An invitation to gladiators’ games in Beroia (Macedonia) under Severus Alexander

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A couple of benefactors in Macedonia produce an invitation for gladiatorial spectacles that include vows for Severus Alexander and other constituent elements of Roman power.

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Discovered during some works on a street of Beroia in 1968.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Beroia (Greece)
229 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Plate inscribed with fine lettering within a moulded frame. Three names are purposely scratched as a result of an imperial damnatio memoriae (see below).

74 x 122 x 8 centimetres. Letters are 2 centimetres tall on average
Roman, Greek

I.Beroia 68 [AE 1971.430; SEG 40.532]


It is obvious that this inscription contains clear messages pertaining to the Roman imperial ideology dominating the early 3rd century CE. An analysis of its context will prove fundamental for understanding the circumstances of a text also commemorating the organisation of hunting and gladiatorial spectacles in the Macedonian city of Beroia.  

After a customary opening dedicated to the good fortune (τύχη/tychê), the first lines record vows for entities embodying Roman power. The emperor Severus Alexander comes first, and his health (ὑγεία/hygeia), salvation (σωτηρία/sôtêria), victory (νίκη/nikê) and everlasting preservation (διαμονή/diamonê) are exalted. This type of vow for the Roman emperor in the eastern Mediterranean was common at this point in the high imperial period (see Moralee, For Salvation’s Sake). Actually, this series must be understood as a stock sequence not directly connected to concrete events. As his title of tribune of the people and the consulship shared with the historian Cassius Dio indicate, this inscription is dated to 229, so it was produced before Severus Alexander started his Parthian expedition or received any triumphal title. In addition to the absence of direct military confrontations, his life does not appear to have been threatened in the years immediately prior to the eastern campaign. The reference to his mother, Iulia Mamaea, equally complies with the messages of imperial propaganda of that time. She was daughter of Iulia Maesa, the sister of Iulia Domna, who managed to restore the Severan dynasty by elevating a supposed descendant of Caracalla to the imperial throne against Macrinus in 218 CE. Elagabalus was only a teenager then, so a new ruling system under the tutelage of the so-called ‘Syrian empresses’ was created (Kettenhoffen, Die syrischen Augustae). Severus Alexander became emperor even younger when Elagabalus was murdered, so the people in charge of this inscription were perfectly aware that Iulia Mamaea was in fact acting as a regent and deserved the title Augusta (Σεβαστή/Sebastê). Both mother and son were condemned to death with the end of the Severan dynasty and the accession of Maximinus Thrax in 235. The general’s reign was very brief, but he still managed to spread his message of damnatio memoriae because the names of and were subject to careful erasure in our inscription. By contrast, the generic reference to the imperial house (θεῖος οἶκος/theios oikos or domus divina in Latin) and the Senate (σύνκλητος/synklêtos) did not suffer any damnation because these were inherent elements of Roman power that remained unaffected. Indeed, vows to these constituents of the Empire can be found as early as the 1st century CE, together with the Roman people (δῆμος ὁ Ῥωμαίων/dêmos o Rômaiôn) which is also mentioned in lines 8 and 9 of our text. The reference made to the ἔπαρχοι/eparchoi is, however, more exceptional. This Greek word meaning “commander” is a rendering of a Latin term, but it is not specified which type of Roman official was meant. Only by virtue of another inscription found in Beroia do we know that praetorian prefects could be added to this local genre of vows (I.Beroia 69). Such testimonies show the importance of a position which could be considered alongside those of great jurists such as Ulpian in this period (see Honoré, Emperors and Lawyers). The imperial army (στρατεύματα/strateumata) was even more crucial for the history of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, so its appearance in the vow is, again, not accidental among a provincial population very well informed of the circumstances surrounding their local initiatives.

One of these personal enterprises was undertaken by Valerius Philoxenos and his wife Valeriana Ammia. Valerius Philoxenos had become μακεδονιάρχης/makedoniarchês, which was the top position in the commonalty (or κοινόν/koinon) of Macedonia (see Tataki, Ancient Beroia, p. 241). Likewise, he acted as high-priest (ἀρχιερεύς/archiereus) of the imperial cult and presided as prize-giver (ἀγωνοθέτης/agônothetês) over the games that the Macedonian league traditionally dedicated to Alexander the Great (ἀγών ἀλεξάνδρειος/agôn Alexandreios). Valeria Ammia accompanied her husband as high-priestess of the Augusta (Tataki, Ancient Beroia, p. 240), and together they sponsored the organisation of hunting (κυνηγεσία/kynêgesia) and gladiatorial (μονομάχια/monomachia) spectacles in Beroia. This city in eastern Macedonia was head of the koinon, and, as such, could claim the title of μητρόπολις/mêtropolis and other signs of primacy that were officially confirmed at least since Nerva (I.Beroiai 62, 117, cf. Haensch, Capita, p. 104-112). The high-priests of the imperial cult in the provinces were required to provide beasts and gladiators during their terms of offices, so they contributed to the spread of this Roman custom in a Greek world traditionally more attached to musical and athletic competitions (see Robert, Les Gladiateurs). With this inscription, the notable couple was therefore not only displaying their benefactions (φιλοτειμίαι/philoteimiai), but also publicising a three-day event that was due to start at the end of June in 229 CE. These epigraphic notices, known as invitationes ad munera, had a very particular format which is well attested in Macedonia during the 3rd century  (see Adam-Veleni, “An illustrated”). Their concrete purpose also explains the high degree of specificity devoted to dates at the end of our document. The day and month are not only stated in the Roman calendar, but also in accordance with the Greek reckoning – 147 BCE, when Macedonia became a province – and to the era of Augustus, i.e. 31 BCE, Octavian’s victory in Actium. For both calendric systems the Macedonian month of Πάνημος/Panêmos remained valid.

These comprehensive dating sequences are consequently indicative of a mixed society, which, despite the quasi-universal citizenship of the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212 CE, still needed to be addressed with local formulas in order to be attracted and summoned. The spread of Roman gladiatorial shows also benefitted from the activities of elite members belonging to a diverse provincial population which aspired to hold top and prestigious positions such as high-priesthoods requiring certain expenses (see Herz, “Überlegungen,” p. 115-116). Their invitations were carved in Greek, and all the Latin terms had found recognisable translations by this point in the imperial period. Moreover, these inscriptions had a set format including salvation vows for the constituent elements of Roman imperial power. Nonetheless, even if the messages would be expected, they still needed to be adapted to the characteristics of each ruler; in this case Severus Alexander, whose rule was tutored by his Augustan mother, influenced by praetorian prefects, legitimised by the Roman Senate and people, and, ultimately, sustained by the imperial army, at least until they provoked the damnation of his memory.

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An invitation to gladiators’ games in Beroia (Macedonia) under Severus Alexander
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Sun, 02/18/2018 - 17:12
Visited: Fri, 03/23/2018 - 19:39

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