BMCR 2007.02.52

Le vie della storia: migrazioni di popoli, viaggi di individui, circolazione di idee nel Mediterraneo antico

, , Le vie della storia: migrazioni di popoli, viaggi di individui, circolazione di idee nel Mediterraneo antico: atti del II Incontro internazionale di storia antica (Genova 6-8 ottobre 2004). Storia antica; 5. Roma: G. Bretschneider, 2006. xiv, 405 pages: illustrations; 24 cm. ISBN 8876892303. €160.00 (pb).

This volume collects several articles presented as papers at the 2004 conference held in Genoa on migrations, travels and exchange of ideas in the Ancient World. The speakers have explored and expanded the theme both chronologically and geographically in the attempt to clarify and grasp the level and type of interaction that occurred among different ethnic and/or cultural groups.

Francesco Surdich’s contribution appears as the “introduction” to the volume very appropriately. In twenty dense pages he analyses how the 15th-16th century explorers interpreted, explained and conveyed the news and views of the New World to themselves and to those they left behind. The images and tales that ancient authors had already used to describe unknown lands and people served as templates to process and portray the New World, while the Bible became their interpretative means. Surdich introduces the reader to the theme of the conference effectively, disclosing the strong impact ancient sources had on the experience of modern explorers.

The second article by Pierre Carlier offers a brief analysis of the Archaeology by Thucydides. The author stresses the centrality of migrations in the narrative of this as well as several other ancient historians. The author presents his thesis through the analysis of almost solely primary sources, which is refreshing for a change, but still questionable.

Marcel Piérart presents a paper rich in the suggestions of myth. Piérart assumes that myths were profoundly modified during the time of colonization. He takes into account mainly myths depicting kings coming from foreign lands to take a form of power often legitimized by a wedding. According to the author, such mythical figures are a symbol for the frail nature of power. The paper is completed by further reflections on Thucydides’ archaeology, where he stresses how the Greek historian never denied the historicity of myth, but was interested in it only to speak more effectively and understand the present.

Franco Montanari’s article assesses the status of the discussion on Homer and archeology, as he focuses on the debate concerning the relationship between Homeric Troy and the actual archaeological site. The author presents archaeological data and literary interpretative tools to conclude his essay with a query “Fra Troia omerica e Troia anatolica c’è dunque senz’altro un rapporto, ma quale?” thus confirming the unsettled status of the question.

Serena Bianchetti presents a very intriguing reading of Eratosthenes’ theories as we know them through Strabo. The two geographers held opposite views on the geographical construction of the oikoumene, from which their different interpretation of Homeric geography, his scientific standing and the general conception of history derived. Bianchetti describes Eratosthenes’ idea of the evolution of the Mediterranean basin as the balance of geophysical phenomena and historical-human events (for example the Trojan war). This view, which condemns Homer to the role of sublime poet with no scientific standing, was fiercely opposed by Strabo. Strabo, however, still chose Eratosthenes’ map, maybe because, as suggested by Bianchetti, it provided an additional justification for Roman rule.

Guido Schepens focuses on the importance of “traveling” in Greek historians. In his introduction, he points to two possible ways to carry out this research: on one hand, the analysis of the methodological statements of major Greek historians, who portray their work as the result of more or less extensive travels. On the other, he suggests that the so-called “traveling historians” are worthy of attention. These are local, Hellenistic historians mentioned in honorary inscriptions, which testify to their role and status in society. The author gives more relevance to the first line of research, limiting his remarks on the “traveling historians” to a couple of pages and valuable bibliographical references.1

Francesca Gazzano reflects on the difficulties and rewards ambassadors had in the Classical as well as Hellenistic and Roman periods through the analysis of literary and epigraphical evidence. The author points to the constant of social prestige that derives from these missions, which, as a counterpart, presented risks and, eventually, caused frustrations. Her work is a glimpse at the available data, without any claim of thoroughness, but it offers a very articulated reflection on the issue. The final notes on the developments in diplomacy are worth recording: Greek ambassadors sent to Rome were more generously rewarded by their poleis because of the “psychological” fatigue they had to endure. The lesser political weight carried by poleis reflected directly on diplomacy and on the well-being of its agents.

An article on the relationship between Cyprus and Sicily is Margherita Giuffrida’s contribution to the theme of the conference. She traces the common cultural traits of the two islands while moving rapidly through the centuries up to the Classical period, to which she turns her attention. She presents several suggestive cultural and historical parallels, which culminate in the theoretic and practical development of the concept-system of enlightened kingship, ideally expressed by Evagoras for Cyprus and Dionysos I for Sicily.

