THE HISTORIAN APPIAN, writing in the second century CE about the wars waged by Rome in the first century BCE, provided an unusually full description of the triumphal procession through the streets of Rome in 59 BCE which celebrated the defeat by Pompey of Mithradates Eupator, king of Pontus.

He was awarded a triumph exceeding in brilliancy any that had gone before … It occupied two successive days, and many nations were represented in the procession, from Pontus and Armenia, and Cappadocia and Cilicia and all Syria, and Albanians and Heniochi and Achaeans of Scythia and Eastern Iberians … In the triumphal procession were … litters laden with gold … and a multitude of captives and bandits, none of them bound, but all arrayed in their native costumes. Before Pompey himself, at the head of the procession, went the leaders, sons and generals of the kings against whom he had fought … to the number of 324 … There were carried in the procession images of those who were not present … and images, and ornaments of barbarian gods in the fashion of their countries.1

Few public occasions captured as well as the triumph Roman assumptions about the nature of the empire they had conquered. The triumph was a theatrical representation of the victory commemorated. Its organization reflected the beliefs of Roman politicians as to which facts about foreign peoples and their conquest would most impress the urban populace. Most to be admired was naturally the evidence of wealth taken as booty, and testimonies to courage and daring, but, after that, attention was drawn above all to the spectacular and the unusual. Romans knew that their empire was a mosaic of varied peoples and cultures, and they gloried in that variety. Vergil wrote of Augustus portrayed on the shield of Vulcan reviewing the gifts of the nations as they passed before him: “The conquered peoples move in long array, as diverse in fashion of dress and arms as in their tongues.”2

Romans classified the varied peoples they ruled by dividing the empire's space into provinces and allotting a name to each region and each ethnic group. If no native name was available, or if it was unknown to Roman administrators, or if it did not fit strategic boundaries, a new name could be imposed (and, if desired, changed): in the time of Augustus, the geographer Strabo noted that the name of the Lusitanians in Spain had previously been applied to those now called Callaicans, north of the river Durius, but that “Lusitania” was nowadays used specifically to denote the region further to the south.3 Such naming could be arbitrary, so it is all the more remarkable how often the names of ancient peoples and regions adopted by local people themselves reflected the decisions of Roman administrators. Thus, for instance, when Pompey in the mid-60s BCE defeated Mithradates, a proud descendant of a Persian noble family which had received a kingdom on the shores of the Black Sea in the sixth century BCE, the Romans created a new province of Pontus to encompass his lands, but the designation imposed by Rome was artificial: “Pontos,” in Greek, means simply “sea,” so to use it as a name for a land area was strange. Strabo, who himself came from the region—Amaseia lies in the hills above the southern coast of the Black Sea in modern Turkey—and was born just at the time that the Roman province was created, wrote of “those who live close to the Euxine [the Black Sea], whom they now call Pontici.” For the author of the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian Aquila, who met St. Paul in Corinth after his expulsion from Rome, was “a Jew, Pontic by race.”4

Such impact on provincials' self-identity was only a by-product of a system designed not for their benefit so much as to avoid clashes of authority between Roman administrators. Each governor was allotted either by emperor or Senate a specific task, and in its original sense the Latin word provincia referred simply to that task, usually but not always in connection with a military campaign. But by the late Republic the term was sometimes used to refer to a specific geographical area under Roman rule, and by the first century CE this meaning was standard. Each province came to be endowed in Roman eyes with a distinctive personality that could be encapsulated visually. The emperor Hadrian issued an extensive series of coins to commemorate his travels, in each case depicting the province as an idealized female form distinguished by some particular local attribute. Egypt appears reclining on the ground against a large basket filled with corn-ears and fruit (referring to the fecundity of the province), and holding in her right hand a sistrum,the national musical instrument of the country as well as of the goddess Isis. In marked contrast is Britannia, who sits, draped, supporting her head on her right hand and holding a spear in her left, by her side a large shield with a decorated rim and a large spike in the centre. Mauretania is usually portrayed as a female figure holding one or two javelins and accompanied by a horse, an image presumably reflecting the military reputation of the region, although a variant coin type in which she wears an elephant headdress and holds two corn-ears seems to refer to the natural productivity of Mauretania both in grain and in elephants.5

Romans could also attribute personalities to individual peoples within provinces, as has become clear from publication of a remarkable series of relief sculptures excavated in Aphrodisias in modern Turkey in the late 1970s. The reliefs were part of the decoration of a temple complex, the Sebasteion, dedicated by the local inhabitants to Aphrodite and the Julio-Claudian emperors. A series of sculptures depicting the imperial family was also found at the site. In these sculptures a series of peoples were depicted as carefully individualized standing, draped women, each differentiated by pose, clothing, hairstyle, head type and attributes: it is likely that the iconographic conventions for each nation were borrowed from Rome, where Augustus was said to have made a portico “in which he had placed images of all the peoples; this portico was called ‘To the Nations.’ ” The extant statue bases include one for “the people of the Jews,” but the statue that personified them sadly does not survive.6

The choice of peoples for representation in the Aphrodisias Sebasteion almost certainly reflected the claims of conquest by Augustus in the memoir of his achievements published after his death in 14 CE:

I extended the frontiers of all the provinces of the Roman people on whose boundaries were peoples not subject to our empire. I pacified the Gallic and Spanish provinces and Germany … I pacified the Alps, from the region nearest to the Adriatic as far as the Tuscan Sea, without unjustly making war against any people. The Cimbri, the Charydes, the Semnones and other German peoples of the same region through their envoys sought my friendship and that of the Roman people. At my command and under my auspices two armies were led, at almost the same time, into Ethiopia and into Arabia which is called Felix … Into Ethiopia a penetration was made as far as the town of Napata, which is next to Meroe; in Arabia the army advanced into the territory of the Sabaeans to the town of Mariba. I added Egypt to the empire of the Roman people. Although I might have made Greater Armenia into a province when its king Artaxes was assassinated, I preferred to hand over this kingdom to Tigranes … I conquered and subjected to the empire of the Roman people the Pannonian tribes, to which before my principate no army of the Roman people had ever penetrated … and I extended the frontier of Illyricum to the bank of the river Danube.7

The peoples depicted at Aphrodisias included some which were fairly obscure: the Andizeti, Callaeai, Iapodes, Piroustae, Bessi, Dardani, Rhaeti and others. The selection of outlandish peoples seems to have been intended to stress the extraordinary range and variety of peoples under Roman rule. Many of the nations came from the edges of the empire, but the purpose of portraying them was not, or not only, to show the might of Rome. More significant was the implication of Rome and the emperor as benefactors to all these places and peoples. This sort of representation of Roman rule remained in essence unchanged in the group of reliefs made a century later for the temple of Hadrian in the Campus Martius in Rome, where a series of standing draped women again represented the different regions of the empire, but by this date it was apparently not thought necessary to label the figures, who were more clearly differentiated from each other in their clothing than those at Aphrodisias.8

Romans were fairly imprecise about geography: the elder Pliny made an error of about four hundred Roman miles when he tried to calculate the length of Italy. Geographical certainties were only possible where the army had built roads which systematically measured the distances between towns or staging posts. Many Roman officials treated the empire essentially as a series of civilized urban centres and military forts linked by roads to be traversed as rapidly as possible, and had only the most general idea of the lives of the inhabitants of the countryside away from the main roads. However, the need to know more about the nature of the peoples of and near the empire seems to have been sufficient to stimulate ethnographers, particularly but not only within what was then the literary genre of geography, in the late Republic and early imperial period.9 Hence the writings of the Stoic polymath Posidonius, originally from Apamea on the Orontes in Syria, but for many years a teacher in Rhodes, and an influential visitor to Rome in the 80s BCE.

Only fragments of Posidonius' writings survive, but it is almost certain that his descriptions of native peoples, especially the Celts, underlie the analyses of these nations by later authors, including Julius Caesar (in his Gallic Wars) and Strabo. He wrote in full awareness of Roman conquests in Celtic lands in Spain and Gaul in the late Republic, even before the conquests of Caesar, and evidently himself visited Celtic regions, presumably in the wake of such conquests. Thus Strabo wrote that, although Posidonius was initially upset at the sight of human heads nailed up at the entrances to the houses of aristocratic Celts, he got used to it in time. Such firsthand information does not seem to have discouraged Posidonius from propagating a stylized analysis of Celtic society which took little account either of change over time or of differences between one group of Celts and another. He described Celtic society as strictly hierarchical, with large retinues of clients accompanying aristocrats who subscribed to a fierce code of honour and dispensed extravagant largesse; the power of warrior leaders was offset by the influence of bards, seers and, above all, druids, who provided moral and religious leadership, dispensed justice, and preached a philosophy in some respects akin to Stoicism, pronouncing that “men's souls and the universe are indestructible.” The work of such Greek ethnographers was the product of Roman imperialism, but also informed Roman conceptions of the new societies they controlled: Posidonius' younger Latin contemporary, Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BCE), a scholar with a range to rival Posidonius, was said by Jerome to have studied Celtic society. On the other hand, Roman politicians could select from scholarly ethnography what suited policy: the learned Cicero could denigrate the inhabitants of Transalpine Gaul quite freely in a law court speech when his client, Marcus Fonteius, had been accused by them of corruptly accepting bribes.10

