The council and people of Ephesus thank Hadrian

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Hadrian is honoured as “founder” and “saviour” in Ephesus prior to his journey in the Levant (129-130 CE)

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Not given by the editor
129 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Statue base
Not given by the editor
Roman, Greek

Die Inschriften von Ephesos II no. 274 [SIG3 839] 


This inscription honours Hadrian and, like many others in the Greek East, praises the emperor as a “founder” (κτίστης/ktistês) and “saviour” (σωτήρ/sôtêr). The remarkable feature of this customary monument is the fact that the motivations behind the bestowal of such titles are explicitly mentioned.

The council (βουλή/boulê) and people (δῆμος/dêmos) of Ephesus first refer to Hadrian with his dynastic connections to the adoptive ancestors Trajan and Nerva (see Hekster, Emperors, p. 180-181). The series of religious and civil offices following enable us to date the document between 10th December 128 and 9th December 129, the period in which he held the tribunician powers for the 13th time. This would also be supported by the appearance of the title Ὀλύμπιος/Olympios, which the emperor favoured after his stay in Athens (Cassius Dio, Roman History XLIV.16.1-2; Pausanias, Description of Greece I.18.6-9; see Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities, p. 150-153), and can be found in contemporary Ephesian coins (RPC III.2073-2077). This chronology is fundamental as it can be linked with the second trip of Hadrian to the capital of Asia. For the first visit, an inscription records that the local ephebes sang hymns in his honour and the emperor listened to them in the theatre. On this second occasion, the local political institutions focus on the benefactions resulting from his presence. The first element is concerned with the “insuperable gifts” (ἀνυπέρβλητοι δωρεαί/anyperblêtoi dôreai) granted to Artemis. The use of this superlative adjective is not common and shows that the Ephesians really considered such concessions extraordinary. More precisely, they consisted in the “rights” (δίκαια/diakaia) to collect inheritances and deposits (l. 10-11). In the mid-2nd century CE, the rhetor Aelius Aristides referred to the temple of Artemis as the “common treasury of Asia” (XXIII.24). A couple of decades before the setting up of our inscription, another Greek writer called Dio Chrysostom also described the financial activities of the sanctuary (XXXI.54-56). This tradition, in fact, predates Roman domination and provided the cult of the goddess with significant revenues (see Dignas, Economy of the Sacred, p. 146-149.). The inviolability of the sacred space continued after the 1st century BCE (Rigsby, Asylia, p. 385-393), although this did not always prevent conflicts or fears between the Ephesians and the new rulers. For example, when Caesar arrived in Ionia, he found that T. Amplius had attempted to remove funds from the temple (Civil Wars, III.105). Under Claudius, the governor Fabius Paullus Persicus through an edict said that Augustus, by contrast, had made these funds abundant again. Such resources were important not only for the structures of the cult of Artemis, but also for the city in which the goddess was patroness. This strong interconnection between the operations at the Artemision and the vividness of Ephesus’s civic life is evident in the Salutaris’s foundation established under Trajan. Consequently, the gratefulness of Ephesus on account of these “gifts” is justified. As for the particular “laws” (νόμοι/nomoi) which Hadrian authorised, these are more difficult to specify. By virtue of several surviving boundary stones, it is known that Augustus, Domitian, and Trajan confirmed the control of the temple of Artemis over an extensive territory in the Cayster valley (see Knibbe, Meriç, Merkelbach, “Der Grundbesitz”). Hadrian may have also agreed with the decisions of his predecessors and these lands could produce even more income to the Artemision. Another possibility is the preservation of one of the old local laws or νόμος πάτριος/nomos patrios, which still regulated the religious life of the city at the end of the high imperial period (see I.Eph. 10).          