Franca Ferrandina Troisi returns partly to Schepens’ topic—wandering historians—broadening its scope. She analyzes a few examples of “traveling professionals,” such as doctors, artists, athletes, mainly through epigraphical material. The topic is potentially interesting, but her initial pages on women turn the focus to their condition in the Hellenistic age too drastically. Her study is mainly epigraphical, but the treatment of the texts and their restorations appears arbitrary occasionally.2 Eugenio Lancillotta seals the first part of the volume with a reflection on the inception of the European Constitution. The author points to the Classical and Christian roots of the European cultural and political Union, whose constitution, however, in its final, written version was deprived of the citation of Thucydides 2.37.1. The final version lists the key principles regulating the existence of the new community, but in a more bureaucratic and lifeless style and language.

Giuseppe Zecchini dedicates a few pages to the activity and presence of Gauls in Italy as presented by Polybius. According to the latter, the Gauls did not represent a danger until the 4th century, even if their presence in Italy is attested for a much earlier period. Livy appears to be the only author to report their activity already for the 6th-5th century B.C. According to Zecchini, both Livy and Polybius attempted to outdo their predecessors digging for more and new data in this case on the Gauls. This, however, resulted in a very concise testimony in Polybius and in (probably) little accuracy in Livy.

Marjeta Sasel Kos’ article is an analysis of the surviving data on different components of the Illyrians with an eye on their migratory activities. Her starting point is Appian’s Illyrian History, which she presents organizing her arguments tribe by tribe, thus creating several case studies. She concludes that both big and small-scale migrations occurred; her arguments and descriptions, however, are not always easy to follow.

The contribution by Elisabetta Todisco looks at the social status of foreigners in Roman society from the Late Republic to the High Empire. The author tries to condense a substantial body of (literary) evidence into a few pages. She analyses briefly the terminology describing foreigners as well as ways they were perceived on multiple levels, from the philosophical to the financial. According to the author, foreigners were looked at with mixed feelings and they were often perceived positively on economical grounds. They could not, however, overcome their inborn difference on a micro-level, viz. in local, small environments. Rome seems very far from the melting pot it was cautiously compared with at the beginning of the essay.

Daniele Manacorda analyses the text of a three-line graffito found on the wall of a building located in Hordoniae, Daunia (modern Apulia). The text consists of two personal names, followed by the noun faber and a fourth element alexandr. The author reviews the different interpretations and offers his own reading. According to him, the graffito attests two names, the faber‘s Pilipo, and his father or master Cepalo. The third term is understood as a toponym, i.e., the faber was from Alexandria. This interpretation justifies the subsequent survey of foreign artisans in Magna Graecia and Sicily. Two high quality pictures of the graffito complete the article.

Marc Mayer approaches the theme of traveling literarily through Apuleius’ character and works. The article explores his travels as well as his thus achieved cosmopolitanism. The author stresses the cultural contribution he brought to his native province, as shown by the reputation he enjoyed. In the final part of the article, Mayer stresses one important aspect in Apuleius: his bilingualism. The author elaborates convincingly on how this allowed Apuleius to be the ideal representative of his vital culture of origin and his times.

Alicia Canto’s article treats the terminology used to define, or simply designate, the Roman emperors from Nerva to Commodus. According to the author, the terminology used so far rejects the idea that they were a dynasty and denies or significantly plays down their Spanish origins. This attitude minimizes the cultural and political role that Spain, and Baetica in particular, played in 2nd century A.D. Rome. She discusses the appellatives normally used for these emperors (Antonini, good Emperors, Adoptivkaiser) to conclude that the best way to call them is the ‘Ulpo-Aelian dynasty’ thus alluding to both family lineages and Spanish origin.

Giuseppe Camodeca argues for the presence of several stable communities of peregrini in the harbor-city of Puteoli already in the 1st-2nd century A.D. In this study, new and old epigraphical material comes together to suggest the existence of foreign vici located along the coastal area. The author presents clearly the results of his research that combines epigraphy and underwater archaeology to prove, as said, the permanent residency of organized foreign communities belonging to both western and eastern provinces.

Antonio Sartori introduces his article admitting to have been defeated. His research was supposed to look into the unsolved question of the path St. Paul followed to Hibernia. The existing material, however, is not sufficient to validate any interpretation other than those already proposed in the 70s. Sartori stresses that traces of sacral activity on the route are scarce in general. This depends on the low chance that a traveler had the appropriate means (and inspiration?) to leave an epigraphical trace of his faith. A case that stands out is that of the almost unique Poeninus cult in the Grand San Bernardo pass, where dozen of dedicatory tablets were found. The author explains their presence as cultic vestiges of soldiers crossing the pass. This could indeed explain the high quality of a few of these tablets, probably engraved by the army’s ironsmiths.

Jose d’Encarnaçâo uses skillfully a somewhat smaller corpus presenting a study on the immigration to the province of Lusitania. It was apparently common for foreigners not to mark their origo in the epigraphic material, which as a consequence has left only a handful of thus signaled foreigners. The author, however, suggests that other criteria—onomastic in general, types of monuments and their decoration, exactitude in numbers—allow identification of immigrants in Lusitania. Because of these other means of identification, the author thinks that Lusitania had many more immigrants than would emerge from a first, traditional approach to the material.

