Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Adam Paluchowski, La coloration sociale des noms de personnes grecs sur l'exemple des notables crétois sous le Haut Empire. Antiquitas. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wroclawskiego, 2008. Pp. 434. ISBN 9788322929841.
Reviewed by Clive Cheesman, College of Arms

This book, Paluchowski explains, grew out of his 2003 doctoral thesis 'Les élites urbaines en Crète sous le Haut Empire', jointly awarded by the Universities of Tours and Wroclaw. In attempting to analyse the social origin of the local ruling classes of Roman Crete, Paluchowski hypothesized that, in the absence of prosopographic data, onomastic evidence might be of use; the social status of one's parents might be a determining factor in the name one bears.

In general terms, this seems an uncontroversial proposition. In most modern western societies there are names (whether given, inherited or combinations of the two) that more or less reliably connote high or low social status at birth. And it is one of the features of onomastics—as yet an imperfectly developed discipline amongst historians—that intuitive reactions on the basis of contemporary practices (themselves often only anecdotally assessed) are still disproportionately influential. Names and naming seem to constitute one of the great constants of human history. It would be natural to take it for granted that names have connotations of social standing in all societies. In the Greek world we do seem to have some positive evidence: the passage in Aristophanes' Clouds (60ff.) where Strepsiades' wife's inclination towards names in -(h)ippos is apparently associated with her aristocratic birth and grand plans for her son Pheidippides.

A lengthy introductory chapter (pp. 13-105) includes some comparative material intended to suggest the general applicability of such associations. Mostly, however, it is a detailed, indeed dense, statement of the book's plan and methodology. The intention is to assess the status connotations of the names of the leading classes of Roman Crete, analysing the incidence of those names across a much wider geographical and chronological area and measuring their coincidence with a defined set of status 'markers'. These include tenure of a public office within a polis; the ephebeia; the quality or character of the monument on which a name is recorded; 'unworthy' trade or professional activity ('activité indigne'); possession of a supernomen or supplementary name; possession of a nomen gentile deriving from an emperor (nomen imperiale). Some markers are chronologically defined: being called Aurelius after AD 212; being at Delos after 165 BC or in Campania after the mid-third century BC. All markers are assessed as either 'positive' or 'negative', i.e. suggesting respectively high or low original status. Finally, the chapter offers a glossary of rather arbitrarily selected terms and functions from Greek polis life.

The working material for the survey is presented in Chapter 2 (pp. 106-26): an inventory of 353 'notables' from Roman Crete, dating roughly mid-first century BC to early third AD, garnered from epigraphic, numismatic and literary sources. The criteria for registration as a 'notable' overlap with those counting as positive status markers, adjusted for relevance to Crete; in addition Paluchowski includes appearance in a funerary epigram; evident public euergetism; possession (to some small extent not fully clarified) of Roman tria nomina; and those named as close relatives of persons qualifying in the above classes. The 353 individuals share a repertory of 263 names between them. These names are listed again in Chapter 3 (pp. 127-332) together with data quantifying each one's incidence in four areas: Crete itself (data from the sources used for Chapter 2); Greece (data from the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN) vols 1-4, with the Cretan cases discounted); Rome (from Heikki Solin's Namenbuch of Greek names in Rome—the 1982 first edition rather than the much expanded one of 2003); and Athens (John Traill's ongoing Persons of Ancient Athens project (PAA), down to the end of volume 16, which reaches Tychonides). Instances of each name carrying positive or negative social marking are listed; other instances are counted.

This material is then tabulated in detail at the end of the book in tables A-D, while table E gives an overview of the incidence of each name, with percentage breakdowns according to positive and negative marking by area. Subtracting a name's negative percentage from its positive one gives it a 'score' for each area, and the average of its four scores is then presented as its final overall score. Six more tables regroup the 263 names accordingly, into categories denoting (sic: 'dénotant') high status or low status and those without any clear social 'coloration'; each category has a principal table with unrestricted geographical reference and a subsidiary one containing names only or mostly found in Crete. These findings are discussed before the tables in a short Chapter 4 (pp. 333-8), which reveals some important features of the way the data have been processed. For instance, when the incidence of a name in Crete is less than 4, the Cretan data are ignored in its overall score; and the social marking of a name from Rome (i.e. from Solin 1982) is measured as a percentage against the name's total incidence not just in Rome, but in Rome and Greece combined (i.e. Solin 1982 + LGPN 1-4).

