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Le Péloponnèse d’Épaminondas à Hadrien

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Catherine Grandjean

L’Élide

Elis in the Later Hellenistic and Early Roman Imperial Periods

James Roy

Texte intégral

  • 1 Roy 1999b, 166-167.
  • 2 Swoboda RE 5.2422 art. Elis.
  • 3 Roy 1997.
  • 4 Farrington 1997, 30-31. The victories of western Greeks are listed conveniently in Stampolidis & T (...)
  • 5 Lepeniotis 1991, 383-385.

1In 146 BC the region of Elis appeared to have certain advantages. Firstly, the whole region was unified as a single polis, probably in 146 though the precise date is not absolutely certain1. The territory of this polis was huge, by Greek standards, estimated2 to be some 2660 km2, and much of this land was very fertile, as it still is today. Secondly, although there are few good harbours on the west coast of the Peloponnese, two of them lay within Elean territory, at Kyllene and Pheia3. Thirdly, Elis had a long tradition of contact with the west, particularly with the Greeks of southern Italy. Though the Olympic victories of western Greeks decline markedly in numbers from the fourth century BC4, there is continuing evidence of trade with the west, for instance the Hellenistic Greco-Italian amphorae found at the town of Elis5. Finally Elis controlled the great sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia and the Olympic Games that were held there. So long as the Games were popular they brought to Elis Greeks from many parts of the Greek world and in due course leading Romans as well.

  • 6 Scanlon 2002, 41-43.
  • 7 Swoboda RE 10.2368-2373.

2However, if we ask how well these advantages allowed Elis to develop and prosper under Roman influence and Roman rule, the state of the available evidence makes it fairly difficult to find an answer. No answer can be found from the political history of Elis from 146 BC onwards, because the evidence for such history is lacking: in the Roman Republican period we hear of favour from Mummius in 146, pillage by Sulla, and difficulties during the civil wars at the end of the Republic6, while the imperial period as far as the third century AD seems entirely peaceful7, mainly because we have virtually no relevant evidence. The main literary evidence for Hellenistic and early Roman Elis comes from Strabo and Pausanias, but it is often unclear how reliable a picture they present of Elis in their own times: it was not the purpose of either writer to offer socio-economic commentary. Archaeological evidence is available, but few sites have been explored and published in detail, and there has been no major intensive surface survey. One major advantage is a considerable amount of epigraphic evidence, largely found at Olympia, and from it Zoumbaki 2001 has developed a very valuable new resource for studying Elis in the Roman period, namely an Elean prosopography of that period accompanied by historical analysis. Her work is supplemented by the prosopography of the Roman Peloponnese by Rizakis and Zoumbaki 2001, and the prosopography of pre-Roman Elis published by Zoumbaki herself in 2005.

3Given the limitations of the evidence, it is necessary to for look for indicators that give some measure of the socio-economic condition of Elis and of its importance within Roman Greece. Some indication might be offered by variations in the success of the Olympic Games; in the settlement-pattern; in economic activity; and in activity in Elis by Romans and in the Roman Empire by Eleans. These will be examined in turn. There are however general limitations imposed by the evidence. For one thing it is not at present easy to distinguish trends in different areas of the large territory of Elis, and the region will therefore be treated as a whole, even though subregional variations within Elis may well have occurred. Also, except in the case of some prosopographical data, the evidence does not allow quantification, so that when – as will be argued – trends continue over long periods, it is impossible – at present – to discern whether within a given trend the pace of development changed over time.

  • 8 Farrington 1997, 35-43.
  • 9 Farrington 1997, 22-23 and Scanlon 2002, 43.
  • 10 Crowther 1995, with references to Africanus for AD 17 (199th Olympiad) and to the Armenian version (...)

