Online Review: Book

Imperial Cult and Imperial Representation in Roman Cyprus


By Takashi Fujii (Heidelberger althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien 53). Pp. 248, fig. 1. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2013. €44. ISBN 978-3-515-10257-5 (paper).

Roman Cyprus has rarely captured historians’ attention, because of a lack of ancient sources. Even for Mitford (“Roman Cyprus,” ANRW 2.7.2 [1980] 1295), Cyprus enjoyed a “tranquil obscurity” within mare nostrum’s historical narrative. Recently, however, as center-periphery studies of provincial archaeological remains have increased, often informed by postcolonial theory, so has research on “backwater” provinces. Fujii’s timely book, Imperial Cult and Imperial Representation in Roman Cyprus, should be situated within this intellectual milieu.

This important monograph draws on Price’s (Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor [Cambridge 1984]) reevaluation of the cult as an amalgam of religion and politics as well as critical provincial archaeologies to offer a revised reading of what inscriptions (e.g., statue bases, building dedications) reveal about Cypriot negotiations with Rome via the imperial cult. Fujii qualifies Cypriots as coparticipants with Roman actors in negotiating the cult’s nature (19) and, by employing the concept of “ritual transfer in a metaphorical sense” (13), sees the cult’s local manifestation as contextually dependent. Thus, Fujii explores the cult’s integration into Cyprus’ religious world in relation to earlier indigenous and Ptolemaic practices and the island’s geopolitical position.

Fujii’s book considers how pre-Roman practices and local/imperial interactions influenced imperial ritual and representation (chs. 1–4), how the cult functioned within Cyprus’ sociopolitical structures (chs. 5, 6), and how the emperor was honored through festivals and calendars (chs. 7, 8). It includes an appendix containing 90 translated and annotated Greek and Latin inscriptions, as well as tables (imperial epithets and monuments), indices (names and subjects), and a current bibliography. Besides the cover image of Septimius Severus and a map of Cyprus (with the Akrotiri peninsula uncharacteristically shown as an island), there are no illustrations.

The emperor’s religious status based on dedicatory epithets and titles is analyzed in chapter 1. Fujii shows how imperial authorities utilized theos as a translation of divus, while elite Cypriots could use it to acknowledge the living emperor’s divine nature. Sebastoi abstractly referred to the imperial house, and Fujii posits that this term was often preferred over an emperor’s name because of a lack of direct reciprocity between local dedicators and imperial benefactors. Other titles, such as euergetes or soter, did not automatically signal divine status, but Cypriots could manipulate them to honor the emperor appropriately within a mortal-divine spectrum.

Chapters 2 and 3 examine imperial statues and the emperor in the civic landscape. Fujii confronts the extant sculptures and inscribed statue bases in chapter 2 and discerns which bases had a cultic, versus honorific, function. He then shows that statue bases were found in both religious and civic contexts and that both civic authorities and elite individuals erected them with imperial oversight. For Fujii, the careful choice of textual structures, spaces, and imperially sanctioned rituals proves that Cypriots engaged in sculptural representations in highly localized ways. In chapter 3, Fujii asserts that the imperial cult had little effect on traditional sanctuaries. He plausibly contends that Trajan’s benefactions at Kourion’s Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates did not result in the emperor’s worship as “Apollon Kaisar” (63–6). In gymnasia, Hellenistic ruler-cult traditions continued, yet imperial dedications were the offerings of individual gymnasiarchoi and were unconnected to traditional gymnasion deities. In theaters, emperors were honored with agalmata that stood alongside those of divinities, and Fujii indicates that such spatial arrangements linked secular rulers to the gods.

Chapter 4 presents Fujii’s interpretation of “a Cypriot oath of allegiance to Tiberius.” Mitford (“A Cypriot Oath of Allegiance to Tiberius,” JRS 50 [1960] 75–9; see also SEG 18 578) first published this inscription from Aphrodite’s sanctuary at Palaipaphos, and Fujii offers an erudite reanalysis of its textual structure, the theoi horkioi invoked, the imperial cult’s role, and its context. Fujii maintains that the oath is missing its preamble and final section relating to penalties for oath-breaking. He then proposes that the guarantor deities did not represent merely Paphian ones or those of Cyprus’ districts, but rather formed a gradated list of civic gods followed by island-wide and then Roman deities. Augustus is described as a “descendant of Aphrodite,” and Fujii (83–4, 89) asserts that the league of Cypriot cities (koinon) added this epithet to link the emperor to Cyprus’ patroness. For Fujii, the oath’s vocabulary and visual organization emphasize Tiberius’ status as a divinity who could receive sacrifices. Yet because Tiberius was not theos and his sacrifices were shared with Roma, Fujii suggests that the emperor’s religious status was diluted vis-à-vis other deities. Lastly, Fujii (88–90) logically proposes that the oath was sworn at Palaipaphos on Tiberius’ accession and that it was drafted by the koinon and approved by the proconsul.

