Bakers and Riots in Ephesus

An edict of a Roman official that deals with the riots caused by an association of bakers in Ephesus. The local council is also summoned to solve this issue. 

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 

Edict and council minutes

Original Location/Place: 
Found near Magnesia ad Maeandrum but the episode it records should probably be placed in Ephesus (see below)
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Istanbul (Turkey)
200 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Museum of Istanbul (Turkey)

Not given by the editor
Roman, Greek
Die Inschriften von Ephesos II 215 [I.Magnesia 114; SEG 4.512]

Riots are frequently attested in the Rome Empire (see Macmullen, Enemies and Kelly, “Riot Control”). The case of the Jews in Alexandria is a common example (see e.g. Gambetti, The Alexandrian). However, there are not so many direct testimonies recording what was the procedure through which a local community and the Roman authorities may try to bring such disturbances to an end. Our inscription is particularly interesting for the light that it sheds on these issues as well as for showing the importance of professional associations and the consequences that riots could have for the well being of the provincial population.

This inscribed slab is broken and the circumstances of the discovery do not facilitate its interpretation. The stone was found near the site of ancient Magnesia by the Maeandrum, but it has been concluded that the episode recorded belongs to the civic life of neighbouring Ephesus. This is based on the dating formula in line 15 that mentions a πρύτανις/prytanis as eponymous magistrate and the month Klareon belonging to the Ephesian calendar (see Merkelbach, Reinhold, “Die ephesischen Monate”). Other elements, however, have not yet been elucidated. None of the individuals named in the inscription (Claudius Modestus, Marcellinus and Hermias) can be identified elsewhere in the surviving epigraphic corpora from either Ephesus or Magnesia. This complicates the chronological framework of the inscription as it should be based on palaeographic criteria which gives a date traditionally calculated around 200 CE (see Buckler, “Labour disputes,” p. 46). The inscription is also complex because it combines two different documents: the communication of an anonymous Roman official issuing an edict (διάταγμα/diatagma) from lines 1 to 14, and the summoning and minutes of the local council (βουλῆς ἀγομέ[νης]/boulês agomenês) from line 15 to 17. Neither of the two is complete, but the first section contains more elements that required detailed analysis.

Even though the name and titles of the Roman official are lost, the content and authoritative tone of his communication suggests that the governor of Asia was addressing the population of Ephesus. This city was the seat of the provincial proconsul so he may have had first-hand experience of the episode that is denounced in the first lines of our text. The bakers (ἀρτοκόποι/artokopoi) conducting business in the market-place (ἀγορά/agora) are accused of having acted with insolence (ἀθρασία/athrasia) and plunged the people (δῆμος/dêmos) into tumults (θόρυβοι/thoryboi) and disorder (ταραχή/tarachê). This last word is particularly interesting because it is the same term used in Cyrene to refer to the destructive riots stirred by the Jewish population at the end of Trajan’s reign. Likewise, the Roman official labels the general situation as στάσεις/staseis (“discords”), which is a another frequently used way of describing lack of public order as attested in the conflicts of Lycia prior to becoming a Roman province. For such actions, the bakers had already been arrested and put on trial (l. 4) under the jurisdiction of the governor most likely issuing the edict. This response was clearly not unprecedented in areas subjected to Roman administration; however, the official statement was not only concerned with punishment (τιμωρία/timôria), but rather with “bringing (them) back to their senses” (σωφρονίσαι/sôphronisai). The solution follows, once more, patterns attested elsewhere in the management of institutions and communities in the cities of the eastern Mediterranean under Roman rule. The bakers were barred from holding meetings as a faction (κατ’ ἑταιρίαν/kat’hetairian). This exact measure and vocabulary was recommended by Trajan to Pliny the Younger with regard to the formation of a band of firefighters in Nicomedia (Letters X.34).

