The geopolitical area designated the Roman Province of Asia figures prominently as the backdrop to the expansion of the Jesus movement in the first and second centuries of the Common Era. The formal boundaries of the expanse varied a little in the process of settling the senatorial province but came to include the regions/kingdoms of Troas, Aeolis, Mysia, Ionia, Lydia, Caria, and, with an interlude of inclusion in the province of Cilicia in the 50s B.C.E., Phrygia. The lines of mountains and seas factored significantly in the bounding of the area from other provinces. In the eastern half of the Asia Minor peninsula (modern Turkey) were the provinces of Bithynia-and-Pontus, Galatia, Lycia, Pamphylia, and Cappadocia. The Asian regions continued to hold meaningful identities both to their inhabitants and to others (sometimes by aspersion). Phrygia, especially, received generalizing recognitions (cf. Acts 2:10; Sib. Or. 1.196–1igr98), though rarely neutral or favorable (Martial, Epigr. 11.104; Tertullian, An. 20; cf. Pliny, Nat. 8.74.196). Phrygia late in the second century C.E. gained notoriety through the rise of the Montanist (in part an independence) movement.

The republican period of the province was often marked by predatory Roman exactions (especially by the tax-farming publicani) that sparked occasional resistance, notably an 88 B.C.E. massacre of Roman citizens that was reported as even breaching the inviolability of sanctuary afforded by the temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Valerius Maximus 9.2 ext 3; Appian, Hist. rom. 23). A measure of relief appears to have accompanied the changes brought with the beginning of the empire. Two hundred years of remarkably stable polity followed. The fact that no Roman legion was garrisoned in the province (compared to sometimes four in Syria) is a marked indication of the success of the application of the Pax Romana in this part of the empire, notwithstanding the ubiquity of banditry or the depots of auxiliary troops sometimes located there (such as at Eumeneia, northeast of Colossae). It even became a mark of honor for local elites to make provision for the army when it passed through a city’s territory or contributions to military supply ships (e.g., Inschriften von Ephesos 4330). Legions were frequently stocked by volunteers and, when adjudged necessary, conscripts from the province.

To the cities and roads must be added the river valley systems, critical zones of interaction—notably the Indus, Marsyas, Cayster, Maeander-Lycus, Hermus, and Macestos-Rhyndakos Rivers. Inland cities used the rivers as well as the roads as essential avenues for connection with the Mediterranean. Highlighting the topographical extremes is the towering Taurus mountain range that separated the regions of Phrygia from Caria and Lycia to the south and east (the latter made a province in 43 C.E.) along with the Anatolian highlands that formed a natural divider from Galatia. Much of the cartographical and geographical perspective is amply informed by the writings of Strabo (Geogr. 12–14) and Pliny the Elder (Nat. 5).

Early Christian Reference to Places in Asia Minor.

The 20 generic references to Asia in the New Testament are spread across a range of authors who generally assume the designation framed by republican Rome in 129 B.C.E. (an arrangement initiated by the bequest by Attalus III [r. ca. 138–133 B.C.E.] of the Pergamene kingdom in 133 B.C.E.). In these writings one finds widespread recognition of the harbor city of Ephesus (16 or 17 references, depending on the assessment of the variants in Eph 1:1), which early displaced Pergamum as the capital of the province. The recognition of cities and of peoples ethnically defined by reference to cities marks the writings of the early Christian period, even where there is a memory of the rural origins of the Christian message (Acts 10:39). The cities of Asia specifically mentioned in the New Testament and early Christian writings dot the maritime and roadway linkages of mainland and island brought under the jurisdiction of Roman administration. From north to south these are Troas, Adramyttium, Assos, Mitylene, Pergamum, Thyateira, Magnesia, Chios, Sardis, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Tralles, Laodicea, Colossae, Samos, Miletus, Patmos, Cos, Cnidos, and Rhodes. Even adding Halicarnassus and Myndos (from 1 Macc 15:23), this is a tiny sample of the cities that populated the province (Josephus, J.W. 2.366 counts 500 cities) and of the more than 100 cities that maintained or acquired the status of minting their own coins at various times in the period. But the list is a tacit reflection of the imperial valorization of urbanization and the connectivity of cities. Accordingly, it would be as much a mistake to divorce these cities of the New Testament from the larger web of connections and influences within the province as to stamp one city with the identical impress of another.

There were Christian contests over the significance and symbols of the cosmologies and eschatologies of civic organization. Yet, the counterbalance to early Christian (including Montanist) evidence of resistance is the epigraphical and other evidence (albeit from a slightly later period) that indicates a large measure of accommodation to the dominant civic and provincial realities. The evidence we have for Asia is that early Christian missions substantially accepted and operated within a Roman urbanized framework, notwithstanding an acknowledgment that villages and country areas were also impacted by the new religious movement (Pliny, Ep. 10.96 of Bithynia but probably of general application). Given the bolstering of ties between rural outposts and urban centers under the early empire (not the least through imperial estates), this is to be expected.

Roman Interest in Organizing the Province.

