No free lunches: paraprasis in the Greek cities of the Roman East

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No free lunches: paraprasis in the Greek cities of the Roman East
  NO FREE LUNCHES PARAPRASIS  IN THE GREEK CITIES OF THE ROMAN EAST A Z I. INTRODUCTION A       120 AD , a certain C. Iulius Theophrastus, citizen of Sparta, boght grain dring a shortage at the price of 40 denarii  per medimnos  and then sold it to his fellow-citizens at a mere 12 denarii  per medimnos . 1  This was still quite expensive, to be sure, but not as outrageous as the going scarcity price in the market.Theophrastus was not doing something particularly new. Centuries earlier, in 330/29 BC, an Athenian merchant named Chrsipps and his brother had imported over 10,000 medimnoi  of wheat into Athens and had sold them at “the normal price” (τῆς καθεστηκυίας τιμῆς, Dem. 34.39) of 5 drachmas per medimnos  when the market price had reached 16 drachmas. Grand Hellenistic civic benefactors sch as Protogenes of Olbia and Moschion of Priene had likewise provided their fellow-citi -zens with cheap grain at difficult times ( Syll .3 495; I.Priene  108). It is in the Greek cities of Rome’s Eastern provinces during the early and high Empire, however, that such practices are particularly well attested. In the inscriptions from this period (or chief sorce of evidence) the phenomenon is usually referred to as  paraprasis , and somewhat less frequently as  parapipraskein , epeuonismos,  or  parapolein . All these terms signify the sale at reduced price of foodstuffs, primarily grain, but The   research for this paper was carried out with financial support from the Research Fondation Flanders (FWO). I wold like to thank the anonmos reader for HSCP  for helpful comments. 1 Woodward 1925–1926:227–234, no. F3.   Arjan Zuiderhoek 298oil too (both for consmption and athletic prposes).  2  In the honor-ific inscriptions in question,  parapraseis  are usually listed among the offices held and the benefactions made by the honorand. This would suggest that we might be justified in considering  paraprasis  as part of the general phenomenon of civic euergetism, the exchange of gifts for honors between wealthy citizens and their communities so character-istic of Hellenistic and imperial Greek  polis culture. 3  And yet, there is something odd about it.On the reasonable assumption that euergetism was, among other things, a mechanism for converting economic capital (wealth) into smbolic capital (prestige), it seems strange that the organizers of  para- praseis  did not simply give away their grain for free, thus maximizing their prestige. One could perhaps make some profit by selling instead of donating, especially if the price at which one sold the grain was higher than normal (but of course still below the current scarcity price, otherwise the sale would not count as a  paraprasis ), at least if the grain came from one’s own stocks. Paraprasis  organizers seem, however, often to have imported their grain, 4  and in that case it is doubtful if there was much profit to be had, once the cost of transportation was factored in, and especially if the scarcity afflicted wide areas. If profit was the main motive, moreover, why not sell at the scarcity price in the first place, or sell in another market, where prices might be higher still (as, indeed, individal elite landowners on occasion did; see Section IV, below)? In addition, as nmeros inscriptions testif, local elite bene -factors were none too stingy or profit-motivated when it came to other forms of munificence, easily spending thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of denarii  on public buildings, games, festivals, and, indeed, public banquets and distributions. 5  What, then, was the rationale behind  parapraseis ? Profit can, I think, hardl be a satisfac - 2 Wilhelm 1897:75–77 = 2000:233–235; Robert 1937:347–348; Triantaphllopolos 1971. In the remainder of this paper, I shall emplo the generic term  paraprasis 3 See in general Vene 1976; Ziderhoek 2009 for the Roman imperial period. 4 As did Ilis Theophrasts at Sparta; see Woodward 1925–1926:230–231 for discs -sion. 5 Broghton 1938 for man references to sms donated b local elite benefactors in Roman Asia Minor; Ziderhoek 2005 for analsis.  No Free Lunches 299 tory answer. Instead, we need to look for a more systemic explanation, which takes into account various socio-economic, political, and ideo-logical factors shaping post-Classical  polis  society, especially during the Roman imperial period. II. PARAPRASIS AND SHORTAGES Parapraseis  were not exclusively linked to food shortages. For instance, they regularly feature as a type of benefaction in inscriptions recording the careers of priests and cult personnel associated with the sanctuary of Apollo at Didma (Milets) from the late first centr BC onwards, and the texts in question do not in every case refer to a shortage. 6  There is nothing unusual about this, given that it was not uncommon for priests and priestesses at great sanctuaries to provide meals for and distribute olive oil and wine among worshippers, particularly during festivals, as, for instance, numerous inscriptions from the sanctaries of Hera and Zes Panamaros at Stratonikeia testif. 