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The Opramoas Inscription

June 22, 2012

Instead of acquiring software, I have enjoyed using online databases for research. This has just become my habit. I am not saying that it is better. It would be nice to do both. However, here is one amazing online database, the Packard Humanities Searchable Greek Inscriptions. I have used TAM 905 from this database in the past and I wanted to find out more about it. This epigraphy consists of letters and documents carved in stone on the mausoleum of Opramoas in Rhodiapolis, Lycia, Turkey. Starting five letters in, and five rows from the bottom, it reads, (the Λ and Κ in ΛΥΚΙΩΝ are quite chipped and an alternate form of the letter omega is used. In a few places letters are run together.)

Λυκίων τὸ κοινὸν καὶ ἡ βουλὴ ἐτείμη-
σεν Ὀπραμόαν Ἀπ̣ολλωνίου δὶς τοῦ Καλλι-
άδου Ῥοδιαπολείτην καὶ Κορυδαλλέα, ἄν-
δρα καλὸν καὶ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐγενῆ καὶ μεγαλό-
φρ[ο]να, πορφύρᾳ διὰ βίου καὶ προεδρίᾳ καὶ

The League and Council of Lycia honoured
Opramoas (son) of Apollonios, twice (great?? grandson) of Calliades,
of Rhodiapolis and Corydalla, a man noble and good
and well born and generous, with the right to wear purple for life
and with front row seating and …

The content of this epigraphy is described in the American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 6, available as an ebook here with a review of a book published in German on the Opramoas inscription. By far the most important writing on epigraphy is in German. in a review of Petersen and Von Luschan. Reisen in Lykien, Milyas und Kibyratis. 1889. This is from the review.

According to wikipedia Opramoas was one of the best known euergets (do gooders) in the ancient world. Here is why I like him – “…apart from his gifts of games and a mass of civic buildings, we have recently found him offering to pay for the primary schooling if all the citizen-children at Xanthus, boys and girls alike”…”he gave funds for burial to people in need and paid the dowries of poor families’ daughters”[3] (In a curious translation aside, wikipedia has a page on euergetism which can only be explained by being an electronic translation of a page in another language. That’s my guess but I can’t find a wikipedia page in another language which matches this.)

Opramoas is an example of an extremely wealthy and influential benefactor. He served time as both ruler – Lyciarch – and high priest for the Lycian League, or the Federation of Lycia, in Turkey, and at that time a province of Rome. While much of the background literature on Jerome, Chrysostom and other church fathers focuses on the patronage of wealthy widows, the typical benefactor in the ancient Near East was a wealthy family man of the ruling class. Opramoas held office, was a ruler and a civic benefactor. He lived in the first half of the second century AD, in what was essentially a pre-Christian province of the Roman Empire.

Christian patrons were following in the footsteps of an established and honourable custom of the ancient world. In fact, some of the Christian patrons were highly problematic because they gave away land and wealth outright, rather than maintaining estates as ongoing sources of income and future endowments, which was so essential to social stability and economic development. We know that Opramoas both gave away estates and maintained estates while managing and endowing the income. In the inscription in his honour his family line and citizenship in both his father’s city and, according to Danker, 1982, in “all Lycian cities.” Family, citizenship and patronage were a tightly woven fabric.

It was important to identify the membership of a benefactor in a certain community in order to lay claim to the ongoing patronage of the family. Regarding Opramoas, documents are careful to establish his membership in the home town of his father, Rhodiapolis, the home town of his mother Corydalla and his leadership in the province of Lycia as a whole, since he was the benefactor of cities and people throughout Lycia. He had citizenship not only in his own home town, but also in cities throughout Lycia.

Here are some of Opramoas’ accomplishments,

  • Was promoted to prominent posts from 110-155 AD and acted as an administrative, military and religious leader in the Assemby of the Lycian Federation and in important cities of the region.  He was honoured many times in the Assembly of the Federation, many of which were approved by the Roman emperors.
  • Donated much money for the rebuilding of more than 30 Lycian cities following the catastrophic earthquake in 141 AD in which many cities were demolished. 
  • Donated money for civic building, such as baths and certain oracular shrines. 
  • Distributed wheat to needy citizens and donated money for the education and nourishment of needy children
  • Provided dowries for some government employees and young girls and funeral expenses for some elderly
  • Assisted in the funding of festivals and ceremonies organized in honour of the gods and emperors and held festivals in his name every four years to help pay for these expenditures.
  • Owned lands in many Lycian cities, some of which he donated directly for charitable purposes and others from which he donated the income.

