Perge, metropolis by the emperor-god Tacitus

The city of Perge in southern Anatolia celebrates its new title of metropolis after the exceptional grant of the emperor Tacitus, worshipped as a god.
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
On a street north of the Perge macellum, commonly known as Tacitus’ Street.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
In-situ. Aksu (Turkey)
276 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Column crowned with a base on top and slightly damaged on the left and bottom sides.

Not provided by the editor.
209 centimetres high, 46 centimetres wide, 46 centimetres thick. Letter forms are between 2.5 and 3 centimetres tall.
Latin, Greek
Roman, Greek
I.Perge 331 [SEG 47.1788]
This inscription contains a metric composition, written in first person not by an individual but by the civic community conforming the polis of Perge in southern Anatolia. The epigraphic format is uncommon and sheds unique light on the internal aspirations and external relations of a political entity under Roman rule in the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, the messages conveyed by this direct testimony will show the importance of Rome for the formation of provincial urban identities between the high imperial period and the beginning of Late Antiquity.

The text is not only composed according to metric standards but also adorned with epic language. We find at the end of the second line, for example, the word αἶα/aia which corresponded to the more common γαῖα/gaia (“land”) and was already used in Homer’s Iliad (e.g. XV.740). Such poetic devices explain the fact that the inscription is presented as a personal narration from the very first verb ἤμην/êmên (“I was”). Epigrams were common in both Greek and Latin funerary epigraphy, but unusual to convey public messages. However, when the subject of the first sentence affirms that she had previously been the head (κεφαλή/kephalê) of Pamphylia, we need to interpret this as the collective words of the city of Perge. From the middle of the 3rd century CE, this community started to display on its coins and inscriptions signs of a fierce competition for primacy against Side, the other main urban centre of this region in southern Asia Minor (see Nollé, “Die feindlichen Schwestern”). This rivalry attested earlier in the province of Asia (see e.g. Ephesus neokoria and Hadrian’s visit) was mostly based on titulature which needed to be granted by the Roman emperors (see Heller, Les bêtises; Guerber, Les cités grecques). Perge at the beginning of its poem is contrasting the unofficial condition of “head” of the region with the official title of μητρόπολις/mêtropolis after it had been sanctioned by Tacitus, a ruler equated to Zeus (l. 3). The remaining lines add more titles and statuses that would demonstrate Perge’s pre-eminence, comparing former grants with the new and unequivocal supreme rank finally achieved. The word κορυφή/koryphê means “top” and it is obviously related to prominence too. One of the renowned kings (βασιλεῖς/basileis) – perhaps unnamed because his actions were condemned by damnatio memoriae – referred to Perge in such a way, a city that because of Tacitus could be compared to Ephesus, the mother (μήτηρ/mêtêr) of Asia. Artemis was the patron goddess of two metropoleis with inviolable sanctuaries (cf. Aurelia Paulina) that even expressed cordial relations through their coinage (Franke and Nollé, Homonia, p. 170-171). Πραικίπουα/praikipoua is a Greek rendering of the Latin term for “capital” and Perge attributes this condition to another anonymous king who had been surpassed by Tacitus’ authorisation (νεῦμα/neuma). The only other identifiable ruler in the inscription was Caracalla, called among the many possible Antoninus ), the one son of Severus (l. 15). He had granted the title of friend and ally (φίλη καὶ σύμμαχος = amica sociaque) which privileged cities, such as Aphrodisias, Chios or Termessos, proudly displayed in their distinguished relations with Rome. Finally, by virtue of the new metropolitan rank, the Pamphylians gathered in Perge for a common sacrifice known as synthysia (see Weiss, “Auxe Perge,” p. 368-375), and the high-priests (ἀρχιερεῖς/archiereis) of the imperial cult were devoted to the god (θεός/theos) Tacitus.  

Such a celebration of the emperor Tacitus would probably surprise modern students of Roman History. After all, his reign was most famous for the fact that it only lasted several months between 275 and 276 CE. Ancient accounts do not celebrate this short-lived ruler unlike his predecessors Aurelian and Claudius II. One had brought to an end both the Palmyrean and Gallic usurpations (see Watson, Aurelian). The second received the triumphal title of Gothicus Maximus for his victories against the transdanubian peoples who ravaged the Balkan and Aegean areas in the mid-3rd century (see Peachin, Roman Imperial Titulature, p. 86-92). Despite these signs of general recovery, not all the threats were subdued and the old senator Tacitus needed to launch a new eastern campaign soon after his obscure accession (HATacitus 15.1 vs. Zonaras XII.28). While it is clear that this emperor spent time on the Anatolian peninsula, his itinerary cannot be established due to the lack of sources (see Halfmann, Itinera, p. 240). On the basis of coins probably representing an imperial adventus, scholars have argued that Tacitus visited Perge (Merkelbach, Şahin, Stauber, “Kaiser Tacitus”), and even made the city a sort of imperial capital (Kaygusuz, “Perge unter Kaiser Tacitus”). Although our inscription just confirms that the emperor granted the metropolitan status, this could be interpreted as a reward for local loyalty and support. Such a choice would indeed not be accidental. With the Goths plundering western Asian Minor and the Sassanids attacking Syria, the secluded plain of Pamphylia became one of few territories from which Roman power could be sustained and the imperial army supplied in the East. Following the model attested during the Severan period in Cilicia, the Roman emperors prodigally gifted titles to the Pamphylian centres which started the aforementioned competition for primacy. Tacitus’ grant finally settled the dispute in favour of Perge and the subsequent celebration of his actions must be understood in terms of reciprocity between provincial aspirations and imperial rewards. Within this collaboration, Perge became the last city in the eastern Mediterranean to mint its own bronze coinage (see Leschhorn, “Le monnayage impériale,” p. 256). Likewise, epigraphic production flourished in a period during which most territories in the Roman Empire remained virtually silent. Our metrical text was therefore a result of the particular circumstances of Pamphylia after the 250’s when civic life managed to survive despite the exceptional weakness of Roman power. Another inscription carved on a column next to the poem even encouraged the citizens of Perge to raise (αὖξε/auxe) with an acclamation commending not only the new metropolitan status, but also the presence of imperial troops, a silver mint and an assize centre (see Roueché, “Floreat Perge”). On the same street, graffiti commemorated a new sacred and international agonistic festival, the Τακίτ(ε)ιος μητροπολίτ(ε)ιος ἰσοκαπετώλιος (I.Perge 333-337). In other words, the people of Perge continued to celebrate the achievement of elements deriving from Roman rule which had been highly contested during the high-imperial period as illustrated, for example, by the petition from Berenike, or the embassies of Balboura and the Demostheneia festival. The remarkable inscription of Perge under Tacitus is consequently important for illustrating that provincial mentality supported by Roman rule was not completely transformed before the arrival of the Tetrarchy and the beginning of Late Antiquity.
Bibliographical references: 

Die feindlichen Schwestern - Betrachtungen zur Rivalität der pamphylischen Städte

Nollé, Johannesarticle-in-a-bookDie epigraphische und altertumskundliche Erforschung Kleinasiens: Hundert Jahre Kleinasiatische Kommission der Österreichischen Akademie der WissenschaftenG. Dobesch , G. Rehrenböck 297-317Die feindlichen Schwestern - Betrachtungen zur Rivalität der pamphylischen StädteViennaÖsterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften1993

Floreat Perge

Roueché, Charlottearticle-in-a-bookImages of Authority: papers presented to Joyce Reynolds on the occasion of her seventieth birthdayM.M. Mackenzie , C. Roueché 206-222Floreat PergeCambridgeCambridge Philological Society1989
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