BMCR 2007.04.15

La sécurité publique en Asie Mineure sous le Principat (Ier-IIIème s. ap. J.-C.)

, La securité publique en Asie mineure sous le principat (Ier - IIIème s. ap. J.-C.) : institutions municipales et institutions imperiales dans l'Orient romain. Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft ; Bd. 32. Basel: Schwabe, 2005. xi, 530 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3796522009. €82.50.

This very good book, a doctoral thesis at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) of 2004, aims at clarifying which institutions and/or persons were responsible for public security in Asia Minor under the rule of the Roman Empire and how this was achieved. Its main emphasis lies not on sociological questions, but on the development and the role of institutions involved in the maintenance of security. The book contains an introduction, five main chapters, conclusion, appendices, a long bibliography, illustrations and indexes.

The introduction (pp. 1-18) presents a definition of the subject and of its scale in terms of time (from the reign of Augustus to 284 AD) and place (modern Turkey). It explains the terminology used, gives an overview of the history of research, and lays out the plan of the book.

The main chapters, each of which starts with introductory notes on its contents, aim and method used, can be divided into two categories: chapters I and II are of an introductory character, in that they prepare the stage for the principal study by presenting the historical context and the reasons for insecurity; their results are summed up in a brief summary after ch. II. The following chapters examine the responses to insecurity from the part of the municipalities (III) and the central government (ι and the role of the legions in this context (V); each of them ends with a summary. A recurring and helpful feature is the linguistic explanation of the Greek and Latin key words that are the subjects of several sub-chapters (e.g. irenarch, diogmites). This concept makes the book easy to read and helps the reader follow the argumentation without difficulties.

The first chapter (pp. 19-39) gives an overview of how security was maintained during the Hellenistic period and the first decades of Roman rule, and the role of the provincial authorities in this. The Pax Augusta was the beginning of a new era in the relationship between Rome and the Anatolian communities, but the Romans took no steps to secure the internal security of an area when organizing a new province. Accordingly, the Augustan period with its Pax Augusta did not bring inner security, despite the emphasis on this subject in Augustan propaganda. This may be related to the fact that, although governors had legal authority, they only had very limited military power at their disposal; they had, therefore, to rely on the cooperation of the municipal magistrates.

B. begins the second chapter (pp. 41-68) with a sociological definition of insecurity — where he distinguishes between factual insecurity and the feeling of insecurity — and some general remarks. He rejects, e.g., the idea that bandits fought social inequality and that, therefore, the maintenance of order was a means of preserving the superiority of the elite, even though it is the members of the upper classes (such as Strabo, Dio of Prousa, Josephus) who, through their writings, shape our perception of who is a bandit. B. then devotes a subsection to each different form of threat to public security: criminality, robbery, disturbances and revolts within the cities, and abuse on the part of the security forces. Since documentary evidence of normal, every day criminality (e.g. theft) is rare in Asia Minor, B. relies on papyri from Egypt to demonstrate how crime victims tried to gain compensation by appealing to municipal police forces. In addition to such cases, which are endemic in every state and society, banditry remained an important threat to public security in Asia Minor, especially from semi-nomadic peoples in mountainous regions and in periods of crisis; these circumstances could even lead to revolts against Roman rule (cf., e.g., the Isaurians). B. sees an important reason for the lack of security in the ancient perception that the state was not responsible for the maintenance of order in every single part of its territory.

The subsection about disturbances within a city (pp. 56-64) is not only concerned with riots caused by food shortages, by professional interest groups (such as the Ephesian silversmiths), by the attempted introduction of new beliefs, and with quarrels between civic institutions, but also — contrary to what the heading suggests — with rivalries between different cities. What is common to these different situations is that the municipal authorities tried to resolve the problems on their own, since they were keen to avoid the feeling of dependence that would come along with the involvement of any kind of imperial authority. They were not always successful since they had not much else than rhetoric, the art of persuasion, at their disposal. The organs of the state were, however, often enough anything but helpful: there are many complaints, especially from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, about soldiers who abused their power.

Chapter III is (with IV) the most important one in this book, since it covers the reaction of the municipal institutions to violence, and it is, consequently, the longest (pp. 69-230). The cities had three different bodies with a police function at their disposal: the regular officials (especially, but not exclusively, those responsible for safety and order), officials with a perhaps only temporary assignment (such as the irenarchs), and the ephebes or the citizens who, in cases of emergency, could themselves be called to the arms. All these offices are discussed in detail, always on the basis of the ancient sources and after explaining the literal meaning of the terms and their development. The characteristics of some of these posts as well as the measures taken show that the civic authorities had basically no scheme to prevent crime; instead, in most cases they acted to remedy the results of an insufficient security policy only when need arose. On the other hand, the way in which the cities dealt with these problems shows that Rome did not intervene at all in this respect; the communities still enjoyed their inner autonomy. This is also a reason for the lack of a coherent system of policing throughout Asia Minor: each single city was responsible for maintaining order and did this only by building upon its own traditions and experiences.