The mapping of place can obscure how territory is organized spatially and purposefully by particular agents; more is conveyed than a mere directory. The sycophantic rhetorician Aelius Aristides (variously a resident of Pergamum, Athens, and Smyrna) in the mid-second century C.E. declared, “You have measured out the whole earth, spanned rivers with bridges of different kinds, pierced through mountains to lay roads, established post stations in uninhabited areas and everywhere else introduced a cultivated and ordered way of life” (Roman Oration 101). Within this provincial’s adulation of Rome lie the clues as to how Rome was able to hold the province together, to secure the support of the province for its imperial program, and to convey both of these according to a particular interpretative frame—civilization.

From the first proconsul of the province, Manius Aquillius (129–126 B.C.E.), Rome undertook to lace together the 300 by 250 mile (482.8 by 402.3 km) province with an infrastructure not previously experienced. The country had long held a series of highways and harbors, but these were multiplied and restored. The cities were made responsible for the maintenance of roads (even at some distance from their respective centers), wharves, and bridges. This sometimes included policing duties in addition to those of the various army detachments, such as the frumentarii and stationarii, which accompanied traveling officials, organized and transported supplies, and invigilated customs centers. The roads therefore were a sign of Roman control and order—“hodological space” (Whittaker). This was as much indicated by the exact and regularly visible milestones and itineraries that dotted the layered landscape as by the movements of various Roman authorities, movements that on occasion left a trail of honorific and votive pedestals (as for Hadrian’s pan-Hellenic tour of 129 C.E.). Even damage from earthquakes, however much they might be interpreted by some as signs of divine displeasure (as in the Sibylline Oracles and Revelation), appears to have been met confidently. Individual benefactors and cities applied themselves to repairs of their own city buildings, to assistance to other cities, and to the lines of access that connected them, sometimes with imperial support but often without. And the seas, since Pompey’s removal of the threat of piracy in the late republic, had effectively become a Roman lake, disturbed only by seasonal and unpredictable Poseidonic forces (cf. 1 Cor 16:6; Acts 28:11; Ign., Pol. 2.3).

The invigorated linkages between cities compelled them to see beyond themselves. Competition between cities retained much of its classical and Hellenistic character. But it was harnessed through the linkages to the larger region within which the cities were placed, notably the assize centers; to other cities in the province, especially the capita and the neokorates (cultic centers officially recognized by the emperor as guardians of the imperial cult); and to the new colonia and municipia, which served as a constant reminder of the Roman gradated tether. Law, agriculture, trade, education, and religion were all pumped through the arterial lines.

The Assize Districts and the Variety of Law Codes.

Although the number and membership of the assize districts varied, the system of conventus was organized according to cities and regions that were readily accessible along the roadways. A number of Asian cities mentioned in the New Testament were assize centers at different times: Adramyttium, Pergamum Smyrna, Sardis, Ephesus (Acts 19:38), Tralles, Miletus, and Laodicea. The occasion for the visit of the proconsul and his entourage was a major event for the exercise of Roman juridical oversight (Dio Chrysostom, Cel Phryg. 17f.; Plutarch, An. corp. 501E–F). But the gathering of representatives from member cities of an assize district to have cases heard was accompanied by festivals and fairs that stimulated commercial exchange and religious practice. The administrative system was the hub of determinations about the roads that made the journeys feasible, the recruitment that replenished the military, the outlets for the imperial finances (frequently in the form of money), the organization of landholdings and land production, and the apportionment and collection of the requisite taxes that fueled the empire also in the form of, or converted to, money, notwithstanding that payment in kind is clearly evident in some regions.

The aggregating function of the assizes toward a Roman anchor, while allowing a significant position to the various competitive elements of the Greek poleis heritage, was reflected in another institution of the province. Groupings of cities (and sometimes of other associations) under a common interest were given the title of a koinon. The koinon of Asia was a particularly adept mechanism for holding together the various cities and assize districts of the province. The various cities could maintain their competitiveness and yet be held together by the focus given to both—Roman authority. Thus, the intense rivalry for the award of a provincial temple for the imperial cult satisfied, if not sated, the former; the need to organize festivals, games, macroadministrative affairs, and cultic celebrations in honor of Rome and the emperor appeased the latter, further supported by the commitment to the imperial cult that the neokorate required. The officers of the koinon of the province, the asiarchs as they came to be known, were distributed through more than 40 cities, though concentrated within those cities that also housed a provincial imperial temple and gathering when their obligations were to be fulfilled. These representatives not only gained significant honor and status from this imperially related office but brought the benefits of such connections to their cities of origin. Ephesus figures prominently in the inscriptional records that mention asiarchs, though it should be noted that the earliest dated inscription belongs to the late first century C.E., perhaps indicating that the reference to asiarchs in Acts 19:31 belongs to the narrator’s time rather than the events narrated.

