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Connecting People: Mobility and Networks in the Corpus of Greek Private Letters

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Dana, Madalina. “Connecting People: Mobility and Networks in the Corpus of Greek Private Letters.” CHS Research Bulletin 3, no. 2 (2015). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:DanaM.Connecting_People.2015


1§1 The goal of this article[1] is primarily to highlight the phenomenon of letter writing from the city to its territory, from territory to territory or towards the interior, as an important expression of mobility attested in the extant corpus of private letters. If the sending of letters implies a form of mobility––that of the people who transmitted them and the journey of the letter––these documents are also valuable sources for the mobility of people to whom they were addressed: letters mention not only the recipient’s name, but also his location. Their texts also disclose information about the location of those who sent them, which may specify or suggest by allusion the place from which the letter was sent. Finally, the places named in the letters represent a third, albeit incomplete, level of this mental mapping: the circulation of goods, information and people.

1§2 This geography of the correspondence must be interpreted through the analysis of human networks. Paola Ceccarelli rightly wonders not only about the development and the role of the epistolary genre, but also about its impact on societies who wrote letters.[2] If the main purpose of the letter was to provide information, to give instructions or request a service, its peculiar form, with an address outside, a text commencing with polite expressions and closing with a formula valetudinis, reminds us that a letter is not only supposed to convey information but also keep the family-friendly link.[3] The dispatch of a letter rather than an oral message implies that the message may be conserved and deposited in archives: the writing and reading of letters held an important place in the daily lives of ancient Greeks.

1§3 However, if we consider the representations and traditions regarding the invention of letter-writing, we can see that its early practice was far from being positively received. Imported from elsewhere or created by a hero or a god, the letter often bore negative connotations. For the Greek historians, for example, the letter was a secret document because it was sealed: therefore, it was necessary to beware. Indeed, in a face-to-face society, this type of document that characterizes exchange between individuals, in combination with private or silent reading, aroused some suspicion. Until the middle of the fourth century BCE, a stable epistolary format did not exist, the letters being only the transcription of spoken messages.[4]

1§4 The first evidence for the letters begins in the mid-sixth century BCE, especially in “peripheral” areas of the Greek world, a perception which has certainly resulted from the current state of the research. They lack conventional structure,[5] nevertheless they do not fail in their primary function, that of transmitting information. While it is true that we can associate them with the beginnings of epistolary practice, the use of lead and ostracon letters does not end with the arrival of literary or official letters. They continue to be employed in the Hellenistic period, not only in the regions where it is assumed that the papyrus was less accessible, but also in Athens.

1§5 Contrary to what has been argued,[6] lead was indeed used to write letters, though its use has been found more frequently in curse tablets (defixiones)[7]. The fact that such letters were mainly found on the margins of the Greek world––the Black Sea, the Gulf of Lion, Chalkidiki––may be significant. These are the regions affected by the spread of the Greeks in the Mediterranean, related to trade and in relation to the Ionian presence, whether Milesian (the Black Sea), Phocaean (southern Gaul) or Euboean (Chalkidiki); as in Athens, the presence of lead letters can be explained by the sharing of practices, but also by the frequent use of lead in public and private writing.[8] While the Ionian colonization regions are well represented, the evidence is still missing for Ionia itself: the practice, which probably emerged in the cities of Asia Minor and in the circles of merchants who traveled, had spread in the regions that had contact with Ionians.

1§6 Owing to the lack of evidence, we cannot know if this practice persisted in Ionia after the introduction of the papyrus, but it is true that lead, easy to use, durable and occupying little space,[9] could represent an ideal material for the merchants; moreover, it was much cheaper than the papyrus, recyclable and did not require ink.[10] The practice of writing on lead does not seem to be the only cultural transfer from the mother city to its colonies. In a letter on lead from Olbia Pontike, the sender, Apatorios, asks the recipient, Leanax, to send diphtheria, which can be literally translated as “leather sheets”, but the word could also designate, in the Ionian use explained by Herodotus, papyrus sheets.[11]

1§7 Sending letters was a common practice for the merchants, illustrated by the speeches of the Attic orators. It is primarily at this practice that we shall look, in order to understand the use of the letter in commercial long-distance networks. Secondarily, we shall examine the geographical area where the lead and ostracon letters definitely circulated: whereas we might trace the movement of people, the letter itself remains the most mobile object. Finally, we shall examine how the letters connected people, and enabled the maintenance of networks. While lead and ostracon letters served mainly commercial purposes, merchants were not the only ones who used them; they were also used for other purposes, namely for everyday communication.

Letters and Commercial Networks

2§1 In a recent article about the relationships between Rhodes and the Ptolemaic kingdom, Vincent Gabrielsen stresses the privileged geographical position of this island towards Alexandria. Rhodes indeed attracted many foreign merchants.[12] The prosperity of some corn traders was linked to the creation of a network that depended on a sophisticated communication system provided by correspondence.

