BMCR 2020.03.34

Philippes, colonie romaine d’Orient: recherches d’histoire institutionnelle et sociale

Cédric Brélaz, Philippes, colonie romaine d'Orient: recherches d'histoire institutionnelle et sociale. BCH. Supplément, 59. Athens: École Française d'Athènes, 2018. 399 p.. ISBN 9782869582996 €35,00.


After publishing a corpus on the rich epigraphic material of Roman colony of Philippi,[1] the author publishes here his research on the history of the institutions and society of the colonia Victrix Philippensium, founded by Marcus Antonius after the victory against Caesar’s assassins in 42 BC (more than half of the soldiers who had fought there were discharged),[2] and refounded by Octavian in 30 BC after his victory at Actium, under the new name of colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensium. If Marcus Antonius there settled some of the veterans who fought by the side of the triumvirs at Philippi, Octavian transferred to Macedonia the Italic peasants whose lands were taken and given to his veterans. In compensation for losing their lands, these Italic peoples were settled not only at Philippi, but also at Dyracchium, (Cass. Dio 51, 4, 6). The former Greek polis, based on a Thasian apoikia of 360 BC, was a rather small one (Strab. 7, frg. 17a) established by king Philipp II of Macedonia in 356 BC (p. 27-30). It was dissolved (although I would not follow the author’s assumption that Philippi’s citizens were somehow punished for having taken Brutus’ and Cassius’ side, since they had probably been obliged to do so; the cause of the dissolution was, in my opinion, Marcus Antonius’ desire to mark his decisive victory and to put himself in a higher position than Octavian, whose contribution to the military operations was less significant) and the land was newly divided among the colonists (p. 96-106). In 30 BC, the land was once again divided among the Italic newcomers, and a nearly brand new colony was founded (mentioned as such after 27 BC on the coins minted by the city: iussu Aug(usti)), without any ties with the town formerly founded by Marcus Antonius (A(ntonii) i(ussu)). The colony also received the ius Italicum (Dig. 50, 15, 6: Colonia Philippensis iuris Italici est; 8: In provincia Macedonia Dyrracheni, Cassandrenses, Philippenses, Dienses, Stobenses iuris Italici sunt), which meant that the city and its large territory were assimilated with the cities on the Italic soil and that its citizens, with some highlighted exceptions, were inscribed into the tribe Voltinia (p. 69-72). This early history of the colony is examined in detail in the first part of the book: La cadre formel et la constitution de la colonie (p. 19-116). A location on the via Egnatia, nearly half way between Dyrrachium and Byzantium (p. 95-96), and the possession of a large territory, favoured the development of the colony during the Early Roman period.

The author assumes that both Marcus Antonius and Octavian gave charters to the community, i.e. leges coloniae. His assumption is based on the preserved charters from other places, such as the Caesarian colonia Genetiva Iulia from Urso (Baetica) probably in 44 BC[3] or the tiny fragment of the lex coloniae Ulpiae Ratiariae from Moesia inferior (and not Dacia, p. 35) in AD 106,[4] alongside other municipal charters, especially the Flavian charters (Baetica) and the lex Troesmensium, also from Moesia inferior.[5]

The political community is epigraphically labelled as res publica coloniae Iuliae Augustae Philippiensium. Despite its Greek environment, Latin was the language of public and private life up to the middle of the 3rd century AD, when Greek slowly began to prevail; but there was an interesting revival of Latin in the 4th century (p. 73-94). The use of Latin highlights once again the Italic and Latin linguistic backgrounds of its inhabitants. Greek was used within the territory by the peregrines (incolae) of different origins (Greeks, Macedonians, and Thracians, in the first place) who settled there, but not exclusively, which is out of the ordinary compared with the other Roman colonies in the Eastern provinces (at Philippi, only 15 % of the inscriptions in Greek, comparing with the overwhelming percentage of the inscriptions in Latin). The immigrants built peregrine communities, vici, epigraphically and archaeologically attested within the territory.[6] Many inhabitants possessed private lands, as the epigraphic material proves (p. 106-113), but I would suggest that at least some of them could also have farmed lands belonging to colonists or to the colony (for the public land of the colony, see p. 113-114).

