Imperial images and the Demostheneia under Hadrian

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Iulius Demosthenes founds a new agonistic festival under Hadrian combining local motifs of Oenoanda and the imperial cult
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Local decree
Original Location/Place: 
Reused in a fountain near the ancient site of Oenoanda
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Fethiye (Turkey)
125 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Large plate inscribed with 117 lines. There is a moulded frame on all sides. Two rounded holes were drilled in the middle section of the stone for its conversion into a fountain. Letters are fairly irregular but readable for the most part.
187 centimetres in height, 105 centimetres in width, and 25 centimetres thick. Letters are on average between 1 and 1.2 centimetres tall.
Roman, Greek

SEG 38.1462


This edition and commentary is concerned with a passage of a large epigraphic monument (117 lines in total) discovered near the southern Anatolian city of Oenoanda, between the regions of Lycia and Pisidia. This settlement was not prominent from an imperial perspective, and its epigraphic production should shed light on the profound impact of Rome on small communities in the eastern Mediterranean. This inscription will also show the importance of agonistic competitions in Greek cities during the imperial period.

The entire dossier is composed of five different documents: 1) A letter sent by Hadrian to Oenoanda authorising the foundation of Iulius Demosthenes. 2) The promise of Iulius Demosthenes to found a performing competition. 3) A preliminary resolution of the local council regarding Demosthenes’s foundation. 4) The final resolution of the council and people of Oenoanda. 5) A subscript of the provincial governor. Our commentary will focus on the beginning of the third document that dates to the summer of 125 CE.

On 29 August 124, Hadrian confirmed to Oenoanda that he endorsed the foundation promised by Iulius Demosthenes to the city on 24 July. In this period, the emperor was staying at Ephesus at the end of his second Asian tour (see Ephesian Hymns and Hadrian), and this facilitated the receipt of prompt imperial communications. Indeed, Cassius Dio (The Roman History LXIX.6.3) reports that Hadrian even responded to personal petitions made on the spot in the course of his many journeys across the empire (see Halfmann, Itinera, p. 190-194). Once the imperial authorisation was granted, one of the institutions of Oenoanda needed to produce a preliminary resolution (προβουλεύσιμον/probouleusimon) before the final legal procedures were completed. The three members of the council (βουλή/boulê) listed in line 47 introduced the motion and the imperial high-priest (ἀρχιερεὺς τῶν Σεβαστῶν/archiereus tôn Sebastôn) Licinianus Lyson acted as eponymous magistrate. The text begins, as a usual feature of honorific inscriptions in the Greek east (see Quaß, Die Honoratiorenschicht, p. 185-186), exalting the moral and civic qualities of this distinguished citizen (πολείτης/poleitês) from a prime lineage (γένος/genos) not only in the fatherland (πάτρις/patris) but also in the province (ἔθνος/ethnos). By virtue of additional inscriptions illustrating his career, it is known that Iulius Demosthenes was actually a member of the Roman equestrian order, a social rank not common in this area of inner Anatolia at the beginning of the imperial period (see Wörrle, Stadt und Fest, p. 55-69). After having conducted missions in several provinces, he was able to financially support euergetic actions that included public buildings (κτίζων/ktizôn). His next project was a musical festival (μουσική πανήγυρις/mousikê panêgyris) which was to be held every five years (πενταετηρική/pentaetêrikê) in perpetuity (αἰών/aiôn). The detailed foundation scheme to make this possible was described at length in the aforementioned public promise (ἐπαγγελία/epangelia), which specified the estates and interests from which the necessary resources should be provided for a long list of prizes (see Wörrle, Stadt und Fest, p. 151-182). Such financial guarantees were a pre-requisite for the imperial endorsement as Pliny the Younger illustrates when he was governor of Bithynia-Pontus and asked Trajan whether some money left on a legacy was to be spent on either games or constructions (Letters X.75-76). In the case of Demosthenes, such concerns also existed because the provincial governor Flavius Aper insisted in his final authorisation that Oenoanda should “take care that the city’s revenues were in no way diminished” (l. 116).

