Senatus Consultum de Asclepiade

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Grant of Roman friendship and privileges to a group of Greek sea-captains after the Italic war
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Capitoline Hill, Rome
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Rome (Italy), Musei Capitolini, Sala delle Colombe, inv. 7340
78 BCE
Physical Characteristics: 

The tablet was found in several fragments. The Greek copy is almost complete and very well preserved, unlike the Latin. As the content of both texts was identical, it is possible to state that the tablet had a total of approximately 35 lines. The Latin version featured on top and the Greek translation below. The first lines of each of the documents were highlighted with letters of a bigger size. This visual difference also appears in the last three lines. 

The combination of the surviving fragments measures 38 centimetres in height and between 64-57 centimetres in width. The original height of the entire tablet would have been c. 45 centimetres. Letters are on average 6 centimetres tall 
Latin, Greek
Roman, Greek
Raggi, “Senatus consultum de Asclepiade” (SEG 51.1427; CIL I² 588, VI.8.3 40890; IG XIV.951; IGUR I.1; EDR 111254)

This bronze tablet recorded both the Latin and Greek versions of the text in full. The Greek edition of the text is considered here, as it is more complete than the original Latin version of the inscription. Indeed, the long restorations suggested by modern scholars for the Latin text are based on the Greek. Moreover, this document is particularly relevant to the status of Greek communities under Roman rule and, consequently, will have to be connected with related sources from the eastern Mediterranean, which are written exclusively in Greek.  

The text opens with a Roman dating formula naming the consuls Quintus Lutatius Catulus and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. They held office in 78 BCE; so the year of the document is unquestioned. One of them, Lutatius Catulus, consults the Senate on May 22 and three Roman witnesses are present in the meeting (κομέτιον/kometion; note the Latinism). The same consul states the reasons for which three Greeks are to be considered “fine and good men” (ἄνδρες καλοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί/andres kaloi kai agathoi) and “friends” (φίλοι/philoi). They are Asclepiades, son of Philinos, from Klazomenai; Polystratos, son of Polyarkos, from Karystos; and Meniskos, son of Eirenaios, from Miletus. These sea-captains (ναύαρχοι/nauarchoi) came from the Greek East – two from Asia and one from Euboea – and had helped the Romans with their ships in an Ἰταλικός πόλεμος (l. 6). Given the year in which the S.C. was decreed, this reference most likely corresponds to the end of the Social War, but Sulla’s later campaigns in 83 and 82 cannot completely be ruled out (Sherk, Roman Documents, p. 129). On account of their bravery and loyal service on behalf of the common good (δημόσια πράγματα = res publica) the Senate decides to reward their actions not only with the honorific titles aforementioned, but also with a series of privileges recorded in the rest of the document.  

The first privilege involves fiscal immunity. The technical terms used in line 13 are ἀλειτούργητοι καὶ ἀνείσφοροι, which corresponds to the Latin liberi omnium rerum et sine tributa. This “freedom from everything” refers to the local burdens (or λειτουργίαι/leitourgiai) to which the Greeks had to contribute in order to sustain the functioning of their home cities. With the second term, the Senate is reassuring that these men, his sons, and descendants will not have to pay whatever fiscal obligations – be it local or Roman – may arise in the future. The following provisions stated in the document (l. 14-18) sought to mitigate the disadvantages resulting from their absence while they were supporting the Roman navy. As stated in line 8, the captains had decided to return to their homelands (πάτρις/patris) and, now, had to face problems such as properties that may have been sold (ὑπάρχοντα πέπρανται/hyparchonta peprantai), repayment or exaction of old debts (προθεσμία/prosthemia), and inheritances (κληρονομίαι/klêronomiai). 

The second group of benefits are of judicial nature and connected to the privilegium fori (l. 18-23). The Greek captains had the possibility of choosing the courts that would judge trials affecting them. The three options were: their own cities according to their local laws (ἐν ταῖς πατρίσιν κατὰ τοὺς ἰδίους νόμους), Italian courts with Roman magistrates (ἐπὶ Ἰταλικῶν κριτῶν), or judgement in a free city (ἐπὶ πόλεως ἐλευθέρας). The latter possibility is reminiscent of a Greek practice by which cases between contentious parties were tried in such autonomous entities (see Ferrary, “La liberté des cités”). It is interesting to note that the S.C. narrows the choice to the free cities that had traditionally been allies to the Romans; since – probably – much trust could not yet be placed on those awarded this status after the first Mithridatic War. In addition to this privileged range of choice, the Senate released these men from contributions towards public debt and informed the Roman tax farmers (ἄρχοντες μισθῶσιν = publicani) in Asia and Euboea about their decision.  

