BMCR 2022.06.45

Les associations cultuelles en Grèce et en Asie Mineure aux époques hellénistique et impériale: compositions sociales, fonctions civiques et manifestations identitaires (époques hellénistique et romaine)

, , Les associations cultuelles en Grèce et en Asie Mineure aux époques hellénistique et impériale: compositions sociales, fonctions civiques et manifestations identitaires (époques hellénistique et romaine). Institut des sciences et techniques de l'Antiquité, 1523. Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2021. Pp. 203. ISBN 9782848678665 €21,00.

[Authors and Titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Les associations cultuelles en Grèce et en Asie Mineure investigates the cultic/religious associations during Hellenistic and Imperial times in Greece and Asia Minor. It is made up of nine contributions, namely an introduction, eight research papers and a section that gives the abstracts of the papers in French and English. The work is the culmination of a project conducted over two study days, the first of which centered on “Prêtres et associations religieuses dans les cités de Macédoine et d’Asie Mineure dans l’Antiquité” and took place in Tours on 13 May 2016, while the second study day dealing with “Les associations cultuelles en Grèce et en Asie Mineure”, was held in Besançon on 15 June 2017.

In the introduction to the volume J. Demaille summarizes the evolution of cultic/ religious associations in the ancient Greek world, their links to civic and infra-civic structures, the variety of their forms and the opening up of religious associations to the individuals otherwise excluded from civic life, such as women and slaves. Archaeological finds and above all inscriptional evidence offer important information about cultic/religious associations. Demaille notes that we are in a position to examine this social phenomenon from many angles, social, political, cultural, thanks to the evidence we possess on their structure, composition and administration and on their relationship with the law, with the traditions and the habits of their cities and with the central administration. Moreover the religious associations and their activities become an area in which individual members, societal groups, communities and political power interact with each other, thus creating relations among these entities and shaping their identities. He also stresses that this volume moves beyond considering cultic/religious associations in their civic and infra-civic context alone and offers a new view of supra-civic religious associations.

A.-F. Jaccottet examines a hitherto neglected aspect of the most popular, extensive and numerous associations of the ancient Greek word, those that worshipped Dionysos. Taking as her point of departure the cry of the Athenian Iobakchoi ‘νῦν πάντων πρῶτοι τῶν βακχείων’ (IG II2 1368: ll.26-27) Jaccottet examines the possibility that these Dionysiac associations were part of a supra-regional movement that went beyond any local context to form a federation under the unifying aegis of Dionysos and his worship. The author offers a range of perspectives and makes use of materials from various cities of the Greek world that demonstrate that contemporary religious associations had their own agendas and their own political views and social ambitions that operated in a local framework. She observes, however, that the technitai of Dionysos acquired a supra-regional status. On the other hand, the evidence leads her to conclude that the supra-regional aspect or universality of Dionysiac associations was abstract. There may have existed a cultural network, like a cultural koinon, in a broader sense, that facilitated links among such associations despite their local religious and ritual features.

A. D. Rizakis’ paper deals with women’s Dionysiac associations in the Roman Imperial period. He notes that in Macedonia and Thrace the cult of Dionysos and ‘Mainadism’ had deep roots. He mentions the cities where Dionysiac associations flourished, such as Dion, Thessalonike and Lete in central Macedonia, and Philippoi and Amphipolis in eastern Macedonia. He observes that Dionysiac associations made up of women existed and suggests that when Euripides sojourned in Macedonia in the late 5thcentury BC, he was probably inspired to write his Bacchae by the existence of primitive Macedonian ‘Mainadism’. Literary and epigraphical sources, archaeological finds and coinage give us valuable information on the function, composition and organisation of such female associations. According to sources from Philippoi, in this area the Bacchai were called Mainadswhile in Pella and Lete they were named Eviades. A parallel example of female associations is attested at Magnesia on the Maeander. Although all these women’s associations were probably inspired by Theban mythology and Theban mainades, their status, organization, function and ritual practices were shaped by contemporary conditions.

