The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2017-2018, 41-61

The Role of Written Documents in the Life of Antique States of North Black Sea Coast

M. V. Skrzhinskaya

In the 6th century B.C., when Greek poleis of the North Blach Sea Coast
emerged, a necessity in keeping official records arose: the new polities needed
to keep lists of citizens, to record various decrees, laws, agreements, or titledeeds.
Certain rules of composing documents had already been established in the
metropole, and so the colonists started to follow examples they knew.
From Tyras, Olbia, Chersonesus, and the Bosporan Kingdom only those state
documents survived, which had been treated as especially significant and so were
decided to be copied on stone. Most of such inscriptions contain decrees in honor
of local citizens or foreigners who had rendered valuable services to the state.
Such services were rewarded with statues, golden crowns, or various exemptions.
The big quantity of such documents is not occasional: the very decision to incise
a decree on a stone stele or on a pedestal of a statue was an honorary reward (e.g.
IOSPE I2. № 31, 352).
Foreigners most frequently were rewarded with proxenies, which gave
them various exemptions (mostly in the sphere of trade) as well as the rights
of citizenship. The earliest known document of this sort is an Olbian proxenia
to the citizens of Sinope of the early 5th century B.C. All North Black
Sea proxenies are written according to the rules established in all over the
Greek world.
Other kinds of official documents survived only sporadically. A unique document
is the oath given by the citizens of Chersonesus c. 300 B.C. (IOSPE I2.
№ 401). It follows the pattern attested in other Greek poleis. There are examples
of international agreements: the decree of isopoliteia between Miletus and
Olbia (МИС. № 35), and the treaty of mutual support between the authorities
of Chersonesus and King Pharnaces of Pontus (IOSPE I2. № 402). The Olbian
decree on money (Ibid. № 24) is an example of a law incised on stone: it clearly
defines the rules of trade in Olbia’s territory (in local currency only), specifies
the exchange rate as well as the fines from those who violate the decree.
Several rescripts of Bosporan kings as well as the official correspondence of
the authorities of Olbia and Chersonesus with the governor of Province Moesia
survive from the Roman time.
Scholars highly appreciate the quality of the language of the North Black Sea
inscriptions. It points at a good level of education of those who composed the
documents, their professionalism, the knowledge of legal formulas and terms
used throughout the Greek world. At the same time, they established some terms
of their own.
The author pays a special attention to the role of secretaries. At early time,
probably, the composing of documents was entrusted to one of the members of
Council or Collegium which ruled the polis in question. Already in the 5th century
B.C., when the quantity of documents increased, a special person started
to be appointed for their keeping. However, in pre-Hellenistic time there was
no custom to mention secretaries in inscriptions. The post of the secretary of
the Council (γραμματεύς τη҃ ς βουλής. – IOSPE I2. № 359, 363, 396) was one
of the lowest steps in the career of officials; names of secretaries were placed
in later documents at the very end, after more significant persons. The earliest
mention of a secretary in the North Black Sea Coast is known in an inscription
of the second half of the 3rd century B.C., a stele of the Collegium which organized
bread supplies to Olbia in the years of famine. The stele is ornamented
with the depiction of all the five members of the Сollegium. The names of all
are written below the relief, and the last one mentioned is Secretary Athenodoros,
son of Demagoros (see ill. 3). Names of some secretaries (of Tyra, Olbia,
Chersones, and the cities of the Bosporan Kingdom) are known from the inscriptions
of the Hellenistic and the Roman periods.
The surviving inscriptions represent a small part of the total of documents
once in existence. However, the available material allows us to imagine quite
well the process of keeping records in the states of the North Black Sea Coast
(the bulk of which was probably on papyrus), as well as to understand better
various aspects of political and economic life of those Greek colonies.

Antiquity, Greece, North Black Sea Region, Tyra, Olbia, Chersonesus, the Bosporan Kingdom, document, writing, state, polis

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