Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Biagio Virgilio, Studi sull'Asia Minore e sulla regalità ellenistica: scelta di scritti. Studi ellenistici, supplementi, 2. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2014. Pp. xxxvi, 418. ISBN 9788862276368. €225.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Stefano Caneva, Université de Liège (

Version at BMCR home site

[An index of the papers is given below.]

This volume is the second Supplement of Studi Ellenistici, the journal founded and directed by Biagio Virgilio, and the first collecting his main contributions in the field of Hellenistic history. The selected studies include journal papers, acts of conferences and book chapters appeared between 1982 and 2013, which are re-published here with minor changes (bibliographical updates, suppression of outdated references and reduction of the number of images). The last, unpublished study provides a new textual and historical analysis of the letter of a Seleucid official from Limyra, Lycia, edited by M. Wörrle in 2011.1 The unity of the volume is assured by new internal references, a list of abbreviations and three indexes (of ancient sources, discussed topics and Greek words). Papers are divided into four main thematic sections: sociopolitical trends in Hellenistic Asia Minor; the Attalid kingdom; Hellenistic kingship; royal correspondence.

Two out of the three contributions gathered in Section I ("Poteri a confronto in Asia Minore") are long reviews of books. 2 In paper 3, Virgilio provides a detailed textual and historical analysis of the honorific decrees for Apollonios from Metropolis, focusing in particular on the role of non-royal benefactors in 2nd-century Asia Minor.

Section II ("Pergamo e gli Attalidi") explores various aspects of the history of the Attalid kingdom. The controversial reputation of the Attalids is investigated in paper 4, where the celebratory depiction transmitted by official inscriptions is contrasted with the denigrating portraits of Philetairos and Attalos III provided by historiography. Papers 5 and 6 focus on two aspects of the interaction between the Attalids and their subjects as they are revealed by epigraphic documents: the relationship between Eumenes I and his mercenaries and the royal concessions of the Attalids to local communities during the 3rd and 2nd centuries. This overview of royal euergetism is complemented by the dossier of Diodoros Pasparos (paper 7), the paramount case of a private benefactor in Pergamon, which enriches the analysis provided by the study of the dossier of Apollonios from Metropolis discussed in paper 5. The documentation concerning Diodoros also provides the starting point for a short note (8) on the festival Nikephoria in Pergamon.

Section III ("Re e regalità. Un potere non soggetto a rendiconto") deals with Hellenistic ideas of monarchy. Papers 9 and 10 provide an overview of Greek texts on kingship (from the 4th century BC to the Roman period, from Macedonia to the Indian borders) and an analysis of the Boscoreale frescoes, focusing on the representation of Macedonian monarchic power under Antigonos Gonatas. Paper 11 enlarges the scope of the discussion by drawing attention to Polybius' evaluation of the Hellenistic kings.

In Section IV ("La corrispondenza del re. Comunicazione, governo e potere"), letters written by kings or by their officials and collaborators are the object of an interesting discussion focusing on the practical implementation of monarchic power in Hellenistic Asia Minor. Paper 12 highlights the specificity of the Attalid documentation in comparison with the royal correspondence of other Hellenistic kingdoms. Virgilio observes that the typically assertive, performative tone of royal letters combines, in some Attalid documents, with unusual optative, emotionally charged formulae, revealing the difficulties kings might have in implementing their power. Explanation for this distinctive feature of the Attalid correspondence is convincingly sought at a two-fold level: on the one hand, by contextualizing the relevant texts within the progressive decline of the regional hegemony of Pergamon after Pydna (168 BC); on the other hand, by interpreting the stylistic specificity of the Attalid royal communication in relation to its model of dissemination. In this regard, Virgilio contrasts the bureaucratic procedure known for other Hellenistic dynasties, where royal messages usually reached their recipients through the mediation of officials, with the Attalid correspondence, which appears to have followed a more direct pattern of communication between the king and his correspondents.

In papers 13-16, the focus on the Attalids is replaced by a broader analysis of the relationships between kings, cities and temples in Hellenistic Caria, Cilicia and Lycia. The first dossier sheds light on the interventions of various Hellenistic kings and of the local mediator Olympichos in relation to the controversies opposing the city of Mylasa and the priests of Labraunda. Virgilio argues that, while the sovereigns did not operate in direct competition with local temples, they would in fact tend to favour the position of a Hellenised city against the interests of the indigenous priestly elites. Finally, the letters from Sinuri, Soloi (convincingly dated by Virgilio to 197 BC) and Limyra enrich the epigraphic dossier concerning the threats for citizens and private property caused by the Seleucid army during the campaigns of Antiochos III in Asia Minor.