Carmen Castillo tries to clarify how imperial titles from the Tetrarchy to Theodosios reflect the new values and attitudes of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. The author approaches the topic with a reference to imperial propaganda, which is supposed to be a sign of an ideological revolution. The Emperors’ titles fall in three main categories: titles depicting the ruler as liberator and restitutor of the power of Rome; titles reflecting military glory; and finally those testifying to the immortality of the emperors. Castillo suggests as a conclusion that these were desiderata rather than facts.

Catherine Wolff writes about the legal provisions on travels and travelers in the Digest. She analyses different aspects of traveling: first of all the types of travelers, ranging from businessmen to corpses. A second section deals specifically with the two available traveling options: land or water; she completes this section with a full analysis of the different means of transportations as well as the risks involved in both types of transit. The author concludes convincingly that the Digest dealt mainly with technical aspects of traveling, but still conveys the impression of an empire in movement.

The closing section of the volume contains the so-called “comunicazioni”, that is shorter interventions.

Francesco Neri deals with a few testimonia on the transfers of heroes’ relics. He argues that the heroes still had the final word on the actual relics’ transfer. He offers several examples such as the discovery of Theseus’s tomb on behalf of Cimon. He also hints at the loose relation that this practice has with its Christian counterpart, but does not reach any sort of real conclusion. This research is clearly still work in progress, as the author claims himself. The arguments could be strengthened, relying less on argumenta ex silentio and inferences.

Serena Teppa presents a brief review of the ancient sources testifying to Plato’s first trip to Sicily. She stresses repeatedly the assumed reciprocal desire that Plato and Dionysius the Elder had to meet each other, backing both figures’ interests with well-known motives.

Stefania Gallotta’s contribution starts with the mention of a 4th century honorary inscription from Pantikapeion that Arcadians dedicated to Leukon I (IOSPE II 4). The scholarship has so far interpreted these Arcadians as originating from different geographical areas. The author, however, argues that they were mercenary soldiers from Arcadia in the Peloponnese. She defends her thesis with the presentation of a rich documentation that testifies to the role of mercenary soldiers already in the 5th century B.C.

Federica Pezzoli courageously talks about the extremely well-known and much studied text that describes the provisions regulating the interpoleis agreement between Teos and Lebedos. Synoecism and sympoliteia are hotly debated topics. This inscription contains many valuable bits of information, which need to be studied with comparanda and placed in a specific political and historical context. I must also claim a spot for Ma in the bibliography for his important reflections on the relationship between Hellenistic kings and poleis.3

The article by Maria Tramunto investigates the mode of traveling of artists hired by communities to perform in local festivities. Her focus is on the Oxyrhynchos area that provides rich papyrological documentation on the topic. The data show who was ultimately responsible for traveling expenses and, eventually, also reveal how the artists were traveling. Apparently travel expenses were an important part of the contract and they were often offered to professional companies. The author then laments the “paucity” of similar data from inscriptions, which still testify to the frequent trips of artists throughout the empire.4

The last article by Marco Rolandi is a brief overview on the current status of the scholarship on Theophanes’ 4th century A.D. bilingual archive. The author talks briefly about one document (P.Lat.Argent. 1 = C.P.L. 262), which can be described as a presentation letter by Theophanes’ superior Vitalis to the governor of Phoenicia while the former was in transit toward Antioch. The document dates probably between A.D. 317 and 323.

Stefano Pittalunga ends the volume with a few notes that reflect on the literary and human history of the Mediterranean after the ancient period, which was mainly explored in the papers given at the meeting.

The authors have approached the topic of the conference from many different angles thus offering to the reader a vast collection of data from both the Greek and Roman periods. One of the merits of this collection is to have condensed in one volume material coming from areas whose potential is not always valued enough in scholarship. I believe that the editors succeeded in presenting a selection of papers highly representative of the vitality of the whole Mediterranean basin in Antiquity. The clear division between articles and brief reports, however, is somehow too sharp: a few of the last papers clearly need much more polishing and research. The book collects articles in four different languages not all equally well edited, but there are hardly any typos and only a limited number of mistakes.


1. Guarducci’s article cited p. 100, n. 66, dates to 1929 not 1926.

2. For example, at pp. 146-147 in the translation of a decree from Lamia—no other data are provided—she restores the name of Aristodamas’ brother, which is in lacuna in the inscription. There is no explanation for this supplement. Although the author cites her previous article on the poetess, the name still needs to be accounted for.

3. J. Ma, Antiochos III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor, Oxford 1999.

4. This last remark is superfluous given that nobody expects the same type of information from such different sources.