No detailed study of the extent and nature of the continuation and operation of Greek laws in the cities of the Roman province has been done. Because of the cultivated autonomy of Greek poleis (cities/city-states) in Asia inherited from the past, no civic constitution is identical, though the family resemblance is clear (often spawned from Athens). Moreover, these Greek-constituted cities under republican and imperial Roman control often found themselves designated as “free” or “subject” cities. This was a somewhat arbitrary, ambiguous, and obfuscating distinction since, in practice, all cities were to a greater or lesser extent subject to Rome (Pliny, Ep. 10.92, 93). But certain benefits or constraints might attach to the distinction, such as in matters of taxation and tax collection. What is clear, however, is that local jurisdiction that did not conflict with Roman concerns continued to operate according to Greek models beyond the second century. An indication of this dual system is found in the ubiquitous epitaphs from the period. Many of them bear in their inscriptions a penalty for disturbance or violation of the tomb. It appears that the founder of the grave could choose which body would have jurisdiction for the penalty collection: the tameion, the fiscus, or some other body. The tameion was the civic treasury office, and the fiscus was the Roman provincial branch (presumably in that city); occasionally, a particular group, such as a synagogue or the gerousia, was charged with this responsibility. A small number of epitaphs actually claim the oversight of two or more bodies (IK 52.285). This suggests that there could sometimes be an overlap, sometimes a choice to be made, sometimes a hierarchy of jurisdictions in operation. (Sometimes also the terminology is not sharp in distinction.)

In larger frame, this complex interplay of authority is found in the operations of Roman jurisdiction through the assize districts of the province. Imperial, senatorial, and proconsular edicts and letters were dispatched to assize centers for dissemination. Those cities were the central offices of the Roman treasury, regulating the annual taxes (as indicated by the Lex Portoria Asiae) before dispatch to Ephesus and thence to Rome. They provided the seat for the proconsul’s annual visits for judicial decision making and administrative oversight. So important were these occasions and the infrastructure required for assize functioning that other groups made use of the system. Asian Jewish cities that contributed toward the maintenance of the Jerusalem Temple, for example, seem to have modeled their collection agencies on the assize pattern.

It is also clear that the litigation brought to the proconsul for decision had to involve issues of Roman interest and representation by those of sufficient status to gain attention. Even the exceptional circumstances that might require adjudication over a village matter (such as protests against military abuses of requisition powers) could proceed only through a patron who might take the issues before the proconsul or procurator or his legates. Most matters were decided by city instruments without reference to Roman authority, especially for villages whose recognition depended on connection to a city. Cities committed to their own autonomy (however that was qualified under Rome) valued this ability, and calls upon proconsular authority were restricted to Roman concerns, the city’s interests in fostering those concerns, and competition with other cities or groups that required adjudication from an “independent” source. These decisions were broadcast sometimes in temporary fashion on a public notice board, sometimes more permanently through inscription (depending on the importance to a particular city’s interests). Imperial estates and the communities they contained (villages and market centers, for example) looked rather to procurators for enforceable decisions. What is clear, however, is that the Roman emphasis on hierarchical power and the gradations thereof was always in the background and over time had an increasing impact on the prestige of “autonomous” cities and their valued offices.

Major matters of dispute (often over territorial boundaries and access to resources) were sent down to the assize center when the proconsular visit was set. In rare instances, there may have been travel to the provincial capital and, more rarely still, beyond the proconsul’s authority to the emperor directly, as in instances of allegations of proconsular or procuratorial extortion or for resolution of rivalries between cities and even between individuals (e.g., Pliny, Ep. 6.31; NewDocs 4.50). All these steps required an incremental increase in the status of representatives and in the resources needed to mount a case.

Colonia (such as Alexandria Troas and Parium in the north) and municipia sought to maintain themselves as microcosmic res publica operating under the ius italicum rather than the proconsular’s direct authority, but even in these cases they appear to have adopted some of the offices—with their Greek names—in the bureaucratic functioning of the cities. This partitioning of juridical responsibility according to the identity of the city, the standing of the petitioners, and the importance of the issue (from a Roman point of view) was complicated by the privileges that attached to Roman citizenship. In Asia, citizenship, whether of individual cities and/or of Rome, was a carefully regulated and restricted affair but was not necessarily exclusive of other cities (in spite of the legislative ban in the Lex Pompeia). Successful athletes, for example, regularly held multiple citizenships in addition to that of their home city. Benefactors, such as the megamillionaire Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, were often feted for their largesse to another city’s projects by the award of citizenship. The notion of multiple, hierarchically graded citizenships, or the lack thereof, may lie behind some early Christian ideas (as in Eph 2:19, Phil 3:20, Diogn. 5.9). Paul of Tarsus made use of one of his citizenships (Roman) to escape the jurisdiction of local authorities (Acts 22:25–29, cf. 21:39). Jurisdiction therefore was a matter to be negotiated between applicable and appropriate Roman and Greek constitutions, whether touching collection of fines or the regulation of guilds and other voluntary associations. In the latter case there were occasionally further complexities, with specific groups being granted decision-making authority over their own affairs, as in the case of Jews at Sardis (Acts 18:14–15).