Posidonius or Varro may have given Caesar the information that helped him to understand the society he undertook to conquer in his campaign in Gaul, but more closely tied than either of them to the realities of Roman power were the geographical writings of Strabo himself, pupil and much younger acquaintance of Posidonius and apologist for the autocratic rule of Augustus. Despite his origins in Anatolia, to which he seems to have returned at the end of his life, Strabo was widely travelled and sufficiently acquainted with the city of Rome, which he visited on a number of occasions, to be able to write about the empire with awareness of the concerns of the Roman state. His final comments at the end of his Geography, composed in the early years of Tiberius' rule, show a keen awareness of the methods of Roman control in practice:

Of this whole country which is subject to the Romans, some is ruled by kings, some they rule directly under the designation “provincial” territory, sending governors and tax collectors. There are also some free cities, some of which attached themselves to the Romans as friends from the outset, whereas to others the Romans themselves granted freedom as a mark of honour. There are also some dynasts, tribal chieftains and priestly rulers subject to the Romans; these people regulate their lives in accordance with certain ancestral laws. But the provinces, which have been differently divided at different times, are arranged at the present time as Caesar Augustus laid down. For when his native land entrusted him with supreme authority in the empire and he became established as lord for life of war and peace, he divided the whole territory into two parts, assigning one to himself, the other to the people. The part he assigned to himself was whatever has need of a military garrison: that is, the barbarian territory bordering on the peoples that have not yet been subdued, or poor territory that resists cultivation, so that, making up with plenty of strongholds for its lack of other resources, it is restless and disobedient. To the people he assigned the remainder, all that is peaceful and easy to govern without force.11

Strabo's impressively sober compendium of information about places, much of it (like the analysis of Celtic society inherited from Posidonius) culled from earlier sources, eschewed tales of wonders but picked out the special characteristics of the society of each region. Some of the peoples he described evidently struck him as particularly exotic, for all that they were integral to the Roman world of his time, as in his description of the inhabitants of parts of Africa:

Although most of the country inhabited by the Maurusians is so fertile, yet even to this time most of the people persist in living a nomadic life. But nevertheless they beautify their appearance by braiding their hair, growing beards, wearing golden ornaments, and also by cleaning their teeth and paring their nails. And only rarely can you see them touch one another in walking, for fear that the adornment of their hair may not remain intact. Their horsemen fight mostly with a javelin, using bridles made of rush, and riding bareback; but they also carry daggers. The foot-soldiers hold before them as shields the skins of elephants, and clothe themselves with the skins of lions, leopards, and bears, and sleep in them … The Pharusians mingle only rarely even with the Maurusians when passing through the desert, since they carry skins of water fastened beneath the bellies of their horses. Sometimes, however, they come even to Cirta, passing through certain marshy regions and over lakes. Some of them are said to live like Troglodytes, digging homes in the earth. And it is said that here too the summer rains are prevalent, but that in winter there is a drought, and that some of the barbarians in this part of the world use also the skins of snakes and fish both as wraps and as bed-covers. And the Maurusians [a mistake for “Pharusians”?] are said by some to be the Indians who came thither with Heracles.12

Strabo, like Posidonius, was a Greek outsider writing for the Roman elite. The Germania of Tacitus was, by contrast, a product from within the elite itself. Cornelius Tacitus' family originated almost certainly as provincial aristocracy in the region of Gaul south of the Alps. The historian appears to have been the first in the family to enter public life in Rome as a senator, rising, by virtue of his remarkable qualities as an orator, to the consulship in 97 CE. He wrote with some sympathy about the customs of the Germani of central Europe, describing the geography of the region they inhabited, the origins of their name (“modern and newly introduced”), their physical characteristics (“all have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames, fit only for sudden exertion”), their military tactics, government, religion, dress, houses, social customs and so on. Whenever Germans are not fighting, “they pass much of the time in hunting, and still more in idleness, giving themselves up to sleep and to feasting … Almost alone among barbarians they are content with one wife, except a very few among them … A liquor for drinking is made out of barley or other grain and fermented into a certain resemblance to wine … If you indulge their love of drinking by supplying them with as much as they desire, they will be overcome by their own vices as easily as by the arms of an enemy.” They are addicted to gambling, prone to feuds and extravagant in hospitality. To some extent, the treatise functioned as a mirror to Roman society, in which comparisons between Romans and Germans threw light on the vagaries of Roman behaviour: “lending money on interest and increasing it by usury are unknown among them—a more effective safeguard than if it were prohibited … Silver and gold the gods have refused to them, whether in kindness or in anger I cannot say … For the prostituted chastity of a woman there is no pardon … No one there laughs at vice, nor do they call it the ‘spirit of the age’ to corrupt and to be corrupted.” But the long description of specific German tribes which takes up the second half of the treatise has no obvious moral purpose, and was most probably included simply for ethnographic interest.13

A reader of the first part of Tacitus' Germania might easily get the impression that these noble savages lived in a society wholly separate from the Roman senator, but both Tacitus and his contemporary readers knew this to be untrue. In his analysis of the institutions of the separate German tribes, Tacitus makes explicit mention of the Ubii (in modern Cologne), who “have earned the distinction of being a Roman colony and prefer to be called Agrippinenses” but are still proud of their German origin, and of the Batavi, who

occupy an island within the Rhine and but a smaller portion of the bank. Formerly a tribe of the Chatti, they were forced by internal dissension to migrate to their present settlements and there become a part of the Roman empire. They still retain the honourable badge of an ancient alliance, for they are not insulted by tribute, nor ground down by the tax-gatherer. Free from the usual burdens and contributions, and set apart for fighting purposes, like a storehouse of weapons, we reserve them for our wars.

Leading figures from German tribes had been earning Roman citizenship and imperial approval, not least as commanders of specialist auxiliary forces attached to the legions, for almost a century by the time that Tacitus was writing. When in 9 CE Arminius, son of Sigimer, chief of the Germanic Cherusci, led his countrymen into a revolt which successfully destroyed three Roman legions and freed all Germany across the Rhine from the yoke of Roman taxation, he was a Roman citizen and had himself long served in the Roman army, reaching the status of a knight, eques: the man whom Tacitus described in his Annals as “beyond doubt the liberator of Germany” had been for years a warrior on behalf of Rome. The custom of using alongside and within the Roman army an array of ethnic auxiliary forces who made use of their distinctive weaponry and fighting methods itself constituted recognition of the advantages of diversity within Roman society. German and Gallic cavalrymen, Arab camel-riders and Syrian archers possessed skills that complemented the tactics of the main forces of the army, the massed infantry ranks of the legionaries.14

Thinking Romans were fascinated by the variety of peoples, places and natural phenomena within the borders of their huge empire and, although most of the extant early imperial works of paradoxography, collections of stories about strange marvels of all kinds culled from geography, botany and zoology as well as from human behaviour, are in Greek—Isigonus, who flourished in the time of Augustus, came from Nicaea, and Phlegon, a freedman of the emperor Hadrian, was from Tralles—they had Roman readers. Phlegon told bizarre stories of ghosts, giants, centaurs and similar phenomena, confirming the accuracy of some of his tabloid stories by claiming personal knowledge:

A hippocentaur was found in Saune, a city in Arabia, on a very high mountain that is groaning with a deadly drug … The hippocentaur was captured alive by the king, who sent it to Egypt together with other gifts for Caesar. Its food was meat. But it did not tolerate the change of air, and died, so that the prefect of Egypt embalmed it and sent it to Rome … Its face was fiercer than a human face, its arms and fingers were hairy and its ribs were connected with its front legs and its stomach. It had the firm hooves of a horse and its mane was tawny … Anyone who does not believe can investigate for himself, since, as I said above, it has been embalmed and lies in the emperor's storehouse.15

Emperors may not always have been all that keen to receive such well-meaning gifts:

Apollonios the grammarian reports that in the time of Tiberius Nero there was an earthquake and many notable cities of Asia Minor utterly disappeared, which Tiberius subsequently rebuilt at his own expense … In the cracks in the earth huge bodies appeared which the local inhabitants were hesitant to move, although as a sample they sent to Rome a tooth of one. It was not just a foot long but even greater than this measure. The ambassadors showed it to Tiberius and asked him if he wished the hero to be brought to him. Tiberius devised a shrewd plan such that, while not depriving himself of a knowledge of its size, he avoided the sacrilege of the robbing of the dead. He summoned a certain geometer, Pulcher by name, a man of some renown, whom he respected for his skill, and ordered him to fashion a face in proportion to the size of the tooth. The geometer estimated how large the entire body as well as the face would be by means of the weight of the tooth, speedily made a construction, and brought it to the emperor. Tiberius, saying that the sight of this was sufficient for him, sent the tooth back to where it had been brought from.16

The literary genre of paradoxography does not seem to have been as much adopted by Latin authors, although Gaius Licinius Mucianus, the powerful governor of Syria in 69 CE whose political support in the civil war was crucial in raising Vespasian to supreme power, wrote a book on geographical curiosities, entitled Mirabilia, “Wonders,” based on data he had collected as a provincial administrator. But a general feeling that the more Romans know about the world as a result of conquest, the more remarkable that world is revealed to be, emerges also in the more sober descriptions of the world by the polymaths Varro and the elder Pliny. Pliny reported that he had seen the Arabian hippocentaur to which Phlegon referred, preserved in honey, but he was sceptical about the Egyptian phoenix exhibited to the Roman public in 47 CE. The historian Tacitus, arch-cynic in his analysis of the political motivations of politicians, reported doubts about the authenticity of a phoenix which appeared in Egypt in the time of Tiberius, but none about the generic phoenix myth, “on which there is agreement”:

