Ramsey, ‘Reading the Seleucid Inscribed Dossiers’ (Oxford, May 2, 2009)

Paper delivered at the British Epigraphy Society Spring Colloquium, May 2nd, 2009, Oxford.

The second paper of the day was a summary of arguments taken from a recently awarded PhD dissertation by Gillian Ramsey (Exeter). The purpose of this presentation was to show that the inscribe dossiers, containing letters to and from administrators and governors of the provinces of the Seleucid Kingdom, are not only evidence for the prosopography, offices, and administrative structures of the kingdom, but also for the network and variety of relationships between administrators and officers. As an illustration of the arguments and methodology behind this thesis, Ramsey used the example of the letters reporting and organizing the appointment in 209 BCE by Antiochus III of Nikanor to a senior priesthood. Ramsey’s approach challenges the traditional method of interpreting these texts, which is to assume that they reveal a very regular system of administration across the kingdom: rather, she demonstrated quite convincingly, not all regions of the kingdom would have be administered with identical structures. Some letters or dossiers may attest to ad hoc appointments, or to areas with different dynastic, political , or even personal situations; equating a hierarchy ranks between regions based solely on the sequence of letters in a dossier is impossible. The circulation of the news of Nikanor’s appointment, for example, and the assignment of responsibilities regarding his authority needed to be circulated widely; in some regions, working relationships and local responsibilities would have influenced who needed to be informed of these requirements more than mere hierarchy.

The epigraphic habit records the organization of the empire, and reflects the limitations and controls of individuals’ power. The letters use a polite form of greeting and address, but contain no titulature or honorifics; differences in wording or address (such as the extra greeting included in the letter of Zeuxis to Philotas, omitted in the otherwise identical text to Philomelos) may reflect an unknown relationship between the individuals, but probably also performs some political function. The addressees of the administrative letters were selected for their effectiveness at completing the task at hand (setting up and publicizing the infrastructure behind an important priesthood); the dossiers further the imperial bureaucracy and administration, and also reinforce the cohesion of regional networks. A uniform epigraphic practice does not necessarily reflect uniform organization and ranks in different regions. Rather, the variations within and between dossiers can communicate the relationships between officials as well as the interests and responsibilities of individuals.

The paper was followed by some lively discussion of the individual inscriptions and readings in this collection, and I believe the session was informative and valuable both for the audience and for the speaker.

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