Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.12.31

Umberto Laffi, Il trattato fra Sardi ed Efeso degli anni 90 a.C.. Studi ellenistici 22.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2010.  Pp. 144.  ISBN 9788862272094.  €80.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Richard Westall, Pontificia Università Gregoriana (

Table of Contents

The documentary evidence for the Hellenic cities under Roman rule in Asia Minor is vast, and any publication that advances the cause of reconstituting, elucidating, and making this evidence available is to be lauded. In the book under review, Professor Umberto Laffi of the Università di Pisa provides a new critical edition with Italian translation and commentary of the treaty that was concluded between the cities of Sardis and Ephesus through the good offices of Pergamum and under the watchful gaze of a representative of the Roman governor Q. Mucius Scaevola. The proper treatment of this inscription is complicated, involving the consideration in precise detail of material remains, linguistic usage, legal practice, and socio-economic implications. In a discussion running to just over 100 pages, Laffi provides a detailed reconstruction and interpretation of a late Hellenistic Greek inscription of which there survive some 74 lines.

Chapter 1 (pp. 15-24) is dedicated to a physical description of the five fragments (A, B, C, D, E) that were recovered by German excavators active at Pergamum in 1883-1886, arguing persuasively that earlier editors were correct in thinking that these fragments belong to the same epigraphic dossier. In Chapter 2 (pp. 25-49), focusing upon fragments A and B, Laffi argues that the title of the dossier was in all likelihood [Συνθῆκαι Σαρδιαν]ῶν κ[αὶ Ἐφεσί]ων and seeks to establish the text of the initial part of the letters of Scaevola to Sardis and Ephesus. In Chapter 3 (pp. 51-59), Laffi focuses upon fragment C, seeking not only to establish its text but also to relate its content to that of the preceding fragments. Chapter 4 (pp. 61-72) is dedicated to furnishing readers with a critical edition (accompanied by selective commentary) and an Italian translation of the entire document. In Chapter 5 (pp. 73-98), Laffi focuses upon fragments D and E, providing a commentary that continues the detailed philological work of Chapters 2 and 3 by citing and discussing parallels for the transmitted text. Chapter 6 (pp. 99-101) is dedicated to the observation that, in the copy transmitted at Pergamum, there is no clause regarding the taking of an oath to observe this treaty. In Chapter 7 (pp. 103-105), Laffi discusses and concludes in favor of the possibility that a fragmentary inscription recovered at Sardis belongs to the initial portion, now lost, of the treaty between Sardis and Ephesus. Chapter 8 (pp. 107-112) poses the question of why this particular treaty was concluded and provides an initial response by noting the various instances in which disputes between Greek states were resolved through third-party negotiation or arbitration, often at the behest of the Senate. In Chapter 9 (pp. 113-117), Laffi refines earlier interpretations of this inscription by observing that it refers to that treaty as an “agreement”, without mention of a decision having been delivered by the city of Pergamum. Lastly, in Chapter 10 (pp. 119-122), Laffi reviews the problem posed by the military clauses within the treaty and the debate over whether they were tralatician in nature, and a polite fiction, or possibly meant to have an actual application. While recognizing theoretical reasons for the presence of tralatician clauses of this sort within the treaty, he convincingly argues that the clauses were meant to have practical effect. As fate would have it, however, the first instance in which this treaty’s military clauses had potential application was the first Mithridatic war and the course taken by events made it undesirable for subsequent Roman governors to repeat the experiment permitted by Scaevola. This epigraphic dossier recording a treaty effected between Sardis and Ephesus at some point in the 90s BCE emerges as a product of that particular moment in time.

The translation is reliable and Laffi makes a number of excellent points in the course of his detailed handling of this treaty. Most useful, in the reviewer’s opinion, is his refutation of the thesis advanced by K.J. Rigsby in 1988 that the texts of A+B and C come from different stones and deal with two different issues.1 To demonstrate that all five fragments belonged to one and the same stele is no small reassurance of the validity of past attempts to interpret this dossier. Equally good is his display of philological acumen in remarking that grammar confirms the stone’s reading of the future active participle [παρακα]λέσοντα at II C lines 10-11 (cf. I C lines 10-11) and in following Dittenberger in the decision to restore an epanaleptic ταῦτα rather than a banal τότε at D+E line 8. As for historical considerations, Laffi does provide a helpful, albeit far too brief, treatment of the ambassadors of Sardis and Ephesus who were involved in the resolution of this conflict (pp. 59).2 Laffi’s treatment of the military clauses within the treaty struck the reviewer as making a good case for their being meant to have real effect rather than being merely the polite, but empty expressions that E.S. Gruen and others have judged them to be. Lastly, in this rapid review of noteworthy achievements, it is to be remarked that Laffi provides a very full bibliography for those who wish to pursue such matters in greater detail.