Professional associations were ubiquitous and deeply embedded in the political life of the Roman East (see van Nijf, The Civic World), as clearly illustrated also by the evidence from Asia Minor (Dittmann-Schöne, Die Berufsvereine). While these groups contributed to the fast development of the region, they also increased the risk in factionalism and collective revolts against imperial rule (see Arnaoutoglou, “Roman Law”). For example, an inscription from Nicomedia – the capital of the province that Pliny governed – informs us that local moneylenders had caused another tumultuous episode or θόρυβος/thorybos (TAM V.2 966). This delicate balance between social order and economic prospects determined the approach adopted by the Roman official in solving the conflict of the bakers in Ephesus. As well studied by Erdkamp, grain provision was fundamental for public stability and the lack of it led to riots not only in Asia but elsewhere in the Empire. Even if Ephesus has not provided the wealth of archaeological remains connected with baking activities that is available from places such as Ostia, Pompeii or Herculaneum, two 3rd century CE funerary inscriptions confirm the political engagement of two bakers in the city (I.Eph. 2225-2226). Likewise, we know that local personalities such as Flavius Damianus contributed generously to the provision of grain, while market-supervisors (or ἀγορανόμοι/agoranomoi) set the price for bread probably at the same square where the bakers caused disorder (I.Eph. 3010-3012, see Garnsey and van Nijf, “Contrôle”). Given the political importance of the economic activity produced by this professional association, the response of the Roman official needed to be more effective than mere punishment and judicial coercion. Accordingly, our text adds two clauses: the leaders of the bakers shall not be bold again (θρασύνεσθαι/thrasynesthai) and, most importantly, the group was forced to obey (πειθαρχεῖν/peitharchein) the official commands by providing the necessary labour (ἐργασία/ergasia) and guaranteeing the common interest (τό κοινῇ συμφέρον/to koinê sympheron). The rest of the edict elaborates on the penalties and sanctions that were to be inflicted both upon those who would disobey and their accomplices. Again, the central issue was to avoid tumult and riot or, otherwise, suffer the punitive consequences of their defiance, which included perpetual brandings (προσσημιωθήσεται/prossêmiôthêsetai).

Such an authoritative response to the riots of Ephesus complies with other harsh punishments inflicted by the Romans on seditious groups. Libanius in the 4th century CE, for example, reports that he had to intercede for the survival of some bakers of Antioch who were flogged by a high-ranking official (Oration I.205-208). The suppression of the aforementioned Jewish revolts in the cities of Egypt and the Cyrenaica is another example. And yet, our inscription is even more informative for illustrating that the concern for public order and lack of discord was not solely a Roman imperial obsession but equally a local civic issue. This important point needs to be inferred from the fact that the Ephesians, as previously noted, summoned their own local council and also tried to tackle “the madness of the workshop chiefs” (ἀπονοία τῶν ἐργαστηριαρχῶν/aponoia tôn ergastêriarchôn). In other words, this episode seems to indicate that the provincial governor intervened once the local institutions of Ephesus could not effectively curb the disorder caused by the bakers. This sequence of events remarkably resembles an interesting episode of the Book of Acts (19:35-41) in which the city secretary tried to appease a group of artisans attacking Paul because, otherwise, they would be “in danger of being charged with rioting.” Later in the imperial period, such measures did not work quite as effectively against the bakers who controlled key elements of the economic life and social order of the city. As a result, Roman authorities stepped in with legal punishments and harsh threats but, above all, with the assurance that Ephesus could continue to provide a tranquil and prosperous seat for their administrative and taxation centre.  

Bibliographical references: 

Labour Disputes in Asia

Buckler, William H.bookAnatolian Studies Presented to Sir William Mitchell RamsayW. M. Calder27-50Labour Disputes in AsiaManchesterManchester University Press1923

Contrôle des prix du grain

Garnsey, Peter, van Nijf, Onno M.bookLa mémoire perdue: recherches sur l'administration romaineC. Moatti 306-313Contrôle des prix du grainRomeÉcole française de Rome1998
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