To show how the complex number crunching plays out in practice, I take two examples—one a relatively rare name, one much more widespread.

A: Apellion. Chapter 2 lists this name's one appearance among the 'notables' of Crete: it is the name of the father of an anonymous bouleutes at Hierapytna in AD 125. This is its only appearance in the island, and so in Chapter 3 the total for 'Crete' is 1. Under 'Greece', the total is 6; there are seven entries in LGPN but one of these is the Hierapytna example just given and is consequently ignored. Of the remaining six, only one comes with one of Paluchowski's social markers: Aurelius Apellion, a freedman of Euboea. Under Rome Paluchowski registers one case from Solin (CIL 6, 12097: Ossa hic reponantur Apellionis); according to principles long enunciated by Solin this almost certainly commemorates a slave or freedman (Solin has since included it in his Stadtrömischen Sklavennamen of 1996) and Paluchowski annotates it as such. (AE 1989, 105, an early imperial inscription recording a freedman of the same name, found in Rome and appearing both in Solin's Sklavennamen and in the 2003 Namenbuch is not included by Paluchowski because it is not in the 1982 edition of the latter.) There are no recorded instances of the name from Athens.

So Paluchowski's figures for Apellion show a total of eight occurrences: 1 from Crete, with positive social status; 6 from Greece, of which 1 (representing 16.7%) has negative marking; and 1 other negatively marked case from Rome, which counts for 14.3% of the total of seven examples from Greece and Rome together. The Cretan instance is ignored since the name's frequency there is below 4. The average negative marking for the three remaining categories is worked out as (16.7 [Greece] + 14.3 [Rome & Greece] + 0 [Athens]) ÷ 3 = 10.3. Since the name's positive marking = 0, the overall score is -10.3. Apellion seems to be a name with a clearly discernible negative social score.

B: Apollonios. Though built on the same theonymic root as Apellion, Apollonios became by contrast widespread throughout the Greek-speaking world in the Hellenistic age and remained common currency down to late Antiquity. Paluchowski records three 'notables' of the name in Crete, out of a total of 15 individuals there so named (20%); four of the fifteen (26.7%) are ascribed negative status on the basis of their simple burials. For the wider Greek world LGPN lists 1750 individuals with the name (barring the ones from Crete), of whom only 8 (0.5%) come with Paluchowski's positive markers, while 143 (8.2%) are marked negatively. For Rome, Solin lists 288 persons called Apollonius, of whom 145 are slaves or freedmen (including 16 of the category Solin calls 'probable freedmen'). These 145 are the only instances from Rome ascribed a social marker (evidently negative); as a proportion of the combined total from LGPN and Solin, they constitute 7.1%. Finally PAA enumerates 718 individuals of the name, of whom 290 (40.4%) are positively marked and 54 (7.5%) negatively. The frequency in Crete is high enough to be included in the overall assessment, so the average positive marking works out as (20 + 0.5 + 0 + 40.4) ÷ 4 = 15.2; while the negative equivalent is (26.7 + 8.2 + 7.1 + 7.5) ÷ 4 = 12.4. The overall score is therefore 15.2 – 12.4 = 2.9. Apollonios, it appears, is a name with a slight positive social score.

Procedural oddities evidently abound here. Many of the social markers are dubious; treating the nomen imperiale as reliably indicative of humble origins seems particularly unwarranted. The final scoring system is strange. To present an average from four such disparately sized data sets as Paluchowski's Cretan evidence, LGPN, Solin 1982 and PAA as if it were meaningful seems hard to defend. A high marking on a name in a small area will end up carrying hugely disproportionate weight in the overall assessment. Even if one (sensibly) renounces any search for absolute values it seems difficult to treat Paluchowski's process as a reliable method of grading of names relatively by social marking. To take an obvious problem, if a name scores highly for apositive social marking in Crete and, though found in other parts of the Greek world, has neutral or negative marking there, its status in Crete will be overvalued in the final computation. Thus standard Greek names used recurrently by Cretan notables will just be liable to score more positively than they should.