These observations have particular relevance for the question of slavery. It is frequently assumed that Roman laws governing slavery and manumission applied unilaterally in Asia. Certainly, Augustus’s (r. 29 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) tax on slave sales introduced in 7 B.C.E. applied to slave markets empirewide, and this crops up in taxes apportioned to assize districts. But this does not require an all-encompassing embrace of slave issues by Roman jurisprudence unless slaves and freed persons were members of the familia Caesaris. Greek jurists appear to have become concerned about such Roman laws only toward the end of the second century C.E.—the earliest bilingual training manual in Roman law, the Fragmentum Dositheanum, is dated to 207 C.E. and concerns the manumission of slaves. This suggests that the need to know Roman law only gradually gained traction in the provincial cities and was ad hoc in its application, matters of taxation, religious observance, and agriculture being the vanguard. Paul’s letter to Philemon therefore, along with vignettes of judicial activity elsewhere in Greek cities in the New Testament, ought be tested against the evolving backdrop of Greek law as well as, if not instead of, Roman law. Of particular significance here is that the records of judicial decisions that involved Roman offices are themselves in Greek, even when rubrics are in Latin (possibly as the indication of Roman authority).

It is clear that many languages continued to thrive in the province. The presence of an archermeneus, a chief translator, at Colossae, at the head of the Lycus Valley broaching the Anatolian high country, indicates the extensive civic resources required for translation and interpretation. Hence, the use of Greek in decisions of Roman courts in the province is not restricted to an accommodation to the common tongue but has other or additional significance. It is an indication that the Roman authorities have asserted control of that tongue and the associations that the language conveyed, not least in the dualism of Greek and barbarian. “Do you know Greek?” (Acts 21:37) became a test of status precisely because the Romans had taken Hellenism as its own rightful inheritance and portrayed themselves as the ordained fulfillment and reformation of Hellenic culture. At the same time, given this privileging of Greek, local civic pride might find expression once formal Roman loyalty had been satisfied.

The Valorization of Travel.

The accent on movement around the province and the empire was not only a reality—as indicated by the epitaph in Rome of Ammias, a Jew from Laodicea in Asia (see Ameling, 2004, no. 212)—it became a badge of honor, somehow expressive of the Pax Romana as much as dependent on it (Suetonius, Aug. 98.2; Irenaeus, Haer. 4.30.3). Thus, the famous Zeuxis epitaph from Hierapolis in Phrygia singles out for mention 72 voyages to Italy alongside his Roman citizenship (CIG 3920), in the process matching the extensive peregrinations of Paul of Tarsus. In mimetic microcosm, Zeuxis was declaiming the openness and accessibility of land and sea.

Augustus celebrated this engineering, and successive emperors reiterated the achievement. His Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Acts of Augustus), cast in bronze in Rome and then cast throughout the empire, landed, among many places, on the walls of the Temple of Roma in Ancyra. Formally, it had been warranted by the koinon of Asia—the assembly of representatives from Asian assize centers and their assigned cities. But its bilingual text revealed where the authority lay: “I undertook civil and foreign wars both by land and by sea; as victor therein I showed mercy to all surviving citizens” (Res Gestae Divi Augusti 3) The text finds its sculptured presentation among the reliefs at the Sebasteion that survives at Aphrodisias, with Augustus in dynamic movement holding together Oceanus and Oikoumene. What is absent from the Zeuxis epitaph is here repeatedly manifest in the building’s reliefs at Aphrodisias—the tiered aggregation of nations (ethnē) adorn this symbolic and architectural manufacturing of imperial space. At this Carian city, one can visualize the imperial texts of the expanse of empire and the benefits that it brings. And Aphrodisias was far from alone in this cultivation of the imagination. The nations had, like the Mediterranean, been made one, skirted around (literally and figuratively) by the civilizing force of Rome.

The Privileging of Greek Culture under Roman Reformist Intent.

Rome neither blanketed all distinctions nor held that all nations were equal before its imperial presence. One culture, divorced from its ethnic ties, is also clear from the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias—the portrayal of the Roman triumph is decidedly Greek in the contours of its presentation. This touches on one of the major debates over the province, that is, the nature and extent of the “romanization” of Asia, indeed, the appropriateness of such a designation. For some, Asia retains a marked Greek appearance such that Roman influences are negligible; for others, there was almost a game of becoming Roman and staying Greek; and some see the mutual admixture productive of a new and vibrant hybrid, while others find the complexities resistant to generalized axioms.

Onomastic Shifts.

For those who were not Roman (and, by this, citizenship was a basic, if problematic, satisfaction, even when a Greek cognomen was retained), the self-portrayal as Greek was the next best thing. It is therefore inadequate to interpret the Augustan reorganization of the province as in large measure configured on a mutually lucrative negotiation with existing Greek aristocratic families. Rather, the turmoil of the triumviral years and the early efforts to cement empire introduced changes that delivered opportunities and incentives that produced significant adjustments in the cities of the province (and, of course, elsewhere). Those adjustments were concentrated on a more egalitarian commitment to Hellenic display.

