Livy, History of Rome XLIII.6

The city of Alabanda builds a temple to the goddess Roma
Name of the author: 
20 BCE to 12 CE
Literary genre: 
Title of work: 
History of Rome

This text is an excerpt from the beginning of book XLIII of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, a book which is highly fragmentary as half of the chapters are now lost. Book XLIII mainly deals with the events which happened between the summer of 171 BCE and the spring of 169 BCE (for a general presentation of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, see Livy, History of Rome, Preface 6-9), that is during the war of Rome against Perseus, the king of Macedonia (a war which started in 172 BCE and ended in 168 BCE). The lacunae mean that the narrative of the military operations led in Thessaly in 170 BCE is unknown. The text presented here mentions that embassies from continental Greece and Asia Minor, more precisely from the cities of Athens, Miletus, Alabanda, Lampsacus and Chalcis, cities which had in common being allies of Rome, were sent to the Roman Senate in 170 BCE. Some of these representatives wanted the Senate to hear the grievances of their communities about the mistreatment that some Roman magistrates inflicted upon them. Others, such as the representatives of the cities of Miletus or Alabanda, seem to have come all the way to display their fidelity to Rome.

 The passage of this text which retains our attention is the one dealing with the envoys of Alabanda, an important city of inland Caria: “The envoys of Alabanda announced that they had built (se fecisse commemoravere) a temple to the City of Rome (templum Urbis Romae),and had established annual games (ludos anniversarios) in honour of that divinity (ei divae); they had also brought with them a golden crown of fifty pounds’ weight to place in the Capitol as a gift to Jupiter Greatest and Best, besides three hundred cavalry shields; these they would deliver to whomever the senate ordered” (§ 5-6). This passage in which Livy specifies that the inhabitants of Alabanda established such honours for the City of Rome and the diva, namely dea Roma (the goddess Roma), is part of the earliest attestations of the existence of this goddess and of the fact that it was worshiped in a Greek context.

Before analysing the nature of the honours, it is important to recall that the city of Alabanda may have had good relations with Rome from 197 BCE onwards, that is the time it may have joined Rome’s side against Philip. After the battle of Magnesia in December 190 BCE, Alabanda sent two embassies to Rome. The first one was sent in 189 BCE to obtain the renewal of the good relationship with Roma, and maybe also to make sure that the peace treaty of Apamea would have positive consequences for the city. It is probably because the first embassy did not bring the desired outcomes that a second embassy was sent in 188 BCE. According to Carla Fayer’s understanding of the events, during this second embassy, Alabanda may have asked Rome to free the city from the tribute that its citizens were compelled to pay to Rhodos – which actually controlled at that time a large part of Caria. We cannot say precisely how long Rhodos’s domination over Alabanda lasted, however it is highly probable that the honours granted to Rome and announced in Livy’s text may have been decided upon to thank Rome for having freed the city from Rhodos’s influence, or to encourage Rome to do so (for a survey of the situation of Alabanda, see Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 43-46 and the bibliography p. 45, n. 68).

Considering first the templum Urbis Romae, the temple to the City of Rome, some scholars have suggested that Livy – and later Tacitus when he deals with the temple to the City of Rome built in Smyrna (see later) – would have added the name Urbis “to make the nature of the cult clear” (Larsen, “The Araxa Inscription,” p. 168, n. 22). Thus, it would have been the goddess Roma which would have been honoured in this temple (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 51, n. 149; Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 31, n. 1). Second, for what concerns the dating of the building of this temple, the verbs se fecisse commemoravere (“announced that they had built”)mean that it is impossible to propose a certain dating for its construction. The fact that it may have taken place just a few months before the embassy of 170 BCE is uncertain. On the contrary, Ronald Mellor has proposed that it may have been built after the battle of Magnesia before the first embassy that Alabanda sent to Rome, or between the first and second one. Ronald Mellor thus considers that the cult of Roma would have appeared in Alabanda roughly in the same period as it would have appeared in the city of Cibyra, that is after the deposition of the tyrant Moagetes in 188 BCE (Ronald Mellor quotes inscription OGIS, 762 which is a copy of the text of the treaty between Roma and Cibyra which was exposed on the base of a statue of Roma at Cibyra and in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome; Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 42-43; Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 42-43).

