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In Athens and Rome, we have two of the most keenly studied cities in the ancient world. In 146 BC, the Roman Republic exerted hegemony over Greece entirely, but this was only until 86 BC when Athens was crushed and sacked by Sulla during the Mithridatic wars and, in turn, Greece was annexed into the new Roman Empire in 27 BC as the province of Achaea under Augustus. The approach taken by early to mid 20th century scholars (such as Francis Haverfield) was that after the defeat and subjugation of a culture or people, a phase of ‘Romanisation’ began in a newly annexed provinces whereby Roman policies were adopted over native laws, and Roman ‘culture’ was introduced as well as the use of Latin, which would all in turn lead to the conquered people seeing themselves as Roman, hence the term. In reality, it is not this simple.
In an area such as Greece, where the peoples were accepting of cultural imports (Swain 1996: 419), one can see how the connection was made. During the reign of Hadrian, Athens became the centre of the Greek speaking world at the helm of the Panhelleneion. Hadrian’s benefaction of the city was typical Roman philhellenism: the empire had been influenced by those it had conquered. The period during which Athens was under Roman rule saw the city form a unique identity within the empire, unlike other Greek cities at the time. A form of acculturation (sharing of Greek and Roman identity) prevailed. I hope to show that it was this, rather than blanket ‘Romanisation’, that occurred in Athens by analysing various subjects including constitutional reform, Athenian coins and Athenian ceramics. I will also look at changes in architecture, religion and education, as well as festivals/games, sports and Athenian housing.
One of the paragons of ‘Romanisation’ entails native laws being replaced by those of Rome but, in the case of Athens, this does not seem to have been the case. In fact, after the sack by Sulla, and for most of the rest of the 1st century BC, the Athenian constitution probably remained as it was; the only change being that of the return to power of the old aristocracy who were loyal to Rome (Habicht 1997: 315). Cicero, in 45/4 BC, tells us that the Areopagus remained as the governing body (De Nat. Deo. 2.74). There was further continuity in high priest offices which entailed considerable political power. The daduchoi, who associated with the cult at Eleusis, continued to be occupied by the noble family of the Kerykes and remained so well into the time of Augustus (Habicht 1997: 324-5; see Paus. 1.31.1).
In the time of Roman Civil war, when Octavian and Marc Antony fought against Cassius and Brutus and then Octavian against Marc Antony, the city was entirely dependent on those upon whom the different Roman factions could depend. The succour that was poured onto Brutus and Cassius by the Athenian elite goes to show how desirable a position this was (Geagan 1997: 21-2). Just after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, we hear of a one Antipatros, son of Antipatros of Phyla, who retained the position of ‘hoplite general’ no more than seven times (Geagan 1997: 22, citing Geagen 1979: 59-68), which must have meant that Octavian placed his support in the man; other than that, not much is known about his background, so there could be other reasons for his rise. Xenokles, son of Theopompos of Rhamnous was another who held the title of ‘hoplite general’, a position he held four times (Geagan 1997: 22). The office of ‘hoplite general’ was politically dependent: Antipatros and Xenokles account for eleven of the thirty years between 31 BC and 0 AD (Geagan 1997: 23).
However, the fact that there was a revolt in Athens in AD 13 at the end of Augustus’ reign indicates that all did not sit well with this new office. The reign of Nero saw the creation of a new office: the epimeletes. Those who had served as ‘hoplite general’ also found themselves occupying this role at some stage (Geagan 1997: 24). It would appear that this office was used to serve in conjunction with the ‘hoplite general’ to solidify pro-Roman support and to maintain connections with the outside world, while he ‘helped to protect the public and sacred property of the city….from the encroachment of powerful individuals’ (Geagan 1997: 26, citing Oliver 1973: 390). Tiberius Claudius Novius (an Athenian, who gained Roman citizenship) was appointed as a lifelong epimeletes in AD 60-1 or 61-2 (Geagan 1997: 26). The use of multiple ‘hoplite general’ terms as well as the epimeletes was a Roman way of quelling dissension (Geagan 1997: 28).
