Baetocaece / Baitokaike: Valerian and the Ancestral Privileges of a Temple in Syria

Epigraphic dossier confirming the privileges of the sanctuary of Zeus in Baetocaece (Syria) in 258-260 CE. Seleucid and Augustan precedents are used to back the worshippers’ petition.
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Epigraphic dossier confirming the privileges of the sanctuary of Zeus in Baetocaece (Syria) in 258-260 CE. Seleucid and Augustan precedents are used to back the worshippers’ petition.
Original Location/Place: 
Outer wall surrounding the north section of the sanctuary of Baetocaece, to the west of the main gate.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
In-situ. Hosn Suleiman (Syria)
258 CE to 260 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Rectangular and moulded surface carved directly on the walls of the sanctuary. Greek letters have lunate forms and the different documents of the dossier are visually separated.
Rectangular and moulded surface carved directly on the walls of the sanctuary. Greek letters have lunate forms and the different documents of the dossier are visually separated.

The surface is 213 centimetres high and 105 centimetres wide.

Latin, Greek
Roman, Greek
IGLSyr 7.4028

This inscription records several documents that do not date to a single moment, but rather stretch over centuries. Two different languages are also present and the messages are not unitary. However, the text is concerned with a principal theme: the privileges that the rural sanctuary of Baetocaece in Syria managed to defend from the Hellenistic age to the mid-3rd century CE. This testimony is therefore fundamental for illustrating the continuity of Roman rule in a complicated period, the uninterrupted importance of royal benefits, and the survival of ancestral cults in the Levant.

The epigraphic dossier is composed of five documents. The first (l. 1-14) and last (l. 40-43) date to the reign of Valerian and Gallienus when the son of the latter, Licinius Cornelius Saloninus Valerianus, acted as Caesar between 258 and 260 CE (see Feissel, “Les privilèges,” p. 16-17). The second and third (l. 15-31) are addressed by a Seleucid king (βασιλεύς/basileus) called Antiochos, and the fourth (l. 32-39) consists of a city decree sent to Augustus. The common feature of this collection becomes very clear in the Latin text acting as prologue of the long inscription. The Roman emperors were confirming ancient royal privileges (regum antiqua beneficia), which had survived both in time (tempus) and custom (consuetudo), and were to be guaranteed by the ruler of the province, that is the governor. Valerian, Gallienus and Saloninus were collegially responding to a petition brought by Aurelius Mareas and others (alii). This type of communication corresponds with the system of subscript/rescript which is perfectly attested in the example of Skaptopara (see below) and continued to function in the mid-3rd century CE. Accordingly, a man such as Aurelius Mareas who most likely belonged to a family granted Roman citizenship just after the Constitutio Antoniniana was making use of resources pertaining to Roman administration and law. He would have acted as the representative that needed to travel and hand in the petition on behalf of his community wherever the Roman authorities were located as shown by the procedure recorded in the so-called “Middle-Euphrates Papyri” (P.Ephr. 1). In this case, Valerian was staying in Antioch, the capital of Syria, which the imperial army had managed to retake after the Sassanian king Sapor ravaged the territory in 253 and carried out raids in both Anatolia and the Levant (see Halfmann, Itinera, p. 236). This decade was indeed adverse to Roman power in the ancient Near East, just preceding the disastrous capture of Valerian when he failed to surrender Mesopotamia in 260 (see Potter, The Roman Empire, p. 251-262). Such challenging circumstances including the usurpation of Uranius Antoninus may be alluded to in the rescript where the removal of violence (violentia) from an opposing party is mentioned in lines 12-13. An alternative interpretation is to consider that the violent episodes solely referred to internal issues raised by Aurelius Mareas in his plea.

The final document (V) enables us to know that this imperial petition had originated from a group of worshippers of Zeus that called themselves “subjects” (κάτοχοι/katochoi; see Millar, The Roman Near East, p. 272). They were displaying the transcript (ἀντιγραφή/antigraphê) because the Roman emperors had acted with piety (εὐσεβεία/eusebeia) and liberality (ἐλευθερία/eleutheria) towards a god considered holy (ἅγιος/hagios) and celestial (οὐρανίος/ouranios). The syntax of the epigraphic colophon is slightly complex (see Feissel, “Les privilèges,” p. 19-26), but it appears that the divine (θεία/theia) imperial response generated an analogous sentiment of reverence (προσκυνουμένη/proskynoumenê) among the devotees. In an area that had already witnessed and experienced the aforementioned weakness of Roman power in the preceding years, such expressions of loyalty are particularly noteworthy. After all, this community of worshippers was grateful for an imperial decision that benefitted the privileges on which their survival and sacred prominence depended. The celebrated confirmation, however, had not been easily achieved. In addition to the complications inherent to the system of Roman petitions, the case needed to be based on documentary evidence creating precedents that were fundamental for the resolution of conflicts among provincial entities. The documents II, III, and IV of the dossier are the precise confirmation of a procedure also attested in the defence of ancestral privileges by the people of Aizanoi (Phrygia) under Hadrian and the creation of the ‘Archive-wall’ of Aphrodisias’ in the Severan period. Aurelius Mareas and his party needed to demonstrate the validity of their claims and provided material attached to the petition which was subsequently recorded in the epigraphic commemoration of the process.

