Freedom Through The Death of Jesus Christ In Galatians: A Nonviolence Reading

Chapter II

The Roman Province of Galatia


A. Formation of the Roman Province of Galatia

Galatia emerged as a Roman province during the reign of Augustus. Prior to this, client kings ruled this territory under the authority of Rome. The land was divided into three districts corresponding geographically to each of the three Galatian tribes, Tolistobogii (around Pessinus), Tectosages (around Ancyra), and Trocmi (around Tavium). Deiotarus, the tetrarch of Tolistobogii, who was later granted by Rome the title ‘king’, extended his control over the land of Trocmi. Though he was deprived of his rule over the land of Trocmi for a short while by Julius Caesar, he was again made ruler over this land by Antony after the death of Caesar. After treacherously murdering the tetrarch of Tectosages, Deiotarus became king of the entire Galatia (Strabo, 12.5.1). After his death and a brief rule by his son, Amyntas was appointed as a new king by Antony in 36 BCE. Amyntas extended the frontiers of Galatia. As a result, Galatia now consisted of the three lands of the three Galatian tribes, much of Lycaonia and part of Pamphylia (Strabo, 12.5.1; Dio, 49.32.3, 53.26.3; Plutarch, Ant 61.2). Amyntas shifted his loyalty from Antony to Octavian in the war at Actium (Plutarch, Ant 63.3). Because of his loyalty in the war, Octavian confirmed Amyntas as king and extended his rule over much of Pisidia, Isauria in the south, and western part of Cilicia called Cilicia Tracheia (Strabo, 14.6.1). Octavian’s victory over Antony at Actium in 31 BCE brought to an end the turbulent period in Galatia due to both domestic unrest and complex maneuverings with the Roman rulers during the civil wars. However, Amyntas had faced resistance from Homanadenses, a southern region tribe, to his efforts of pacification through subjugation. While engaged in a war in 25 BCE to subjugate Homanadenses, he was killed (Dio, 53.26.3). Amyntas, thus, failed in his attempt to bring peace (that is, pacification) in the land, which was important to Rome to promote its self-interests.

 Soon after the death of Amyntas, Octavian (Augustus) annexed Galatia to bring internal peace and order. He made the entire area ruled by Amyntas an imperial province in 25 BCE (Dio, 53.26.3; Strabo, 12.5.1). Dio notes:

On the death of Amyntas he (Augustus) did not entrust his kingdom to his sons but made it part of the subject territory. Thus Galatia together with Lycoania obtained a Roman governor, and the portions of Pamphylia formerly assigned to Amyntas were restored to their own districts (Dio, History 53. 26. 3).

Galatian province included the land of the three Galatian tribes, Pisidia, Isauria, Lycaonia and part of Pamphylia. Later Paphlagonia (in 6/5 BCE) and Pontus Galaticus (in 3/2 BCE) were added. For Rome, internal peace and order in Galatia was important, because Asia Minor was like a bridge between the west and the east. So Rome wanted this region to be firmly under its control.

 1. Colonies

Rome, as a deliberate imperial policy, created colonies. The death of Amyntas in 25 BCE while attempting to subjugate the resisting tribe of Homanadenses, was a clear evidence of unstable conditions in the southern part of the Galatian province. Isaurians, who lived in the mountain ranges north-east of Pisidia, revolted against the Roman control in 6 CE. Therefore, there was local resistance to the Roman rule and its client kings. As a strong measure to bring peace by military force through subjugation of the resisting groups, Augustus founded colonies of legionary veterans as soon as Galatia was made a province such as Pisidian Antioch, Cremna, Lystra, Olbasa, Parlais and Comama.[1] The land required for a colony was usually confiscated. Roman settlers formed the citizens’ body, and natives could become either a separate community or subjects of the colony.[2] The constitution of the colony was organized on a Roman pattern.

 2. Roads

Rome had developed a road-system in the Galatian province in order to maintain Roman peace in the subject territory. The roads were primarily for military and administrative purposes. This objective was characteristic of Roman imperialism, that is, control and exploitation of resources in subject territories by military and administrative means.[3] 

In Galatia the road, Via Sebaste, was laid in 6 BCE with Pisidian Antioch as the pivot, from there to the south-central Anatolian port of Perga, and on the east to the colonies of Iconium and Lystra. In the same year Roman army used this road to wage war against the resisting Homanadenses. Military activity and construction of roads in subject territories offer a pattern of Roman methods to maintain Roman peace and freedom by subduing the resisting local groups. Thus, Roman roads in Galatia “implicitly symbolized but explicitly articulated Rome’s and specially the emperor’s domination.”[4] They were a visible symbol of the Roman political control of Galatia.[5] As the text on a milestone in Galatia read, “Imperator Caesar Son of God Pontifex Maximus” (CIL 3.6974). The primary function of milestone was to publicize the dominion of the Roman emperor.[6]