J. Demaille uses a well-preserved dedicational inscription to Zeus Hypsistos from Pydna (dated ca. 250 AD) in order to examine the association of devotees of Zeus Hypsistos. He analyses the inscription in detail and looks at other inscriptions of the area to consider the function and the composition of this association located on the edge of the colonial territory of Dion. Although it is uncertain to which sanctuary this association is connected, it is evident, Demaille concludes, that the association played a unifying, collective role. The names of the dignitaries and worshippers involved, the officials, the social status of the participants and their origins, and the admission of women and slaves reveal that various elements of the population were admitted as members of the association, thus enjoying a sociability centred on their spiritual and religious beliefs despite social and civic differences.

S. Maillot focuses on the admission of slaves and freedmen to associations of the Hellenistic period, to present a case study of Phrygians. Most Phrygians in the ancient Greek world seem to have been slaves. After a detailed and systematic analysis of ancient evidence in the form of literature, inscriptions and, onomatology concerning Phrygians and their participation in associations, she notes that persons who possessed the ethnonym Phryx were mainly slaves. Maillot focuses in particular on an inscription from Astypalaia dated to the 3rd century BC in which a koinon of Phrygians is attested. Peek[1], who edited and commented on the inscription, thought that this decree was set up by a group of Hellenized Phrygian merchants. Maillot, however, is adamant that these Phrygians were slaves or freedmen of Phrygian or other origins. In her view, both this and other inscriptions indicate that the name Phryx describes social status rather than ethnicity. She concludes that the associations became the space in which a few slaves enjoyed relative cultural independence, although whether in general slaves could participate or not depended on their masters and city authorities. Yet in Hellenistic and Roman poleis the communal life of associations was such that they probably included freedmen, thus offering such individuals some degree of social interaction.

E. Piguet investigates the associations of Asklepios in the western part of Asia Minor and neighboring islands, through an examination of inscriptions dating from the 2nd century BC to the 3rd century AD that refer to Asklepiastai (worshippers of Asklepios) and their associations or koina. She looks at the existence and the function of these communities at Alexandria Troas, Smyrna, Rhodes, the Rhodian peraia (Caria) and in a community set in the non-civic context of a phrourion near Pergamon, and draws important conclusions on various matters, such as how the associations differed from each other, their role, number and composition, the social status of their members, the role of foreigners and the attitude of local elites and of participants towards these groups.

G. Labarre presents the problems and the different interpretations that arise from an examination of testimonies involving the Xenoi Tekmoreioi of Pisidian Antioch. Labarre thinks that the worshipers of the lunar god Men who practiced the rite tekmorreferred to themselves as tekmoreioi. The existence of the association of Xenoi Tekmoreioi may indicate that some groups of foreigners came as pilgrims to Antioch. Based on the evidence, the author suggests that the ties of the group to the sanctuary and cult of Men of Pisidian Antioch probably did not prevent worshippers from venerating other gods, such as Artemis, or from performing rituals connected with the imperial cult.

As we observed above in examining the first six papers, cultic/religious local associations originate mainly in the tradition, habits and practices of their cities, where civic structures allowed for their foundation and development. Local economic and social conditions and cultic/religious activities meant that the associations acquired a collective role that unified various sections of the population that were otherwise excluded from civic life, such as women, freedmen, slaves and foreigners. As part of civic life and identity, these associations had mainly religious and cultural functions, usually within a civic or infra-civic environment.

In the following two papers, the focus shifts to supra-civic cultic/religious associations such as the Koinon of Athena Ilias in Ilion and the Koinon of the Ionians. Such associations united various cities around the worship of a god or a sanctuary or in participation at various common festivals. The existence of these supra-civic religious associations that consisted of various cities raises questions regarding their nature, origin, structure and collective identity. These collective associations have indeed become an object of study in regard to how politics and religion are linked in the ancient Greek world. Recent scholarship[2] views these groups in the light of ethnicity that pre-dated poleis. Although ethnicity ‘provided an important framework within which the innovation of the koinon itself became possible’, there are testimonies that show that koina could expand beyond the boundaries of an ethnos.[3]