2§2 Thus, a speech of Pseudo-Demosthenes, Against Dionysodorus, informs us about the practices, at the limit of dishonesty, of some acolytes of Cleomenes, a Greek from Naukratis appointed governor of Egypt by Alexander the Great.[13] Cleomenes had stored and monopolized Egypt’s wheat. Some of his associates were shipping it from Egypt; others were transporting it to a few selected locations, including Rhodes; others, established in those places, were receiving shipments and were redistributing them to some destinations; finally, another group of associates, who were scattered abroad, sent letters with information about the price of the wheat (ἔπεμπον γράμματα οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες τοῖς ἀποδημοῦσιν). They knew well in what emporia the wheat had low or high prices, and sent their cargos accordingly. The role of the letter was therefore to ensure the long distance connection between the different groups of synegoroi.[14]

2§3 In another well-known trial, also in the fourth century, Chrysippus accused Phormio of not having delivered the letters he had entrusted (ἔχων ἐπιστολὰς παρ᾿ ἐμοῦ) to his associates in the Cimmerian Bosphorus (τῷ παιδὶ τῷ ἐμῷ παραχειμάζοντι ἐκεῖ καὶ κοινωνῷ τινί): τὰς μὲν ἐπιστολὰς οὐκ ἀποδίδωσιν οὗτος ἂς ἔλαβεν παρ᾿ ἐμου.[15] Here, the letter is to inform business partners of the sender about the terms of the contract; it could even be considered a substitute for the latter, having thus virtual legal value. Like a contract, it should be written on papyrus or on a small tablet (ἐν γραμματειδίῳ δυοῖν χαλκοῖν ἐωνημένῳ καὶ βυβλιδίῳ μικρῷ), according to the assertion of Dareios when accusing Dionysodoros of having quickly signed a pledge he did not think holding.[16]

2§4 It is therefore undeniable that letters played an important role in Aegean trade: a merchant could use this type of communication in order to gain a commercial advantage over his rivals who did not have access to the information.[17] The network of the merchants denounced by Dareios is supported unexpectedly by a group of unpublished ostraca, found in a single tomb in the necropolis of Rhodes and dated to the late second century BCE. They appear to be letters to a master (κύριος) or several masters of rural settlements for agricultural purposes[18]. It seems likely that the letters are purchase orders sent to the merchants or producers in Rhodes by their business associates.[19] Through the networks revealed by literary sources, V. Gabrielsen proposes to see in the Rhodian ostraca evidence for the networks formed by various intermediaries with overseas territories.Without denying that these may be long-distance communications,the material suggests more a regional communication between producers and local traders.

2§5 Thus, information was circulating, relayed over a large area by a mesh of various economic agents. Now we should wonder how far a letter could be sent and what type of letter. At the same time, we must reconsider the centers and peripheries.[20] The distance is measured in terms of a regional center, city or place of trade. If we cannot deny long-distance trade, the importance of regional trade must be reassessed.[21]

Mapping the Territory

3§1 An important aspect of the transmission of letters relates to distance. For official correspondence, messages, oral or written, were entrusted to couriers called hêmerodromoi or dromokêrukes, according to the time they took to deliver the letter[22]. Given the absence of a regular postal service, for private correspondence people could rely on the goodwill of individual travelers, with no guarantee that the message would arrive at its destination. In a letter on a clay tablet of Rhodes near Ampurias (Gulf of Roses),[23] whose authenticity has been questioned because of several mistakes and because it was written on this material,[24] the name of the bearer of the letter is stated in the text: Tibekos, the captain’s friend (the latter known by the correspondents alone), someone, typically, who belonged to the circle of friends or business partners. In this way, the sender put in the letter, as a form of guarantee for the recipient, the name of the person to whom the message was given.

3§2 By epistolary practice, but also so that the carrier would know to whom he had to deliver the letter, the address was noted on the outside, once the lead letter was rolled up or folded, usually perpendicular to the direction of the lines: we notice it for the letters of Achillodoros of Berezan, Apatorios of Olbia Pontike, Kledikos of Hermonassa, and Mnesiergos’ letter, found in Attica.[25] For the letter of Massalia, found wrapped, the address has been written in the direction of the letters.[26] The address generally contains the recipient’s name, in the dative, and sometimes that of the sender, in the nominative.

