Aurelia Paulina, who was granted Roman citizenship by Commodus, dedicates a grand construction soon before the Constitutio Antoniniana.
148 centimetres high, 88 wide, 31 wide. Letters are c. 5 centimetres tall.
This building inscription would be sufficiently interesting for attesting that women also contributed to the civic life of Greek cities under Roman rule, even though men dominate the ancient sources (see van Bremen, The limits). The fact that the benefactress is said to have been honoured by the emperor Commodus with Roman citizenship (πολιτεία Ῥωμαίων/politeia Rômaiôn) makes it even more fundamental for assessing how accessible such grants were prior to the Constitutio Antoniniana of Caracalla.
The stone was found in Perge, one of the main settlements in the southern Anatolian region of Pamphylia. The city played a prominent role in the Roman administration of the province (see Haensch, Capita, p. 290-297), and, as early as Vespasian, it seems to have been granted the coveted rank of neokoros or guardian of the imperial cult (see I.Perge 331 and Burrell, Neokoroi). From a local perspective, the most important sanctuary was that of Artemis which had the privileged right of asylum confirmed at least from Domitian onwards (I.Perge 65). Our benefactress, Aurelia Paulina, was a priestess (ἱέρεια/hiereia) of this goddess and she held such a distinguished position for life (διὰ βίου/dia biou). Her civic prominence was supported by a considerable amount of wealth that financed the construction project to which this inscription is dedicated. Aurelia Paulina commemorates that a water structure (ὑδρεῖον/hydreion) – almost certainly corresponding to a nymphaeum – had been built from the foundations (ἐκ θεμελίων/ek themeliôn), with elaborate decorations (κόσμος/kosmos), and, most importantly, using her own funds (ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων/ek tôn idiôn). The magnificence of the complex was indeed grand as it appears to be connected to the adjacent gymnasium-bathhouse and to have been dedicated not only to Artemis Pergaia, but also to Septimius Severus and the entire imperial house (I.Perge 196, see Gliwitzky, Späte Blüte, p. 35-55).
Aurelia Paulina is not the only woman promoting expensive constructions projects attested in the sources of Asia Minor (see Pont, Orner, p. 312-316). Nevertheless, her inscription is special because it records directly that she had become a Roman citizen during her lifetime. The granting emperor was Commodus, who is referred to with the title of god (θεός/theos) indicating that he already was dead by the time the project was completed. This is an important point because it shows that Aurelia Paulina did not try to hide her peregrine origin years after her change of status occurred. Instead, such a social advancement was a matter of profound and long-lasting pride that can be better understood by analysing the genealogic connections recorded in the inscription. Firstly, a reference is made to the deceased (γενόμενος/genomenos) husband, probably called Aquilios. Despite the Latin-sounding name, his kinship ties by birth to the certainly non-Roman Kidramyas indicate his native origin in southern Anatolia. Aurelia Paulina’s father was also not a Roman citizen as inferred from his Greek nomenclature sequence, Dionysios son of Apelles (l. 9). The case of the mother Aeliana Tertulle is more difficult to elucidate. A funerary inscription of Perge records that a couple called P. Iulius Crispus (son of Caius) and Vibia Magna had a daughter named Ael. Tertulla (I.Perge 359). Even if the abbreviation Ael. normally expands as Aelia and not Aeliana, the connection between this family and some possibly Pergean ancestors of Aurelia Paulina is, at least, suggestive. Equally interesting is the presence of such family names (Tertullus and Vibia) in the late 2nd century consular senator T. Cl. Vibianus Tertullus, who funded the refurbishment of the bath-gymnasium in which Aurelia Paulina’s constructions were inserted (see Şahin, Die Inschriften, p. 206-227). The presence of such high-ranking Roman families in Perge in the 2nd century CE is not surprising. Already in the 1st century, we know that the family of Plancii settled in southern Anatolia and, later, the daughter of the proconsul of Bithynia and Pontus in AD 71 and descendant of Tigranes V, Plancia Magna, was responsible for an ambitious programme comprising several buildings and statue groups under Hadrian (see Boatwright, “Plancia Magna”).
Despite such possible connections from the maternal side, the fact that Aurelia Paulina’s father was a non-Roman citizen still prevented her from acquiring a superior legal status by birth (see Treggiari, Roman Marriage, p. 47-48]. This initial lack of Roman citizenship probably caused her marital union with a man of strong native roots, most likely originating from the smaller Pamphylian settlement of Sillyon, where Aurelia Paulina acted as high-priestess (ἀρχιερεῖα/archiereia) of the imperial cult (l. 4-6). In any case, our inscription shows that such issues of legal status did not prevent her from actively participating in the civic life of Perge and amassing the wealth that funded her magnificent construction project at the beginning of the Severan age. Still during this period and in a provincial centre, peregrine status did not equate to social insignificance or lack of resources; and, likewise, money did not always guarantee Roman citizenship. Aurelia Paulina had to personally petition for the change of legal status from an emperor, Commodus, who continued to be gratefully honoured after his death. Given such a complicated access to Roman citizenship even for rich families in Asia Minor, one should not underestimate the impact of the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212 CE, when virtually all the inhabitants of the eastern Mediterranean were unexpectedly made Roman citizens by Caracalla.
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