3. Cities

Urbanization was a Roman imperial policy to further its dominion over subject. Soon after annexation of Galatia in 25 BCE, Augustus created three new cities in the north, Pessinus, Tavium, and Ancyra, and one in the south, Pisidian Antioch. The name Sebaste was given to Pessinus, Tavium, and Ancyra indicating that the province represented by these cities began a new era under Augustus. This new era inaugurated under Augustus’ rule was characterized by freedom, peace and security. As a reward for allegiance to the emperor, subject society was guaranteed freedom, peace and security from external and internal threats. Pisidian Antioch was renamed as Colonia Caesarea. However, the old name prevailed. But the principal square of Pisidian Antioch was named Augustea Platea.[7] Renaming the cities by adding emperor’s name was an indicator of the Roman domination and control. Renaming served two purposes: one was that it ensured that the person and authority of the emperor was before the populace, and the other was that it became a symbol of loyalty of the populace.

However, for Galatians autonomy and freedom from external control were the hallmark of Greek polis and basic to its political organization. This Greek understanding of a city was reflected by Pausanias’ comment, “Panopeus, for all its miserable appearance, was yet free because it still sent its own delegate to the Phocian assembly.”[8] This freedom and autonomy of city had diminished with the arrival of the Roman rule. The political ideals of autonomy and independence that defined Greek polis were replaced in the Roman civitas by “two aims that were both functional and ideological.”[9] Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed explain the two aims as,

One was to use cities as administrative centers for supervising the production and distribution of local and regional resources. That also…meant taxation flowing back to Rome. The other one was to build communities by creating for the empire’s urban populations a common form of civic life (and) a common set of civic buildings…That…meant loyalty flowing back to Rome.[10]

A public document of 88 BCE of a city in Asia clearly mentions the freedom under Roman imperialism. It read, “Without the rule of the Romans we do not choose even to live.”[11] The index of city status was no longer political autonomy but other criteria such as public buildings. This shift would indicate the intention of Rome.

B. Jewish Privileges

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods Asia Minor had a substantial Jewish population. By the time of Claudius Antioch of Pisidia and Iconium had an influential Jewish community, which was engaged in trade (Acts 13.14ff; Acts 14.1). Philo wrote, though an exaggeration, that the Jews resided in every city of Asia (Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 245). Both Philo and Josephus testified to good relations between the diaspora Jews and Roman authorities.

Josephus cites a number of documents that deal with Jewish privileges in Asia Minor. However, these documents “present numerous technical problems relating to the state of the texts, their dating and the puzzling order in which they are arranged.”[12] Though Moehring has questioned their authenticity, “his case against their authenticity rests on minor aberrations in the text which can be satisfactorily explained by the history of transmission of the documents.”[13] Basing on formal features of documents Tessa Rajak argues for their authenticity.  He notes, “The formal features of the documents are correct for genre and period to a degree which makes it very difficult to conceive of them as forgeries.”[14]

The documents cited by Josephus show that in a number of occasions the Roman government intervened on behalf of the Jews in Asia Minor in the face of local opposition to the Jewish privileges granted by the empire.[15] These Jewish privileges included the right to organize as a community, to administer their own finances, and to order their life according to their ancestral laws.[16] One of the reasons for granting and protecting the privileged status of the Jews by Rome could be due to “the gratitude of the Jews to the Roman people” expressed by the crucial role played by Antipater and Hyrcanus, the high priest, in the war between Rome and Egypt (Josephus, Ant. 14.8). This was reiterated by Augustus in his decree to the cities in Asia (Josephus, Ant. 16.6.2).

