Recent studies, such as Atwill 2014 and Ng 2015, have fruitfully analyzed Dio Chrysostom’s Rhodian Oration (Or. 31) through the modern lenses of “provenance theory” and “memory culture” to explore the relevance of modern heritage notions to the study of the ancient world. While these works have focused on Dio’s purpose(s) in chastising the Rhodians for their reuse of honorific portrait statues, they do not adequately examine the thinking of the Rhodians, as represented by Dio.
This paper analyzes the Rhodian protocol for statue reuse and its evolution, as Dio describes in his speech. If we read against the grain of Dio’s claim that the Rhodians are carelessly betraying their honor and their past, Dio’s speech reveals a well-considered Rhodian protocol for statue reuse. This protocol that not only entails an official record of all statues before they are recycled (Or. 31.48), but also the selection of defunct statues for recycling upon consideration of their age and physical condition, the state of their inscriptions, and their meaningfulness to contemporary Rhodians (Or. 31.141). Therefore, I argue that the Rhodian practice of statue recycling constitutes a conscious effort at heritage management among the Rhodians, and that Dio’s condemnation results from a clashing of heritage values. On the one hand, the Rhodians manage their statues according to the socio-political needs of their present: they recycle, rather than conserve, statues whose honorific value is rendered moot by their lack of affiliation with present Rhodians, and the reused statues foster ties between their new elite Roman subjects and Rhodes. In this way, this conscious pruning of ineffective monuments is part of an intentional socio-political networking strategy. On the other hand, Dio values the statues for their ancientness, rather than their present political relevance, and advocates for the preservation of these monuments to Rhodes’ history of civic virtue. In his view, the Rhodians are betraying their past and quite literally dishonoring themselves.
Consideration of the archaeological evidence for statue reuse in Rhodes and contemporary Greek cities (Shear 2007, Fernoux 2017, Keesling 2017) shows that Dio’s claims are inaccurate and misleading, begging the further question of why he depicts the situation in Rhodes as he does. I suggest that he does so in order to tap into a Roman heritage discourse about honor, ancestral monuments, and inscription preservation. Excerpts from Cicero (Verr. 2.4.73, 74, 70) and Suetonius (Aug. 31.5, Dom. 5.1) portray the preservation of inscriptions and ancestral monuments as honorable and the failure to protect and preserve them as shameful. With this comparative evidence in mind, I argue that Dio’s attack on Rhodian statue reuse, rather than exemplifying Greek cultural resistance to Rome (as Moles 1995, Swain 2000), positions Dio as an imperial elite, discoursing on the proper treatment of monuments of the past.
Thus, both the Rhodians’ and Dio’s approaches to honorific statues are inflected by their Roman imperial context. The Rhodian Oration illustrates how ancient heritage practices, such as statue conservation, were politically shaped and exemplifies the ongoing negotiation of honorific statues’ cultural value.