Chapters 5 and 6 concern the imperial cult’s role within imperial-provincial relations and Cyprus’ sociopolitical structures. Chapter 5 considers Cypriot motivations for honoring the emperor, and, based on building dedications and civic title grants, Fujii (102) correctly claims that there is little evidence for a do ut des relationship because Cypriots rarely captured the emperor’s attention. Instead, he suggests that following the cult’s initial phase, Cypriots worshiped the emperor, without the hope of benefactions, within an imperial-provincial communicative network grounded in routine, systemic practices (103–4). Cypriot elites participated in the cult because it served as an arena for locally meaningful competition that could fit into existing religious frameworks and sometimes capture imperial magistrates’ attention. In chapter 6, Fujii examines elite competition by delineating how priesthoods could bolster familial power through inheritance. Yet he also notes that gaining a priesthood did not result in political advancement outside of the island; such promotions were mainly possible via relationships with influential Romans, few of whom ever visited Cyprus.

Fujii’s remaining two chapters investigate how the imperial cult permeated Cypriots’ lives through the codification of time. In chapter 7, he reviews inscriptions describing Cypriot athletic festivals dedicated to Augustus, Germanicus, and Nero. He further analyzes the syncretistic effect of imperial festivals by analyzing a fragmentary hymn—written by a Roman legate and prepared for a choral festival at Kourion’s Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates—that assimilates Hadrian’s beloved, Antinoos, with Adonis (129–31). Chapter 8 treats imperial dating systems, and Fujii demonstrates that systems based on regnal year or provincial magistrates’ tenures were commonly used in Cyprus. Pre-Roman eras were eliminated, yet the use of the regnal year without emperor indicates that Cypriots could use dating to express a “superficial relationship with imperial power” (156). Fujii then examines the so-called Romano-Cypriot calendar. He persuasively argues that the calendar was created through a negotiation between Roman authorities and local members of the Koinon Kyprion, and that its initial purpose was to honor the Julio-Claudians by naming months after the emperors and imperial or local deities. Finally, Fujii demonstrates how Cypriots could either strategically employ the Romano-Cypriot calendar or ignore it in favor of other calendars (e.g., the “Ptolemaic-Cypriot” [154]) with local or even civic meaning.

Fujii’s monograph represents a valuable addition to research on Roman Cyprus. It cogently describes how the imperial cult was integrated into the Cypriot context via decisions of local elites that were conditioned by Cyprus’ religious framework, its sociopolitical structures, and a negotiated, yet routinized, regional network of imperial commemoration. As Fujii has shown, such negotiations resulted in the cult’s integration into Cypriot life, while the living emperor was commonly honored as a mortal who could be elevated to a status similar to local deities. Fujii contends that it was context and dedicators that dictated the emperor’s status within a mortal-divine spectrum that had both imperial and local meanings.

There is also room for a few critiques. First, Fujii often has to make generic conclusions based on very few inscriptions. A single inscription, Adrastos son of Adrastos’ offering of a gymnasion shrine and statue of Tiberius (179–80; see also IGRR 3 333), is utilized to consider the nature of individual statuary dedications, the emperor’s divine nature, imperial cult within gymnasia, the nature of imperial priesthoods, and calendar month names. Another issue is that Fujii’s epigraphic study underplays the “tapestry of images” (P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus [Ann Arbor, Mich. 1988] 3) that made up ancient viewers’ experiences vis-à-vis imperial representations. A multidimensional study that engaged current research on Roman Cyprus’ sculptural, numismatic, and architectural imagery might have provided more holistic insights. Finally, Fujii’s passim characterization of elite Cypriots’ routine participation in cult rituals and priesthoods primarily for the sake of local competition might simplify the matter. Instead, his concluding statements on how the imperial cult furthered Romanization are more convincing. Here, Fujii argues that Cypriots likely developed cult practices based on their interactions with other provincial elites and imperial officials or by travelling to Rome (159–60). Thus, Cypriots were part of a networked community of individuals who participated in developing what it meant to be “Roman” in the east, and so “imperial” concerns, as well as local ones, probably motivated their actions. Despite these criticisms, Fujii should be commended for producing a compelling exploration of cultural change in Roman Cyprus that should serve as a useful resource to both Cypriot and Roman historians.

Jody Michael Gordon
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Wentworth Institute of Technology
Boston, Massachusetts 02115

Book Review of Imperial Cult and Imperial Representation in Roman Cyprus, by Takashi Fujii

Reviewed by Jody Michael Gordon

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 2 (April 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1182.Gordon

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