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Georg Petzl / Elmar Schwertheim: Hadrian und die dionysischen Künstler. Drei in Alexandria Troas neugefundene Briefe des Kaisers an die Künstler-Vereinigung (= Asia Minor Studien; Bd. 58), Bonn: Habelt 2006, VIII + 119 S., 11 Tafeln, ISBN 978-3-7749-3507-5, EUR 49,00
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Filippo Canali de Rossi
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Matthias Haake
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Filippo Canali de Rossi: Rezension von: Georg Petzl / Elmar Schwertheim: Hadrian und die dionysischen Künstler. Drei in Alexandria Troas neugefundene Briefe des Kaisers an die Künstler-Vereinigung, Bonn: Habelt 2006, in: sehepunkte 8 (2008), Nr. 3 [15.03.2008], URL:

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Georg Petzl / Elmar Schwertheim: Hadrian und die dionysischen Künstler

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This book represents the 'editio princeps' of a very important inscription. The stone, rectangular in shape (181 cm height x 90 cm width and 9 cm thickness), was found in August 2003 in the course of regular archaeological exploration in the area of the Odeion at Alexandria Troas, broken in 16 adjoining pieces. The epigraphic field of the stele is delimited by a moulding with a pediment: it contains three separate letters, written by Emperor Hadrian to the Wandering Guild of Dionysiac Artists.

After the propitiatory dedication to 'Good Luck', the first letter (lines 2-56) is a response by Emperor to several petitions addressed to him (in Naples, as it results from the second letter) by representatives of the Guild of Dionysiac Artists: since all three documents are dated by Hadrian's 18th tribunicia potestas to between December 10th, 133 A.D. and December 9th, 134 A.D., it is a reasonable guess that the audition had taken place during the Sebastan Games, held for the 34th time in 134 A.D.

The main concern of Hadrian in the first letter is to reassure the Guild of the Dionysiac Artists that he is backing their claim to a fair economic treatment. In the recent past indeed the Artists had been defrauded by some cities of the prizes formerly put at stake for their performance, either because a festival had been canceled with rather short advice, or because the competition was interrupted while in progress. Allegedly this had happened in major cities such as Miletos and Chios. Hadrian states that in such cases prizes must be equally divided through the participants. In the future the cities, even if pressed by urgent vital needs, such as a shortage of food or other calamitous distresses, should rather alert the emperor than diverting funds already destined to finance the games.

Also, the organizing cities were forbidden to pay the contestants in nature (grain or wine for example), thus forcing the artists (and the athletes, who are also affected in most of the relevant issues) to engage in trade to get their money. Hadrian therefore specifies that the prizes, on the day before the single contests are held, must be presented in cash by the organizer in chief or agonothetes to the relevant Roman authority (be it either the governor, the proconsul, the quaestor or the legate); the latter will be also attending to the games and keep the prizes in a visible place during the competition itself.

An interesting issue addressed in the first letter is about the presence of whip-bearers at the games: these are allowed, when necessary, to chastise the contestants by flogging them. In doing so however they should refrain from gratuitous brutality, avoiding in particular to cause permanent injuries to the performers, especially such that would hinder their professional ability. Matters of detail, such as the percentage formerly given by the artists to the xystarch (an apparent absurdity, as the xystarch had only relation with the athletes), and the sums destined for the erection of statues in Ephesos (in honour of trumpeters and heralds), are also dealt with in the document.

The object of the second letter (lines 57-84) is the general reorganization of the agonistic calendar in a quadriennial period, starting and ending with the most renowned Olympic games in Elis. Along with the other traditional Panhellenic Games (Pythia, Isthmia and Nemea) here are included events that in the course of time also gained a first class rank: in Italy these were the games in Tarentum, the Sebasta in Naples (since year 2 AD), and the Capitolia in Rome (since 86 AD); in Greece the Actian Games (since about 28 BC), the Hadrianeia and the Panathenaia in Athens, a contest in Patrae, the games held in Mantinea by Achaeans and Arcadians; in Asia minor there was a continuing succession of events (each lasting 40 days) in Smyrnae, Pergamon and Ephesos.

The calendar of course provided the necessary time for artists and athletes to move from one festival to the next, arranging their convenient geographical succession. While some seasons are utterly crowded with events, at other times there was a prolonged gap in official activities, probably a suitable time for the contestants to retire at home and activate some of the privileges they had acquired through their victories (such were the syntaxeis dealt with in the first letter). It is equally possible that the free slots in the calendar were reserved instead for games held in other cities (such as Nicomedia, Thessalonica, Perinthos, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Philadelphia, Tralles, Thyatira, Chios, all mentioned by Hadrian in the second letter), whose festivals are not included in the period, as they did not formerly get official recognition by the Senate.

The third letter (lines 85-89) is very short and addresses a single question, whether the members of the Guild should enjoy the privilege of free 'anaptosis'. This word is indeed rarely attested and rather obscure in meaning: it is a tempting suggestion to interpret it as the winners' banquet.

Although not explicitly stated in the foreword, the final redaction of the book seems to rest mainly on Schwertheim's responsibility: he has availed himself of Petzl's substantial contibutions to the definition of the Greek text [1] and to its intelligence (in the form both of a German translation and of a commentary to the single paragraphs): the latter has also drafted the indexes. An archaeological introduction to the discovery of the stone is provided in an opening note by G. Heedemann. Of the two appendixes, that by S. Scharff is an overview of the artists' (and athletes') revenues, that by E. Hübner specifically concerns the games Sebasta held in Naples in the light of this and other relevant evidence.

To sum up: Petzl and Schwertheim have readily provided an excellent edition and commentary of this new inscription from Alexandria Troas. Given its extent and importance, it is only to be expected that it will become the focus of continuing scholarly attention.


[1] Further improvement to the Greek text has been provided by C.P. Jones: Three New Letters of the Emperor Hadrian, in: "Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik" 161 (2007), 145-156.

Filippo Canali de Rossi