During the first century B.C., many Roman visitors passed through Athens' gates in official and non-official capacities. Some came as visitors and tourists to bask in the reputation of the venerable city. Others came to Athens acting in an official capacity. In either case, the fortunes of Athens often came to be affected--for good or bad--by those Romans who would use the city to further their own political gains. Although no longer a major political power and declining in importance during the Hellenistic period, Athens still held tremendous weight as among the more influential Greek cities in terms of regional politics and trade. The cultural prestige and historical preeminence of Athens were the main reasons that attracted Roman officials to its gates. Among those who came to the city was Pompey the Great.
In the spring or early summer of 67 B.C., Pompey was charged by the Roman Senate under a plebiscite of the Lex Gabinia
to rid the Mediterranean from the threat of pirates. The need for this law arose because pirates, operating from bases primarily along the Rough Cilician coast, severely jeopardized the steady supply of grain to Italy.n1
Any resistance within the Senate to this unprecedented investiture of power on one individual was allayed by the need for grain by the urban populace of Rome. In addition to the real threat to the Roman supply routes, there also existed a perceived notion that Rome's mastery of the eastern Mediterranean was at risk. Pirates, operating openly on Rome's Mare Nostrum, demonstrated that Rome's imperium in the East was incomplete and thus threatened to undermine the political stability of Rome's relations with her subject cities and nations.n2
As a graphic example of Rome's weakness in the open sea, the pirate Athenodoros, with backing from the Pontic king Mithradates, easily raided the island of Delos, an Athenian possession, in 69. The pirates captured many inhabitants to be sold into slavery and put many of the commercial and sacred structures to the torch.n3
Gaius Valerius Triarus, a legate under Lucullus, recaptured Delos later that same year and constructed a fortification wall around the city to provide protection against future attacks. Nevertheless, Rome was still not able to guarantee the island's safety from the pirates.n4
Under the provisions of the extraordinary imperium, the Senate provided Pompey with 500 ships, 20 legions, and almost unlimited funds at his disposal. In a coordinated and seemingly simple effort, Pompey's naval squadrons squeezed the pirates back to the Cilician coast--all in a mere 40 days. With the pirates hemmed in by Pompey's legates, it fell to the imperator himself to secure the final victory. According to Plutarch, our best source for these events, Pompey departed from Brundisium for Cilicia and made haste toward the East, avoiding most cities and other ports-of-call along the way, except for Athens. There Plutarch mentions that Pompey stopped briefly, "sacrificed to the gods, and addressed the δῆμος
Pompey subsequently departed the city for his ships waiting anchored in the Piraeus harbor. As Pompey exited the city, presumably through either the Dipylon or Piraeus Gates, he was able to read two lines of poetic verse hastily inscribed for his benefit, one line (perhaps painted) on the inner façade and one on the outer. Plutarch records the inscription and the side of the gate upon which each is inscribed:
To the extent that you know yourself to be mortal, the more you are a god.
We awaited, we worshipped, we saw, we send forth.n6
It was an expected occurence for a Roman official to visit Athens, if only for a short period, on his way to--or from--the East.n7
In 120 B.C., Mucius Scaevola augur visited the city when returning from Asia, as did the questor Licinius Crassus orator around 110 B.C. According to Cicero, Crassus wished to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, but arrived after the ceremonies had been completed. When the Athenians refused to repeat the rites for him, Crassus abruptly departed in anger.n8
Anticipating the future movements of Pompey, the proconsul Marcus Antonius, grandfather of Mark Antony, stopped in Athens on his way to fight the Cilician pirates in 102. Antonius tarried for several days in Athens and while in the city engaged in philosophical and rhetorical discourses until he was able to depart for Side. The remainder of his fleet, however, remained anchored in the Piraeus for the winter (Cic. De Or.
Other Roman magistrates who visited Athens in an official capacity include Cicero, who came in 51 while on his journey to Cilicia to take up his post as proconsul and also on his return a year later.n10
On both occasions, he stayed for some time.
