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Andreas J. M. Kropp, Images and Monuments of Near Eastern Dynasts, 100 bc – ad 100

Rubina Raja
p. 473-475
Référence(s) :

Andreas J. M. Kropp, Images and Monuments of Near Eastern Dynasts, 100 bc – ad 100, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, 497 p., ISBN 978-0-19-967072-7.

Texte intégral

1This substantial monograph is a revised and expanded version of the DPhil thesis by Andreas J. M. Kropp. It falls into six well-defined chapters: (1) Methods, dynasts, and kingdoms; (2) royal portraits, (3) royal palaces, (4) royal tombs; (5) kings and cults and finally (6) images and monuments: projections of royal ideology. The monograph focusses on six major « Client Kingdoms » of the period under consideration, the Kommagenian, Emesan, Ituraean, Nabataean, Hasmonaean, and Herodian dynasties. These were Client Kingdoms of different backgrounds but situated within the same problematics, namely how to preserve their people’s dignity and also show loyalty to the new rulers. Taking into account relevant textual and archaeological sources the monograph is focused on the visual representations of these local rulers as expressed through a string of monuments (tombs, coins, temples, palaces and portraits). It deals with the visual strategies and messages embedded in the various categories of material while contextualizing these within their cultural and societal framework where the viewer played a large role. Rome’s two basic instruments of rule was direct and indirect administration. The regions under consideration in this monograph are the so-called Client Kingdoms, regions of indirect rule, which on the one hand relieved Rome of some direct involvement and expenses, but on the other hand was not without risks and uncertainties which the history of the Near East in this period also bears witness to.

2The first chapter in a condensed format sets out the history of the regions of the Client Kingdoms on which the book focusses along with giving an introduction to the various categories of material evidence and their implications. It holds a comprehensive bibliographic introduction to these six Client Kingdoms.

3Chapter 2 on royal portraits give insight into why royal portraiture in the Near East often leaned towards models from outside, namely because portraiture was not a category of expression which was usually employed in the Near East along the lines of Hellenistic and Roman period portraiture from other regions. This is also one of the reasons for the sparse portrait material found in the Roman Near East —apart from the exceptional case of Palmyra, which remains a different story. The earliest coin issues of the Nabataean king Aretas III (87 bc? – 62 bc) continues the late Seleucid tradition with the Tyche on the reverse. The legends are also in Greek, even stating that the king is Philhellen. Kropp goes on to show how coins combine a set of Roman influenced symbols such as diadems with more local symbols such as Parthian clothing as is the case with many Nabataean coins as well as even incorporating symbols of defiance towards the Roman rulers, such as the implementation of the laurel wreath by Nabataean kings. However, as Kropp also shows even the diadems seem to be influenced by eastern traditions and point to Parthian influence. In the case of the Hasmonaeans Kropp shows how even in a cultural sphere where human depiction/iconography at least officially was avoided due to religious reasons, strong allusions to kingship/rulership was made on coins, such as on coin minted by Alexander Jannaeus where the royal diadem is shown as a substitute for the ruler himself. Kropp addresses the few sculpted portraits which may be connected with royalty as well as the only known portrait of an Emesan ruler, which derives from a golden seal ring discovered in a shaft tomb in the western necropolis of Emesa (fig. 37). Kropp solidly shows that Near Eastern rulers were aware of the trends which emerged from Rome, but that not all of them made an effort to align their imagery with these trends in the Late Hellenistic and Late Republican periods. However, when Augustus developed his portraiture the rulers of the Near East gradually adopted the Julio-Claudian style where classicism stood at the center along with the defined hairstyles, which we know so well from Roman portraiture. Most strikingly the argument is made that the portrait styles of the various client kings were not influenced across kingdom borders, but rather much more oriented towards either the center of power or towards developing and building on local traditions.

4Chapter 3 on Royal Palaces gives an extensive overview of palatial constructions along with a nice set of ground plans which are very helpful. Of course the Herodian palaces occupy much of this chapter. Since palatial architecture played a crucial role in Herod’s self-representation towards the new rulers as have become even more evident over the course the last decades’ research within that field, Herodian palaces necessarily need to take center stage in a chapter on the palaces of royalty. The question remains, however, whether other local client kings also employed palatial architecture to an extent as Herod, and whether these possibly only have not come to light until now, or whether Herod indeed was a forerunner in this field and saw a possible line along which he could represent himself as a king, but without offending the local Jewish population since the architecture was not based on necessarily involving human representations. The chapter also holds analyses of the Royal Palace and paradeisos in Petra of the Roman period as well as giving introductions to the earlier examples from Pella, Jebel Khaled and Iraq al-Amir as some of the prominent forerunners for Roman period palatial architecture in the region.