Interestingly, the epimeleteia fulfilled functions similar to that of a Roman procureator. Though used by Rome, the men who fulfilled these offices were Athenian. If this was a case of simple ‘Romanisation’, then these offices would have been of Roman creation. The fact that Rome used an originally Athenian office of the hoplite general and created a unique office in the epimeleteia meant that Roman power was disguised (Geagan 1997: 28). Yes, the Athenians were under the yoke of the Roman Empire, but they were being overseen by Athenians, even if they were pro-Roman. Quite a few of these pro-Roman elites were involved politically with Rome, and even had Roman citizenship, like Tiberius Claudius Novius (Geagan 1997: 26), or held administrative posts in the empire; however we should note that there were other elites who were not so pro-Roman (Swain 1996: 412). Occasionally, they had to bend to the rule of the Emperor, as seen when Augustus flagrantly abused Athenian sovereignty by arresting and executing Cassius Parmensis in Athens for his assassination of Julius Caesar (Val. Max. 1.7.7), but mostly the city was a self-administering community within the empire (Habicht 1997: 369).
The same could be said for later on in the Roman Empire, during the time of Hadrian and his successors. Plutarch’s ‘Should Old Men Take Part in Politics’, written around the time of Hadrian’s coronation as emperor (115-20 AD), argues for the status quo of Roman non-intervention in local Greek politics to be maintained (749b). Hadrian, however, decided to reform the Athenian constitution in the early 120s BC by giving greater powers to the Areopagus, which tried to make the Athenians more self-autonomous, but actually empowered the local pro-Roman elite (Swain 1996: 75, citing Follet 1976: 116-25).
However, the creation of a 13th tribe, named after Hadrian, between AD 121/2 and 124/5, benefitted Athens by blending imperial power into the traditional political structure of Athens (Swain 1996: 75, citing Follet 1976: 121). Again, the theme is a mediation of Roman power to benefit Athens specifically. Hadrian’s creation of the Panhelleneion in AD 131/2 was another attempt to grant Greek, and specifically ‘independent’ poleis like Athens, more autonomy – if they proved their ‘Greekness'(Swain 1996: 75). The Panhelleneion archon held office at Athens for four years, signifying Athens as head of the league (Spawforth and Walker 1985: 79, citing Follet 1976: 134).
Athenian numismatics – processes and identity through the study of coins:
The denarius was introduced into Greece wholesale around the time of the civil wars (49-30 BC), and the country became especially flooded by denarii when Marc Antony was recruiting an army from the legions in Greece and Asia Minor; he needed money to fund these and used cities like Athens to mint coins for this purpose (Kroll 1997: 141, citing Crawford 1974: 516-7, 520-2, 527-9, 533, 536, 539, 541-5). The conversion to the denarius in the Aegean was a by-product of military circumstance (Kroll 1997: 141). However, Athens was the exception in these matters: it circulated its own local coins (Katsari 2011: 231). By the Julio-Claudian era, most Greek cities had ‘Romanised’ their bronze coinage, but the bronze hemi-drachms that Athens produced after 42 BC and those that followed were not denominationally Roman (Kroll 1997: 144).
For example, coins minted for Marc Antony only made passing references to him by way of incorporating features of him into the head of Dionysos ((much like the way Hellenistic Diadochi portrayed themselves as Alexander the Great) Kroll 1997: 144, Fig. 1:16, 18). Coins minted under the auspices of Augustus (and Octavian) were exactly the same; the emperor was only alluded to by way of reference. Symbols of Athenian identity were a mainstay: For example, a coin had the Athenian owl perched on the prow of warship and this warship was an oblique reference to the Battle of Actium in 31 BC (Kroll 1997: 144-5, Fig. 2:21). Other than references such as that, Athenian coins continued to be traditional, a fierce symbol of their identity. Coins from the Augustan era have the ‘Owl-on-amphora’ image that Athens used to forge in its old stephanephoric money (Kroll 1997: 144-5, Fig. 2:23, 24).
