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Regionalism in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor

Hugh Elton
Gary Reger


Hugh Elton et Gary Reger

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1Ancient Asia Minor, which was more or less coterminous with modern Turkey, was a land of enormous topographical and cultural diversity. The west and south coasts, which enjoyed a Mediterranean climate of hot dry summers and wet winters that could support the cultivation of grains, vines, and olives (the so-called “Mediterranean triad”), attracted Greek settlement from the second millennium BC eventually, a string of colonies marched along the coast from Byzantion to Tarsos, interacting with the local populations of Karians, Lykians, and others who were already there, occupying often practically adjacent sites. On the west coast the great river valleys, including the Kaikos, Hermos, and Maiandros, provided access to the interior; this was more difficult on the south and north coasts, where mountains sometimes reached to the sea, and communication by any means but water was hard and time-consuming. The interior presented a very different face: high plateaux, hot in summer and freezing in winter, with salt lakes and deserts, occupied by herders and yet the home to great pre-Hellenic civilizations like the Hittites and the Phrygians. Greek settlement came much later to the interior, in the aftermath of Alexander the Great and particularly with the Roman conquest.

2It occasions no surprise, given the topography, that Asia Minor never achieved unity in any political or cultural sense. Yet outside political suzerains often aimed at, and sometimes achieved, bringing great swaths of Asia Minor under their control. The Hittites lie outside of our period, but the achievements of the Persians in the sixth century BC echoed throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The Persians succeeded in conquering most of the peninsula and imposed their own style of administrative unity on its peoples. Athenian and other mainland Greeks’clashes with the Persian Empire in Asia Minor in the fifth and fourth centuries BC were mere border skirmishes. The campaigns of Alexander the Great brought down the great Persian Empire, and opened Asia Minor up to Greek penetration; the phenomenon of Hellenization (which began in Persian territory long before Alexander’s conquests) has been a continuing subject of research and discussion. The second century BC saw the incursions of the Romans, the start of a process that ultimately brought most of Anatolia under their control.

3The unification of political authority, however, did not spell the end to the great cultural diversity of Asia Minor. First, its various conquerors left their mark. Well into the Roman imperial period persons with Persian names appear in the record, and fire-temples are known from many sites. Persian satrapal boundaries continue to be reflected in political – and sometimes cultural – subdivisions. Greek became the lingua franca for public business, displacing the many local languages that had vied with it as late as the third century BC for the right to be inscribed on stone in official documents. Greek names supplanted some local ones for towns, physical features, and people. And Greek political, social, and religious institutions took root and flourished at the same times as the kings, successors to Alexander, exerted greater authority. The Romans brought not only their military might, whose traces can be read in the roads that interlaced the peninsula, but also new sets of political institutions and new aspirations. The Ionians particularly embraced the cult of the emperor. The cities of Asia vied for the title of neokoros (“temple-warden”) and for a bevy of honorary titles bestowed by the emperor at the expense of their neighbors. Wealthy individuals added priest of the imperial cult, ambassador to the emperor, senator, and consul to their aspirations. The hegemonic powers, whether Greek king or Roman emperor, imposed fundamental changes on Asia in its culture and its physiognomy.

4But these changes, even when they amounted to Hellenization or Romanization, did not obliterate the local cultures that had thrived before. Local languages might cease to be inscribed, but casual references show that some at least were spoken until well into the Roman imperial period. The temple estates that had marked pre-Greek Asia Minor continued to cherish their gods – and to seek to maintain their rights against greedy neighboring cities. The indigenous gods of Asia Minor, like Men to whom so many confessional inscriptions were dedicated, did not merely hold their own, but actually expanded their influence under Greek and Roman rule. Funerary art and practice continued to reflect ancient patterns; even if the great Lykian rock-cut tomb facades were replaced by the ubiquitous and distinctive sarcophagi, this reflected a continuing regional tradition.

