Friday, July 3, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Yves Lafond, La mémoire des cités dans la Péloponnèse d'époque romaine (IIe siècle av. J-C-IIIe siècle après J.-C). Collection Histoire. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2006. Pp. 385. ISBN 978-2-7535-0304-5. €22.00.
Reviewed by Arthur Eckstein, University of Maryland

The question of the decline or perseverance of the polis in the Hellenistic and Roman periods has become a perennial issue in ancient studies. In the age of very large hegemonic units (the Hellenistic monarchies, followed by the Roman Empire) individual city-states lost their military importance, as well as a most important aspect of their autonomy, namely, control over their foreign relations. The latter development was even more true under the Romans than previously under the competing Hellenistic kings. But a question remains regarding the extent to which a vibrant internal political and intellectual life continued in Greek city-states even under Roman domination, and what the self-concept of these cities was--i.e., how strong was the self-concept of their citizenry and their leaders as part of a living community. Lafond tackles one part of this problem in this new book.

In an epoch in which cities could not be envisaged except as integrated into a larger empire, Lafond offers reflections on the society and culture of the Greek city of the Peloponnese and its self-image. Lafond seeks to depict, via an investigation of the discourses and practices of which we have (limited) evidence, the consciousness which civic communities could have of themselves and to depict a consciousness of the civic (and moral) values which they, or rather their elites, sought to promote in public. In terms of literary texts, the study is based on Pausanias (on whose work Lafond has written a scholarly commentary), plus local rhetoric from orators such as Dio of Prusa. The other pillar of the study is epigraphical; numerous inscriptions are available from the Peloponnese into the late first century A.D., although from the early second century the inscriptions that Lafond chooses to focus on are limited to the Argolid and Laconia (it is interesting that we learn in passing that the Achaean League continued to exist into the second century A.D., complete with an annually-elected strategos). The period covered in the study is from the beginning of Roman hegemony into the third century A.D. Lafond's approach allows an author such as Pausanias to be employed both as a witness to contemporary practices and as our interpreter for those aristocrats who, in the cities, appeared as the repositories of collective memory.

Notions of memory certainly helped to shape a still-vibrant identity among the cities studied by Lafond. An excellent example is the occasional struggle over boundaries between neighboring poleis. Thus, in a dispute of very long-standing between Sparta and Messene over the frontier region of Dentheliatis (the area of modern Kalamata), the region was given to Sparta under the Triumvirate, but Antony gave the region back to Messene, while (perhaps in a natural reaction) Octavian returned it to Sparta after Actium, but then the Roman Senate in A.D. 25 under Tiberius returned the region (definitively) to Messene (pp. 144-145). The dispute, and the embassies to the Romans it evoked, is a testimony to the continuing vigor of polis identity; the arguments of the embassies must have been based on (versions of) local history, and of course the dispute involved the working out of an enmity between the Lakonians and Messenians which all involved knew stretched back hundreds of years, and included the famous Spartan enslavement of the Messenians in the Archaic and Classical periods. In an earlier age, (say, the mid-third century B.C.) there might well have been a full-scale war over the Dentheliatis, but now the dispute was handled via embassies of complaint to the Romans, and in that sense the dispute demonstrates not only the vigor of the polis but also the efficacy of the pax Romana at work. Another example of both these phenomena: the rivalry between Athens and Sparta, which had riven the Classical age, continued to find expression under Roman rule, but was in part reduced now to regular contests in oratory at Plataea over their respective achievements against the Persians in the fifth century (p. 191).

Identity and memory also helped during this period to define the relationship of cities to the phenomenon of the euergetism exercised by their powerful local elites. These notions, evident or implied on surviving inscriptions, allow us to analyze how the collective memory of poleis in the Roman period constructed itself via official and private elogia of the euergetist local aristocracies. These wealthy families were now completely preponderant in the political and social life of the cities, their influence everywhere, replacing strongly democratic structures even in the places where those structures had previously existed. But the elite needed legitimacy and (even) popular support: they gained it through benefactions, and ensured that the memory of those benefactions endured in the public space.

