BMCR 2007.07.63

City Government in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor

, City government in Hellenistic and Roman Asia minor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 1 online resource (xiii, 428 pages) : maps. ISBN 1423720857 £45.00.

[For the lateness of this review I offer my sincere apologies to BMCR’s readers and editors.]

After David Magie’s volumes on Roman Rule in Asia Minor, several authors have tried to provide a comprehensive analysis of the eastern Roman empire: Maurice Sartre’s L’Orient romain and Stephen Mitchell’s Anatolia have immediately taken their place as standard works for the history of Asia Minor.1 The volume under consideration here, a revised and expanded version of Dmitriev’s doctoral dissertation, tries to insert itself in this tradition of research, but the emphasis is on offices, responsibilities and status of officials in the Greek cities in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor rather than on the administrative and social history of the region. The aim of the book, therefore, is to determine whether the traced developments and changes that took place in the life of city government in Asia Minor were affected (or not) by Roman rule.

For this scope Dmitriev (henceforth D.) divides his research into three parts. In Part I (pp. 11-106) D. starts with an analysis of the Greek cities in pre-Roman times, particularly in their relationship with Hellenistic kings; in Part II (pp. 107-286) he examines the cities of the province of Asia in Roman times, and ends in Part III (pp. 287-328) with a General Overview (ch. 9) and an Epilogue. The book is completed by an Appendix: Observations on the Coinage of Hellenistic Priene (pp. 337-341), a Select Bibliography, and useful and rich indices of names, subjects, and of ancient sources cited in the volume (pp. 343-428). At the beginning of the book there is one general and one detailed map of Asia Minor.

This is a comprehensive study of local administrative offices in the province of Asia (and in some parts of Asia Minor) and should be seen by everyone interested in these aspects, even if some studies in the subject are missing in the bibliography.2 The Index of inscriptions is impressive and the volume contains dozens of up-to-the-minute footnotes, where D. makes use of all the available epigraphical evidence. Therefore, in a work like this, full of remarks on inscriptions, there is obviously plenty with which to agree and disagree, and it would take too much space to examine every issue fully. Some general doubts arise regarding the manner in which the author treats the enormous amount of epigraphical sources cited. As a matter of fact, editions of, or bibliography on inscriptions to be found in the footnotes do not seem to be completely satisfactory. D. sometimes exploits inscriptions only because they include the relevant term, regardless of their geographical, historical and chronological context. Here is to be detected the use of the CD PHI #7; the author sometimes does not seem to have read the inscriptions cited in full, nor to have compared them one to another, or to know all the literature on them. This method is obviously liable to generate many inaccuracies.3

D.’s research is mainly a scrutiny of administrative concepts employed in the public inscriptions of Greek cities, especially names of offices and magistracies. Inside both the two main parts we find a chapter on Language and/of Responsibilities (Part I, ch. 1, pp. 13-33; Part II, ch. 4, pp. 109-139), where the analysis of the Greek words arche, epimeleia, hyperesia, leitourgia, takes up a central position. In the Hellenistic period these words had broad and non-technical meanings, which are certainly to be “explained by differences in city administration throughout the Greek world” (p. 25). Each Greek city had its own form of administration, and the officials’ titles and responsibilities did not necessarily apply in the same way in all cities. D. tries to distinguish between different groups of city officials and offers a precise account of their duties and responsibilities, but he observes that different officials could be classified in more than one way: one city official could have different kinds of responsibilities and be classified in more than one category. The Greeks conceptualized city administration not as a sum of administrative fields but as individual offices, which they grouped as the situation required (p. 30, p. 136). In sum, offices of the same name may have different functions in different cities, and the same functions are carried out in different cities by different magistrates.

In the counterpart chapter in Part II, D. asks himself if the meanings of these words remained the same or were transformed. Under the Romans, there is a similar classification of various offices; for example, arche retained its basic meaning, and its general meaning of ‘leadership’ and ‘authority’ made it possible to use it for administrative levels other than that of cities (p. 110, p. 112). Other words, as leitourgia, retained more than one meaning, as in the pre-provincial period. The conclusion reached by D. is that the Greeks of Asia continued to use the same basic words in city administration as in pre-Roman times. There is no evidence for any visible change due to Roman influence, that is, “no equivalents for Roman concepts were ever created in the administration of Asian cities” (p. 126). The Romans were using and adopting the administrative terminology and practices of the Greeks.4

