BMCR 2006.06.07

Roman Rule and Civic Life: Local and Regional Perspectives. Impact of Empire, vol. 4

, , , , Roman rule and civic life : local and regional perspectives. Impact of empire (Roman empire, c. 200 B.C. - A.D. 476) ; 4. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 2004. xvii, 448 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9050634184 €128.00.

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

This collection of essays originated in the fourth workshop of the “International Network Impact of Empire” held in Leiden in 2003. Established at the University of Nijmegen in 1999, the “Network Impact” has, since 2000, organized annual conferences, congregating junior and senior scholars across disciplines and across borders to discuss “aspects of the political, social, and economic organization of the [Roman] Empire from the perspective of [its] impact” (p. xi). The Network workshops have now become established events in the calendar of European conferences in Roman studies — six have already been held and new conferences are scheduled for 2006 and 2007. Four volumes of proceedings have already appeared, of which this is the fourth.1 The Network Chairs, organizers, editors, and participants deserve praise for making these workshops possible and securing the swift publication of the proceedings. They have done much more than “further an exchange of teachers,” which was one of the Network’s original goals.2

The volume contains all but one of the twenty-four papers read at the conference on “Roman rule and civic life.” Given this huge topic, it is not surprising that the volume’s contributions cover a vast ground, ranging in subject from language as an instrument of domination to actuarial science to female patrons of cities. Given that the organizers chose an open-ended topic (p. xi), it is not to be wondered that the result is less coherent than the three previous volumes. Still, it is unfortunate that the general introduction does no more than offer a brief description of each individual paper, and eschews effort at more general contextualization.

The papers are grouped into four roughly thematic sections: “Instruments of imperial rule,” “Conquest and its effects,” “Romanization and its limits,” and “Urban elites and civic life.”

W. von Eck (E.) opens Section 1, “Instruments of imperial rule,” with a paper on the language the Romans used in official communication with their subjects. E. contends that, in addition to Latin and Greek, other languages were also used. The evidence is virtually absent, but E. argues that official pronouncements in the local languages would have been written in perishable material such as wood.3

Next, drawing on a variety of pictorial and narrative sources, R. Talbert investigates how the Romans used the “notion of provinces” (p. 23) to conceptualize geographic space.

Two papers on Roman governors follow. Relying almost exclusively on epigraphic material, C. Kokkinia examines the “rhetorical strategies” governors used to navigate the faction-ridden world of local Greek politics.

D. Slootjes (S.) then considers the governor as benefactor in the late Roman East. Distancing himself from the concept of evergetism, S. treats benefactions as gift-exchange in which reciprocity was expected. As such, benefactions include everything from building projects to favors to letters of recommendation.4

From governors to taxes, L. de Ligt (L.) offers a new reading for the Monumentum Ephesenum of 62 AD, whose reference to tax-farming contradicts Caesar’s abolition of the practice. That reference, L. argues, was the result of poor editing of the law of 75 BC; that is, the copyist of 62 AD failed to change the text of the law to bring it in line with current fiscal practices. Alternatively, the copyist may have had in mind tax-farming in imperial property.

Section 2, “Conquest and its effects,” begins with A. Birley tracing the movements of the Roman army in northern Britain from Vespasian to Hadrian. Under Agricola, the Romans conquered the entire island, but were forced to abandon Scotland when trouble erupted in the Danube.

The army is also the subject of J. A. van Rossum, who argues against the traditional view that the Batavian revolt of 69 AD put an end to “ethnic” recruitment into the Batavian auxiliary units. According to the author, these units retained their “national” character until at least the end of the first century AD.

J. C. N. Coulston (C.) next examines how professional soldiers in the Empire articulated a military identity. The piece contains much useful information about military dress and armor. Among other things, C. argues persuasively that Roman soldiers did not wear uniform.

C. Bruun (B.) seeks to recover the memory of Decebalus. While the Romans considered the Dacian king a “wicked barbarian” (p. 174), in the Danube region, he would have been remembered as a hero. B. thoroughly combs the meager sources regarding the king, but, to this reviewer, the suggestion of an anti-Roman “Decebalus legend” rests on thin evidence.

