Friday, May 20, 2016


Barthélémy Grass, Ghislaine Stouder (ed.), La diplomatie romaine sous la République: réflexions sur une pratique. Actes des rencontres de Paris, 21-22 juin 2013, et Genève, 31 octobre-1er novembre 2013. Institut des sciences et techniques de l'Antiquité. Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2015. Pp. 217. ISBN 9782848675015. €18.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Hendrikus van Wijlick, Peking University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The past two decades have witnessed a surge in scholarly interest in diplomacy in the Roman world. Although the study of such diplomatic practices for most of the twentieth century still came second to larger enquiries into the history of Rome's interstate relations, or to analyses into political institutions that were involved in the management of Rome's foreign affairs (e.g. the Senate or Emperor),1 from the mid-1990s onwards a mounting interest in phenomena associated with diplomacy in the Roman world independently from geopolitical trends has found expression in an increasing number of publications.2 The present volume shares in this wave of scholarly enthusiasm. It gathers together a group of articles which find their origin at two workshops in 2013, one at the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art (INHA) in Paris and the other at the Fondation Hardt in Vandoeuvres.

Following an introduction in which the editors Barthélémy Grass and Ghislaine Stouder sketch the volume's central themes and present an overview of previous scholarship, the work comprises eight contributions that explore various aspects of diplomatic practices involving Rome. The chronological focus of the papers is predominantly on the Middle Republic (the third and second centuries BC) with some excursus into the first century BC. It is laudable that within this framework, the volume as a whole has not fallen prey to the scholarly fashion of concentrating on either the eastern or western Mediterranean, but has given due attention to both localities, even if not in each individual contribution. Certainly, not all of Rome's diplomatic activities that are sufficiently documented have been considered by the authors—the well-attested exchanges with Judaea in the second and first centuries BC being a notable example—but one cannot justifiably expect comprehensiveness of a volume comprising the proceedings of a conference. In a conclusion, Étienne Famerie provides an overview of the chief insights of the eight articles. Very useful are the indices locorum, nominum and rerum towards the end of the work. Concise abstracts in French and English of each of the contributions precede the indices. Bibliographies follow each individual paper with the exception of the conclusion.

In what follows, a brief synopsis of each of the eight papers is given.

The first contribution by Enrique García Riaza ("Le protocole diplomatique entre particularisme romain et universalisme: quelques réflexions sur l'Occident républicain") explores diplomatic practices encountered by Rome in the Iberian peninsula during its wars of expansion from the third to the first centuries BC and in Gaul during Caesar's campaign. It argues how several diplomatic rituals performed by local communities in the western Mediterranean (in particular Hispania and Gaul) in the context of an armed conflict, such as the taking of oaths as a means to solemnize military alliances or the opening and stretching of hands by entire civic populations as a sign of surrender to the Romans, are described as native (e.g. Livy, Per. 49: more eorum; Caes. BGall. 2.13). In the article, García Riaza rightly questions this qualification, pointing out that several of the rituals espoused by Iberian and Gallic communities as part of their diplomatic exchanges were shared by other peoples throughout the Mediterranean.

The paper by Ghislaine Stouder ("Négocier au nom de Rom") deals with what could be considered the prime aspect of diplomacy: negotiations—a theme that has received little attention from scholars of ancient Rome thus far. As pointed out by the author (pp. 44-45), research into Rome's negotiating practices during the Republic is complicated by the fact that our entire corpus of sources, which consists almost exclusively of literary texts (most notably the historical accounts by Polybius and Livy), is not very informative. In tracing the circumstances under which Rome engaged in such practices from the beginning of the third century BC up to the victory over king Perseus V in 168, Stouder, thus, stays clear from any attempt at drawing a comprehensive picture, focusing instead more modestly on the tasks fulfilled by Rome's representatives involved in negotiations as well as on the skills necessary to bring such exchanges to a successful end. As revealed in her analysis, the tasks of these men differed from those of modern negotiators; for legates dispatched by the Roman Senate to conduct dealings with other political entities had—unlike their modern counterparts—little room to manoeuvre, bound as they were to the mandates that they had been given.

The contribution by Anna Magnetto ("L'arbitrato dei Romani nel rapporto con la diplomazia dei Greci. Alcuni spunti di riflessione") revisits an issue that has received already a fair amount of scholarly attention: Rome's attitude towards and engagement in interstate arbitration.3 As clarified previously, Rome's stance in this matter was reserved: whereas it allowed Greek communities in the East to continue their long-standing practice of solving political disputes with others by means of arbitration, and on occasion even consented to the role of arbitrator, it generally rejected adjudication by a third party as a way to settle its own interstate conflicts. The article by Magnetto largely subscribes to this view, but adds some valuable nuances, for example, to the question of Rome facilitating arbitration in the eastern Mediterranean on a more local level between civic communities. Whereas the practice of submitting a dispute between two political entities for arbitration to a third party can be regarded as the epitome of ironing out interstate differences by diplomatic means, the deditio of a community either vanquished in an armed encounter or in fear of suffering such a defeat might more commonly be seen as an act deficient of diplomatic exchange. Yet, as Anthony-Marc Sanz clarifies in his contribution to the present volume ("La deditio: un acte diplomatique au Coeur de la conquête romaine (fin du IIIe-fin du IIe siècle avant J.-C.)"), such a claim is undeserved. As several literary and epigraphic texts suggest, certain stages of events associated with a deditio were very much interwoven with diplomacy. The offer of deditio to a Roman commander, for example, required of the surrendering party the dispatch of an official delegation, whereas Rome's enquiry into the legitimacy of such a deputation equally involved interstate communication. What is more, negotiations might have arisen in the context of certain penalties imposed on the surrendering party by the Roman commander following the acceptance of a deditio.