Those who have depicted it agree that its head and markings of its plumage distinguish it from other birds … When its years are complete and death is close, it is said to make a nest in its own country and shed over it a procreative substance, from which springs a young one. Its first function once it is mature is the burial of its father … The details are disputed and embellished by myths. But that the bird occasionally appears in Egypt is unquestioned.17

Much the most influential of these Roman literary observers of the variegated world in which they lived was the elder Pliny, some of whose observations on industrial processes and long-distance trade have already been cited.18 His encyclopaedic Natural Historyincluded in its thirty-seven books the summation of contemporary knowledge: “my subject is the nature of things, that is, life.” He claimed to provide his readers with twenty thousand important facts which he had learned from two thousand books. His work is a mine of information, some real, some imagined, some garbled. It is Pliny who describes in helpful detail the production of balsam in Judaea—the three varieties, the taste of balsam-seed (“very much like wine, with a red colour and a rather greasy consistency”), the collection of the juice (opobalsamum) from the bark in small horns by means of tufts of wool, the boiling down of twigs from the trees to make perfumes, how to test whether the balsam has been adulterated, the prices paid for different balsam products; but it is also Pliny who relates the less credible story of a stream in Judaea which, presumably in sympathy with the notorious religious scruples of the natives, dries up once a week on the Sabbath. The account of his scholarly habits written by his nephew reveals a man selfconsciously seeking near-universal knowledge. He wasted no moment of the day, rising while it was still dark to work by lamplight. After his official duties “he devoted any spare time to his work … In the country, the only time he took from his work was for his bath, and by bath I mean his actual immersion, for while he was being rubbed down and dried he had a book read to him or dictated notes. When travelling he felt free from other responsibilities to give every minute to work; he kept a secretary at his side with book and notebook.” Such working methods evidently impressed contemporaries (although they must have made the scholar rather poor company). Checking the truth of the information he transmitted to his readers from his own voluminous knowledge was neither possible nor, it seems, viewed by Pliny as particularly important. The audience for whom he wrote was as willing to accept marvels at face value as the onlookers who, according to his account over a century later, came to see the skeleton of the sea monster to which, according to the myth, Andromeda was exposed by her father Cepheus to assuage the wrath of the god Poseidon. Brought from the town of Joppe in Judaea, the skeleton, presumably of a whale, was shown in Rome among the rest of the marvels during Scaurus' year as aedile in the city: “it was forty foot long, the height of the ribs exceeding the elephants of India, and the spine being one foot and six inches thick.” It was characteristic of Pliny to give the statistics. He was better at transmitting data than evaluating the plausibility of the information he so enthusiastically relayed.19

A similar approach informed Pliny's analysis of human societies. If all we knew about the habits of Jews was what survives in Pliny's Natural History, we would know that a branch of magic derived from them and that there is a kind of fish sauce, made from fish without scales, which is dedicated to Jewish rituals, but not much more, and even the information about the fish sauce looks peculiar in the light of the express injunction in Leviticus against the eating of fish without scales. It is rather striking that when Pliny came in the 70s CE to describe the geography of Judaea and its environs in the fifth book of his Natural History, he mentioned the source of the river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea (“the bodies of animals do not sink in its waters, even bulls and camels floating”), and gave the administrative division of Judaea into ten regions, but had nothing to say about Jewish society, despite a reference in passing to the impact of the recent war, noting the region of Oreine “in which Jerusalem was [note the past tense] by far the most famous of cities of the East, not only of Judaea.” He chose instead to dwell on the curious customs of the Essenes:

To the west [of the Dead Sea] the Essenes have put the necessary distance between themselves and the insalubrious shore. They are a people unique of its kind and admirable beyond all others in the whole world, without women and renouncing love entirely, without money, and having for company only the palm trees. Owing to the throng of newcomers, this people is daily re-born in equal number; indeed, those whom, wearied by the fluctuations of fortune, life leads to adopt their customs, stream in in great numbers. Thus, unbelievable though this may seem, for thousands of centuries a race has existed which is eternal yet into which no one is born: so fruitful for them is the repentance which others feel for their past lives!

It is an interesting question whether Pliny or his source thought of these Essenes as Jews. He did not say so explicitly, and by calling them “a people unique of its kind and admirable beyond all others in the whole world,” he might seem to imply the opposite: the Essenes were an eternal race “into which no one is born.” On the other hand, the passage ends with “This is the limit of Judaea,” distinguished from Phoenicia, Idumaea, Syria, Arabia and Egypt, which suggests that the region was that inhabited by Jews, whoever the Essenes might be taken to be. It is reasonable to understand Pliny's comments as an outsider's account of the Essene branch of Judaism described in glowing terms by Josephus and Philo, who emphasized both their asceticism and their philosophical bent. But if this was indeed the group to which Pliny intended to refer, his few rapturous words reveal more about the willingness of a Roman gentleman to believe that quite remarkable people existed within the Roman empire in his own day than they do about the real nature of the Essenes themselves.20


IT IS JUST as well for the modern investigator of the Roman world that an interest in the diverse cultures of that world was to be found at the centre, for otherwise history would have little to record about the lives of many of these peoples apart from what can be culled from the archaeological record of the material remains they left behind. The provincials themselves, in most parts of the empire, never composed any account of their own societies comparable to the histories of the Jews written by Josephus—or, if they did, these histories do not now survive. It would thus be too optimistic to expect that a snapshot of three provincial societies—Spain, Greece and Egypt—might provide contrasts for the first centuries CE as rich as the picture to be found in the Jewish literary tradition, but the accounts which can be pieced together do at least provide a clear indication that local cultural diversity continued in these places under Roman rule.

Pliny's evaluation of Spain, as second only to Italy in the wealth of its material resources, with inhabitants superior to those of Gaul in “the hardiness of body and eagerness of heart” displayed, is matched by no native literature to express the views of those inhabitants themselves. This is not because writers from Spain were not to be found in the early principate. On the contrary, a number of major Latin writers of the first century CE came from one Cordoban family: the orator Lucius Annaeus Seneca; his son, the philosopher, who bore the same name; and his grandson, Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, author of (among other works) an epic poem on the civil wars of the late Republic. The fact that Florus, author in the mid-second century CE of a drastically abbreviated version of Livy's history of Rome, praises Spain occasionally in the course of his narrative more than might be expected, probably indicates some connection with the province. The agricultural writer Columella was born in Cadiz, the poet Martial was from Bilbilis (modern Calatayud), and Quintilian, the doyen of rhetorical theorists, came from Calagurris (modern Calahorra). It is all the more remarkable that none of the extant writings by these Spanish authors has for its subject either Spain or its inhabitants, and that none appears aimed at a Spanish readership. Instead, the focus of their literary attentions was the city of Rome, which is where most of them spent most of their working lives.21

Pre-Roman Spain had been home to a number of different cultural influences—local, Celtic, Phoenician and Greek. The Pyrenees were inhabited by indigenous Iberians who have retained a non-Indo-European language, Basque, to modern times. Celts had invaded Spain over the Pyrenees during the fourth century BCE and settled in the south and east of the peninsula. Waves of Punic settlement from early times through to the time of Hannibal had left a strong Phoenician mark in the southernmost areas. Strabo wrote that the majority of the towns in Turdetania (the area around modern Seville and Cordoba) in the time of Augustus were inhabited by Phoenicians. Investigation of urban sites shows a contrast between quintes-sentially Roman centres, such as Italica, the birthplace near Seville of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, and the indigenous communities like Baelo (modern Bolonia), where there was huge monumental development in the first century CE, and Carteia (near modern San Roque), where excavations show much continuity in the appearance of the town from its Punic period down to early imperial times. Finds of jewellery and sculpture, and excavation of private houses and countryside villas with fine mosaic floors, reveal a preference for Roman tastes among the wealthy, at least when they thought about interior decoration and comfort in their houses—such wealth derived from the Mediterranean trade in wine, olive oil, fish sauce, fine tablewares and metals (particularly gold, silver, lead, copper, tin and iron) from the mines and building stone from quarries. But hints that at least some of the inhabitants of the central and more northern regions continued to think in local Celtic terms rather than as Romans, despite the world empire of which they had become a part, can be traced in early imperial Latin inscriptions which record individuals from northern and central Spain as part of social groups defined as a “people” (gens, gentilitas or cognatio) or sometimes designated either by referring to the group in the genitive plural or by use of a symbol rather like a horseshoe lain on its side. No one knows quite what sort of organization was signified by these terms, but it is probable that they denote Iron Age ethnic identities or other indigenous relationships within social groups from pre-Roman times, and that the Latin terms were borrowed by the locals to refer to groupings which had so patent a function to them that there was no need to spell out their nature in the epigraphic record. Punic speakers are attested on inscriptions in imperial times, and at Gades (modern Cadiz), some twenty-eight per cent of the names recorded in the corpus of Latin inscriptions have some kind of Punic connection. Excavations of urban cemeteries reveal that the rich set up high-quality monuments to themselves close to the entrances of towns in the Roman style, and that, as in much of the western Roman empire, there was a shift from cremation to inhumation in many areas by the second century CE. There is little evidence about the religious beliefs of these people beyond the names they gave their gods and the construction of their sanctuaries: in the cave sanctuary at Murcia near Carthago Nova, painted texts reveal worship in one place of indigenous nymphs along with Roman and eastern gods.22

