Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.04.08

Raif Georges Khoury (ed.), Urkunden und Urkundenformulare im klassischen Altertum und in den orientalischen Kulturen. Bibliothek der Klassischen Altertumswissenschaften N. F., 2. Reihe, Band 104.   Heidelberg:  Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1999.  Pp. 228.  ISBN 3-8253-0895-2.  DM 78.  

Reviewed by Robert Rollinger, Institut für Alte Geschichte, Universität Innsbruck, Austria (
Word count: 2012 words


Giovanni Pettinato, Karlheinz Deller, Fritz Gschnitzer, Angelos Chaniotis, Anne Jacquemin, J.-F. Bommelaer, Gerard Siebert, A. Chauvot, J.M. David, Johannes Diethart, Raif Georges Khoury, Werner Diem, Stefan Leder, Michel Barbot, Claude Gilliot, Albert Arazi, Seyfeddin Najmabadi

The publication is a product of the scientific collaboration between the Universities of Heidelberg (Fakultät für Orientalistik und Altertumswissenschaft) and Strasbourg (Centre de Recherches sur le Proche-Orient, la Grèce Antique et le Groupe d'Histoire Romaine). It includes the papers presented in a symposium at Heidelberg in 1994, thematically concentrating on documents and their formulae. The volume has a very broad chronological frame. Classic, that is Greek and Roman studies represent less than the half of the contributions. Apart from seven articles concerned with the classical world there are two dealing with the Ancient Near East, one focusing on Byzantine matters and seven looking at phenomena of the early Islamic world.

The Ancient Near East is represented by two studies. Giovanni Pettinato deals with "Ebla: il trionfo della burocrazia ovvero la meticolosità e rigore dei conti pubblici evidenziati dalle clausole amministrative" (p. 11-27). Pettinato briefly introduces the history of the famous Italian excavations at Ebla-Tell Mardikh with its impressive Palace archive going back to the middle of the third millennium B.C.1 After presenting a survey of the economic and administrative documents he focuses on the developed system of classification of economic transactions used by the ancient scribes at the end of the documents as well as to the various technical expressions used to qualify the transactions themselves in the documents. Pettinato concludes "che gli eblati, maestri indiscussi nell'arte del commercio, godevano di una amministrazione sofisticatissima, sempre attenta e ocultata nella gestione degle affari, ma al contempo preparatissima e talmente esperta nella difficile tecnica di memorizzazione dei vari processi economici" (p. 27).

Karlheinz Deller's article, "Aus dem mittelassyrischen Pfandrecht: Ersatz eines Pfändlings durch eine andere, besser qualifizierte Person" (p. 29-36), does not give a general view of the middle Assyrian documentation and its features2 but examines a special document which has some remarkable peculiarities. This document RE 19 originating from the vicinity of Emar3 exhibits some firsts found until now only in the later Neo-Assyrian material. Like the so-called Risikoklausel concerning the death and flight of the indebted person as well as the exchange of such an individual for another one, which seems to be a totally singular case. Deller regards this document as an important indication of the bridge between Middle and Neo-Assyrian documentation, testifying to a continuous development between these two epochs.

Fritz Gschnitzer opens the classical section of the volume with his article on "Indirekte Beurkundung in den griechischen Inschriften" (p. 37-50). Indirekte Beurkundung (indirect recording) is defined by Gschnitzer as a documentation of a legal act not by announcing the act itself but by documenting the fees, rates, tributes or taxes connected with this procedure. Gschnitzer concentrates his study on some late classical and Hellenistic documents, all representing the practice of indirect recording. They encompass the emancipation of slaves in Thessaly, Crete, Cos, Epidauros and Byllis in Illyria as well as the phialai exeutherikai from Athens. He also focuses on the Rationes centesimarum (real estate purchase in Athens) and the Attic tributary lists formally recording the sixtieth part of the tribute as donation for Athena. Unfortunately, Gschnitzer does not discuss the what might have led to this sort of documentation but is contented with pointing at the problem.