5Chapter 4 is a tour de force of monumental tomb constructions in the various Client Kingdoms under consideration. It includes a variety of monuments from Nemrud Dagh in Turkey to Petra in southern Jordan. It is certainly the most complex chapter of the book since the identification and association of several of these monuments are not secured and much must be left to assumptions about their connections to the local elites, which they definitely had, but which cannot be pinned down to exact persons. Again Herodian architecture dominate this chapter, both due to the state of preservation but also due to the fact that Herod indeed expressed his romanitas through the adaptation and development of Roman type monuments in a variation over themes and therefore the Judaean region is dense with architecture testifying to elite monuments of this period. The observations about the use of core Roman building techniques, among this the rare use of opus reticulatum in Jerusalem in a monumental construction to the west of the old city, possibly to be identified with the mnemeion of Herod mentioned by Josephus is of great interest. This seems to be one way of implying Roman affiliation in a very direct way through architecture, which again speaks of Herod’s preference for expressing his loyalty towards Rome through his extensive building programs.

6Chapter 5 entitled Kings and Cults takes a closer look at cults and sanctuaries which were supported and promoted on local royal initiative. It examines on the one hand ruler and dynastic cults and on the other hand the introduction of the imperial cult, which almost exclusively in the context of local rulers again comes back to evidence relating to Herod’s implementation and support of ruler worship. This is the most substantial chapter in the monograph and also shows the overview which the author commands over the material relating to these issues. We are introduced to a wealth of material and sources including literary sources, coin imagery, sculpture and architecture testifying to the abundance of material categories through which religious affiliation and cults were used to underline rulership and reaffirm affiliations. The conclusion to the chapter sums up the discussions in scholarship about whether or not there was cultic continuity in the Near East, discussions which have been driven by two hardline fronts either advocating for local cults continued in the guise of Greek ones or arguing that there was no continuity from the Hellenistic period into the Roman and that Greek mythology was indeed taken over as it was and supplanted local religious life. Kropp is an adherer of the first line of argumentation, which has also become the more prevalent one in modern scholarship.

7Chapter 6 is a summary and conclusion which is divided into sections on each Client Kingdom treated in the monograph and which pulls together their particularities and the way in which the monograph has laid out how the local rulers navigated in a changing political landscape. The chapter begins with a quotation, which deserves to be quoted here as well, since it indeed neatly sums up one line of approach to what it was that the rulers of these regions were beginning to do:

“The real Hellenization of the Seleucid Empire, outside Asia Minor, began only after the end of Seleucid domination, when the Hellenizing process was taken over by the native rulers…they needed to adopt Greek civilization in order to play a role in international politics” (E. J. Bickerman, The Jews in the Greek Age, Londres, 1988, p. 302).

8This is exactly what the present monograph shows: namely that when local rulers seized the opportunity to shape their own images and monuments to express their stand in the Roman Empire a varied and diverse picture emerged, which shows that local identities were strong and differing across the Client Kingdoms of the Roman Near East. The unique possibility which was created as a result of Octavian’s victory at Actium was across the Near East taken as a welcome moment to reassess and reformulate local ways to expressing elite culture and with the words of the author “ruling over populations that had hardly been exposed to Hellenism in the previous centuries, these new monarch were able to exploit their privileged contacts with the Greco-Roman world to introduce “modern” Mediterranean culture from abroad and thanks to considerable resources, integrating them into large scale projections of their own royal authority.”

9Certainly this monograph is a wonderful collection and thesis of the material pertaining to imagery and monuments of client kings in the Late Hellenistic and early Roman Near East. One is left with the impression that this monograph gives a comprehensive and exact overview of the available material and gives solid discussions of these categories binding them into the larger framework of the local politics as well as the imperial political framework. Kropp argues convincingly that these client kings were not first and foremost concerned with each other, but much more with the image which they represented towards the rulers of Rome. This is many ways is not surprising, however, it still brings food for thought about the way in which these regions and their rulers saw themselves within the framework of the expanding Roman Empire and how this reorientation of outlook indeed did change the ways in which local art and architecture developed in the early Roman period. This comprehensive collection of the material and its fresh look at ways of interpreting the material within its regional and imperial contexts makes this a brilliant start for anyone looking to understand the early Roman Near East and its societies.

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Rubina Raja, « Andreas J. M. Kropp, Images and Monuments of Near Eastern Dynasts, 100 bc – ad 100 »Syria, 92 | 2015, 473-475.

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Rubina Raja, « Andreas J. M. Kropp, Images and Monuments of Near Eastern Dynasts, 100 bc – ad 100 »Syria [En ligne], 92 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2016, consulté le 07 juillet 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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