BMCR 2020.05.24

Fremde in der hellenistischen Polis Rhodos: zwischen Nähe und Distanz

Benedikt Boyxen, Fremde in der hellenistischen Polis Rhodos: zwischen Nähe und Distanz. Klio. Beihefte, Neue Folge, Band 29. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. xi, 473 p.. ISBN 9783110570809 €99,95.

The inhabitants of the ancient city-state of Rhodes, especially those of the Hellenistic period, have left us a rich and abundant epigraphic dossier, which has not yet received the attention to match its potential. In Fremde in der Hellenistischen Polis Rhodos Boyxen effortlessly parades an impressive number of those inscriptions before the eyes of the reader with the aim of studying (p. 24) foreigners’ access to and interaction with citizens and other foreigners as well as the rules of social hierarchization along or across status divides. The interactions between citizens and non-citizens (‘Fremde’ is something of a misnomer since in this study it essentially means ‘non-citizen’ and ‘foreignness’ remains mostly a question of legal status) and among non-citizens are studied as they manifest themselves within a number of different spaces, understood both as physical and social spaces: the (private) associations, the necropolis, the sanctuaries, the fleet, and the countryside (‘der ländliche Raum’).

Chapter 3, the book’s first analytical chapter, offers a discussion of the various legal categories into which the Rhodians separated citizens, foreigners and not a few others (matroxenoi, metics and ‘those who had been given epidamia’) who fell somewhere in between. Such a study has long been a desideratum. In many cases, the present state of the evidence does not allow firm conclusions, but Boyxen’s analysis is careful and balanced.

Chapters 4 and 5 introduce the (private) associations of Rhodes. Here, Boyxen surveys the various naming practices of the associations and discusses how the information which associations offered about themselves through their names relates to membership and activities. What earlier scholarship regarded as kinds of associations (cultic, professional, ‘ethnic’ and so on) Boyxen—in accordance with the current scholarly consensus—is more inclined to see as one important element among others. Within the associations, Boyxen finds, citizens and non-citizens interacted and created new and meaningful forms of identities in addition to those sanctioned by the polis and with their own social hierarchies.

With regard to the associations’ relations with the outside world, Boyxen takes a rather pessimistic view. Though association spaces were not by any means clandestine, whatever social hierarchization took place there tended, on Boyxen’s interpretation, to stay there and social capital earned there could not be spent, as it were, in the world of the citizens. Socially ambitious foreigners, rather, availed themselves of the opportunities offered by the polis, such as public subscriptions, liturgies and attending the gymnasium, while their membership or support of associations mattered little or was even premised on the former.

In support of this interpretation, Boyxen argues that the epigraphic output of the associations was concentrated on their own ‘clubhouses’ and burial grounds and avoided polis sanctuaries and other public places. This epigraphic seclusion, however, assumes that the associations which do appear outside the small world of the association—whether as dedicants of statues in public sanctuaries, as contributors to inscribed epidoseis or as the sources of honorific crowns in private monuments—did not include non-Rhodian members. In these cases (and there are quite a few) Boyxen considers these associations unlikely to have had many foreigners among their members. I have two objections: (1) though Boyxen rightly stresses that in none of these cases is there any explicit evidence of foreign members, it could be said with equal justification that there is no evidence to the contrary either. In these and so many other cases, all we have is the names of the associations and many, if not most, do not betray the legal status(es) of their members. (2) It is not at all clear why associations must have a majority of non-citizen members in order for the exchange to be meaningful.

Many association activities centred on the Rhodian necropolis, in which several associations maintained burial precincts. In Chapter 6, Boyxen treats the legal and practical aspects of securing a burial plot, as well as the burial of foreigners and their families within association plots. Funerary epigrams for foreigners buried in the necropolis lead Boyxen to consider the ambiguity in foreigners’ feelings towards their experience as xenoi (and here the foreigners become more than non-citizens). Though there was considerable nostalgia for the cities they had left behind, Boyxen adduces naming practices among the foreigners to suggest considerable affinity for their adopted city.