In spite of our uncertainty concerning the precise dating of the building of the templum Urbis Romae in Alabanda, various examples show that the worship of Roma really developed in Asia Minor during the first half of the second century BCE. For instance, Tacitus narrates in Annals IV.56.1 that in 195 BCE, that is in the context of the rivalry between Antiochus III and Rome, the council of the city of Smyrna built a temple to the City of Rome. They may have done so to encourage the Romans to assist them against the Seleucid king who had already besieged their city. By then, in Ronald Mellor’s and Carla Fayer’s studies, most of the establishment of cults to Rome in cities in Greece or in Asia Minor during the second century BCE are interpreted as being the result of diplomatic aims or strategies (for Smyrna, Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 15; Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 31-32). However, in the case of Smyrna, it remains possible that the temple had been erected to thank the Romans for the benefits they would have granted to the city (see Derow, “From the Illyrian Wars,” p. 64; for a criticism of Mellor and Fayer’s perspectives which remain focus on diplomatic perspectives, see Knoepfler, “Les Rômaia,” p. 1266). Whatever the exact reasons for the building of this templum to Rome, the earliest mention of a cult paid to Roma in the Greek or Eastern regions appears in the city of Smyrna, in 195 BCE. This cult has had an exceptional longevity as a temple of Roma continued to be represented on coins minted in the city even during the third century CE (for the references see Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 51, n. 151).

For what concerns the “annual games” (ludi anniversarii) organised in Alabanda in honour of the goddess Rome, it is important to recall that generally these games were composed of sacrifices, processions, athletic and equestrian contests, and/or cultural competitions made of music, poetry, dramatic composition, acting, singing and declamation. Livy’s text is the earliest literary attestation of the celebration of such a festival in honour of Roma (generally called by the scholars Rômaia / Ῥωμαīα). Rômaia are generally attested through epigraphic documents (in which the games are often called ἀγών γυμνικός τῶν Ῥωμαίων), especially through honorific dedications and victory lists, a state of facts meaning that it is often difficult to date the festivals mentioned. Among the earliest attestations of Ῥωμαīα, it is possible to quote the festival dedicated to Rome organized by the Delphians, which may have been established a short time after the defeat of the Aetolians and the king Antiochus III at the Thermophylae in 191 BCE (this festival is attested in the inscription Syll.3, 611, dated from 189 BCE; Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 100-101; Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 32-33; Knoepfler, “Les Rômaia,” p. 1266). Some scholars have paralleled the apparition of Rômaia in Delphi in 189 BCE with another source which would have indicated that Rômaia would have been instituted in Lycia roughly at the same time (Mellor, “The goddess Roma,” p. 958-959). Actually, a decree from Araxa mentions that a quinquennial festival had been established in honour of Ῥώμη θεὰ Ἐπιφανής (Bean, “Notes and inscriptions,” p. 46, n° 11 = SEG, XVIII, 570). The dating of this inscription has been debated. For a long time it has been suggested that the Lycian League would have established the Rômaia after Antiochus III’s defeat at Magnesia, namely in 189 BCE (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 37-38; Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 36-38). However, this inscription has been also dated from after 167 BCE, or even around 140 BCE (Knoepfler, “Les Rômaia,” p. 1267). Finally, it has to be noted that the idea according to which a Rômaia would have been instituted in Chalcis in Euboea around 191 BCE, namely after Chalcidians dedicated a gymnasium and a Delphinium to Flamininus (a hypothesis suggested in Fayer, Il culto della dea, p. 34-35; Mellor, “The goddess Roma,” p. 958), has been recently contested. For Denis Knoepfler, the Rômaia in Chalcis may have been instituted after 146 BCE (Knoepfler, “Cours: Le fédéralisme antique,” p. 700-701). Thus, this rapid survey shows that the reconsideration of the dating of many inscriptions dealing with the establishment of festivals in honour of Roma in cities in Greece or in Asia Minor has led to a slight reconsideration of the chronology of their creation. From a general perspective, most of the festivals dedicated to Rome were not instituted in continental Greece or in Asia Minor before 167 BCE, a year which was marked by the fact that Rome put an end to Rhodian domination over Lycia and Caria, but also by the division of Macedonia and Illyria in four and three parts (Knoepfler, “Cours: Le fédéralisme antique,” p. 700-701). Thus, the city of Alabanda, with that of Delphi, would have counted among the few cities which would have been pioneers in what concerns the establishment of festivals dedicated to Rome.