The second part of this book (Les institutions et les magistratures. Aspects de la vie publique d’une colonie romaine d’Orient, p. 117-244) is in fact an overview of the political institutions of the colony, i.e., of the populus, ordo decurionum, and the civil and religious magistracies. The overview is based on the local epigraphic information, but also on the evidence of other Roman colonies from the East. Although the assembly played an important role in the public life of the city, especially during the election of magistrates, the council was in fact the principal legislative body, through its decreta decurionum, as in all other Roman cities. The members of the assembly, together with their families, were the elite of the city, sharing aristocratic values and promoting an oligarchic form of government. Based on archaeological evidence, namely the identification of the curia in the NW corner of the forum, finished under Antoninus Pius, it seems that Philippi had only 70-75 decurions (former magistrates), not taking into account the so called pedani, less important decurions (p. 133-137) who were standing at the séances, as their name implies. Unfortunately, nothing is known about what the ordo decurionum would have looked like in the very first days of the colony, although the criteria of selection were probably already based on fortune and revenue. With regard to the veterans’ colony founded in 42 BC, they were probably elected from the former centuriones or principales, who would have received larger plots.[7] The Italic colonists probably retained their former social status (some high ranking epigraphically attested families in Philippi, during the 1stand 2nd century AD, in fact had old Italic origins), receiving plots which would have matched the plots taken over by Octavian for his veterans in Italy.

The magistrates of the colony, quaestores (p. 162-166), aediles (p. 144-148), duumviri (p. 148-154) and duumviri quinquennales (p. 154-158), in the first place, arose from prominent families and were full members of the ordo decurionum. However, compared with other colonies in the East, especially with Antiochia Pisidiae, the elite of Philippi was rather modest, with few connections to the Senate or the Imperial House. The attested equites Romani did not develop brilliant careers as procurators (p. 297-308). Moreover, there is no praefectus pro imperatore attested. This clearly shows that the colony did not have any connection to the emperor that would have allowed them to propose a candidate as duumvir (p. 158-161).

The duumviri gave also munera to the citizens in the transformed theatre building (p. 166-173). Although this was not a legal obligation stipulated in the lex coloniae, as it was in the case of Cnossos (p. 167, ILS 7210), many duumviriused to provide games during their tenure, being thereafter praised as munerarii in the inscriptions (p. 170).

Very interesting, at Philippi, are the four irenarchae at the head of the civic police force, who were in charge of maintaining public order in the city and within the territory. Such magistrates appeared in the Greek cities of Asia Minor in the 2nd century AD, but also in the Roman colonies at Antiochia Pisidiae, Comama and Iconium (p. 173-178).[8] At Philippi, it seems that this office did not become an ordinary magistracy, but operated only in specific cases of insecurity, especially within the territory.

As in all other Roman cities, at Philippi there were also religious offices, persons elected by the assembly for the priestly colleges of the pontifices and augures (three for every college, elected for life) and priests of the imperial cult, elected every year by the council, the flamines (p. 185-196). Priestly offices were a great honour for the highest magistrates; all the attested flamines had been or would have been duumviri, eight being equites Romani (p. 191-192). Connected with the imperial cult are also the seviri Augustales, rich freedmen who were not able to join the ordo decurionum, but who were willing to spend their money to celebrate the emperors, thus gaining esteem and higher status among the citizens. They were elected annually by the council and thereafter they became members of the ordo augustalium (p. 202-209).

At the end of the second part, the author inserts an appendix on the famous visit of the apostle Paul, a Roman citizen, to Philippi (Act 16, 12-40) and on the allusions to the civic public life of Philippi in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (p. 231-244). The interactions between him and the city’s magistrates were mediated by his possession of Roman citizenship. After being put behind bars without a formal trial, the magistrates let him out, hearing that he was a Roman citizen, but asked him to leave the city.