5This dialogue between the culture of the ruling power and preexisting local patterns forms one of the subjects of this collection. The dialogue was never unidirectional, nor simple. Nor was it unchanging over time or space. The situation in Karia was different in the late fourth century BC, when a long reign by the powerful Hekatomnid dynasty was a fresh memory, and the fourth century AD, when the locus of local political and religious authority had shifted inland to Aphrodisias, the mother-city of Karia. The influence of Hellenization was much more powerful in Ionia, where Greek poleis had thrived since the Archaic period, than in Bithynia, where kingship was the model of political culture until late in the Hellenistic period. The Acts that record the travels in Asia Minor of Paul and Barnabas come down to us in Greek, but the travelers themselves were greeted in Lystra, a Roman colony, in Lykaonian.

6In recent years the attention of archaeologists and historians has been drawn more and more to questions best explored on a regional level. In part, this change results from the nature of research. A growing emphasis on surface survey as a complement to the excavation of temples and city centers has brought the local region to a new prominence in the minds of many archaeologists; long-running surveys, like that conducted now for many years at Kyaneai in Lykia, are now beginning to present the kind of depth of evidence that can support generalization about the region and comparison with others. The great mass of epigraphic evidence that Asia Minor continues to yield is now starting to be collected in series like Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien and the reinvigorated Tituli Asiae Minoris, which offer new opportunities to view the regional evidence as an ensemble and to ask new questions. And increasing attention to the great time-depth of the history of Asia Minor, which reaches back into prehistory and forward to the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, has brought to light both continuities and changes in the political and social systems that predominated in various regions (one thinks especially here of Lykia and the marvelous sources for St. Nicholas of Myra, as well as the use now being made of Ottoman records).

7Within all this exciting new work, however, important questions are still to be addressed. The fundamental one is, what makes for a region? In some cases one can read a continuity from a Persian satrapy to a late Roman province; Kilikia was a Persian satrapy, but, after administrative confusion under the Hellenistic rulers, was also a Roman province in the early Roman Empire (later subdivided into eastern and western parts); but does such an essentially administrative continuity actually correspond to an intellectually justifiable unit of scholarly investigation? Where one draws regional boundaries may in fact have more to do with the criteria one selects: language compels a boundary between Karia and Lykia somewhere east of Kaunos, but the presence of Lykian tombs demands a boundary farther west. The results of these choices change over time. When one speaks, therefore, of a regional culture or a regional religious practice – say in Phrygia – one may be obfuscating, or avoiding, the difficult questions of definition.

8Moreover, even a region that looks perfectly stable at a given time – in which, say, logical topographical boundaries correspond to linguistic, cultural, and social ones – need not stay that way. Regions may destabilize, break up into smaller, non-communicating micro-regions, or join together to form a bigger or supra-regional entity. Much attention has been focused recently on the subdivision of administrative units in the late third and early fourth centuries AD. Was this purely a political phenomenon, driven by the needs of the central state, or did it correspond somehow to local perceptions on the ground that the older, larger units no longer correlated with local senses of identity?

9This last question raises further issues. What was the role of the central power in the creation, maintenance, and breakup of regions? How much power did the great imperial states that controlled Asia Minor actually wield against regional identities? One recalls that in the fourth century BC the Hekatomnids, who were based in Karia, exercised authority over parts of Lykia. The Lykians never later saw themselves in any way as part of Karia, but there are occasional hints that this temporary political combination continued to have some impact. Similarly, perhaps Roman reorganization of the central stretches of the Anatolian highland helped to preserve, and even to expand, a sense of what Galatia was and who was a Galatian. But in the third century AD, the willingness of some local aristocrats to accept Roman authority seems to have been lessened. Refusal to accept Roman power seems strong in the Pisidian Tauros, but along the Pamphylian coast and in inland Kilikia, for example in the rivalry shown between Tarsos and Anazarbos, concern for Roman values seems even stronger than in the second century.

10Finally, the mare’s nest of “identity”. Ethnic identity poses complex – perhaps ultimately insoluble – problems even today, as every reader of the newspaper sadly knows. Coming to grips with “identity” in antiquity is an even more difficult problem. How did groups of people come to see themselves as “grouped”? By language? By religion? By culture? By burial practice? By one variable only or by many? And did such groups, assuming they existed, see themselves as corresponding, or in fact did correspond, to some geographical entity we can call a region?

