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Asia, Roman province


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Attalus III of Pergamum bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans. After his death in 133 bc it was constituted as provincia Asia. Originally it consisted of Mysia, Troas, Aeolis, Lydia, Ionia (see ionians), the islands along the coast, much of Caria, and at least a land corridor through Pisidia to Pamphylia. Under the empire Asia was bounded in the north by Bithynia, in the south by Lycia, and in the east by Galatia.

Asia was rich in natural resources and in the products of agriculture and industry. Woollen fabrics were a speciality of the interior. Trade routes ran from the interior along the valleys of the Hermus and the Maeander rivers to the harbours of the Aegean. Roman republican governors and capitalists exploited the new province with predatory rapacity and aroused widespread hatred, which was exploited by Mithradates VI when he stirred up much of Asia to revolt between 88 and 85 bc. Allegedly 80,000 Italians were murdered in a single day at his instigation. After defeating Mithradates Sulla reorganized the province in 85/4 bc. and revised the administrative pattern into eleven assize‐districts. Asia continued to suffer from heavy taxation and arbitrary exactions through the civil wars of the late republic. The province picked the losing side in the wars between Mithradates and Rome, between Pompey and Caesar, between the tyrannicides and Antony (Marcus Antonius), and between Antony and Octavian. Neither victors nor losers in these wars hesitated to milk its rich resources. The principate of Augustus brought relief and was welcomed with genuine hope and enthusiasm, which is reflected above all in the organization of ruler‐cult throughout the province.

Asia was now governed by a proconsul (see pro consule), who normally served for one year, assisted by three legates and a quaestor. He traditionally landed at Ephesus, the headquarters of the republican publicani and later of the imperial procurators, but spent much of his time visiting the assize centres (conventus) of the province according to a fixed rotation, where he heard cases and conducted other judicial business. Ephesus eclipsed Pergamum, although these cities and Smyrna remained locked in rivalry for the rank of leading city.

Under the Principate new cities were created in the interior regions of Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia; the province thus comprised a conglomeration of self‐governing cities, on which the Roman system of provincial government depended. The cities were responsible for local administration, for their own finances and building, for law and order on their territories, and for tax collection. The province was represented as a unity by the council of Asia, a general assembly of representatives from all the cities and other communities, which met annually in one of the five provincial cities (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Sardis, and Cyzicus) and organized the provincial imperial cult. Progress towards provincial unity, however, was always hampered by inter‐city rivalry, esp. among the communities of the western coast and the Maeander valley.

In the first two centuries ad the cities of Asia enjoyed great prosperity, attested by splendid ruins and handsome monuments, and reflected e.g. in the panegyric speeches of Aelius Aristides. The wealth of inscriptions, locally minted coins, and material remains makes Asia one of the best documented of all Roman provinces. The cities had changed from autonomous states into administrative centres, but countless inscriptions attest the eagerness of members of the city aristocracies for public service, their generosity in providing civic amenities (doubtless at the expense of the rural populations which they exploited), and the entry of many families into the senatorial and equestrian orders. The glittering and extravagant society of the coastal cities, with their rich rhetors and sophists, contrasts with the traditional, rural‐based society of the interior. Urbanization brought Graeco‐Roman culture up‐country, but the basic Anatolian character of the population of regions such as Lydia and Phrygia persisted and was esp. conspicuous in their religious cults. The strict, self‐disciplined morality of pagan belief in the hinterland of the province provided fertile ground where Jewish and early Christian groups flourished. Much of the interior had apparently converted to Christianity before the beginning of the 4th cent.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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