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Empire and City, Augustus to Julian: Obligations, Excuses and Status

  • Fergus Millar (a1)


The early Roman Empire rested on a network of cities, which were capable both of conspicuous expenditure locally, in the form of public buildings, shows and festivals, and of carrying many of the functions of government; but by the fourth century their capacity to perform these roles had drastically declined. Both the capacity and the decline depended in part on the availability or inavailability of the richer classes to undertake expenditures associated with public offices or with liturgies. These remarks are of course mere commonplaces. They have become so, in the first place, because precisely these changes were noted, and the issues relating to them consciously formulated, in the fourth century itself. So Libanius writes in his Funeral Oration for Julian:

He showed the same care also in relation to the councils in the cities, which formerly flourished in both numbers and wealth, but by that time had come to nothing, since their members, except for a very few, had switched course, some into military service, some into the Senate … The remainder were all but sunk, and for the majority of them undertaking public services (to leitourgein) ended in beggary. Yet who does not know that the vitality of its council is the soul of a city ? But Constantius, while in theory aiding the councils, in practice was their enemy, by moving elsewhere men who sought to evade them, and granting illegal exemptions (ateleiai).

Three points should be noted here: Libanius assumes an evolution which was, if not universal, at any rate general throughout the Empire; the crisis is regarded as having been caused by the availability of roles or statuses which offered an alternative to the obligations of city councillors ; and this availability itself is seen as a product of imperial actions, which (as Libanius goes on to say) Julian had taken steps to reverse.



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1 Libanius, Or. XVIII, 146–7. For the general issue also Or. XLVIII, 17 ff.

2 Lepelley, C., Les cités de l'Afrique romaine au Bas-Empire I–II (19791981).

3 Millar, F., The Emperor in the Roman World (1977); henceforward ERW.

4 See the interesting observations, which require further discussion elsewhere, by Bleicken, J., Der Regierungsstil des römischen Kaisers: eine Antwort auf Fergus Millar (Sitz.-Ber. Wiss. Ges. J. W. Goethe- Univ. Frankfurt 18, 5, 1982).

5 Dig. L, 5, 8, pr.

6 See Nutton, V., ‘The Beneficial Ideology’, in Garnsey, P. D. A. and Whittaker, C. R. (eds.), Imperialism in the Ancient World (1978), 209.

7 Text in O. Lenel, Palingenesia Iuris Civilis I, cols. 707–18; for a sketch of some issues relating to the adoption and reception of Roman law in the Greek East see Millar, F., ‘Culture grecque et culture latine dans le Haut-Empire: la loi et la foi’, Les Martyrs de Lyon (177) (1978), 187.

8 Pliny, Ep. x, 58; Philostratus, VS 1, 8 (Favorinus' unsuccessful case before Hadrian); Frag. Vat. 149 (general immunity); Dig. XXVII, I, 5–7 (excusatio from tutela; liability for obligations on property); Dig. L, 5, 8, 4 (philosophers, if they teach actively, excused tutela and personal duties, not expenditure); CJ x, 42, 6 (Diocletian and Maximian refuse a philosopher exemption from ‘onera quae patrimonio tuo iniunguntur’).

9 Compare Nutton, V., ‘Two Notes on Immunities: Digest 27 1, 6, 10 and 11’, JRS LXI (1971), 52.

10 Libanius, Or. XIV, 9–12.

11 Daube, D., Roman Law: Linguistic, Social and Philosophical Aspects (1969),.ch. 1.

12 See the survey by Jones, A. H. M., The Greek City (1940), ch. 1.

13 To my knowledge there has been no detailed replv to the heretical suggestion in ERW, 397–407; 485–6 and App. IV, that municipia were not centrally ‘created’ by charter and that the ordinary citizens of ‘Latin’ communities were peregrini.

14 Modern work renders our conception of the real content of these terms if anything more complex and obscure than before. See e.g. Bernhardt, L., Imperium und Eleutheria (1971); idem, ‘Die Immunitas der Freistädte’, Historia XXIX (1980), 190; Immunität und Abgabenpflichtigkeit bei römischen Kolonien und Munizipien in den Provinzen’, Historia XXXI (1982), 343.