11It was to explore some of these questions that the conference was organized at which preliminary versions of the papers printed here were delivered. In an effort to assure some degree of coherence among the contributions, participants were asked to consider (in a briefer form) some of the issues laid out above. However, no effort was made – how would it have been possible? – to guarantee “complete” or “representative” coverage of the entire Anatolian peninsula. Ideally, Asia Minor should be treated as a whole both geographically and chronologically. It might be argued, for example, that regional differences originated in the Bronze Age or even pre-Bronze Ages cultures of the peninsula; or that Hittite and Assyrian imperialism exercised as great an impact on the regional character of parts of Asia Minor as did the rule of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. In the other direction, regional differences can be traced in some cases down through Byzantine and even Ottoman times. Inevitably, the papers tended to focus on some regions more than others – hence the preponderance of Ionia and Lykia in the contents – and some very important areas, like the far east and the southeast of Anatolia, were left untouched. These omissions are unfortunate, but perhaps bearable in light of the unity that a focus on the rest of Anatolia gives. In the same way, some methodologies, particularly epigraphy and textual studies, were used more intensively than others such as archaeology and numismatics. Moreover, the contributions here are notably spare in their treatment of local languages, which some might argue represent the clearest guide to regions in the peninsula.

12The small number of archaeological contributions is not entirely unexpected, since questions of identity may be thought more accessible via texts than material culture. Choices of funerary commemoration or styles of pottery or jewellery do have something to say about regional identity. What this material evidence might mean is, however, more difficult to understand. The recent outpouring of works dedicated to studying identity in antiquity shows great scholarly interest in the problems, but any theoretical work needs to be based on detailed case-studies. One exemplary model for Asia Minor is Waelkens’study of Türsteine, a careful examination of the distribution of carved tomb doorways throughout Asia Minor, but concentrated on Phrygia. Another is Farrington’s study of Lycian Baths, but many more such studies are needed. There are two major problems posed by such readings of the archaeological evidence. One is that the evidence we have represents only a part of the process of life. The second problem is that the evidence we have tends to be the most permanent parts of the material record, usually of stone. Such statements of identity are also biased towards the wealthiest, and arguably the most Hellenized, segments of a population. Such biases are, of course, also present within the analysis of textual and other evidence, but it should not be assumed that archaeological evidence is free of the same problems.

13No single book can cover everything, and it seemed to us that the Hellenistic and Roman periods alone provided rich enough ground to justify looking at a more restricted sample in time and space. The result, we hope, is a volume narrower but more unified, that will contribute, in the variety of its approaches, to ongoing discussion about the character and historical importance of the region in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor, and more generally to the scholarly debate on these topics that is ongoing in many fields of history.

14The papers presented here address various aspects of the questions in different ways. Because these questions are often intertwined, papers ostensibly focused on single regions, or single matters, may have wider relevance; we hope the whole will be seen as greater than the sum of its parts. The order in which we have presented the papers is only one way in which they could have been sorted. As this introduction has already shown, we have our own ideas about these questions, reaching beyond the views expressed in our individual papers. To reflect these, we have inserted two sections of comments as “interludes” between blocks of papers, attempting to elucidate some of the connections that we see between these papers. These are then followed by a conclusion, in which we present a few thoughts derived from our readings of these papers and some directions for future research; there should be other interpretations.

15The first section of the collection focuses on the impact of outside powers on a region. Within this group, J. Scholten, H. Elton, R. Billows, S. Ager, C. Crowther and P. Freeman each deal with different regions in Asia Minor (ranging from Bithynia to Ionia and Kilikia) in attempts to spell out how states attempted to work with them. The second section looks more closely at how regional identities were maintained. The papers by A. Bresson and D. Potter focus on Lykia, G. Reger looks at Karia, M. Waelkens and L. Vandeput cover Pisidia, B. Levick addresses Phrygia and T. Robinson the mountains of the south-west Tauros. The third part concentrates on specific topics, with T. Corsten and G. Rogers examining city institutions, and papers by W. Metcalf, A. Gregory and A. Macro discussing numismatics and onomastics.

© Ausonius Éditions, 2007

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