The last part of the book deals with the civic elite of Philippi (La société des notables à Philippes, p. 247-321), the members of the ordo decurionum, the magistrates of the colony, and senators and Roman knights attested there. The augustales and the serving soldiers of the Roman army were also included, although they were not part of the traditional civic elite.[9]

The author highlights that the term elite is rather ambiguous, since it also designates the rich freedmen, tradesmen, or peregrines who were not able to pursue civic careers in the colony, but who were wealthy enough to be part of the upper class (p. 247-248). But these played a less important role for social reputation and mobility during the Roman period, the criteria being related more to the old aristocratic values, such as origin, education, number of clients, and connections to the upper classes, than to successful economic activity, except for the almost constant annual revenue from their lands, which was the general basis for attaining the needed census.

The civic elite of Philippi was heterogeneous from the geographic and social status points of view, as well, but many were descendants of the Italic colonists (Vetidii, Burreni, Aconii, Varinii, Vesonii, Decimii etc., p. 249-261). Some descendants of peregrines (who received citizenship through imperial grants, the Iulii and Flavii, for examples) or freedmen were also integrated into the civic elite (p. 262-270). An important part was also played by veterans, who continued to settle at Philippi during the 1st century AD (p. 274-278). Many citizens of Philippi joined the army during the early Roman period and some of them never returned home (p. 278-290).

The upper elite of Philippi entered the ordo equester (p. 297-308); only one person reached the ordo senatorius, through Antoninus Pius’ grace, C. Iulius Maximus Mucianus, descendant of a Thracian who had received citizenship under Augustus (p. 310-311; CIPh II.1, 37-38).

The book ends with a short summary of Philippi’s role among the Roman colonies in the East and in regional context (Conclusion. La place de Philippes parmi les colonies romaines d’Orient et dans son contexte regional, p. 323-333), two annexes (1. a prosopographical list, p. 337-343; 2. addenda et corrigenda at CIPh II.1, p. 345-351), maps and illustrations (p. 353-363) and with indices: sources (p. 367-396).

To sum up, we should praise the author for having provided us a complete history of the Roman colony of Philippi, based mostly on epigraphic sources, but also on historical and archaeological sources. He always sets local history into the context of the Roman colonies in the East and in the general context of the urban development of the Roman Empire. Therefore, Philippi’s local history finds its place in the history of the Empire and could provide a useful model for further approaches of this type.


[1] C. Brélaz, Corpus des inscriptions grecques et latines de Philippes II. La colonie romaine 1. La vie publique de la colonie, Études Épigraphiques 6, Athènes, 2014 (CIPh II.1).

[2] B. Levick, Roman Colonies in Southern Asia Minor, Oxford, 1967, p. 58-59.

[3] M. Crawford (ed.), Roman Statutes, Vol. I, London, 1996, p. 393-454, no. 25, and AE 2006, 645.

[4] W. Eck, Fragment eines neuen Stadtgesetzes – der lex coloniae Ulpiae Traianae Ratiariae, Athenaeum 104, 2016, 2, 538-544.

[5] W. Eck, Die lex Troesmensium: ein Stadgesetz für ein municipium civium Romanorum. Publikation der erhaltenen Kapitel und Kommentar, ZPE 200, 2016, 565-606.

[6] See also F. Papazoglou, Le territoire de la colonie de Philippes, BCH 106, 1982, 1, p. 89-106 (with the map at p. 90).

[7] Siculus Flaccus, De condicionibus agrorum, in F. Blume, K. Lachmann, A. Rudorff (eds), Die Schriften der römischen Feldmesser, I , Berlin, 1848, p. 156: non enim omnibus aequaliter datus, sed et secundum gradum militiae et modus est datus, manipulus ergo singulas acceptas accipient, aliqui gradus singulas et dimidias, aliqui bina; see also Tac., Ann. 14, 27: Non enim ut olim universae legiones deducebantur cum tribunis et centurionibus et suis cuiusque ordinis militibus, ut consensu et caritate rem publicam efficerent, speaking of the good old days of settling veterans into colonies.

[8] See also the author’s book on the subject, C. Brélaz, La sécurité publique en Asie Mineure sous le Principat (Ier – IIIème s. ap. J.-C.). Institutions municipales et institutions impériales dans l’Orient romain, Basel, 2005, p. 90-122.

[9] See also J. Bartels, Städtische Eliten im römischen Makedonien. Untersuchungen zur Formierung und Struktur, Berlin; New York, 2008.