Section 3, “Romanization and its limits,” opens with K. Lomas’ insightful study of cultural change in Greek-speaking Ancona and Naples. Drawing on epitaphs, Lomas argues that, while natives absorbed several elements of Roman culture, they did so selectively, according to social status, gender, mode and context of representation, and so on. The picture of native agency and “cultural hybridity” (p. 194) that emerges from her analysis is convincing, but we would like to know the size of her epigraphic sample—her tables give no quantitative data.

Next, J. L. Bintliff argues that the late Hellenistic/early Roman demographic decline observed in survey data from Thespiae had more to do with soil exhaustion than with the impact of Roman conquest. The article underscores the need to take into account the “pre-existing … trajectories” (p. 215) of a particular territory when assessing the effects of its incorporation into the Roman Empire.

H. Elton then illustrates the “limits of Romanization” in central Cilicia. He argues for continuity in local religious traditions under “weak” Romanized forms as seen in the worship of native deities and funerary practices.

H. von Hesberg (H.) and N. de Haan (D.) discuss the impact of Rome on local material culture. H. shows a strong correlation between erecting funerary monuments and social mobility in the Rhineland. Setting up a monument bespoke the desire of upwardly-mobile natives to adopt Roman forms of commemoration to express personal achievement. However, this embrace of Roman cultural forms did not entail the abandonment of indigenous customs. Epitaphs and portraits often represented native themes, attesting to the continued importance of native culture in local self-definition.

D. looks at continuity and change in domestic architecture in North Africa and Britain. The persistence of local building practices, she argues, had more to do with geological or climactic factors than with resistance to Roman rule. As for the local adoption of “Roman-style” amenities such as heated rooms or private fountains, she observes that it is difficult to know whether these novelties expressed an idea of Romanitas. However, their integration into the social lives of house owners did matter, because it signaled the adoption of a Roman lifestyle, that is, a change in social behavior that “made [local] inhabitants, … in their own eyes, Roman” (p. 273).

The fourth and last Section, “Urban elites and civic life,” features papers on a wide range of topics.

T. de Vries and W. J. Zwalve claim that Ulpian’s life expectancy table is reliable because it draws on empirical data about ages of death. However, the authors’ suggestion that lawyers obtained these data from epitaphs rests on the assumption (mistaken, in this reviewer’s opinion) that most tombstones recorded age information and were accessible to public view.5

A. Krieckhaus questions the proposition that Pliny considered Comum a place for otium in opposition to Rome.

The next two papers deal with local political practices. J. H. M. Strubbe surveys all cases in which cultic honors were offered to local benefactors in Asia Minor. Before the 70s BC, these honors were given to living benefactors who built or re-built gymnasia. As the Romans tightened their grip on the region, however, and until the time of Augustus, cultic honors were awarded to benefactors who helped to recover a city’s lost privileges and freedom.

M. Horster (H.) takes on the little-discussed phenomenon of appointing substitutes to replace an emperor elected to honorary office in local communities. Canvassing a large body of epigraphic and numismatic evidence, H. argues that the practice spread from East to West and notes that, while in the West these appointments brought prestige to substitutes, in the East, they carried less importance.

M. Dondin-Payre’s paper seeks to define the contours of the local elites in the Three Gauls as mediators between the central power and the local administration.

M. Di Branco compares the uses of myth in accounts of the defense of Athens in the third and late fourth centuries to show the evolution of neo-Platonic thought and the rising appeal of theurgy among the Athenian elite.

The last three papers focus on women in public life. M. Navarro Caballero looks at the Spanish provinces, where a large body of inscriptions features women performing public benefactions and dedicating honorific statues and monuments in honor of their deceased male relatives. What drove women to spend in this fashion, she argues, was a sense of duty to lineage and familial memory.

V. E. Hirschmann’s paper offers a methodological reflection on the subject of women in associations. Instead of focusing on the question of women’s membership in cultic or occupational societies, she suggests an approach that places this question in the larger context of women’s participation in public life. This involves considering women’s relationship not only with pagan societies, but also with early Christian communities, to which, one might add, Jewish synagogues.6