3§3 For a short distance, servants or slaves, passersby or neighbors could be asked to bear the message, depending on the type of message that had to be delivered. The message also determined the material: the ostraca contained short messages, which could be read, in order to communicate with a slave or a servant, giving an urgent order or making a recommendation, or even announcing the sending of a letter properly. We find this formula in a letter of Olbia in Provence (third-second century BCE): “I will send you a letter concerning the slaves”.[27] The advantage of lead was not only that it could be rolled or folded, but there was also the possibility of a seal. In addition, this practice allowed some privacy.[28] One can imagine that Lesis, a young Athenian apprentice, did not want his complaint to reach the ears of his master: “For I have been handed over to a man thoroughly wicked”.[29]

3§4 But what were, more specifically, the areas concerned by sending letters? The ostracon-material concerned communication within neighborhoods or at most the distance separating the chôra from the city. When the correspondent of Thamneus, mentioned by an Athenian Agora ostracon, said “Thamneus, put the saw under the threshold of the garden gate”,[30] it is clear that this garden was very close to the house of the sender, so the latter could easily go get it; a gardening ax was also invoked in an ostracon letter from Gorgippia, in the Bosporan Kingdom: a slave was asked to look for it.[31] This is also the case with an order given by an anonymous sender to a slave, to bring other new couches to Phalantos, and with the message sent by Arkesimos, from Athens, to a lady who bears the beautiful name of Eumêlis: “Come as quickly as you can. Arkesimos”.[32] This message was special because the sender signed it below; it involved an express delivery, if not in the same neighborhood at least in the same city. However, the short letter of Sosineos to Glaukos had to be sent from somewhere in the Athenian chôra: “Sosineos sent a bundle to Glaukos in town (ἐς ἄστυ)”.[33] In the ostracon found at Kozyrka, in the chôra of Olbia Pontike, the sender, Nikophanas, asks a relative or a servant to send a horse “in the city” (εἰς πόλιν).[34] Even in the long letter on lead of Achillodoros, well known, the reference was always made to the polis: “take your mother and your brothers who are at Arbinatai to the city (ἐς τὴμ πόλιν)”. There was no need specify the name of the city, as it was obviously the city that was most important: Athens, or Olbia. This proves once more that the correspondence provided by the ostraca had a local character.

3§5 Lead letters are more complex because they include not only the name of several localities but they also cover a larger area. This allows us both to map the letters and suggest a geography of trade. The places concerned by this trade are often those where the letter was sent, but not always: in the oldest letter of Emporion (c. 500 BCE),[35] another place name, Saiganthe, was named as the recipient’s destination. To designate the place name, the sender used the ethnikon Ἐ̣μππορίταισιν, with a reduplication of pi, which is a feature of the spoken language.[36] The name of the city might appear in the letter on ceramic plate of Rhodes, in the Gulf of Roses.[37] It was suggested that the place name ἐν Ἐμπυλίῳ could represent the graphical consequence of a native pronunciation for Emporion.[38]

3§6 As for Σαιγάνθη, it is considered that this must be an Iberian place name––since the name Basped, mentioned at lines 4 and 7, also seems Iberian.[39] Two solutions have been proposed: it could be either a place that the Romans called Saguntum[40] (most probably), or a Hellenized form of an Iberian name designating a place closer to Emporion, such as the Iberian site named today Ullastret, 30 kilometers south of Ampurias.[41] R. A Santiago refutes the possibility of seeing the place name Ζάκανθα, mentioned by literary sources with the intention of creating a syngeneia with Ζάκυνθος. However, O. Mousso corrects what he considers a mistake of the scribe, namely Σαιγάνθηι, in <Ζ>α<κ>άνθηι, that allows us to identify the correct Latin adaptation Saguntum.[42] Since this is the only mention of this name, it is difficult to choose the correct explanation. Nevertheless, we can identify an enclave with sea or river access in the area of ​​influence of Emporion.[43]

3§7 The Emporitai also appear as partners in a deal concluded at Pech Maho, a small settlement south of Narbonne, not far from Emporion (Ampurias). Its record was kept by a sheet of lead, slightly more recent than the Emporion text, which has several points in common with the letters, starting with the material. This is a transaction in several steps,[44] which involves pledges and the presence of witnesses, bearers of non-Greek, Iberian names. It records the sale of one or more akatia, small flat-bottomed boat for coastal shipping; the buyer is a person mentioned in line 1 (Kyprios?), the sellers are the Emporitai. The action takes place, as Michel Lejeune shown, in Emporion and Pech Maho, where the letter was found.[45] The places mentioned in the text, “river,” “where the barges moored,” could be in both.

3§8 The Pech Maho document offers another significant piece of information. This one does not concern the Greek text, best preserved because written on the inside, but the text engraved on the outside of the tablet, which was identified as Etruscan text.[46] At line 5, we could read mataliai[47], a locative of Massalia, the city that was dominating the regional business networks[48]. A letter discovered there some two decades ago[49] highlights, through onomastics, the Phocaean identity of the Massalia region: Μεγιστῆς, the sender, bears a very rare Ionian name[50]; in epigraphy, the oldest evidence is that of the Milesian foundation Apollonia of Pontus[51], followed by another in a Thasian list of theoroi.[52] Leukon, the recipient, has a common name, but the third person mentioned bears a Phocaean specific name, which appears only at Velia, Massalia and Olbia in Provence, namely Oulis. This theophoric name, formed on Apollo’s epiclesis Οὔλιος[53], appears twice in Massalia[54] but about ten times at the nearby sanctuary of the hero Aristaeus at Acapte (or La Capte), at Olbia in Provence (dedications by the end of the second and the beginning of the first century BCE).[55] It is in this region, with its strong Phocaean identity, that the letters are circulating: two lead letters (only one of them is published), business correspondence, were also found in Lattes, ancient Lattara. Another lead letter, very fragmentary, was discovered in Agde, ancient Agathe, close to Lattes; the name of the city is very likely to be mentioned in the first line of the side A[56], where the word AGATHÊ is legible.