Not all Romans came to Athens as benign visitors. In the early 80s a populist upheaval in Athens caused the citizenry to align themselves on the side of Rome's enemy, Mithradates of Pontus.n11
Upon learning of this revolt, the Roman Senate dispatched L. Cornelius Sulla to wrest control of Athens and the Piraeus away from Pontic forces. In 87 Sulla arrived in Attica and quickly besieged Athens and the Piraeus. The siege lasted for months until spring 86 at which time the Romans, having discovered a weakness in the Athenian fortifications, stormed the city and ruthlessly sacked it. The historical sources and the archaeological evidence point to wide-scale damage to buildings and tremendous loss of life. Sulla did not remain long in Athens after the siege, departing hurriedly to pursue the Pontic force of Mithradates. Sulla returned to the city in 84 while on his return journey to Rome.n12
During this visit, Sulla appropriated the Library of Apellikon, which contained manuscripts of Aristotle and Theophrastos, along with columns from the unfinished Olympieion.
Archaeological evidence of the sack of 86, particularly from the Agora, indicates complete destruction of several buildings and damage to many others. Most of the damaged structures were not repaired for decades, an indication that the city's economy was in dire straits. Equally significant, the manufacture of ceramic fine ware, often an indicator of economic prosperity, was curtailed in the immediate aftermath of the Sullan sack.n13
Another indicator of a poor economy is the dearth of amphora imports to the city. E. Will has documented a vibrant economy in the years prior to the Sullan sack based on the importation of Italian wine and oil jars.n14
Will finds evidence, however, that following the destruction of Delos in 88 and Athens in 86, vessel imports come to a halt. Although Delos never fully recovers, Will notes a resurgence of trade around 50 B.C. in Athens.
Considered as a whole, the evidence paints a picture of Athens in severe difficulties after 86. Compounding their recovery efforts was the constant threat of pirates playing havoc with shipping routes throughout the Mediterranean. The recent sack of Delos by the pirates in 69 would have certainly affected Athenian economy. But the island's association with Athens, along with pirate raids at Epidauros, Argos and Isthmia, may have revealed how vulnerable Athens actually was.n15
News of Pompey's successful sweep of the Mediterranean by his squadrons, which must have preceded his arrival, brought a great sense of relief to the Athenians. It is no wonder then that the Athenians held Pompey in such high regard when he arrived in the city on his way to Cilicia--even though the final victory over the pirates at Korakesion was still weeks away--and afforded him such good will upon his entry to the city.
The epigram inscribed upon Athens' gate implies that the Athenians awarded Pompey with divine honors (ἰσόθεοι τιμαί
) during his hasty visit; προσκύνειν
can hardly mean otherwise. If he were indeed afforded divine honors, he would have been the first Roman official so exalted by the Athenians. It is equally likely that Pompey politely declined these honors. The phrasing of the epigram suggests that Pompey declined on account of his mortality. Later emperors often politely refused divine honors on similar grounds; ὤν ἄνθρωπος
from the Athenian epigram closely echoes this formulaic denial.n16
Athens would not have been alone among eastern cities paying homage to Pompey. On Delos, which had incurred a pirate attack, an association of the Pompeiastae was formed and its members, many of whose members were likely Athenians, erected a monument in his honor.n17
At Side, Pompey was honored as ἰσόθεος
, and at Mytilene as θεός
, and εὐεργέτης
; the Mytilinians also renamed a month in his honor.n18
Cicero mentions that Greek cities, as a result of Pompey's actions against the pirates and Mithradates, regarded his actions as nearly divine.n19
Indeed, temples may have been dedicated to Pompey in the East as implied from the epitaph carved on his gravestone on Alexandria's shores: "How pitiful a tomb for one so rich in temples."n20
In the spring of 62, following the Mithradatic War and the re-establishment of the pax Romana
in the eastern provinces, Pompey returned triumphantly to Italy, allowing for several stopovers en route. Plutarch catalogues the stops from east to west and the benefactions Pompey made (Pomp.
