BMCR 2016.07.02

Private Associations and the Public Sphere: Proceedings of a Symposium held at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 9-11 September 2010. Scientia Danica. Series H, Humanistic, 8 vol. 9

, , Private Associations and the Public Sphere: Proceedings of a Symposium held at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 9-11 September 2010. Scientia Danica. Series H, Humanistic, 8 vol. 9. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2015. 363. ISBN 9788773043899. DKK 240.00 (pb).

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

In the past six years Hellenistic and Roman associations have received a good deal of attention in monographs and anthologies of essays. Focus has shifted from the older preoccupation with governmental attitudes toward associations and is now devoted to what is also the main topic of the Copenhagen volume: the interactions between “private associations” and the polis, predicated on the view that associations were not marginal institutions, but served as vehicles for the integration of metics, foreigners, and other non-citizens into the city.

The editors, Gabrielsen and Thomsen, stress the integrative function of private associations and theorize them as a “fourth space” that amalgamated public, private, and cultic space. Although the integrative function of associations is endorsed throughout this collection, the notion of the fourth space is perhaps less than useful, since it implies that cult constituted a discrete domain of activity that was in emic terms separable from either the public or the private realms rather than embedded in them. One should perhaps think of associations as located “zwischen Individuum und Stadtgemeinde” as Rohde puts it, and employ a theoretical model drawn from critical spatial theory that would suggest associations as a “third space” that mediated between the two dominant social institutions, family and polis.1

Ilias Arnaoutoglou’s contribution examines the “meteoric rise” of the Athenian cult of Bendis in the late 430s, which others have traced to Athens’ need to protect a water route to the Black Sea (Nilsson), or its interests in counterbalancing the power of Macedonia (Garland), or a result of the plague in 430 BCE which induced the Athenians to give Bendis the right of enktesis (Ferguson). Arnaoutoglou points out (with Nilsson), however, that Bendis was not a healing deity (although her consort Deloptes was identified with Asklepios), but (against Nilsson) that the Odrysian kingdom that controlled access to the Black Sea was at best only allied to the tribes on the eastern bank of the Strymon where evidence of the cult of Bendis is attested. Arnaoutoglou’s suggestion is that the introduction of Bendis was part of a “more ambiguous and perhaps cynical” attempt to lay claim to the areas around Amphipolis, where Artemis Tauropolos and Bendis were major deities (35). But despite Athens taking charge of the Bendideia, a Thracian cult association devoted to Bendis, introduced in the fourth century, continued as a private cult with apparently little or no interference from the city.

The suggestion that philosophical schools might be treated as θίασοι devoted to the cult of the Muses is probed by Matthias Haake’s contribution. The standard objections to this view are that ancient sources never refer to philosophical groups as θίασοι and that Aristotle’s treatment of θιασῶται in EN 8.9.5 1159b-1160a mentions sacrifice and fellowship but not the activities centrally associated with philosophiae. Yet Haake points out that Aristotle’s description of θίασοι is also not incompatible with philosophical groups and suggests that the repeal of the Law of Sophocles (306/5) that was responsible for the exodus of philosophers from Athens might have been effected in connection with Solon’s law of associations (D 47.22.4), which would in turn imply that philosophiae were treated under the rubric of associations. There are of course significant differences between associations and philosophical groups, but Haake concludes that unless one wishes to treat philosophiae as sui generis, “it is hardly surprising in a world full of associations that philosophising groups adapted associational elements as a model for their own purposes” (81).

María Paz de Hoz’s chapter concerns associations of physicians and teachers in Asia Minor and the special privileges and concessions they won, beginning with Vespasian’s decree allowing physicians and teachers to assemble freely in temple and shrines ( FIRA I 73) and senatus consulta that exempted teachers and physicians from frontier taxes ( I.Eph. 4101). These associations seem rarely to have fallen under suspicion, since they could claim to fulfill two conditions of a lawful association: utilitas publica and religionis causa (Marcianus in D As such, groups of physicians and teachers provide good illustrations of Gabrielsen’s claim that private associations were “non state” institutions but hardly “non public” in the sense that they were recognized as serving public utility.