It is evident from the careers of Seneca and his relations that Spanish intellectuals could write Latin of a high quality, and the archaeological evidence shows a complex Spanish society in which heterogeneous cultures mingled with Roman in a multitude of ways, so it is a curious question why almost no literary expression of native Spanish culture survives. One, rather exceptional, text may help to provide an explanation: the geographical work of Pomponius Mela constitutes precisely such a provincial's view of the world, a distinctively Spanish viewpoint of the Mediterranean in the early imperial period, whose work “can shed light on the world of Roman provincial life in a way that a thousand artefacts cannot.”23

Pomponius Mela was born in Tingentera (modern Algeciras) in the province of Baetica in southern Spain, probably in the Augustan period. His one extant writing, almost certainly from the reign of Claudius, to whose campaign in Britain in 43 CE he seems to refer, is a three-volume work De Chorographia (“On Places”), an account of the world in the form of descriptions of voyages along coasts: the lands facing the Mediterranean; a journey round the islands inside the Mediterranean and Black Sea; finally an account of farther-flung coasts, from the Atlantic shores of Spain, Portugal and northern Europe to the eastern edge of Asia and the southern coast of Africa, and back to Spain. Pomponius' main sources were necessarily Greek, since that was the language of most previous geographical writing, but he showed no enthusiasm for the Greek classics. Nor did he have much to write about Rome and Italy. What interested him instead was his own cultural background in Tingentera, “in which live Phoenicians who were transported from Africa and whence we ourselves are.” Pomponius' view of the world concentrated on his Phoenician heritage and his Spanish place of birth. Hence his positive references to the glorious past of Tyre and Sidon, ignoring their more recent history as centres of specifically Greek learning, and the fact that he gives greater space to the description of the North African regions once controlled by Phoenician Carthage than to Greece and Italy in total. When Mela, in describing the North African coast east of Carthage, states that “the shores are inhabited by people socialized according to our custom,” “our custom” means Phoenician custom. The small islands opposite the Gulf of Syrtis are described as “memorable for a Roman disaster,” meaning not a Roman defeat, but the decisive victory by the Romans over Carthage in the First Punic War.24

If Mela's cultural outlook was Phoenician, his local patriotism was directed at Spain, about which he wrote more than about any other area except Africa. Not that Mela wrote in much detail about any region, but when it came to his native land, he provides more information than in his description of other places. “Spain is also abundant with men, horses, iron, lead, copper, silver and gold, and it is so fertile that wherever it changes and is barren for lack of water, it still supports flax or wild field grass.” This was an up-to-date, if brief, guide to Mela's home country. Mela comments on the presence of Rome, but only in selected form. Thus he has nothing about Roman colonies, armies, forts and roads, the visible signs of imperialism, and instead there are references to the religious institutions—altars and temples—which linked provincials to Rome and, when it came to literary products, he identifies with other writers in Latin (as opposed to Greek) as “our authors.” This provincial from Spain wished to have the best of both worlds, stressing both continuing pride in a Phoenician past and appreciation of the benefits of a Roman present. Frequent reference to Hercules, traditionally identified with the Phoenician god Melqart, linked the Pillars of Hercules, where Mela's geography began and ended, with the ancient culture of Tyre and Sidon at the other end of the Mediterranean:

Gades [Cadiz] is on the strait. That island is separated from the continent by a narrow space, as if by a river, and has an almost straight bank where it lies nearer to the mainland. Where the island faces Ocean it reaches into the sea with two promontories, and the shoreline in between recedes. On one horn it supports an opulent city of the same name, on the other horn lies a temple of Egyptian Hercules famous for its founders, its cult, its age and its wealth. The Tyrians founded it, and Hercules' bones, buried there, show why the place is sacred. The temple began its existence in the Trojan era, and time has fed its wealth.

It seems that Mela's original readership consisted of his fellow provincials in southern Spain. They could identify with his final reference at the end of the third book to the “end of this work and of the Atlantic shore,” which lies at “the promontory of Ampelusia, as it turns towards our strait, whence we made our start.” “Our strait” is the Strait of Gibraltar. Mela was appealing to a common identity; his readers were also his neighbours.

Why, then, did the local literature of this Spanish author survive, while that of others did not? The most likely explanation for the copying of Mela's text by a certain Rusticius Helpidius Domnulus in sixth-century Ravenna (from whose copy all the extant manuscripts ultimately derive), and then by monks in different parts of Europe, is that it was not just about Spain but constituted a rare attempt at a world geography in Latin, more accessible to readers than the excerpts of Greek geographical traditions found in encyclopaedic works such as Pliny's Natural History. That is to say, Mela's work survived largely because later generations did not recognize it as a reflection of local Spanish pride.25

The widespread use of inscriptions in the early imperial period suggests considerable literacy throughout the empire, at least among the urban elite. It is deeply implausible that the literary tastes of all these provincials were wholly confined to the products of authors writing in Rome or for a Roman audience. If most of their work for local audiences has been lost over the past two thousand years—and we shall see some exceptions in the remainder of this chapter—it is much more likely that this reflects the tastes and interests of scribes before the invention of printing than a dearth of literary invention. The contrast with the survival of Jewish literature from late antiquity should not be taken as evidence that other provincials clung on to their distinctive cultural identities less fiercely than did the Jews. In this respect at least—the survival of so much of their literature through a continuous literary tradition since antiquity—the Jews were a peculiar people.

PECULIAR, but not unique. Special conditions of their own led also to the survival of much evidence for how the Greeks saw themselves in the first two centuries CE. Their writings were preserved alongside the literature of the Latin-speaking Roman elite, since, in the eyes of those who copied out the ancient texts in the Middle Ages, there was no great difference between the texts produced in Athens or Asia Minor in the second century CE and those written seven centuries earlier at the height of the classical period—a failure to distinguish which was more than a little encouraged by the classicizing tendencies of Greeks in the first and second centuries CE. The extraordinary success of Hellenism as the prestige culture of much of the Mediterranean world in the first two centuries allowed the inhabitants of the Greek heartlands—mainland Greece and the west coast of Turkey— an acknowledged cultural superiority at precisely the time when their power to control their own political fortunes was at its lowest ebb. Phil-hellene Roman emperors might attend the Olympic games and even, in the case of Nero, perform in them. Nero's enthusiasm culminated on 28 November 67 CE with an announcement at a special celebration of the Isthmian games in Corinth that Greece would henceforth be free from Roman administration and taxation, as a surviving inscription of the Greek text of the speech he delivered on the occasion attests: “Other leaders have liberated cities, only Nero a province.” But freedom that relies on the whim of a Nero is no real freedom. What could be given could as easily be taken away (and was, by Vespasian). The cities which had given birth to the art of politics centuries earlier had now become little more than conduits for the demands of the Roman state. As the moralist Plutarch (c. 50— c. 120) remarks in his Precepts of Statecraft, in his time an ambitious young man in Greece could not hope to lead in war or overthrow a tyranny; he would have to seek glory in public lawsuits or by going on an embassy to the emperor.26

Plutarch himself demonstrated in his own career one way in which Greeks could come to terms with the loss of political autonomy. People all over the Mediterranean world might adopt Greek culture, but they could not simply by an act of self-definition become Athenians or Spartans (or Thebans, Ephesians, Smyrnaeans, Pergamenes, or natives of any of the other proud cities of ancient Greece). Plutarch came from Chaeronea, a city in Boeotia, to the north-west of Athens. A member long ago of the Boeotian Confederacy, Chaeronea had been the site of the great battle in 338 BCE in which the Macedonian king Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, gained dominion over the Greeks. In Plutarch's time the city was a backwater of minimal political importance. Nonetheless, although Plutarch was a Roman citizen, held office within the Roman administration and was a man of considerable status in Roman terms, it was the Greek rather than the Roman side of his identity that he chose to emphasize in his writings. His parallel lives of Greeks and Romans were designed to set the qualities of Greek individuals of the classical era alongside similar great figures of the Roman past. Both sets of biographies examine character flaws as much as strengths. The comparison at the end of nineteen of the twenty-three pairs of lives makes clear his purpose, to extract from the careers of great men in two separate traditions examples of virtue and vice in practice. He was well acquainted with powerful Romans, including the senior senator Lucius Mestrius Florus whose Roman name he bore, and, according to some late sources, he was awarded by Trajan the same honorary rank of ex-consul (ornamenta consularia) that the Jewish king Agrippa I had received from Claudius sixty or so years before. But for the last thirty years of his life he was a priest at Delphi, and his philosophical dialogues are full of the names of members of his family in Chaeronea, such as his grandfather Lamprias and his father Autobulus. This was a man who looked to his home culture for inspiration, in marked contrast to the Roman perspectives adopted by his contemporaries among the intellectuals from Spain.27

