Jesper Madsen’s Eager To Be Roman: Greek Responses to Roman Rule in Pontus and Bithynia is an excellent, articulate contribution to scholarship pertaining to Greek identity under Rome and the interplay between Roman power and administration and the Greek elite in the provinces. Influenced by Greg Woolf’s work on Romanization1 and relying on Judith Lieu’s and Amartya Sen’s works on identity,2 Madsen concentrates on the development of the province of Bithynia-Pontus from its creation under Pompey (64 BCE) to Caracalla’s edict of 212 CE and looks at the ways in which being Greek and becoming/being Roman represent strategies to negotiate local, regional and imperial interests and demands. Specifically, he is interested in the extent to which the population of Bithynia-Pontus saw itself as belonging to the Roman collectivity and the impact of Rome on local identity. Eschewing strict categories of “Greek” and “Roman”, he focuses on the multidirectional relationship between Greek culture and Roman power, noting that an individual or community possessed several (ethnic, cultural, civic, status, regional and imperial) affiliations at the same time and defined themselves based on context. Thus, his work fits in with the many studies that look at the strategic nature of identity in the Greek and Roman worlds. Addressing several identities simultaneously poses many problems, but he presents his arguments in a logical and coherent manner. His focus is generally diachronic, although the evidence limits his approach and tempers his conclusions.
Madsen begins his study by looking at the Roman view of Bithynia-Pontus through the correspondence between Pliny the Younger and Trajan. He begins with a defense of the letters against Woolf’s view that they are literary constructs depicting an idealized relationship between governor and emperor.3 Instead, he argues that the letters provide a glimpse into Roman administration of the province and the financial condition of communities such as Nicomedia and Nicaea. They relate that Pliny was obliged to pay attention to how, how much and on what money was spent, to consult the emperor about new building projects, to respect local law and to accommodate local customs and practices (23). Overall the letters reveal Rome’s lack of standardized governing practices in dealing with the provinces, but the aims are nonetheless clear: to create financial and political stability and to allow local control to reduce disturbances.
In his second chapter, Madsen provides broader historical context to Pliny’s experience as governor and furthers his argument by concentrating on how and to what extent Roman rule and institutions changed the political, social and cultural environment in Bithynia-Pontus. He challenges traditional scholarly opinion that Greek communities did not have to adapt much because Rome undertook changes that “were already part of Greek culture or were easily assimilated by Greek communities.” (27) Instead, he argues that all evidence points to significant Roman interference in the administration of cities. He concentrates on three issues: Pompey’s reorganization of the province, emperor worship, and the extent of local autonomy. Relying on Strabo, Pliny and an inscription from Pompeiopolis, Madsen argues that Pompey introduced the polis-based structure to the Pontic hinterland and sought to make a single provincial administration out of two different kingdoms (29-31). To do this Pompey issued the lex Pompeia, which, Madsen claims, Pliny alludes to in Book 10. This decree did not replace local law, but standardized civic constitutions. Most scholars assume that Rome maintained the traditional polis constitution, but Madsen sides with Fernoux,4 who argues that the lex Pompeia brought about a break from Hellenistic political practices by, for example, requiring no property qualification to belong to the boule (due to the limited number of wealthy individuals in the Pontic hinterland) (34-35). Overall, Madsen claims, Pompey ensconced in law the customary dominance of ex-magistrates and each community’s wealthiest class (39). Regarding emperor worship, Madsen accepts Simon Price’s conclusion that the establishment of the cult was the joint effort of the provincial koinon or individual community, the Roman governor and the emperor himself and that it was a political act. This differs from the traditional view that the cult was a continuation of the Hellenistic ruler cult and initiated solely at the local level. Finally, relying on Pliny, Madsen concludes that Rome could interfere in public and private affairs in cities, particularly in financial matters, but allowed locals a considerable degree of power and freedom.
