BMCR 2024.03.24

Gesellschaft und Administration im Römischen Reich: Aktualisierte Schriften in Auswahl

, Gesellschaft und Administration im Römischen Reich: Aktualisierte Schriften in Auswahl. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021. Pp. 540. ISBN 9783110746655.



Over the past half-century, Werner Eck’s work has proven to be an essential reference for the study of the administration and society of the Roman Empire. The volume Gesellschaft und Administration im römischen Reich, edited by Anne Kolb, brings together 26 studies on these themes published between 1997 and 2018—including 2 translated into German for this occasion. It follows on from four previous collections of articles by the same author, one of which dealt more specifically with the administration of the Empire.[1]

Epigraphy and prosopography, which are immediately associated with Eck, are the gateways to the themes of the collection. But as is often the case, the interest lies above all in the historical questions for which these disciplines are called upon and the acuity with which they are examined by the author. The 500-odd pages frequently contain documents or examples to which Eck has returned in recent years: military diplomas, the senatus consultum de Cn. Pisone patre, the lex municipalis Troesmensium, and the histories of the provinces of Germania and Judaea, to name but the most important. One of Eck’s qualities is to know how to vary perspectives in order to use these examples in questions that are both related and diverse. In the final analysis, the multiple perspectives offered reinforce the strong overall coherence of the book.

Each of the two parts of the volume takes up the terms of the title, society and administration, and groups together 13 studies, respectively. The first section focuses on society, represented primarily by the senatorial and equestrian orders. The lower groups are not entirely absent, but they are considered more in terms of their links with power, such as soldiers or freedmen and imperial slaves (“10. Teilhabe an der Macht: Kaiserliche Freigelassene in der Gesellschaft des Imperium Romanum”). This tendency is perhaps also a consequence of the importance of prosopography, based on the analysis of well-documented cases, which can leave out certain more modest people in Roman or provincial societies. With a few exceptions, these individuals are seen more as a group of barely differentiated subjects.

Several papers deal with the social and cultural profile of the two higher orders of Roman society: their relationship to otium and intellectual activity, evanescent realities in a corpus of documents often oriented by the ideal of service to the state (“1. Senatorisches Leben jenseits von Politik, Militär und Administration: Die öffentliche Repräsentation der intellektuellen Seite der Fürhungsschict”); their linguistic practices, the result of the hazards of a career more than of necessity, in a multilingual empire but one that the exercise of government and cultural prestige often made bilingual (Latin and Greek: “3. Mehrsprachigkeit in der Reicharistokratie Roms”); the experience and knowledge of senatores and equites, and the question of “professionalisation,” approached on the basis of a comparison with the fourth century and the effects of Gallienus’s reform in 261/262 AD (“4. Professionalität als Element der politisch-administrativen und militärischen Führung”). The classic problem of the social mobility of these groups is also examined in an original perspective correlating it with geographical mobility and identifying its effects for the communities of origin of senators and equites (“2. Ordo senatorius und Mobilität: Auswirkungen und Konsequenzen im Imperium Romanum”). The place of women of the higher orders in the cities of Italy is examined in terms of their presence in the epigraphic landscape of Italian cities. It was rare outside of the private sphere and was more likely to have been part of a family prestige strategy than an individual one (“11. Frauen als Teil der kaiserzeitlichen Gesellschaft: Ihr Reflex in Inschriften Roms und der italischen Städte”).

Inferior in rank to uterque ordo but also closely linked to its members, the army is viewed through the lens of its culture. While the legions and even the auxiliary units are often recognised as vectors of romanité, Eck examines the heterogeneity within the corps of troops, due to the origin of their recruitment and their individual backgrounds. By comparing the profiles of the officers, he concludes that both the troops and the commanders shaped the cultural specificities of the Roman army (“7. Aristokraten und Plebs: die geographische, soziale und kulturelle Herkunft der Angehörigen des römischen Heeres in der Hohen Kaiserzeit”). This study echoes the next one, which analyses the differentiation between military and civilian spheres in the light of the transformations initiated by Augustus and the evidence provided by military diploma forms (“8. Milites et pagani: die Stellung der Soldaten in der römischen Gesellschaft”).

