Dorothea Rohde

Roman port societies and their collegia: Differences and Similarities between the associations of Ostia and Ephesos

Recent years have witnessed a growing scholarly interest in ancient seaports, which have become a category of research of its own. Port cities were supra-regional trade links that connected the local with the global word. Being destinations for immigrants, port cities became religious melting-pots with increasing populations that demanded commodities, groceries and services. Accordingly, it has been assumed that port societies offered similar basic social and economic structures. The aim of my presentation therefore is to scrutinise this underlying assumption of uniformity by focusing on a socially and economically important phenomenon of Roman port societies: the collegia and their social integration.

To this end, the inscriptions and archaeological remains of Ostia and Ephesus provide ample evidence. The comparison of the Ostian and Ephesian associations by six criteria (relationship to the religion of the polis, relationship to the emperor, connections to the elite, the social stratum of members, association activities utilitas publica, visibility in the urban context) reveals that the more closely the collegia corresponded to the specific social, economic or religious characteristics of the city, the greater was their success in integrating into the city community. Thus, on account of the economic blossoming of the port of Rome in the first three centuries, certain professional associations fitted into Ostia in general more successfully than cult associations. In Ephesus, by contrast, professional associations used the close relation to Artemis Ephesia in order to integrate into the city community. Thus, in spite of similar economic and social structures, various local preconditions formed the framework upon which the organisation of relationships in port societies depended.