Despite a number of typographical flaws, which clash with the high standard of the publication, the volume is a successful and deserved homage to Virgilio's extensive knowledge of Hellenistic political history and epigraphy and fulfils the purpose of clarifying the central topics of his research: the different and complementary roles of epigraphy and historiography in shedding light on the socio-political and cultural life of the Hellenistic world, with particular attention to Asia Minor; the representation and practice of monarchic power; and the interaction between kings, officials and armies on the one hand, cities and temples on the other.

Another positive observation concerns Virgilio's plain style, which will make his papers easily readable for a public not entirely comfortable with the Italian language. In a few cases (esp. papers 14 and 15), the chronicle of previous studies that precedes the new edition of an inscription would have benefited from more brevity. However, even in these cases, Virgilio's first-hand work on unpublished archives and notebooks of major epigraphists succeeds in winning the attention of the reader with an interesting portrait of a romantic period of the discipline, when epigraphists were also adventurous voyagers in Turkey.

The last observation is related to an unfulfilled expectation. Considering the large thematic scope of Virgilio's studies and the three decades that separate the oldest and the newest texts published in this volume, an introductory note, better contextualizing the author's contribution within the international scholarship of the last decades, would have been a useful companion to this new edition of his work. By effectively integrating the specific bibliographical updates provided in the footnotes, this general introduction would have strengthened the internal cohesion of the volume.

Index of the collected papers, with a synopsis of the alternative editions:

[1] Anatolia ellenistica, romana, cristiana (p. 3)
Studi Ellenistici VIII (1996), 223-244
[2] Sulle città dell'Asia Minore occidentale nel II secolo a.C. (p. 17)
Studi Ellenistici XVI (2005), 531-564
[3] Sui decreti di Metropolis in onore di Apollonios (p. 41)
Studi Ellenistici XIX (2006), 249-268

[4] Fama, eredità e memoria degli Attalidi di Pergamo (p. 57)
Studi Ellenistici IV (1994), 137-171
[5] Eumene I e i mercenari di Filetereia e di Attaleia (p. 81)
Studi Classici e Orientali 32 (1982), 97-140
[6] Su alcune concessioni attalidi a comunità soggette (p. 103)
Studi Ellenistici XIII (2001), 57-73
[7] La città ellenistica e i suoi 'benefattori': Pergamo e Diodoro Pasparo (p. 117)
Athenaeum 82 (1994), 299-314
[8] Nota sui Nikephoria pergameni (p. 131)
Studi EllenisticiXII (1999), 353-357

[9] Storiografia e regalità ellenistica (p. 137)
E. Luppino Mares (ed.), Storiografia e regalità nel mondo greco, Alessandria 2003, 304-330
[10] Re e regalità ellenistica negli affreschi di Boscoreale (159)
Studi EllenisticiXII (1999), 93-105
[11] Polibio, il mondo ellenistico e Roma (p. 171)
Studi EllenisticiXX (2008), 315-345

[12] Forme e linguaggi della comunicazione fra re ellenistici e città (p. 197)
Studi EllenisticiXXVII (2013), 243-26
[13] Re, città e tempio nelle iscrizioni di Labraunda (p. 217)
Studi EllenisticiXIII (2001), 39-56
[14] La lettera reale del santuario di Sinuri (p. 231)
Studi Ellenistici XXIII (2010), 55-107
French version: Studi Ellenistici XXV (2011), 79-178
[15] Le esplorazioni in Cilicia e la lettera reale sulla indisciplina dell'erescito acquartierato a Soloi (p. 275)
J.-B. Yon, P.-L. Gatier (eds.), Mélanges en l'honneur de Jean-Paul Rey-Coquais, MUSJ60 (2007), 165-240
French version: Studi Ellenistici XXV (2011), 179-268
[16] La lettera seleucidica alla città di Limyra in Licia (p. 333)
French version: forthcoming in Studi Ellenistici XXIX (2015)


1.   "Epigraphische Forschungen zur Geschichte Lykiens X: Limyra in seleukidischer Hand", Chiron 41 (2011), 377-415.
2.   S. Mitchell, Anatolia. Land, men and gods in Asia Minor, Oxford 1993; A. Bresson, R. Descat (éds), Les cites d'Asie Mineure occidentale au IIe siècle a.C., Paris-Bordeaux 2001.

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