Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Werner Eck, Matthäus​ Heil (ed.), Prosopographie des Römischen Kaiserreichs. Ertrag und Perspektiven. Kolloquium aus Anlass der Vollendung der 'Prosopographia Imperii Romani'​. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. v, 259. ISBN 9783110557145. €79,95.

Reviewed by Florian Matei-Popescu, Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest​ (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

In 2015, the final volume of the second edition of the Prosopographia Imperii Romani (a 'Who's Who of the Roman Empire', as the project is labelled on the site was published, more than eight decades after the series began. The initial project was proposed to the Berlin Academy of Sciences by Theodor Mommsen in 1874. The first edition was prepared and published between 1874 and 1898. After that year, Elimar Klebs and Hermann Dessau (best known for his Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae, Berlin, 1892-1916) attended to the needed addenda and the preparation of the lists of Roman officials. After 1918, the project received a new impulse through Edmund Groag's (Vienna) and Arthur Stein's (Prague) involvement. They convened and convinced Dessau to renounce the addenda and the list of the officials, and to start working on a brand new edition of PIR. The first volume of the second edition was published in 1933. Their collaboration proved to be successful and two more volumes were published before 1943. The last volume had already been completed in 1941, but in the next year the Nazi regime sent Stein to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Although Groag had died in 1945 and Stein 1950, the first two fascicles of the fourth volume were published using their work, in 1952 and 1958. Starting with the third fascicle, published in 1961, Leiva Petersen, the iconic figure of the PIR project during the Cold War period, entered the scene. She was in charge of the three fascicles of the fifth volume, which appeared in 1970, 1983 and 1987. Based on her legacy, the sixth volume was published in 1998, in the new context of the reunited Germany and of a newly founded Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and dedicated to her memory. The person in charge was Klaus Wachtel, who had already participated in the third fascicle of the fifth volume, Werner Eck being the head of the project. The two fascicles of the seventh volumes were published in 1999 and 2006 by Klaus Wachtel and Matthäus Heil, while the two fascicles of the eighth and the last volume were published by Werner Eck, Matthäus Heil, and Johannes Heinrichs in 2009 and 2015.

A colloquium was organized on 26-27 October 2016 to celebrate the completion of the series and to discuss the perspective of prosopographical studies in the larger framework of the historiography of the Roman Empire. The volume under review here contains the proceedings of the colloquium.

The short history of the PIR project with which this review began was taken from Werner Eck's contribution ("Die PIR im Spiegel der beteiligten Personen. Geschichte eines Langzeitunternehmens an der Berliner Akademie 141 Jahre nach dessen Beginn", p. 1-94). It is a highly interesting article not only for its review of the history of the project, but also for its description of the destiny of scienctific research in the difficult political contexts that Germany and the Eastern part of Europe experienced in the 20th century. It makes public for the first time many documents and letters from the PIR archive in Berlin and other private archives.

In the next paper, "Die Träger der paganen Kulte im Imperium Romanum. Nutzen und Defizite der prosopographische Methode", p. 95-108, John Scheid examines whether one can gain a better knowledge of the persons involved in Roman religious cults, especially in the priesthoods, i.e. the collegia, and primarily in the four collegia maiores, by using the prosopographical method. The paper is divided into six short parts, concerning the definition of a cult holder (p. 96-98), the use of the prosopographical method (p. 98-100), the quality of the sources used by the prosopographical method (p. 100-102), the different types of information brought by the prosopographical method (p. 102-104), how the prosopographical method helps to determine the membership of the different priesthoods collegia and the position of office holders within the ordo senatorius and ordo equester (104-105), and, finally, the two identified shortcomings of the prosopographical method (p. 105-108). The shortcomings are mainly related to the rank of office holders, since we have the most information on the senators and knights and on the elite of the provincial cities. At the same time, the prosopographical method is of little use for the history of religions, offering almost nothing on the religious beliefs of the holders of priestly offices (p. 106, "Fragen, wie die Religionsgeschichte sie stellt, kann die prosopographische Methode nicht beantworten").

Olli Salomies deals with the meaning of onomastics for reconstructing genealogies in Rome ("Die Bedeutung der Onomastik für die Rekonstruktion von Genealogien in Rom", p. 109-132), focusing on the early imperial period, but with some insights into the late Republic. Genealogies played a significant part in the politics of the late Republic, since many of the leading families reconstructed their own genealogies as beginning from Rome's very origins. Nevertheless, the Salomies' approach is more didactic, showing the role played by different parts of Roman names in the construction of genealogy, with an emphasis on the cognomina: p. 117, "Vor allem sind aber in diesem Beitrag die Cognomina zu erörtern, die in der Kaiserzeit, wie oben schon öfters betont worden ist, mit wenigen Ausnahmen persönlich waren."

The next paper is about networks, a fashionable topic nowadays. François Chausson focuses on the Empereurs et sénateurs aux IIe– IIIe siècles: quelques remarques sur des réseaux de parenté (p. 133- 154), with an emphasis on the period between Septimius Severus and Constantine, seen as a period of important changes in the Senate. The senatorial networks laid their foundation on "endogamie galopante" (a phenomenon characteristic to nobility throughout history), but also on provincial origins (such as Hispanic, Gallic, or African). The period covered by Augustus' reign up to Severus Alexander shows a relative stability within the Imperial Houses, with only four dynasties in two centuries. The situation became more fluid after AD 235, in the period of Military Anarchy, with the Emperors combing the ranks in their attempts to pursue alliances with different groups of the Senate. Regarding the Senate, the author concludes that there was a certain continuity during the 3rd century, with the new families joining the Senate (adlectio), but without a radical renewal of the aristocracy (p. 151).