The final clauses contain some honorary advantages (l. 24-31). They all derive from the admission of the Greek men into the “roll of friends” (τὸ τῶν φίλων διάταγμα = formula amicorum). They were allowed to set up a bronze copy of this decision on the Capitol. Thanks to this, we can today read the S.C. as fragments were found precisely at the foot of the hill. Indeed, this seems to be the original tablet despite the fire that, according to Suetonius (Vespasian 8.5), burnt 3000 documents at this location in 69 C.E. (see Raggi, “Senatus consultum de Asclepiade,” p. 84-86). The other prerogatives – including the sacrifice (θυσία; see Masri, “Rome, Diplomacy”) – can also be found in other contemporary testimonies of envoys sent by cities that were “friends of the Roman people” and could make use of the ius legationis (e.g. Mytilene under Julius Caesar, IG XII 2.35); which was also given to Asklepiades, Polystratos and Meniskos (l. 29-30).  

Since this is practically the only record of a personal grant of amicitia relating to the Greek world, our document is unique. In spite of the many attestations of the title φίλοι [καὶ συμμάχοι] τοῦ δήμου Ῥωμαίων (= amici [sociique] populi Romanorum), the S.C. de Asclepiade confirms details which are otherwise only suggested in other sources. The concept of friendship played a prominent role in Rome’s conquest of the eastern Mediterranean (see Badian, Foreign Clientelae; Gruen, The Hellenistic World, p. 54-95; Lintott, Imperium Romanum, p. 32-36; Morstein Kallet-Marx, Hegemony to Empire, p. 184-197); hence its importance for understanding the impact on provincial societies. For example, we know that updated records were kept at the archives of Rome whenever new “friends” were accepted and needed to be registered in the roll. The advantageous status of embassies sent by the amici could also give them the upper hand when Roman institutions were to settle international affairs. This also helps us to corroborate testimonies such as Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XIV.190-198, which record how Julius Caesar started to consider Hyrcanus “a friend” after the Civil War and ordered the preparation of precisely a bilingual bronze table that was to be deposited on the Capitol. Nonetheless, the S.C. de Asclepiade has also caused academic controversy regarding the exact benefits that amicitia entailed. This is mainly caused by the fact that fiscal immunity and privilegium fori were also granted in this case, and scholars argue whether such a procedure was customary (see Raggi, “Senatus consultum de Asclepiade,” p. 109-113).  

Finally, this document is also important for the issue of Roman citizenship in the Greek East. We can see that neither Asklepiades, Polystratos, nor Meniskos are enfranchised despite the many privileges given to them. This contrasts heavily with a much-related testimony recording the grant of Roman citizenship, fiscal immunity, privilegium fori and ius legationis by Octavian to another sea-captain, Seleukos of Rhosos. Even if only 40 years separate both cases, this was exactly the period in which the landscape of citizenship was transformed in the eastern provinces (see Sherwin-White, Roman Citizenship, p. 306-311; Ferrary, “Les Grecs”). Our grant of amicitia after the Social War still belonged to a context that can be connected with an anecdote reported by Diodorus Siculus (XXXVII.18). The consul of the year 90 B.C.E. offered Roman citizenship to a Cretan in exchange for his services, but the man refused the reward because he disregarded it as purely honorific and was rather interested in pecuniary benefits. Similar advantages had also been given by Sulla to special groups such as the Synod of Dionysiac artists (Sherk, Roman Documents, no. 49, p. 263-266). In the case of Asklepiades, Polystratos, and Meniskos, we also need to take into consideration the problem of dual citizenship. They had expressed their desire to return to their homelands and, at this point, Roman law did not allow simultaneous local citizenships. Thereafter, testimonies of Greeks granted Roman citizenship significantly increase – e.g. Gn. Pompeius Theophanes of Mytilene; but especially under Julius Caesar and in the subsequent triumviral period to which the case of Seleukos of Rhosos belongs. The culmination of this transforming process was reached under Augustus when dual citizenship was allowed according to the information contained in another fundamental testimony available in our collection: the Cyrene Edicts. 

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Senatus Consultum de Asclepiade
Author(s) of this publication: Aitor Blanco Pérez
Publishing date: Thu, 02/16/2017 - 16:20
Visited: Wed, 04/26/2017 - 10:06

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