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The purpose of this paper is to reconsider the conception and perception of Roman rule among Greek city states in the early Roman empire through a close study of a Mithridatic-era civic decree from Ephesos (I.Eph. 8 = SIG3 742). Typically such an analysis is based upon primarily literary evidence (Polybius, Posidonius, Dionysius, Strabo, etc), complemented and ‘confirmed’ by the epigraphic evidence (notable exceptions in Gruen 1984, Kallet-Marx 1995, Ferrary 2001). But the contemporary state documents preserved in the epigraphic record can reveal a different, more complex and nuanced discourse among state actors, and the Ephesian document is an exemplary case study. The point of departure for this paper is the city’s declaration of war against Mithridates “on behalf of the hegemony of the Romans and the common freedom”. This particular passage has received little or no direct comment from modern editors and those who have remarked on it tend to treat it as one of the examples of the “slogan of Greek freedom” (most recently Dmetriev 2011). Yet if we remove the a priori assumption that Greek freedom was a vacant slogan or an ideological tool of the Romans and instead take the Ephesians’ claim properly as a descriptive statement, then we are left with the possibility that they in fact conceptualized Roman hegemony and Greek freedom as mutually complementary (following Ma 1999’s ‘text-aware’ approach). In order to unravel this knot we begin by considering the presentation of authority in the decree, which is not centred around Rome but rather the standard institutions of the polis (i.e. the boulÄ“ and dÄ“mos who legislate and execute under their own power). Despite Ephesus’ standing as a leading city of the Roman province of Asia, there are no references to Roman institutions, and the Romans themselves are sharply contrasted with the harsh regal authority of Mithridates – the kurios who deceitfully and unjustly seizes land not belonging to him in an effort to enslave others. Similar texts, particularly those addressing the conflict with Aristonicus, demonstrate that this limited state apparatus and stark contrast to royal authority were an important aspect of interstate discourse, giving objective validity to the Greeks’ claim to liberty. Yet the Ephesians also speak of Roman hÄ“gemonia and this precisely cannot be elided. Here, though, we find expressions of Roman authority located within the context of reciprocal interaction: eunoia, philia, euergesia. It is through their claims to have preserved goodwill “from the beginning” toward the Romans their “universal benefactor” that the Ephesians express Roman rule. It is within this discursive space of mutual obligations and expectations, then, that Roman rule is expressed and normalized as expansive and ubiquitous. Dozens of similar examples can be cited from throughout this period, however those from various cities and kings of the East found on the Capitolium stand as a convenient collection (IGUR nos. 5-20). This second half of the paper, then, will emphasis the importance of the interactive empire when studying the Romans’ rule – that is, the countless instances of actual friendly or beneficial interactions through which Greco-Roman relations were negotiated and carried out. In sum, this paper will demonstrate that the Ephesians’ claim to fight Mithridates for their own liberty as well as Roman authority is neither paradoxical nor irrational, but a central aspect of interstate discourse during the Late Republic that fundamentally informed the Greeks’ conception and perspective of Roman authority.


  • Dmetriev, S. The Greek Slogan of Freedom and Early Roman Politics in Greece. Oxford, 2011.
  • Ferrary, J.-L. "Rome et les cités grecques d’Asie Mineure au IIe siècle” in A. Bresson & R. Descat (eds.), Les cités d’Asie Mineure occidentale (Paris, 2001), 93-106.
  • Gruen, E. The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome. Berkeley, 1984.
  • Kallet-Marx, R. Hegemony to Empire. Berkeley, 1995.
  • Ma, J. Antiochos III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor. Oxford, 1999.
  • Moretti, L. Inscriptiones Graecae urbis Romae [=IGUR]. Rome, 1968-1991.
  • Wankel, H. Die Inschriften von Ephesos [=I.Eph]. Bonn, 1979.

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