The proud history of Plutarch's home town Chaeronea was insignificant in comparison with Athens, the greatest of the fabled cities of Greece before the world was changed by Alexander the Great. The cultural renaissance of Athens reached its peak in the early second century CE, when Hadrian transformed the city's appearance with a lavish building programme. Hadrian became an honorary citizen of the city and was treated by the Athenians as a second founder (with the creation of a thirteenth Athenian tribe named “Hadrianis”), and, at the request of the Athenians, he redrafted through his jurists the ancients laws of Draco and Solon which governed not only the ordinary civil and criminal laws but also the constitution itself. Hadrian's beneficence was the culmination of a series of gifts to the city by Roman senators and emperors keen to pay tribute to Athens' glorious past. The eastern part of the agora, the civic centre, had been remodelled by Julius Caesar and Augustus as a market. Augustus' friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa had paid for an odeum (a hall for musical competitions) to reflect the importance of Athenian culture, and a series of libraries had been erected. These Roman benefactors naturally sought their own glory alongside that of Athens. The colossal temple of Zeus Olympius, which had been begun in the sixth century BCE, was completed in magnificent style by Hadrian. It was approached through an arch that separated the “new Athens built by Hadrian” from the old Athens of Theseus. All this external reverence undoubtedly helped to bolster Athenian pride. Philostratus, who composed in the early third century CE his “Lives of the Sophists,” reported, as evidence of the arrogance of the orator Polemo of Laodicea, who “conversed with cities as his inferiors, emperors as not his superiors, and the gods as his equals,” that, “since he well knew that the natures of the Athenians need to be held in check rather than encouraged, this was his introductory speech: ‘They say, Athenians, that you are wise hearers of words. I shall find out.’ ”28

By contrast, the pride of the Spartans lay in their claims to a distinctive way of life which had bred their legendary military prowess. During the first century CE, they “revived” many of the old customs, although “revival” often consisted in the invention of tradition and spurious attribution to the traditional founder of the Spartan lifestyle, Lycurgus. Partly for Roman tourists in the early empire, but increasingly for Greeks seeking self-affirmation in the second century CE, Spartans stressed to themselves and to the outside world their archaic traditions, from their heroic endurance in the Persian wars to their “Lycurgan” customs. Their local patriotism was strongly endorsed by other Greeks. Plutarch wrote a biography of Lycurgus, a man about whom little can now or could then be said with any certainty; turning him into a philosophical and political seer, Plutarch admitted that the treatment of helots, the underclass in classical Sparta, was notoriously inequitable and cruel, and he deemed it therefore not really Spartan: “for I cannot persuade myself to ascribe to Lycurgus so abominable a measure … judging of his character from the gentleness of his disposition and his justice upon all other occasions.” In general the special qualities of lifestyle boasted by the Spartans seem often to have touched only the surface of their lives, which in many aspects resembled that elsewhere in Roman Greece; it is noticeable, for instance, that Spartan women are praised in inscriptions for their moderation, their love of their husbands, their dignity and their decorum, in contrast to the notorious independence of Spartan women in classical times. But remaining distinctive (or possibly revived in the Roman period) was the Spartan system of rearing youths. Civic overseers organized contests in song, dance, athletics and military exercises. A large series of dedicatory inscriptions from the temple of Artemis Orthia shows that such training was organized by age group, and that from the late first century CE each group was subdivided into “herds,” or teams, providing, if the evidence of the surviving inscriptions is indicative, an intense sense of team identity. A “contest of endurance” in which Plutarch saw a boy die seems to have been a particularly violent event involving the youths making an attack on the altar of Artemis Orthia, which was defended by men bearing whips. Claims about the antiquity of these customs were rendered more plausible by the use of archaic terminology and, in dedications to the goddess, a Doric dialect of Greek.29

Greek local patriotism and its basis in memories of a distant past more glorious than the present emerge clearly from the Description of Greece written by Pausanias in the mid-second century CE. Pausanias was himself from the city of Magnesia in Lydia (modern Turkey), but his tourist guide covered the main regions of the Greek mainland: Attica, Megara, the whole of the Peloponnese, Boeotia and Phocis (including Delphi)—all the Roman province of Achaia of his time apart from the mountainous region of Aeto-lia and the islands. He wrote enthusiastically about the sculpture and painting of the archaic and classical periods that were still to be seen in the ancient cities of Greece, but made only occasional reference to the artistic benefactions of Roman emperors and others in his own time, and showed little interest in the period of decline which had preceded the Roman conquest. Learned comments about the historical background to the monuments he described, and about the religious cults and rituals to be witnessed by a leisurely traveller through these ancient cities, bear witness to the sense of identification with the Greek past shared even by those from across the Aegean. For Pausanias, the history of Greece that mattered was the story of the glorious years between the Persian wars in the early fifth century BCE and the Roman conquest three hundred years later: “Milti-ades, son of Cimon, overcame in battle those of the barbarian invaders who had landed at Marathon, stayed the advance of the Medes, and so became the first benefactor of all Greece, just as Philopoemen, son of Craugis [leader of the Achaean League in the late third and early second centuries BCE] was the last.” Pausanias noted that “after this, Greece ceased to bear good men.” It is probable that Pausianias' intended readership lay among other Greeks from Asia Minor like himself, for whom the names of Athens, Sparta, Delphi and Olympia, all of which feature prominently in the Description, resonated with heroic glory.30

By the time Pausanias was writing in the second century, rhetorical displays harking back to the classical past had become mass entertainment. The brilliant speeches of orators who conjured up the spirit of Pericles or Demosthenes in set pieces before admiring crowds set the tone of the culture of Greek cities. A successful professor of rhetoric might win applause by declaiming “in the character of Aristogeiton demanding the right to denounce Demosthenes for conspiring with Persia and Aeschines for conspiring with Philip,” or on the theme “Hypereides, when Philip is at Elatea, pays heed only to the counsels of Demosthenes.” The shared Hellenic culture of the city elites was consolidated by the internationalism of the traditional athletic games at Olympia and elsewhere, and by institutions such as the Worldwide Guild (Synodos) of the Artists of Dionysus, who provided professional entertainment at the great religious festivals. All this nostalgia for the glorious past prompted much expenditure by the urban elite on their native cities, sometimes in the erection of archaizing monuments, as in Athens, or by minting their own base-metal coinages on which local traditions were loyally recalled. The designs used on the coinage of Nysa in the late first century CE in Asia Minor referred mostly to the cult of Pluto and Kore because an important shrine to these divinities lay close to the city; the coins of Pergamum in the same period referred to the local cults too, in this case Asclepius and Athena, but they also included types showing the head of the eponymous hero Pergamos, alleged founder of the city. Antiquarian designs became more common during the second century CE. But even more lasting than coins or buildings was the literary record. The orators of the “Second Sophistic,” so fulsomely described by Philostratus (who coined the term in his “Lives of the Sophists” in order to assert a link between itinerant professors of higher education in the Greek world in the fifth century BCE and the public teachers of rhetoric who flourished in the Greek world between c. 60 and 230 CE), produced between them a rich literature on classical themes, from the speeches of Dio Chrysostom and Aelius Aristides to Plutarch's biographies and the history of Alexander the Great composed by the historian and philosopher Arrian of Nicomedia. Much of our picture of the world of classical Greece has been coloured by these accounts, written with wistful hindsight in a world now dominated by Rome.31

The career of Arrian (c. 86—160) may help to explain the preservation of so much of this literature in contrast to the loss of writings produced by and for provincials elsewhere in the empire. As a young aristocrat in Bi-thynia, Arrian held a magistracy in his home town and devoted himself to the study of philosophy with the Stoic Epictetus, who in the 90s CE had set up a school in Nicopolis, on the western coast of Greece. While engaged on such intellectual pursuits Arrian became friendly, some time between 108 and 112, with the future emperor Hadrian, ward of the emperor Trajan and by this date a senator of consular rank, who shared his enthusiasms, including a passion for hunting. The friendship brought him into political prominence once Hadrian succeeded to power in 117. Arrian was made a senator, gained the consulship, and from 131 to 137 served as governor of Cappadocia. He wrote about his own contemporary career in the style of his classical predecessors. His Greek style was a conscious imitation of Xenophon and other classical historians, and even while fulfilling his duties in Cappadocia he managed to write an Essay on Tactics and a geographical essay about the coasts of the Black Sea. His Order of Battle Against the Alans recounted, in the style of Xenophon, how he had repelled an attack on his province by the nomadic Alans, who had tried to infiltrate south from the Caucasus. Arrian's prominence in Roman terms thus in no way conflicted with his self-perception as an inheritor of the traditions of classical Greece. On the contrary, the more Greek his behaviour, the more favour he was likely to receive from Hadrian, whose own devotion to Greek studies led to him being called Graeculus, “little Greek.” Among the last works Arrian is known to have produced are the eight books of Bithyniaca,which gave the history of Bithynia from the very beginnings down to its annexation by Rome.32

What was life like for these Greeks under Roman rule? Of the peasants who cultivated the countryside, we know little: an apparently realistic picture of self-sufficient isolated farmers in southern Euboea, who survived, poor but happy, by keeping away from the nearest town, was composed by the philosopher Dio Chrysostom in the late first century CE, not as an ethnographic description but as a moral lesson for those who preferred luxury to simplicity. The culture espoused by Greeks who were conscious of their Greekness was urban.33

That urban culture had changed a good deal from the city life of the classical period. Inhabitants of cities which had long been political rivals were now, under the Roman peace, deprived of the opportunity to attack each other, except at the courts of Roman governors. Deeply aware of this loss of the political freedom which had once provided the focus of civic life, Greeks threw their energy and resources instead into beautifying and enjoying the public spaces of their cities.

