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Regionalism in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor

Hugh Elton
Gary Reger


Hugh Elton et Gary Reger

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1Since 1997 interest in regionalism as a phenomenon has burgeoned. While regional studies and interpretative efforts stretch well back beyond that date (regionalism as an intellectual approach to the past began in studies in economy), and reasons for continuing or renewed interest in regional approaches to the Greek and Roman past are legion, we would like to note two aspects of the phenomenon that have become particularly important in the early twenty-first century. First, the extraordinary success of the European Union in creating a unified Europe–in part by the successful introduction of the Euro, the first pan-European currency–has revitalized interest in the regions of Europe. These often cross national boundaries or cut the European nation-states up into smaller units, and are becoming increasingly important as “natural” sub-units of the European continent as old national boundaries lose more and more meaning. The potential for a certain reshuffling or recreation of European identity based on regional association has undoubtedly driven some of the interest in regional studies, even at as great a distance as the Hellenistic and Roman worlds.

2Closer to home, the publication of Peregrin Horden and Nicholas Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea certainly also gave new impetus to regional studies. The model they present of the pre-modern Mediterranean hinges on the articulation of semi-autonomous regions and micro-regions; regionalism is, indeed, the linchpin of their Mediterranean. The Corrupting Sea has provoked considerable reaction, some favorable and some not, but as undoubtedly the most important attempt since Fernand Braudel to understand the Mediterranean as a whole, and to explain its long-term features as a setting for history, it will affect research for many years to come. (Indeed, a promised second volume, which has not yet appeared, will no doubt stir the pot again if it stops simmering.) Regionalism thus has enjoyed a revival to which we are confident the papers in this volume will make new and important contributions.

3A number of themes have emerged from this collection of papers which we attempt to elucidate here. First, the idea of region could be based on different characteristics. For us, the significant features are geography, politics and a sense of the past. What is clear, however, is that these definitions, of whatever sort, were mutable and creatable, by both rulers and ruled. Although these regional definitions could be exploited, these manipulations of a regional identity had to be based on existing definitions. The past, or geography, could be bent, twisted and stretched, or even changed, but could not be ignored. These seem to have been the dominant factors that led to a regional identity. Whether or not these identities were consciously changed, they did develop over time. This was a slow process of transition, since the anchoring in Homer, myth and geography made it difficult for them to change a great deal. It is easier to see these manipulations at the level of states, but around these large states (or underneath them), we need to remember the role played by local dynasties. These states, large or small, then related to regions, themselves composed of micro-regions of cities. Below cities were villages. In all these cases, the ways in which larger units related to smaller units, empire to region, city to village, had parallels. We may not always be able to see this local level, but we should remember that it was there.

4Though the idea of regionalism could be manipulated, it was done so within a coherent framework. Regions were real, and to be a Lycian or a Bithynian meant something. This meaning could be advertised through institutions like leagues or koina that operated in a purely Greek sphere, or through the adaptation of long-standing Greek practices like the inscription of documents (sometimes in local languages). This perspective, however, is only of use for studying the Hellenized population, and only occasionally illuminates the attitudes of non-Hellenic populations of Anatolia. One way of discussing such peoples is through onomastics and local languages, present in most of Asia Minor, an approach that could be developed further, but that has its own dangers and drawbacks. Interestingly, none of the papers presented at this conference argued that culture (‘regional customs’) was instrumental in creating a region. The elements of culture – language, pottery styles, architecture, funerary practice–which might have been exploited singly or as ensembles as creators of regional identity were seen by participants as characteristics rather than causes of regionalism. In other words, “the locals do these things because they are Lykians”, rather than “because they do these things, they are Lykians”. Perhaps the language question brings this point up most sharply; Lykians clearly remained Lykians in important senses well after Greek had usurped Lykian even among the less educated elements of the population. Even the archaeological papers here were concerned to show how material culture does not fit the traditional boundaries. Such an interpretation could be challenged by further work. These analyses of the ways in which locals behaved are invaluable, because they enable us to examine what is characteristic of a particular region and what reflects a wider practice throughout Asia Minor. Moreover, they show how local cultures were tremendously successful at surviving beneath imperial umbrellas.

5As a whole, the papers also make it clear that regions were not themselves homogeneous units. Within larger regions (however defined) lurked smaller entities. The disjunction between western and eastern Karia, perhaps only implied in the papers here, appears time and again in work on the region. But several of the contributors have drawn attention usefully to the presence and importance of sub-regions or micro-regions, whose relations to each other and to the larger unit within which they subsisted could be fraught with tension. Less tangible but equally if not more important are potential disjunctions along “class” lines. Elites in every region were always attracted to the dominant hegemonic culture, be it Achaemenid, Makedonian, or Roman, and the adoption of the ways of the ruling class could mask or modify markers of regional identity, or (more interestingly) serve as foundations on which to inscribe subtle signs of local pride. These traits had their strong appeal on the village level as well as several contributions have shown. However, we must also always bear in mind the possibility that people like shepherds and other “transhumants” may have been linked more by ways of life than by the accident of living in (say) Pisidia.

6While it is beyond the editors’ brief to try to offer a complete review of research on regional matters in Asia Minor since the conference was held, the two regions of Karia and Lykia have enjoyed a great deal of attention in the past few years; new discoveries and new ideas have, in some cases, reshaped our understanding of aspects of the ways these regions worked, or at least have raised new and interesting questions relevant to the questions of regionalism as a whole. In Karia, recent work has refocused attention on the role of the Chrysaoric League as a mechanism for creating and maintaining a certain level of regional identity through the mechanism of religious institutions. But the Chrysaoric League may also have served purposes of the Ptolemaic hegemon in early third-century Karia; more thorough study of its institutions and operations may help elucidate the contribution of such organizations to regional identity and to clarify differences between superficially analogous organizations, like the Lykian Federation and the Panionion. Moreover, much new evidence has come to light in recent years about relations between Karia (or its individual settlements) and its hegemons–not just the great Hellenistic Ptolemaic and Seleukid kingdoms that vied for dominance there, but also the local power of Rhodes, which controlled much of Karia for twenty years in the early second century. Rhodian interests in especially southern Karia need reconsideration in light of this evidence, and the impact of micro-regional differences–be they political, cultural, or religious–may have contributed to different historical trajectories. In Lykia, new epigraphic discoveries have complemented the emerging archaeological evidence. The so-called “stadiasmos” inscription from Patara (still published only in a preliminary form) reveals the network that bound the cities of Lykia together at the moment the new Lykian province was created and resolves some long-standing questions about the extent of the “Lykian” sphere under the JulioClaudians. And a text bound to be very controversial (not least for the circumstances of its “discovery”) attests to a treaty between Rome and the Lykian federation struck under Julius Caesar.

7New work, whether in Karia, Lykia, or elsewhere in Anatolia, will thus continue to force us to reappraise our ideas. There are no easy answers, only unwieldy responses to the question of whether there even is a phenomenon such as regionalism. This collection of papers suggests some ideas as to what regionalism might be and some ways in which it might be studied, but we consider it does no more than point a way, or multiple ways, forward. We would also hope that this collection reveals something of the richness both of regional studies as an approach to treating the multiplicity of cultures and societies of the Greco-Roman world and of the particular world of Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor. We would be well satisfied indeed if the work presented here should encourage examination of other regions, other periods and other aspects of the phenomenon of regionalism, and serve as a basis for testing some of the approaches the contributors have applied.

© Ausonius Éditions, 2007

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