4The prosperity of the Olympic Games in the Roman period has been examined in recent years by both Farrington 1997 and Scanlon 2002. Though their approaches differ somewhat, their conclusions are broadly similar, namely that, although the Games underwent a difficult period in the first century BC, particularly during the Roman civil wars from the middle of the century onwards, they then revived and enjoyed considerable success during the Roman imperial period. The prestige of the Games in the Hellenistic and Roman periods is shown, for instance, by the numerous other cities that imitated them by setting up their own Olympic Games8. To judge by the known winners, the Games at Olympia itself attracted competitors from leading Greek cities, particularly in western Asia Minor, and of course also leading Romans including members of the imperial family. (There is a convenient classification of winners by geographical origin in Stampolidis and Tasoulas 2004). Some changes in fashion can however be observed. The horse-racing events, once very prestigious, seem to have attracted fewer competitors and Elis itself provided a high proportion of the relatively few known winners9. (There are ancient reports that horse-racing was suspended at Olympia in the years up to AD 17 and again in the years up to AD 109, but Crowther has shown that the first cannot be entirely correct and that the second may also be unreliable)10.

  • 11 Farrington 1997, 30.
  • 12 See Pleket 1976 on Olympic benefactors.
  • 13 Farrington 1997, 27-28: cf. the tables listing dedications to Romans in Zoumbaki 2001, 163, 180-18 (...)
  • 14 Baitinger 2001, 80-92, 239-248.
  • 15 Zoumbaki 2001, 178-9: on the Panhellenion see Spawforth 1999.
  • 16 Pugliese Caratelli 1971, 76, and Zoumbaki 2001, 144.

5Olympic victors continued to set up memorials of their success at Olympia, even if some winners, particularly from Asia Minor, preferred to commemorate their victory in or near their home community11. However, apart from victor-monuments, and the occasional dedication from a rich and distinguished benefactor like Herodes Atticus12, Olympia seems in the Roman period to have attracted dedications mainly from the Peloponnese and above all from Elis itself. The Koinon of the Achaians used it as a location for honorific monuments, but most of the dedications are in fact by Eleans, acting individually or collectively13. One major difference from earlier times was that after 146 BC Olympia lost its importance as a place for commemorating military success. Previously trophies and other monuments created from booty taken in war had been very numerous at Olympia, and the Roman commander Mummius briefly and spectacularly revived the tradition by celebrating his victory over the Achaian League with lavish dedications in the sanctuary14, but, with the arrival of Roman domination, the kind of Greek military success that had previously been memorialised at Olympia and other sanctuaries ceased to happen. In addition Elis does not appear to have been involved in the Panhellenion created under Hadrian15. Individuals prominent in the Panhellenion might also be interested in Olympia, as the career of M. Cocceius Timasarchos shows: he was an Olympic victor, and became both archon of the Panhellenion in the years AD 197-201 and agonothetes of the Olympic Games16. Nonetheless there are no monuments in the sanctuary set up by the Panhellenion. Outside the period of the Games the sanctuary seems to have attracted mainly local Greeks.

  • 17 Arapoyianni 2004, 203-204.

6Nonetheless the overall impression is that the Games continued during the early imperial period to enjoy considerable prestige and to bring to Olympia both Greeks from leading centres and eminent Romans. There was considerable building at Olympia during the Roman period17, and the German research project currently being conducted on “Olympia während der römischen Kaiserzeit und in der Spätantike” will provide further information.

7Changes in settlement-pattern might reflect socio-economic changes, and it is likely that Elis in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods showed the decline of small urban settlements and in the countryside a significant number of larger estates, in other words a pattern that can be observed elsewhere in the Peloponnese. Interpretation is however difficult, as Alcock 1997 has shown, and there is the possibility of regional variation, discussed recently by Shipley 2002 with reference to Lakonia and by Alcock et al. 2005 with reference to Messenia, and mentioned again during this conference.

  • 18 Mantzana 2000.
  • 19 Roy 2004, 494 and 499.
  • 20 Pol. 4.77.9, 4.80.13: see Pritchett 1989, 64-65 and 73.

8Moreover the evidence for settlement in Elis is very patchy: there has been no major intensive survey in the area, though a recent campaign of surface survey in several areas of Elis, while primarily concerned with prehistoric material, recorded finds from historical periods18. And, if a pattern of decline in smaller urban centres and significant larger estates did indeed occur in Elis, it was probably not entirely new. Communities had been disappearing in Elis since the archaic period: Dyspontion and Lenos are attested then but do not appear again19. It seems unlikely that new urban centres replaced those that disappeared. While it is true that Bolax, for instance, is mentioned only by Polybius as existing in the later third century BC20, there is little reason to suppose that it was a new Hellenistic foundation in northern Triphylia, an area where a striking number of small poleis shared the limited available land: it is more likely that Bolax is not attested earlier simply through an accident of the survival of evidence. Towns of course continued to fade away in the Roman period: for instance, Strabo 8.3.32 reports Harpina as still existing, but Pausanias 6.21.8 clearly says that it was in ruins in his day. As the total number of urban sites grew smaller, there was clearly an opportunity for surviving towns to grow, but such expansion has been claimed only for the town of Elis. Yalouris 1994 states that it grew in the classical and Hellenistic periods and again in the Roman period, without defining clearly how that growth can be measured.