The many inscriptions which praise euergetism are prominently concerned with aristocratic support of traditional religious institutions and practices; equally prominent is the financial support of traditional educational institutions (pp. 67-68). Given the political conditions of Roman domination, which restricted foreign relations, it is noteworthy that praise of the benefactor as a "hero", which (as before) continues to occur in these inscriptions, has taken on a new meaning. There is a striking slippage of vocabulary, a transformation of the "heroic" from the staunch military defense of the polis and its interests--still to be seen in late second century B.C. inscriptions--into"heroic" support of cultural life.1

Lafond concludes, and this is hardly controversial, that the widespread praise lavished on aristocratic benefactors, praise for their "greatness of soul", their "generosity", their "love of humanity", even their philoponia, far from being mere clichés, reflects the real civic ideology of the aristocracy itself. These are sincere and self-defining gestures of identity, and probably are a reflection as well of broader public opinion (and memory) in the cities about euergetist aristocrats (pp. 72-73). Meanwhile the link of the local aristocrats to the ruling power is shown by the fact that almost all the men and women praised as benefactors of the city in Lafond's inscriptions are Roman citizens. Hence the evocatively-named C. Julius Demosthenes, a benefactor of the little town of Oinoanda, or T. Julius Agesilaus at Sparta.

Yet there are striking omissions in the book. The historical memory on which Lafond concentrates is either to be found in the mythological past--e.g., the legends of the Heraclidae, or the mythological genealogies of the local aristocratic families--or in the very recent past (the benefactions bestowed on the polis by members of the local elite). But Greek cities even in the Roman period spent considerable funds on large processions celebrating their power and their famous victories of the Classical era, and discussion of this is mostly missing from Lafond. In the age of Plutarch (ca. 110 A.D.), for instance, the Athenians still annually celebrated the anniversaries of the victories at Marathon (490 B.C.), Salamis (480), Plataea (479), Mantineia (418) and Naxos (376) with large ceremonial processions and sacrifices (Plut. Mor. 349F); clearly these were important moments of public memory and collective identity. Plataea itself celebrated the anniversary of the great victory of 479 over the Persians every year for at least 600 years (Plut.Arist. 21.3-5). To be sure, these are celebrations of history in poleis outside Lafond's Peloponnese, but they establish a general cultural framework in which we know the Peloponnesian poleis themselves partook. Thus the marble stele and the inscribed golden shield which the Spartans erected at Olympia to celebrate their victory over the Athenians at Tanagra in 457 B.C. was still visible at Olympia 600 years later; Pausanias tells us (5.10.4) that the golden shield stood in the great temple of Zeus Olympios, along with the accompanying stele. This surely must have evoked pride in Spartan visitors to the shrine (one wonders what visiting Athenians thought), but Lafond does not mention it. The only exception to the absence of the great events of the fifth century B.C. from the book is Lafond's interesting discussion of the cult-celebration of Leonidas (the hero of Thermopylae) at Sparta in the second century A.D.; and here Lafond makes the good point that the annual ceremonies honoring Leonidas were not merely the province of the Spartan elite, but involved--as inscriptions show--the enthusiastic participation of ordinary people, the demos (p. 192). This surely was true of the commemorations at Athens and Plataea as well.

Similarly, regarding the dramatic historical events of the Hellenistic period, and turning to Argos (a city of great interest to Lafond), we know from Pausanias again that the shield of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, taken off his dead body following the failed Epirote attempt to seize the city in 272 B.C., was still on display in the Argive shrine of Demeter in Pausanias' time 400 years later (2.21.4). One cannot imagine a better site to evoke civic memory and pride than this--yet it is unmentioned by Lafond. Similar are the commemorations of Hellenistic victories at Megalopolis in Arcadia: there, in the center of the city, were four bronze statues and a marble altar in honor of the Achaean general Philopoemen (a native of Megalopolis) for his great victories of the 180's B.C., victories which engineered the conquest of the entire Peloponnese for the Achaean League (Syll. 624). The historian Polybius of Megalopolis strove successfully to prevent the Romans from taking these statues away to Italy after the Achaean defeat of 146 (Polyb. 39.3), an action which reveals their political importance. The statues remained in Megalopolis and elsewhere with (Polybius claims) the deep support of the populace (39.3.1). In Pausanias' time a copy of the Philopoemen statue, with its accompanying historical explanaton of his great deeds, was still set up at nearby Tegea (8. 49.1 and 52.6); there was a statue of Philopoemen at Corinth as well, and a famous statue at Delphi, and Plutarch of course wrote an entire biography of the general. Yet Philopoemen does not even appear in Lafond's index. Similarly, in a world where in the second century A.D. the Achaean League still existed and held annual elections, the statues of Aratus (fl. 230 B.C.)--the true founder of the League-- preserved for his home city of Sicyon by Polybius in 146 (39.3.10) must have helped foster a proud civic identity among the Sicyonians; but neither Aratus nor Sicyon are mentioned by Lafond.