Angelos Chaniotis also turns his attention to a specific phenomenon connected with Hellenistic documents: "Empfängerformular und Urkundenfälschung: Bemerkungen zum Urkundendossier von Magnesia am Mäander" (p. 51-69). Chaniotis starts from the well attested general practice of the Greek poleis and states engaged in diplomatic affairs of adopting texts and expressions already formulated by their partners. These texts described by Chaniotis as Empfängerformulare seem to play an important role in the process of standardising the formal speech of Greek documents. He presents possible occasions where such adoptions might have taken place and then discusses some special cases where the surviving source material allows more precise insight into the relevant procedures. Outstanding in this respect are so-called Urkundendossiers, an accumulation of documents dealing with the same matter but originating from different states. Among others, Chaniotis analyses the dossier published around 203 B.C. at Magnesia on the Maeander, encompassing 65 documents testifying to the city's endeavour to propagate its Leukophryeneia and gain recognition for its asylia by other states. Chaniotis shows how it is possible to reconstruct a large part of the lost Magnesian psephisma dealing with the matter and to grasp in this way the different reactions of the various states confronted with the Magnesian delegation. He also stresses the importance of such an analysis in recognising the spread of a uniform Greek diplomatic language, combined with the extension of common legal institutions in the Hellenistic world. Incidentally, such documents represent excellent source material for the study of the Greek dialects and the development of a Hellenistic Koine.

It is these dialects which Anne Jacquemin focuses on in her study "Le rédacteur et le lapicide: 'barbouillage dialectal' et repentirs dans les inscriptions de Delphes" (p. 71-81). Jacquemin looks at the inscriptions from Delphi between the fourth century B.C. and the second century A.D. and the problem of the broad range of Greek dialects represented in this material. She argues for Delphian tolerance for different dialects and the ability to understand them. In so doing, Jacquemin pleads for an adequate modern approach to these documents, where corrections in a puristic manner unifying the language are not able to deal with all aspects of this important source material.

Delphi is also in the centre of the study presented by J.-F. Bommelaer: "Traces de l'épigraphie delphique dans le texte de Pausanias" (p. 83-93). Bommelaer concentrates on the general and important question of the reliability of Pausanias, comparing his statements with existing monuments and their inscriptions. He also focuses on the question whether Pausanias himself read and used inscriptions for his Periegesis. From the beginning Bommelaer makes clear the way he wants to interpret Pausanias' work. The Greek author has not written "une description comme on le dit trop souvent" but "un commentaire ou l'équivalent d'une visite guidée" (p.83). Bommelaer then discusses some examples where Pausanias is silent on documents one would have expected him to have spoken about, as well as some incomplete enumerations presented by the author. Finally he turns to the monument of the Arcadians, dedicated after the battle of Leuctra. Bommelaer compares Pausanias' descriptions with the texts of still existing epigrams and argues for the author's use of these texts in presenting the order of the statues. Concerning the motif for the erection of the monument the difference between Pausanias and another epigram leads Bommelaer to propose the existence of a now lost inscription which Pausanias might have used. He concludes that Pausanias "paraît avoir été plus attentif aux inscriptions qu'on ne l'a dit" (p.91).

Gérard Siebert examines "Dédicaces déliennes et culture bilingue" (p. 95-101). The chronological frame of this inquiry is roughly between 120 B.C. and 80 B.C. when the Italian colony on the island became stronger and a special multilingual milieu came into being. Siebert turns to inscriptions from the Italian Agora, which he understands as an enclave italienne en terre grecque. It seems difficult to deduce specific rules that determine whether a Greek, Latin or bilingual inscription was erected, and Siebert concludes by pointing to the flexible political practice of Rome, which developed a kind of osmosis or equilibrium with the Hellenic culture on Delos and which had no interest in linguistic matters.4

With A. Chauvot's study "Les formulaires des dédicaces du De Rebus Bellicis et de l'Epitoma re militaris" (p. 103-112) a big step to Late Antiquity is taken. His inquiry concentrates on the literary aspects of the dedication formulas in two works of the second half of the 4th century A.D. The specific character of these dedications is that the emperor is not called by name and that both authors show no imperial request in writing the work. Both authors developed different strategies to efface this blot. Vegetius obviously was in a better position because at least with the beginning of book II he could be sure of the emperor's encouragement. Chauvot compares the prefaces of the two first books of Vegetius' epitoma and compares the formal structures with that of the preface of the anonymous De Rebus Bellicis. Whereas Vegetius uses the rhetorical and literary conventions of his time, the anonymous author leaves these paths. The dedication recedes to the background, and Chauvot asks if this stylistic feature might be one reason why the name of the author of De Rebus Bellicis was forgotten in the course of time.

J. M. David treats "Les procès-verbaux des judicia publica de la fin de la République romaine" (p. 113-125). He studies the run of the judicia publica and pays special attention to the official announcements accompanying the procedure. The analysis is based on the lex Acilia repetundarum (FIRA 1,7), Cicero and Asconius' commentary. David observes that Asconius' commentaries differ in density and exactness of information, and he connects this fact with the publication of the relevant material in the acta diurna by Caesar. Only after this time did the commentator have a precise source at his disposal.