  • 21 On Strabo’s view of the Peloponnese generally see Baladié 1980.
  • 22 Yalouris 1957 and 1960 [1962].
  • 23 Servais 1961, 138-145.

9It is also difficult to know how far to trust reports of decline, particularly in Strabo21. At Pheia, for instance, Strabo (8.3.12) speaks of the port (limen) but seems to say that the town (polisma) no longer existed. (Pausanias does not mention Pheia.) There is archaeological evidence of settlement at Pheia from the archaic period to the late Roman period22, as there is at Elis’other port Kyllene from the classical period to the Roman imperial period23, though in neither case is the evidence published in sufficient detail to know how flourishing the settlement was in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods. At any rate one cannot take Strabo 8.3.12 as reliable evidence that there was no settlement at Pheia in his day.

  • 24 Zoumbaki 2001, 77-78.

10Rural settlement may well have included a number of larger holdings at least from the classical period. A major, though isolated, piece of evidence is offered by Polybius 4.73.5-8. The passage stresses the life-style of prosperous Elean landowners living on their land, but care must be taken to understand that Polybius is not saying that all, or even most, wealthy Eleans led such a rural life In order to explain the rich booty looted in Elean territory by Philip V of Macedon in 219-8, Polybius comments on what he sees as the unusual pattern of settlement in the region. Elis, says Polybius, had a different pattern of settlement, and more slaves and livestock, than the rest of the Peloponnese. Some wealthy Eleans were content to live on the land, and for two or three generations had not visited the lawcourts: in fact Elis provided a system of peripatetic judges to accommodate such citizens. Polybius’ account implies that a number of prosperous Elean landowners lived on their land, and he believed that this had been happening for several generations (cf. Polybius 4.73.9-10), which would take the pattern back in time at least to the early Hellenistic period and possibly further. His wording also suggests that he believed that the same pattern continued in his own day. He does not mention peasant farmers, though his account does not exclude the possibility that they too were present on the land. When Philip’s forces attacked, the rural population fled to “nearby villages and the strong places”, so that there were evidently also nucleated settlements and refuge sites near scattered farmsteads. Moreover Polybius emphasises that “some”– enioi, tinas, both appearing in 4.73.7 – wealthy Eleans enjoyed such a rural life, and his wording clearly implies that the lifestyle of other landowners included significant activity away from their estates, presumably at Elis and Olympia. We have little other evidence to set beside this passage of Polybius: it does at least suggest that larger estates had been a significant feature of the exploitation of the Elean countryside throughout the Hellenistic period, and possibly earlier. Nonetheless the survival in Elis until the third century AD of a largely stable social élite24, much of whose wealth presumably came from landed property, suggests that the pattern of landholding in the area did not change greatly under the earlier Roman Empire.

11Consequently, while the pattern of settlement in Elean territory continued to evolve in the Roman period, it seems likely that, rather than any sharp change, there was on the one hand a process of gradual urban decline continuing from before the Hellenistic period but on the other a considerable degree of stability in exploitation of the land.

  • 25 Zoumbaki 2001, 46-63 and Panayotopoulos 1983.
  • 26 Zoumbaki 2001, 77-78.
  • 27 Zoumbaki 2001, 63.