42, 7-11): in Mytilene, he restored freedom to the city and the citizens honored him with an inscription for "having put an end by land and sea to the wars besetting the world."n21
On Rhodes he attended the philosophical schools and bestowed a talent on each philosopher, according to Plutarch. Pompey then arrived in Athens where he reportedly provided a similar benefaction to the philosophers in residence there. Plutarch (42,11) reports that Pompey donated 50 talents to the city to help in its restoration. Pompey's purpose in these private and civic endowments, according to Plutarch, was to enhance his reputation. Undoubtedly Plutarch is correct in his simple assessment, but in light of other references to his benefactions in Athens, Pompey was sowing the seeds of allegiance owed to him by the cities of the Greek East in his upcoming war against Caesar in 48. We do not know if the Athenians ever acknowledged Pompey's generosity with statues, as none has ever come to light. It is also implausible that statues of Pompey would have survived after Pharsalos in 48.n22
Yet statues to Pompey's grandfather and father, Sex. Pompeius and Cn. Pompeius Strabo respectively, that were set up on the Akropolis, possibly on the occasion of Magnus' visit in 62, are preserved.n23
Their survival post-48 would likely not have been an issue to the victorious Caesar.
There is recent speculation that Pompey may have been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries during his visit in 62.n24
As the initiation rites are held in late September, it is possible that Pompey could have coordinated his journey back to Italy with a stopover in Athens timed to coincide with the ritual.
Plutarch does not record how the Athenians used the 50 talents other than "restoration" (εἰς ἐπισκεύην
). The repairs to which Plutarch refers almost certainly should be applied to the damage caused by Sulla in 86, 24 years earlier. The implication is that for almost a quarter century many of the buildings and monuments of the city remained unrepaired.n25
Pompey's benefaction is the first recorded instance of repairs to the city. At least part of Pompey's funds was apparently used towards the repair of the city's commercial infrastructure. IG
II2, 1035 is a fragmentary catalogue of repairs to sanctuaries in which a "Deigma of Magnus" is recorded. It is generally understood that the "Magnus" must be Pompey the Great.n26
The Deigma apparently served as a waterfront bazaar in the Piraeus where goods were displayed and sold.n27
The Piraeus was especially hard hit during the Sullan siege of 87/6. After the departure of the Pontic forces, which were headquartered in the fortified Piraeus, and the capitulation of the Athenians in March 86, Sulla razed the Piraeus.n28
The reconstruction of at least part of the Piraeus represents a significant step in the rebuilding of Athenian commerce and economic infrastructure. Yet a comment by Cicero suggests that Pompey was not content with the manner in which the Athenians utilized the funds he donated. In a letter to Atticus Cicero reports the following piece of gossip concerning Pompey in early February of 50:
And by the way, has Herodes really extorted 50 Attic talents out of Caesar for you Athenians? I hear Pompey has become very angry on account of it. He thinks that you Athenians have squandered his money...n29
Caesar evidently matched Pompey's 50 talents (given 12 years earlier) with an equal sum provided to the Athenians. Cicero does not record what use the Athenians intended for Caesar's benefactions, but it is likely that the funds were meant to be used to construct the Roman Market whose extant dedicatory inscription (IG
II2, 3175) records Caesar's gift.n30
The Athenian mentioned by Cicero as having "extorted" funds from Caesar, Herodes of Marathon, is well known. He is the earliest known member of a distinguished Athenian family whose ranks will produce the second-century A.D. wealthy benefactor, Herodes Atticus.n31
The earlier Herodes was a friend of Cicero's, and even served as a tutor to Cicero's son who was studying in Athens. Later in the first century, Herodes' son Eukles, also according to the Market's dedicatory inscription, was successful in soliciting funds from Augustus to complete the Market's construction.