Although I have not seen a translation of this epigraphy, Google Books offers a fragmentary glance at  Benefactor: epigraphic study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament semantic field by Frederick Danker, 1982.

I hope to follow up with what this epigraphy can tell us about Paul, Junia, prominence, alms, citizenship and ethnicity in the New Testament.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2012 3:30 pm

    I hope to follow up with what this epigraphy can tell us about Paul, Junia, prominence, alms, citizenship and ethnicity in the New Testament.

    Thank you, Suzanne, for introducing us to and sharing with us the Packard database online. It certainly looks promising. Looking forward to your posts in the future as you uncover and recover what the epigraphs might show us.

  2. June 24, 2012 10:49 pm

    It was important to identify the membership of a benefactor in a certain community in order to lay claim to the ongoing patronage of the family. Regarding Opramoas, documents are careful to establish his membership in the home town of his father, Rhodiapolis, the home town of his mother Corydalla and his leadership in the province of Lycia as a whole, since he was the benefactor of cities and people throughout Lycia. He had citizenship not only in his own home town, but also in cities throughout Lycia.

    Hi Suzanne,

    This caught my attention because it reminds me of the bit in Luke 2, when “the whole world should be enrolled”, and Joseph went to Bethlehem because he was “of the house and family of David.” Might there be some allusion to patronage practices here that the original readers would have caught?

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 24, 2012 11:21 pm

    Some writers stress that the Roman patronage system had a very specific framework. In the Greek world and in Israel, it was not a formalized system. So the language of patronage is sometimes considered controversial. However, as an informal system, it permeated ancient life. I am not sure that the registration for a census relates to patronage.

    A better example occurs in Paul’s interaction with Festus. He says,

    16 ἐν τούτῳ [q]καὶ αὐτὸς ἀσκῶ ἀπρόσκοπον συνείδησιν [r]ἔχειν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν καὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους διὰ παντός. 17 δι’ ἐτῶν δὲ πλειόνων [s]ἐλεημοσύνας ποιήσων εἰς τὸ ἔθνος μου παρεγενόμην καὶ προσφοράς, 18 ἐν [t]αἷς εὗρόν με ἡγνισμένον ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ, οὐ μετὰ ὄχλου οὐδὲ μετὰ θορύβου, Acts 24

    16 For this cause I also exercise [myself] to have in everything a conscience without offence towards God and men. 17 And after a lapse of many years I arrived, bringing alms to my nation, and offerings.18 Whereupon they found me purified in the temple, with neither crowd nor tumult. (Darby)

    4 Τὴν μὲν οὖν βίωσίν μου [f]τὴν ἐκ νεότητος τὴν ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς γενομένην ἐν τῷ ἔθνει μου ἔν [g]τε Ἱεροσολύμοις ἴσασι [h]πάντες Ἰουδαῖοι, 5 προγινώσκοντές με ἄνωθεν, ἐὰν θέλωσι μαρτυρεῖν, ὅτι κατὰ τὴν ἀκριβεστάτην αἵρεσιν τῆς ἡμετέρας θρησκείας ἔζησα Φαρισαῖος. Acts 26

    “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. (ESV)

    4 My manner of life then from my youth, which from its commencement was passed among my nation in Jerusalem, know all the Jews, 5 who knew me before from the outset [of my life], if they would bear witness, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (Darby)

    ‘All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem. 5They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee. (NRSV)

    Look at the differences.

    among my own nation and in Jerusalem
    among my nation in Jerusalem
    among my own people and in Jerusalem

    Technically Judea was an “ethnos” and the ruler was called an “ethnarch”. But is Paul claiming Jerusalem and Judea as his home town and nation? He is also a citizen of Tarsus and a Roman citizen. Are the Jewish people an ethnos? Or are they a laos?

    He seems to be claiming membership in Jerusalem and Judea as his city and nation, in addition to his other citizenship. I don’t have answers but just rambling thoughts on this.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    June 26, 2012 1:08 pm

    Victoria,

    I think that you are right about this explaining why Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem. Kinship and family lines were extremely important and citizenship was primarily in one’s own home town, or the home town of one’s father. But I am still reading up on how patronage fits into the gospels.

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