Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.04.26 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.04.26

Anne Kolb, Marco Vitale (ed.), Kaiserkult in den Provinzen des Römischen Reiches. Organisation, Kommunikation und Repräsentation.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2016.  Pp. ix, 512.  ISBN 9783110416718.  €79,95.  

Reviewed by Florian Matei-Popescu, Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology (

Table of Contents

The volume here under review collects the papers given at a conference with the same title held at the Historical Seminar and Institute of Archaeology of the Zürich Universityin 2014. The volume honors Christian Marek, a leading specialist in the field of the history, epigraphy and archaeology of Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor (many of his publications are cited in length by the various authors in the volume).

The volume opens with an introduction by the two editors, where they define the scope of the conference, give some definitions of the major concepts involved in the imperial cult (koina, concilia, neokoroi, metropoleis), and provide also a short overview, before summarizing the contents of the 21 papers.

The contributions are distributed in five sections (the authors and titles can be found at the link above), as follows: I. Besonderheiten, Genese und Entwicklung (Particularities, Genesis and Development, p. 20-155); II. Städte und ihre Kulte (Cities and their Cults); III. Städtebunde und ihre Kulte (Federations of the Cities and their Cults); IV. Lokalen Eliten und Kaiserkult: Priesterinnen und Priester (Local elites and the Imperial Cult: Priestesses and Priests); V. Spätantike: Kontinuitäten —Ende des Kaiserkults? (Late Antique: Continuities—The End of the Imperial Cult?).

The first section is opened by Jesper Majbom Madsen and Werner Eck’s papers. The first deals with Cassius Dio’s passage on the alleged initiative of the communities (koina) from Asia and Bithynia to establish the cult of the sole ruler of the Republic in 29 BC. The author convincingly argues that it is impossible to have had such an important decision without the approval and direct involvement of the future Augustus and his entourage (the same view is found in the contribution from Barbara Holler, p. 173-175), but the initiative could have come from the Greek communities. Since he had not already settled his new position as the head of the Roman state, in the eyes of Romans, it would seem odd to have divi filius so prominently represented in this sort of unsanctioned divine worship.

The second paper provides an in depth analysis of the part played by the Senate in the deification process of the deceased emperors. Practically all deceased emperors became either a divus or had their memory damned (damnatio memoriae)—the only two exceptions were Tiberius (although this did not stand in the way of his divinization in the East, as Hadrien Bru shows quoting a papyrus uncovered at Fayoum, p. 70) and Galba, as determined by special circumstances following their deaths (p. 40).

Bru provides a useful diachronic overview of the imperial cult in the Roman East, focusing on myths, rites and structures and suggesting some new directions for future studies, such as the close connections between Sol-Helios and the imperial cult in the province of Syria, just to note one of the author’s examples. The paper make use of different types of sources, providing an almost complete picture of the chosen subject.

Michael Alexander Speidel’s paper is one of the most interesting in the volume. Beginning with the astonishing mention in the Tabula Peutingeriana of a templ(um) Augusti (XI C 5) on the Malabar coast at the commercial harbour of Musiris (South India), seen by some scholars only as a cultic site of the Roman tradesmen there, the author argues that the erection of a temple dedicated to Roman emperors, far beyond the frontiers of the Empire, was an expression of diplomatic relations with Rome, already in the Augustan period (p. 109: “so kann der Eintrag templ(um) Augusti kaum anders als ein Hinweis auf Roms politische Allianzen in diesem östlichen Weltteil verstanden worden sein”). Moreover, the author shows that the temple of Musiris was by no means the only example beyond the Empire (for instance at Vologesias, not far from Ctesiphon, the residence of the Parthian king, a temple for Roman emperors was built in AD 145/146, by a certain Soadu of Palmyra, AE 1931, 54).

The second section opens with three papers on Asia Minor. Gabrielle Frija discusses possible provincial particularities, Barbara Holer tries to identify eventual differences between the cult of cities and the cult of provinces, while Julie Dalaison makes use of the numismatic evidence for attestations and representations of the imperial cult in Pontus, Paphlagonia and Armenia minor, —here discussing the Greek community of the Left Pontus, the Hexapolis (later, Pentapolis). Dalaison also presents Apollonia Pontica (p. 194), which by no means was part of the community, since it was situated in the province of Thrace and not in Moesia inferior; in fact, the reason for changing the name from Hexapolis to Pentapolis was the change of the frontier between Moesia inferior and Thracia during the reign of Septimius Severus, when Mesambria became part of Thrace, leaving therefore the provincial base constituted koinon). This section ends with Holger Wienholz’ paper on the Bacchus temple from Baalbek (colonia Iulia Felix Heliopolis) during the Severan period (the author emphasizes the very strong relationship between Septimius Severus and Heliopolis, especially with the main deity, Iupiter Optimus Maximus Heliopolitanus) which may have also served as a temple of the provincial imperial cult.