Usually, it was customary to place the head of the emperor on the obverse of the coin and to switch from the Greek bronze system to the Roman; the nature of a city’s public identification could be determined by its coinage. Athens however, did not follow a traditional minting formula. The city even ceased minting until the time of Hadrian, when a swell of pride in Roman benefaction by Hadrian probably caused it to re-open its mints (Kroll 1997: 145) and even then, these bronze coins still did not depict the emperor (Kroll 1997: 145, Fig. 2:25, 26)!
Thereafter, Athens continued to produce similar bronze, emperor-less coins during the period of the Nerva-Antonine emperors (Kroll 1997: 145, 2:27, 28) and it was still producing these well into the 3rd century AD under Gallienus (Kroll 1997: 145, 2:29, 30). It was a sign of Athens’ pride in its cultural heritage, the same heritage which had seen it spared from total mauling by Sulla (comparatively!) and earn favour from philhellenic emperors like Hadrian and Antonius Pius. It could have been, like Kroll says, a way of creating some sort of equality with Rome, the Athena figure-head was a link to its past (Kroll 1997: 146). Athenian coinage would make you believe that Athens was never in the Roman Empire!
Kroll’s account fails to tell the full story however. While Athens did mint its own civic coins, there was a far great number of more common imperial silver coins. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the circulation of bronze coins was consistently low until the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius and of Valerians/Gallienus (Katsari 2011: 118). Athenian ‘individuality’ was at a high point during these periods. Excavations at Athens for this period reveal the total level of civic bronze coins at 15-30%, with the rest being mostly sestertii and antoniniani, the latter increasing in number during the reigns of Maximinius Thrax (AD 235-8), Gordian III (AD 238-44) and Gallienus (AD253-68) (Katsari 2011: 157, 234).
Imperial currency was designed to be circulated around the empire; the presence of sestertii and antoniniani indicates that Athens did accept its value and the ideology behind it (Katsari 2006: 13). Rather than seeing the printing of civic bronze coins as an Athenian attempt to ignore Rome through coin, we should see it as evidence of a dual ‘proto-national identity’ (Katsari 2006: 16); loyalty to the emperor and to one’s own civic institutions were not in conflict with each other.
The combination of Greek and Roman identities through Ceramics:
The study of ceramics and pottery shows us a noticeable difference in consumer society in Athens during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD: it is quite easy to see a change in pots from these periods, and many would describe the change from being ‘Greek’ to ‘Roman’: the pottery reveals a Roman influence from imports and from Italian ceramic shapes and surfaces (Rotroff 1997: 97-8). However, the study of ceramic lamps reveals little change over the years, a striking contrast. Traditional Athenian wheel-made lamps, though they did gradually disappear later on into the Roman period, can be dated in the 1st century AD (Rotroff 1997: 100, citing Howland 1958). In fact, the way that Athenian lamps were manufactured stayed the same over the course of the 1st century BC (Rotroff 1997: 100-1). There were new designs on older Hellenistic types of lamps, but this represents a continued development rather than a sudden change because of the Roman takeover.
Furthermore, the majority of the lamps produced in the early first century AD follow the old Hellenistic tradition (Rotroff 1997: 107, Fig. 6), with the sole variant being and imported Italian lamps with a scroll-like nozzle (Rotroff 1997: 107, citing Robinson 1959: F104) and enjoyed popular usage during the time of Augustus. Lamps of the later 1st century AD are, again, much in the same Hellenistic fashion and resilient to change (Rotroff 1997: 109, Fig. 7).Three new types of lamp display features which mark them as imports. However, there is an example of a new type of lamp, Attic in origin, but with adopted Roman features, the ‘alpha globule’ lamp, which had a series of small bumps littered over the body of the lamp (Rotroff 1997: 109, Fig. 8, lower row). This new type does not specifically copy a type of Italian design, but the scroll-like nozzle attests to an interpretation of western Mediterranean design; it was first made around AD 75 (Rotroff 1997: 110-1).