One of the clear indications of this is also a measure of the democratization of Greek culture that came with the instigation of empire in Asia—people’s names. There is a marked increase in the use of Greek names in those families (males especially) that entered into “the epigraphic habit” of the empire. Thus, early first-century C.E. families, whose fathers or grandfathers carried Scythian, Phrygian, Thracian, or other epichoric names, delivered Greek names to their sons. This is especially noticeable in those parts of the province that had been less pervasively populated by Greek families, but the same phenomenon is evident in the inscription at Ephesus recording the names of members of an association of fishers who had subscribed to the building of a harbor customs house (NewDocs 5.112–113). Moreover, those who carried Greek names for a succession of generations were all too ready to list their forebears back beyond the usual two generations that had been the mark of Athenian naming patterns. These frequent claims to a Hellenic continuity become inverse evidence that a period of transition, where contests for status and position were predicated on a Greek model, was occasioned by the changes wrought by the Augustan impact. Names drawn from Homer (such as Tudeus and Tudeides), even when of dubious connotation in the stories (and which no Athenian would adopt), begin to appear.

Sometimes homonymic name choices are in evidence, that is, the choice of a Greek name that was phonemically similar to a non-Greek original. As G. H. R. Horsley observes, “The indigenous embrace of Hellenism becomes widely prevalent epigraphically only in the early Imperial centuries” (p. 2b). Jews were participants in this “onomastic hellenization” as much as other ethnic groups. Thus, at Hierapolis, the epitaph “Jason the Jew” is likely to indicate a homonym for “Jesus/Joshua” (found also at Aphrodisias [Ameling, 2004, nos. 14B, 190] and in Paul’s letter to the Romans 16:21, a chapter which some take as originally addressed to the Ephesians). The same homonymic activity seems to be operating in Colossians 4:11 (Jesus also called Justos) and even in Paul’s own name change (both instances of Greek transliteration of a Latin homonym). For many Jews, however, name alone gives no indication of background ethnicity. The onomastic spectrum is weighted strongly toward the Greek. The impact of empire had eroded the hold of a small Greek elite on the affairs of cities, making it possible for others to loosen the hold of their own indigenous or inauspicious backgrounds and take up a greater Greekness of display. And given the noticeable Roman espousal of Hellenic display, there were social, economic, and political advantages in such a move.

Public life and display were key factors and may explain the slower pace of women’s names to move from the epichoric onomasticon to Hellenic choices among nonelite levels of society. This likely explains the Phrygian name Apphia appearing between two male Greek names in the household receiving the letter to Philemon (similar to an inscription recording a Colossian woman at Boubon, a city to the south; CIG 3.4380k3).

The opportunities in this conjunction of Roman and Greek display are clearly seen at Aphrodisias in the career of an imperial slave by the name of Zoilos. He apparently rose in the ranks of the imperial household and gained his freedom (Gaius Julius Zoilos) and considerable favor from Augustus, which he was able to transfer to his homeland. The city itself appears only too pleased to have received the benefactions of Zoilos, not just for its own sake but also for the ties with Rome that his influential presence signified. (Paul’s singling out of a connection to Caesar’s household [Phil 4:22] may reflect a similar appeal to the status and influence of such an affiliation.) Zoilos was granted two priesthoods for life, that of the familiar Greek Aphrodite and that of a cult of Roman origin, Libertas, here known under the Greek name, Eleutheria. In this transition period, the fact that he may not have come from an aristocratic family did not matter.

His mausoleum speaks eloquently of the nexus. On one side, Zoilos is dressed as a Roman citizen crowned by the exemplary Roman values (written in Greek) of “manliness” and “honor”; on the opposite side, Zoilos is dressed as a Greek in chlamys and, significantly, the Greek traveling hat, with esteemed Greek institutions, the demos and the polis, now performing the crowning. “Greekness” is certainly on the move, under Roman impress, but in so doing was defined more fluidly, at least for a time. The recognition of the importance of “Greek” in the new Roman realities may have occasioned Paul’s shift from “Jew and Gentile” to “Jew and Greek.” More particularly, a generation on from Paul, the deutero-Pauline text of Colossians, makes a thoroughly non-Pauline reprioritization of emphasis to “Greek and Jew” (Col 3:11). The “nations” (ethnē) or, in Jewish terminology, “Gentiles” (the same word in Greek) were definitely on a lower tier (Scythians, barbarians among a number) in the hierarchy. Rome had conquered the nations for the purpose of civilization, and that civilization had a decidedly Greek appearance.

Hierarchy and Gender under Rome.