Stéphanie Maillot’s essay on Rhodian associations elaborates the differences between Rhodian associations of foreigners and those on Delos discussed by Baslez:2 whereas Delian associations were organized on the basis of ethnic/geographical origin, a common profession, and the cult of a single deity, only a minority of Rhodian associations were so organized. Some were devoted to complex combinations of deities, and others were identified by their chief magistrate, usually a foreigner, and they do not appear to have been ethnically homogeneous, as Athenian and Delian associations tended to be. Nevertheless, these associations served an integrative function: “Well-established foreigners had the opportunity to form associations thereby creating an organizational framework of social life which they could share with newly arrives or less well-established foreigners” (156). Maillot’s essay concludes with a catalogue of foreigners’ associations on Rhodes (172-175).

Jonathan Perry offers a compelling and insightful essay that mobilizes a broader swath of the history of labour relations in pre-modern and modern states as a context for thinking about the so-called bakers’ strike ( I.Eph. 215). It was not organized collegia that worried Roman prefects; such associations had no difficulty in disciplining members. It was instead “embryonic” groups with little or no internal organization that could present a threat to social order. While other essays in the collection stress the integrative function of associations, Perry remarks that from the perspective of the elites who patronized associations of craftsmen and civic administrations that interacted with associations, the concessions granted to such groups were “designed deliberately to stress their subordinate relation to the State, in case their sociability made them think too much of themselves” (198).

Korinna Zamfir assembles a substantial list of similarities that invites the inclusion of early Christian churches under the general rubric of associations: the groups reflected in the Pastoral Epistles (pseudonymous letters attributed to Paul) have a membership profile comparable to that of many Hellenistic associations; they included not only non-elites, but included well-to-do persons as patrons; they employed fictive family language and embraced persons of varying legal and social statuses, and of both genders; and they had comparable internal organization. The deference to Roman authorities and the emulation of Roman values (1 Timothy 2:1-2) suggests that the Christ groups reflected in the Pastoral Epistles at least were compliant with civic society, cultivated essential civic virtues ( eusebeia, hesychia), and were prepared to reinscribe the hierarchies of status and power of the Empire.

Since Franz Poland it has been common to argue that private associations tended to borrow the terminology of the polis and to imitate its structures.3 While this generally holds true Matt Gibbs, discussing Egyptian trade associations, observes that Ptolemaic associations tended rather to imitate administrative structures of the nome and village. The most common form of organization of Ptolemaic associations was based on a single president ( prostatēs or hēgoumenos) supported by presbyteroi, and generally a grammateus (254). Associations regularly engaged with the state, appealing to the stratēgos for the resolution of disputes, but the state seemed uninterested in placing associations under direct control, even associations of naukleroi engaged in the transport of grain, an obvious target for state control.

Two of the chapters concern the possibility of self-governing ethnic groups. The first portion of Thomas Kruse’s chapter is an engagement with, and refutation of, Bradley Ritter’s interpretation of P.Polit.Iud 8.4-5 τοῖς ἄρχουσι τὸ λζ’ (ἔτος) τοῦ ἐν Ἡρακλέους πόλει πολιτεύ[μα]τος τῶν Ἰουδαίων, according to whom the politeuma was a civic body headed by a politarchēs while the archontes were leaders not of the politeuma but of the Ioudaioi.4 This reading, as Kruse makes plain, presupposes that a civic body in Herakleopolis was capable of self government; but such was the case only in the poleis of Alexandria, Naukratis and Ptolemais Hermiou. The nome metropoleis were placed under the administration and jurisdiction of a centralized bureaucracy, represented locally by the stratēgos.

