M. Zahariade, Scythia Minor: A History of a Later Roman Province (284-681). Pontic Provinces of the Later Roman Empire I, with contributions by V. Lungu and Z. Coracef. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 2006. Pp. ix + 291, incl. numerous illustrations, 3 appendices, a bibliography and an index. ISBN 90-256-1212-1. Euro80.00
D. B. Saddington,
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
This book is the first in a series on the little known Pontic provinces of the Roman Empire. If the standard of this book is maintained it will prove to be a very useful series indeed.
In the first chapter, ‘The Land’ (pp. 1-20), the physical and human geography of the area is discussed. It corresponds roughly to the Dobrudja region of modern Rumania. The main town was Tomis, where Ovid was exiled. It is now called Constanza. In Chapter 2, ‘The Provincial Historical Background’ (pp. 21-38), the historical background is covered, from A.D. 284 to 681. The area was previously known as Lower Moesia. But in his radical re- organization of the Roman provincial system Diocletian called it Scythia and included it in the Diocese of Thrace. When Constantinople was founded Scythia increased in importance. The incursions of the Sarmatians and other Transdanubian peoples, and of the Goths and Huns further afield, are described, together with the disastrous battle of Adrianople in 378 in which the emperor Valens died.
Next comes the ‘Administration’ (pp. 61-127). To face the increasing threat of invasion Diocletian strengthened the military presence in the area. He replaced the early senatorial governor by two figures, the dux for military and the praeses for civil administration. The latter was subject to the Vicarius Thraciae. As far as The Towns (pp. 61-127) are concerned, the civilian settlements (the uici and canabae) outside the forts (the castra) tended to merge with the latter to form single ciuitates (poleis in Greek). These exhibited careful town planning and were strongly fortified. Tomis grew in importance as the residence of the governor and, later, of the bishop.
The army is described in Chapter 7 (pp. 159-92). Diocletian stationed two of his new-style legions in the province, I, called the Jovius (after his own epiclesis of Jovius) and II, called Herculius (after that of Maximianus, his fellow emperor). The number of auxiliaries was greatly decreased. But new groupings, often referred to as numeri, such as the uexillationes equitum, scutariorum, and catafractariorum, were increasingly deployed. The Danubian fleet was maintained with new small, fast sea-going boats called musculi Scythici to defend the river mouths.
Not much is known about Christian Scythia (Chapter 8, pp. 193-218). Christian art is described in Chapter 9 (pp. 219- 35). Unfortunately there is no Scythian counterpart of the sophisticated Nicetas of Remesiana (Bela Palanka) in Upper Moesia whose works on catechetical instruction form a valuable fourth-century document. However, there is a record of martyrdom of Epictetus and Astion at Halmyris (Murighiol) (unfortunately the evidence for it is not in the text, since, on p. 203, note 254 which should have contained it, has been replaced by a reprint of n. 253). In 290 the bishop of Tomis, Bretanion, clashed with the emperor Valens in the Catholic-Arian disputes of the time.
Appendix I, which is defective is labelled ‘Place Names in Scythia Minor as Reflected in Lather (sic) Ro (sic, for Rumania)’ (pp. 236). The print is too small to read, but there is a loose insert with the same defective title in somewhat larger print. Appendix II (pp. 237f.) lists the praesides and duces of Thrace and Scythia to the mid-fourth century, Appendix III (p. 238) those thereafter and Appendix IV (pp. 239f.) the bishops and metropolitan bishops of the area.
The work is lavishly illustrated by figures, maps, and photographs, but the photographs of many of the inscriptions are too indistinct to read (and usually there is no accompanying text). There are some beautiful plates in full colour, especially of the Danube Delta, now a nature reserve. English is not the author’s first language, but the text is remarkably free from linguistic errors.
The reviewer has only visited Tomis, Adamclissi and the Danube Delta once and that briefly many years ago. He is also not especially familiar with this part of the Roman Empire, especially in the later period. But he has learnt a lot from this scholarly and well-researched book.