Part I, ch. 2, Officials and Municipal Function (pp. 34-63), should be read in parallel with Part II, ch. 5, The Status of City Officials (pp. 140-188), and ch. 7, The Evolution of Municipal Functions (pp. 217-246). First of all, D. examines the financial status of the officials, above all direct payment for office, and their social status. In general, and especially in the Roman period, city officials were never paid directly, but their expenses could be reimbursed, and their activity funded by the cities. The author’s attention promptly turns to holders of city offices ‘for life’ and to local benefactions, especially their familial character. D. infers that in pre-Roman times office holding by women and children was considered a normal practice, and that the financial status of the officials was becoming more important than their age or sex (p. 55). In the Roman period, benefactions tended to become a necessary requirement for obtaining an office. D. denies that this practice was a result of Roman influence on Asian city administration (p. 153), arguing instead that the development was characteristic of the empire as a whole, and reflected the mounting exclusiveness of the upper part of the society (p. 156). Besides, the special status of local élite families and the increase in financial pressure on their members for social prestige goes back to pre-Roman times. The last pages of chapter 2 (pp. 56-63) and the whole ch. 7 are dedicated to term of city offices, interrelationship among offices (hypo-, archi-, syn- anti- offices), multiple terms and holding of multiple offices. Here D. examines more closely the effect of the change in the financial and social status of city officials in Roman times on the character of city offices. The conclusion is a growing sophistication of city administration in the Roman period but also an absence of alteration of the basic pre-Roman principles.

Part I, ch. 3 (pp. 64-106), is devoted to an analysis of offices in three cities in the Hellenistic period, Miletus, Priene, and Samos, which in general testifies to the growing sophistication of city administration. Part II, ch. 8 (pp. 247-286), again discusses two different individual cities in Roman times, the metropoleis Smyrna and Ephesus: as already noted by another reviewer, one would have expected to find an analysis of the same cities in the two parts.5

The most interesting parts of the book are chapters 6 and 9, where the author discusses the new municipal functions under Rome (ch. 6, pp. 189-216) and summarizes the results of his enquiry (ch. 9, Greek Cities under Hellenistic and Roman Rulers, pp. 289-328, and the Epilogue, pp. 329-336). In ch. 6 D. examines among the others the function of curatores (Greek logistai) of the cities,6 of dekaprotoi, timetai, nyctostrategoi, paraphylakes, eirenarchai,7 ekdikoi, syndikoi. In his opinion, the offices which made their début only under the Romans were often the result of requests addressed to Rome by the communities themselves, often provoked by Greek pro-Rome partisans, and can not be ascribed to deliberate Roman influence on Greek cities. The new offices likewise emerged in other parts of the Empire, and were therefore a reflection of a general process. In general, Rome refrained from interfering in the internal politics of the cities unless necessary, and its intervention never came about strictly for administrative purposes but had always a political, social or financial character (p. 328), and is attributable to the need to ensure political stability and to secure the financing of local administration. The conclusion is that there was continuity in local administration under the Romans: the cities of Asia retained many basic principles of administrative organization under Rome, and it is hard to determine a direct Roman influence on the administration of individual Greek cities (p. 306). More positively, D. claims that “direct Roman interference affected the administration of Greek cities in Asia either to a minimal degree or not at all” (p. 335). In the end, D. does not adhere to the general view that, with respect to the organization and functioning of city administration, it was the interaction between Greek and the Roman civilizations which created the so-called Greco-Roman city in Asia (pp. 332-333).

Here in my opinion D. succumbs unwisely to the temptation to make generalizations and broad statements. It is true that not every process could be ascribed to Roman influence, and there was clearly a line of continuity with pre-Roman customs, especially and particularly in the administrative area. However, the flexibility of Hellenism allowed Greeks to accept changes in the political life of their cities without feeling any threat to their identity. As D. himself admits, the Romans often interfered in city administration, especially in finances (p. 306, p. 321). Reform of civic institutions is well attested throughout the East, and change occurred first and fastest in areas which were rich and in close contact with Rome. The cultural presence and legal influence of Rome worked profound changes on the economic and social structure of the province, starting from the second half of the second century B.C. onwards.8 Indeed, the reality and the nature of Romanization, however one might define it, is open to debate and still controversial,9 but in the East there is evidence for strong and positive Roman intervention in creating a province in Asia.10 In conclusion, D. engages himself in the debate, often reaching a view opposite to that taken by most authors on issues which probably deserve a more close scrutiny. However, this is a book which is worth reading for its inventory of terms of city offices and could be a useful reference tool for bibliography and sources on administrative offices in Asia Minor.