In chapter three Madsen examines the nature of Greek participation in the Roman administration and the extent to which the Greeks of Bithynia-Pontus felt a sense of belonging to imperial Rome. He begins by countering Swain’s position that there was widespread Greek skepticism concerning Rome and that only a few Greeks reluctantly participated in Roman imperial administration for pragmatic reasons.5 Madsen argues that the Greek elite were far more open-minded than we give them credit for. Rather than focusing specifically on the list of Roman senators of Greek origin, as Swain and others do, he also provides the names of individuals and families from Bithynia (but only the Severi from Pompeiopolis in Pontus) who served in lesser positions and enjoyed Roman citizenship and equestrian status (64-74). One imagines the many others who served but whose names go unrecorded. The means by which individuals acquired Romanitas was not direct enrollment in the Senate, but through the imperial army. As they advanced through this and other institutions they acquired and embraced Roman citizenship, received and passed to posterity Roman names, internalized Roman values and learned Latin. In concluding the chapter, Madsen asks if this constitutes true identity change. He takes issue with the traditional position that establishes Greek cultural and Roman political identities as mutually exclusive, and instead claims that the Greeks appreciated their rights and the advantages of Roman institutions. They exhibited a sense of belonging to the Roman collective while also maintaining their own sense of Greekness (81).
In chapter four Madsen looks at how the broader population of Bithynia-Pontus responded to Rome’s presence, focusing specifically on onomastic evidence and its social, political and cultural context. Although examination of onomastic evidence is usually filled with pitfalls, Madsen’s argument is logical and his conclusions tempered. Relying on epigraphic evidence, he looks at the adoption of the tria nomina as an indication of Roman identity. He does recognize, however, that it is difficult to tell the difference between those who received their names from Roman authorities or inheritance and those who were freedmen or Roman immigrants. That said, he argues that onomastic evidence in no indicator of ethnic identity, but rather an individual’s desire to advertise Roman citizenship and its legal rights (though no indication that the individual embraced Roman culture in general) (86-90). The use of Roman names written in Greek on public inscriptions is evidence for a larger audience that understood the importance of Roman citizenship and highlights competition between individuals or families to display social status and prestige within both local and imperial frameworks. While early examples of the tria nomina persist, over time we see the gradual combining of Roman and Greek names, which for Madsen suggests the persistence of Greek identity (99-100).
In his final chapter, Madsen examines the attitudes of Dio Chrysostom, Arrian and Cassius Dio regarding Roman rule and culture. He begins by noting that their critiques differed little in substance from those of Latin writers, as both groups complained about the same things—bad emperors, corrupt or incompetent rule or command. Thus, Madsen sees their criticism as not ethnically based, but politically and socially driven. All three sought in some way to accentuate their connection to Rome. Madsen claims that Dio Chrysostom is the most critical of the three authors, but that he nonetheless identified with both Rome and his home of Prusa. His orations reveal an individual who sought to promote Rome and the emperor, even offering advice to Trajan. In addition, he attempted to cultivate homonoia among the Bithynian cities and to promote his city’s interests to the Romans. Only after he failed to acquire significant benefits for Prusa did he consistently criticize Roman rule as a man who had overestimated his own importance and influence in the Roman world and was demoralized by his personal failure (118). Madsen also tries to counter the view that Arrian’s archaizing is evidence that he did not want to be aligned to Rome culturally. To the contrary, he argues that Arrian downplayed his identity, providing only an obscure reference to his patris, and presented himself in various ways throughout his writings. While his lost Bithyniaca might indicate his local identity, Lucian describes him as a well-educated Roman and his own Periplus portrays him as part of the Roman political elite (122). In an unfortunately very short assessment of Cassius Dio, Madsen claims that the historian wrote in the Roman historiographic style and that his criticism of Rome aligned with Latin criticism of specific emperors such as Caligula, Domitian and Commodus. Thus, the historical perspective of Cassius Dio is essentially Roman.