7  In many texts recording  parapraseis , however, there are indications that the benefactor’s sale of foodstuffs at a reduced price occurred during a period of serios scarcit. Ths, as we saw (above, with n1), C. Ilis Theophrastus’  paraprasis  at Sparta took place dring a shortage (ἐν σπάνει, line 7), while a little frther on the text states that dring his career he frequently gave  parapraseis  “in pressing circmstances” (ἐν τοῖς ἐπείγουσιν καιροῖς, line 16). At Beroia in Macedonia dring the late first centr AD, Q. Poppilis Pthon sold grain at a redced price dring “difficlt times” (ἐν καιροῖς ἀνανκίοις, SEG  17.315.18), while arond the same time at Didma (Milets) a benefactor sold grain and olive oil at a fair price dring “troblesome times” (ἐν [δυ]σχε[ρέ]σι καιροῖς, I.Didyma  248, lines 9–10, ca. AD 84). Other texts eschew such rather vague references and are more specific. At Metropolis, an 6 Although it is hard to be sure sometimes, as several of the inscriptions are quite damaged. See e.g. I.Didyma  416 (first centr BC?), 391A1 (47 BC), 391B1 (24 BC), 406 (earl imperial), 296 (imperial, perhaps nder Hadrian). An exception is I.Didyma  248 (ca. AD 84), which records a sale at a fair (redced) price of grain and olive oil dring “troble -some times.” 7 Frézols 1991:13–14 for examples.   Arjan Zuiderhoek 300 unknown benefactor organized  parapraseis of grain during shortages (ἐν σειτοδείαις, I.Ephesos  3419, line 5). A fragmentar inscription from Argos, dating to the reign of Hadrian, shows an agoranomos  who had olive oil sold at a redced price dring a shortage (ἐν [ἐ]νδείᾳ, Vollgraff 1904:427–428, no. 10, line 1). Other attestations can be fond in texts from Kolossae (ἐν σειτοδείᾳ, Robert 1969a:277–279, nder Hadrian?), Aizanoi (ἐν σιτοδείᾳ, SEG  35.1365.12, nder Hadrian or Antonins Pis), in Herakleia (ἐν σπάνει, IG  X.2 2 53, ca. AD 100–150) and Lete in Mace - donia (ἔν τε σειτενδείαις, Tod 1918–1919:72–81, no. 7, earl in the reign of Hadrian), and in Amantia in Illria ([ἐν δὲ τῃ σει]τοδείᾳ,  Albania  Antica  1 197.19.4–5, ca. AD 200 8 ). In addition there are texts that do not contain a direct reference to shortages, but mention a relatively high current price, probably indicating scarcity, and then go on to mention the low price at which the benefactor sold. 9  Thus, even if we cannot relate every single instance of  paraprasis  to an episode of scarcity, there clearly existed a strong link between the phenomenon of  paraprasis  and the vicissitudes of the urban food supply. How then should we under- stand that link? As research during the past few decades has made clear, local and regional food shortages were endemic in the ancient Mediterranean, due to regional climatic variation and especially the high interannual variability in rainfall. 10  This meant that good and bad harvests alter-nated in a highly unpredictable manner, with a frequent occurrence of dearth. Poorer, agricltrall inactive rban inhabitants were partic -larly at risk. The high inelasticity of demand for food and the fact that, even during normal years, the urban poor are likely to have spent most of their income on purchasing foodstuffs meant that a bad harvest and the resulting high prices on the urban grain market could quickly compromise the livelihood of a substantial section of the urban popula- 8 This inscription does not contain the term  paraprasis  or any of the other terms referring to the same phenomenon listed above, but it is clear from the text that some-thing along the lines of a  paraprasis  of grain took place. 9 See e.g. SEG  38.679, Stberra, Macedonia, AD 74/5, where the olive oil sold at 12 asses  per  xestes  ma represent a scarcit price; Robert 1937:343–350, no. 4, Sebastopolis, where grain at 4 denarii  per kupros  is probably a scarcity price. 10   Garnse 1988:8–16.  No Free Lunches 301 tion. 11  Theoretically, of course, an integrated grain market might have resolved such problems. Mediterranean regional climatic variability and ecological fragmentation meant that shortages in one locality wold often occr (roghl) simltaneosl with glts in another. The Mediterranean Sea, it has been argued, provided an efficient conduit for medium- and long-distance transport of staples (and other types of commerce) between Greek and Roman cities clstered arond its shores like frogs around a pond, ensuring a high level of connectivity. 12  However, recent in-depth study of grain markets in the Roman world has indicated that this level of connectivity should not be overstated. Even during the period of political unification within a single Empire—one that created an unrivalled system of trunk roads connecting its many cities, provided a unified legal system and a single currency, and cleared the seas of pirates—grain market integration in the Mediterranean region remained relatively low, mainly due to the slow-ness and high cost of transport and communication. 13  Consequently, to overcome this lack of integration and forcefully match supply to demand in case of shortages required the intervention and agency of powerful, wealthy individuals and groups involved in extensive inter- regional elite networks: emperors, governors, bt above all, local rban elites. The economic miser created b shortages cold (and did) easil translate into social unrest, protests, and riots that had the potential to undermine urban social and political stability, and, most importantly, endanger the position of the urban elite. Hence urban elites in partic-ular would be strongly motivated to intervene, and like their counter-parts in many other pre-modern urbanized societies, that is exactly what they did.The people, moreover, also expected  elites to intervene. This has become particularly clear from research on early modern European food riots, which often resulted not from scarcities  per se , but from a perceived disregard b elites for what the social historian E. P. 11    Jongman and Dekker 1989 12   Horden and Prcell 2000. 13   Erdkamp 2005.
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