Phrygian villages, Roman roads and legal disputes in the mid-3rd century CE

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The villages of Anossa and Antimacheia have a conflict concerning transportation obligations and the procurator of Phrygia intervenes. Minutes of three different judicial hearings are recorded as well as the letter of a soldier under his jurisdiction.
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Sülümenli, nine miles away from Afyonkarahisar (Turkey)
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museum of Afyonkarahisar (Turkey)
200 CE to 237 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

Square slab with a moulded edge, broken on the right and bottom sides. The dowels on the back probably indicate that the slab was fixed to a wall.


82 centimetres high, 69 wide, 12 thick. Letters are 1.5 centimetres on average.

Latin, Greek
Roman, Greek
SEG 16.754

The stone comes from inner Phrygia, a region sparsely urbanised but considerably rich in epigraphic testimonies dating to the imperial age (see Thonemann, Roman Phrygia). This inscription records several documents related to a legal dispute between two villages and sheds light on the way in which rural communities were exposed and reacted to the procedures and norms of Roman law in the first half of the 3rd century CE.

The format of the inscription is noteworthy as it combines minutes of legal hearings with an official letter. Latin and Greek are also mixed throughout the documents; with the former being used for formulas and the latter for speeches. This selective division complies with the minutes of Caracalla in Dmeir and other bilingual inscriptions such as the grant of market rights to Mandragoreis which show the firm incorporation of Latin as the language of Roman legal proceedings by the end of the high imperial period (see Rochette Le latin dans le monde grec, p. 108-116 and Adams, Bilingualism and Latin, p. 383-390). Our text, however, is even more remarkable because it does not only record the minutes of a single judicial hearing, but actually a case which remained unsettled for more than two decades. As the inscription itself records, the issue of this lengthy dispute was related to ἀνγαρεία/angeria. This Persian loanword referred to the system by which local communities needed to provide transportation, lodging and supplies to officials travelling across their territory (see Kolb, Transport und Nachrichtentransfer; Di Paola, Viaggi). Already mentioned by Herodotus (Histories III.126), this obligation still caused numerous complaints between provincials and Roman imperial authorities as illustrated by the edict of the governor of Galatia under Tiberius, Sextus Sotidius Strabo Libuscidianus, the response of Syria’s legate under Commodus, Iulius Saturninus, and the petition of Thracian Skaptopara to Gordian III. Unlike those previous examples, the origin of the problem in this case was not soldiers abusing the system – see also Hadrian’s letter to Asia –, but rather the way in which the burden had to be distributed between the communities of Anossa and Antimacheia. By virtue of the information contained in the inscription, it is possible to know that both villages belonged to a large imperial estate between Synnada and Docimium that was therefore subject to the authority of the Roman procurator (ἐπίτροπος/epitropos). Imperial properties in this area of Phrygia were particularly abundant, especially considering the marble wealth of the territory (see Strubbe, “A group”; Mitchell, Anatolia, p. 158-159). The procurator of Phrygia was mostly concerned with the administration of this mining district (Hirt, Imperial Mines, p. 113-115), but he also supervised rural communities under his jurisdiction (see Dalla Rosa, “From Exploitation to Integration”). This background information helps to understand the dense content of our inscription.

