The Flavian Emperors and the Walls of Iberia (Caucasus)

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Vespasian and Titus provide resources to fortify the walls in the capital of the kingdom of Iberia (Caucasus). The king is called philorhomaios and philokaisar
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Building and dedicatory
Original Location/Place: 
While it is normally said that the inscription was discovered at Harmozica (Armazistsikhe, modern Bagineti), the records of the find are not conclusive between this site and Nakulbakevi on the south-eastern periphery of Mtskheta (Georgia)
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi (Georgia)
75 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
The stone is broken on top but fully preserved on the bottom. A mould frames the text on all sides. The surface is quite worn on the right corner. There is no word separation and the letter forms, even if crude and without serifs, are well cut
Not given in the available editions
Roman, Other

Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 20.112 [CIL III,2 6052; OGIS 379; IGRR III.133; ILS 8795; I.Estremo.Oriente no. 1]


The form and content of this document is not particularly impressive. One may see it as a simple dedication of a recently completed construction project that was sponsored by the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. The truly remarkable features of this inscription concern where it was found and to whom it was dedicated.

Even if the exact find-spot of the stone is not known with certainty (see above), it is clear that it came from the area around Harmozica, close to modern Mtskheta, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia (Caucasus) both in the Roman imperial period and Late Antiquity (see Janjalia, Mtskheta). It is therefore not surprising to observe that, as lines 13 to 16 record, the construction was dedicated to the Iberian king Mithridates and his people (ἔθνος/ethnos). The surface of the Greek inscription on the right corner is considerably worn and this complicates both the reading and interpretation of line 15. While the word υἱῷ/huiô (“son”) can be distinguished at the end, the preceding personal name Ἰαμασασποι/Iamasaspoi is not attested elsewhere. There are two main trends of interpretation: either it is a female name in genitive referring to the mother of Mithridates or it is the masculine name in dative of one of Mithridates’s sons (see Boltunova, “Quelques notes”). The latter option would require a scribal error in the first letter of the name. This would render the name Amasaspos which is attested among other members of the royal family as will be noted below. However, this attractive proposal does not take into account that our knowledge of Iberian onomastics is very meagre. Moreover, it is easier to relate the preceding personal name Φαρασμάνου/Pharasmanou to the word “son” at the end of the line. If that is indeed the case, there would be a normal sequence with the name of the emperor, Mithridates, followed by his known father Pharasmanes, and an unknown mother Iasmasaspos. This epigraphic interpretation consequently means that the dative adjectives φιλοκαίσαρι/philokaisari and φιλορωμαίῳ/philorhômaioi would refer to Mithridates and not to one of his sons. While the issue should remain unresolved and is relevant mainly to the history of Ancient Georgia (see Braund, “King Flavius Dades”), this commentary will focus on explaining why an Iberian king was called “friend-of-Caesars” and “friend-of-Romans” in the Flavian period. Likewise, a longer discussion on the historical context will allow us to better understand the fortification (ἐξωχύρωσαν/exôchyrôsan) of the walls (τείχη/teichê) supported by Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian when they were designated consuls for the 7th, 5th, and 4th times respectively (l. 1-13): in 75 CE.

Whereas the coasts of the Black Sea had always been open to Greek colonisation and the Classical world, the valleys and mountains of inner Georgia only got first hand experience of Rome’s power with Pompey (see Braund, Georgia, p. 153-170). The Roman general entered the territory of Iberia in the course of the campaigns against the king of Pontus, Mithridates VI Eupator (Strabo, Geography XI.3.5; Pliny, Natural History VI.19.51-2; Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History XL.4). This region between the Caucasus, Armenia and Mesopotamia had strategic importance not only with Hellenistic monarchs, but also with Parthia and the nomadic peoples of southern Russia. According to Strabo (Geography XI.3.1,6), the people of Iberia had good farmsteads, urban development and a highly stratified society with the royal house on top. These kings seem to have supported Mark Antony at the end of the Republic like most eastern rulers, but the RGDA (chap. 31) reports that they sent envoys to Octavian after Actium. From this point, Roman influence became more apparent. This is particularly evident in the way in which Tiberius mediated in the royal succession that finally brought Pharasmanes – the father of our Mithridates – into power (Tacitus, Annals VI.32; Cassius Dio, Roman History LVIII.26.4). This intervention of the emperor in foreign affairs was analogous to the events happening in the Kingdom of Thrace, whose rulers inscribed their gratitude towards Rome in Cyzicus. In the case of Iberia, Tiberius even asked Pharasmanes to control the Sarmatians helping the Parthian king Artabanus (Tacitus, Annals VI.32; cf. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVIII.96-105). Pharasmanes also collaborated with Claudius during the Parthian civil wars (Tacitus, Annals XI.8), and the emperor was later aware of the internal problems between Iberia and the neighbouring region of Albania (Tacitus, Annals XII.44). It is therefore not surprising that Tacitus (Annals XIII.37) reports that this Iberian king was particularly ready to perform actions on behalf of Rome “as evidence of his fidelity (fides)."