12The Elean economy has been assessed by Zoumbaki, largely in terms of agricultural production, and there is also a very useful survey in the unpublished thesis by Panayotopoulos25. There are scattered literary references from the classical and Hellenistic periods to the wealth generated by Elean agriculture and animal husbandry. Xenophon Anabasis 5.3.7-13, for instance, describes the richness of the land on which he set up a sanctuary of Artemis at Skillous, but references to the wealth of the Elean countryside come particularly in reports of pillaging by invaders such as Agis II of Sparta c. 400 (Xen., Hell., 3.2.26) and Philip V of Macedon in 219-218 (Polybius 4.75.1-7) and again in 208 (Livy 27.32.7-9). There are naturally no comparable reports of pillaging from the Roman imperial period, but there is no reason to suppose that the agricultural potential of Elis’ territory had changed. As already mentioned, an élite presumably largely composed of landowners seems to have maintained its predominance at Elis until the third century AD, although from the later second century AD a new group with cognomina suggesting origins as freedmen began to rise to prominence26. Some leading Elean families of Roman imperial times can be traced from the Hellenistic period, and one such family goes back to the fourth century BC27. It therefore seems safe to suppose that in Elis under the earlier Roman Empire agriculture and animal husbandry continued to benefit at least the wealthier inhabitants.

  • 28 Zoumbaki 2001, 305 K67.

13The food shortages occasionally attested in Elis are not evidence to the contrary. The boy boxer Sarapion of Alexandria, who won an Olympic victory in AD 89, was honoured at Elis because he provided food during a corn-shortage (Paus. 6.23.6): and the Elean Titus Claudius Nikeratos was honoured in the third century AD because he held simultaneously the offices of archon and agoranomos at a time when food was scarce28. Such sporadic shortages could be due to a bad harvest or to problems of distribution, and are not evidence of general agricultural decline.

  • 29 Yalouris 1957, 37 (Pheia) and Lepeniotis 1991 (Elis).
  • 30 Panopoulou 1987-1988, 309.
  • 31 Paus. 5.5.2, 6.26.6, 7.21.4.

14Besides agricultural production, or linked to it, trade in or through Elis must have had a certain importance. The Elean ports will have served not only Elis but also western Arkadia. Trade through the ports can be seen, for instance, in amphorae of the Hellenistic and Roman periods found at Pheia and Elis29, but other forms of trade, for which no evidence survives, can be deduced. Salt, for instance, was indispensable for humans and for livestock, and for cheese-making: neither saltpans nor trade in salt are attested in Elis during classical antiquity, as they are at the end of the 17th century30, but it would be astonishing if in antiquity Elean saltpans did not supply not only Elis but also at least western Arkadia. There was also trade in byssos, a form of high-quality flax grown in Elis and, according to Pausanias 5.2.2, nowhere else in Greece. There may have been limited earlier production since Pliny (Nat., 19.20) claims that Elean byssos had once been extremely expensive, but it seems by Pausanias’ time to have become an important commercial crop sold in quantity to be woven in Patrai, and it clearly attracted Pausanias’ attention since he refers to it several times31. Thanks to his interest in Elean byssos we can deduce that Elean agriculture by his day had sufficiently adapted to be producing byssos in quantity as a cash crop for export. Other forms of non-agricultural economic activity are considered by Panayotopoulos 1983, but the fact that they cannot be quantified means that it is difficult to estimate their overall importance, and it would not be fruitful to list them here, even if collectively they may have contributed significantly to the Elean economy.

  • 32 Zoumbaki 1993 and 2001, 244-8.
  • 33 Zoumbaki 1998-1999, 114-117.

15Few Romans seem to have settled in Elis. Some certainly took an interest in Elean agriculture, to judge by the group of Romans engaiountes in Elis who appear on three monuments erected at Olympia in honour of Roman officials in the period from the early first century BC to the time of Augustus. Otherwise only one Roman is explicitly described as engaged in business in Elis, M. Mindius of Cicero Fam., 13.26.28. The family of the Vettuleni, distinguished at Elis and elsewhere in the Peloponnese from the first to the third centuries AD, appears to have come originally from Italy, and clearly settled and prospered at Elis32. There is nonetheless only very limited evidence for Romans engaged in trade or business in Elis33.

  • 34 Zoumbaki 2001, 186-190.
  • 35 Zoumbaki 2001, 150-152 and 186.
  • 36 Zoumbaki 2001, 68-69, 163, 180-181.
  • 37 Zoumbaki 2001, 243 B9 on L. Vettulenus Laetus, and 65-6 on the two others.

16Roman citizenship spread among the wealthier levels of Elean society from the later first century BC onwards34. Besides the imperial cult35 and dedications by the polis Elis or its Olympic Council in honour of Roman officials and members of the imperial family, some Eleans personally made such dedications in honour of individuals from the imperial household, and presumably had some connection with the person honoured36. Yet few Eleans seem to have held posts as senior Roman officials. Only L. Vettulenus Laetus in the second half of the first century AD was certainly a Roman knight, and two other Eleans may also have had equestrian status37.

