This text is a short excerpt from book XXXI of Polybius’s Histories; a book which is highly fragmentary. In the text presented, Polybius records an event which occurred in 164 BCE, that is four years after the defeat of Perseus against Rome and its allies. This defeat was followed in Greece by a real repression of the former partisans of the Macedonians, but also of those who had not clearly defended Rome. Polybius and many members of the Achaean Confederation were part of the second category. Polybius was exiled to Rome between 167 and 150 BCE. Thus, the event that he recalls in this short excerpt occurred when he was at Rome. It is from the experience of this Roman stay but also of the various trips he made in this period, that Polybius conceived the project of writing Histories. After having been authorised by the Roman Senate to come back to Greece, Polybius was recalled by Scipio during the taking of Carthage. He was relieved in 146 BCE, and went back to Greece because of the troubles caused by the recent rebellion of the Achaeans against Rome. It is probable that the book XXXI was written after 146 BCE.
In 167 BCE, Rome harshly sanctioned Rhodes for having remained neutral during the war against Perseus (on the context, see Claudon, Les ambassades, p. 44-46). Thus, while Rome divided Macedonia and Illyria in four and three leagues (koina), Rome also put an end to Rhodian domination over Lycia and Caria – two regions previously located in the Rhodian peraia, namely in the costal regions of Asia Minor which were controlled and colonized by Rhodes. The Rhodians were then affected by the loss of various territories and revenues. After a period of talks, the Rhodians succeeded to conclude an alliance with Rome in 165 BCE (mentioned in Polybius, Histories XXX.31). From this date, Rhodians withdrew from Caria and Lycia. Among the cities which were freed from Rhodes’s domination, there was the city of Caunos which, for a time, took control of the city of Calynda. The city of Calynda thus tried to revolt against Caunos and, for this, sought support, first, from Cnidos, and then from Rhodes. It is in the general context of enhancement of the relations between Rhodes and Rome, but also in the immediate context of the rivalry between Rhodes and the city of Caunos for the control of the city of Calynda, that in 163 BCE, the Rhodians sent an embassy led by Cleagoras to Rome. Through this embassy the Rhodians wanted to obtain two things: first, that the city of Calynda, located at the border of Caria and Lycia, be ceded to Rhodes; second, that the Rhodians who had properties in Caria or Lycia be authorized to get them back. It is in the framework of such a request that the Rhodians announced that they had already voted the erection of a statue of the Dēmos of the Romans in the temple of Athena at Rhodes.
It has to be noted that this statue of the Dēmos of the Romans which may have been erected around 164 BCE or slightly after in Rhodes is among the earliest attestations of the dedication of such a monument in a Greek city or community. The emergence of this phenomenon has to be understood in a wider context. First, it is important to recall that, in the context of various Greek cities, cults to the Dēmos (the people) are clearly attested during the Hellenistic period, more particularly during the second half of the third century BCE. Rufus Fears quotes the example of the city of Athens, where a cult to the Dēmos of the city does not seem to have existed before 229 BCE (Fears, “O ΔΗΜΟΣ,” p. 281 for other various examples). Second, we know thanks to a text of Livy that, after the dramatic Roman defeat against the Carthaginians during the battle of the Trebia in December 218 BCE, a series of sacrifices and rites were performed as an expiation. Thus, we know that “five major victims were slain in honour of the Genius,” . It is the earliest reference to the Genius of the Roman people and to its cult (Livy, History of Rome XXI.62). For Rufus Fears, this text proves that the cult to the Genius of the Roman people was instituted in Italy approximately in the last decades of the third century BCE. In his opinion, this cult of the Genius of the Roman people shows that the Romans had integrated the – quite recent – Greek custom which consisted in honouring the people of a given city, and adapted it, first by extending it to the whole of the Roman people and then by associating it with a traditional Roman concept, that of Genius. The apparition of honours paid to the Dēmos of the Romans in cities or communities from Greece or Asia Minor in the second century BCE has thus to be understood in connection with these two phenomena.