What such cities usually looked like, and the function they usually fulfilled, is evident from the sneers of Pausanias about Panopeus, a city in central Greece, which failed to live up to expectations—“if one can give the name of city to those which possess no government offices, no gymnasium, no theatre, no marketplace, no water descending to a fountain, but live in bare shelters just like mountain cabins.”34 Richer Greeks spent their surplus wealth less on private luxuries and sumptuous rural villas than on the erection of such buildings to win the approbation of their fellow citizens. Local civic identity was as strong in Greece under Roman rule in the first century CE as it had ever been. Numerous inscriptions attest to the continuing importance of the traditional associations of boys, young men and elders which gave an individual Greek male a sense of his place in civic society. But civic pride was combined with a sense of solidarity with other Greeks in contrast to the Roman outsider. Panhellenic celebrations, above all the Olympic games, held in Olympia in the north-western Pelopon-nese, were more popular than ever before in Greek history, and star performers in athletics, as in oratory, drama and song, gained renown across the Greek world. The Roman state gave positive support to such manifestations of cultural solidarity: in 43 and 48–9 CE the emperor Claudius confirmed the privileges, previously granted by Augustus, of the Worldwide Guild of Crowned Victors in the Sacred Contests of Dionysus and their Fellow Competitors, the stage artists whose performances packed theatres all over the Greek world.35

OF ALL the provincials ruled by Rome, only the Greeks could hope to have their contemporary literature treated as prestigious and preserved by and through the Roman elite. If evidence about local attitudes to their world survived elsewhere, that was the result of luck. In this respect the luck of the Egyptians lay in the climate and environment of the Nile valley, which preserved thousands of texts on papyrus for posterity to read.

The roots of Egyptian culture lay millennia in the past, a fact well known to almost every educated person in the ancient world. For any Greek ignorant of the facts, the Egyptian priest Manetho wrote in the third century BCE an orderly account in Greek of the dynastic history of the early Pharaohs. During the Hellenistic period the transference of political control to a Greek elite encouraged the adoption of Hellenism by Egyptians as happened elsewhere in the countries once ruled by Alexander, but the exclusive racism of the ruling Ptolemaic dynasty rendered native achievement of political power difficult: the Ptolemies preferred to entrust all authority to Macedonians and Greeks so far as they could. In the administrative changes imposed by Rome after Egypt was “added to the empire of the Roman people” by Augustus, racial distinctions were strengthened still further and the inferior status of Egyptians remained enshrined in administrative law. But despite the predominance of Greek as the language of Egyptian papyri in the first two centuries CE, it remains possible to say a great deal about the attitudes and beliefs not just of the Greek elite but also of ordinary Egyptians, whose cultural background, even in Greek documents, is often betrayed by their names: “Petosiris,” “Nephersorchos,” “Teteimouthis,” “Taychis.” The papyri show Egyptians continuing in some social practices wholly contrary to normal Roman behaviour, most strikingly in approval of brother-sister marriages. Such unions had been found both among the Pharaohs and the Ptolemies, and Diodorus Siculus remarked in the mid-first century BCE that “the Egyptians … made a law, they say, contrary to the general custom of mankind, permitting men to marry their sisters.” There is much evidence in census records, marriage contracts, deeds of divorce, private letters and other documents from the Roman period that the custom was widespread not only among the Egyptian peasantry but also among the Greek elite in Egypt. An archive of sixty-nine documents relating to a certain Kronion, spanning the years from 107 to 53, reveals that two of his five children—his eldest son, also called Kronion, and his daughter Taorsenouphis—married and produced offspring of their own. A census document of 173—4 CE listing the property and families of four brothers, Pantbeus, Tithoennesis, Phalakris and Haronoesis, records that two of the brothers had married their own sisters. Roman citizens were forbidden such unions, and this must have been one of the local customs that came most under strain when Roman citizenship was conferred on the inhabitants of Egypt in 212: brother-sister marriage was eventually forbidden throughout the empire by an imperial edict in 295.36

At the same time as they upheld traditional customs, Egyptians were quite capable of using the Roman administration to their advantage when law and order were needed, as they were by a villager, Orsenouphis, whose detailed complaint to the local police chief in 28 CE is recorded on a papyrus:

In the month Mesore of the past fourteenth year of Tiberius Caesar Augustus I was having some old walls on my premises demolished by the builder Petesouchus son of Petesouchus, and while I was absent from home to gain my living, Petesouchus in the process of demolition discovered a hoard which had been secreted by my mother in a little box as long ago as the sixteenth year of [Augustus] Caesar, consisting of a pair of gold earrings weighing four quarters, a gold crescent weighing three quarters, a pair of silver armlets of the weight of twelve drachmas of uncoined metal, a necklace with silver ornaments worth eighty drachmas, and sixty silver drachmas. Diverting the attention of his assistants and my people, he had them conveyed to his own home by his unmarried daughter, and after emptying out the aforesaid objects he threw away the box empty in my house, and he even admitted finding the box, though he pretends that it was empty. Wherefore I request, if you approve, that the accused be brought before you for the consequent punishment.37

The documents, archaeological as much as papyrological, also show religious accommodation to Roman rule. The walls of the great Egyptian temples still visited by tourists today bear prayers for the well-being of Roman emperors as much as, sometimes more than, Egyptian Pharaohs. Sculptured reliefs show the emperor Augustus sacrificing to the animal gods in the Egyptian style. But religion also provides one of the best touchstones for the continuation of local culture through the period of Roman rule. Numerous documents attest to the effort, personnel and expense devoted to worship of distinctively Egyptian gods: Thoeris, Isis, Sarapis, Horus, Anubis, Apis, Osiris. Such worship did not preclude veneration also of Greek and Roman gods. At Oxyrhynchus, Egyptian divinities worshipped included Zeus-Ammon, Hera-Isis, Sarapis, Osiris and Thoeris; Greek gods included Demeter, Kore, the Dioscuri, Dionysus, Hermes and Apollo; among Roman gods were Jupiter Capitolinus and Mars. Precisely what significance the professed and explicit overlap between the identities of different gods held for worshippers is unclear.38

Despite such complexities it is evident that traditional Egyptian religion remained strong. The political status and financial standing of the Egyptian priestly caste were markedly diminished under Roman rule compared to their privileged position under the Ptolemies, but they continued to function (and earn privileges from the state). A papyrus of 107 CE refers to the work of five hieroglyph cutters in Oxyrhynchus, although they swore specifically that five was all there were in their district:

To Claudius Menandrus, basilicogrammateus [royal scribe], from Teos … and Asklas … both of the city of Oxyrhynchus, hieroglyphic carvers, who have been delegated by their fellow-carvers: list of ourselves and the said fellow-carvers of hieroglyphics for the present nth year of Traianus Caesar the lord, as follows: … Total 5 men. And we swear by the emperor … that we have honestly and truthfully presented the foregoing list, and that there are no more than these, and that we have no apprentices or strangers carrying on the art down to the present day …39

The priests at Socnopaiou Nesos in the mid-second century CE celebrated in their temples a total of one hundred and fifty-three festival days each year. That much of the ordinary populace continued to believe in the Egyptian gods, depicted wholly or partly in animal form, seems undeniable. All this could be deduced even without the chance survival of fragments of a treatise on Egyptian religion by Chaeremon of Alexandria, who included among his pupils the young Nero. Writing from within the Egyptian tradition, Chaeremon presented native customs with a Stoic philosophical gloss to a sometimes sceptical outside world, as a much later writer reported:

Chaeremon the Stoic tells in his exposé about the Egyptian priests, who, he says, were considered also as philosophers among the Egyptians, that they chose the temples as the place to philosophise … They renounced every employment and human revenues, and devoted their whole life to contemplation of the divine … They were always seen near the gods, or rather their statues. And each of the acts was no empty gesture, but an indication of some allegorical truth … Their way of walking was disciplined, and they took care to have a quiet look, so that they did not blink when they wanted to do so. They seldom laughed … They were not allowed to touch foods or drinks that were produced outside Egypt … They abstained from all kinds of fish, and from such quadrupeds as had uncloven hoofs or had toes or had no horns, and also from such birds as were carnivorous … The periods of purification and fasting observed by all priests were clean. This was the period when they were to perform something pertaining to the sacred rites. Then they spent a number of days in preparation … and during this time they abstained from all animal food, from all vegetables and pulse, but above all from sexual intercourse with women, for (needless to say) they never at any time had intercourse with males … Such are the things testified about the Egyptians by a man who was a lover of truth and an accurate writer, and who was among the Stoics a very clever philosopher.40

The use of hieroglyphs and hieratic script for writing was confined to the Egyptian priesthood, who used them only in religious and ceremonial contexts, but the Egyptian language expressed in other scripts was widely used in business documents and the private correspondence of ordinary people, even if not on the same scale as Greek. The shift from use of demotic script, extensively employed in the Ptolemaic period and the first century of Roman rule, to Coptic script, which began to appear in Christian documents towards the end of the third century CE, reveals the impact of Greek literacy: Coptic is essentially Egyptian written in Greek characters (with a few extra letters for those Egyptian sounds for which Greek does not adequately provide). The eventual emergence of Coptic Christianity is in itself testimony to the continuing vitality of the Egyptian language as a medium not just for mundane transactions but for thought and literary invention. Many of the surviving texts of demotic literature were copied in the early Roman period. Although the composition of most should probably be dated to Ptolemaic times, it is not impossible that some of these writings were still being devised in the first century CE. A demotic papyrus now in the British Museum has a copy in handwriting dated to the Roman period of the story of Setne Khamwas and his visit to the underworld, where he witnesses the blessed existence of the just and the tortures of the wicked:

Setne said: “My son Si-Osire, many are the marvels that I have seen in the netherworld. Now let me learn what is happening to those people who are plaiting ropes while donkeys chew them up” … Si-Osire said: “In truth, my father Setne, those people whom you saw plaiting ropes while donkeys were chewing them up, they are the kind of people on earth who are under the curse of the god. They labour night and day for their livelihood, while their women rob them behind their backs, and they find no bread to eat. When they came to the netherworld in their turn, their misdeeds were found to be more numerous than their good deeds. It was ordered that what had happened to them on earth should happen to them in the netherworld.”