Madsen should be credited with providing us an interesting work that challenges many of the traditional notions of being Greek under Rome. Yet, his study has one obvious weakness. He relies heavily (almost exclusively) on literary sources, avoiding material (such as architectural and numismatic) evidence. This is unfortunate, considering the interesting work that has been conducted recently addressing material culture and identity.6 Furthermore, among the literary sources he frequently turns to Pliny to provide a Roman viewpoint, which narrows the window into the world of Bithynia-Pontus to a brief period during the reign of Trajan. Even when we add his assessment of other authors, we possess a view of elite life in Bithynia-Pontus that is temporally spotty at best and specific to a fraction of cities in the western portion of the province. For example, we lack any significant insight into the development of the cities of the Pontic hinterland and the extent and character of their Hellenizing and Romanizing. Yet, given the nature of the evidence for that region, perhaps this reviewer is picking nits. In addition, Madsen’s final chapter addressing Dio Chrysostom, Arrian and Cassius Dio is disappointing in the sense that it starts off with a strong analysis of Dio Chrysostom, but then it appears that the author hastened to complete the remainder, giving little more than a single page to Cassius Dio. This critic believes that Madsen’s engagement with these authors’ “Greekness” would have been consistent with his overall reliance on Woolf’s framework of “becoming Roman and staying Greek.” Overall, though, his work is a fresh addition to local and regional studies of Asia Minor and Greek identity and useful for helping us understand the diverse expressions of elite identity in Bithynia-Pontus. Furthermore, I would argue that one should read this work as a companion to scholarship on the Second Sophistic, as it provides broad and useful socio-political context for that period.
Table of Contents Introduction (1-10)
Chapter One: A Governor at Work (11-26)
Chapter Two: Roman Rule in Pontus and Bithynia (27-28)
The Pompeian provincialization (29-34)
The polis constitution in Pontus and Bithynia (34-40)
Emperor-worship: Greek traditions and Roman influence (40-46)
A question of temples (46-53)
Greek autonomy and Roman rule (53-57)
Chapter Three: Greeks in the Roman World (59-60)
Greek influence on Roman politics (60-64)
In Roman service (64-79)
Roman Greeks (79-81)
Chapter Four: Turning Roman in Pontus and Bithynia (83-87)
Becoming legally Roman (87-90)
Affiliation to the Emperor (90-96)
Roman names, status and identity (96-99)
Roman identity and Greek pragmatism (99-102)
Chapter Five: Responses to Roman Rule (103-107)
Dio Chrysostom: a bitter patriot (107-119)
L. Flavius Arrianus: A Roman authority and a nostalgic Greek (119-123)
Cassius Dio: A Roman from Bithynia (124-126)
1. G. Woolf, “Becoming Roman staying Greek: Cultural Identity and the Civilizing Process in the Roman East,” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 40 (1994): 116-43.
2. J.M. Lieu, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004; and A. Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. London: Penguin, 2006.
3.G. Woolf, “Pliny’s Province,” in T. Bekker-Nielsen (ed.) Rome and the Black Sea Region (Black Sea Studies 8). Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2006, 93-108.
4. H. Fernoux, Notables et élites des cités de Bithynie aux époques hellénistique et romaine (IIIe siècle av. J.-C. –IIIe siècle ap. J.-C.), Essai d’histoire sociale (Collection de la Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée 31, Série Épigraphique et Historique 5). Paris, 2004, 142.
5. S. Swain, Hellenism and Empire: Language, Classicism, and Power in the Greek World, AD 50-250. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
6. For example, see R. Hingley, Globalizing Roman Culture. Unity, diversity and empire. London and New York: Routledge, 2005; C. Howgego, V. Heuchert and A. Burnett (eds.) Coinage and Identity in the Roman Provinces. Oxford: Oxford University Press; D.J. Mattingly (ed.) Dialogues in Roman imperialism. Power, discourse, and discrepant experience in the Roman empire. Journal of Roman Archeology Supplementary Series 23 (1997); M. Millet, The Romanization of Britain: an essay in archaeological interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990; and G. Woolf, Becoming Roman: the origins of provincial civilization in Gaul. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Although published at the same time as Madsen, L. Revell, Roman Imperialism and Local Identities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, will be useful for any future assessment of material culture and local identity.