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Landscapes of Authority: Roman Officials in Second-Century Ephesus

Garrett Ryan

The aim of my paper is to explore how relations between travelling Roman officials and provincial elites were molded by the civic settings in which they took place. Although it is generally agreed that the public spaces of ancient cities were in some sense social products, generated by and generative of the power relations they framed (e.g. Laurence 2007), the role played by civic space in shaping the authority of Roman officials in the provinces has been largely neglected. Using the example of second-century Ephesus, I will situate a proconsul of Asia’s performance of his duties in a built environment shaped by the complex goals and values of local notables. I hope to demonstrate how this setting not only shaped local perceptions of the proconsul’s authority, but also influenced the performance of his duties.

My approach is ultimately derived from Lefebvre’s pioneering analyses of the social production of space (Lefebvre 1991), though more immediately influenced by scholarship applying his ideas to a premodern context (e.g. Smith 2003). Unlike Lefebvre, however, I emphasize the consciousness with which architecture was used to model social relations, and thus draw on the idea that benefactors could reshape cities in accordance with a legible “image” (Lynch 1960, Favro 1996). My interpretation of how individuals responded to this civic image has been influenced by Louise Revell’s use of structuration theory to illuminate the creation of provincial identities (Revell 2009). In treating the public spaces of provincial cities as organic architectural unities, I follow a path pioneered by William MacDonald (MacDonald 1985); I do not, however, espouse his idea of a single all-encompassing tradition of imperial Roman urbanism, preferring to emphasize the distinctive nature of Greek, and especially Asian, building programs. The most recent synthetic description of civic construction in Asia Minor (Pont 2010), though an excellent guide to the motivations and products of elite building, summarily dismisses the idea that Roman officials had any special relationship with built environments. Likewise, recent discussions of the duties of provincial governors (Bérenger 2014, Meyer-Zwiffelhofer 2002) almost totally neglect the physical setting in which these duties were performed.

The well-excavated site of Ephesus provides ample material for a case study. After a brief summary of the goals that encouraged benefactors to collaborate in the creation of civic landscapes, I will review the spaces – particularly the theater, Upper Agora, and processional way to the Artemision – in and through which Ephesian notables performed their status and authority. I will then use literary and epigraphic testimonia (Haensch 1997) to outline how proconsuls of Asia adapted the same spaces to the execution of their duties. After outlining how the spatial arrangement, architectural and sculptural elaboration, and monumental inscriptions of such spaces advertised and modelled the power relationships that upheld the civic elite, I hope to show that their profound connection with the bases of local authority predicated how Roman power was performed and understood in the provinces.   

Session/Panel Title:

Roman Imperial Ideology and Authority

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