Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Original Location/Place: Theatre of Dionysus, Athens, Greece.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
in loco (?)
112 CE to 113 CE
Inscribed marble base. The inscription is placed on the front of the stone, beneath a moulded lintel. The top left corner of the base has been broken.
Height: 56 cm
Width: 83 cm
Depth: 83 cm
Letter height: 4-1.5 cm
CIL III, 550;
IG II² 3286
This inscription is found on an honorific statue base in the Theatre of Dionysus, in Athens. It records the early career of the emperor Hadrian and is the most complete source for his cursus honorum up to 112 CE, when the statue this base originally held was dedicated. Not only is it an important documentary record for illustrating why Hadrian’s political career so clearly marked him out as the obvious successor to the emperor Trajan, it is also an important early source for his close relationship with, and endorsement of, the city of Athens, foreshadowing his later Hellenic policies.
The statue and its inscribed base were dedicated in 112 CE, in order to celebrate and commemorate the council and assembly of Athens naming Hadrian the city’s Archon (ἄρχων - archōn) for the year; the epōnymos archōn, to give the role its full title, was the chief magistrate of the city, with epōnymos referring to the practice by which the year the position was held was named after the person promoted to the role. This was similar to the practice by which years were dated according to the consuls in Rome, but as the Athenian year began (and ended) in the summer, it is not possible to say for sure whether or not Hadrian’s term of office began in 111 or 112 CE (Birley, Hadrian, p. 64). His role as archon shall be considered in the following discussion, but it is first necessary to contextualise Hadrian’s career thus far, and what his relationship was with the city of Athens.
The inscription records that by 111-112 CE Hadrian had already held a number of important magistracies and military commands; he had reached the consulship, acted as the first governor of the new province of Lower Pannonia (pro praetore…Panonniae inferoris), and led the “first legion Minervia in the Dacian campaign” (legato legionis I Minerviae…bello Dacico). His service in Trajan’s wars was clearly indispensable, as the inscription states that he was twice granted military awards by the emperor (donis militaribus ab eo donato bis). Hadrian had also served as military tribune of three further legions, the second legion Adiutrix, the fifth legion Macedonica, and the twenty-second legion Primigenia, as well as holding a number of civic responsibilities, such as decimvir of the board of lawsuits (Xviro stilitibus iudicandis). The fact that he had served in this number of roles by 112 CE, and only in his mid-thirties, is indicative of both military prowess and political acumen; it is no wonder that he had come to the attention of the reigning emperor, particularly given his active role in the Dacian campaigns. This, combined with Hadrian’s marriage to Vibia Sabina, the great-niece of Trajan, ensured his prominent place in the imperial court, and left little space for opposition when he was named as Trajan’s heir following his death in 117 CE.
The exact date for Hadrian’s travel to Athens in unknown, and there is no attestation of his presence there before the erection of this inscription in 112 CE, although others have argued that he may have been invited there as early as 109 CE, by one of the suffect consuls such as Caius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus; the so-called ‘King Philopappus’ was the grandson of the last king of Commagene, Antiochus IV, who had been deposed by Vespasian in 72 CE (Birley, Hadrian, p. 62). His grandson was a long-term resident of Athens, but having attained Roman citizenship had reached senatorial rank and may have been in the empire’s capital in 109 CE to serve his term as suffect consul (Birley, Hadrian, p. 57). Hadrian was a well-known Hellenist and this first visit to Athens was one that was to be repeated three times during his reign as emperor. Indeed, the many building projects that he undertook in the city - such as the background (scaenae frons) of the theatre where this inscription was located, a library, a temple to Zeus and Hera Panhellenios and a gymnasium – are evidence for his munificence in the city, and his desire to raise its profile in line with his own image (for Hadrian’s building works, see Pausanias, Description of Greece, I.18.9; Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 144-157). As Mary T. Boatwright noted, his “benefactions to Athens were many, and of many different types,” and included grants of land, the regulation of the sale of oil produced in Attica and the establishment of the ‘Panhellenion,’ a league of cities descended from poleis and which enjoyed good relationships with Rome (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 83-107; for the Panhellenion, see Spawforth and Walker, “The World of the Panhellenion”, p. 78-104). These cities met annually in Athens and celebrated a festival there, further establishing it as the “cultural capital of the Greek world” (Longfellow, Roman Imperialism, p. 120).
However, as Anthony Birley has noted, the enthusiasm that Hadrian demonstrated for Athens was reciprocated, and emphasised through their acclamation of him as archōn in 112 CE (Birley, Hadrian, p. 64). As the three lines of Greek at the end of the honorific inscription here state, Hadrian was named chief magistrate by the “council of the Areopagus and that of the six hundred and the Assembly of Athens,” the key democratic bodies that represented the city. In order to hold this prestigious role, Hadrian was also made a citizen of Athens; although nominally the Roman citizenship was preeminent amongst those others of their empire, and carried the dominant legal status, it is clear that the granting of citizenship to Hadrian and his election as archōn were honorific, and a sign of the esteem in which he was held by the city (for arguments concerned with the problems of multiple citizenships, see Demougin, “Citoyennetés multiples en Occident” p. 99-109 and Fournier, “L’essor de la multi-citoyenneté, p. 79-98). Few others of Roman senatorial rank had been elected to the role; Trebellius Rufus, a native of Toulouse who had settled in Athens, had been elected as archōn in Athens under Domitian, but had abandoned his senatorial career in Rome as a result (Fishwick, “Our First High Priest”, p. 83-112), and Domitian himself had been named to the role, but never came to Athens to enact it (Suetonius, Domitian, 60; IG II/III (2) 1996). Hadrian’s acceptance of the position and his presence in the city was a mark of prestige; although not yet emperor, his assumption of the magistracy was a way of demonstrating his personal concern for all of the inhabitants of the world he would soon govern, and helped to reinforce his connection with the nexus of local power hierarchies and institutions upon whose support he would depend. As Mary T. Boatwright has shown, the acceptance of local magistracies that began with the title of archōn in Athens became a key feature of Hadrian’s rule, with the different roles he assumed attested with greater frequency in inscriptions and coins than for any other emperor (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 57-72, esp. 58-64. See also Hadrian, "prophet" in Didyma). In Greece, Hadrian’s multiple magistracies and honorary positions illustrated the favour in which those towns and cities were held, and should be understood as part of his renewal of the ‘classical’ Greek world; Athens’s place as the predominant city of that world was indicated by his early assumption of the archonship (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire, p. 68). Such a visible and locally significant display of favour for Athens, as well as accepting the citizenship that the city offered, helped to consolidate municipal support for Hadrian and his emerging bid for power; he was not yet emperor in 112 CE, and so his acceptance of the city’s highest magistracy showed his respect for local traditions and “proffered the illusion that the imperial power was on almost the same level as local notables” (Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire,p. 72), which in turn ensured their support of him and his continued popularity. It was a mutually successful endorsement; the city of Athens and those throughout Greece benefitted significantly from Hadrian’s patronage once he attained the emperorship, and in return he received their unwavering loyalty and honorific acclamations.
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