In 2/3 CE Augustus issued an important edict to the provincial assembly of Galatia concerning the Jews. This decree was mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities 16. 162-165. It read:

Caesar Augustus, Pontifex Maximus with tribunitian power, decrees as follows. Since the Jewish nation has been found well disposed to the Roman people not only at the present time but also in time past, and especially in the time of my father the emperor Caesar, as has their high priest Hyrcanus, it has been decided by me and my council under oath, with the consent of the Roman people, that the Jews may follow their own customs in accordance with the law of their fathers, just as they followed them in the time of Hyrcanus, high priest of the Most High God, and that their sacred monies shall be inviolable and may be sent up to Jerusalem and delivered to the treasurers of Jerusalem, and that they need not give bond or appear in court on the Sabbath or on the day of preparation for it after the ninth hour. And if anyone is caught stealing their sacred books or their sacred monies from a synagogue or an ark of the Law, he shall be regarded as sacrilegious, and his property shall be confiscated to the public treasury of the Romans. As for the resolution which was offered by them in my honour concerning the piety which I show to all men, and on behalf of C. Marcius Censorinus, I order that it and the present edict be set up in the most conspicuous part of the temple assigned to me by the federation of Asia in Ancyra. If anyone transgresses any of the above ordinances, he shall suffer severe punishment. This was inscribed on a pillar in the temple of Caesar (Josephus, Ant. 16. 162-165).

 Philip Esler comments that this decree is evidence to the presence of a Jewish community(s) in Galatia. He presumes that these Jews were the ones who were moved by Antiochus III from Mesopotamia to places of Phrygia and Lydia to help suppress revolts in those regions (Josephus, Ant. 12.147-153). Esler argues:

Although they were settled outside Galatia, they were obviously in a position to move into Galatia when times were ripe. That they had done so early in the Roman period is shown by the fact that Augustus ordered a decree protecting the rights of the Ioudaioi in Asia to be erected in his temple in Ancyra, in the centre of Galatia.[17]

The decree mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities 16.162-165 gives an impression that in spite of the Roman support, Jewish community(s) met with local opposition to their privileges in Asia Minor. In such situations the Jews appealed to Roman authorities, who always ruled in their favor. Rome refused to alter the status quo of Jews. Whenever the Jews faced local opposition, Roman authorities through edicts confirmed their privileges. The Jewish privileges were intended to enable the Jews to live in accordance with their own ancestral laws and traditions. A number of documents preserved by Josephus relate to the Sabbath (Parium or Paros- Josephus Ant. 14.213-216, 46 BCE; Ephesus- Ant. 14.225-227, 43 BCE; Ant. 14.262-264; Ant. 16.167-168, 23-21 or 16-13 BCE; Laodicia- Ant. 14.241-243; Miletus- Ant. 14.244-246, 46-44 BCE; Halicarnassus- Ant. 14.256-258, 48-44 BCE; Sardis- 14.259-261; General decree to the Jews in Asia- Ant. 16.162-165, 12 BCE). These documents are evidence to the support of the Roman government in protecting the freedom of the Jews in Asia Minor to live according to their laws. Josephus mentioned how Roman authorities protected the Sabbath observance of the Jews in the face of opposition in Greek cities (Josephus, Ant. 14.227). When local authorities in the city of Ephesus declared the Sabbath observance punishable by a fine, Rome forced the local authorities to revoke this measure (Josephus, Ant. 14.225-227). Augustus issued a general decree confirming the Jewish privileges (Josephus. Ant. 16.6.2). Among these privileges was the privilege not to appear in court on the Sabbath or on the preceding day after the ninth hour (Josephus Ant. 16.6.2 cf. 16.6.4).[18] Even in free cities Rome intervened on behalf of the Jews for the Sabbath observance. This was a grave violation of the autonomous status of free cities, which were free to regulate the civic life, including religious life, of their inhabitants. At times Jews were exempted from military service because of their Sabbath observance. Dolabella exempted the Jews from military service because Roman army could not provide them with ration according to their dietary laws and the Sabbath law did not permit Jews to carry weapons and travel on the day of Sabbath (Josephus Ant. 14.10.12). This edict of 43 BCE to Ephesus notes that the earlier prefects granted a similar exemption to the Jews. At times if the food served was forbidden by the Jewish dietary laws, the Roman army would pay the Jews the value of their ration.[19] Rome also allowed Jews to go for pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem and to collect temple tax (i[era crhmata) for maintenance of the temple. Caius Norbanus Flaccus, proconsul, in his letter mentioned the details of the letter of Augustus written to him and to the governors of Ephesia, regarding Jews. It read:

Caesar has written word to me, that the Jews, wherever they are, are accustomed to assemble together, in compliance with a peculiar ancient custom of their nation, to contribute money which they send to Jerusalem; and he does not choose that they should have any hindrance offered to them, to prevent them from doing this; therefore I have written to you, that you may know that I command that they shall be allowed to do these things (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius: The First Part of the Treatise on VirtuesI, 315).

