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A Proposal for Identification of an Imperial Cult Priest Portrait from Perge
In the course of excavations at Perge in 2005, two portrait heads were uncovered in
the east side of the western eighth porticus of the Colonnaded Street that extends in a
north-south direction. These two portrait heads belong to a woman and a man carrying
the crown of the Imperial Cult priesthood. These finds were published in an article by
İ. Delemen. The iconography of the male portrait indicates a priest of the Imperial Cult,
in his early forties, and of a very high social status. Stylistic and craftsmanship analyses
indicate characteristics of the Antonine period, dating the portrait to ca. AD 180 (end of
the reign of Marcus Aurelius - beginning of the reign of Commodus). The present study
explores this male portrait in the context of inscriptions from Perge and its find-spot and
makes a proposal for the identity of the person portrayed.
The Imperial Cult became a useful tool when politics and religion were united in the
Roman Empire. It was one of the most effective instruments in the legalization of Roman
sovereignty and its propaganda. For the time being, there is no evidence at hand for the
presence of an Imperial Cult Temple in Perge. Yet, there is strong evidence that some part
of the palaestra of the South Baths was spared for the Imperial Cult.
An inscription from the reign of Emperor Tacitus (AD 275-276) states that Perge had
the title of neokoros since the reign of Vespasianus. It is claimed that the Imperial cult
was initiated in Perge by C. Iulius Cornutus Bryoninus, the son of C. Iulius Cornutus (who
commissioned the North Gymnasium and Cornutus Palaestra) and is of the Iulii Cornuti
family of Perge. C. I. Cornutus Bryoninus was honored as head priest of the Imperial Cult
by the people of Claudiconium and Konane in the province of Galatia. In other inscriptions,
this person is honored by his brothers C. I. Cornutus Tertullus and C. I. Cornutus
Trebonnianus. He is mentioned as the head-priest of the Imperial Cult and the agonothetes
of the Great Imperial Games (Megala Kaisareia) held every ten years in connection with
this cult. C. Iulius Caesius Cornutus and Gnaeus Postumius Cornutus and his brother, from
the same family, also served as the head-priest of the Imperial Cult during the Flavian
period. Another Pergean who held this office in the Flavian period was Tiberius Claudius
Apollonius who is claimed to be the same Apollonios who, together with his brother,
commissioned the Demetrios-Apollonios Triumphal Arch. It would appear from this information
that the Iulii Cornuti family was responsible for the founding and establishment of
this cult in Perge. In the reign of Hadrianus, on the other hand, another leading family of
Perge, namely the Plancii Vari, continued this office through the renowned female euergetes
Plancia Magna.
There are inscriptions concerning Titus Aelius Aurelius Asklepiades and Cn. Pedanius
Valerianus as head-priests of the Imperial Cult in the Antonine period. However, only the
inscriptions of Cn. Pedanius Valerianus were found in the North-South Colonnaded Street
and the junction of both colonnaded streets.
The first inscription is found on a limestone base at the junction of the north-south
and east-west colonnaded streets (IK Perge I, nr. 180). This honorary inscription in ancient
Greek mentions the name of Cn. Pedanius Valerianus honored as the head-
priest of
the Imperial Cult by the Gerousia. Another inscription in ancient Greek concerning Cn.
Pedanius Valerianus was found inside the small church (designated as U in the plan) on
the north-south Colonnaded Street (IK Perge I, nr. 181). The inscription is on a rectangular
limestone block belonging to a large base, then reused
here. A statue of Cn. Pedanius
Valerianus must have once stood on the base to which this inscribed block belonged. The
inscription states that the Geraioi honor Cn. Pedanius Valerianus, who is a logistes (curator)
from the equestrian class (ordo equester). Another inscription found in the southeast of the
junction of both colonnaded streets reveals that Cn. Pedanius Valerianus was a citizen of
Perge (IK Perge I, nr. 182). This ancient Greek inscription of the Antonine period mentions
a Cn. Pedanius Saturninus Philotes who was a bouleutes, demiourgos and gymnasiarkhos
at the same time in Perge and this person must have been a close relative of Cn. Pedanius
Valerianus. Thus, this inscription allows us to say that Cn. Pedanius Valerianus, who was
a close relative of the Pergaian bouleutes Cn. Pedanius Saturninus Philotes, was a Pergean.
When epigraphic evidence at hand is evaluated together with the find-spot of a portrait,
a proposal can be made regarding the identity of the portrayed personage. The portrait
in question was uncovered in a large piazza covering the seventh and eighth insulae
of the north-south Colonnaded Street. Inscriptions in front of many columns of the porticus
of the piazza, as well as many statue fragments and heads uncovered in the filling,
suggest this piazza was particular representational place where leading figures of the city
were honored and statues of worshiped deities were erected. This piazza retained its importance
through the late antiquity and Byzantine periods but was re-arranged for other
purposes. The portrait in question was uncovered in a gap in the floor pavement in front
of a porticus raised at a later date. Thus, it is possible to claim that this portrait and other
statues mentioned above once stood at an unknown spot in this carefully arranged piazza
of the Roman Imperial period, but in the late antique-Byzantine period, it was used for
ground filler when the piazza was re-arranged.
Almost the entire north-south Colonnaded Street has been excavated, and it is very
unlikely to find another inscription honoring the Imperial Cult head-priest of the Antonine
period here. Only two of portraits wearing the crown of the Imperial Cult head-priesthood
from Perge were dated to the Antonine period and found in the north-south Colonnaded
Street. When the inscriptions concerning Cn. Pedanius Valerianus, together with the portrait
of the priest of the Imperial Cult and their findspots
and dating, are considered, they
correspond. Therefore, although it is not possible to determine decisively these two inscriptions
belonged to the actual statue of this portrait, based on the data available it is
possible to claim that Cn. Pedanius Valerianus, who is honored in these two inscriptions,
is the person portrayed in this sculpture. Yet, it is possible to suggest that this portrait depicted
a head-priest rather than a priest as Cn. Pedanius Valerianus is mentioned as the
head-priest of the Imperial Cult. 

* Dr. Aşkım Özdizbay
İstanbul Üniversitesi, Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, Klasik Arkeoloji Anabilim Dalı Laleli - İstanbul

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