Thyateira, the Roman Senate, and Roman Hegemony

The people of Thyateira dedicate a monument to the emperor Nerva, the Senate, and the Roman hegemony
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Found inserted in the stairs of a house in Akhisar (Turkey)
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Not given
96 CE to 98 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Slab. Letters were cut with serifs.
56 centimetres in height, 54 centimetres in width, and 14 centimetres thick. Letters are 2 centimetres tall
Roman, Greek

Thyateira was a city in Lydia, Western Asia Minor. While important on a local level, this community rarely rose to a position of prominence in the province of Asia to which it belonged. Until the time of Caracalla, Thyateira was not designated as a centre of a judicial district (or conventus), having previously remained attached to the Pergamean assize (TAM V,2 943; Pliny, Natural History V.126). The archaeological remains are not very spectacular either, since the modern Turkish city of Akhisar has mostly superseded the ancient site. The history and development of Thyateira did not remarkably differ from parameters found in other medium-size settlements spread across the valleys of Anatolia. Under the Hellenistic kings, a colony of Macedonian and Attalid veterans settled and Greek political institutions were adopted (Cohen, The Hellenistic settlements, p. 238-242). For this reason, our inscription in lines 5 to 7 records that the people (δῆμος/dêmos), probably during a common assembly, had decided to set up and dedicate a monument using their own funds.

The first two dedications are common: Nerva and the Senate. M. Cocceius Nerva was the experienced and prestigious Roman politician that was chosen to succeed Domitian after the last Flavian emperor was murdered in 96 CE (see Griffin, “Nerva to Hadrian,” p. 84-96). Rome tried to avoid another “year of the four emperors” and Nerva proved to be the right choice for achieving this. Indeed, Cassius Dio praised his rule (Roman History LXVIII.3), especially his decision to adopt Trajan as Caesar despite having family descendants. Even if the old man – Nerva was 66 years old when he became emperor – died in 98 CE, he managed to lay the foundations of a golden century until Commodus. Our inscription from Thyateira is to be dated to his two-year regnal period, because there is no reference to the divine condition bestowed on the emperor upon his death (Pliny, Panegyricus 38, 89). During such a brief reign, there are not many epigraphic attestations of Nerva, although the emperor is also attested on a milestone discovered in the Thyateiran territory (TAM V,2 870). 

Regarding the Senate, the importance of this Roman political institution increased with the support of Nerva against Domitian’s last despotic years. Likewise, senators retained throughout the imperial period the power to sanction several titles and distinctions particularly favoured by the provincial population (Talbert, The Senate, p. 392-430). For example, when Tiberius proposed to authorise a new temple of the imperial cult in Asia, the delegates of the cities had to present their bids to the Senate (Tacitus, Annals III.60-63). Under Marcus Aurelius, we also know that Miletus had to wait for the verdict of the senators before the emperor could confirm the new sacred and international status of their old Didymean festival (I.Milet. 1075). In the case of Thyateira, there is no attestation of any particular event for which its people may have decided to express their gratitude. As mentioned above, the number of surviving inscriptions is limited, and the city did not produce local coins commemorating the grant of any special achievement. Moreover, Thyateira had not benefitted from Republican favours directly decreed by the Senate which other communities in the region such as Aphrodisias still celebrated during the imperial period. Another parallel interpretation can be provided if the Thyateirans just wanted to dedicate their monument to the de facto powers of Rome, regardless of any specific imperial action. This possibility can be supported by some relevant material also produced by the inhabitants of this region. A marble altar found in central Lydia (TAM V,2 903) attests the existence of a priest of Rome who furnished vows to the goddess Roma, the Roman people, and the emperor Augustus already at the early stages of the imperial cult in Asia. Several statue bases dedicated to Augustus and Julia Augusta also survived in Thyateira (TAM V,2 902, 904-906). Finally, the presence of a visible community of Romans in this city is equally relevant (see Hatzfeld, Les trafiquants, p. 165-166). Either at the end of the Republican or beginning of the imperial period, the “Roman businessmen” (πραγματευόμενοι Ῥωμαῖοι/pragmateuomenoi Rhômaioi) together with the Thyateiran dêmos honoured Quintus Baebius Fuscus (TAM V,2 924). Later, a local association of leather-cutters (σκυτοτόμοι/skytotomoi) praised the leader of the Roman community (or κουρατορεύσας τοῦ τῶν Ῥωμαίων κονβέντου/kouratoreusas tou tôn Rômaiôn konventou) for conducting an embassy in Rome and successfully completing many local services (TAM V,2 1002; see Arnatouglou, “Craftsmen associations,” p. 266-267). Consequently, the Romans living in Thyateira were numerous enough to establish their own associative institutions, and, likewise, were integrated in the local civic life. By virtue of this influential group of citizens and the presence of stable structures of the imperial cult in the 1st century CE, a dedication to the Roman emperor and Senate is perfectly understandable.

Nevertheless, the final reference to the “hegemony of the Romans” (ἡ Ῥωμαίων ἡγεμονία/hê Rhômaiôn hêgemonia) is still remarkable. In the imperial period, such direct references to Roman power in epigraphic sources are exceptional. In other words, the people of Thyateira are not displaying here a typical formula to dedicate their monument. Again, we are unable to discern the exact circumstances leading to this memorialisation of Rome’s supremacy, or whether any specific event may have motivated this display of provincial loyalty and alliance. One related precedent is the analogous reference made by Praxias in Akmonia when he wanted to protect his will and regarded Roman hegemony as an equivalent of eternity under Titus. The case of Thyateira is not completely similar. First of all, the dedication is not caused by the initiative and devotion of a private person, but rather accepted by the entire political community of the city. Second, there is no reference to the long-lasting durability of Roman power. Nonetheless, there is a conclusive common element connecting both testimonies. Namely, Rome had managed to establish a system in which subjected local institutions and individuals commemorated and celebrated its rule as a divine force; one Empire for which monuments were set up and hopes in the future could be fulfilled.

Bibliographical references: 

Nerva to Hadrian

Griffin, Miriamarticle-in-a-bookThe Cambridge Ancient History, Second Edition, Volume XI: The High Empire A.D. 70–192 Alan K. Bowman, Peter Garnsey, Dominic Rathbone84-131Nerva to HadrianCambridge Cambridge University Press2000
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