On the other hand, there are a number of points where readers will find either that Laffi’s treatment is insufficiently clear or that they quite simply prefer to follow prior editors in their reading of this document. As an example of the former, Laffi provides bibliography without offering an overview of the debate concerning the date at which Scaevola was governor of Asia (p. 26-27). Indeed, mention of Scaevola’s sojourn at Athens after his time as governor in Asia and the failed attempt to prosecute him upon return to Rome for his actions in Asia would have been in order, so as to provide readers with further historical context.3 In printing both γυμνικοὺς and σκηνικοὺς within the critical edition at I A line 6 and II A+B line 6, Laffi abdicates an editor’s responsibility to decide. Other examples of questionable restoration of the text include the proposal at II A+B line 7, which rests upon the decision to read Ν where all previous editors have seen ΑΙ, and the restorations ἔπεμ[ψα] and τῶν ἐ[μῶν φίλων] at II C lines 6 and 7 respectively despite Scaevola’s clearly attested use of the first-person plural in the immediately following lines 9 and 11.4 The decision to print ἐξέστωι rather than ἐξέστω{ι} at III (D+E) line 6 seems ultra-conservative, for Laffi himself recognizes that this is an instance of the parasitic iota (p. 68). Lastly, occasional typographical errors appear in the critical edition, e.g. the lack of square brackets about the supernumerary first line that he has restored to II C (pp. 52 and 64, consistently); Fränkel’s eminently sensible restoration [εὐδο]κῆσαι has been truncated to κῆσαι at II C lines 21-22 (cf. p. 66, again consistent in error). For ease of consultation and sobriety, the reviewer believes that the editions of Wankel (1979) and Ager (1996) remain preferable, in spite of Laffi’s clear contributions on occasion.5

Unfortunately, despite his insights and contribution to the study of this treaty of the 90s BCE, Laffi often seems to provide a model that the reviewer thinks ought not to be followed by others in the presentation of epigraphic materials. First and most troubling, there is the organization of this book. The standard paradigm for scholarly treatment of inscriptions is to present the text and translation and then a commentary or extended discussion. Laffi fails to follow this paradigm, thereby unnecessarily complicating the reading and consultation of this book.6 Secondly, Laffi’s use of the Roman numerals I-III as a means of organizing his discussion of the fragments A+B+C and D+E is confusing at best, and misleading at worst. There was a title indicating the contracting parties of the treaty, then followed two copies (situated side-by-side) of Scaevola’s letter to Sardis and Ephesus, and then came the treaty itself. These are the three principal divisions of the document as one reads it from top to bottom. Third but not last, there is the question of visual aids for the reader. Fresh from consultation of the marvelous images to be found in Die Inschriften von Pergamon (Vol. 8:2, 1895),7 the reviewer finds the neglect of this detail surprising and a great shame. The photograph of fragments D+E is quite difficult to read, and an artist really ought to have been employed to provide a rough sketch showing readers how Laffi reconstructs the stele as a whole.8 In an epoch where digital 1:1 scale digital photographs of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” are available, Laffi and the Staatliche Museen of Berlin ought to have considered the possibility of making available detailed digital images of this text. That is unlikely to have added to the cost of producing the book, and would have been yet another contribution to the preservation of the heritage of humanity.


1.   K.J. Rigsby, “Provincia Asia,” TAPA 118 (1988) 123-153, here 141-143. This is to be read together with his letter to Laffi cited at p. 22 n. 3.
2.   The production of a treatment of ambassadors within the Hellenic world similar to that effected by F. Canali (Le ambascerie dal mondo greco a Roma in età repubblicana. Roma 1997) for those Greek ambassadors who dealt with Rome, is a desideratum. Is there anyone willing to organize an international équipe to this end?
3.   The two items were connected, as emerges from the memorable description left to posterity by Lucilius 2.88-94 (= 87-95 Krenkel). For discussion and further bibliography, see also C. Habicht, Athens from Alexander to Antony, tr. D. Lucas Schneider, Cambridge 1997, 293-294.
4.   It is worth observing that the need to restore ἐπέμ[ψαμεν] at II C line 6 leaves a lacuna of only two letters at most in the name of the Athenian who oversaw resolution of this conflict. From consultation of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, Vol. II: Attica and the PHI Greek epigraphy database, it would appear that the most likely restoration of this individual’s name is [Σῶ]σον Φυλοτίμου), even if this individual is otherwise unattested to date.
5.   H. Wankel, ed., Die Inschriften von Ephesos, IA, Bonn 1979, 37-47 nr. 7; S.L. Ager, Interstate Arbitrations in the Greek World, 337-90 B.C., Berkeley 1996, 496-502 nr. 170.
6.   The reviewer would add that Laffi habitually renders it quite difficult for the reader to find the initial, full reference to the scholarship that he cites. For example, the reader encounters the abbreviated form of Heller, Les bêtises des Grecs, in the text at p. 110, whereas the full citation occurs at p. 28 n.3.
7.   Available on-line at, nr. 268.
8.   Maps for Sardis, Ephesus, and Pergamum, so as to help readers also visualize where this document was set up for public viewing, would have also been a good idea. Topography is not to be neglected.

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