Greek communities may have decided to worship Roma not because of some “sycophancy,” but because this cult principally served some political and diplomatic goals (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 16). As Ronald Mellor has written: “Roma was created to deal with the political reality of Roman power” (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 19). These political motivations appear as immediate causes of the apparition of the worship of Roma in the Greek and Eastern communities, but it is important to question oneself on the root causes of the apparition of this cult in this context and under these forms. The starting point of this reflexion is of course why the worship of deified Roma appeared precisely in these Greek/Eastern communities at that time. To answer this question, we have to take into account the fact that, first, members of Greek cities or communities were used to honour the Tychē of a city. Second, the cult of Hellenistic kings created a context and a model which served as some kind of necessary basis for the establishment of the worship of Roma. Both cults relied on the dedication of temples, altars and statues; on the organisation of games and festivals; on the performance of sacrifices; sometimes on the granting of the same honorific epithets; and on the establishment of a specific priesthood responsible for the successful carrying out of the worship. Both cults had in common being intrinsically political in their significance, motivations or consequences (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 21). However, unlike the deified Hellenistic rulers, θεὰ Ῥώμη was a not a living male figure honoured as a god, “she was the personification and deification of the Roman state, the res publica Romana” (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 22). Thus, during the second century BCE, when the Roman expansion and dominion in Greece and in Asia became more and more obvious, the cult of Roma progressively replaced the cults of the previous Hellenistic kings. Actually, for many Greeks the cult of Roma was the most acceptable solution considering the absence of any king at Rome and the rapid turn-over imposed by the system of annual magistracies (Judeans, for instance, were particularly stricken by the absence of a king and they also highlighted that Roman consuls were elected annually, see 1 Maccabees 8.14-16).

To conclude, the example of the honours paid to Rome in Alabanda at the beginning of the second century BCE are part of a wider phenomenon which developed largely after the peace of Apamea in 188 BCE and after the defeat of Perseus at Pydna in 168 BCE. This phenomenon is characterised by the fact that many cities in Greece or in Asia Minor paid honours to Rome so as to serve their own and contingent necessities according to the evolution of the political context (Mellor, “The goddess Roma,” p. 959). Even if the cult of θεὰ Ῥώμη became the most successful one, it was just one type of cult among various “cults of Roman power” which appeared in many Greek and Eastern civic communities from the second century BCE onwards (for this expression see Erskine, “Rome in the Greek world,” p. 376). Cults were also paid to the Roman Senate, Roman generals, Roman benefactors and to the Roman people (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 25; Erskine, “Rome in the Greek world,” p. 376). This last cult is interesting because it is attested for the first times in roughly the same period as the cult of the goddess Roma. Actually, Polybius and various epigraphic inscriptions attest that during the first half of the second century BCE, Greek kings, cities or communities honoured the Roman people/dēmos quite often through the dedications of statues which must have represented the Dēmos of the Romans as a masculine figure (for the example of the Rhodians who erected a statue of the Dēmos of the Romans in 164 BCE, see Polybius, Histories XXXI.4; on the question of the codes of representation of the Dēmos of the Romans as a masculine figure, see Fears, “O ΔΗΜΟΣ,” p. 274-280, contra Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 25-26, 152-153). However, compared to these other “cults of Roman power,” the cult of Roma was clearly the most widespread in Greek cities from the second century BCE onwards, and, at the end of the first century BCE, it facilitated the transition between the cult of the Hellenistic kings and that of the Roman emperors possible.

Bibliographical references: 

“The goddess Roma”

Mellor, Ronaldarticle-in-a-bookHaase Wolfgang950-1030“The goddess Roma”Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II, 17.2BerlinW. de Gruyter1981
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