A demotic papyrus from the first century CE now in Leiden contains a series of wisdom instructions which were evidently quite popular, since a number of other copies also survive in fragmentary form: “The teaching to be measured in everything, so as to do nothing but what is fitting … Do not be a glutton, lest you become the companion of poverty … The teaching not to be a fool, so that one does not fail to receive you in the house … The teaching of knowing the greatness of the gods so as to put it in your heart.” During the second and third centuries CE some of these Egyptian literary works were translated or adapted into Greek, rather in the same way as Jews like Josephus adapted Jewish history from the Bible. The legend of Tefnut, which involved the mission of Thoth to conciliate Tefnut, who as a result of a quarrel had withdrawn to the Nubian desert and taken on the form of a lioness, is known both from a demotic papyrus of the second century CE and also from a literary version in Greek found on a third-century papyrus in the British Museum, in which Thoth is named Hermes. There was clearly a demand for such translations in this period. Other extant texts of this kind include an invocation of Isis and a Life of Imuthes-Asclepius.41

Abundant evidence thus shows Egyptians tenacious in their own culture, but also willing to accept and adapt cultural imports from both Greece and Rome. Nowhere does this emerge more clearly than in the huge number of surviving mummy portraits. The care of the dead, which had been so conspicuous a feature of Egyptian culture for millennia, continued under Roman rule. Tomb paintings and shrouds depict Osiris and the jackal-headed Anubis, the god who presided over the processes of mummification. But the portraits of the dead are painted realistically in the Roman style, often charming pictures which probably provide an idealized picture of the deceased.

The survival of all this material through archaeological chance, rather than by virtue of approval from those critics who thought some literature worthy to be copied through the Middle Ages, when other works were lost, also makes more likely than elsewhere in the empire the preservation of evidence of native opposition to Roman rule. The Roman sources refer to only one native uprising which required suppression, by the boukoloi (“herdsmen”) who rebelled in the Egyptian delta in 172 CE; they mention nothing about the reasons for dissent. Copies of the nationalist demotic prophecy called the Oracle of the Potter, originally composed against the Ptolemies in the second century BCE to predict the future glory of Memphis and the demise of the city of Alexandria “when Egypt will see the foreigners fall like leaves from the branch,” was still circulating in Greek versions in the second and third centuries CE. But much the most virulent anti-Roman literature preserved from Roman Egypt is, perhaps surprisingly, not Egyptian but Greek. The Greeks of the city of Alexandria, who felt that their authority in the country where they had held privileged sway under the Ptolemies had been fatally compromised by the imposition of Roman rule, produced a literary compilation of narratives describing heroic opposition to emperors, ranging from Tiberius in the first to Com-modus in the late second century CE, by Alexandrian dissidents, sometimes portrayed as the leading citizens of the city. These martyr acts take the form of reports of genuine trials, and some are based on real events, including the struggle between Jews and Greeks in the city in the 30s and 40s CE which had brought Philo on his embassy to Rome to appeal to Gaius in 40 and had embroiled Agrippa I, as we saw in Chapter 2. In one text, preserved in a number of fragmentary papyri, a certain Isidorus is shown protesting to the emperor Claudius: “My lord Caesar, what do you care for a two-penny-halfpenny Jew like Agrippa? … I accuse them [the Jews] of wishing to stir up the entire world … They are not of the same nature as the Alexandrians, but live rather after the fashion of the Egyptians … I am neither a slave nor a girl-musician's son, but gymnasiarch of the glorious city of Alexandria, but you are the cast-off son of the Jewish Salome!” The literary genre of opposition to Rome by Alexandrian Greeks was to remain popular, if the date and number of copies of extant papyri is a good guide, into the third century CE, even though by then real political opposition was negligible.42

ELSEWHERE IN the empire the evidence for the continuation of local cultures under Roman rule has to be pieced together from less direct indications: the language used in inscriptions, artistic styles, names of people and places. In many parts of the empire Greek or Latin were the languages of public display regardless of the languages in general use, much as Latin was used on monuments throughout Europe in early modern times. A distinctive local culture, like that of diaspora Jews, could express itself through the medium of Greek, just as Pomponius Mela propagated his Phoenician viewpoint in a work composed in Latin; so nothing can be learned from the absence of epigraphic evidence for a local language, although a decision to use such a language was likely to be significant. Recognition of the significance of native artistic preferences is in some ways even harder, since much of the surviving archaeological evidence is found on pottery, not an obvious type of artefact for the expression of political sentiment in antiquity any more than now. The study of names may seem more promising. A father who gave his son a wholly Roman-sounding name, such as the father of Marcus Iulius Agrippa (the full name of the Jewish king Agrippa I), did not thereby deny his native culture, but the choice of a distinctive local name is likely to have signified cultural pride. In the Jerusalem over which Agrippa I ruled, the names of the high priests were notably Jewish. Ananus son of Sethi, himself High Priest in 6 CE, had five sons who each held the high priesthood for a while. They were called Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias and Ananus: in some contexts, it seems, to give your child a Greek or Roman name did not seem appropriate. Evidence of the strength of local cultures comes also from place names—not so much the names foisted on cities by Roman authorities, which changed with the vagaries of the regime (much like the transmutations of St. Petersburg during the twentieth century), but the names that survived antiquity. It probably says something about the tribal identity of the Parisii in whose territory it lay that the town of Lutetia, laid out as a standard Roman town with forum, temples and regular street plan, is now known as Paris, rather than Lutèce.

Despite such limitations of evidence, enough material survives to confirm that multifarious local cultures existed in the empire. Local languages persisted from pre-Roman times to re-emerge as Welsh or Basque in the Middle Ages. The native language of North Africa, written in a distinctive alphabet of its own, left traces on inscriptions written in the early centuries CE in places from the Atlantic coast to eastern Tunisia. Ovid remarked on the Getic and Sarmatian spoken by the locals in the Black Sea region to which he had been banished by his erstwhile patron Augustus. Bilingualism must have been common, and trilingualism (in Greek, Latin and some local language) not unusual: the great Roman lawyer Ulpian (died 223 CE) came from Tyre and would presumably have been conversant with Phoenician and Greek, the languages used for inscriptions in the city before it became a Roman colony during his lifetime, before he devoted himself to an administrative career in Rome and the composition of juristic works in Latin. A number of different local languages continued in use in Anatolia, most strikingly evidenced in the numerous neo-Phrygian inscriptions in Greek letters of the first to third centuries CE on funerary texts and religious dedications to the Anatolian god Men and to abstract divinities of moral qualities such as holiness and justice. But most languages were probably not written down. Nothing in the archaeological record survives of the language of the people of Lystra who in the first century CE witnessed the miraculous healing of a cripple by Paul, according to Acts: “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, ‘The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.’ ”43

One provincial at least took solace from this variety of customs. Bar Daisan, a speculative Christian philosopher at the court of Abgar VIII of Edessa (modern Urfa, in south-eastern Turkey), wrote a treatise in Syriac On Fate, or the Book of the Laws of Countriesin the late second century CE, in which he argued against astrological determinism by showing (not altogether accurately) how the customs of peoples differ:

Now listen, and try to understand that not all people over the whole world do that which the stars determine by their Fate and in their sectors, in the same way. For men have established laws in each country by that liberty given them from God … Among the Romans, everyone who has stolen some trifle is scourged then set free. On the further side of the Euphrates, towards the East, no man called a thief or a murderer will become very angry. But if a man is accused of having had sexual intercourse with boys, he revenges himself and does not even shrink from murder … In the North, however, on the territory of the Germans and their neighbours, the boys who are handsome serve the men as wives, and a wedding feast, too, is held then … Among the Britons, many men together take one wife …

From such evidence, argued Bar Daisan, it is clear that man controls his own fate, and that life is controlled neither by the stars nor by geography. The same argument is bolstered by evidence that people can change their customs, most strikingly and effectively, according to Bar Daisan, when they become Christians.44

The Roman world, it seems, was what we would call today multicultural, as was acknowledged by both rulers and ruled. Observation of the kaleidoscope of customs within the empire elicited at different times moralizing, humour, disdain, distaste or admiration, but not surprise. Everyone knew that the peoples of the Roman world followed distinctive local traditions, and apparently took it for granted that such variety was inevitable.