Johannes Diethart's article is called "Christliche Elemente in griechischen Papyri der byzantinischen und arabischen Zeit aus Ägypten" (p.127-133). He examines Kleindokumente (i. e. receipts, orders, lists, letters etc.) concerning everyday life in Byzantine and Arabic Egypt where Christian elements appear in a stereotyped manner. Diethart distinguishes between symbols (i. e. christogram, staurogram and some not yet definitively explained symbols) and religious formulas of various content. He interprets these elements as ecclesiastical-religious propaganda showing an ecclesia triumphans.

With K. G. Khoury's study "Vielfalt und Bedeutung der Dokumente in den ersten islamischen Jahrhunderten" we enter the Middle Ages (p.135-141). All the following articles have a very broad range, not only chronological but also geographic and thematic. Whereas Khoury points to the general desideratum for a systematic inquiry into the documents of the time of early Islam, Werner Diem looks at a specific case: Dringende Bitte aus dem bedrängten Aleppo um Truppen. Anmerkungen zur Form des mamlukischen Dienstschreibens (p. 143-145). Stefan Leder focuses on Hörerzertifikate als Dokumente für die islamische Lehrkultur where he points to the importance of these documents as source material for prosopographic, demographic and historical research (p. 147-166). Michel Barbot presents a primarily linguistic study dealing with triliterism in classical Arabic: "Du mot arabe en tant que document archéologique" (p.167-185). Claude Gilliot studies the use of documents by Tabari: "Réalité et fiction dans l'utilisation des "documents" ou Tabari et les chrétiens taglibites" (p.187-202). Albert Arazi also shows a literary approach, dealing with Arabic poetry and its significance: "Al-S=i'ru 'ilmu al-'arabi wa-diwanuha (La poésie est la science des anciens Arabes et leurs archives)" (p. 203-220). Finally, Seyfeddin Najmabadi presents a historical study focusing on the end of the Sasanians and the beginning of the Arabic domination in Iran: "Wer war der letzte Schah?" (p.221-228).

The volume unites a vast range of topics only superficially bound together by focusing on documents of the ancient world. There are also literary, historical and even numismatic (Najmabadi) studies, where evidence based on documents, plays only a subordinate role. Also the interesting question of possible influences in formula and style from one culture to another is merely touched upon. Giovanni Pettinato points to the Sumerian formulas in the documents of Ebla, Karlheinz Decker draws attention to such connections between the Middle and Neo Assyrian times, Angelos Chaniotis stresses the importance of this kind of transfer within the Hellenistic world and Raif Khoury underlines that this approach might be fruitful in the future, but the volume itself does not really present a cross-cultural advertised on the cover.5 Such cross-cultural studies already exist6 but they demand a concrete formulation of approach, which this book with its enormous thematic and chronological breadth is not really able to offer. Of course, the various specialists will appreciate its richness in presenting a huge mass of material and they will refer to the articles touching upon their specific fields. But a more interdisciplinary approach dealing with the cross-cultural points of contact concerning the form and style of the documents still remains a desideratum for further research.7


1.   See now M. Krebernik, "The Linguistic Classification of Eblaite. Methods, Problems, and Results," in: J. S. Cooper/G. M. Schwartz (eds.), The Study of the Ancient Near East in the Twenty-First Century. Winona Lake 1996, 233-249.
2.   V. Korosec, "Keilschriftrecht," in: Handbuch der Orientalistik. Erste Abteilung, Ergänzungsband III. Leiden/Köln 1964, 151-161.
3.   Gary Beckman, Texts from theVvicinity of Emar in the Collection of Jonathan Rosen (History of the Ancient Near East/Monographs II). Padova 1996, p. 32-34.
4.   See M. Dubuisson, "Y a-t-il une politique linguistique romaine," Ktèma 7, 1982, 187-210.
5.   "... da man auf diese Weise eine Geschichte der Urkunden und Urkundenformulare von den alten klassischen und orientalischen Zeiten bis hin zum Islam modellhaft veranschaulichen kann. So werden Übernahmen von festen Teilen und abweichende Elemente sichtbar und ermöglichen auf diese Weise eine inderdisziplinäre Urkundenlehre."
6.   See e. g. P. Karavites, "Philotes, Homer and the Near East," Athenaeum n.s. 64 (1986), 474-481. P. Karavites, Promise-giving and treaty-making: Homer and the Near East. Leiden 1992 (Mnemosyne Suppl. 119).
7.   See now e.g. Massimo Perna (ed.), Administrative Documents in the Aegean and their Near Eastern Counterparts (Proceedings of the International Colloquium, Naples, February 29-March 2, 1996). Torino 2000.

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