Also odd is the fact that some of the data sets are by definition or otherwise included within other ones. Paluchowski is careful to extract his Cretan evidence from the figures given in LGPN 1, but there is obviously a massive overlap between LGPN 2 and PAA. The double counting that results clearly has a major impact on the 'averages' that the final scores are composed of. It is also exacerbated by the different approach taken within the two resources: a man with an imperial nomen and a high public office may well score negatively in LGPN (an onomastic resource where only his name may be registered) but neutrally in PAA (a prosopography recording his office). Nor is it clear why socially marked instances of a name in Rome are counted separately but then expressed as a proportion of the name's frequency in Greece and Rome. It means that many Greek names in Rome receive a relative local social marking that depends not on their local use but on their (potentially widely disparate) incidence across a much wider area.

Paluchowski recognizes some of these points but ploughs on to his conclusions. What are they? Of his 263 names, he finds that 39 have an overall positive social score (though 14 of these are mainly or wholly Cretan in diffusion); between them these names account for 75 'notables'. 24 names have a negative social score; they are borne by 33 'notables'. Finally 200 names cannot be clearly scored either positively or negatively; they are borne by 245 'notables'. This he takes as supporting his pre-existing view that about a third of Crete's ruling class in the imperial era did not originate in that class, though of course it does that only if one ignores the neutrals entirely.

Optimistically, Paluchowski also attempts to apply his method, at least briefly, to other issues of status. The ephebic epengraphoi in imperial Athens have for instance been much debated. Paluchowski counts 43 epengraphoi with high-status names (1.8% of all men bearing such names) and 267 with low-status ones (16.8%)—a clear sign to him that they were of relatively humble social origin. Likewise, he finds that while pre-Sullan arkhontes in Athens mostly have high-status names (109 against only 2 with low-status ones), after Sulla the figure drops to 72 (making up 3% of all men enumerated with these names) while the low-status names now account for 68 (4.3% of the total). This is held to attest to the opening up of Athenian politics to new money in the last age of the Republic and later.

These conclusions may seem briefly tempting but the margin for error in Paluchowski's calculations, though largely unacknowledged, must be very great. Comparing frequency of high- and low-status names, without attention to the much more widespread 'neutral' names, is surely unreliable. The element of hazard in attributing markers to the 'positive' or 'negative' side of the balance sheet accumulates over the project to create a great element of uncertainty. The local dataset for many 'marked' names is so small as to come down to a few examples, sometimes of related persons. When one considers that the close relations of a person with a positive or negative marker automatically receive the same marker themselves, the problematic aspects of Paluchowski's methods become clear. The very possibility of social mobility that sparked his enquiry into the origins of Cretan notables seems left aside when he begins to take a name's appearance in a position of authority elsewhere as a sign of its high status.

Then there are the more fundamental issues, particularly the inherent bias of the epigraphic record on which the book is overwhelmingly based. This may not be a simple skew towards the elite, if Latin epigraphy with its generally accepted preponderance of slaves and freed over the freeborn is a parallel. Outside Rome there will be other local biases and unrepresentative features, as well as general overrepresentation of the literate, the wealthy, the urban. One cannot expect these local biases to cancel each other out, or the general skew to be offset by the Roman preponderance of slaves and freedmen. There is also the chronological bulge in inscriptions of the early Empire to consider. Paluchowski frankly points out strange phenomena in his statistics, such as the high overall score achieved by Alexandros, despite some notably poor results locally—clearly a result of the uneven nature of the epigraphic record and the way he has chosen to process it. But such candour is not sufficient to restore the reader's confidence in the enterprise.

The book is hard to use, combining minute pedantry with a failure to address central questions. It is not valueless. It starts from a reasonable hypothesis. Many names probably did convey social information, to contemporaries, within a restricted social context. However, although the chronological and geographical limits of the context will have varied, it is too much to hope that they ever encompassed the entire Greek-speaking world—still less the Greek-naming world. Paluchowski's book is of most interest when it adopts the narrowest focus, namely Crete itself. It works as a repertory of the names borne by the ruling classes of a Roman province and a broad-brush indication of how far they overlapped with those used elsewhere. But solid conclusions from the overlap are limited and the onomastically inclined reader is left instead wondering about the distinctively Cretan segment: who could fail to be attracted by such items as Paithemidas, Kydas, Exakon, Exakestas or Taskos? And as if recognizing that his strength lies in exposition of the material he is most familiar with, Paluchowski closes his book with five short but suggestive stemmata of Cretan notables, showing names of varying sorts in use in the local context.

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