  • 38 Zoumbaki 2001, 83-85.
  • 39 Zoumbaki 2001, 68-69 on the Koinon of the Achaians, and 150 and 178-179 on the Hadrianic Panhellen (...)
  • 40 Zoumbaki 2001, 150.

17Wealthy Eleans had contacts in the Greek world outside Elis, but only within mainland Greece and especially in the Peloponnese38. A number of them are recorded as having held leading positions in the Koinon of the Achaians, but there is no recorded participation by Elis in the Hadrianic Panhellenion39. It appears that, as Zoumbaki suggests40, most of the Elean élite were content with life in Elis, where, alongside the normal life of a Greek polis, Olympia continued to serve as an additional major focus of public interest.

18In sum, apart from crises provoked in the first century BC by Roman political conflicts, the period from 146 BC onwards appears to have been for the region Elis one of relative peace and prosperity, at least for the wealthier classes, with only slow and gradual social or economic change. Olympia continued to enjoy prestige among both Greeks and Romans, but did not give Elis any great influence in the wider world. The wealthier classes were able to maintain their position into the third century AD, and other Eleans, of whom we hear little, presumably acquiesced, at least for the most part. Elis thus apparently continued to enjoy a reasonable level of prosperity without any great effort to increase it or to exploit it by developing more intensive contacts with the wider world.

Notes

1 Roy 1999b, 166-167.

2 Swoboda RE 5.2422 art. Elis.

3 Roy 1997.

4 Farrington 1997, 30-31. The victories of western Greeks are listed conveniently in Stampolidis & Tasoulas 2004, 229-244.

5 Lepeniotis 1991, 383-385.

6 Scanlon 2002, 41-43.

7 Swoboda RE 10.2368-2373.

8 Farrington 1997, 35-43.

9 Farrington 1997, 22-23 and Scanlon 2002, 43.

10 Crowther 1995, with references to Africanus for AD 17 (199th Olympiad) and to the Armenian version of Africanus for AD 109 (222nd Olympiad).

11 Farrington 1997, 30.

12 See Pleket 1976 on Olympic benefactors.

13 Farrington 1997, 27-28: cf. the tables listing dedications to Romans in Zoumbaki 2001, 163, 180-181.

14 Baitinger 2001, 80-92, 239-248.

15 Zoumbaki 2001, 178-9: on the Panhellenion see Spawforth 1999.

16 Pugliese Caratelli 1971, 76, and Zoumbaki 2001, 144.

17 Arapoyianni 2004, 203-204.

18 Mantzana 2000.

19 Roy 2004, 494 and 499.

20 Pol. 4.77.9, 4.80.13: see Pritchett 1989, 64-65 and 73.

21 On Strabo’s view of the Peloponnese generally see Baladié 1980.

22 Yalouris 1957 and 1960 [1962].

23 Servais 1961, 138-145.

24 Zoumbaki 2001, 77-78.

25 Zoumbaki 2001, 46-63 and Panayotopoulos 1983.

26 Zoumbaki 2001, 77-78.

27 Zoumbaki 2001, 63.

28 Zoumbaki 2001, 305 K67.

29 Yalouris 1957, 37 (Pheia) and Lepeniotis 1991 (Elis).

30 Panopoulou 1987-1988, 309.

31 Paus. 5.5.2, 6.26.6, 7.21.4.

32 Zoumbaki 1993 and 2001, 244-8.

33 Zoumbaki 1998-1999, 114-117.

34 Zoumbaki 2001, 186-190.

35 Zoumbaki 2001, 150-152 and 186.

36 Zoumbaki 2001, 68-69, 163, 180-181.

37 Zoumbaki 2001, 243 B9 on L. Vettulenus Laetus, and 65-6 on the two others.

38 Zoumbaki 2001, 83-85.

39 Zoumbaki 2001, 68-69 on the Koinon of the Achaians, and 150 and 178-179 on the Hadrianic Panhellenion.

40 Zoumbaki 2001, 150.

Auteur

Université de Nottingham

© Ausonius Éditions, 2008

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