Asia (Roman province)

Asia (Roman province)

The Roman province of Asia, also called Phrygia, was an administrative unit added to the late Republic. It was a Senatorial province governed by a proconsul. The arrangement was unchanged in the reorganization of the Roman Empire in 211.


Asia province originally consisted of Mysia, the Troad, Aeolis, Lydia, Ionia, Caria, and the land corridor through Pisidia to Pamphylia. Part of Phrygia was given to Mithridates V Euergetes before it was reclaimed as part of the province in 116 BC. Lycaonia was added before 100 BC while the area around Cibyra was added in 82 BC. The southeast region of Asia province was later reassigned to the province of Cilicia. During the empire, Asia province was bounded by Bithynia to the north, Lycia to the south, and Galatia to the east. [“Asia, Roman province.” The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd ed. 1996: p. 189-90]


Antiochus III the Great had to give up Asia when the Romans crushed his army at the historic battle of Magnesia, in 190 BC. After the Treaty of Apamea (188 BC), the entire territory was surrendered to Rome and placed under the control of a client king at Pergamum.

With no apparent heir, Attalus III of Pergamum having been a close ally of Rome, chose to bequeath his kingdom to Rome. Upon Attalus’s passing in 133 BC, Manius Aquillius formally established the region as Asia province. [The Oxford Classical Dictionary. p. 189-90] The bequest of the Attalid kingdom to Rome presented serious implications for neighboring territories. It was during this period of time that Pontus rose in status under the rule of Mithridates VI. He would prove to be a formidable foe to Rome’s success in Asia province and beyond. [ Mitchell, Stephen. Anatolia. Volume 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. p. 29]

Apathy and Exploitation

Rome had always been very reluctant to involve itself in matters to the east. It typically relied on allies to arbitrate in the case of a conflict. Very rarely would Rome send delegations to the east, much less have a strong governmental presence. This apathy did not change much even after the gift from Attalus in 133 BC. In fact, parts of the Pergamene kingdom were voluntarily relinquished to different nations. For example, Great Phrygia was given to Mithridates V of Pontus. [Anatolia. p. 29]

While the senate was hesitant in involving itself in Asian affairs, others had no such reluctance. A law passed by Gaius Gracchus in 123 BC gave the right to collect taxes in Asia to members of the equestrian order. The privilege of collecting taxes was almost certainly exploited by individuals from the Republic. In case a community was unable to pay taxes, they borrowed from Roman lenders but at exorbitant rates. This more often than not resulted in default on said loans and consequently led Roman lenders to seize the borrower’s land, their last remaining asset of value. In this way and by outright purchase, Romans dispersed throughout Asia province. [Anatolia p. 30]

Mithridates and Sulla

By 88 BC, Mithridates VI of Pontus had conquered virtually all of Asia. Capitalizing on the hatred of corrupt Roman practices, Mithridates instigated a mass revolt against Rome, ordering the slaughter of all Romans and Italians in the province. [Appian’s History of Rome: The Mithridatic Wars [] ] Casualty numbers ranged from 80,000 all the way up to 150,000. Three years later, Lucius Cornelius Sulla defeats Mithridates in the First Mithridatic War and in 85 BC reorganizes the province into eleven assize districts, each central to a number of smaller, subordinate cities. These assize centers included Ephesus, Pergamum - the old Attalid capital, Smyrna, Adramyttium, Cyzicus, Synnada, Apamea, Miletus, and Halicarnassus. The first three cities - Ephesus, Pergamum, and Smyrna - competed to be the dominant state in Asia province. [The Oxford Classical Dictionary. p. 189-90] Inter-city rivalry greatly inhibited any sort of progress towards provincial unity.

Military presence

Other than to quell occasional revolts, there was minimal military presence in Asia province until forces led by Sulla set forth in their campaign against Mithridates VI. In fact, Asia province was unique in that it was one of the few ungarrisoned provinces of the empire. While no full legions were ever stationed inside the province, that is not to say that there was no military presence whatsoever. Legionary detachments were present in the Phrygian cities of Apamea and Amorium. Auxiliary cohorts were stationed in Phrygian Eumeneia while smaller groups of soldiers regularly patrolled the mountainous regions. High military presence in rural regions around 3rd century AD caused great civil unrest in the province. [Anatolia p. 121]


After Augustus came to power, he established a proconsulship for the province of Asia, embracing the regions of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and Phrygia. The proconsul spent much of his year long term traveling throughout the province hearing cases and conducting other judicial business at each of the assize centers. [The Oxford Classical Dictionary. p. 189-90] Rome’s transition from the Republic to the early empire saw an important change in the role of existing provincial cities, going from autonomous city states to administrative centers. The beginning of the principate of Augustus also signaled the rise of new cities in Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia. The province grew to be an elaborate system of self governing cities, each responsible for its own economics, taxes, and law in their territory. The reign of Augustus further signaled the start of urbanization of Asia province as public building became the defining characteristic of a city. [Anatolia p. 198]

Emperor Worship

Emperor worship was prevalent in provincial communities during the Roman empire. Soon after Augustus came to power, temples erected in his honor sprang up across Asia province. The establishment of provincial centers of emperor worship further spawned local cults. These sites served as models followed by other provinces throughout the empire. [Anatolia p. 100] Emperor worship served as a way for subjects of Asia province to come to terms with imperial rule within the framework of their communities. Religious practices were very much a public affair and involved citizens in all its aspects including prayer, sacrifice, and processions. Rituals held in honor of a particular emperor frequently outnumbered those of other gods. No other cult matched the imperial cult in terms of dispersion and commonality. [Anatolia p. 112]


The 3rd century AD marked a serious decline in Asia province stemming in part from epidemic disease, the indiscipline of local soldiers and also the diminishing instances of voluntary civic generosity. The Gothic invasions of the 250s and 260s contributed to failing feelings of security. Furthermore, as political and strategic emphasis shifted away from Asia province, it lost much of its former prominence.

In the 4th century, Diocletian divided Asia province into seven smaller provinces. As a direct consequence, many cities towards the interior of the province declined to the point where they were indistinguishable from common villages. On the other hand, leading cities from the early empire including Ephesus, Sardis, and Aphrodisias retained much of their former glory and came to serve as the new provincial capitals. [The Oxford Classical Dictionary. p. 189-90] Asia remained a center of Roman and Hellenistic culture in the east for centuries. The territory remained part of the Byzantine Empire until the 15th century.


External links

* [ Asia Minor]

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