COLLOQUIUM: Graham Oliver, Brown, "Royal Correspondence with the Athenians: Communication between Kings, Successors, and the Greek Polis before and after Alexander the Great."

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

At Athens no direct epigraphical presentation of letters from Kings has survived from the early Hellenistic period but it is clear from the decrees of the Athenians that such correspondence was received. The treatment of such correspondence by the Athenians differs significantly from communities in other parts of the Greek world, especially Asia Minor. It is this difference in behaviors that has prompted this investigation.

Since Welles’ Royal Correspondence, there have been three major developments in the study of (written) communication between Hellenistic Kings and poleis: Ma (after Betrand) on speech-act theory, Virgilio and Bencivenni on Royal Correspondence, and more generally Ceccarelli on the social history of letter writing from the late Archaic to early Hellenistic period.

The locutionary acts that are the decrees of the Greek poleis can provide an insight into the language of the discourse between Kings and poleis. To take Bertrand’s position, and build on it, as John Ma has done, we can see that the admission of the reception of a letter from a King or Successor says something about communication with the polis, but the decision to record and present such correspondence verbatim on stone betrays more clearly the degree to which a polis is prepared to re-present that discourse. It is central to this paper that the Athenians refer to such correspondence but do not publish such communication. Moreover, the Athenians neither present, nor refer to, prostagmata epigraphically, a major difference from the cities of Asia Minor in the early Hellenistic era.

Ceccarelli’s work demonstrates that during the fourth century correspondence became a much more familiar part of the interactions of the institutions of the polis. This paper builds on this recent work: the shift (towards) the epigraphical representation of such correspondence at Athens at the end of the fourth century, combined with literary evidence that is not without problems for the historian, offers a unique insight into the tensions within the polis over correspondence with the King(s). Our understanding of the role of such letters can be better understood by a more comprehensive treatment of the interactions between the polis and foreign powers in general, and the representations of those relationships epigraphically.