tend to evolve into Republican regimes characterized by the transfer of decision-making from the Assembly to the boule and magistrates, and by the creation of a sort of ordo decurionum restricted to these last two categories. Roman hegemony seems thus to have accelerated a political development already under way, i.e., the decline of democracy in both the practice and the vocabulary of institutions.

The second section is entitled "From hegemonies to empire". This part is undoubtedly the major section of the book. The first four articles explore the notion of empire through various foci. In chapter IV, the study of the oikoumene's eastern and western frontiers reveals that, contrary to general belief, Dionysius of Halicarnassos, and not Polybius, was the first to construct a theory of world empires, while chapter V underlines the difference in Polybius’ text between "relative" (on sea or on land) and "absolute" (on sea and on land) dominations, something which explains his denial of Athenian hegemony. Chapter VI qualifies assertions published in Philhellénisme et impérialisme and points out that Polybius wrote for two different sorts of readers: Romans, who were reminded not to succumb to philarchia and not to tyrannize dominated peoples, and Greeks, whose partial responsibility for Roman policies was denounced. Chapter VII argues that the notion of world order is hardly appropriate to describe the Hellenistic period, for Greeks of this period preferred several world powers to a unique hegemony, while the Romans, who rejected the idea of a balance of power, relied entirely on an imperial organization based on provinces and legions. The following chapters analyse two examples of Roman domination: first in Macedonia (VIII), with the evolution of Rome’s administration and army, secondly in Pontus (IX), with the traumatic break of the Mithridatic wars. The last three chapters explore the status of free cities. In chapter X, treaties between Rome and Greek cities (provincial or free cities) appear first to be symbolically bilateral, but then to evolve, from the Caesarian and Augustan periods, into a manifestly unequal form. The example of a free city, Colophon, is illuminated by the Claros inscriptions (XI), while the subsequent discussion (XII) explores the tensions between the Greek civic ideal of liberty and the requirements of Roman hegemony. In these chapters it becomes clear that alongside and after Hellenistic kings and before Roman emperors, Greek cities had to deal with a third interlocutor, the Roman Senate, with its own peculiarities.

A third section studies the functions and careers of "benefactors, patrons and ambassadors". More than others, this part brings to life the most distinguished representatives of the Greek cities (Ferrary never uses the term "elite"). Chapter XIII analyses the different forms of evolution from Hellenistic to Roman euergetism, with a remarkable continuity of institutions in the Greek city (confederations and kingdoms were the main victims of the Roman conquest). Here, Ferrary re-examines the emergence of great benefactors in the 1st century B.C., with special attention to Romans and Italians. Greek honours to these benefactors apparently disregarded the Roman social hierarchy and coexisted with the traditional patronage of Roman senatorial families, which played an important role until the Augustan era. Next, Greek ambassadors are described as striving to obtain the best results from their embassies (XIV, XV, XVI), most of which were appealing to the Senate against Roman governors' decisions. They appear in Rome preparing for their audience for months at their own expense, first visiting the magistrate in charge, then vigorously lobbying all the important political figures in Rome, so composing their speech to the Senate as to arouse mercy and pity, but also to recall the services that their city had done Rome. Finally, back in their province, they give great publicity to the senatus consultum they had obtained. In spite of these expensive and time- consuming efforts to mediate between their city and Rome, most eminent Greeks seem to have been uninterested in acquiring Roman citizenship (XVII) until the end of the 40s, when it became possible to combine it with local citizenship.

The fourth section deals with Asia Minor. The first chapter (XVIII) is entirely devoted to explaining the massacre of Romans and Italians in 88 B.C. orchestrated by Mithridates, and carried out by the cities as a whole (not by their urban plebs as generally assumed). Ferrary underlines the negative effects of M’. Aquillius’ organization of provincia Asia in 129-126 B.C. and of C. Gracchus’ fiscal law in 123/122 B.C. which applied to provincial and free cities alike, almost equally affected by the abuses of magistrates, publicani and negotiatores. Chapter XIX demonstrates that, on one hand, free cities had to fight permanently for their autonomy, notably through laborious and expensive embassies to the Roman Senate (attested by epigraphy only when successful); on the other hand, in provincial cities Greek aristocrats experienced the humiliation of dealing with the employees of societies of publicani, often slaves and freedmen employed by equites domiciled in Rome. In the following chapters, Ferrary scrutinizes the epigraphic material available to draw up lists of Asia Minor governors and hereditary patrons of Greek cities (XX), then records Romans honored on the sacred road leading to the temple of Apollo at Claros (XXII); chapters XXI and XXIII respectively analyse the cases of Q. Mucius Scaevola and king Archelaos of Cappadocia. These chapters give Ferrary an opportunity to shed light on the various honorific titles describing, for instance, L. Valerius Flaccus as patrôn of Colophon (the first mention of this title used of a Roman, though Colophon was a free city) or Hadrian as Paniônios.