Finally, E. Hemelrijk (H.) turns to women as patrons of communities. Women may have been co-opted patrons only when male candidates could not be found, but H. argues that they operated as mediators between client-cities and the imperial center just like their male counterparts, using rank and connections to protect their clients. What ties these twenty-three papers together? In the preface to the first volume of the Impact series we read that the aim of the fourth workshop was to discuss the “impact … of the Roman Empire upon social relations, daily life, and moral attitudes of groups … units and individuals within the local societies that constituted [it].”7 But as one goes through these papers, it is clear that either the organizers allowed contributors considerable freedom in deciding what was to count as “local impact” or altogether ignored the theme. With the exception of the essays in Section 3, several papers seem only distantly concerned with the effects of empire on local society (e.g., Kokkinia, de Ligt, Birley, van Rossum, Coulston, Krieckhaus, etc.), and some are not at all related to the theme (e.g., de Vries and Zwalve). Furthermore, although most contributions deal with regional contexts, many are not truly about local society. In Sections 1 and 2, apart from Bruun’s essay, the remaining seven papers, nearly one-third of the book, focus on such top-heavy topics as government strategies, fiscal practices, army movements, and military units. With a few exceptions, contributions also contain disappointingly little on the perspective of imperial subjects themselves; “local perspectives” in the title does not necessarily correspond to the point of view of natives.

With contributions ranging so broadly, then, the book suffers from a lack of thematic focus. It is difficult to find common threads even among essays within the same section. In Section 4, the only feature the nine papers have in common is that they are about elites, but not all are about local elites and not all are about civic life. Section 3, on “Romanization,” does form a more or less self-contained unit, but one would expect Bintliff’s paper to appear under “Conquest and its effects,” where, in turn, there is little on the local effects of Roman conquest. The sense of dispersion is further heightened by the fact that the authors do not cross-reference one another, even when they discuss the same issues.

The merits of the volume lie in the individual contributions, whose quality varies. Some papers retain the flavor of an oral presentation and appear to have undergone little revision. Many could have benefited from a more aggressive editorial hand to improve clarity, organization, and style. Several contributors write about topics they have discussed elsewhere, including previous volumes of the Impact series (e.g., de Ligt, Birley, Coulston, Bintliff, Lomas, Krieckhaus, Dondin-Payre, Navarro Caballero, and Hemelrijk).

Some papers stand out. By looking at the ways in which natives sought to define themselves in an imperial context, the essays by Lomas, von Hesberg, and de Haan contribute to our understanding of the processes of cultural change in the Roman Empire.8 In Section 4, the articles by Strubbe and Horster were among the few to highlight the impact of Roman rule on civic life. I found the last three papers on women among the most stimulating—they not only illuminate how women entered the public sphere, but also how they helped to shape it.

Overall, however, most contributions are curiously detached from current debates about the nature of Roman imperialism and cultural change in the Roman world. It is odd that a book devoted to the impact of empire should fail to take on issues of imperial domination.9 Even the papers on Romanization devote little attention to the relationship between cultural change and imperial power.10

Who is this book for? The volume aims at an audience of historians of imperial Rome, but readers are likely to approach it selectively and then less for what it tells about the effects of empire than for each paper’s contribution to specific fields of research. For instance, de Ligt’s informative essay on the Monumentum Ephesenum adds to current debates on Roman taxation. Bintliff’s commendable paper will attract the attention of scholars of Roman Greece and imperial landscapes. Anyone interested in the public role of women in the Roman world will want to read the volume’s last three essays. But with such thematic diversity, it will be up to specialists to decide for themselves the significance of each paper to their own sub-fields.

The book is carefully produced. Informative charts, tables, and maps accompany some essays. Good quality b/w illustrations are appended at the end, but there are no bibliographies or index. I have found the following minor errors: pp. 114 (“was as a Roman creation” for “was a Roman creation,” and formatting of paragraph indent), 118 (“one them” for “one of them”), 164 (“Decabalus” for “Decebalus”), 173 (,.), 192 (Romanised and Romanized), 260 (“owners public life” for “owners’ public life”), 273 (“in in their own” for “in their own”), 279 (“Macers” for “Macer’s”), 334 (formatting of section subtitle), 383 (“à a celle” for “à celle”), 384 (“pratiques théurgique” for “pratiques théurgiques”).

