BMCR 2023.04.12

Colonial geopolitics and local cultures in the hellenistic and Roman East (3rd century BC – 3rd century AD)

, , , Colonial geopolitics and local cultures in the hellenistic and Roman East (3rd century BC - 3rd century AD). Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing, 2021. Pp. v, 218. ISBN 9781789699821.


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


The volume under review collects papers presented at two conferences that took place in the early 2010s: one in 2014 at Edinburgh with the same title as the volume itself, and the other in 2012 at Mamaia, Romania, entitled “Les relations entre les Balkans et l’Asie Mineure, de l’époque Classique à la période byzantine (Ve s. av. J.-C. – Ve s. ap. J.-C.)”. The aim of the publication, according to its editors, is to present a set of interdisciplinary studies “opening to future research angles for the next generations.” The angles proposed by the introduction include not only “Geopolitics,” but also “Acculturation” and “Cultural identities.”

After a brief introduction—essentially unchanged from the 2014 conference introductory remarks—that outlines these concepts, the contributions are organized into four parts. Five chapters are devoted to the first, “Territories and colonial settlements.” Four of these investigate issues of identity, land assignment, and strategic placement of Hellenistic and Imperial-era colonies in the regions of Commagene and Northern Kyrrhestike (Facella); Phrygia, Bithynia, and Pisidia (Scardozzi); the Attalid kingdom (Sekunda); and Phrygia Paroraia (Bru). Dumitru’s contribution on the Treaty of Apameia does not treat colonial settlements at all, however.  Facella’s chapter in particular offers a measured assessment of the evidence, taking into consideration the challenges of linking material culture to identity, although she at times reverts back to the old equation  between pots and people.

Part 2 turns to “Economics and imperial domination.” The section title is misleading, as it implies a connection between economy and empire that is only at play in the latter two chapters (Carbone; Bransbourg), which look at the impact of Roman monetary policy on East Greek minting practices, with a focus on the Late Republic. Both push against the idea that the imperial government simply adopted local institutions, instead arguing that local practice was influenced by centralized policies. The first two chapters in this section investigate issues of Seleukid cultic appropriation (Strootman) and of cultural transfer between Thracians and Greeks (Robu), without reference to the economic aspects of empire.

Strootman’s article fits better in Part 3, “Indigenous cultures and colonial contacts.” This section includes studies of the Indo-Greek kingdoms (Wenghofer), the dynamics between Roman colonists and previous inhabitants at Dion (Demaille), the Galatian migration into Anatolia (Gabelko), and missionizing in the Lower Danube region (Jakab). Demaille’s chapter presents a welcome investigation into the complexities of eastern Roman colonies, where despite formal distinctions colonists and native inhabitants gradually became more socially and politically integrated.

The volume rounds out with Part 4, “Forms of military presence,” with chapters on Seleukid army recruitment of subject communities (Houle), the connection between Tacitus’ account of Germanicus’ Eastern campaign and his view of Trajan’s Parthian war (Low), the cultic uniformity of Roman military camps (Alexandrov), and the impact of migration from Asia Minor on civic self-representation in second and third-century CE Thrace (Topalilov). Houle’s argument that the Seleukid army was ethnically diverse but enforced “Hellenic cultural institutions” is provocative but relies on meagre evidence (largely a single inscription from Smyrna, OGIS 229) and Ptolemaic parallels that form too much of a basis for the claims made.

As my brief synopsis suggests, this collection looks at a range of interesting and important topics; for those working on the specific subject area covered by each chapter, acknowledging and incorporating its conclusions constitutes a matter of course. Yet the conclusions tend to be rather small fry, on account of their being preliminary, provisional, built slightly on prior work, or of them leaving the implications of their observations under-explored. This latter aspect of the volume can be attributed in part to the lack of precision with which the term “colonial” is employed. Undefined in the introduction, the term refers variously to imperially sponsored settlements in some chapters, pre-existing apoikiai in others (whose status as “colonies” has been effectively called into question for some time now), and serves as an often implicit synonym for empire in yet others. The real differences between these situations are ignored, and as a result the ability of the contributions to reflect on colonial dynamics with nuance, and to engage with each other’s conclusions, is undermined. A reader attracted by the book’s title will also be confused by the pieces focusing on issues of translation (Gabelko) or historiography (Low) that make no reference to the framing concepts of the title or the introduction.

Like many edited volumes, then, the work under review will be of value to readers not as a collection of interrelated studies, but as a home to individual articles that must be consulted as part of one’s scholarly due diligence. The production value is quite good, with few noticeable errors and a significant number of helpful images, maps, and tables to assist in comprehending the arguments.


Authors and Titles

Introduction, Hadrien Bru, Adrian G. Dumitru and Nicholas Sekunda

Part 1: Territories and colonial settlements
Hellenistic colonization and local culture in Commagene and Northern Cyrrhestice, Margherita Facella
On the Treaty of Apamea. The Territorial Clause, Adiran Dumitru
The Nature of Attalid katoikiai (188-133 BC), Nicholas Sekunda
Les Thraces et Lyciens en Phrygie Parorée aux époques hellénistiques et romaine, Hadrien Bru

Part 2: Economics and imperial domination
The introduction of Hellenic cults in Seleukid Syria: colonial appropriation and transcultural exchange in the creation of an Imperial landscape, Rolf Strootman
Les relations entre les Thraces et les cités grecques de la mer Noire: conflits, alliances, transferts institutionnels, Adrian Robu
Late cistophoric production during the Mithridatic wars: a comparison between the mints of Ephesus and Tralles, Lucia Francesca Carbone
Regional currencies within an empire. Bronze coinages of Greece and Asia at the time of the Roman conquest: a case of partial monetary convergence, Gilles Bransbourg

Part 3: Indigenous cultures and colonial contacts
Decolonizing the Indo-Greeks, Richard Wenghofer
Entre perte d’autonomie, acculturation et integration: les incolae de la colonie romaine de Dion, Julien Demaille
Paus. X. 23. 14 on the Galatians’ Passage to Asia: lost in translation, Oleg Gabelko
Les chrétiens d’Asie Mineure et l’évangélisation du Barbaricum danubien (IIIe-IVe siècles), Attila Jakab

Part 4: Forms of military presence
Soldiers and Hellenism: recruitment in the Hellenistic militaries, D.J. Houle
Germanicus, Trajan, and the date of Annals 1-6, Katherine Low
Two military camps on the Roman Limes: Dura-Europos and Novae (an example of Roman Imperial propaganda through official state religion), Oleg Alexandrov
The political propaganda of the cities of Thrace and the Asianic provinces. Some aspects of interactions (a preliminary study), Ivo Topalilov