W. Pillot deals with the koinon of Athena Ilias, which consisted of various cities located around the sanctuary of Athena Ilias in Ilion. This religious confederation was responsible for the organization of the annual Panathenaia held in honor of Athena Ilias at Ilion. The association drew into a coherent whole twelve cities from different regions that possessed diverse ethnic origins, thus indicating that the main criterion for membership of this supra-civic association was neither ethnicity nor the geographical position of the cities involved, but participation in the religious life of the sanctuary. The famous sanctuary of Athena Ilias in Ilion was for the Greek cities a place of memory, recalling the Trojan war and a spot that contributed to the shaping of their identity. In Pillot’s view, although the example of the koinon of Athena Ilias shows a close link between religion and politics, religion here was more important than politics.

G. Frija offers another example of a supra-regional association, the Ionian koinon during the Imperial period. During this time, the koinon consisted of 13 cities. Drawing on epigraphical and numismatic testimonies, the author examines the religious, social and political parameters of this association. She reveals that it retained its diplomatic and political functions and continued to play a role in the regulation of relations between the cities that belonged to it. Frija notes that the koinon of Ionia often became an arena for rivalry and competition between the cities, rather than a space to collaborate and achieve common interests. The political developments and the network of dynamics of the 2nd and 3rd centuries in Asia Minor influenced the position that some cities occupied in this association. This meant that the koinon, although it remained a cultural community, nevertheless became an arena in which members expressed their civic identities while they fought for supremacy.

Overall, this well-presented volume adds a great deal to our understanding of the cultic/religious associations of the Hellenistic and Imperial period in Greece and Asia Minor. Through the examples presented in the papers the authors make clear the various spatial, social and civic contexts in which the religious associations arose. They reveal, too, how associations functioned and interacted with local communities and with the outside world. They therefore created a social and religious identity for their members that depended both on local conditions and on the political environment. Some cultic/religious associations functioned outside the context of the traditional poleis and so acquired a supra-civic character, whereby a network of interaction among various agents defined their functions at a social, religious and political level. Despite the variations and differences among such cultic/religious civic, infra-civic or supra-civic associations, they do reflect a tendency towards unification at a cultural and ideological level in the Greek world.

Authors and Titles

Julien Demaille, Introduction. Pour une histoire sociale, politique et culturelle des associations cultuelles en Grèce et en Asie Mineure (époques hellénistique et impériale), 9-15.
Anne-Françoise Jaccottet, Νῦν πάντων πρῶτοι τῶν βακχείων. Les associations en “réseau” : compétition rituelle, sociale, politique ? 17-39.
Athanase D. Rizakis, Aspects du dionysisme et du ménadisme en Macédoine pendant la période impériale : les associations de femmes, 41-64.
Julien Demaille, L’association des fidèles de Zeus Hypsistos à Pydna, reflet d’une société périphérique sur le territoire colonial de Dion (Piérie, Macédoine), 65-88.
Stéphanie Maillot, Esclaves et affranchis dans les associations hellénistiques : le cas des Phrygiens, 89-116.
Émilie Piguet, Les associations d’Asclépiastes en Asie mineur occidentale, 117-142.
Guy Labarre, Les Xenoi tekmoreioi d’Antioche de Pisidie : bilan et problèmes, 143-158.
William Pillot, Étude de cas d’une association religieuse supra-civique : le koinon d’Athéna Ilias, 159-171.
Gabrielle Frija, Le koinon des Ioniens à l’époque impériale : cultes communs et compétition civique, 173-195.
Résumés, 197-203.


[1] Peek W. (1969), Inschriften von den dorischen Inseln, Berlin.

[2] Morgan C. (2003), Early Greek States beyond the Polis, London, N. York.; Mackil E. (2014) ‘Ethnos and Koinon’ in J. McInerney (ed), A Companion to Ethnicity in the Ancient Mediterranean, Malden, Oxford, pp. 270-284.

[3] Mackil 2014, pp. 270-272.