An Augustan governor on the freedom of Chios

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The provincial governor settles a dispute concerning the freedom of Chios and describes the use of previous official documents
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Official letter
Original Location/Place: 
Unknown. Found in a reused context at the Byzantine-Genoese Kastro of Chios
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Chios, Greece (inv. 164)
4 CE to 5 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Boeckh in the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum only reports that the stone was a rudis lapis (rough) and broken at the bottom. The picture below – courtesy of Charles Crowther  (University of Oxford) – shows that the inscription is now broken into three fragments and parts of the left side are lost. While the central area of the bigger fragment has some chips, the surface has generally been smoothed and letters are well carved, in a style that resembles more inscriptions of the imperial period rather than of the end of the Republic. Since this was a wall block, it might actually have comprised a series of imperial letters similar to the “archive wall” of Aphrodisias, which also collects official documents recording the “freedom” of the city
The preserved block is 51.2 centimetres in height, 101 centimetres in width, and 35 centimetres thick. Letter forms are between 16 and 17 centimetres tall and the line interval is 7 centimetres
Roman, Greek

CIG 2222 (SEG 22.507; IGRR IV.943; SIG785)

This stone found in the Aegean island of Chios is important for two different aspects. Firstly, it explicitly records the procedure followed by the provincial governor in order to settle a local dispute. Secondly, it describes some of the benefits and rights of a city granted the status of “free” and “friend” of the Romans. 

Both the beginning and end of the document are lost. However, we are certain that the letter was prepared by the successor of Antistius Vetus in the proconsulship of Asia. As it appears from lines 18 and 19 that Augustus was still alive when the document was drafted, Antistius Vetus should be identified with the consul of 6 BCE, who was governor around 2/3 and 3/4 CE. When he left the province, our anonymous officer was met with ambassadors from Chios (Χείων πρέσβεις/Cheiôn presbeis) presumably in 4/5 CE. The exact issue brought by the diplomatic delegation is unknown but it triggered an official investigation. As it becomes clear from the text, governors mostly found out about on-going provincial matters upon their arrival. This happened every single year in the case of the proconsular territory of Asia. Hence, we can better understand Chios’s promptness to organise a new embassy in order to speak on their behalf. In addition to this oral defence, lines 5 to 13 illustrate the paramount importance of keeping records of decisions affecting the status of local entities. On the one hand, the governor says that he is following the general procedure (καθολικὴ πρόθεσις/katholikê prothesis) by preserving Vetus’s letter; presumably at the provincial archive of Ephesus. On the other hand, he asks both disputing parties to produce written memoranda (γεγραμμένα ὑπομνήματα/gegrammena hupomnêmata) supporting their claims. This is also described as a habit (συνήθεια/synêtheia). Consequently, local institutions were also recommended to keep copies in their archives.

It is not coincidental that, after the revision of all the documents brought to him, the governor chose the oldest (τοῖς χρόνοις ἀρχαιότατον/tois chronois archaiotaton). Indeed, antiquity meant authority; and Roman officers normally based their decisions on existing precedents (see e.g. Burton, “The Resolution”). In this case, the most authoritative source was found in a sealed copy (ἀντισφράγισμα/antisfragisma) of a Senatus consultum dating to Sulla’s second consulship (80 BCE). This was drafted in the context of the First Mithridatic war when Chios aligned with the Romans (Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 46-47, 61). As a reward for their loyal support, the city was granted the “friendship of the Romans” (l. 16) and could enjoy its own laws, customs, and rights (νόμοι/nomoi, ἔθη/ethê, δίκαια/dikaia). This process resembles the later grant of amicitia to the nearby city of Mytilene in Lesbos, for which the S.C. is actually preserved (IG XII 2.35). Our document is also relevant to the attestation of personal grants of this friendship status such as the S.C. de Asclepiade.

The privileges decreed by the Senate automatically made Chios a city with freedom (ἐλευθερία/eleutheria) as is also recorded at the very end of the broken stone. Lines 16 and 17 specify that such a “free” city was not under the jurisdiction of Roman officials (see Ferrary, “La liberté;” Lintott, Imperium Romanum, p. 36-40); and this is also known from other grants of "freedom" such as those of Kolophon (SEG 39.1244), Termessos (CIL I589), and Apollonia (Cicero, For Flaccus 71). The clause contained between lines 17 and 18 is, nonetheless, unique. It is stated that even Roman residents shall be subject (ὑπακούωσιν/hypakousin) to the Chian laws. This required obedience contrasts with the multiple benefits granted to Roman citizens in the Greek East. For example, the document recording Seleukos of Rhosos’s enfranchisement specifies that he could choose the courts which would try his cases (privilegium fori) and, moreover, had the right to send embassies to Rome on his behalf (ius legationis). This superior legal status would have provoked disputes with the autonomous jurisdiction granted to “free cities”. Our document from Chios seems to be a response to these challenges.

It is impossible to know whether the obedience to local laws imposed on Roman citizens was something unique to Chios, or applicable to other “free cities” in the eastern Mediterranean. Whatever the case may be, the instructions of this provincial governor would fit in Augustus’ policy to favour certain local interests and rights. This is the same context of the Cyrene edicts in which he made Roman citizens subject to the liturgies of poleis and forced them to stop conspiring in court against the disadvantaged Greeks. All such instructions and issues would not have arisen without the unprecedented spread of Roman citizenship experienced in the Greek East at the end of the Republic. 
Literary reference: 
Appian, Mithridatic Wars 46-47, 61
Bibliographical references: 
Realized by: 

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An Augustan governor on the freedom of Chios
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Fri, 07/20/2018 - 15:30
Visited: Sun, 12/10/2023 - 22:16

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