The complexity of hierarchical arrangement has a gendered face as well. The nations subjected by Rome are frequently represented in coins, reliefs, and statues as women—disheveled, half-clothed, cowered. The model woman in the restored civilization of Roman propaganda is supportive of both empire and the imperial paterfamilias—modest, clothed, and upright. Again, the representations of this ideal female draw on Hellenic characteristics in dress and bearing. This may be conveyed through imperial women, such as the wives, mothers, or sisters of emperors, or given an added religious significance through the honor that goddesses such as Tyche/Fortuna and Nike are represented as bestowing on emperor and empire. On the one hand, this imperially endorsed and religiously reinforced imperial household code became ubiquitous and no group, Christian or otherwise, could afford to ignore it, even if there remained differences about how to accommodate this aspect of imperial reality. These differences are evident in Christian writings. The nuanced imitation of such hierarchical codes in the deutero-Pauline letters to the Ephesians and Colossians (Eph 5:21–6:9; Col 3:18–4:1; less subtle in 1 Pet 2:18–3:7) are balanced by repudiation in parts of the gospel tradition (Mark 10:1–22, Matt 19:1–22) and in the Acts of Thecla (see especially 2.11). On the other hand, the exemplary civilized woman in the province of Asia gains a prominence not found in other parts of the empire, showing a marked rise in the early decades of the Common Era. It appears, in some measure, to have taken the parade of the imperial family as a model for imitation. Here lay an opportunity to make the transition from participation in public Hellenistic euergetism (the munificent allocation of resources to societal infrastructure, institutional maintenance, and recognized groups) to civic and provincial positions of honor, albeit still requiring the beneficent outlays that secured position. Even allowing for the willingness of civic and associational authorities to cultivate the largesse of elite wealthy women, the ability of such women independently to hold and exercise civic and religious offices (from the municipal authority of a grammateus to the high priesthood of the imperial cult) indicates a negotiated transition from the independent Greek poleis and kingdoms to the operations of civic authority within the Roman province, an authority that was possible when combined with an acknowledgment of Rome. This tension between a paterfamilial preeminence and the measured autonomy of leading women (who were necessarily portrayed in ideal family relationships, past or present) may contribute to the assessment of female-headed households in the early Jesus movement (such as that of Nympha, Col 4:15), as well as the models for the ideal woman laid out in the Pastoral Epistles.

The Coinage of Roman Asia.

A useful insight into the complexity of Roman authority in the Asian poleis lies in one of the most common sources of artifactual evidence from the period: the thousands of coins from the many cities of the province. The second- to third-century C.E. historian Cassius Dio sought an explanation for this evidence (Hist. Rom. 52.30.9), even more apparent in his day as the number of Asian city mints climbed toward 300. He presented it as a deliberate and sagacious policy of Augustus, concerned to allow a gradual pattern of Roman influence (Hist. Rom. 52.41.2). There is more to the evidence, however, than simply wise stealth. The coins from the Senate-controlled province without (the need for) a legionary garrison expressed a measure of autonomy for the province and the cities within it. Hence, there are at least three broad groupings of coins that circulated in Asia: the imperial coins emanating from Rome (even if through outsourced license), the provincial silver cistaphori (probably emanating from the assize centers), and the civic coinages. These coins were able to function in combined circulation; thus, the important Salutaris inscription from Ephesus (Inschriften von Ephesos 1a.27, ca. 104 C.E.) provides the currency exchange rate between the provincial cistophorus and the imperial aes. Coin hoards reveal coins from many Asian cities collected together, indicating that a coin’s purchasing power was not confined to its minting city. Moreover, the more than 2,000 extant examples of homonoia coins struck to commemorate some form of alliance between cities indicate a duplicated promotion of coin use, even if one city was responsible for its minting. Civic coinage had a key role to play in imperial economics as well as in civic and imperial propaganda.

The civic coinages, though sometimes demeaned as the “small change” of the Roman world, are important for a number of features. “The most explicit symbols of a city’s identity and status were its coins” (Millar, 1993, p. 257). Unlike the Latin that frequented the cistaphoric and colonia coinage, the language on the civic coins is almost invariably Greek, as are the offices inscribed in the legends (such as grammateus, agonothete, stephanophoros, agoranomos, strategos), presumably responsible for the minting. The officeholders named in the legends appear also to be eponymous magistrates, yielding their names, at least partially, to the organization of time in their cities. This was not a singular control of the clock but joined the multiplicity of calendrical schemes that seem to have coexisted in Asia. The dating from the consul Sulla’s establishment of peace with Mithridates in 85 B.C.E. continued long after the promotion of an Augustan calendar in 9 B.C.E. Roman plus inherited Greek schemas and local particular expressions were all negotiated concurrently (also occasionally evident in inscriptions). A particular city’s preferred religious festivals were a key part of this arrangement; religious accents dominate the coins. City after city minted coins with images of particular gods that, presumably, were seen as important in and for the religious (and through the coin, also civic) life of the populace. Most of the deities are the familiar Greek gods (sometimes with Egyptian infiltration), but there is also a significant component of so-called indigenous gods such as Mên, Attis, and Meter.

The deference to Rome is also equally present. The obvious indication is the image of the emperor (with legend) on the obverse of a coin. Deity and emperor were thereby spun together. But there was a more subtle morphing. On the one hand, the emperor adopted features of a god (Apollo, Zeus, Helios); on the other, a god received Roman-impregnated symbolism. A good example comes from Colossae. The portrait of Zeus Katabaites (descending Zeus) or Zeus Brontes (thundering Zeus) on its Hellenistic coins gives way in the second century C.E. to Zeus Aetophoros, the eagle standard-bearer, or Nikephoros, the victory-bearer. These local coins imitate the imagery that a succession of emperors cultivated in their self-presentation and not without allusion to the ubiquitous Roman military standard. This blend is found in other media: the wife of an emperor was portrayed as the new Hera, new Demeter, or new Aphrodite; the cult of Hestia at Ephesus adopted many of the features of the Vestal Virgins in Rome, and the temple of the imperial cult was conjoined with that of Artemis. This retention of Greek (and in part indigenous) expressions in a Roman province has two primary facets: the first is a complex layering of exchange emanating from an imperial center—the closer to Roman authority, the more overtly Roman the accent was (in language, imagery, and behaviors) but always with a retention (greater or lesser) of “eastern” or Greek-laden values and representation—the second is that the decision to seek some rapprochement or even synthesis of Roman and Greek values and symbols cultivated a complexity and a transformation of the cities and regions of Asia.

