Pascal Arnaud

Municipal authority, central authority, and euergetists at work at the port of Ephesus

The high number and variety of inscriptions at Ephesus has made it an exceptional case study for the examination of the society, administration and municipal life of the capital of Asia, which was also one of the major ports of the empire. Several recent studies have been devoted to the city. They have greatly clarified both its administrative organization as well as the prosopography of the people involved in the administration and maintenance of the port. These include officials of the city, the governor as representative of the emperor, and euergetists. Among the latter is the Emperor. This paper intends to use the port of Ephesus as a possible example for a better understanding of the maintenance and management of ports within the empire. It will first stress the fact that the portus Ephesiorum was placed under the direct authority of the municipal institutions. Inscriptions show two levels of municipal involvement in the port’s management. By the time of Antoninus Pius, the grammateus tou dèmou had jurisdiction over, and powers of police upon, the harbour. Limenarchaï, present in other cities, are also known from the period of the Severan emperors onwards. The cautious but firm interference of the governor in the sphere of political competency of the city will reveal the extent and limits of the intrusion of imperial officials in the highly protected autonomy of cities. Evidence shows that imperial building activity within the harbour is to be considered as a mark of honour towards a single city rather than as a contribution to the general infrastructure of the empire, as Cassius Dio had already pointed out. Most euergetists would contribute at rather modest levels in “building” or dredging the harbour, the amounts being customary and relating to the position they had reached rather than to the actual needs of the harbour. Their frequent choice to target money at some work in the harbour rather than to festivals or other forms of gift is indicative of both the importance of the harbour to the citizens and its fragile physical state, on account of its sedimentological context. Cities, governors and euergetists may well have been the three essential layers of the management and maintenance of most harbours within the empire. Their combined action needed a certain number of written or unwritten rules.