15 See Mócsy, A., ‘Ubique Res Publica’, Act. Ant. Acad. Sc. Hung. x (1962), 367; Gascou, J., ‘L'emploi du terme respublica dans l'épigraphie latine d'Afrique’, Mel. éc. fr. Rome, Ant. XCI (1979), 383.

16 See Neesen, L., ‘Zur Entwicklung der Leistungen und Àmter (munera et honores) im römischen Kaiserreich des zweiten bis vierten Jahrhunderts’, Historia XXX (1981), 203.

17 See e.g. Langhammer, W., Die rechtliche und soziale Stellung der Magistratus Municipales und der Decuriones (1973), 262–77; Neesen, op. cit. (n. 16), 216–23.

18 For a detailed treatment see D. Nörr, ‘Origo’, Tijdschr. v. Rechtsg. XXXI (1963), 525; RE Supp. x (1965), 433.

19 e.g. Dig. L, 1, 1, 2. See Marshall, A. J., ‘Pompey's Organisation of Bithynia: Two Neglected Texts’, JRS LVIII (1968), 103.

20 Philostratus, VS II, 30.

21 ILS 1374; Sherk, R. K., Municipal Decrees of the Roman West (1979), no. 2.

22 Agennius Urbicus, de controversiis agrorum, in Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum I, 1, ed. Thulin, p. 45.

23 ILS 8860; Sherk, op. cit. (n. 21), no. 1. For ‘attribution’ see Laffi, U., Adtributio e contributio (1966).

24 Agennius Urbicus, op. cit. (n. 22), pp. 45–6.

25 T. C. Skeat, E. P. Wegener, ‘A Trial before the Prefect of Egypt Appius Sabinus, c. 250 A.D.’, JEA XXI (1935), 224.

26 See ERW, 180.

27 CTh XII, I, 33. See Millar, F., ‘The Privata from Diocletian to Theodosius’, in King, C. E. (ed.), Imperial Revenue, Expenditure and Monetary Policy in the Fourth Century A.D. (BAR. Int. Ser. 76, 1980), 125.

28 IG VIII, 2413–14; Sherk, R. K., Roman Documents from the Greek East (1969), no. 44.

29 Sherk, op. cit. (n. 28), no. 57; see ERW, 456.

30 ERW, 456–63.

31 See p. 78 above.

32 FIRA 2 I, no. 87; revised text and commentary in Weber, E., Die römerzeitlichen Inschriften der Steiermark (1969), no. 149.

33 See Jones, A. H. M., ‘The Caste System in the Later Roman Empire’, The Roman Economy (1974), 396. The connection is also made in the detailed and useful article by W. Liebs, ‘Privilegien und Standeszwang in den Gesetzen Konstantins’, RIDA XXIV (1977), 297.

34 Eusebius, HE x, 7, to the proconsul of Africa, Anullinus, in 313. See most recently Elliott, T. G., ‘The Tax Exemptions granted to Clerics by Constantine and Constantius II’, Phoenix XXXII (1978), 326.

35 Sherk, op. cit. (n. 28), no. 22, Greek text l. 12.

36 Roussel, P., ‘Un Syrien au service de Rome et d'Octave’, Syria XV (1934), 33; IGLS III, 718; Sherk, op. cit. (n. 28), no. 58. Col. ii, ll. 22–3: .

37 For this aspect of the ambivalent role of the Emperors vis-à-vis the institutions of the Republic, see Wallace-Hadrill, A., ‘Civilis Princeps: between Citizen and King’, JRS LXXII (1982), 32, esp. 46 f.

38 SEG IX, 8; FIRA 2 I, no. 68, iii.

39 Cicero, de leg. II, 5.

40 See e.g. ERW, 483–5.

41 CIL XVI; Roxan, M. M., Roman Military Diplomas 1954–1977 (1978).

42 BGU II, no. 628; CIL XVI, App. no. 10; Daris, S., Documenti per la storia dell' esercito romano in Egitto (1964), no. 100.

43 ILS 9059; CIL XVI, App. no. 12; Daris, op. cit. (n. 42), no. 104.

44 BGU I, no. 180; Sel. Pap. II, no. 285; Daris, op. cit. (n. 42), no. 105. See Lewis, N., ‘Exemption from Liturgy in Roman Egypt’, Actes X cong. int. Pap. 1961 (1964), 69, esp. 72–3.