In the third section, Francesco Camia discusses the imperial cult in the province of Achaia, based on his monograph published in 2011. The paper provides, therefore, an English abstract of the book published originally in Italian, thus reaching a broader audience.1 The next paper deals with the imperial cult in Thessaly (Richard Bouchon), based on the new discoveries from the theatre of Larissa (p. 296—the three attested archiereis probably forming a collegium), the seat of the Thessalian federation, created at the beginning of the second century BC, in the peculiar context of the end of the Second Macedonian War. These ancient origins shape the development of the Thessalian federation in the imperial period (in the Republican period, the federation had political and administrative roles, very similar to a “federated state”). Lorenzo Cigaina underlines the strong connection between the imperial cult among the Cretans and their recruitment in the Roman army, in different auxiliary units or in the cohors I Cretum saggitariorum, stationed in Moesia and Moesia superior, on the Danube frontier. After the creation of the province of Dacia, the unit is attested among Dacian units, appearing in Moesia superior during the reign of Hadrian. The unit probably never changed its fort from Egeta/Brza Palanka, but the region was assigned to the Dacian governor up to the reign of Hadrian. I am in complete agreement with the author that mention in the Notitia Dignitatum (Or. 34, 47: Cohors secunda Cretensis iuxta Iordanem fluvium) of a cohors II Cretum in Palestine during the Late Roman period referred to an earlier unit, raised during the first or second century AD. The author seems to link the recruitment of the regiment to the Bar Kochba war, AD 132-135. Although large recruitment is attested in this period, I am more inclined to see both Cretan archer regiments being recruited at the same time during the Augustan period, only being transferred to Judaea later. The last two papers within this section (Søren Lund Sørensen; Marco Vitale) research the possible involvement of the concilia/koina in other type of activities beyond performing the imperial cult in the provinces. While Søren Lund Sørensen arrives at a negative answer to the possible involvement of the provincial assemblies in accusing governors of extortion (repetundae), as Jurgen Deininger maintains in his classic book on the Provinziallandtage,2 Marco Vitale underlines the important role played by assemblies in decisions to set up honorary decrees for the emperors (the word provincia being used in the inscription to design the concilium provinciae).

The next section contains only two papers. Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen’s draws a list of the “Leading men” of the Eastern provincial koina, discussing also the long-debated issue of the identification or non-identification of the Asiarch with the High Priest of the imperial cult in the Asia province. Not surprisingly, almost all were Roman citizens before the constitutio Antoniniana, showing the strong relationship between the spread of the citizenship in the Eastern part of the Empire and the loyalty to Rome that followed, although the author chooses only to emphasize their wealth). Babett Edelmann-Singer’s paper deals with priestesses of provincial imperial cults in the same area of the Empire. Examining the koinon of the Left Pontus, she suggests that the title of protos pontarches attached to some of the Pontarchs should be understood as a distinction within a college of the Pontarchs (p. 392-393). Nevertheless, recently Karin Maurer has decisively rejected this theory, the first Pontarch being a title to emphasize the person was the first to become Pontarch from his city.3

The last section, as already mentioned, contains two very interesting papers on the evolution of the imperial cult during the Late Empire, up to Justinian’s reign, by Alister Filippini (including an almost complete survey of the problem) and Christian R. Raschle.

To conclude, the aim of the volume is to provide a sort of status quaestionis on the appearance, spread and development of the Roman imperial cult throughout the Empire, but most of the papers are only focused on the Eastern provinces (some monographs have already appeared in recent years and their titles can be found in the bibliography of the introductory note from the editors; nevertheless, all authors seem to agree that Simon Price’s book from 19844 is still the best survey for the imperial cult in the East, especially from the theoretical point of view). No papers are dedicated to the western provinces (one should consult D. Fishwick’s volumes on The Imperial Cult of the Latin West), nor to the Middle or Lower Danubian provinces, providing therefore only a partial picture of the phenomenon. Important to note are the two last papers concerning the Late Roman period, both of which seek to determine the longevity of the imperial cult, a period and a question often disregarded in previous studies on the subject. The volume can be therefore considered an important contribution on the imperial cult in the eastern provinces of the Empire and even beyond.


1.   Francesco Camia, Theoi Sebastoi. Il culto degli imperatori romani nella Grecia (provincia Achaia) nell secondo secolo d. C., Athens, 2011.
2.   Jurgen Deininger, Die Provinziallandtage der römischen Kaiserzeit von Augustus bis zum Ende des dritten Jahrhunderts n. Chr., Munich, 1965, p. 165-169.
3.   Karin Maurer, Der Pontarch des westpontischen Koinons, Dacia, N. S. 58, 2014, p. 141-187, especially p. 153-157, confirming therefore Dionisie M. Pippidi’s older theory.
4.   S. R. F. Price, Rituals and Power. The Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor, Cambridge 1984.

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