Economics, Euergetism, and Architecture.

The variegated though centralized economic control manifest in monetary supply is replicated in the patterns of agricultural settlement and production and in the variety of mercantile arrangements for the movement of goods around the empire. This is not to claim that everything was directed toward Rome itself—many local industries dealing with necessities such as ceramics were directed mainly to their local areas, though Pergamum and Tralles gained an export reputation for the quality of their pottery. What Rome did guarantee was that the empire functioned as a trade organism. And this frequently fostered the movement of stylistic influence, if not an area’s actual manufactures.

The Asian peninsula’s long history of quality textile manufacture—notably identified in a variety of genres from poetry and comedy (Propertius, Elegies 4.9.48–49; Plautus, Aul. 3.5.34) to the famous third-century C.E. Prices Edict of Diocletian (19–26)—is a useful index of the complexity of the economic arrangements in Asia that did yield a vast export market. Other parallels provide a similar picture, for example, the trade in Dokimeion marble and its value-added sculpted products such as garland sarcophagi that became popular in Rome in the mid-second century C.E., the increase in olive production as a result of export demand, and the continuation of the trade in human bodies, perhaps reflected in the ethnonyms (names based on ethnic origins, a common practice in naming slaves) in Acts 12:13, 16:14; servile names are noticeably present in New Testament onomastics. The textile industry fostered multiple ancillary industries, from purple dyeing to leatherwork to tent making from felt or leather. These commercial trades seem to have supported a number of early Christian leaders such as Lydia, Paul, Prisca, and Aquila, who benefited not only from the ease of travel but also from festivals that were a regular feature of the civic, religious, and commercial calendar.

Inevitably these enterprises came under the purview of Rome—through customs dues at every step of the manufacturing and distribution networks, notably the scripturae that reached from Mediterranean ports up the river systems into resource-rich valleys, and, at times, through control of certain key elements, such as the trade in purple dye at Miletus (as occurred under Nero). The economic vibrancy can be seen directly in the guild associations formed around specific crafts and skills, in the dedicated market buildings recorded in inscriptions, and in the sums of money from mercantile benefactors. Much study remains—the field of the economics of the province is still in its infancy—not the least in efforts to understand the economic foundations of new religious movements such as Christianity.

One clear marker of the general wealth of the province is in the marked increase in public buildings in cities, imitated further in some satellite villages. Rome might have encouraged the expansion of engineering enterprises in cities, but this rested on the economic capacity to deliver. Both are ably demonstrated in the first two centuries. The imperial interest in building that Augustus trumpeted in his Res Gestae (19–21) and which successive emperors emulated and expanded (even as they espoused their own modesty in attention to the urban fabric) brought a slow-developing but inevitable shift in the material manifestation in Asia, reaching a peak in the second century C.E. This is not to claim that a Roman template was either intentional or resultant, nor that every city pursued an identical schema, nor that Roman imperial munificence was the major financial inducement. For example, the baths that were already a recognizable part of Hellenistic culture became under Roman influence much larger establishments, increasingly conjoined to the distinctive Hellenistic civic establishment, the gymnasium. Nevertheless, it is hard to find one bath complex in a city of the province that closely modeled another; rather, diversity is the rule. Here again the dynamic exchange between local and imperial is apparent.

However, the greater the potential for status aggregation in a particular building, the more both imperial and local benefaction was attracted. Individual and group benefaction has been taken as an indication of how city infrastructure was maintained in general, but munificent display did not equate with overall responsibility for, or the cost of, an urban quality of life. It is rather “the icing on the richly decorated cake of civic life” (Zuiderhoek, 2005, p. 178). This suggests that those constructions that were underwritten by euergetism (local or not) fulfilled valued functions apart from practical necessity. Religious structures, baths, aqueducts, and the like dominated the euergetic enterprise, closely followed by distributions for the support of various valued groups (compare Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem church). From the imperial perspective, an emperor’s munificence elaborated a supportive imperial imagination; local euergetism imitated this but in the imitation communicated a loyalty to the empire that secured a city’s reputation in the province along with political legitimation at a local level. Even when smaller entities such as voluntary associations made their own contributions to civic life, the enhancement of reputation and ascent in status within a local context also ensured a reduction of overall dissent. Accordingly, the apprehension of an emperor about the operations of subgroups in urban society (Pliny, Ep. 10.93) could be allayed.