45 Dig. XXVI, 1, 8, 2–3.

46 Dig. L, 5, 8, 2; Frag. Vat. 143 (tutela).

47 cf. CJ VII, 64, 9; CTh VII, 20, 6. For cohortales as soldiers see e.g. CTh VII, 20, 4.

48 CTh VII, 22, 2–5; XII, 1, 13; 18; 32; 35 (A.D. 343).

49 CTh VII, 22, 1–6; XII, 1, 10–11; 13; 22; 32; 37; 40; 43; 45.

50 CTh XII, 1, 56 (the date is 21 December 362— 12 days before the kalends of January in the consulship of the Emperor and Fl. Sallustius—363).

51 The principle is specifically related to exemptions in a few relatively marginal cases, see e.g. Hermogenianus in Dig. XXVII, 1, 41, pr.—2. Cf. Frag. Vat. 131: a libertus seeing to the affairs of a senator, excused from tutela, but not from munera sordida, and CJ v, 62, 13.

52 See e.g. Pflaum, Carrières, nos. I; 3; 5; 7; 11; 13 bis; 16; 24611; 25; 37; bis; 59; 63, etc. From the third century note esp. Pflaum, no. 319, L. Caecilius Athenaeus, flamen perpetuus at Sufetula, whose duovirate there, involving shows (voluptates), is commemorated on his inscription (CIL VIII, 11340) and clearly followed his equestrian career.

53 ‘The Equestrian Officers of the Roman Army’, Roman Britain and the Roman Army (1953), 133.

54 See Quass, F., ‘Zur politischen Tätigkeit der munizipalen Aristokratie des griechischen Ostens in der Kaiserzeit’, Historia XXXI (1982), 188; pp. 198 f. for holders of equestrian posts.

55 CJ IX, 41, 11 (Diocletian and Maximian), see P. D. A. Garnsey, Social Status and Legal Privilege in the Roman Empire (1970), esp. 142 ff.; 241 ff.; P. A. Brunt, ‘Evidence given under Torture in the Principate’, ZSS XCVII (1980), 256, esp. 262.

56 On this problem see D. Nörr, opp. citt. (n. 18); A. Chastagnol, ‘Le problème du domicile légal des sénateurs remains à l'époque impériale’, Mél. L. S. Senghor (1977), 43 (non vidi).

57 See Quass, op. cit. (n. 54), 188–98, and esp. W. Eck, ‘Die Präsenz senatorischer Familien in den Städten des Imperium Romanum bis zum späten 3. Jahrhundert’, Studien zur antiken Sozialgeschichte: Festschrift F. Vittinghoff (1980), 283.

58 Drew-Bear, T., Eck, W., Herrmann, P., ‘Sacrae Litterae’, Chiron VIII (1977), 355.

59 Dig. L, 4, 3, 14. See Eck in art. cit. (n. 57), 379.

60 CIL in 412 = IGR IV 1404, see ERW, 421, and for the reading [ξ]ενίας ἐνοχλεῖ[ν] in 1. 17 see Eck, art. cit., 367, n. 53.

61 On these points see e.g. Jones, A. H. M., ‘The Elections under Augustus’, JRS XLV (1955), 9 = Studies in Roman Government and Law (1960), 27; Brunt, P. A., ‘The Lex Valeria Cornelia’, JRS LI (1961), 71; Nicolet, C., ‘Le cens sénatorial sous la République et sous Auguste’, JRS LXVI (1976), 20.

62 M. Malavolta, ‘A proposito del nuovo «S.C.» da Larino’, Sesta Miscellanea greca e romana (1978), 347; AE 1978, 145; see now also B. Levick in this volume, pp. 97 ff.

63 For surveys of the evolution of these appellations see Hirschfeld, O., ‘Die Rangtiteln der römischen Kaiserzeit’, Kleine Schriften (1913), 646; Stein, A., Der römische Ritterstand (1922), 47 f.; Pflaum, H.-G., ‘Titulature et rang social durant le Haut-Empire’, in Nicolet, C. (ed.), Recherches sur les structures sociales dans l'Antiquité (1970), 159.