3§9 We can see the same regional circuits, including goods, in a lead letter of Chalkidiki, found at Torone (c. 350-325). The letter mentions most probably Mende, although the text had to be restored, ἐμ Μ̣[ένδηι?] (l. 1), which was also the place from which the letter was sent: “I am unable to buy wood in M[ende]. So you dispatch some to me immediately if you have a boat, buying seven talents if it is possible.”[57] The distance by sea between the two cities is quite short: Torone is located on the south-western part of the middle peninsula of Chalkidiki, namely Sithonia, while Mende was in the south-west of the western peninsula, that is Pallene. Both cities were founded by Euboeans, Torone by a Chalcidian city, Mende by Eretria.[58] The letter does not travel a long distance, nor do the items requested. This appears to indicate a regional trade, which involves a product abundant in these northern regions.[59] In most cases, the timber, which has the advantage of buoyancy, must be transported by water.[60] In our case, the wood should be certainly transported on specific boats, which needed less than a day to get from Torone to Mende.

3§10 The mention of the phortêgesion in the lead letter of Achillodoros, found at Berezan, also attests to a waterway trade in the Pontic region, as well as a regional trade: “Protagores, your father sends instructions to you. He is being wronged by Matasys, for he is enslaving him and has deprived him of his cargo-carrier”.[61] The Scythian name born by Achillodoros’ oppressor suggests that they should be somewhere in the hinterland, where the Greeks could penetrate through the two great rivers, Hypanis (Bug) and Borysthenes (Dniepr). Among the recommendations addressed to his son, Achillodoros mentions a territory where he was to own a property at the Arbinatai, local people associated with the Olbian merchants,[62] whose specific location is unknown; the polis is obviously Olbia. We find this “approximate geography” in an ostracon letter unusually long for this type of material. Thus, the Thoapsoi mentioned in the message of Dionysios of Nikonion (second half of the fourth-first half of the third century BCE)[63] had to be another local population of the Tyras (Dniestr) region,[64] yet unidentified. The Scythians, in general, appear in the letter on potsherd of Apatorios to Neomenios of Kerkinitis, as actors in the local economy: “Take good care of the oxen and learn who pays (a tax?) to the Scythians”.[65] The territory that was to be covered by the merchants had its dangers for Greek emporoi of the area, but was also governed by conventions.

3§11 But not all locations are difficult to place on a map, since some are enjoying a certain notoriety. Thus, an ostracon letter of Olbia with religious instructions (c. 500 BCE),[66] mentions an “island” (either Berezan or the Kinbrun peninsula)[67] and a promontory, which could be the Stanislav cap, at the confluence of Hypanis and Borysthenes.[68] Another place, named Χαλκήνη (“Forges”), has been compared by A. S. Rusjaeva with a settlement located in the Gulf of Jagorlyk that produced iron.[69] Hylaiê is the famous wooded place mentioned by Herodotus,[70] located in the zone of influence of Olbia, in north-western Crimea, south of Borysthenes and north of Kerkinitis. In the last line, we could perhaps restore the ethnic Τυρανοί, citizens of Tyras, a town located between Istros and Olbia.[71] Finally, Olbia itself is named in a lead letter found in Phanagoria, which attests to the inter-regional slave trade: “This slave here was sold out of Borythenes, his name is Phaulles.”[72] The provenance of the slave was not necessarily that of the letter, but we are always in the northern region of the Euxine Pontus.

3§12 The picture might be completed by reference to the places where the letters were sent or where they were found. Sometimes the clues are contained in the letters themselves, as in the letter of Torone, where the sender says he was in Mende to buy wood, but in most cases the historian has to identify the places. Thus, in the letter of Massalia, no geographical indication is given: the sender could be somewhere in the territory, in another settlement of Massalia or even in the city. Apatorios, as well as Achillodoros, were in the hinterland, because the letters were found in Olbia, respectively Berezan. A letter sent to someone named Protagores was found in a secondary settlement of Olbia, at Mount Živakhov.[73] The sender must have resided in Olbia, or in Tyras or Nikonion, since the Mont Živakhov is halfway between Tyras and Berezan Island.

