The politics of honour in the Greek cities of Roman Imperial times
Athens workshop – 2 February 2013
The Athens workshop, which took place on 2 February 2013 in the Netherlands Institute at Athens, consisted of seven papers (the programme can be downloaded below), that gave rise to very rich discussions.
The speakers presented their material and gave an account of the development of new practices in the honorific politics during the Imperial period. Thus, Andrew Farrington explored the implications of the use of the title Olympionikes in honorific inscriptions. This phenomenon was mainly limited to one region: south-western Asia Minor and in particular the Meander valley, between the late first and late third centuries AD. The title could refer to local contests, and may be seen as a sign of a shared culture, in which athletic victory was mobilised as a source of prestige for the elite. Nikos Giannakopoulos discussed another innovation that occurred at an institutional level: the creation of hereditary priesthoods for life. These were the product of a complex transaction between the honorands and the city. Such decrees provided a legal basis for the creation of superior (aristocratic) lineages, that presented a departure from earlier Greek civic traditions.
Other speakers put more emphasis on the continuities with the Hellenistic period. Francesco Camia discussed the phenomenon of private financing of public honours in mainland Greece. He concludes that – with the exception of Sparta – this phenomenon was rarely attested. The silence in the sources suggests that in most cases statues continued to be financed from public funds. Sofia Zoumbaki presented a small corpus of civic honours bestowed upon Roman and Italian residents and businessmen in Greece at the end of the Republican era. (In later periods it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate these men from Greeks who had acquired Roman citizenship). Even if some of these men retained a marked Roman identity, the overall impression is one of strong integration of these newcomers in local life and of a thorough adoption of the Greek honorific system.
Finally several speakers have explored the interaction between local and imperial levels within the wider honorific discourse, but also within an archaeological context. Valentina di Napoli was concerned to establish the place, size, and visual impact of honorific statues that were set up in theatres. It would appear that the Greeks were careful to maintain a clear hierarchy between statues for private individuals and statues for the emperor and his family. In the same vein, civic decrees in honour of the emperor, that were discussed by Kostas Buraselis, rely on hyperbole to underline the exceptional and unsurpassable position of the emperor, in accordance with the imperial ideology. In some cases the very words of emperors or governors may have served local interests, as Christina Kokkinia demonstrates in her study of the martyria that were part of honorific inscriptions. These ‘letters of recommendation’ are a potential source of honour for the notables – but they also form part of a wider process of negotiation between Imperial power and the city.