Hadrian, "prophet" in Didyma

Hadrian accepts the position of prophêtês in Didyma and sends a letter to Miletus highlighting his piety and benefactions
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Honorific inscription and imperial letter
Original Location/Place: 
Adyton of Apollo’s temple, Didyma
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum depot, Didim (E 23, Turkey)
135 CE to 138 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Fragment of a base broken on the left and bottom corners. Hadrian’s honours are inscribed in larger letters than the imperial letter.

65 centimetres in height, 35 centimetres in width, and 50 centimetres thick. Letters are 2.6 centimetres tall in the first 4 lines and 1.8 in the rest of the document.

Roman, Greek
Rehm, Albert, Didyma: Die Inschriften, Berlin, Mann, 1958, p. 296, no. 494.
This inscription transmits two different documents. In the first three lines, honours by the city of Miletus for Hadrian are carved with bigger letters. The remaining space before the stone breaks (l. 4-15) contains a letter of the emperor to the local institutions: magistrates (ἄρχοντες/archontes), council (βουλή/boulê), and people (δῆμος/dêmos). The combination of both testimonies, together with related evidence found in this territory of the province of Asia, will shed light on the relations established between a Roman emperor and one of the most important religious centres in the eastern Mediterranean.

The imperial letter, even if fragmentary, records a more comprehensive titulature from which a dating can be proposed. The only secure element surviving on the stone is the second proclamation of Hadrian as imperator (αὐτοκράτωρ/autokrator). This title was most likely connected with the end of Bar Kokhba’s revolt (Eck, Ein Triumphbogen, p. 301-303) and would be dated after 135 CE. From this moment until Hadrian’s death in 138, the original editor of the inscription restores the 19th tribunician powers that would date between the 10th December 135 and 9th December 136. However, such a chronological precision should remain purely hypothetical. The most important point, at any rate, is that this letter and the corresponding honours are not directly connected with Hadrian’s constant travels throughout the provinces (see below), but rather with the end of his reign at Rome. Consequently, the content of this communication provides us with a good overview of the emperor’s reflection on his governance. In this regard, the key term is σύνηθες/synêthes (“customary”). Hadrian affirms between line 13 and 14 that, almost as a norm, he “had favoured (φιλοφρονεῖσθαι/philophroneisthai) renowned cities with befitting benefactions.” For this reason and because of his piety (εὐσέβεια/eusebeia) towards a god (Apollo), he was also paying honours to the citizens of Miletus. Before assessing the veracity of this claim, it is necessary to analyse the nature and context of the Milesian proposal.

Since the bottom of the inscription is lost, the reconstruction needs to be based on the upper section. In line 3, the aorist participle προφητεύσας/prophêteusas indicates that Hadrian had held and completed the position of prophetês. This office entailed supervising the activities of the oracular centre of Apollo at Didyma (see Fontenrose, Didyma, p. 45-55). The sanctuary, separated by a sacred road of ca. 30 km, belonged to Miletus and hence the honours and letter are concerned with the institutions of this city. From 494 BCE, Milesians are attested as prophêtai that were normally drawn by lot and remained in place for a year. They had to reside in the premises of Didyma and oversaw sacrifices, festivals, prayers and other services in honour of Apollo. Nevertheless, they were not responsible for delivering the mantic messages of the god as these were interpreted by a woman. In the Roman period, the office appears to have been held on a voluntary basis more frequently, local Roman citizens were not barred from it, and it could be bestowed as an honour. For this last reason, Hadrian was able to accept the nomination while he was at Rome. Only two additional Roman emperors are known to have been granted this prerogative: Trajan (I.Didyma 318) and Julian (Epist. 451bc), while the cultic structures remained active until the beginning of Late Antiquity (see Busine, Paroles).

The exceptionality of Hadrian’s case can be explained by virtue of the many inscriptions recording his reign that have been discovered at both Didyma and Miletus. Thanks to this evidence, it is possible to confirm that the emperor visited the city in 129 CE, probably straight after his second stay at Ephesus (I.Didyma 254; see Halfmann, Itinera, p. 204). As a result of this visit – considered sacred (I.Didyma 58) – a remarkably high number of altars referring to him as “founder” (κτίστης/ktistês) and “saviour” (σωτήρ/sôtêr) were produced (I.Milet 290-297, 301, 302). In Ephesus, the bestowal of such titles meant gratitude for significant benefactions and a similar scenario must be inferred in the case of Miletus. In fact, the good disposition of this city towards Hadrian predates his journey as shown by the discovery of two earlier honorific statue bases (I.Milet I,7 230-232). Thereafter, such signs of loyalty and gratitude did not cease (e.g.I.Milet I,2 21; I.Didyma 58, 153), so the final nomination as prophêtês needs to be understood against this background.

Didyma was one of the most renowned centres of Hellenism in the Mediterranean (see Parke, Oracles, p. 1-111). As such, Hadrian’s first visit and, later, the acceptance of the Milesian proposal comply with his allegedly customary governance. In the Greek peninsula, the analogous oracular sanctuary of Delphi had likewise been favoured with his presence and constructions, and the close relationship between this emperor and Athens was evident (Cassius Dio, Roman History XLIV.16.1-2; Pausanias, Description of Greece I.18.6-9; see Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities, p. 144-157). The case of Ephesus, well attested both in 124 and 129 CE, has already been mentioned above. Therefore, Hadrian had good reasons to boast about an euergetic legacy at the end of his reign. Moreover, he had a long record of benefactions for traditional cults such as those of Apollo and Zeus (e.g. in Aizanoi and Cyrene), which supported his claim of religious piety too. Against such a positive narrative, the contemporary Jewish revolt is particularly conflicting. Hadrian had also visited Arabia and Judea (see Birley, Hadrian, p. 231-234) with monumental signs of his actions such as the arch of Gerasa or the Colonia Aelia Capitolina still surviving. And yet, two years after 130 the uprising led by the indigenous Bar Kokhba gained support and required an imperial response with officers such as Iulius Severus and Haterius Nepos. In our inscription from Didyma, it is possible to see that no reference to these negative episodes was made and Hadrian, instead, decided to focus on his propagandistic achievements towards the Hellenic past. Later sources will indeed ridicule the emperor as a Graeculus (“Greekling”; HA, Hadrian I.5; Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus XIV.2), and contemporary Greek authors are largely positive (see Fein, Die Beziehungen; Geiger, “The Bar-Kokhba”). Accordingly, one should not be surprised by the very scant and indirect epigraphic evidence illustrating the final Jewish revolt in the high Roman Empire.
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