In the Roman imperial period, probably the most politically controversial arena of memory would have been that stretching from the late third to the late first century B.C., the period when the Greek states came under Roman domination in the first place and then were ravaged in the course of Roman civil wars. Pausanias, on whom Lafond is an expert, would have been a good source on the memories here: Pausanias provides much information on the monuments he saw in the central Peloponnese erected to the historian Polybius himself, monuments still preserved in Pausanias' own day, which proclaimed that Polybius' intervention with the Romans had saved Achaea (8.30.8-9, 37.2, 48.8). Still extant is a famous statue and inscription honoring Polybius from Elis (Inscr. Olymp. 302). Yet Polybius was a controversial figure in his time, with many political enemies in Achaea; he accused some of his enemies of scandalous collaboration with and sycophancy towards the Romans, while he in turn is sometimes viewed by modern scholars as a collaborator and comprador intellectual.2 Yet Lafond has nothing to say about the monuments to Polybius at Megalopolis and other cities in the Peloponnese--nothing to say about Polybius at all--though surely these monuments were important sites of memory, all the more important because of their overt political biases. The only Polybius in the book is the historian's evident descendant the Roman citizen T. Flavius Polybius of Megalopolis (and this intriguing magnate only appears as one name in a list of names, with no discussion of the implications). Again, both Pausanias and Plutarch well understood the catastrophe inflicted upon the Greeks by the Roman civil wars of the first century B.C.: Pausanias recounts Sulla's exactions in European Greece in the 80s. (9.7.6), while Plutarch records the bitter memories of his great-grandfather (Ant. 62 and 68) concerning the enormous and economically disastrous requisitions demanded in Greece by Antony to support his armed forces during the War of Actium.3 Clearly there was a vivid memory of those dramatic times even in the second century A.D.; the collapse of Antony was, for instance, a major event in the history of the polis of Anticyra in Phocis and saved it from starvation (Plut. Ant. 68). But there is little mention of such material here.

Then there was the physical presence of Romans in a city, which is found reflected as a political memory in official Peloponnesian inscriptions celebrating the civic virtues and benefactions of these Romans. But aside from the Roman colonia at Corinth (see below), the actual references to Romans living in the Peloponnese even in the first and second centuries A.D. are not very numerous. Lafond shows that there were, however, rich Romans living especially in Elis and Messene in the western Peloponnese, assimilated into the local elite and engaged in traditional euergetism--the support of (Greek) religious cult and (Greek) education. In addition, inscriptions officially memorialized the benefactions of special Roman officials, true outsiders, who intervened temporarily in the political life of a city for (allegedly) its own good. These were usually imperial financial administrators (curator; epimeletês), whose purpose was to get the town accounts in good order; but occasionally, as after the disruptions caused by the civil wars of 68/69 A.D., they appear as general political overseers (corrector; epanorthotês). Further,--and this is not surprising--we have inscriptions memorializing the benefactions of the Roman proconsular governors of the province of Achaea (as southern Greece came to be termed after 27 B.C.); but these men are distant figures. One striking element that inscriptions which commemorate the benefactions of the governors do reveal is that at least two of these Roman governors were in fact Greeks: Tib. Claudius Frontinus Niceratos, and C. Julius Eurycles (pp. 129-130). Beyond the memorializing of this level of government, there are also numerous inscriptions recording the subvention of the imperial cult, or of festivals denominated the Kaisareia or the Rhomaia (pp. 296-315). Yet festivals specifically honoring Rome often became merged with traditional ones, such as the Sebasteia at Argos, which came to be celebrated conjointly with the traditional Nemea. It is possible to see in other cases an enduring (or resurgent) Hellenism. Sometimes a Roman religious connection was intentionally forged with strong local traditions right from the beginning. Thus there was no separate Rhomaia or Sebasteia at Megalopolis, but the traditional festival honoring Zeus Lykaios and celebrated annually on the summit of the great mountain that overlooks the city became the Lykaia Kaisareia under Augustus--and so it remained for the next two centuries. Though the festival eventually came down from the mountain and was celebrated in the agora of the city, those local aristocrats who provided funds for the Lykaia Kaisareia (wherever it was held) were acknowledging not merely Zeus Lykaios but a connection to the emperor--and they were being careful to memorialize their political and financial support of the connection.