The next two papers focus on Asia Minor during the Roman imperial period. In the first, Peter Scholz explores the importance of paideia for the civic elites in the cities of Asia Minor during the imperial period ("Gute und in jeder Hinsicht vortreffliche Männer. Überlegungen zur Funktion und Bedeutung der paideiafür die städtischen Führungsschichten im kaiserzeitlichen Kleinasien", p. 155-185). His argument is based on epigraphic documents and focuses on the intellectual aspects of education, leaving aside music and sport (p. 155-156). He stresses that by the imperial period the gymnasion and, subsequently, the gymnasiarch, had lost their leading role in the public education of the young. Other types of buildings, such as the odeion, theatre, public library (separated from the gymnasia) or mouseion, took over this role and the new persons involved were the historians, sophists, rhetors, and philosophers. The article offers a wonderful overview of the practice of education in a Greek speaking milieu of the Roman Empire. This practice was regarded as prestigious by the leading elite, and the article emphasizes the efforts made by this elite to gain a good education for their children. One aspect of the practice, which can be followed very well by using inscriptions, is the sending of the young to study in prestigious centres like Athens, Rhodes, Alexandria, Ephesus, Smyrna, or Mytilene with some of the most famous teachers of that period, like Ti. Claudius Anteros, from Labraunda, who taught in Athens during the 2nd century (p. 167). Education was seen as an important condition for future leading figures of the different civic communities (p. 178-179). Some leading figures, like Diogenes of Oenoanda (p. 170-175), even publicized their philosophy (certainly there is an obvious "Selbstdarstellung"), in this case Epicurean philosophy, by carving a detailed exposition of his philosophical system on a portico wall in his home city (the longest known Greek inscription, consisting of approximately 25, 000 words, described as a "monumental advertisement for the healing power of Epicurean philosophy"1). But, unfortunately, not everyone had access to this published knowledge, since barely 20% of the entire population of Asia Minor possessed literacy during the imperial period (p. 174). The authors conclude that "Rhetorik, Philosophie und intellektuelen Bildung waren in der hohen Kaiserzeit – anders noch als in hellenisticher Zeit – zu festen Bestandteilen einer gehobenen exklusiven Erziehung (παιδεία) geworden" (p. 174).

The second paper concerns Sagalassos (Armin and Peter Eich, "Sagalassos – Die Entwicklung einer städischen Gesellschaft unter römischem Einfluss, ihre Ritter und Senatoren. Eine Momentaufnahme", p. 187-212), the most important city in Pisidia, which was part of the province of Galatia and, thereafter, of Lycia et Pamphylia (see also the Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project carried on by the Leuven Catholic University, Belgium – Ku Leuven). The city was destroyed in early 6th century by an earthquake and has been deserted since then. The two authors have been working, together with Werner Eck, at a corpus of Sagalassos inscriptions. Tiberius Claudius Piso was the first known knight in Sagalassos (p. 195-196, AE 1997, 1492). He probably accomplished his equestrian military servicein the beginning of the 2nd century, but he never became procurator. Another member of the local elite, M. Iulius Sanctus Maximianus, became procurator under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, attested iuridicus Aegypti between 137-139 (p. 202-206, AE 1993, 1560-1561; PIR2 I 417). The local origin of the senator Coresnius Marcellus is not at all certain, as the authors point out (p. 210, PIR2 A 1383, Aufidius Coresnius Marcellus); likewise, two other senators, Claudius Domitillianus Proculus and Marcus Ulpius Callipianus (p. 210-211). Therefore, the title of the paper is somehow misleading, since no senator seems to have his origins in the city.

The last two papers are concerned with the future of the prosopography. Both authors were part of the last team of the PIR project. The first paper by Matthäus Heil is dedicated to a future project of producing a digital prosopography of the leading classes of the Roman Empire (p. 213-237, "Eine digitale Prosopographie der Führungeschichten des kaiserzeitlichen Imperium Romanum (Senatorenstand – ordo decurionum): Ihre strukturellen Notwendigkeiten"), a sort of on-line PIR. In the second, Marietta Hörster reviews the highlights of prosopographical studies (p. 239-259, "Perspektiven prosopographischer Arbeit").

To conclude: the present volume shows that prosopography remains a useful tool for studying the Roman Empire. The method is not perfect, as the authors stress, but it allows us to draw the history of the Empire through the history of its leading families. Used at the imperial scale, the method can be also applied to a smaller provincial or civic scale, as the articles on education in Roman Asia Minor or on Sagalassos prove. It gained much importance in the past decades through new concepts like "epigraphic habit"2 and "Selbstdarstellung",3 both central for the understanding of the Roman imperial elite and its public representation. ​


1.   D. Clay, 'A Lost Epicurean Community', Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 30, 1989, 2, p. 316-317.
2.   R. MacMullen, 'The Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire', The American Journal of Philology 103, 1982, 3, p. 233-246.
3.   See the collected articles of W. Eck, Monument und Inschrift. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur senatorischen Repräsentation in der Kaiserzeit (herausgegeben von W. Ameling und J. Heinrichs), Berlin-New York, 2010. ​

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