The traditional Hellenistic lamps continued to be manufactured because Athenian lamp makers were still using the same moulds from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (Rotroff 1997: 111), and so, by extension, that must mean that demand was still high enough for these local designs. Even though imported lamps were on the market, Athenian lamp makers did not imitate them, nor did these imports flood the market. And it was only when these Italian imports decreased in number that Athenian lamp makers decided to incorporate Roman features into their local lamps (Rotroff 1997: 111).
Ceramic pottery plotted a different course during the years of the early principate; continuity is very hard to detect between the different types. Original Hellenistic pottery shapes must have continued to have been made since they were part of the Roman assemblage in the first century AD (Rotroff 1997: 102). Also, stew pots and water jugs do display continuity in that 1st century AD examples, though differing in shape and proportion from their late Hellenistic forms, show a clear development from the earlier type (Rotroff 1997: 102). Most Hellenistic designs and shapes did not become part of Athenian pottery in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD however.
The sack of Athens by Sulla in 86 BC could well have had an effect on the development of pottery over the course of the first century BC and later. Many pottery moulds were destroyed and potters were killed defending the city or in the resulting rampage, hence the developments of new designs in order to make up for the loss of old designs (Rotroff 1997: 102). Excavations from Athens do reveal large amounts of imported wares, but not just from Rome. We find red-glossed Eastern Sigillata A plates from Syria as well as grey-ware platters from Ionia (Rotroff 1997: 105). So
The early 1st century AD continues in much the same vein. Much of the ceramic evidence consists of imported pottery from the East and from Rome (Rotroff 1997: 107). Despite this, local pottery did not imitate these imports, but rather continued with the Hellenic tradition. A lekane from this period was found to have had a 1st century BC ancestor (Rotroff 1997: 107), whilst two ‘Levantine’ amphoriskoi were found which were known to have been made in the Hellenistic period (Rotroff 1997: 107, citing Thompson 1934: D79, fig. 78). Despite this, there are examples of differentiation, with two large but thin one handed vessels being found that were to become a common feature of later imperial Roman assemblage (Rotroff 1997: 107).
Pottery from the later 1st century AD is completely different in look. Pottery found in a cistern, entitled ‘Layer IIa’, is almost entirely of a Roman design. The shapes of red-ware plates and bowls do not have any resemblance to wares in the traditional Hellenistic pottery (Rotroff 1997: 108). Instead, they are of a design that originated in Italy but can be found in red-ware found all over the East and West at the end of the first century AD (Rotroff 1997: 108, citing Robinson 1959: G49, G65, G68, G69, pls. 4, 5, 65, 66). There are only a few examples of Hellenic continuity; one of which is a bi-conical jug, with a history dating back to the 2nd century BC (Rotroff 1997: 108, citing Robinson 1959: G88).
Unlike the Athenian lamp makers, potters were far more experimental with their pottery designs by the end of the 1st century AD; a mould-made cup (Rotroff 1997: 108-9, citing Robinson 1959: G48) bears a similar look to Hellenistic predecessors, but the rim, which is elaborate and overhangs, is of a Roman design. So by the end of the 1st century AD, the pottery assemblage was completely different to an assemblage from the beginning of the century, with the shape and design based on Roman imports. The two types of ceramic developed completely differently in reaction to Roman (and other) imports: Potters copied Roman forms whilst lamp makers created their traditional ware, yet creating designs of an ‘Attic’ from that incorporated small amounts of Roman features.
The disparity between lamp makers and potters goes to show that Athenian society was not entirely homogenous to Roman culture. It was a case of acculturation, with some choosing to adapt to the new cultural environment rather than blindly accept the cultural customs of Rome (Rotroff 1997: 112): the case of the potters and lamp makers neatly exemplifies this.