List of contributors and titles:

W. von Eck, “Lateinisch, Griechisch, Germanisch ….? Wie sprach Rom mit seinen Untertanen?”

R. Talbert, “Rome’s Provinces as Framework for World-View”

C. Kokkinia, “Ruling, Inducing, Arguing: How to Govern (and Survive) a Greek Province”

D. Slootjes, “The Governor as Benefactor in Late Antiquity”

L. de Ligt, “Direct Taxation in Western Asia Minor under the Early Empire”

A. Birley, “Britain 71-105: Advance and Retrenchment”

J. A. van Rossum, “The End of the Batavian Auxiliaries as ‘National’ Units”

J. C. N. Coulston, “Military Identity and Personal Self Identity”

C. Bruun, “The Legend of Decebalus”

K. Lomas, “Funerary Epigraphy and the Impact of Rome in Italy”

J. L. Bintliff, “Town and Chora of Thespiae in the Imperial Age”

H. Elton, “Romanization and Some Cilician Cults”

H. von Hesberg, “Grabmonumente als Zeichen des sozialen Aufstiegs der neuen Eliten in den germanischen Provinzen”

N. de Haan, “Living like the Romans? Some Remarks on Domestic Architecture in North Africa and Britain”

T. de Vries and W. J. Zwalve, “Roman Actuarial Science and Ulpian’s Life Expectancy Table”

A. Krieckhaus, “Duae patriae? C. Plinius Secundus zwischen germana patria und urbs

J. H. M. Strubbe, “Cultic Honors for Benefactors in the Cities of Asia Minor”

M. Horster, “Substitutes for Emperors and Members of the Imperial Families as Local Magistrates”

M. Dondin-Payre, “Notables et élites dans les Trois Gaules”

M. Di Branco, “Entre Amphion et Achille. Realité et mythologie de la défense d’Athènes du IIIe au IVe siècle après J.-C.”

M. Navarro Caballero, “L’elite, les femmes et l’argent dans les provinces hispaniques”

V. E. Hirschmann, “Methodische Überlegungen zu Frauen in antiken Vereinen”

E. Hemelrijk, “Patronage of Cities: The Role of Women”.


1. L. de Blois, ed., Administration, Prosopography and Appointment Policies in the Roman Empire (Amsterdam, 2001); L. de Blois and J. Rich, eds., The Transformation of Economic Life under the Roman Empire (Amsterdam, 2002); and L. de Blois et al., eds., The Representation and Perception of Roman Imperial Power (Amsterdam, 2003).

2. De Blois, Administration, v.

3. See, however, J. N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge, 2003), 207f., 280, on coins with bilingual legends. Adams’ book appeared after E. wrote his paper.

4. For a more nuanced view, see J.-M. Carrié, “Recherches sur les gouverneurs,” Antiquité Tardive 6 (1998), 25ff.; and C. Roueché, “The Functions of Roman Governors in Late Antiquity,” Antiquité Tardive 6 (1998), 33. The author cites neither.

5. See W. Eck, “Iscrizioni sepolcrali romane. Intenzione e capacità di messaggio nel contesto funerario,” in Tra epigrafia, prosopografia e archeologia. Scritti scelti, rielaborati ed aggiornati (Rome, 1996), 227-249; F. Feraudi-Gruénais, Inschriften und ‘Selbstdarstellung’ in stadtrömischen Grabbauten, (Libitina 2), (Rome, 2003).

6. See, for instance, P. Richardson, “Early Synagogues as Collegia in the Diaspora and Palestine,” in Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World, eds. J. S. Kloppenborg and S.G. Wilson (London/New York, 1996), 90-109 esp. 102ff.; and P. Richardson and V. Heuchen, “Jewish Voluntary Associations in Egypt and the Roles of Women,” in Voluntary, 226-251.

7. De Blois, Administration, v.

8. A subject that continues to generate much debate. See G. Woolf, Becoming Roman. The origins of provincial civilization in Gaul (Cambridge, 1998); D. J. Mattingly, “Vulgar and weak ‘Romanization’, or time for a paradigm shift?” JRA 15 (2002), 536-540; and R. Hingley, Globalizing Roman Culture. Unity, Diversity and Empire (London/New York, 2005), 49-71.

9. See D. Mattingly’s remarks in his Introduction to Dialogues in Roman Imperialism. Power, discourse, and discrepant experience in the Roman Empire, (JRA Suppl. 23), ed. D. J. Mattingly (Portsmouth, 1997).

10. Cf. Williams, “Roman intentions and Romanization: Republican northern Italy c. 200-100 BC,” in S. Keay and N. Terrenato, eds., Italy and the West: Comparative Issues in Romanization (Oxford, 2001), 91-101; and C. R. Whittaker, “Imperialism and Culture: the Roman Initiative,” in Dialogues, 152ff.