The first line is severely damaged and only the day and month are extant from the Latin dating formula. The year needs to be therefore inferred from the nomenclature sequence of the first procurator, Threptus, with an Aurelius nomen that is normally found among Roman officials between the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd centuries CE (see Blanco-Pérez, “Nomenclature and Dating”). The placement of the first hearing in Anossa is certain as well as the identity of the village representative, Panas. His Greek speech is slightly fragmentary, but it is firstly concerned with the numerous routes (ὁδός/hodos) to which Anossa had to provide angeria services. The settlement was therefore close to a transportation hub which required a station point (μονή = mansio) for those coming from important places in central Anatolia such as Amorium, Mirus and Synnada. Alexander, speaking on behalf of Antimacheia, said that this community served the road from Ancyra and Amorium, so there was probably an overlap of mutual obligations generating controversy. In order to solve the issue and set a fair share, the procurator of Phrygia enquired both representatives about the tax returns of their communities so that they provided the service (ὑπηρεσία/hyperesia) in accordance with their respective financial capabilities (ἀνηλογία τῆς ἀποφορᾶς/anêlogia tês apophoras). The Antimachenoi claimed to be poor (πένητες/penêtes), so Anossa does not appear to be satisfied with the solution provided by the procurator. Furthermore, Panas attempts to challenge Aurelius Threptus by bringing the case to Docimium through an advocate (συνήγορος/synêgoros, l. 11). This statement is particularly interesting because it confirms the use of legal experts by rural communities in the presentation of appeals not only before the emperor as attested in Dmeir and, possibly, Skaptopara. Likewise, it shows that the common population of Anatolia, even without the assistance of such lawyers, was capable of taking advantage of resources pertaining to Roman law before the enactment of the Constitutio Antoniniana. In line 12, the procurator Aurelius Threptus downplays the legal challenge and decides to subsequently impose an equal share (τὸ ἥμισυ/to hêmisy). His ruling had to be implemented by a soldier of sub-centurion rank (or ὀπτίων = optio), who was responsible for the letter addressed to the villagers (κωμήται/kômêtai) and their civic institutions presided by a council of elders (or γεραιοί/geraioi). Aurelius Symphorus refers to the commander of his administration as a lord (κύριος/kyrios) and warns those who may act against what the procurator had laid down (ὁρισθέντα/oristhenta) through memoranda (ὑπομνήματα/hypomnêmata).

By 11th October 213, the procurator of Phyrgia had changed and he was then speaking from the city of Prymnessos. However, the conflict between Anossa and Antimacheia was causing problems again. Philocurius condemned this seditious state (στασιάζοντες/stasiazontes) which the Roman rulers repeatedly displeased as shown by the Claudian inscription of Lycia and the edict on the Ephesian bakers. The new representative of Anossa called Valens asked for military presence and a στατιωνάριος/statiônarios was sent to enforce what had been judged (τὰ κεκριμένα/ta kekrimena). Once more, such coercive measures did not prove very effective because a new resolution by the procurator was needed in 237 CE while he was in Synnada. Novellius just reinstated the previous (φθάνοντα/phthanonta) delimitation of Aurelius Threptus and appointed another man under his command to execute it. He also added the obligation to present to him and record in the official registry (ταβλαρίον/tablarion) anyone acting against the official declaration (ἀπόφασις/apophasis; cf. Macedonian Manumissions).

The surviving text breaks before the result of these new measures could be assessed. Perhaps the dispute continued over a longer period of time. And yet, a similar sequence of events and decisions may be still found. All the episodes of the conflict recorded in the inscription follow an analogous pattern. The villages of Phrygia did not reject the burdensome system to provide transportation and lodging to Roman officials. They only sought to get a fairer share and appealed to the same imperial representatives who imposed the angeria obligations. Procurators initiated processes in which the direct voices of the villagers and even their challenges based on Roman law were heard. All the minutes, in any case, finished with authoritative resolutions that were to be enforced by military personnel. Even if the system did not prove very effective and was clearly coercive, it must be emphasised that the rural population itself could ask for the presence of soldiers in the territory as shown by the petition for a stationarius. Consequently, the relationship between provincials and soldiers should not solely be linked with abuses, violence, and repression. They could also be seen as warrants of a ruling order on which molested communities were relying. Roman justice, even within the limited scope of procuratorial tribunals (cf. SEG 53.1517; see Kantor, “Law in Roman Phrygia,” p. 159-161), was part of this system, so the people of Anossa and Antimacheia, while making use of it, were also tolerating and supporting the power of an imperial administration which spread Latin formulae, accepted Greek speeches and needed local compliance to survive (see Ando, “The ambitions,” p. 136-140).

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Phrygian villages, Roman roads and legal disputes in the mid-3rd century CE
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Mon, 03/19/2018 - 17:57
Visited: Mon, 02/18/2019 - 23:27

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