The importance of P.Polit.Iud is that for the first time it shows that ethnic groups had administrative competence in some locations, overturning the view that such groups were merely religious and cultural associations. Although none of the other occurrences of politeuma in Ptolemaic and Cyrenaic inscriptions discloses anything about the administrative competences of such groups, Kruse suggests that in the second century, when the Ptolemies were experiencing various internal and external challenges, they were persuaded to grant more autonomy to military groups in Egypt, allowing them to form political bodies of “citizens” with legal competence.

How far that legal competence extended is the concern of Dorothy Thompson’s contribution. Inscriptions and papyri show the varied ways in which the term ethnos appears, referring to taxation groups, sometimes occupational groups, and sometimes those with shared ethnicity. Thompson argues that while ethnic groups sometimes adopted Greek terms for themselves, it is unwise to take such terminology to imply the political autonomy that such terms normally entail. She insists, “outside of Alexandria, Naukratis and Ptolemais Hermiou, political independence was virtually non-existent” (311-312). Politeumata enjoyed independence in community matters, but not in political matters, which remained the domain of the Ptolemaic administration.

The final essay, by Philip F. Venticinque, discusses the tension between literary accounts that stress the emperor or governor’s power to dissolve associations—which in Venticinque’s view partake in the rhetoric of following tradition and maintaining good order—and the plentiful evidence of the continuous interaction of associations with local administrators. Papyrological and epigraphic evidence indicates that dissolutions were ad hoc, and that associations rarely resorted to conflict with local authorities. On the contrary, the trade associations “signaled, or tried to lay claim to, an increased level of esteem based on their ties to influential individuals, who likely reaped some positive benefits from the affiliation” (321). While literary sources underscore distrust in the actions of trade associations, it is clear that many associations occupied positions of influence, if not trust.

The volume also includes Alexandru Avram’s chapter on five newly published association inscriptions from the Bosphorus, but does not engage with the issue of the relation of associations to the polis.

This is an important volume that advances the discussion of private associations and their place in the polis.

Table of Contents

Vincent Gabrielsen and Christian A. Thomsen, Introduction: Private Groups, Public Functions?, 7-24
Ilias Arnaoutoglou, Cult associations and Politics: Worshipping Bendis in Classical and Hellenistic Athens, 25-56
Matthias Haake, Philosophical Schools in Athenian Society from the Fourth to the First Century BC: An overview, 57-91
María Paz de Hoz, Associations of Physicians and Teachers in Asia Minor: Between Private and Public, 92-121
Alexandru Avram, Newly Published documents concerning cult associations in the Black Sea: Some Remarks, 122-135
Stéphanie Maillot, Foreigners Associations and the Rhodian State, 136-182
Jonathan Perry, “L’état intervint peu à peu:” State intervention in the Ephesian Bakers’ Strike, 183-205
Korinna Zamfir, The Community of the Pastoral Epistles – a Religious Association, 206-240
Matt Gibbs, The Trade Associations of Ptolemaic Egypt: Definition, Organization and their relationship with the state, 241-269
Thomas Kruse, Ethnic Koina and Politeumata in Ptolemaic Egypt, 270-300 Dorothy J. Thompson, The Ptolemaic Ethnos, 301-313
Philip F. Venticinque, Courting the Associations: Cooperation, Conflict, and Interaction in Roman Egypt, 314-340


1. Dorothea Rohde, Zwischen Individuum und Stadtgemeinde: Die Integration von collegia in Hafenstädten (Mainz: Verlag Antike, 2012). For critical spatial theory, see Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994) 36-39; Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford and Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1991).

2. Marie-François Baslez, Recherches sur les conditions de pénétration et de diffusion des religions orientales à Delos (IIe-Ier s. avant notre ère) (Collection de l’École normale supérieure de jeunes filles 9; Paris: École normale supérieure de jeunes filles, 1977),

3. Franz Poland, Geschichte des griechischen Vereinswesens (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1909), 337–38.

4. Bradley Ritter, “On the ‘πολίτευμα’ in Heracleopolis” SCI 30 (2011) 9-37.