In the fifth section, entitled "Philhellenism and hellenism", Ferrary carries further the ideas that he developed in Philhellénisme et impérialisme, examining the internal hierarchy of the Greek world not only in the perceptions of Greeks, but also, and above all, of Romans (XXIV, XXV, XXVI). This brilliant demonstration shows that Roman philhellenism, by favouring archaizing literary and artistic tendencies, slowed down the decline of European Greece in comparison with Asia Minor. As Cicero bears witness, Roman aristocrats were conscious of their debt to ancient Greeks, especially to their humanitas, and Greeks understood the benefit they could derive from this profound esteem in seeking better treatment within the Roman empire. But the terms Graeci and Hellenes could have different meanings: they could designate a part of the Greek world, most often Achaia or Asia, but they could also mean "provincial", as opposed to cives Romani. In the same time, one may observe a regular shrinking of the notion of "true Greece", now reduced to the Peloponnese, Attica, and central Greece, which led to a form of restructuring of the Hellenic world in the 2nd century A.D. with the creation of Hadrian’s Panhellenion. From this new configuration were excluded not only Hellenistic foundations but also the most important cities of Asia, which probably were reluctant to join a community where they couldn’t compete for the first place, and western cities, who could simply not be subjected to their former metropoleis.

These twenty-six chapters form a coherent and rich opus, offering many points of view and bringing to light facts usually consigned to the no man’s land between main topics of interest, like the difficulty for the leading cities of Asia Minor in making the Roman government respect their freedom and the cities of European Greece respect their ranking, in particular in the reigns of philhellenic emperors. Few scholars venture comparisons between Greek and Roman political practices: Ferrary, who knows as much about institutions of Greek cities as about Roman law, is highly qualified to do so, and he does, for instance concerning the ekklesia and comitia, boule and ordo, benefactors and patrons, koina and the Panhellenion, or concerning the different treatments of demokratia under Macedonian kings and Roman emperors. This view from a height incidentally allows reconsideration of various stereotypes, and portrays well-known figures of Greek and Roman history in an original and convincing way: Polybius in his acquaintance with Roman propaganda, Mithridates as an enemy of unique hegemony, Attalus III as an embarrassing testator, the brothers Quintus and Marcus Cicero collaborating to help Quintus to be a good governor of Asia. This attention to individuals, not only to institutions, makes the book extraordinarily lively and brings out a world of Greek citizens appointed by their cities to remind the Romans of their duties towards them, of Roman patrons and senators doing their business in Rome, of Italian negotiatores living in Ephesos and in cities where they could easily appeal to Roman law, of freedmen working for publicani, and of all-powerful governors harassing free cities to increase their own gains.

In conclusion, Rome et le monde grec is the culmination of forty years of very fruitful research into the late Hellenistic and Roman periods (with some rare incursions into the reigns of Nero and Hadrian), and an inspiring book. As far as presentation is concerned—thanks to Anna Heller and Denis Rousset for their valuable assistance—the various indices, the up-to-date bibliographical addenda, the thematic headings, and the high quality of the photographs of inscribed stones make the book very convenient and easy reading, despite its impressive level of scholarship. As for the content of the book, thanks to a skilful combination of sharp analysis of epigraphical material and slippery notions, and of various aspects of civic life in the late Hellenistic period, the reader is led with authority, diligence and caution through the labyrinthine evolution of the Greek city in a period of its important transformation. This is very much the kind of book which deserves an English translation to reach a wider circle of readers.


1.   J.-L. Ferrary, Recherches sur les lois comitiales et sur le droit public romain, Pavia, 2012. The reader of Rome et le monde grec will find in the introduction, n. 1, the titles of the articles published in that book concerning the Greek world.
2.   J.-L. Ferrary, Philhellénisme et impérialisme. Aspects idéologiques de la conquête romaine du monde hellénistique, Rome, 1988.
3.   This well-argued assertion may appear as a support to the demonstration that F. Millar raised in The Emperor in the Roman world, London, 1977.

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