The second benefaction of Hadrian is related to the provision of corn (σειτοπομπήας/seitopompêa) from Egypt. The exportation of crops from this province was very restricted and continued to be controlled directly by imperial legates. Rome had almost became the exclusive recipient of these supplies, but Hadrian extended this privilege to Athens as well (see Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities, p. 92-93). The later award to Ephesus consequently placed the city and its inhabitants in a prominent and advantageous position which deserved to be commemorated (Wörrle, “Äegyptisches Getreide”). The final action before the inscription breaks is concerned with the Ephesian harbour. While the first two gifts are referred to in the present tense indicating that Hadrian may have granted them during his visit, the improvement of the maritime access is mentioned with the aorist as something completed in the past. The city had constantly struggled with the sediments carried by the river Cayster, which today discharges in the Aegean Sea more than 5 kilometres away from the ancient site (see Pliny the Elder, Natural History II.87). If Roman and local authorities wanted the harbour to remain the greatest commercial centre in Asia already commended by Strabo (Geography XIV.24), such projects, albeit vast, were necessary. Hadrian may have indeed experienced such infrastructure problems in his first visit to Ephesus, as it is known that he arrived to other Ionian cities such as Erythrai by boat (see Birley, Hadrian, p.170-171). “Diverting and blockading” a river (l. 14-15) would have required both planning and time, so one can imagine a scenario resembling the works and restorations carried out at Delphi for which a principal soldier was personally put in charge by the emperor. Between 124 and 129 the harbour project managed to be completed but, as attested both by posterior ancient sources and the present ecology, it could not completely solve the problem (see Zabehlicky, “Preliminary Views”; and Pont, Orner, p. 199-200).

Beyond the specifics of each of the benefactions mentioned, this inscription is important for comparing the testimonies recording the first and second visits of the emperor. In 124, Ephesus appears to have spared no efforts in pleasing an emperor who allegedly started to favour more Smyrna because of the sophist Polemon (Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists I.21 (p. 531); see I.Smyrna 697 and Quet, “Lesophiste”). In 129, it is possible to observe the positive results of the subsequent diplomatic action. Hadrian selected Ephesus as the first stop of his journey from Eleusis as confirmed by the letter he sent in support of the sea captain Erastus. Later, Caracalla will also rule that the capital of Asia had to be the first harbour on which the provincial governors were to set foot (Dig. Such imperial decisions had an instant impact on the fierce competition for pre-eminence waged by Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum concerning, for example, the title of neokoros or temple-warden(see Heller, Les bêtises, p. 217-221). In contrast to its rivals, Ephesus did not reach the second neocorate before 129 CE (see Burrell, Neokoroi, p. 66-70). However, other gifts such as the privileged status of the temple of Artemis and the supply of Egyptian grain could then give the city the upper hand. Accordingly, the many altars connecting Hadrian with Zeus Olympios set up in Ephesus need to be understood in a context of gratefulness (I.Eph. 267-271; see Bowie, "Hadrien et Éphèse"). Likewise, one of the local tribes was renamed as Ἁδριανή/Hadrianê (I.Eph. 2050, 2083g, 4331), and the city celebrated both Hadrianeia and Hadrianeia Olympic festivals (see Knibbe, “Ephesos vom Beginn”, p. 785).

This inscription is also relevant because Hadrian’s visit to Ephesus immediately precedes his journey across the Levant, including the territories of Arabia and Judea in 130 CE. With such honorific testimonies, mostly beneficial consequences resulting form the imperial presence would be inferred. The monumental arch of Gerasa or the dedication of the Legio X Fretensis in Aelia Capitolina could be interpreted in such a way too. Nevertheless, one should not forget that, almost at the same time that Ephesus was celebrating Hadrian’s gifts, the emperor also drafted an edict for the communities of Asia in which he acknowledged the abuses committed by his soldiers in both official and private missions. Such documents are certainly exceptional in epigraphic corpora favouring positive commemoration and concealing negative provincial reactions. And yet, they should also be taken into consideration in our assessment of the impact of Roman power, for example, in connection with the Bar Kokhba uprising. 

Bibliographical references: 
Bowie, Ewen L., Hadrien et Éphèse, in Les voyages des empereurs dans l'Orient romain. Époque antonine et sévérienne (ed. Antony Hostein, Sophie Lalanne; Paris: Editions Errance, 2012), 263-296
Zabehlicky, Heinrich, Preliminary Views of the Ephesian Harbor, in Ephesos: Metropolis of Asia: an Interdisciplinary Approach to its Archaeology, Religion, and Culture (ed. Koester, H. ; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), 201-215
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The council and people of Ephesus thank Hadrian
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Fri, 11/20/2020 - 12:15
Visited: Sun, 02/25/2024 - 00:45

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