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Local and Translocal Networks: Contact between Associations of Roman Citizens and Local Communities of the Empire

Sailakshmi Ramgopal

In 88 B.C.E., Mithridates of Pontus ordered the massacre of all Roman citizens in Asia Minor and Greece. Several cities took advantage of the opportunity to avenge themselves against decades of abuse; surviving accounts report death tolls between 80,000 and 150,000. Yet some communities, such as the island of Cos, offered refuge to fleeing Romans. The episode offers a point of departure for the investigation of the visibility and privileged status of Romans abroad by motivating questions in respect to their experience as a diaspora. What factors account for variations in contact between Romans abroad and peregrine communities? What were the minimum requirements for peaceful relations between these groups? I answer these questions from a little explored angle by investigating the cross-cultural interactions of associations of Roman citizens (conventus civium Romanorum) in the domain of joint religious practice with peregrines in the imperial period. Without eliding the diversity of local experience, I challenge assumptions of unified hostility on the part of colonizers or the colonized.

Epigraphic evidence for the joint practice of cult by associations of Roman citizens and peregrine groups illuminates how local variables and asymmetrical relations generated hybrid practices and transformed Roman and peregrine lifeways (e.g. CIL VIII, 15775 = ILS 6774/5; IScM I 344). I argue that cooperative activity between associations of Roman citizens and groups of peregrines occurred only when the latter developed institutional structures that were homeomorphic with those of the Romans. Ancient and modern diplomatic contexts show that coalitions cannot be formed if the peregrine party lacked articulated political institutions or resisted their development. I also argue that the nature of contact between associations of Roman citizens and peregrine groups emphasized and even cemented peaceful relations in contrast to the often violent nature of regional relations with Rome.

My study privileges contexts that provide the most robust epigraphic evidence for joint religious practice between associations of Roman citizens and peregrines: the Gallic provinces, Africa Proconsularis, Asia, and Moesia Inferior. In order to improve our knowledge of these encounters and indicate dynamics of cultural change, I contextualize contact situations within regional histories of relations between peregrine communities and Rome. I also incorporate anthropological perspectives from alternate geographical and temporal contexts to consider these interactions within the framework of colonialism and empire.

Scholarship on associations of Roman citizens has addressed their origins, status in Roman public law, and internal organization (Kornemann 1891; Schulten 1892; van Andringa 1998 and 2003; Audin 1954; Gogniat Loos 1994). Researchers have not rigorously studied contact between associations of Roman citizens and local communities across contexts. Some studies have observed the inclusion of enfranchised provincials within the ranks of the associations (van Andringa 1998 and 2003). However investigations of contact have been limited to strict geographical bounds, as in van Andringa’s studies of Gaul (1998 and 2003); Picard’s account of relevant epigraphy from Africa (Picard 1966); and Avram’s discussion of Moesia Inferior (2007).

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Roman Imperial Interactions

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