Lastly, the first part of the collection gives pride of place to the law. Emphasis is placed on the development of texts of various kinds, and above all on their reception and use. The historical context of the matrimonial laws of Augustus is reviewed in the light of their echoes in the lex municipalis Troesmensium of the second century (§27). The focus is on a commentarius of Augustus, which marked an intermediate stage towards the lex Papia Poppaea of 9 AD (“5. Die augusteische Ehegesetzgebung und ihre Zielsetzung”).[2] The ways in which Roman law was disseminated and its effects in the empire are studied thanks to the imperial constitutions transmitted by military diplomas, starting with the granting of citizenship and its consequences in relation to local law. The study highlights the factual plurality and the affirmation of a model based on Roman categories and practices, through imitation and as a result of domination (“12. Die Wirksamkeit des römischen Rechts im Imperium Romanum und seinen Gesellschaften”), thus responding to the way in which law and legislation served as a marker of individual and collective distinction within the empire (“6. Zur Bedeutung von Gesetz(en) und Recht für die Identität Roms und seiner Bürger”). While the relationship between the foundations of imperial power and public law, including the uses made of it by the emperors, is dealt with in a classic manner (“13. Der Kaiser, das Recht und die kaiserliche Verwaltung”), a more original article looks at funerary inscriptions as sources of law (“9. Lateinische Grabinschriften als Rechtsquelle”). Eck uses a collection of inscriptions from the necropolis beneath St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, which he published himself years ago. He reintegrates the texts into the material and legal context in which they operated, revealing the knowledge and use of the law by certain lower strata of urban society, while at the same time highlighting the divergences between norms and practices, which can be explained by the specific logic of the commissioning parties and by the very nature of these inscriptions.

The second part of the collection brings together a further 13 studies focusing more directly on the organisation and practices of the imperial administration. One of the main themes is its relationship with domination. The centrality of the Augustan period is recalled, as a period of experimentation and restructuring, not only for its organisational frame but also for the ruler’s relationships with the aristocracy in charge of the government of the empire or with the army (“14. Herrschaft durch Administration? Die Veränderung in der administrativen Organisation des Imperium Romanum unter Augustus”). A set of rules, less formalised than factual, was then established and its systematisation, although never complete, became more pronounced after the Flavian era. In this respect, Eck advocates flexibility in the approach to careers, against a tendency that has sometimes prevailed, and which was maybe a necessary methodological consequence of prosopography to compensate for incomplete documentation. In his view, the rules in this area were more like recognised practices, the value of which was affirmed by their repeated application (“15. Die Amtsträger: Instrumente in den Händen des Princeps und Begrenzung der Autokratie. Traditioneller Cursus und kaiserliche Ernennung”).

The exercise of power and day-to-day administration, particularly that of the emperor, are also analysed, once again through military diplomas, whose serial and dated information provides a window on the frequency of work and the temporality of exchanges. Eck returns to the classic question of the characterisation (active or reactive) of the emperor’s exercise of power (“16. Die Ausstellung von Bürgerrechtskonstitutionen: Ein Blick in den Arbeitsalltag des römischen Kaisers”)[3].

The army again occupies a prominent place in this section. It appears as one of the markers of domination alongside administrative personnel, especially through the example of its presence in Judaea (“17. Kommunikation durch Herrschaftzeichen: Römische Amtsträger in den römischen Provinzen”). Augustus’ attention to this issue led to new institutions (the aerarium militare or the vicesima hereditatium), described as “revolutionäre Schritte innerhalb des römischen Stadtwesens” (p. 377; “20. Das Heer im Ordnungsgefüge des augusteischen Prinzipats”). It has also been decided to include in this section a synthetic study of the auxiliary units (“19. Die Entwicklung der Auxiliareinheiten als Teil des römischen Heeres in der frühen und hohen Kaiserzeit: Eine Teilsynthese”).