Rhodian sanctuaries (Chapter 7) were open to non-citizens, but here also the Rhodians maintained a fairly strict citizens’ regime. Though foreigners were not barred from entry or from making dedications in Rhodian sanctuaries, the care for the gods, their sanctuaries and celebrations remained firmly in the hands of the citizens. Boyxen’s comment on the Lindians’ financial crisis management (I. Lindos 419) at the beginning of the first century CE, that they would sooner sell their goddess’s belongings than allow outsiders to contribute, is well put.

Accordingly, the opening up of the choragia in the city of Rhodes to foreigners in the first century BCE, and later in Lindos, represents a significant shift in Rhodian attitudes towards non-citizens’ involvement in traditional citizens’ affairs. According to Boyxen, however, only trusted foreigners who had previously received recognition from the Rhodian state or its agents were given access to the choragia. The cases cited are those (in Rhodes) of a formerly enslaved person freed by the polis, and a citizen of Ilion whose grave monument attests to the favour he held in both Kamiros and in Rhodes, and (in Lindos) the group known as the katoikeuntes and georgeuntes which for more than a century had made a habit of crowning members of the local Lindian elite.[1] But barring, perhaps, the case of the freedman it is by no means clear that the choragia could be held only after prizes such as a crown or the privilege of epidamia had been bestowed (and not the other way around), and at least one foreign choragos seems to have gone to his grave with only the choragia to his name (NSill 148, included in the catalogue of inscriptions, but never cited). In any event, in the case of Lindos, the notion of a pool of preselected foreign choragoi is plainly contradicted by the very decree that created the liturgy, which ordered that the katoikeuntes kai georgeuntes were only to stand in reserve in case no (other) foreigners volunteered (IG XII.1 762.15-20).

In the book’s final chapter, Boyxen offers a detailed survey of the evidence for non-citizens engaged in agricultural production throughout the Rhodian chora, or at least engaged in the production of the transport amphorae by which Rhodian agricultural products reached the wider Mediterranean world. From this material he convincingly demonstrates that foreigners made a vital contribution to this sector of the Rhodian economy, not only in terms of numbers but also in the wealth which at least some of them managed to accumulate.

The same evidence, stamped amphora handles, however, also points to a fairly strange omission in Boyxen’s book: overseas trade. Having briefly been noted in the introduction (p. 2-3), Rhodes’s position as an important trade power virtually disappears from discussion, apart from the very succinct observation (p. 313) that the remarkable number of Ephesians attested in Rhodes must be the result of the strong commercial ties attested by Ephesian honorific decrees for Rhodian merchants—and one for four Keramians living at Rhodes.

In looking for the rules of social hierarchisation, and in particular the availability of economic and cultural capital (p. 24), the contribution of foreigners to a sector of the economy, which on one estimation put an annual one million drachmas into the Rhodian treasury, can hardly be irrelevant.[2] More to the point, in securing favourable terms in foreign ports for merchants ‘sailing under Rhodian flag’, and in moving aggressively against those who threatened commercial sea lanes,[3] the Rhodians were arguably working to promote the interests not only of their citizens, but also of their foreign merchant community. A question therefore arises as to whether a spatial approach—especially one in which spaces are essentially epigraphic spaces—does not in fact cut off from the historian’s view not only potentially important source material, but also important aspects of the professed aim of the study.

As the first monographic study devoted to the social and cultural history of Hellenistic Rhodes in twenty years, Fremde in der Hellenistischen Polis Rhodos is particularly welcome. The chief strength of the study is the breath of the epigraphic evidence cited and the attention to detail in the analysis. For these reasons alone, the book deserves a wide readership beyond specialists in Rhodian epigraphy. But in approaching the polis of Rhodes from the point of view of the non-citizen, Boyxen contributes also to the study of the ancient Greek city-state as a community of which the citizens formed only one part, a subject of growing interest to historians.


[1] For the evidence relating to this group, see Thomsen, C.A. ’The ”Thirteenth” Deme of Lindos’ in Nowak, M. (ed.), Tell Me Who You Are: Labeling Status in the Graeco-Roman World. Studia źrółoznawcze. U schyłku starożytności 16 (2018). 283-306.

[2] Pol. 31.7.

[3] Gabrielsen, V. The Naval Aristocracy of Hellenistic Rhodes. Aarhus 1997.