Pompey was angry at the Athenians, Cicero reports, because he felt that his funds were not used to full advantage, and through his comments Cicero implicitly suggests that Caesar's 50 talents were put to better use. The Roman Market was to be built within the city, adjoining the Agora and close to the Akropolis. Caesar's Market would thus have greater visibility and a more preferable location than Pompey's waterfront bazaar. Cicero's comment suggests several significant points. First, it appears that Pompey may not have had, or at least he might not have desired to exercise, the prerogative of specifying the use of his funds. Cicero indicated that Herodes "extorted" a donation from Caesar; acquiescence to such a request would likely have occurred if Caesar knew beforehand the target for his donation. It should be assumed that he was aware of Pompey's benefaction twelve years earlier and its directed purpose. Herodes must have understood the political implications of making such a request from Caesar, as Cicero implies--masterfully playing the two great antagonists off each other. There seems little doubt that Caesar, in donating funds earmarked for such a visible civic edifice, was trying to win some support for his political aims.n32
At this point, however, it is difficult to know whether Herodes--and by implication the Athenian nobility--was in 50 shifting political allegiance from Pompey to Caesar. It may also be possible that the two equal donations indicate an Athenian desire to remain equal in dealings with the two competing imperators.n33
Nevertheless, it would seem that the Athenians risked losing patronage from Pompey. Two years later in 48, however, the Athenians joined the Pompeian cause against Caesar. Whatever prestige Pompey felt he lost to Caesar in 50 was restored.
After Pompey fled Italy in 49 for Greece to set up his second front against Caesar, he sought contributions from eastern cities in the form of troops, ships and funds to aid in his efforts. Although Athens clearly contributed forces to Pompey's coalition, our sources provide a confusing account of the degree of Athenian participation. Appian (Bellum Civile
2.70) reports that by proclamation (apparently by both sides) the Athenians were exempt from any fighting and were to do no harm to either side due to their consecration to the Thesmophoroi (i.e., Demeter and Kore). Nevertheless the Athenians joined Pompey's forces because, according to Appian, they wished to share in the glory in this contest for Rome's leadership. The motivation behind this curious passage has puzzled scholars. E. J. Evans sees an altruistic notion in that "both sides cared enough for this old and venerable city to invite it to avoid suffering."n34
Habicht instead interprets the passage as an attempt by the Athenians to seek neutrality in the coming conflict.n35
The Athenians would understandably seek an excuse from fighting when they recalled the disastrous results during Sullan times when they entered into an alliance against Rome. An echo of this neutrality perhaps may be found in a letter sent by Caesar's legate Dolabella, a partisan of Caesar's, to his father-in-law Cicero, who was with Pompey in Greece. In the letter Dolabella exhorts Cicero to withdraw from Pompey's camp and seek asylum "in Athens or some other quiet city."n36
Dolabella likely would not have suggested Athens as a place where Cicero should proceed if it were on the side of Pompey.
If indeed Athens at the beginning wished not to favor either side, her neutrality was apparently short-lived since she did join in the fray. It would appear then that the Athenians voluntarily aligned themselves with Pompey at the eleventh hour, hoping for political advantage after their side emerged victorious. It may be that victory under Pompey's banner seemed inevitable as his forces, swollen by eastern allied contributions, enjoyed superiority over Caesar's in numbers.n37
The Athenians dispatched two or three ships to join Pompey's fleet stationed in the Ionian Sea to help prevent Caesar's ships from crossing over to Greece.n38
The conscription of infantry, however, was much higher, as Lucan notes (3.181)--although likely with some exaggeration--that Athens was emptied of its fighting men.n39
At some point before the battle at Pharsalos Caesar dispatched Quintus Fufius Calenus along with fifteen cohorts into southern Greece.n40
While Calenus occupied the Piraeus and beseiged Athens, Athens had joined the Pompeian cause. One of Calenus' objectives may have been to contain a Pompeian contingent possibly stationed in Athens.n41
Although Calenus devastated the Attic countryside, the city was able to hold out until Caesar's victory. It can be inferred from Dolabella's letter that the Athenians likely did not endure Calenus' siege for very long--perhaps only a few weeks--before the battle.n42
Athens' buildings suffered little, if any, physical damage as a result of Calenus' siege.n43
Immediately after Pharsalos, an Athenian delegation appeared before Caesar, according to Dio, in supplication. Caesar refrained from punishing the city as Sulla had a generation earlier. Instead he merely rebuked the citizens by asking them, as reported by Appian: "How often will the glory of your ancestors save you from self-destruction?"n44
Evidently several more times, as their record of aligning themselves on the losing side in subsequent Roman civil wars, e.g., with Brutus and Antony, will demonstrate.