The territorial aspects of provincial organisation are addressed in three contributions. One of them, on the notion of provincia, recalls definitions that are now widely accepted, while emphasising that beyond the distinction between provinces of the Roman people and imperial provinces, the perception of the apparatus of domination and administration by local populations was not fundamentally dependent on these categories (“21. Provinz: Ihre Definition unter politich-administrativen Aspekten”). The examination of two specific cases, that of the provinces of Asia Minor and Judaea, allows Eck to explore further the frameworks and effects of Roman power (“22. Der Anschluss der kleinasiatischen Provinzen an Vespasian und ihre Restrukturierung unter den Flaviern”; “23. Ämter und Verwaltungstrukturen in Selbstverwaltungseinheiten der frühen römischen Kaiserzeit”). In the first case in particular, the study of imperial titles and epigraphic honours in the region helps to reconstruct the local context and the networks that underpinned provincial reorganisation after Vespasian took power. Diplomacy is also examined as an original phenomenon in an empire founded on autonomous communities of cities. Better known in the East than in the West, embassies, sent to governors and above all to the princeps, were part of the practices linked to the administration and government of territories, and reveal the need for a direct, interpersonal relationship with the emperor or his representatives (“24. Diplomatie als Teil der Administration im Imperium Romanum”). The last paper in this series focuses on the powers of the magistrates of Rome and the scope, particularly territorial, of their attributions (“26. Rom: Megalopolis und Zentrum der Reichsadministration”).

Finally, an article on euergetism should be mentioned (“25. Der Euergetismus im Funktionszusammenhang der kaiserzeitlichen Städte”). The starting point, a reflection on its relationship with finances and the life of cities, links the topic to administrative questions. As well as being one of the few contributions to focus explicitly on the sub-provincial level, it is enlightening in its consideration of the nature of the epigraphic documentation, which enables Eck to measure the discursive construction of this practice. He shows that celebration through inscription is an integral part of the euergetic logic and shapes its perception. He also underlines the extent to which, in this case, a contextual study is fundamental before drawing more general conclusions, while a careful reading can sometimes reveal the donator’s motives and the reactions elicited within the community.

This collection is therefore extremely rich in the themes it covers and, above all, in the overall perspectives and specific analyses it develops. Exemplary in its methodological awareness, it is also enhanced by the author’s perfectly clear style. The 26 studies have been revised and, in some cases, updated, thus complementing the original texts. Admittedly, not all of the bibliography that appeared after each contribution has been included: but perhaps this was not necessary, especially as the author has always been in favour of sticking to the references that are essential for the topic in question. The volume is meticulously produced, and includes indices of ancient proper names and of textual and epigraphic sources: two indispensable tools, particularly for specialists in prosopography and epigraphy for occasional consultation, but we cannot recommend this collection highly enough to any historian of the Roman Empire and its society.



[1] Tra epigrafia prosopografia e archeologia: scritti scelti, rielaborati ed aggiornati, Roma, 1996; Die Verwaltung des römischen Reiches in der hohen Kaiserzeit. Ausgewählte und erweiterte Beiträge, 2 vol., Basel-Berlin, 1995 et 1997; Monument und Inschrift. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur senatorischen Repräsentation in der Kaiserzeit, Berlin-New York, 2010; Judäa – Syria Palästina: die Auseinandersetzung einer Provinz mit römischer Politik und Kultur, Tübingen, 2014. See W. Eck’s complete bibliography (December 2023) on his page on the University of Cologne website.

[2] On this commentarius, see P. Moreau, “Le commentarius de la lex Troesmensium (table B 1. 4-11) et la réforme augustéenne de la procédure législative”, in E. Chevreau, C. Masi Doria, J.M. Rainer (dir.), Liber amicorum. Mélanges en l’honneur de Jean-Pierre Coriat, Paris, 2019, 649‑664; P. Buongiorno, “Senatus consulta: Struttura, formulazioni linguistiche, techniche (189 a.C.-138 d.C.)”, in Annali del seminario giuridico della Università di Palermo, 59, 2016, 55‑60.

[3] F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (31 BC – AD 337), London, 19922. Cf. W. Eck, Bürokratie und Politik in der römischen Kaiserzeit: administrative Routine und politische Reflexe in Bürgerrechtskonstitutionen der römischen Kaiser, Wiesbaden, 2012.