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Theoi Sebastoi: Il culto degli imperatori romani in Grecia (provincia Achaia) nel secondo secolo D.C.

Theoi Sebastoi: Il culto degli imperatori romani in Grecia (provincia Achaia) nel secondo secolo D.C.

By Francesco Camia (Meletemata 65). Pp. 367, figs. 31, tables 5. De Boccard, Paris 2011. €40. ISBN 978-960-7905-56-7 (paper).

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Recent years have witnessed an increasing interest in Imperial cult both in Greece (M. Kantiréa, Les dieux et les dieux augustes: Le culte impérial en Grèce sous les Julio-claudiens et les Flaviens. Études épigraphiques et archéologiques [Athens 2007]; A. Lo Monaco,  “Ospite nelle case degli dei: Il culto di Augusto in Achaia,” RendLinc 18 [2009] 1–42; F. Lozano Gómez, Un Dios entre los hombres: La adoración a los emperadores romanos en Grecia [Barcelona 2010]) and elsewhere in the Roman East (G. Frija, Les prêtres des empereurs: Le culte impérial civique dans la province romaine d’Asie [Rennes 2012]; T. Fujii, Imperial Cult and Imperial Representation in Roman Cyprus [Stuttgart 2013]).

Camia contributes to this line of research by focusing on the Provincia Achaia, which in the second century C.E. included the Peloponnese, Attica, Delos, Keos, Euboea, central Greece, and Thessaly. The book, which is a revised version of Camia’s doctoral dissertation, concentrates on the period between the emperors Trajan and Commodus and is thus meant to be the continuation of Kantiréa’s work on Imperial cult in first-century C.E. Greece (Kantiréa 2007).

The book comprises an introduction, five chapters, a brief conclusion, 31 black-and-white figures (including maps, plans, photographs, and drawings), and five helpful and well-arranged tables encompassing the entire epigraphic evidence currently available in relation to imperial dedications, festivals, and priesthoods.

In the introduction, Camia emphasizes two general aspects that characterize the imperial cult in Greece: (1) the practice of integrating Roman emperors into the framework of traditional cults and of coupling them with Greek deities, particularly the patrooi theoi of the various poleis; and (2) the emergence of collective cults of the Augusti. The spread of the formula theoi sebastoi, as early as in the mid first century, shows that the emperor’s worship addressed a cultic complex that included the reigning emperor, his predecessors, and the other members—both living and deceased—of the imperial family.

The author then sets forth a few methodological issues. Although his study benefits from all types of documentary sources, it rests primarily on the epigraphic evidence. With respect to the problem of distinguishing between the cult of an emperor and the mere granting of honors, Camia recognizes as indication of an imperial cult every manifestation that entails rituals and cult practices.

Chapter 1 discusses expressions of cult addressing individual emperors, from Trajan to Commodus, in the various regions of Provincia Achaia. In agreement with the fundamentally collective character of imperial cult in Greece, evidence of the worship of individual emperors is in fact rather scarce. An exception is the case of Hadrian at Athens, where the emperor was especially associated with Zeus. Approximately 100 altars dedicated to Hadrian were found in Athens, which, according to Camia, are to be attributed to a specific occasion, namely the inauguration of the Olympieion and the concomitant foundation of the Panhellenion by Hadrian in 131/2 C.E.

Chapter 2 deals with the celebration of imperial festivals. These were extremely widespread in second-century Achaia and generally included athletic and/or musical contests. Camia distinguishes between generic Sebasteia/Kaisareia honoring the reigning emperor and the Augusti as a whole (which could be celebrated independently or in attachment to traditional festivals) and festivals created ex novo for individual emperors. While the latter, apart from very few cases such as the Hadraneia at Athens and the Kommodeia at Sparta, are rarely attested, the former are the most represented type of imperial festival in the epigraphic record. Again, this confirms the two distinctive traits of the imperial cult in second-century Greece, which Camia pointed out in the introduction: its collective character and the tendency to be integrated into the traditional religious system of individual localities.

Chapter 3 examines the priesthoods of the imperial cult. Here, as throughout the book, Camia focuses primarily on prosopography and thus provides a valuable profile of the known figures who held the office of archiereus in the various areas of Achaia. Moreover, Camia lays emphasis on the sociopolitical value of the imperial priesthood: imperial priests in second-century Achaia were usually members of the local elite and, most of the time, Roman citizens. Although his conclusion is that the imperial priesthood in Greece, unlike in Roman Asia Minor, did not act as a springboard for a career at the service of Rome, Camia stresses that the office of archiereus functioned as one of the most effective means employed by the members of the Romanized Greek elite to display their privileged relationship with the Roman authority.

In chapter 4, the author takes a more distinctly religious approach to the evidence discussed in the previous chapters. The focus here is on the buildings that housed the cult of the emperors. Once again, Camia shows that the Imperial cult was typically associated with the cults of traditional Greek deities and practiced within their temples; as a consequence, structures built ex novo for the cult of the emperors were extremely rare (e.g., the well-known Sebasteion at Messene).

Chapter 5 analyzes the imperial cult in regional, supraregional, and “Panhellenic” koina and resumes the much-discussed question of the existence of a provincial koinon in Achaia. Although there is no evidence for such an organization, Camia assumes that the archiereus of the Achaean koinon could have represented, at least in a certain period, both the Peloponnese and central Greece.

Overall, despite occasional repetition, this book is learned and pleasant to read. Camia demonstrates a full command of all types of evidence, especially the epigraphic sources, which he analyzes thoroughly to provide a clear and lively picture of the subject. The result is a significant contribution to the study of the imperial cult in Greece in the second century C.E., which will undoubtedly serve as a reference work for a long time.

Ilaria Bultrighini
University College London
Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies

Book Review of Theoi Sebastoi: Il culto degli imperatori romani in Grecia (provincia Achaia) nel secondo secolo d.C., by Francesco Camia

Reviewed by Ilaria Bultrighini

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 1 (January 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1191.Bultrighini

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