1. S. Mitchell, Anatolia: Land, Men and Gods in Asia Minor. I: The Celts and the Impact of Roman Rule, Oxford, 1993, especially pp. 59-259; M. Sartre, L’Orient romain. Provinces et sociétés provinciales en Méditerranée orientale d’Auguste aux Sévères, 31 avant J.-C. – 235 après J.-C., Paris, 1991.

2. For instance G.D. Merola, Autonomia: autonomia locale, governo imperiale. Fiscalità e amministrazione nelle province asiane, Bari 2001. On interstate arbitrations D. does not seem to know A. Magnetto, Gli arbitrati interstatali greci, Pisa 1997. Useful remarks on Romanization (cf. D.’s Introduction) can be found in S.E. Alcock, Graecia capta. The landscapes of Roman Greece, Cambridge 1993. On the assizes in the late Republic (p. 8 n. 19) see also D. Campanile in Artissimum memoriae vinculum. Scritti di geografia storica e di antichità in ricordo di Gioia Conta, a cura di U. Laffi, F. Prontera, B. Virgilio, Firenze 2004, pp. 129-142. On the edict of Antistius Rusticus (cited at p. 304, n. 74) see H.-U. Wiemer in Anatolian Studies 47 (1997), pp. 195-215, and A. Baroni in Colonie romane nel mondo greco, a cura di G. Salmeri, A. Raggi, A. Baroni, MEP Supplementa III, Roma 2004, pp. 9-54. On the date of Scaevola’s governship of Asia at p. 311 n. 106 the author does not quote J.-L. Ferrary, Chiron 30 (2000), p. 161-193 (which is, however, cited at p. 7, n. 17).

3. A number of factual errors have already been noted by previous reviewers: Chr. Habicht, New England Classical Journal 32 (2005), pp. 360-362, and B. Burrell, American Historical Review, vol. 110, no. 5 (2005), p. 1574 (for example: the sc. de Aphrodisiensibus misdated to the second or third century at p. 118 n. 48). I add only that lex portoria provinciae Asiae at p. 312 n. 110 should be lex portorii Asiae; in the same inscription (ll. 32-33, 42-44, 96) the Greek term paraphylakes does not properly refer to officials, as stated by D. at p. 212, but instead to guard-posts: see C. Brélaz, La sécurité publique en Asie Mineure sous le Principat (Ier-IIIème s. ap. J.-C.), Basel, 2005, p. 123 n. 237.

4. This has been clearly elucidated by M.H. Crawford, review of H.J. Mason, Greek Terms for Roman Institutions: A Lexicon and Analysis, Toronto 1974, in JRS 67 (1977), p. 250: “there are relatively few transcriptions of Latin words into Greek in the area of government; but this is not at all surprising. The early stages of Roman contact with the Greek world saw Rome desperately anxious to explain herself to that world and hence the use of Greek words for Roman institutions which already had roughly the right meaning in the Greek world. (…) The enormous production of decrees of the senate and letters of Roman magistrates in Greek then went a long way towards imposing a standard terminology on the Greek world ruled by Rome. (…) The process of translation was far from being a free-for-all, and great efforts were made to use Greek terms”.

5. B. Burrell, cited above at note 3.

6. On the term logistai and on the procedures to keep magistrates accountable in the Classical and Hellenistic periods see the close examination made by P. Fröhlich, Les cités grecques et le contrôle des magistrats IVe-Ier siècle avant J.-C., Genève 2004, pp. 77-101. In general, D.’s assertion at p. 332 that the introduction of such offices as logistai in the East hardly had anything to do with city administration proper is hard to accept.

7. It is a pity that D. was unable to take account of the good book by C. Brélaz, La sécurité publique en Asie Mineure, cited above at note 3.

8. J.-L. Ferrary, Les Romains de la République et les démocraties grecques, Opus 6-8 (1987-89), pp. 203-216; P. Brunt, The Romanization of the Local Ruling Classes in the Roman Empire, in Roman Imperial Themes, Oxford 1990, pp. 267-281; Ph. Gauthier, Les cits hellénistiques, in M.H. Hansen ed., The Ancient Greek City-States, Copenhagen 1993, pp. 211-231.

9. See in general G. Woolf, “Becoming Roman, staying Greek. Culture, identity and the civilizing process in the Roman East”, ProcCambrPhilSoc 40 (1994), pp. 116-143.

10. S. Mitchell, “Recent Archaeology and the Development of Cities in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor”, Asia Minor Studien 50, Bonn 2003, p. 23.