Paullus Fabius Persicus, Claudius, and the temple of Artemis in Ephesos

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The provincial governor of Asia tries to curb corruption in the internal affairs of Ephesus and the temple of Artemis. His actions are connected with the emperor Claudius.
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Agora of Ephesus
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Ephesus in Selçuk (Turkey), inv. no. 377-378
44 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Originally part of a pillar and later reused. The inscription was discovered in different blocks of a similar size and outline. In the first two – selected for our collection – no special decorative elements appear. Letters are well carved and serif forms are preferred.

Block A: 52,4 centimetres in height, 70,5 centimetres in width, and 68,8 centimetres thick.
Block B: 56 centimetres in height, 73 centimetres in width, and 70 centimetres thick.

Roman, Greek
Die Inschriften von Ephesos I, p. 98-105, no. 18 [SEG 4.516]

Our edition and commentary only concerns two of the several blocks recording a lengthy edict of Paullus Fabius Persicus that have been found in Ephesus. There are at least four copies of the document, two written in the original Latin and two translated into Greek. The best preserved Greek version would have been of up to 77 lines long. The many fragments of these copies were found in central public places such as the lower market and the theatre. Consequently, there should be no doubt that both the local institutions in charge of the stone-cutting and the Roman official issuing the order regarded the edict as being of prime importance (see Dörner, Der Erlass).

This document is indeed fundamental for studying Roman administration in the eastern Mediterranean. Likewise, it is one of the limited sources illustrating the mismanagement of religious entities in the early imperial period. However, our interest does not lie in explaining the specifics rules dictated by the Roman authorities. Instead, this commentary will focus on the way in which Paullus Fabius Persicus presents and justifies his decision to the population of Ephesus. As will be shown below, the provincial governor seeks to communicate that Rome cared for its subjects. This preoccupation for the way in which local communities were handling internal affairs allegedly motivated his intervention. With it, several key areas of the cultic life of Ephesus were to be transformed. It is therefore no coincidence that Persicus – in a block omitted in our edition (I.Eph. 17, l. 1-3) – opened his edict with a preface listing a career and positions closely related to religious activities. Through highlighting that he had been pontifex and member of the sodales and the Arval brethren (PIR2 F 51), he was portraying himself as a pious man who had an insight into sacred matters.

The second important message of the governor’s preface (l. 1-3) is to emphasise that his edict (ἐπίκριμα/epikrima) had the emperor’s backing and was beneficial (συμφέρον/sympheron). Persicus’s argumentation, as recorded in lines 5 to 17 of our inscription, is based on these three ideas: his personal suitability, the convenience of his decision, and the imperial sanction. Thanks to line 18, it is possible to understand why this specific decision (ἐπίγνωσις/epignôsis) needed such a lengthy justification. The governor acknowledges that, even if necessary, it will be burdensome (φορτική/phortikê) to the city of Ephesus. For this reason, he first explains (l. 5-10) that the benefits will not come immediately but rather on long-term basis. The province of Asia was, as a rule, governed by proconsuls staying in office only a year. Consequently, the inhabitants of the provincial capital would only experience negative effects during Persicus’s term. The governor therefore appears to compromise his instant popularity, but considers that the virtues of steadfastness (εὐστάθεια/eustatheia) and good faith (πίστις/pistis) should prevail in his administration. The last argument (l. 11-16) developed to prevent him acquiring a bad reputation is particularly interesting. His long-term policy was following the example (ὑπόδειγμα/hypodeigma) of the emperor, who is presented as a “truly just leader”. The lack of god-like attributes complies with Claudius’ initial stance against divinisation (see Temple of Thasos). Persicus’s praise, nonetheless, is not diminishing. He affirms that the whole of the human race is under the emperor’s care (κηδεμονία/kêdemonia) and that, thanks to his benefactions (φιλάνθρωπα/philanthrôpa), “he has restored to each person what is his own.” From these last words, we can infer that the governor is not only elevating the emperor’s prestige to justify his actions, but also uses this document to spread imperial ideals. This propagandistic attitude is present in other provincial edicts dealing with both generous grants and complicated matters which could potentially damage the local reception of Roman power; for example the exaction of official transport in Galatia under Tiberius or the reform of Egypt under Galba.

Now, why could Persicus’s decision trigger negative reactions in the Asian capital? The edict was concerned with the temple of Artemis, and this could potentially damage the very core of Ephesus’s pride, prestige, and wealth. The governor himself refers to this temple as the “jewel of the entire province” in lines 2 and 3 of block B. Indeed, this religious complex was not only beautiful and listed among the wonders of antiquity, but had also played a very prominent role in Ionia since ancient times (see Karwiese, Gross ist die Artemis). In the Roman imperial period, its importance continued partly thanks to the benefaction of Augustus which is mentioned in the edict too (l. 5-6). The emperor confirmed the control of the sanctuary over an extensive territory in the Cayster valley, which was later confirmed by Domitian and Trajan (see Knibbe, Meriç, Merkelbach, “Der Grundbesitz”). From these lands and other sources of income such as loans and fines, the temple could perfectly finance its activities as Persicus insists (see Dignas, Economy of the sacred, p. 144-157). Consequently, they should not be selling priesthoods because, according to the governor, this was leading to corruption and the lower quality of the priestly personnel (l. 14-18). One element of such venal actions is quite remarkable. The governor claims that the receipt of good news (ἀγγελία/angelia) from Rome was a factor facilitating corruptive practices. This accusation most likely refers to the fact that favourable events advertised by the imperial power such as victories, triumphs, or dynastic successions motivated the local organisation of corresponding religious celebrations. This was actually one of the pillars of the imperial cult in the provinces, but the Ephesians had abused such a pretext to create new cultic structures that may be sold at a price.

For all such elements, this edict is important for attesting how the provincial population could take advantage of Rome’s intentions to propagate the worship of its dominion and care. At the same time, it illustrates the procedure followed by a provincial governor who needed to foster local loyalty and, simultaneously, had the power to intervene in regional administration with unpopular measures involving even sacred matters. Finally, Paullus Fabius Persicus’s words evidently served to enhance the propagandistic actions of his superior leader, Claudius. The proconsul acknowledged that he could be subject to aversion for imposing a burdensome – albeit convenient and necessary – reform. However, the Roman emperor still had to be perceived as the ruler caring for the benefit of humankind. 

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Paullus Fabius Persicus, Claudius, and the temple of Artemis in Ephesos
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:16
Visited: Fri, 05/25/2018 - 16:46

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