The paper by Denis Álvarez Pérez-Sostoa ("Clementia o 'visión diplomática': devolución voluntaria de los cautivos en la república romana") brings up the issue of hostages and prisoners-of-war during the Republic. Focusing on instances of voluntary surrender of such captives by Hannibal and P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War, and by C. Iulius Caesar in the Gallic Wars, Álvarez Pérez-Sostoa argues that the release of prisoners was a deliberate strategy to win the goodwill of the communities to which those liberated belonged. Exemplifying clementia—or, as the author calls it, a 'diplomatic vision'—the voluntary surrender of hostages and prisoners-of-war was employed to ease negotiations.

In "Les ambassadeurs des cités d'Asie mineure envoyés à Rome", Jean-François Claudon provides an analysis of the social and political background of the ambassadors dispatched to Rome by cities in Asia Minor. Relying predominantly on epigraphic texts, Claudon concludes that envoys were usually drawn from those members of the local elite who were experienced either in the internal political affairs of a community (for example through a public office) or in interstate diplomatic dealings.

Various literary and epigraphic texts inform us of ξένια or munera (i.e. "gifts") awarded by the Senate during the Middle and Late Republic to members of foreign deputations visiting Rome. What these ξένια and munera exactly entailed is explored by Barthélémy Grass in "Les presents diplomatiques à Rome (IIIe-Ie siècle av. J.-C.)". An analysis of references to presents granted to ambassadors reveals that the precise meaning of ξένια and munera varies considerably in different contexts and sources. A table included towards the end of the contribution containing references to literary and epigraphic sources that mention ξένια and munera is very illuminating in this respect.

The final contribution of the volume—by Filippo Battistoni ("Une diplomatie informelle? Quelques remarques sur les affaires des ambassadeurs grecs à Rome")—examines the role and significance of personal relations (such as those that spring from patronage or proxeny) in the diplomatic dealings maintained by communities in Greece and Asia Minor with Rome. By drawing upon various inscriptions in which reference is made to the dispatch of an embassy to Rome, Battistoni highlights not only the function of Roman patrons in supporting the case of 'their' cities before the Senate, but also the effort that it took deputies to win individual senators for their cause. Thus, patience and perseverance were naturally qualities with which individual ambassadors better be blessed.

Overall, Grass and Stouder have compiled an illuminating and well-presented volume of papers. It is praiseworthy that the system of referencing is more or less consistent throughout, even though not all the used abbreviations are explained as such (see e.g. ELRH on p. 29, which refers to Díaz Ariño's Epigrafía Latina republicana de Hispania, but is not listed in the index locorum under this abbreviation; instead it is listed under Díaz 2008). The volume is clearly designed for an audience that is acquainted with the major historical and legal framework within which Rome's diplomatic exchanges during the Republic took place. For such a readership, the present work is a valuable addition to existing publications—not so much on account of the ideas put forward, but because the conclusions reached can function as starting points of further research, for example into the wider issue of how to interpret Rome's interstate relations in Republic.


1.   Such larger enquiries on occasion included studies on diplomatic practices in the Roman: see e.g. E. Gruen, The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome I (Berkeley 1984) Ch. 3; various chapters and sections in F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (31 BC – AD 337) (London 1977); R.J.A. Talbert, The Senate of Imperial Rome (Princeton 1984) Ch. 14.
2.   See e.g. contributions by C. Auliard, J. Linderski and by J.-L. Ferrary in: E. Frézouls, A. Jacquemin (eds), Les relations internationals. Actes du colloque de Strasbourg, 15-17 juin 1993 (Paris 1995); E. Torregaray Pagola, J. Santos Yanguas (eds), Diplomacia y autorrepresentación en la Roma antigua (Vitoria 2005); C. Auliard, La diplomatie romaine. L'autre instrument de la conquête. De la fondation à la fin des guerres samnites (753-290 av. J.-C.) (Rennes 2006); C. Eilers (ed.), Diplomats and Diplomacy in the Roman World, Mnemosyne Supplements 304 (Leiden; Boston 2009) (BMCR 2009.08.68); E. Torregaray (ed.), Algunas sombras en la diplomacia romana (Vitoria 2014). In recent years, collections of sources in which Rome was engaged prepared by Filippo Canali de Rossi have greatly facilitated studies to diplomacy in the Roman world: F. Canali de Rossi, Le ambascerie del mondo Greco a Roma in età repubblicana (Rome 1997); Le ambascerie romane ad Gentes (Rome 2000); Le ambascerie straniere a Roma dall'Italia e dall'Occidente in età reggia e repubblicana (Rome 2000); Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma I: Dall'età regia alla conquista del primato in Italia (753-265 a.C.) (Rome 2005) (BMCR 2005.02.19); Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma II: Dall'intervento in Sicilia fino alla invasione annibalica (264-216 a.C.) (Rome 2007) (BMCR 2008.07.36); Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma III: Dalla resistenza di Fabio fino alla vittoria di Scipione (215-201 a.C.) (Roma 2013) (BMCR 2014.06.24).
3.   E.g. Gruen, Hellenistic World, Ch. 3.

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