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Constructing Time under the Roman Empire: The Politics of Time-Reckoning in Herakleia Pontika, Amastris, and Sinope

Ching-Yuan Wu

Bithynia-et-Pontus is a double province that originated from Pompey’s organisation of the kingdoms of Bithynia and Mithridatic Pontus. Six coastal cities, being naval bases and ports of trade, remained attached to Bithynia despite successive restructuring of Anatolian lands. Few literary attestations concern this coastal strip: only four of Pliny’s letters briefly discussed Heraklea, Amastris, Sinope, and Amisos (Sherwin-White 1966). Lucian’s Toxaris and Alexander contains short stories that have snippets of Amastris and Abonuteichos (Jones 1986). The fragmentary history of Memnon offers little beyond the conclusion of the Mithridatic War. Thanks to the publications of inscriptional catalogues from these cities, literary evidence increased substantially (Marek 1993; Jonnes 1994; French 2004). Issues such as local operations, microidentities, and intercommunal relations on local, provincial, and imperial levels have become of particular scholarly interest (Whitmarsh 2010; Vitale 2014; Bekker-Nielsen 2014).

In this paper, I use inscriptions from Heraklea Pontika, Amastris, and Sinope to study how formulaic time-reckoning could be used as proxy data for unpacking local political and social dynamics. Time-reckoning formulae considered in this study includes eponymous offices, civic years, lunar calendars, Roman consular dating, and tribunicia potestas of individual emperors, found in a total of 63 inscriptions (6 from Heraklea, 31 from Amastris, and 26 from Sinope). I first discuss the inherent logic of each formula mentioned above, which are different in the sense that they do not simply make linear representation of time. Formulae that aim to create synchronisations are highlighted for particular analysis. Synchronisation efforts such as the inscription from Heraklea Pontika that aligns eponymous consuls at Rome with the local office of eponymous basileus (IK Heraklea #2), and more elaborately at Amastris (Marek Kat. Amastris 11), where the alignment of the local eparchate, the provincial legatus pro praetore, and the civic year registers very different dynamics of local and global knowledge at work, and contains different implications on what such specific synchronisational efforts aim to achieve. The unpacking of the knowledge, strategy, and aim of synchronising time-reckoning would lead to a deeper understanding of local operations and dynamics.

The political nature of time-reckoning has been discussed by Samuel (1972), Leschhorn (1993), Hannah (2005), Rüpke (2011), Stern (2012), among others. The consensus is that a community’s sense of historical time is controlled by persons and institutions that have the authority and knowledge to do so. By studying how time is kept and who keeps them, one could understand the inner workings of communities through such proxy data. In particular, Sacha Stern’s recent contribution to calendars in antiquity has introduced postcolonial discourse to engage with the curious case of the persistent survival of local and Julianized calendars instead of adopting the Julian calendar itself outright (Stern 2012: 232). This paper adopts Stern’s point of view that local time-reckoning are in fact a form of local dissidence and subversion, and uses inscriptions from a seldom studied region to compare with the well-discussed examples such as the calendar of Asia.

The larger discourse with which this study is concerned is that local efforts of constructing a sense of time comprises of actors committed to engage with globalising forces, and that inscriptions contain information that reflects the actions that were taken, and could be so used to retroject possible scenarios of what happened, who were involved, and what was at stake. Admittedly, time reckoning is only one part of a larger project, but by bringing a sense of time to the three cities in question, where ancient literary texts have seldom discussed, we would be able to look at Bithynia-et-Pontus from a more balanced point of view.

Session/Panel Title:

Time and Memory

Session/Paper Number

3.3

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