64 See JRS LIII (1963), 197–8.

65 See the list in Pflaum, Carrières II, 624.

66 See the list in Pflaum, op. cit. (n. 63), 178–9.

67 IRT 467 (Lepcis Magna) of 324–6, see Barnes, T. D., The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (1982), 168: ‘curante Cl. Aurel. Generoso v.e., cur. r.p.’ I owe the reference to Löhken, H., Ordines Dignitatum: Untersuchungen zur formalen Konstituierung der spätantiken Führungsschicht (1982), 131, and n. 102.

68 Peyras, J., Maurin, L., Ureu: Municipium Uruensium (1974), 37, no. 5 = AE 1975, 879.

69 CTh XII, 1, 74, 5 (371); CJ XII, 1, 11, 1 (377).

70 P. Oxy. 1204; partially quoted by Jones, A. H. M., The Later Roman Empire (1964), 70; cf. ERW, 289. There is nothing to support the suggestion of J.-M. Carrié, ZPE XXXV (1979), 221–3, that Aurelius Plutarchus had the rank of primipilaris.

71 Dr. J. Rea has kindly re-read the papyrus for me from a photograph and assures me that only minor amendments of the published text are required: (1) Ζηναγένει for Ζηνογένει in line 2, see P. Oxy. 3246; (2) in l. 25 (not translated here) see Berichtigungsliste I, p. 313, and P. Oxy. XLV, p. xviii under 3105, ll. 3–4.

72 See Bowman, A. K., The Town Councils of Roman Egypt (1972).

73 See Barnes, T. D., Constantine and Eusebius (1981), 1718; The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (1982), 54–5.

74 ILS 8843, re-edited by L. Moretti, Ins. Gr. Urb. Rom. I, no. 60.

75 Lactantius, de mort. pers. 21, 3. For the date, Barnes, T. D., ‘Lactantius and Constantine’, JRS LXIII (1973), 29.

76 CTh VIII, 4, 3 + X, 7, 1 + X, 20, 1 (= CJ XI, 8, 1) + XII, 1, 5, all with the same dating: ‘dat. XII Kal. Aug. Gallicano et Basso conss.’.

77 e.g. CTh VI, 38, 1 = CJ XII, 32, 1 (Constantine); CTh XII, 1, 15 (Constantine, 327); CTh XII, 1, 41 (Constantius, 358).

78 e.g. ‘ex protectoribus’; CIL III, 7440; VI, 32945; ILS 5695 (A.D. 280). Examples of the Greek form (which seem to be more common) in H. J. Mason, Greek Terms for Roman Institutions (1074), s.v. ἀπό. Note Bryonianus Lollianus of Side, δουκηνάριος, ἀπὸ ἐπιτρόπων, etc. (AE 1966, 471); see C. Foss, ZPE XXVI (1977), 161; J.-M. Carrié, ZPE XXXV (1979), 213. Note also AE 1965, 195, ‘ex p(rimi) p(ili)’; AE 1966, 429, ἀπὸ ἐπιτρόπων; 446, ἀπὸ δουκηναρίας; AE 1972, 579, ἀπὸ ἐπιτροπῆν δουκηναρίας.

79 CTh VII, 21, 1 (either Constantine or Constantius).

80 See ERW, 109.

81 e.g. CTh XII, 1, 4 (praesidatus, 317); XII, 1, 20 (procurationes and curae civitatium, 331); XII, 1, 14 (honores, 326 or 353).

82 See e.g. Athanassiadi-Fowden, P., Julian and Hellenism: an Intellectual Biography (1981), 98 ff.

83 CTh XII, 1, 50 = XIII, 1, 4; Sozomenus, HE v, 5, 2; Philostorgius, HE VII, 4. See Bidez-Cumont, Ep. 54.

84 CTh XII, 3, 4; Ep. 25b Hertlein = 75b Bidez-Cumont = 31 Loeb. See V. Nutton, ‘Archiatri and the Medical Profession in Antiquity’, PBSR XLV (1977), 191.

85 CTh VI, 27, 2. On agentes in rebus see now Giardina, A., Aspetti delta burocrazia nel Basso Impero (1977).

86 Libanius, Or. XVIII, 148, Loeb trans.

87 AE 1979, 506.

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