3§13 The letter of Mnesiergos, found in Attica (at Chaïdari near Daphni, around 7 kilometers from Athens)[74] had to be brought “into the pottery workshop”,[75] or “into the pottery district”. As the Athenian people used the name of the property to refer to sections of the market where the products were sold,[76] A. Wilhelm supposed that the letter would be delivered “in the pottery section” of the market in Athens. Nevertheless, we cannot be sure: it may be a workshop or a market elsewhere. Indeed, we have no evidence for the location of Mnesiergos and his family, excepting that the letter was found in Chaïdari, ancient deme of Hermos: is it the case that Mnesiergos is in Athens and the family is in the chôra (in this case, the letter could be found in situ), or that he is in the countryside and the family in the city,[77] or are they all in the countryside? What we can again point out is that the letters were circulating within a more or less restricted perimeter: the ceramic workshop was a known landmark, enough to not require further precision.

Connecting People

4§1 As shown by the letter of Mnesiergos, the place where the letter was to be carried was not the only evidence of delivery; the persons to whom it was addressed offer the other essential reference. Why would the correspondents have written, since, given the short distances, they could have entrusted such short messages to a relative or a friend to communicate orally? We must consider the impact of the practice upon society: sending a letter rather than an oral message itself bears significance. Although we note in some cases the ignorance of the epistolary form and some errors,[78] writing was not a trivial matter. The spread of literacy therefore played an important role in letter writing.[79] Furthermore, the hands are formed, the spelling is generally correct and the stroke is accurate.[80] Since the archaic period, letter writing appear to be not exceptional, but ordinary communication.

4§2 In Athens, as shown by Chr. Pébarthe, public places and public opinions were shaped by writing, whereas the sources show the ordinary use of writing in everyday life.[81] In a general manner, the distinction between a merchant, who uses the above knowledge for practical purposes, and the aristocrat, who uses it for much nobler aims such as the creation of symposiac poetry, is artificial.[82] Moreover, writing is not limited to the main emporoi who were often those who participated in banquets. It is also mastered by smaller traders who used it to draft their contracts or to send letters using available material. Thus, the merchant is far from being illiterate, as already shown by J.-P. Wilson.[83] Private correspondence, therefore, represents one of the rare means at our disposal to evaluate literacy in antiquity beyond the elite circles.

4§3 Indeed, if letters can be sent in emergency situations,[84] most of them are used for the everyday communication. The people inquired about the health of their family and gave news––for example, letters found at Chaïdari and Nikonion––even if there are more urgent matters to be addressed. However, we must take into account the evolution of the epistolary form. The letter of Marseille, more recent, provides not only a developed praescriptum but also a closing formula: “Megistes to Leukon, greetings. If you are in good health, you do well; we are in good health too (…) Farewell” – Μεγισ̣τῆς Λεύκωνι χαίρειν. Εἰ̣ ὑγιαίνεις, καλῶς ποεῖς· ὑγιαίνομεν δὲ κ[α]ὶ ἡμεῖς (…) Εὐτύχει. The message could be addressed to the family and relatives, as shown by the formula “to those at home” found in the letter of Artikon of Olbia Pontike,[85] in that of Mnesiergos or in that of Dionysios (at Nikonion).[86] The family is one of the privileged recipients as well because the communication concerns the common interest and because the closest business associates are the sons, brothers and even wives. Thus, in a letter from the Olbian agora, a son is mentioned, perhaps that of the sender;[87] Achillodoros wrote to his son to bring his problems to the attention of Anaxagores; when Dionysios wrote “at home”, he gives good health news for him and his son. As for Mnesiergos, he recommends that his letter be handed “to Nausias or Thrasykles or the son”. The “son” is probably the son of Thrasykles, which is mentioned before him, but we should also consider that he could be the Mnesiergos’ own son. If it is true, the son had to work with Mnesiergos’ business partners.

4§4 The letter on clay tablet of Rhodes was sent by the recipient’s brother, Energos, which is a name only once attested.[88] The two brothers seem to have been artisans, as is suggested by the evocation of materials like clay, soot, bronze and silver. The involvement of the wives in the family matters, also, shall not be questioned, although the lack of detail not allows assessing their true weight in the decision-making. One wonders why Achillodoros advises his son to inform not only Anaxagores but also his wife about difficulties.[89] Apatorios requests Leanax to send the diphtheria to “Herakleides and Thathaiê”. This last name is surely a female name:[90] Thathaiê was actively involved in keeping records. In the end, a useful clue of the trust placed in the wife to manage the family business is offered by Dionysios’ letter of Nikonion. Although it is generally addressed to “those at home”, the participle aorist ἀποδοῦσα indicates that in reality the instructions were for the wife.[91]

4§5 There were the relatives, always, who are asked for help by letter: the young Lesis, abused in the foundry, writes to Xenokles and his own mother to find a better place for him. Xenokles is not the father of Lesis, otherwise he would have called on as such[92] and the son would not need to write to his mother; the latter seems to be the closest relative of the boy. Achillodoros wrote to his son Protagores, certainly already adult since he had to take care of his mother and his brothers. The professional relationship between Achillodoros and Anaxagores or between Apatorios and Leanax[93] would require a separate treatment.[94] It is obvious that if the letters were sent in moments of distress, they would form the main principle for further communication between the various economic agents who roamed the hinterland and those who coordinated the operations. Sending diphtheria[95] implies another form of mobility, that of the messenger dispatched by Leanax to bring them to the attention of Herakleides and Thathaiê.

4§6 The letter may also disclose frictions: if we consider that the document sent by someone named Pasion is a letter, and that this person is the famous Athenian banker,[96] the letter recommends the prosecution of some opponents of Pasion, whose names are surprisingly those of some enemies of his son Apollodorus.[97] In this case, the letter is sent not to an opponent, but its content alludes to a conflict. However, the letter found at Mount Živakhov is a threatening message to the recipient’s addressee.[98]

4§7 Apart from these situations, where the tone of the letter suggests some tension, relations are cordial, the atmosphere is friendly. In the letter found in Chaïdari, Mnesiergos remains polite: “if you please” (εἴ τι βο̄́λεστε). In the letter of Massalia, Megistes describes the situation and explains what is to be done. We might interpret the relationship between the persons in this letter without seeing a hierarchy:[99] Oulis could be a merchant, business partner of Megistes, the latter could be the owner and Leukon––the boat captain. The letter is a privileged communication instrument: it allows a glimpse of the human networks and it maintains them.


5§1 It should be noted, in conclusion, that the area of the business mentioned in the content of the letters––namely, the commercial networks––seems to concern the same area revealed by the connections between persons, that is, the correspondence networks. People are hubs of the networks, connected by the lines woven by letters.[100] From these contacts, cross-linked structures are born, which create a map of the territory and social networks. If some epistulae alluded to in the Demosthenic corpus demonstrate the role played by letters in long-distance trade, the ostraca and lead letters were sent within a more restricted area.[101] We had the occasion to explore the area where the messages were spread, emphasizing the local and regional networks. The letter travels a distance that its senders or its receivers have, without doubt, never entirely crossed: it is, somehow, the most seasoned traveler. In this way, it is the letter that puts in touch masters and subordinates, families, business partners and friends.


Abbreviations of epigraphical corpus:

IGDOP = Dubois, L. 1996. Inscriptions grecques dialectales d’Olbia du Pont. Geneva.

IGF = Decourt, J.C. 2004. Inscriptions grecques de la France. Lyon (TMOM 38).

IGEP = Hoz, M. P. de. 2014. Inscripciones griegas de España y Portugal. Madrid.

IGB I² = Mihailov, G. 1970. Inscriptiones Grecae in Bulgaria repertae. I². Sofia.


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[1] I am deeply grateful to Peter Liddel (Manchester) for his attentive reading, for improving my English and his useful suggestions.

[2] Ceccarelli 2013.

[3] Cicero Letters to His Friends 2.4.1.

[4] Ceccarelli 2005.

[5] See Dickey 1996; Trapp 2003:34–38.

[6] Muir 2009:14, quotes only five documents (“it seems that the lead sheets were an exceptional writing material”), despite the lists given by Jordan 2000b:91–92; Jordan 2003:30–35; Jordan 2007:1355–1366; Dana 2004:1n2; Dana 2007:68–69. Other scholars, like Stirewalt Jr. 1993, do not even mention them.

[7] See recently Jordan 1985; Jordan 2000a; Gager 1992. For the questions addressed to the oracle of Dodona, on sheets of lead, Lhôte 2006; Eidinow 2007. For the practice of sending messages on lead, mentioned by literary sources: Plutarch On the Virtues of Women 254 D (same stratagem in Parthenius Of the Sorrows of Love 9.5, Polyaenus Stratagems of War 8.36); in the Roman world: Cassius Dio 46.36; Frontinus The Stratagems 3.13.7. See also Liddel 2015.

[8] Kroll 1977.

[9] About the lead as a material, see Curbera 2015.

[10] Decourt 2014:27 and 42; see also Bravo and Wolicki 2016.

[11] Herodotus 5.58. For other examples, see Dana 2004:8–9. On the use of this writing support, see Reed 1972.

[12] Gabrielsen 2013. Alexandria was not only three and a half days from Rhodes, but also the road seemed to be open all year ([Demosthenes], Against Dionysodorus, Or. 56.30). The merchants charged at lower rates for this route than, for example, for the route Piraeus–Egypt ([Demosthenes], Or. 56.12–13), which was more dangerous and therefore produced higher profits.

[13] See also Aristotle Economics II, 33a.

[14] [Demosthenes], Or. 56, 7–10.

[15] Demosthenes, Against Phormio, Or. 34.8.

[16] [Demosthenes], Or. 56.1.

[17] See also Harris 2013:122–123.

[18] Gabrielsen 2013:79n41, thanks A. Dreliossi-Herakleidou and I. Chr. Papachristodoulou for their permission to mention this new material; it will soon be published with a historical commentary.

[19] Gabrielsen 1997:107 and 197n. 128; Faraguna 2002:246; Gabrielsen 2013:79–81.

[20] Dana 2012:67–71.

[21] Müller 2010:191–217 (ch. VII).

[22] Ceccarelli 2013:11.

[23] IGEP 126 (c. 500 BCE).

[24] See the same support for an unpublished letter of Thasos (forthcoming).

[25] For Achillodoros (550–500 BCE), see IGDOP 23 et Ceccarelli 2013:335–336, no. 1; for Apatorios (end of sixth century BCE.), see the first edition of Dana 2004, and Ceccarelli 2013:338, no. 5; for Kledikos (second half of fifth century BCE-beginning of fourth century BCE), see Pavličenko and Kašaev 2012; Belousov and Saprykin 2013; Ceccarelli 2013:344–345, no. 18.

[26] For Mnesiergos (beginning of the fourth century BCE): first edition: Wünsch 1897:II–III; other editions: Wilhelm 1904; see also Ceccarelli 2013:352, no. 39. For the letter of Massalia (third century BCE): IGF 4.

[27] IGF 71.

[28] See Eidinow and Taylor 2010:35.

[29] Jordan 2000 (beginning of the fourth century BCE) (SEG L 276); Ceccarelli 2013:353, no. 41.

[30] Lang 1976:8, no. B1 (mid–sixth century BCE); Ceccarelli 2013:351, no. 35.

[31] Dana 2007:89–90, no. 13; Ceccarelli 2013:343, no. 13.

[32] Lang 1976:8, no. B2 (c. 500 BCE) and Ceccarelli 2013:351, no. 36; Lang 1976:9, no. B7 (second quarter of the fifth century BCE) and Ceccarelli 2013:351, no. 37.

[33] Lang 1976:9, no. B9 (last quarter of the fifth century BCE); Ceccarelli 2013:352, no. 38.

[34] Dana 2007:79-81, no. 5 (second half of the fourth century BCE); Ceccarelli 2013:342, no. 11.

[35] First edition: Sanmartí and Santiago 1987 (SEG XXXVII 838). See also Slings 1994; Ceccarelli 2013:346–347, no. 23; IGEP 129.

[36] Sanmartí and Santiago 1987:123. On Emporion as an emporion, see Demetriou 2012:24–63.

[37] Hoz 2014:112.

[38] Gangutia Elícegui 1999:11n48.

[39] See Hoz 1994; Hoz 1999; Santiago and Gardeñes 2002.

[40] Santiago 1990a; Santiago 1994:51.

[41] Sanmartí and Santiago 1988:100.

[42] Santiago 1990b; Musso 1986-1989 (SEG XLII 972). See also Domínguez 2010:36.

[43] Oller Guzmán 2013.

[44] First edition by Lejeune et al. 1988 (cf. L. Dubois, 1990, 849; SEG XXXVIII 1036). Selective bibliography: Chadwick 1990; Lejeune 1991; Rodriguez Somolinos 1996; Vinogradov 1998:166–170; Pébarthe and Delrieux 1999; IGF 135.

[45] Lejeune 1991:316.

[46] Colonna 1988; Sanmartí–Grego 1988.

[47] Lejeune et al. 1988:35.

[48] See Domínguez 2006; Bats 2012.

[49] The letter was found in 1997 and mentioned for the first time by Hesnard 1999 (cf. Decourt, 2000, 751); edited in IGF 4.

[50] See Decourt 2004:9n55.

[51] IGB I² 435: Μεγιστῆς Ἀλκάνδρō.

[52] IG XII.8 277, line 19; for the accentuation, see Daux 1967:21.

[53] Masson 1988.

[54] See lastly Morel 2006:1776–1780 (“Oulis, de Velia à Marseille”).

[55] On the epigraphical evidence of the sanctuary of Acapte, see recently Mullen 2013:243–262.

[56] Lattes: Bats 2010; Agde: IGF 130. Another lead letter was found in Ruscino and will be published by J. de Hoz.

[57] Henry 1991 (SEG XLIII 488; cf. Hatzopoulos, 1994, 429); see the last commentary in Henry 2004:72–74, T 91. See also Ceccarelli 2013:350–351, no. 33.

[58] See Knoepfler 2007:111–113 (Torone) and 114–115 (Mende).

[59] Meiggs 1982: 188–217.

[60] Mulliez 1982.

[61] IGDOP 23; Ceccarelli 2013:335–336, no. 1 (translation).

[62] Stephanus Byzantius, s. v. Ἀβρινάται· Ποντικὸν ἔθνος, ὁ δὲ τεχνικός [sc. Herodianus] φησι καὶ μετὰ τοῦ ρ̄ καὶ χώρις τοῦ ρ̄ λέγεται. See Dubois 1996:51.

[63] Awianowicz 2009 and 2011; Ceccarelli 2013:345, no. 20.

[64] Oller Guzmán 2014:174.

[65] Dana 2007:83–86, no. 8 (c. 400 BCE); Ceccarelli 2013:340–341, no. 8 (translation). See also Müller 2009:101.

[66] IGDOP 24; Bravo 2000-2001:162–164; Ceccarelli 2013:338–340, no. 6.

[67] See Dubois 1996:59.

[68] Herodotus 4.53: Ἱππόλεω ἄκρη.

[69] Rusjaeva 1987:147.

[70] Herodotus 4.18–19.

[71] Stephanus Byzantius, s.v. Τύρας, gives the ehnonyme Τυρανοί (on coins, see Ehrhardt 1988:350n560). Herodotus 4.51 named them Τυρῖται.

[72] Dana 2007:87-88, no. 12 (last quarter of the sixth century BCE); Ceccarelli 2013:337–338, no. 4. See also Bravo 2013:66–68. On the double name of the city, Olbia/Borysthenes, see Müller 2010:48–49.

[73] Dana 2007:87–88, no. 12 (c. 400 BCE); Ceccarelli 2013:340, no. 7.

[74] See above note 26.

[75] For such indications, compare P. Oxy. II 300 verso (first century AD), εἰς τὸ γυμνάσι(ον) Θέωνι Νικοβούλ(ου) ἐλεοχρείστηι (sic).

[76] Cf. Aristophanes Lysistrata 557; Pollux 7.163.

[77] Eidinow and Taylor 2010:50, no. A 1.

[78] On the “functional literacy”, “enough literacy to get by”, see Thomas 2009.

[79] Pébarthe 2006:82–83.

[80] See Dana 2015.

[81] Pébarthe 2006.

[82] Ceccarelli 2013:29; on the link between literacy and commercial practices, see Lombardo 1988.

[83] Wilson 1997-1998.

[84] Eidinow and Taylor 2010:36, 39–40 and 46.

[85] IGDOP 25 (c. 350 BCE).

[86] Eidinow and Taylor 2010:34; Decourt 2014:35.

[87] Dana 2007:72-75, no. 2; Ceccarelli 2013:336-337, no. 3.

[88] On the possibility of its construction with the element ἔργον (cf. Μνησίεργος, Ἐργοκλῆς, Ἐρ[γ]οχάρης), see Hoz 2014:114.

[89] We must correct in this point the translation of Jordan 2003:30–31, no. I, and Jordan 2007:1356–1357, no. I, followed by Eidinow and Taylor 2010:38, according to which the wife is that of Achillodoros.

[90] Male name: Wilson 1997–1998:38; Ceccarelli 2013:338; women name: Dana 2004:9; Santiago Álvarez and Gardeñes Santiago 2006:61–62 (Ouathaiê, Iranian name); Eidinow and Taylor 2010:37–38n34.

[91] Oller Guzman 2014:172–173.

[92] Jordan 2000:97; Harris 2006:276; Harvey 2007:50.

[93] About the category of the agents and mediators, see Pouilloux 1988 (with the objections of Bats 1994); Wilson 1997–1998; contra, Harris 2013.

[94] See Dana 2016.

[95] Bravo 2011:78–79, considers that Leanax should send a letter. The plural is nevertheless problematic because it is not clear why a letter would have required more « piccoli fogli incollati insieme » (p. 78).

[96] Letter: Jordan 2003 and Jordan 2007:1359–1360, no. 8; contra: Bravo and Wolicki 2016. For the identity as the banker Pasion: Jordan 2003 and Bravo and Wolicki 2016; contra: Gauthier, 2004, 140; Sosin, 2008; Decourt 2014:36.

[97] [Demosthenes], Against Nicostratus, Or. 53.

[98] See above note 73. For a different opinion, see Bravo 2013:68–73 (katadesmos).

[99] Decourt 2004:10 and Decourt 2014:46.

[100] For the networks theory in ancient history, see Malkin et al. 2009.

[101] It is therefore necessary to relativize the distance (Eidinow and Taylor 2010:32 and 48); cf. also Decourt 2014:36.

About Madalina Dana

Madalina Dana (PhD École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) is an Assistant Professor in Ancient Greek History at the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. Her research focuses on cultural history with special interest in mobility and exchanges in cultural context. Her publications include a book about the cultural and professional networks between the Euxine Pontus and the Mediterranean, a co-edited volume about Greek and Roman colonization, and many articles on literacy and epigraphic practices, mobility of the scholars and local history. At the CHS, her project concerns the publication of a corpus of Greek letters on lead and ostraka, coming principally from the edges of the Greek world, that is the northern shore of the Black Sea and the western regions. She will be exploring the literacy of merchants, before treating the economic, commercial and juridical aspects and also the contacts with local populations in colonial milieu. She also co-directs a program at center AnHiMa in Paris, Diktynna. Épigraphie et société dans les mondes hellénistique et romain.

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