Precedents were normally found in previous decisions taken by emperors from whom the current rulers were claiming ancestry and descent. Our case is even more interesting because it traces its roots to the Hellenistic age and this antiquity becomes a valid argument for the Roman administration. A letter (ἐπιστολή/epistolê) of a king Antiochos is introduced in line 15. This royal name was particularly popular among the Seleucid dynasty and the letter does not offer any other chronological detail because the addressee, Euphemos, cannot be identified. Different dating proposals have consequently been made, but it seems that the reference to the satrapy of Apamea in line 21 indicates a period between the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE (see Baroni, “I terreni,” p. 140-148). The memorandum (ὑπομνηματισμός/hypomnêmatismos) is much more informative with regard to the reasons that motivated Antiochos’ communication about sacred matters. The king affirmed that the power (ἐνεργεία/energeia) of the Zeus from Baetocaece had become apparent to him. We do not know how this persuasion exactly took place but his personal grant (ἐκρίθη/ekrithê) was a result of it. Antiochos gives to the god the village (κώμη/kômê) of Baetocaece which shall assure the strength (δύναμις/dynamis) of the cult. With this new ownership taken away from a certain Demetrios, the accruing revenue (πρόσοδος/prosodos) could be dedicated to the monthly sacrifices (θυσίαι/thysiai) and other initiatives that contributed to the growth (αὔξησις/auxesis) of a sanctuary led by a priest (see Dignas, Economy of the sacred, p. 74-84). Moreover, the Seleucid ruler conceded the privileged status of inviolability or ἄσυλος/asylos (cf. Artemision of Ephesus and the Aphrodision of Aphrodisias; Rigsby, Asylia, p. 504-511), and the exemption from (ἀνεπίσταθμος/anepistathmos) bearing the high costs of forced billeting. Finally, two days of tax-free fairs (πανηγύρεις/panêgyreis) were granted. This last gift motivated the Roman precedent attached by the petitioners.

The city (πόλις/polis) responsible for the decree addressed to Augustus is not specified. Nevertheless, this mountainous area in eastern Syria must have belonged to the large inland territory which the island of Arados already enjoyed prior to Roman domination according to Strabo(Geography XVI.2.14; see Seyrig, “Antiquités,” p. 191-206). Market-offices of this community also controlled its hinterland (χώρα/chôra) and were probably accused of not respecting the fiscal rights of Baetocaece. The villagers would have then complained to Augustus, and Arados needed to draft a civic resolution evidencing protective measures. Hence, even if the privileges are not specifically worded, the choice of this document in the 3rd century CE by the group of worshippers of Zeus was not accidental. Roman emperors who called themselves Σεβαστοί/Sebastoi could see that the founder of their imperial rule had shown himself favourable to the same sanctuary that was asking for a new royal endorsement. Furthermore, Zeus of Baetocaece was not only backed by such powerful precedents but also by a cultic community that built one of the best preserved sacred complexes in this Roman province (see Tholbecq, Dabbour, “Le sanctuaire”), and was still celebrating with their own funds the greatest (μέγιστος/megistos) of gods in 257/8 CE (IGLSyr 7.4033). In this year, or soon thereafter, the same devotees had to launch a new mission to defend their survival and aimed at demonstrating the legal validity of the privileges that had first emanated from the power of a deity persuading Seleucid kings. The villagers of Baetocaece followed Antiochos’ instructions and wrote down (ἀναγραφῆναί/anagraphênai) a memorandum that still proved effective centuries later. With Augustus’s acceptance, Hellenistic benefits became Roman exempla by which imperial successors would be expected to abide. Local archival efficiency was consequently necessary, but more important was the villagers’ reliance on a system of Roman administration to which they could address their requests. Sassanian raids had not broken this loyalty after 253 CE and this provincial community still found it worthy to preserve market rights which had previously attracted economic activity, in spite of a clear idolatrous context normally condemned by some Jews and, perhaps, avoided by Christians who were enduring new persecutions under Valerian.

Bibliographical references: 
Realized by: