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Anne Kolb / Marco Vitale (Hgg.): Kaiserkult in den Provinzen des Römischen Reiches. Organisation, Kommunikation und Repräsentation, Berlin: De Gruyter 2016, IX + 512 S., ISBN 978-3-11-041671-8, EUR 79,95
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Rezension von:
Barbara Burrell
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Barbara Burrell: Rezension von: Anne Kolb / Marco Vitale (Hgg.): Kaiserkult in den Provinzen des Römischen Reiches. Organisation, Kommunikation und Repräsentation, Berlin: De Gruyter 2016, in: sehepunkte 17 (2017), Nr. 7/8 [15.07.2017], URL:

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Anne Kolb / Marco Vitale (Hgg.): Kaiserkult in den Provinzen des Römischen Reiches

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Edited volumes tend to be a mixed bag, and this, from a conference on the provincial imperial cult held in Zurich in 2014, is no exception. The title is somewhat deceptive, as almost all the 21 papers concentrate solely on eastern provinces. As such, Simon Price's Rituals and Power (Cambridge 1984) still provides a reliable theoretical basis for the more informed contributions, even after all these years. The editors (in "Provinzen und ihre Kaiserkulte - Quellen, Probleme und Ergebnisse," 1-18) introduce the volume, its sections devoted to origins, civic cults, provincial cults, priesthoods, and late examples, with much overlap among them. But each paper's usefulness is better signaled by what types of evidence the author uses, and how s/he uses them.

That most of the authors keep only to historical and epigraphic evidence, with few considering sacred buildings, statues, or even coins, is disappointing; tellingly, the sole index is of textual sources. It is difficult to say much that is new by depending on the literary evidence, which is long-known and well treated; some revisionist works here (e.g. Madsen's "Who Introduced the Imperial Cult in Asia and Bithynia? The Koinon's Role in the Early Worship of Augustus," 21-36, and Sørensen's "The Bithynians again! The koina and their supposed involvement in cases of repetundae," 337-352) must set up straw men to argue against. This brings up another problem of edited collections: how is one to get two contributors to deal with, or even recognize, each other's points of conflict? For Sørensen's paper debating the political role of koina (organizations of provincial cities) is immediately thrown into doubt by Vitale's "Provinciae als beschlussfassende Instanzen in Inschriften von Baetica bis Anatolien," 353-364, demonstrating that the terminology for such leagues (not just in the East but in western provinces) was not as specific as Sørensen claims.

Those who add inscriptions as a major source, as Vitale does, have the advantage of the largest, and still increasing, corpus of evidence. Of course, inscriptions have their limits, being mainly honorifics for elite persons in this period, but recent finds can change our outlook considerably. Here an important group of papers depends on epigraphy to reveal the peculiarities of imperial cult in Lycia: Campanile's "Specificità delle origini e dello sviluppo del culto imperiale in Licia," 79-96, Battistoni's "Dediche licie a Roma," 97-100, and Reitzenstein's "Agonistik und Kaiserkult in Lykien," 133-156. Other authors also use inscriptions to trace specifics of imperial worship within regions like Achaia (Camia's "Between Tradition and Innovation: Cults for Roman Emperors in the Province of Achaia," 255-284), Thessaly (Bouchon's "Les Thessaliens et le culte des empereurs de Rome: Tradition, intégration, polycentrisme et jeu d'échelles," 285-308), and Crete (Cigaina's "Der Kaiserkult bei den Kretern in Bezug auf ihre Teilhabe am Militärwesen des römischen Reiches," 309-336, which cites coinage and statuary as well). Edelmann-Singer ("Die Kaiserpriesterinnen in den östlichen Provinzen des Reiches - Reflexionen über Titel, Funktion und Rolle," 387-406) treats the vexed question of koinon chief priestesses sensibly if generally, with a few errors and without enough citation; the fuller citing of inscriptions by (e.g.) Frija, "Les cultes impériaux dans les cités d'Asie Mineure: des spécificités provinciales?" 159-172, on relations among civic and koinon cults in the different provinces, makes her article more useful for future researchers. Holler's contribution, "Poliskult und Provinzkult - Der Einfluss des Provinzkultes und die Homogenisierung durch den Herrscherkult für Octavian/Augustus in der Provinz Asia," 173-188, shadows Frija's, and takes Paulus Fabius Maximus' letter proposing Augustus' birthday as the start of the Asian calendar as prototypical rather than exceptional, without proving it so. Filippini's article, "Fossili e contraddizioni dell' 'èra costantiniana': i dignitari del culto imperiale nella Tarda Antichità e il loro ruolo nelle 'riforme religiose' di Massimino Daia e Giuliano," 409-476, helpfully shows where pre-existing imperial priesthoods fell in the late antique social system. In this volume, only Eck's paper ("Der Senat und der Herrscherkult," 37-56) focuses on the Roman center, but unfortunately does not mention the Senate's crucial role in giving imprimatur for the title neokoros, at first granted to cities that held koinon temples to living emperors, but later more widespread (see Barbara Burrell, Neokoroi: Greek Cities and Roman Emperors, Leiden 2004, 367-370).

A few papers muster all forms of evidence in order to paint the most complete picture possible. Dalaison's "Néocorie et koinon: les attestations et représentations du culte impérial fédéral sur les monnaies provinciales romaines du nord de l'Asie mineure (Pont, Paphlagonie et Arménie mineure)," 189-228, uses coins and topography as well as historical and epigraphic sources to unpick how koina and emperor worship may have developed in the former Pontic kingdom of Mithridates VI. A noteworthy contribution by Speidel, "Augustus-Tempel in Indien und im Partherreich? Zur Tabula Peutingeriana und zum römischen Kaiserkult ausserhalb des Römischen Reiches," 101-122, focuses on unexpected examples of imperial cult beyond imperial borders. It and Dalaison's paper also illustrate the objects they discuss, as the articles based mainly on textual sources unfortunately do not. Epigraphers tend to forget that their inscriptions are also material monuments; indeed, citations here by Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien volume number alone obscure even what cities inscriptions came from.

Unfortunately the two papers based on archaeological evidence, those of Bru and Wienholz, show least understanding of what "imperial cult" means. In Bru's idiosyncratic collection ("Le culte impérial dans l'Orient romain: mythes, rites et structures," 57-78), the slightest sign of an emperor's statue or inscription in association with a god or temple is taken as evidence for worship, and its influence assumed to have spread far over time and space: for example, honorific inscriptions of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus found near the Qasr al-Bint in Petra, plus statue fragments found nearby, are used to infer imperial cult not just in that complex, but in other buildings of different dates and functions hundreds of meters away. Wienholz, on the other hand, focuses on the "Temple of Bacchus" at Baalbek. His "Eine severische Neokorie im Bacchustempel von Baalbek," 229-252, attempts to prove by any means possible that this was not just a temple to the emperors but that it gained its city the title neokoros; there is no evidence for either of these claims, and Wienholz's special pleading reverses the proper course of scholarship, substituting fables for facts.

The papers in this volume that point out the diversity in personages, practices, and institutions of the imperial cult, at levels from individual to city to province, tend to be more soundly based than those that generalize (e.g., Herz on hymnodes and festivals in "Die Agonistik und der Kaiserkult," 123-132; Bekker-Nielsen on "koinarchs" in "Leading men," 367-386; and Raschle on the latest examples of emperor worship in "Bis wann bleibt der Kaiser 'Kult'? Die Verehrung des Kaiserbildes als Akt der Zivilreligion in der Spätantike," 477-496). Scholars who conflate all chief priests and "koinarchs" (two names for the same official in most koina, but likely not in Lycia), assign titles to cities that are not known to have held them, and do not recognize that institutions and nomenclature had different origins and developments over time and space, are in danger of writing just-so stories instead of history.

Barbara Burrell