Despite such economic sureties and given the intended perpetual character of the benefaction, Iulius Demosthenes needed people willing to take over the organisation of the festival. The council of Oenoanda accordingly established in its resolution detailed procedures through which the president of the games (or ἀγωνοθέτης/agonothetês) and his assistants should be selected. These positions were not honorific but actually entailed the performance of many activities and supervisions for which these officers could be granted exemption from all other public duties during their term. As a reward for such services, other visual distinctions were offered and our passage is concerned with them. Firstly (l. 52-53), Demosthenes had promised to allocate the necessary funds for a golden crown (στέφανος/stephanos) with relief portraits (ἔκτυπα πρόσωπα/ektypa prosôpa) of Hadrian and the ancestral (πατρωός/patrôos) god of Oenoanda, Apollo, who is referred to as προκαθηγητής/prokathêgêtês (“leader”). The council considered this donation another proof of Demosthenes’s good-will (εὔνοια/eunoia) and zeal (προθυμία/prothymia) towards the fatherland, and his devotion (εὐσέβεια/eusebeia) towards the emperors. This combination of local religious motives and imperial cult was not novel and can be compared with the analogous foundation that another equestrian, Vibius Salutaris, left in Ephesus under Trajan. In that case, the representations of the emperor, his family, the Roman Senate and People were placed in the theatre in exchange for the many other statues exalting Ionian identity that were paraded during the festivities of Artemis. Iulius Demosthenes equally managed to negotiate both the imperial and indigenous components that were necessary to receive Roman authorisation and generate local acceptance. Likewise, both founders were genuinely preoccupied with the continuity of their initiatives. For example, this resolution of the council established that the president of the games still had to wear Demosthenes’s crown together with the distinctive purple robe (στολή πορφύρα/stolê porphyra) when he performed ceremonies for the emperor and Apollo. The same symbols were also to be displayed in all the meetings of the council, assembly, and the games that they attended from a prominent seat (προεδρεύειν/proedreuein).

Agonistic competitions, nevertheless, were not only symbolic performances. In addition to celebrating local identity and Roman rule (see van Nijf, “Athletics”), they also provided cities in the eastern Mediterranean with pecuniary gains. This explains that the president of the games needed to select πανηγυρίαρχοι/panêgyriarchoi, who ensured that the economic activities generated by this marked occasions were conducted in a proper manner. Finally, the last position mentioned in our selected passage is that of the σεβαστοφόροι/sebastophoroi. Their duties are particularly interesting because they are directly linked with the combination of local and imperial religious motives mentioned above. Their white clothes and crown were, once more, distinguishing and sought to impress the local attendants while they carried images of the emperor and the ancestral god Apollo. This means that the representation of such motives was not only static – as in the crown of the agonothetês – but a lively one, which had the power to interact with the viewers of the ceremonial parade; exactly as it also occurred in Ephesus thanks to Salutaris. Consequently, these messages of imperial power were deeply embedded in local communities celebrating popular expressions of religiosity, identity and culture (see e.g. Games of Gerasa under Trajan). Furthermore, this profound interconnection even impregnated a calendar which, as recorded in line 58, commemorated the beginning of the New Year with an “Augustan” (σεβαστή/sebastê) day.

The foundation of Iulius Demosthenes is therefore fundamental as a precious insight into local civic life, political procedures, and religious ceremonies. Indeed, it throws almost unique light onto how agonistic festivals were organised and the many elements they could contain. Many similar games are attested across the eastern provinces of the empire in what modern scholarship has called “explosion agonistique” (see Robert “Une vision,” p. 38; cf. Pleket “Mass-Sport”; and Nollé, “Stadtprägungen”). Few inscriptions and coins, nonetheless, provide us with as many details as this large stele which did not commemorate the top category of festivals, but rather the modest celebration of a small town. And yet, the founder, a Roman equestrian, managed to spread his message, earned the esteem of his compatriots, and elevated his fame until the mid-3rd century CE when inscriptions of Oenoanda still attest the celebration of the Demostheneia (Hall-Milner, “Education and Athletics”, p. 30-32).  

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Imperial images and the Demostheneia under Hadrian
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Mon, 03/19/2018 - 18:05
Visited: Tue, 02/19/2019 - 19:53

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