Manolis Pagkalos

Anchoring Roman Power in the Greek World: The Political Culture of Roman Athens

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Anchoring Roman Power in the Greek World: The Political Culture of Roman Athens

With the dynamic entrance of the Romans to the East and their final conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms the Greek poleis, and Athens among them, had now a new ruler. In the new reality, the Athenians need to reconsider concepts of autonomy and democracy, a fact that becomes even more clear in the post-Sullan realities. This project, then, studies the political culture of Roman Athens by focusing on the political discourse and language of the polis to respond to the critical question: how did the Athenians anchor Roman rule to their political culture?

Anchoring Roman Power in the Greek World

The city of Athens is well-documented (epigraphic, textual, numismatic and archaeological data) and thus an ideal candidate for the exploration of the ways the Athenians embedded the new political reality in their cultural memory and contemporary political discourse. To tackle the question of how the Athenian political imaginary incorporated the Roman rule in its narrative I will be working under the expanding methodological and conceptual framework of the ‘Anchoring Innovation’ research agenda, while contributing with a memory theory studies background. The Athenians had, not unlike what contemporary societies do, a long tradition of appropriation of socio-political changes in their civic narrative and self-image and perception. If this was the case for the Athenian political culture during the Classical and Hellenistic periods, how did the Athenians react to the Romans entering the political scene in the second century BCE?

In this respect, some research questions can be formed, exploring the period from the soft hegemony of Rome over Athens in the second century BCE to the period of hard power and the actual incorporation of Athens to the Roman Empire (88 BCE onwards). I am interested in investigating the different reactions of the Athenians in the pre-Sullan and post-Sullan eras. How did the Athenians anchor the ambient changes and what was the role of the Roman elite in these processes? The alliance of the Athenians with Mithridates is the fertile ground for an in-depth discussion of the outlook and aims of the Athenians. The initial research questions, in a concise form, include:

  • How did the Athenians deal with Rome during the Second and Third Macedonian Wars and their relative independence? How do they appropriate the loss of independence after the near-total destruction of the city by Sulla?
  • How did the Athenians reform the civic narrative over the years of Roman rule, from the Civil Wars to the Empire?
  • How both the Roman and the Athenian elite anchored Roman power over the city? How did they articulate and negotiate claims of political power in the local, contested, level?

In other words, the research questions sketched above explore the use of the past and the integration of the present in the Athenian political discourse during the Roman period. The conceived dichotomy between soft and hard power can support the exploration of the processes of anchoring Roman rule in Athens, first, during the period of the Republic and second, during the Empire. Similarly, it creates the fertile ground for the exploration of the longue durée of Roman rule in Athens, reversing the model towards a Roman focus – i.e. how the Romans incorporated the rule over Athens in their language, self-image and political discourse.