Daily Life and Commercial Activities in Ancient Roman Macedonia
By Grigorios Charalampidis
Historian, Researcher, Philologist
MA Humanities Scholar
International Hellenic University
Establishment of a New Political Reality
In 168-167 BC, we have the dissolution of the Macedonian kingdom by the Romans and a new political reality in the region. Aemilius Paullus, the victor of Pydna, gathered the representatives of Macedonian poleis and ethne in Amphipolis in order to announce decisions taken by the Romans regarding new laws and partition of the kingdom into four districts (regiones / merides). Later, in 146 BC, we have the official establishment of the Provincia Macedoniae by the Romans. With the Roman measures that came by force, a substantial number of Macedonian citizens vanished or abandoned their homes and resettled.
This was also a period of migrations of people from the areas of Asia Minor (Bithynia, Troas, Ionia) and fewer from Italy and southern Greece. These people transferred ideas, customs and aspects of daily life as well. Associations and guilds bloomed in this period. Some of them claimed the protection of the god Dionysus and are known from inscriptions dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries to have existed in Thessaloniki, Lete and Philippi, as well as in other regions and important cities in the neighboring province of Thrace.
When we examine the middle and lower social classes of this period, we unavoidably step into associations. The activities of these associations were multiple, as we shall see in the chapters of this essay. One fine example would be the address of a specific problem such as defraying the cost of a decent funeral and burial.
Professional Associations, Guilds
A Guild of Negotiatores
In Akanthus, we have the evidence of a professional association of Roman merchants that were called negotiatores, based on an inscription that was found there, for the cult of Augustus. We know that Akanthus was a strategic town with harbor and a point of departure for the products of the south-eastern part of the peninsula, such as wood, Thracian slaves, gold, silver, pyrite, cured meat and feathers for pillows.
This inscription is located on a circular statue base with a diameter of one meter. It mentions the polis, the negotiatores and the paroikoi have come to conclusion to erect a statue of Augustus in their town. We can see that the last two groups were not fully integrated with the population of the polis. In Roman colonies and Greek cities, the paroikoi were not fully integrated within the population, something that is different within the formerly Macedonian cities. The decision of honoring Augustus as a god, is signed by all the three parties and reveals many things about the civic units, provincial society, activities and interactions that had existed in Roman Macedonia and eastern Mediterranean from 1st c. AD and onwards.
Synitheia (Guild) of the Purple Dyers
We find another professional association with the name synitheia in Thessalonike, Macedonia in late 2nd c. AD. It is about a guild of purple dyers. The inscription is now located in Istanbul Museum. The inscription is on a rectangular white marble stele, with the two pieces joined together. On the top part, we recognize the figure of the Thracian horseman (heros equitans). On the lower part, we have the inscription regarding this professional association of purple dyers, inside a border.
Going more into depth, we can examine the inscription and transliterate it. The guild of purple dyers, located in the eighteenth street (honored) Menippos, son of Amios, also called Severus the Thyateiran in his memory. It seems this inscription is referring to a member of this guild in a memorial, honored by the other members after his death. We also acknowledge the existence of the Thracian horseman, elsewhere attested as the Thracian hero, Thracian rider. Although, we are not exactly sure that there is a connection between this hero god and the person.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that the purple dying industry was very important during Hellenistic and Roman periods. In cities like Tyre, Philippi, Thessalonike, and regions of Asia Minor and Egypt. Henceforth, there is a connection with Macedonia, because Thyateira is located in Asia Minor. A fragmentary inscription indicating the existence of purple dying industry is attested in Philippi, Macedonia although some scholars dispute its authenticity.
Kerdemporoi, Association of Merchant Ship Owners
In the city of Thessalonike there was another professional association, which was formed by the owners of merchant ships. The inscription, and thus the association available to us, is dated in around 2nd c. AD. The members of this association are called kerdemporoi. According to this inscription of Thasian origin, Ζωίλος (Zoilos) and Επίκτητος (Epiktetus) were owners of the merchant ship Heracles. In addition, Zoilos is referred as the αρχικερδέμπορος, from which we can assume his leading role in this association. Although, some scholars disagree with this opinion.
Argentarioi, A Guild of Silversmiths or Money Changers
The existence of this professional association is based on a marble slab with a funerary inscription that was found in Philippi. The date is uncertain, but we can assume it is from the Imperial period. Its current location is unknown, but in situ somewhere west of Philippi. The word argentarioi indicates either silversmiths or bankers/money changers. It is a funerary stele that mentions that ΙούλιοςΕυτυχής (Julius Eutyches) was named αρκάρις (arkaris) of the association. This was probably the position of the treasurer.
Many scholars have expressed their opinions about the character and purpose of this association. One of the most feasible of Kloppenborg and Ascough, mentions that it is about a guild of silversmiths. According to the approach of Kanatsoulis, the members were money changers. The fact of a main treasurer (arkaris) indicates an organized pattern and a common treasury. Similar associations have existed in Smyrna and Ephesus in Asia Minor. (ISmyrna721. 14–37 AD), (IEph 2212, mid-1st c. AD or later).
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- Kanatsoulis, D., 1955-1960. «Η Μακεδονική Πόλις. Από της εμφανίσεως της μέχρι των χρόνων του Μεγάλου Κωνσταντίνου». Makedonica 4. pp. 232-314
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- Nigdelis P., 2006. Επιγραφικά Θεσσαλονίκεια. Συμβολή στην πολιτική και κοινωνική ιστορία της αρχαίας Θεσσαλονίκης. University Studio Press
- Nigdelis, P., 2007. «Roman Macedonia (168 BC – AD 284)» in Koliopoulos, I., (ed.) History of Macedonia. Museum of Macedonian Struggle, Thessaloniki. pp. 50-87
- (Image: Funerary relief of Gaius Iulius Crisces. 160 AD. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece. ID No. 1684 (567) . Personal archive)
Originally published by Susan Abernathy at The Freelance History Writer, 09.18.2020, under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.