It was precisely where opportunities for public benefaction were denied or inaccessible or where benefactions failed to compensate for the hierarchical and financial disparities in civic society that dissent was most likely to find fertile ground. When this was compounded by an alternate religious ethic germination of opposition was possible, precisely as is seen in Revelation. However, as is also seen in Revelation (e.g., Rev 2:12–29), the complexities of the interaction of Roman hierarchical models and the harnessed Greek euergetism frequently meant degrees of competitive rivalry between religious groups within the cities, not least in how they positioned themselves in relation to the authorities. Indeed, the competition between varieties of the same religious group seen in Revelation imitates the rivalry that occurred between leading provincial cities for imperial honors in the administration of the imperial cult.

Religion and/in the Empire.

Imperial authorities were less concerned about the precise material expression of local loyalty than that fidelity be demonstrated. This is particularly apparent in the variety of material and epigraphical expressions of the imperial cult in the province, where a hierarchically layered diversity is clear. Imperially sanctioned provincial cults in Pergamum, Miletus (of limited duration), Smyrna, Ephesus, and in the second century C.E. Cyzikos and Laodicea are followed in status by city temples to Roma and the Sebastoi to group and individual avowed devotion. The endorsed provincial focus saw not only the semantic development of what became the eagerly sought honorific title of neokoros, temple warden, but also strict control of the designation and operations of the cult, as there was in the dispensation of the title. This reflected the politics of imperial presentation in Rome itself as much it utilized the cultic reinforcement of the loyal identity of leading cities. Accordingly, these cities were also honored by neokorates for their leading deities, such as Artemis at Ephesus, Asclepios at Pergamum, and Zeus at Cyzikos, all carefully connected with Rome in symbols, honorifics, and cultic functions. Indeed, even with the continued battles between such cities as Pergamum and Ephesus (and their leading benefactors) for the aggregation of additional honors (such as a second neokorate and the title of “metropolis”), the requisite point of dispensation and appeal was Rome. The striking connection between “where Satan dwells” and “the great whore” of Revelation (2:13, 17–18) reflects this relationship, as it seems also to reflect a time when Pergamum was committed to retaining or reasserting its preeminence.

The provincial focus generated by and for these select cities drew honorific recognition and material resources from other cities, through their leaders and representatives. Status accrued to those local dignitaries who ensured that their travel and presence in imperial devotion gained suitable recompense at home. Support for the provincial imperial cult by Asian cities may have become a means of leverage for those cities in relation to Roman officials in Asia and a check on their excesses. At the same time, the provision for, among other things, the fortnightly procession honoring Artemis by the former procurator Gaius Vibius Salutaris demonstrates a controlling embrace of the Hellenic inheritance under Rome, not least in the leading of the procession by statues of the emperor Trajan and his wife Plotina. Compromise and negotiation were required of both Roman authority and city officials, but Roman beneficence (especially in distributions to compliant groups) dictated certain shifts in traditional Ephesian self-perceptions, shifts that engendered mutuality of support between Artemisian and imperial cults. The writer of Acts (see 19:23–41) seems aware of these subtleties, especially as he seems aware of Ephesus’s neokorate status (Acts 19:35). However, he deflects attention from the imperial interest in the cult of Artemis, an interest that would have been part of the crowd’s perception of the apostle’s slight on the magnificent deity, even if anachronistically presented.

Roman support for prominent temples (and sometimes rural sanctuaries) did not prevent conflict between the leading cities over their relative status. Occasional intensities brought imperial intervention (such as by Antoninus early in the 140s). At the same time, cities without provincial cult status asserted their own standing in other ways. Firstly, they strengthened ties between non-neokoros cities through various trade and other alliances, often given symbolic expression by homonoia (concord) coins that bore the patron deities or divinized goddesses of ancient established cities in friendly connection, at the same time as asserting their eminence in relation to the (Roman) honored city. Secondly, cities ensured that in various ways the imperial cult found a significant place at the local level. These cults were free to employ more lavish displays of devotion, in language and ritual. So, for example, the term “god” of a living emperor is avoided at the provincial level (at least before Hadrian) but is found at the local level. Games and festivals along with the adornment of dedications were all part of this local expression.

It should be acknowledged that these elite exercises in religiopolitical maneuvering, while giving shape and focus to civic life, were not necessarily the religious staple for the metics (resident foreigners), slaves, rural laborers, and other noncitizens of a city. Indigenous and imported deities provided a ready alternative once requisite civic loyalties had been satisfied. It is significant that in a number of agoras has been found a pillar for mechanistic oracle delivery that provided numbered lists of divine guidance that could be accessed by five throws of a dice. Laodicea and Kibyra provide Asian evidence, but many are known in neighboring provinces. The prominent place within the precincts of the agora required the decision of the city’s council, the boule; but this seems to have been readily forthcoming without any threat to the formalized and civically backed cultic practices connected with temples. Moreover, they were usually dedicated as a benefaction by a member of the elite, thus making provision for the lower levels in the city and strengthening the compact of city life. This thoroughly Asian religious expression gives further insight into the religious diversity that could coexist in the province, even if it might sometimes engender rivalries. It is this complexity that the early Christian movement negotiated, not merely in its earliest missionary forays but in the writings that, in themselves, become part of that ongoing negotiation. In this sense, the rich archaeological material that Turkey and the neighboring islands continue to yield is the essential informant for the interpretation of early Christian history and literature.



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Alan H. Cadwallader