B.’s sound method and healthily critical approach is shown by, e.g., the discussion of two important officials, the irenarch and the paraphylax (pp. 90-157, including the diogmitai) which both developed during the 1st century AD. He traces their origins and attempts to define their respective charges: the irenarchy is a police office of ‘repressive’ nature, whereas the paraphylakes are entrusted with the safety of the countryside. The irenarch is the police officer most frequently mentioned in the ancient sources (both literary and epigraphic), and the office is the only Greek municipal office which was taken over by Roman colonies. After examination of all relevant sources, B. supports the view that the office was solely a municipal one, even though Xenophon of Ephesos calls a certain Perilaos irenarch of Cilicia ( Ephesiaca 2.13.3-4) and close collaboration with the provincial governor is attested several times. Tackling another difficult issue, B. remains cautious, for good reason: he leaves the question of the exact relation between παραφύλακες and παραφυλακῖται undecided. Their duties seem to have been the same, but the latter were, in the Hellenistic period (when they are only attested in Asia Minor), royal military officers, whereas the former were civic officers of the Imperial period. A similarly cautious approach is taken concerning the ΟΡΟΦΥΛΑΚΕΣ, of which it is in most cases impossible to say whether they were guardians of the mountains ( ὀροφύλακες) or guardians of the frontiers ( ὁροφύλακες). B. argues that one can distinguish between different duties of the ΟΡΟΦΥΛΑΚΕΣ in the epigraphic record, but that a decision for rough or smooth breathing is hardly possible, especially since frontiers are in Asia Minor often constituted by mountains.

From local structures B. turns to measures taken against insecurity by the central government in chapter IV (pp. 231-284). The Roman military plays an important part in this question and, following recent research, he adheres to the view that even provinciae inermes were not completely devoid of soldiers. But their number was low (basically, auxiliary units and vexillationes of a few hundred men, some stationarii and regionarii, and just a handful of beneficiarii in the governor’s office), so that the presence of the army did not amount to an occupation of the land, nor was its primary purpose to protect it. Only a border province, such as Cappadocia, and rural territories, especially those with imperial property, differ from this general picture. The result was a quite clear, although mostly unconscious, allocation of responsibilities: the army had the task of guarding points of military importance and of supporting the governors in the implementation of the law. The soldiers thus served the central authority rather than the Anatolian population, who remained mainly under the protection of municipal forces. B. sees two reasons for the reluctance to employ a larger number of military personnel in the protection of the land: in this way, the emperors avoided the reduction of an army needed against external enemies, and respected the cities’ (nominal) autonomy.

Despite these principles, the intervention of Roman legions was sometimes inevitable, and such cases are the subject of chapter V (pp. 285-320). The general rule was that the army was employed only when a given situation had become so dangerous that the cities or even the governor could not intervene successfully. Among these situations were grand-scale brigandage, revolts against the Empire, and invasions by external enemies, the latter of which were rather rare until the mid-third century. Since there were hardly any troops in the country, they had to be brought in from other regions and, if necessary, were supplemented by local forces (e.g., by irenarchs).

In the conclusion (pp. 321-330), B. summarizes the results of his enquiry and places them in perspective by comparing Asia Minor to other parts of the Eastern Roman Empire. He sees three structural levels of maintaining security (city, province, empire), the forces of which supplement each other according to the nature and gravity of a given situation. This partition of duties is, however, not the result of government planning, but of historical developments, among which civic autonomy (but, of course, not independence!) — in which both the emperor and the cities themselves were interested — plays an important role. In this context, he points to a similar conclusion drawn from the functioning of the fiscal system of the Empire.1 A comparison with Syria, Palestine and Egypt shows that Asia Minor was different insofar as more responsibility was shouldered by the cities; this was a consequence of the fact that the country was far from the frontier and was, despite some local differences, more thoroughly pacified, urbanized and hellenized (especially in the West) than these other provinces. The Roman government therefore took a flexible approach in taking care of the maintenance of security.

Finally, B. examines some questions related to the book’s main subject in three appendices (pp. 331-343). In Appendix A, he rejects the notions of an increase in brigandage towards the 3rd century AD and of an alleged ineffectiveness of the police forces, and he addresses the complex question of the comparability of the situation in Egypt with that in other provinces. In Appendix B, he studies the biographies of three martyrs for their information about the irenarch. Appendix C is devoted to a comparison between the irenarch in the East and the praefectus arcendis latrociniis in Nyon (Germania Superior). An epigraphic index (pp. 345-431), arranged according to the offices examined, contains all the inscriptions referred to in the course of the book with either a summary of the contents and a partial quotation or a complete reprint of the text.

In conclusion, this book has many merits, among which a very fundamental one is its methodological soundness: B. always starts with the sources, which he interprets in a cautious, but not too cautious, manner. It is a comprehensive and valuable study of an important aspect of the machinery of Roman rule and, therefore, recommended not only for those who are interested in the internal situation of the Anatolian provinces, but also for everyone studying the government of the Roman Empire.


1. G. D. Merola, Autonomia: autonomia locale, governo imperiale. Fiscalità e amministrazione nelle province asiane, Bari 2001.