Roman influence over the area increased even more significantly under Nero. First, a new province was created in the so-called Pontus Ptolemaicus, which included Colchis (Suetonius, Nero 18). As the famous governor Arrian will later report in his Periplus of the Euxine Sea, Roman legionary fortresses were soon to be placed very close to the Iberian lands. Second, this emperor decided to prepare an expedition to reach the “Caspian Gates” (Tacitus, Histories I.6; Suetonius, Nero 19), which would not refer to the gorges of Media crossed by Alexander the Great but rather to one of the narrow passes in the Caucasus (Pliny, Natural History VI.15.40). Even under this control and Roman presence (cf. Josephus, Jewish War II.366), Colchis revolted in the year of the four emperors (Tacitus Histories III.47-8). During this period, Roman sources do not record the names or relations with the kings of Iberia, probably indicating episodes of turmoil and royal controversy following Pharasmanes’s death (see Braund, Georgia,p. 227). This would be the context in which Mithridates acceded to the throne and, under the Flavians, this level of insecurity did not decline especially in relation to Parthia (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXV.15.3; Suetonius, Domitian II.2). Under such circumstances and precedents, the strengthening of walls in 75 CE at a site already fortified at the beginning of the 1st century according to Strabo (Geography XI.3.5; see Lordkipanidze, Das alte Georgien, p. 272-274) is perfectly logical. Likewise, this palpable Roman involvement justifies the display of the titles φιλοκαῖσαρ/philokaisar and φιλορώμαιος/philorhomaios by Mithridates in our inscription.

The use of these denominations in the late Republican and imperial periods is rather spasmodic (see Braud, Rome and the Friendly King, p. 105-107). While rulers client to Rome might adopt it after specific beneficial actions (e.g. Mannus VIII of Osrhoene under the Antonines: British Museum Coins Arabia 92-93), it could also become an inherent part of imperial titulature as it occurs in the Kingdom of Bosphorus (see Rostovtzeff, “Bosporan Kingdom”; Gajdukevic, Das Bosphoranische Reich, p. 333-370; Heinen, “Die Anfänge”). The latter example is particularly relevant to our inscription as Cassius Dio (Roman History, LIV.24.4) also informs us that, already under Augustus, one could aspire to the throne in Chersonesos claiming just Pontic lineage and the support of Rome. Since there are very few inscriptions of the Iberian royal house, it is impossible to know whether Mithridates’s titles responded to a single action or to a dynastic custom. At any rate, the collaboration of Iberia with Rome for the rest of the imperial period was based on a relation of alliance. An elaborated epigram found in Rome and written in Greek – the language of eastern diplomacy – beautifies how the Iberian Amazaspus fought with the Romans and died during Trajan’s Parthian campaign (IGRR 1.192). A clearer indication of these closer ties is provided by the account of the embassy that Pharasmanes II conducted in the imperial capital under Antoninus Pius (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXIX.15.3; cf. HA Pius 9.6; AE 1959, 38), where he performed a sacrifice on the Capitol following the tradition reserved to loyal and official “friends”.

This inscription consequently illustrates the intervention of the Flavian emperors in strategic positions that, albeit far from Rome, could prove crucial for the defence of its frontiers. On the other hand, it allows us to explore the attitude adopted by distant kings who still depended very much on Roman rule to sustain their subjected realms. Finally, we can confirm the influence of an Empire which, even in remote lands and to peoples beyond its administration, managed to transmit messages of their superior and protective military power with inscriptions and fortified walls.

Bibliographical references: 

King Flavius Dades

Braund, David C.article-in-a-journal46-5096King Flavius DadesZeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik1993

Mtskheta: მცხეთა

Janjalia, MziabookMtskheta: მცხეთაTbilisiEka Privalova Centre Betania for Scientific Research of Paintings2000

Bosporan Kingdom

Rostovtzeff, Michael I.article-in-a-book561-5898Bosporan KingdomThe Cambridge Ancient HistoryCambridgeCambridge University Press1930
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The Flavian Emperors and the Walls of Iberia (Caucasus)
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:23
Visited: Sun, 04/21/2024 - 19:29

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