IN GENERAL, the Romans were happy to allow their provincial subjects to continue to live in such idiosyncratic ways. The tolerance of the state in allowing provincials to retain non-Roman lifestyles is all the more striking when the Romans knew well the practical advantages which could accrue to the state from cultural change. The historian Tacitus claimed that his father-in-law Agricola spent the winter of 78–9 CE during his governorship of Britain attempting “to induce a people, hitherto scattered, uncivilized and therefore prone to fight, to grow pleasurably inured to peace and ease.” This was achieved, according to Tacitus, by encouraging the building of temples, marketplaces and large houses, and by promoting the Latin language and the wearing of a toga, leading on to “the amenities that make vice agreeable,” such as baths and banquets.45 As has long been noted, so conscious an imposition of Roman culture by a single governor in so short a space of time could not possibly work, and Tacitus is not in this instance to be trusted. Nevertheless, a long-term policy along the lines ascribed to Agricola would have been perfectly sensible and feasible, and if urbanization in Roman Britain was slow and patchy over the first two centuries CE, as can be amply demonstrated from the archaeological evidence from numerous sites, this was the result of the policy not being followed even though Romans knew it might have worked. In other words, the normal attitude of the state to provincial culture was laissez-faire.

But laissez-faire did not imply that in the eyes of Romans all cultures were equally valuable. Romans were not racially prejudiced in the sense of believing that some peoples were inherently inferior, but they had a clear notion of the barbarian as the opposite to civilized society and outside the bounds of true humanity. The whole concept of the barbarian, borrowed from its original Greek use where it denoted those who spoke languages other than Greek (thus, ironically, including the Latin-speaking Romans), provided a useful mechanism to distance the acceptable culture of the civilized metropolis from its implied antithesis. Barbarians could occasionally be held up for admiration by the cynic deploring the decline in Roman morals; hence the praise of aspects of simple German society in the Germa-nia of Tacitus. But more often the barbarian was seen as benighted, res-cuable (if at all) only by incorporation into the civilized world of Rome. Both language about barbarians and the physical depiction of them could be extremely violent. On the column of Trajan in Rome, which celebrated the emperor's victories in Dacia in 101—2 and 105—6, a series of images carved in relief record the operation of the Roman army on the Danube. The scenes depicted, evidently preserved for the admiration of the general Roman public (even if not all the details could be fully appreciated from the ground), show the mass murder of the enemy, the enslavement of women and children, even the display of severed heads as trophies. Extermination of such enemies could be celebrated in chilling terms. According to the historian Cassius Dio, when the annihilation of the Nasamones in Africa in 85—6 included the destruction of all the non-combatants, the emperor Domitian announced triumphantly to the Senate, “I have forbidden the Nasamones to exist.”46 Peoples and groups might be defined as “internal barbarians” in this way only by certain individuals at particular times or for specific purposes, but the language and concept were dangerously available for their isolation and denigration. National caricatures based on “science,” such as the astrological geography of the great astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy), who wrote in the mid-second century CE, could easily degenerate into systemic hostility:

The remaining parts of the quarter, situated around the middle of the whole inhabited world, Idumaea, Coele-Syria, Judaea, Phoenicia, Chaldaea, Orchinia and Arabia Felix, which are situated towards the north-west of the whole quarter, have additional familiarity with the north-western triangle, Aries, Leo and Sagittarius, and, furthermore, have as co-rulers Jupiter, Mars and Mercury. Therefore these peoples are, in comparison with the others, more prone to trade and exchange; they are more unscrupulous, and despicable cowards, and treacherous, and servile, and totally fickle, on account of the stars mentioned standing in mutual opposition. Of these, again the inhabitants of Coele-Syria, and Idumaea, and Judaea are more closely familiar to Aries and Mars, and therefore these peoples are in general bold, and godless, and scheming.47

It could take a long time for Romans to reach the conclusion that any specific behaviour fell outside the bounds of civilized acceptability as they defined it. The practices of the druids in Gaul and in Britain were outlawed in the time of Tiberius, and the emperor Claudius took action to suppress them. The Roman sources which report these actions by the state express revulsion at druidic barbarity: Suetonius records of Claudius that “he utterly abolished the cruel and inhuman religion of the druids among the Gauls, which under Augustus had been forbidden only to [Roman] citizens.” The elder Pliny, who was living somewhat closer to the time described, in his discussion of the ubiquity of magic throughout the world attributed the change to Tiberius: “Magic certainly found a home in the Gallic provinces, and that down to living memory. For the principate of Tiberius Caesar did away with their druids and this tribe of seers and medical men … It is impossible to calculate how great is the debt owed to the Romans, who swept away the monstrous rites, in which to kill a man was a most religious act and for him to be eaten was most conducive to health.”48 Whether or not such charges were false in whole or in part, Roman disgust had evidently been slow to manifest itself. Some hundred years before Claudius, both Cicero and Julius Caesar had established close and friendly ties with the Aeduan druid Divitiacus, and Caesar seems to have found nothing problematic about druidism during his conquest of Gaul in the 50s BCE.

Such prohibitions of provincial customs were highly unusual in the first century CE, and it is significant that Pliny tried to justify the suppression of druids by accusing them of cannibalism, a charge not infrequently adduced against any group deemed hostile to normal society. It is likely that the real problem posed to Rome by druids lay in their popular following among ordinary Gauls, which threatened to undermine the authority of the rich local aristocrats to whom Rome had devolved power in the province. When no such political issues arose, provincials could act how they liked, as they did when siblings married each other in Egypt.

The main impulse to acceptance of Roman mores by provincials thus came not through imposition from above but as a result of the ambitions of the provincials themselves. The Roman elite was remarkably willing to accept into its ranks capable men of almost any background, provided that they lived in a Roman way. Under Nero, most Roman senators came from Italy, although there were already quite a few from southern Spain and southern Gaul, but by the late first century CE there were numerous members of the senatorial order from the Greek-speaking regions of the empire, mostly from the province of Asia in western Turkey, and in the early second century there began to be many senators whose families derived from the northern coast of Africa. By the mid-second century CE, when a certain Tiberius Claudius Gordianus, the earliest senator to derive from Tyana in Cappadocia on the very eastern limit of Roman rule, entered the Roman elite, there were few regions of the empire not represented in the body which was still seen by Romans as the central organ of the state.49

The Romans knew well, of course, that individuals had skins of different colour, and remarks are scattered through Latin literature expressing aesthetic judgements on black-skinned “Ethiopians” and the pale faces and “excessive” height of northern Europeans, but these were matters of taste rather than moral or social significance, and ethnic origins could be ignored if someone was sufficiently talented. Thus a telling omission in the description by the Roman senator Tacitus of Tiberius Iulius Alexander, prefect of Egypt in the 60s CE and in due course chief of staff to the future emperor Titus during his prosecution of the siege of Jerusalem in 70, is any mention of his Jewish origin. Tiberius Alexander was in fact the son of one of the most prominent members of the Alexandrian Jewish community. His father Marcus, who had held a powerful administrative role for Rome as alabarch (a position which probably involved superintendence of customs collection on the Arabian side of the Nile), was famous for his gift of gilded gates to the Jerusalem Temple. He was the benefactor whose loan to Agrippa I in the mid-30s CE had enabled the Jewish king to restart his political career in Rome. Tiberius' brother (also called Marcus, like his father) had been married to Agrippa's daughter, the Jewish princess Berenice. His uncle was Philo, the great Jewish philosopher who had been one of the leaders of the embassy sent to the emperor Gaius in 40 CE to plead on behalf of the Jews of Alexandria.50 Tiberius Alexander had himself been sent in 46 by Claudius as governor of Judaea, presumably on the assumption that his Jewish background would give him an advantage in ruling over Jerusalem, as it had done for his brother's father-in-law, Agrippa I. And yet, despite all these Jewish connections, Tacitus describes Tiberius Alexander, when he was an officer on the staff of the Roman general Corbulo in Armenia in 63, just as “a distinguished Roman knight.” Even more remarkably, having just informed his readers at the beginning of his Histories, which cover the years 69 to 96, that in 69 “the war against the Jews was being directed with three legions by Flavius Vespasianus,” he immediately proceeds to describe the government of Egypt, “managed from the time of the deified Augustus by Roman knights in place of their former kings … At this time the governor was Tiberius Alexander, of that same nation [i.e. an Egyptian].” The satirist Juvenal, writing at about the same time as Tacitus, mocks Tiberius Alexander, against whose triumphal statue “it is permissible not only to pee,” as “some Egyptian Arabarch or other,” referring to the post held by Tiberius' father. For both Roman authors, Tiberius Alexander's origins as a Jew were apparently irrelevant. His career exemplified the willingness of the Roman elite to ignore the ethnic and racial origins of provincials who sought to be treated as Roman, provided only that the individual in question adopted Roman customs in full.51

WHEN SUCH diverse societies flourished unchecked without interference, why should the life of Jerusalem have been deemed so much more inimical to Rome than others in the empire? We must now seek an answer by examining the differences between Roman and Jewish attitudes to the world they shared.

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