Family matters in Roman Asia Minor : elite identity, community dynamics and competition in the honorific inscriptions of imperial Aphrodisias




Morgan, Ann Marie, active 2014

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In the city centers of Roman Asia Minor, honorific monuments, which consisted of a portrait sculpture and biographical inscription, filled the agoras, aedicular facades, and colonnaded avenues. While some monuments were for Roman emperors and magistrates, the majority celebrated and memorialized the most important members of the local community, male and female, individuals who held public offices, sponsored festivals, and funded large scale construction projects. Honorific monuments were collaborative productions that involved civic institutions, the honored benefactor, and the family or friends of the honorand. Because of the multiplicity of actors involved in the honorific process, an examination of honorific inscriptions allows for a discussion of identity construction at different scales from the individual honorand and his or her family to an entire civic community. In a city in Asia Minor during the empire, the identities conveyed included Roman imperial allegiances, Greek cultural values, and ties to the local community, often combined in compositions that justified claims of status or fulfilled political ambitions. This dissertation investigates the honorific inscriptions from one city in Asia Minor, Aphrodisias, from the mid-1st century BCE to the mid-3rd century CE, which consists of 206 instances of honor for 183 local Aphrodisians. The analysis examines developments in elite self-fashioning and the evolution of the reciprocal relationship between a community and its benefactors, with particular focus on references to ancestry and familial connections in the language of the inscriptions. The evidence indicates that the Aphrodisian elite deployed epigraphic formulations that mention family background and Roman connections in order to construct composite cultural identities and to affirm their place among the city’s aristocratic factions. The contextualization of these texts in an historical and archaeological framework demonstrates that the observed epigraphic changes responded both to internal factors, such as demographic shifts, and external ones, such as the spread of Roman citizenship. This analysis highlights the internally-stratified and competitive aristocratic order that functioned in Imperial Aphrodisias and articulates how the elite employed references to ancestral background, local ties, and Roman familial connections strategically in ways that had tangible impacts on the landscape of the city.