There is much of value in this book, and much evidence of deep learning and research. Few scholars know more about the Peloponnese in the Imperial period than Lafond. Hence besides the discussion of the memorials to actual Romans in the Peloponnese, there is an interesting discussion of how the communities of Corinth and Patras, which became Roman coloniae under Caesar and Augustus respectively, gradually came to acknowledge or even emphasize their Greek pasts. Patras was always actually ethnically Greek, whatever its legal status; but the new Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis established in 44 B.C., was settled by thousands of Romans and Italians, demobilized Caesarian veterans. Yet even at Corinth we find over time an increasing re-Hellenization of the city. A useful example of the process is the increasing primacy at "Roman" Corinth given to the cult of the Greek hero Palaimon (the Boy on the Dolphin); hence the dedicatory inscription for the refurbished cult site of Palaimon by P. Licinius Priscus Iuventianus, ca. 150 A.D., an action supporting the local cult worship of a Greek hero taken by a man with a Roman name, a stalwart benefactor of the city--but the inscription commemorating it is in Greek (IG IV 203: pp. 290-291). As for Patras, where the colonia was established after Actium by the synoecism of several small Greek towns, in Pausanias' description of the cult of Artemis Laphria in the city we have not memory but rather its suppression: for Pausanias either does not know or does not care about what an earlier Latin inscription from the city reveals, that the cult of Artemis Laphria at Patras was linked with the cult of Augustus himself (CIL III 510: p. 295). By Pausanias' time, this connection had evidently become so minor as to disappear. Again, there is an interesting discussion of how the emphasis on civic virtues such as generosity and traditional piety among the local elites in the imperial age, as opposed to the military and soldierly virtues we find memorialized in earlier periods, led to the appearance and the honoring (and hence to the public memory) of more and more female aristocrats on inscriptions. The numerous aristocratic women honored on inscriptions constitutes a sharp change even from the late Hellenistic period (pp. 249-253).

All to the good--yet one still wishes that Lafond had tackled some of the more dramatic memories that existed in the Peloponnese in the first and second centuries A.D. However powerful the local euergistic elite was in, say, Megalopolis, however much it strove to preserve the memory of its recent benefactions, and however much it funded the Lykaia Kaisareia and hence indirectly supported the connection to Rome (see above), the annual ceremonies honoring the glorious memory of the conquering general Philopoemen (or the statues and inscriptions honoring the saving benefactions of the historian Polybius) must have been very significant in terms of preserving the local civic identity of the city--an identity different from the connection to Rome. One imagines the same was true with the Shield of Pyrrhus, memorializing the military victory of 272 B.C. which saved Argos from Epirote (and royal) domination, and which was lovingly preserved at Argos. Discussion of these more obvious aspects of civic identity would have rounded out Lafond's study. Finally, the book is written in a turgid and (one must say) "deconstructionist" French, and its always convoluted sentences can run a paragraph long. This is unnecessary and detracts from the study; Lafond needed a better editor for this interesting book.


1.   See B. Dreyer and H. Engelmann, Die Inschriften von Metropolis I: Die Dekrete für Apollonios: Städtische Politik under den Attaliden und im Konflikt zwischen Aristonikos und Rom (IGSK 63:1) (Bonn, 2003).
2.   For discussion of the conflict, see A. M. Eckstein, Moral Vision in the Histories of Polybius (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1995), Chapter VII.
3.   See the important observations of F. Millar, "The Mediterranean and the Roman Revolution: Politics, War, and the Economy," in H. M. Cotton and G. M. Rogers, eds., Rome, the Greek World and the East, vol. 1: The Roman Republic and the Roman Revolution, by F. Millar (Chapel Hill, 2002), pp. 232-237.

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