There was an exemption for Jews from partaking in the imperial cult.[20] However, Jews offered prayer and sacrifices to God for the life and welfare of the Roman emperor. Jews enjoyed direct access to the emperor. Whenever they faced local opposition in cities with regards to exercising their privileges granted by Rome, they sent delegations to the emperor for his intervention on their behalf (Josephus, Ant 16.6.1). Philo’s comment on Augustus’ “benefaction” towards Jews in Rome sums up the privileges enjoyed by the diaspora Jews:

Augustus knew that the large district of Rome beyond the Tiber was owned and inhabited by Jews. The majority of them were Roman freedmen. They had been brought to Italy as prisoners of war and manumitted by their owners, and had not been made to alter any of their national customs. Augustus therefore knew that they had synagogues and met in them, especially on the Sabbath, when they received public instruction in their national philosophy. He also knew that they had collected sacred money from their ‘first fruits’ and sent it up to Jerusalem by the hand of envoys who would offer the sacrifices. But despite this he did not expel them from Rome or deprive them of their Roman citizenship because they remembered their Jewish nationality also. He introduced no changes into their synagogues, he did not prevent them from meeting for the exposition of the law, and he raised no objection to their offering of the ‘first fruits’. On the contrary, he showed such reverence for our traditions that he and almost all his family enriched our temple with expensive dedications. He gave orders for regular sacrifices of holocausts to be made daily in perpetuity at his own expense, as an offering to the Most High God. These sacrifices continue to this day, and will continue always, as a proof of his truly imperial character. Moreover, at the monthly distributions in Rome, when all the people in turn receive money or food, he never deprived Jews of this bounty, but if the distribution happened to be made on the Sabbath, when it is forbidden to receive or give anything or to do any of the ordinary things of life in general, especially commercial life, he instructed the distributors to reserve the Jews’ share of the universal largesse until the next day (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, 155-8).

The protection of the Roman empire to the Jews to live according to their laws continued under Claudius. When there was crisis between Greeks and Jews in cities like Alexandria, Claudius in 41/42 CE made a general policy giving freedom to Jews to observe their customs. It read, “It is right therefore that Jews throughout the whole world under our sway should also observe the customs of their fathers without let or hindrance” (Josephus Ant. 19.290).

Thus the documents of Josephus highlight the concern of Jews for freedom granted by the Roman empire. This freedom was to live according to the laws of the Torah. Whenever the Jews faced local opposition to exercise their freedom, Roman authorities intervened on behalf Jews and facilitated for Jews to live according to Jewish laws. This privilege of living according to the laws of the Torah, understood as freedom, had a direct implication on the conduct of the zealous Jews as demonstrated by the Maccabean movement.



[1] Robert K. Sherk, “Roman Galatia: The Governors from 25 B.C. to A.D. 114,” in ANRW II.7.2, ed. by Herausgeben von Hildegard Temporini (New York: Walter De Gruyter, 1980), p. 963.

[2] A.H.M. Jones, Augustus (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 98.

[3] D.H. French, “The Roman Road-System of Asia Minor,” in ANRW II.7.2, pp. 698-729.

[4] John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom: A New Vision of Paul’s Words & World (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), p. 201.

[5] Stephen Mitchell, Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor: The Celts in Anatolia and the Impact of Roman Rule, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 63.

[6] G.H.R. Horsley, “Two New Milestones from Pisidia,” in Anatolian Studies, Vol. XXXIX, (1989), pp. 79-84.

[7]David Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor: To the End of the Third Century after Christ, Vol. I: Text (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950), p. 460.

[8] Mitchell, Anatolia, p. 81.

[9] Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 185.

[10] Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul, p. 185.

[11] J. Reynolds, Aphrodisias and Rome, 1982, 12 doc. 2.

[12] Paul R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 7.

[13] Trebilco, Jewish Communities, p. 7.

[14] Tessa Rajak, “Was There a Roman Charter for the Jews?” in JRS 74 (1984), p. 109.

[15] Michael Grant, The Jews in the Roman World (London: 1973), pp. 33, 60, 76.

[16] Trebilco, Jewish Communities, p. 8.

[17] Philip F. Esler, Galatians (New York: Routledge, 1998), p. 30.

[18] Philo mentions the decree of Augustus about the monthly ration to be set aside for the Jews to collect it the next day if the day of distribution falls on the Sabbath day (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius: The First Part of the Treatise on Virtues, in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, tr. by C.D. Yonge (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002): 23 (158).

[19] Alfredo Mordechai Rabello, “The Legal Condition of the Jews in the Roman Empire,” in ANRW II. 13, p. 706.

[20] Rabello, “The Legal Condition of the Jews in the Roman Empire,” p. 703.


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