Hadrian, Roman soldiers, and Asia

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Hadrian issues an edict to prevent the abuse by soldiers crossing Asia during one of his imperial visits
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Imperial letter
Original Location/Place: 
Found on the Mykale peninsula near Güzelçamlı (Turkey)
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
House of Muharrem Kayhan, a collector of antiquities from Söke (Turkey)
129 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Stele with a panel, narrow ridges on the left, right, and bottom. At the top, there is a gable with acroteria on both sides. At the bottom, a tenon would have helped to fix it to the ground. The text is complete with regularly carved letters

113 centimetres in height, 60 centimetres in width, 16 centimetres thick. Letters are 2 centimetres tall in the first two lines, and between 1.5 and 1.3 throughout the rest of the document.
Roman, Greek
Hauken, Tor, Malay, Hasan, “A New Edict of Hadrian from the Province of Asia setting Regulations for Requisitioned Transport,” in Haensch, R. (ed.), Selbstdarstellung und Kommunikation: Die Veröffentlichung staatlicher Urkunden auf Stein und Bronze in der Römischen Welt, Munich, C.H. Beck, 2009, p. 329-330 [SEG 59.1365; AE 2009.1428].

This inscription records a formal communication of Hadrian, which can be divided into four sections following the formulaic heading dedicated to the good fortune (τύχη/tychê): Preamble (l. 2-8); Introduction (l. 8-15); Main clauses (l. 15-35); and Sanction (l. 35-42).

Even if this copy was found at an unclear location in Mykale on the Ionian shores (see Hauken, “A New Edict”, p. 328), it is clear that Hadrian is addressing all the communities of the province of Asia, referred to as ἔθνος/ethnos in line 9. Prior to this, the emperor presents himself with a titulature that firstly highlights his dynastic connections with the deified (θεός/theos) ancestors Trajan and Nerva (see Hekster, Emperors, p. 180-181). Secondly, his religious and civil positions are recorded, and this enables us to determine a secure chronology. The 13th tribunician powers mentioned in lines 5 and 6 fell between the 10th December 128 and 9th December 129. This year is particularly important because it corroborates the sentence introducing Hadrian’s words (λέγει/legei). The emperor says that while he has been residing (ἐπεδήμησα/epedêmêsa) in the province he has come to know about the burden cities and villages had to unlawfully endure because of “the passing soldiers” (διοδοιποροῦντες στρατιῶται/diodoiporountes stratiôtai). This was already the third time in just over a decade that the Anatolian peninsula experienced an imperial visit (see Halfmann, Itinera, p. 190-193). The first involved Hadrian returning to Rome with many of the troops retreating after Trajan’s Parthian campaign. The second was a longer tour starting from Cyzicus and finishing in Greece (see Birley, Hadrian, p. 162-174). This third journey was therefore not a novelty, and also had positive aspects. For example, Ephesus, the city where Hadrian first arrived from Eleusis (I.Eph. 1487-1488), celebrated the extraordinary benefactions granted by an emperor considered “founder (οἰκιστής/oikistês) and saviour (σωτήρ/sôtêr)” in 129 CE. The same epithets appear in several altars of Miletus dedicated to the Olympic Hadrian (I.Milet I.7, 290, 292-293, 301-302. Inside the province, coins commemorate the visit (adventus) of this RESTITUTOR PHRYGIAE, who dispatched imperial correspondence from Laodicea (IGRR IV.1033) and then held court in Apameia between the 23rd and 28th July (SEG 58.1536, see Jones, A Petition, p. 457-458).

Our inscription, however, is not concerned with the honorific titles and celebrations relating to Hadrian’s presence, but rather with some negative consequences deriving from his journeys. The emperor in this case is responding to the many petitions that most likely reached him with complaints and queries. For this reason, a general edict (διάταγμα/diatagma) is drafted with a double purpose (l. 12-15): a) To inform his soldiers what they had to abstain from; b) To clarify what needed or did not need to be supplied by the communities of Asia. Such controversies were commonplace in the relations between provincials and Rome since the beginning of the imperial age. One of the clearest illustrations is provided by another edict from Asia Minor drafted by the provincial governor Sextus Sotidius Strabo Libuscidianus already under Tiberius. Many testimonies confirm that this was not a problem restricted to the Anatolian peninsula and that all Roman emperors and officials failed to solve it effectively (see e.g. Julius Saturninus in Syria under Commodus (OGIS 609)). Indeed, the orders given by Hadrian throughout the main clauses of the edict were not unprecedented. For instance, the obligation of carrying diplomas for authorised missions (l. 16, see Kolb, Transport, p. 71-87) was already mentioned by Cicero (Against Piso 90), who denounced corruption in the issue of such documents, as also did Tacitus (Histories II.65) and Pliny the Younger (Letters X.45-56, 64, 83, 120-121). Hadrian’s edict is even more interesting for attesting the existence of public roads (δημοσία ὁδός/dêmosia hodos) which soldiers were obliged to trail even under the snow (χιών/chiôn) and with the assistance of a guide (ὁδηγός/odêgos) if necessary. Likewise, the description of what may constitute an official (ὑπὸ σημείων/hypo sêmeiôn) mission is quite unique, as it corroborates that soldiers could be carrying the imperial monies (χρήματα τῆς ἀρχῆς/chrêmata tês archês), prisoners (δεσμῶται/desmôtai), and even beasts (θηρία/thêria) for gladiatorial spectacles which were considerably popular in the Roman east (see Robert, Gladiateurs). At the same time, Hadrian was aiming to prevent fraud in the prices established at the local markets (l. 34-35), a form of local corruption attested in Egypt too (OGIS 665). Finally, the concluding sanction shows us the procedure that these communities had to follow in order to address their complaints first to the provincial governor and procurator, who then should contact an emperor caring for his people (l. 39-40).    

The frequent journeys of Hadrian across the Empire have traditionally been highlighted for their indication of the Roman ruler being brought closer to his subjects (see Boatwright, Hadrian and the Cities). For the most part, only the beneficial impact of his travels commemorated in epigraphic and numismatic evidence has been focused on by modern scholarship. Hadrianic city foundations, magnificent buildings, and donations are numerous and widely attested across the Mediterranean provinces. Nevertheless, this emperor was also accompanied and supported by a military entourage that was difficult to restrain. His army certainly required numerous supplies, mostly exacted from communities such as Coronea and Maroneia in Greece (SEG 32.470; 55.744), where soldiers behaving properly –probably the exception – could aspire to honours and local citizenship as attested at Delphi. The edict from Asia is therefore fundamental for confirming that such negative episodes could occur in provinces that profusely celebrated Hadrian’s journeys. As such, this exceptional testimony needs to be connected with the evidence surviving from the regions which the emperor subsequently visited between 129 and 130 CE: Syria, Arabia, and Judea (see Halfmann, Itinera, p. 206-207). Here, there are also spectacular monuments such as the arch of Gerasa and many inscriptions and coins providing us with the positive narrative, including the foundation of the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina. Nonetheless, negative consequences for the local population remain undocumented and these may well have contributed to the obscure and still-debated origin of the Bar Kokhba rebellion (see, most recently, Mor, The Second Jewish Revolt, p. 13-146).

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Hadrian, Roman soldiers, and Asia
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Sun, 02/18/2018 - 22:33
URL: https://www.judaism-and-rome.org/hadrian-roman-soldiers-and-asia
Visited: Mon, 04/15/2024 - 15:35

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