Second, it is important to bear in mind that the erection of this statue of the Dēmos of the Romans in the temple of Athena occurred at a time in which Rhodes contested the control of Calynda from the city of Caunos. Actually, an inscription attests that, probably at the same period, the city of Caunos also erected a statue in honour of the Roman Dēmos (I.Kaunos, 89; Claudon, Les ambassades, p. 45, n. 144). Moreover, the statue of the Roman people which, according to Polybius, was erected into Athena’s temple of Rhodes clearly resembles another statue of the Roman people which was dedicated in the temple of Hera of Samos. Actually a white marble block which was part of a pillar-monument of impressive dimensions from the Heraion of Samos has been discovered. An inscription indicates that this pillar must have carried a statue of the Roman people (about this monument, Tiede, “Hellenistische”; Habicht, “Samos”; about the diplomatic context SEG 40.736).
Various other inscriptions attest that, during the first half of the second century BCE, cities or communities from Greece and Asia Minor also made the choice to pay honours to the Dēmos of the Romans in Rome itself. We can quote the famous series of inscriptions dedicated by kings, cities or communities from Asia Minor and which had been engraved in Rome, and exposed on the Capitol (initially gathered in Degrassi, “Le dediche di popoli”). Among these inscriptions written in Greek, in Latin or in both languages, some of them commemorate the honours that Greek kings, cities or communities granted to the Roman people (sometimes in association with Jupiter Capitolinus). This grant was then announced by the sending of an embassy, by the dedication of an inscription, and sometimes by that of a statue representing the Roman people. This group of inscriptions is problematic because of the dating of the inscriptions which had been originally carved at various moments of the second or of the first century BCE. However, some of these inscriptions may have been destroyed when the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus was burnt in 83 BCE, making it highly probable that some of the inscriptions were re-carved and exposed on a monument adjacent to the temple of Fides (Mellor, ΘEA PΩMH, p. 203-206; Mellor, “The Dedications”; Lintott, “The Capitoline Dedications”; Canali De Rossi, “Dedica di Mitridate,” p. 37-38). Even if Mellor’s chronology has sometimes been reconsidered, there is a group of inscriptions honouring the Roman people for which the historical context or some internal elements indicate with more certainty that they must date from the second century BCE (see Mellor, “The Dedications,” p. 330; Lintott, “The Capitoline Dedications,” p. 144). This is the case of the inscriptions dedicated by Laodicea (CIL, I2, 728; IG, XIV 1, 987); by the Lycian League (CIL, I2, 725; IG, XIV 1, 986); by the Ephesians (CIL, I2, 727; Die Inscriften von Ephesos, Teil IV, p. 220, n° 1394); and maybe by a king bearing the title Philopator and Philadelphus (CIL, I2, 730; IG, XIV 2, p. 195-196; on the dating issue, see Canali De Rossi, “Dedica”). These inscriptions can thus be considered as representative evidence of the way Greek cities, communities or kings, in the second century BCE, used embassies and granted honours to the Roman people to serve various diplomatic purposes: that could be to reactivate a treaty or a friendship (see the Senatus Consultum de Asclepiade in which it is specified that “friends” of the Romans had the right to offer sacrifices to Jupiter Capitolinus), to thank Rome for previous benefits or for having protected their interests, to ask Rome for some help or benefits, or to ensure Rome’s support against a rival city or community.
As the Roman Republic extended its influence in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, more and more Greek cities found it convenient to vote honours for the Roman people. These honours were motivated by various reasons and appeared in various contexts. Polybius’s narrative is important because it is the first narrative source attesting explicitly that a statue of the Roman Dēmos was erected inside a Greek temple, thus proving that the personified Roman Dēmos was honoured in a cultic context. Honours paid to the Roman people thus seem to have appeared in Greek cities and communities during the first decades of the second century BCE, that is roughly at the same period as the cult of the goddess Roma. However, while the cult of Roma became predominant in most Greek cities, the cult of the Roman Dēmos seems to have been well established only in cities and communities which attached particular importance to the cult of the Dēmos in general (Erskine, “Rome in the Greek world,” p. 376-377). As with honours paid to Roma, diplomatic purposes but also rivalries between Greek cities and communities seem to have been the main driving forces for the apparition and multiplication of these honours paid to the Roman people.
Thematic keywords in English: