Sardis sends an embassy to Augustus

The League of Greek Cities in Asia and the assembly and elders of Sardis honour Menogenes for conducting a diplomatic mission in Rome. Augustus acknowledges the receipt of the embassy carrying a local decree which celebrated Gaius Caesar’s coming of age
Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Dossier of documents, including local decrees and an imperial letter
Original Location/Place: 
Temple of Artemis, near the north-east corner column
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Physical Characteristics: 
The stele is very well preserved, but there is a break near the bottom, and a small piece chipped in the middle of the right side. It contains several documents that are clearly paragraphed. A small preamble was inscribed inside the top stele’s tympanum, and it then continues regularly for a total of 139 lines.
The stele is 224 centimetres in height, between 64 and 55 centimetres in width, and 11 centimetres thick. The size of the letters varies from 1 to 5 centimetres, except for the beginning of Augustus’s text in which 7 centimetres is reached
Roman, Greek
Buckler, Robinson, Greek and Latin Inscriptions, no. 8 [Inscriptiones Graecae ad Res Romanas Pertinentes IV.1756]

A citizen of Sardis, Menogenes receives honours (ἐτίμησαν/etimêsan) both from the assembly and elders (γερουσία/gerousia) of his hometown, and the League (κοῖνον/koinon) of Greeks in Asia Minor. In order to record his noteworthy actions, a stele is inscribed with a dossier made up of twelve documents. Our entry only selects two of those attached: the first decree of Sardis (I) and an imperial letter sent by Augustus (II). The remaining texts (l. 28-139) mostly have a local character illustrating Menogenes’s career and embassy to Rome.

The opening of the first decree (l. 6) is formulaic, indicating that the motion has been put forward by the top board of magistrates in Sardis: the στρατηγοί/stratêgoi (see Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, XIV.10.24; Buckler and Robinson, “Greek Inscriptions,” p. 341-342). The city had been informed that Gaius Julius Caesar reached adulthood and this event motivated a series of celebratory measures precisely outlined in the rest of the document. This assumption of the toga virilis (= λαμπρὰ τήβεννος/lampra têbennos) from the toga praetexta – or that of the purple border (περιπόρφυρος/periporphyros) – is also reported by Cassius Dio, Roman History, LV.9.9 (cf. Zonaras, Epitome, X.35, p. 639), who places the ceremony at the beginning of the year 5 BCE. Gaius Caesar, the natural son of Agrippa and Julia, was adopted by Augustus – Julia’s father – in 17 BCE, when his brother Lucius Caesar was born. After the likes of Marcellus and Agrippa had died, Augustus wanted to prepare strong dynastic heirs who could secure the legacy of his Principate. Indeed, the Res Gestae (chap. 14)records that both Gaius and Lucius were designated future consuls as soon as they became 15 – i.e. their coming of age –, were considered “leaders of the youth” by the equestrians, and participated in the state councils, something unprecedented. In order to elevate even higher Gaius’s introductory ceremony at the Forum, Augustus himself became consul in 5 BCE. This dynastic move in Rome represented the hope for political continuity (and, accordingly, the decree from Sardis emphasises that it was something already desired, εὐκταιοτάτη/euktaiotatê, l. 7), and responded to their prayers (εὐχαί/euchai, l. 8). Such a reaction has to be understood in a context in which the cities of Asia Minor had already experienced certain benefits of Augustus’s regime and worshipped him as a god. The presence of solid elements of imperial cult in the area also helps us to explain the celebrations that Sardis decided to organise upon the receipt of Gaius Caesar’s coming of age news. As specified in lines 10 to 11, this day shall be sacred (ἱερά/hiera) and a series of religious ceremonies were to be held accordingly. This document is therefore important for attesting the type of acts that such celebrations could entail already under Augustus (cf. Kleanax’s activities in Kyme; SEG 32.1243). These precedents equally contribute to framing more detailed documents relating to the imperial cult, such as the Gytheion sacred law. Two aspects need to be particularly highlighted beyond the interesting details of the Sardian festivity, such as the use of white dresses, the same colour of the toga virilis. First, the ceremonies were not restricted to priests or personnel of the cult, but rather involved large groups of the local population (l. 11). Second, this was not a one-off event, because it was expected to be repeated in the future as the instructions given to the board of strategoi imply in lines 12 to 15. Finally, the continuity of acts such as the vows for the salvation (σωτηρία/sôtêria) of Gaius Caesar – cf. similar procedures attested in Achaea: SEG 23.206 – or the setting up of his representation at the father’s temple (l. 13), can also justify that when Augustus’s adopted son suddenly perished near the coasts of Lycia in 4 CE, widespread evidence for mourning is attested (e.g. D’Agata, Decreta pisana, see Rowan, Princes, p. 102-123).

The significance of the last clause of this decree (l. 15-20) is even greater for a collection of ancient sources which aims to assess the impact of Roman imperialism on provincial societies. It describes how an embassy (πρεσβεία/presbeia) was to be chosen from the best men (ἄριστοι ἄνδρες/aristoi andres) of Sardis in order to meet Augustus at Rome. The aim of this diplomatic mission was not only to congratulate him, but especially to present the decree through which the Asian city showed their loyalty and alignment to his dynastic plans (see Ando, Imperial Ideology, p. 169). In other words, the text had been devised to impress the ruler, and, as such, we can more easily understand the largely hyperbolic tone employed. This procedure of sending embassies to the ruling authorities was characteristic of the Greek cities, and became even more constant during the imperial period (Millar, The Emperor, p. 375-385; Eck, “Diplomacy”). Roman rulers had the power to benefit provincial subjects (e.g. Aphrodisias’s rights of autonomy), hence, these local entities tried to seek their attention and favour, for instance by making use of the most impressive diplomatic representatives (see Habicht, “Zum Gesandtschaftsverkehr”). Menogenes was precisely one of the two delegates chosen by Sardis, and, as a result, the people and elders of the city were grateful enough to honour him with the setting up of this large stele. Even if it is not stated in the text, many members of the elite paid for these diplomatic missions with their own funds, and long trips to Italy could involve high costs and risks (e.g. Epaminondas on behalf of the Boeotians: IG VII.2711). Furthermore, Menogenes was to speak in favour not only of Sardis but also Asia (l. 20). Thanks to other documents attached to the dossier, we know that Menogenes indeed acted as one of the public advocates of the League of Greek cities (l. 40, 58, 89-120). Both aspects would explain the participation of the organisation in his honours, as stated at the beginning.

The success of Menogenes’s mission is confirmed by the second document of the dossier. In the same year, 5 BCE – i.e. during his 19th tribunicia potestas – Augustus addresses a letter to the institutions of Sardis and acknowledges the receipt of both their decree and embassy (l. 23-25). The diplomatic delegation had consequently managed to arrive swiftly in Rome and could demonstrate that both the capital of Lydia and other cities of Asia had already accepted Gaius Caesar as a promising heir. In return, Augustus sends his congratulations and commends their happiness and effort (l. 26-27). Such a positive response could potentially be beneficial for all the actors involved, and fuelled the constant diplomatic exchange established between the communities of the eastern Mediterranean and the Roman ruler to which I referred above. Indeed, when these interconnected channels of communication existed, attitudes such as the exaggerated signs of imperial loyalty at Sardis can be better assessed in a context mostly dominated by the favours of one man, and his dynastic court.  

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