Rome and the Black Sea Region: Domination, Romanisation, Resistance

By Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen | Go to book overview

The Rôle and Status of the Indigenous
Population in Bithynia

Thomas Corsten

The indigenous population of Bithynia was of Thracian origin. This was known to ancient authors from the time of Herodotos and Xenophon onwards, and is attested by numerous inscriptions from Bithynia containing Thracian personal names.1 What is, however, less clear, is the social status of these Thraco-Bithynians and possible changes in it over the course of time. This is, of course, mainly due to a lack of evidence, especially a lack of literary and epigraphical sources, but also to the fact that scholars have not yet realised the full potential of those sources which we do have at our disposal. For it is not only written evidence that is useful in this respect; archaeological evidence as well is a rich source of information, especially when used in combination with inscriptions and literature.

In the belief that there is in fact enough evidence to tackle the question of the social status of the Thracian population in Bithynia, I will, in what follows, examine a number of monuments, most of them with a sculptured relief and an inscription. In order not to draw hasty conclusions from material coming from regions that have not yet been sufficiently explored, I will limit this study to the area of four cities, for which we have abundant and well-published documentation. These are the cities of Nikaia, Nikomedeia, Prusa ad Olympum and Kios. It is evident that, on the monuments in question, the reliefs and inscriptions mutually reinforce the message they contain about the social and economic status of those they commemorate. The focus here will be on the Roman period and on possible changes between this and the preceding Hellenistic period, changes which might have been brought about by a process of what could be called Romanisation, or, speaking less theoretically, simply by the imposition of Roman social conditions which followed in the wake of Roman domination.

In order to make this comparison between the situation in Roman times with that in the Hellenistic period, we have to know what conditions prevailed during the latter. I have argued elsewhere – and will only briefly recapitulate it as a starting point – that in the Hellenistic period, a large part of the fertile land of Bithynia was in the hands of a ruling élite of Thracian origin. This can be deduced from a number of funerary stelae found in the surroundings of the cities, but not in the cities themselves. Their reliefs and inscriptions attest a class of cavalry officers who bore Thracian names and

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