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The Practice of Diplomacy: Sidonian Kings and Greek States in the Fourth Century BCE

Denise Demetriou

This paper explores international diplomacy in the fourth century BCE by focusing on official state relations between the Phoenician city-state of Sidon and various Greek poleis as evidenced through a series of Greek and Phoenician inscriptions recording the official dealings of Greek poleis with Sidonian state officials and vice-versa.  This interdisciplinary approach bridges the gap between Classical and Near Eastern studies, emphasizes a period that remains relatively understudied, and sheds light on new modes of international diplomacy among polities.  I argue that Greek and Phoenician city-states created a network of alliances based not only on political but also economic and cultural criteria.

The starting point is a fourth-century Attic decree, which honors Straton, king of the Sidonians, for the help he provided to an Athenian embassy on its way to the Persian King (IG II2 141; Austin; Hauben; Moysey; Culasso Gastaldi).  Numismatic and epigraphic evidence from Sidon reveals that Straton’s Phoenician name was ‘Abd‘aštart (I), and that his reign probably lasted from 365-352BCE (Elayi; Elayi and Elayi).  This is the period during which Sidon and other city-states revolted against the Persian Empire, and provides the historical context in which I analyze the Athenian decree.  In return for Straton’s diplomatic service to the Athenian embassy, the Athenians granted him proxeny.  More importantly, they also attempted to establish permanent and reciprocal diplomatic relations with Sidon by promising that any future aid Straton gave to the Athenians would result in Athens granting Straton’s future requests.  The decree also refers to a possible future political alliance with Sidon.  These attempts to create permanent political ties between Athens and Sidon during the tumultuous years of the satrapal revolts against the Persians are not otherwise recorded in extant sources and provide valuable evidence for a deeper understanding of the shifting political landscape of this period.  In addition to these political concerns, the rider to the decree is concerned with economic issues: it offers Sidonian citizens in Athens an exemption from the regular financial obligations that Athens imposed on foreigners who visited on business.  This inscription, I argue, demonstrates the complex process of diplomatic dealings that ranged from the political to the economic, and which entailed a king negotiating privileges for communities of his citizens living abroad.

Two other inscriptions, both bilingual, elucidate further the nature of Greco-Phoenician state relations in the fourth century BCE.  One is a decree from Delos that records in Greek a dedication of offerings from Tyre and Sidon made to Apollo by the so-called “sacred sailors” (hieronautai) from Tyre (IDélos 50), who might constitute an early religious association.  The Phoenician text mentions that the dedication was made by King ‘Abd‘aštart II (342-333 BCE) of Sidon (CIS I 114; Elayi 1988).  The location of the dedication on the commercial hub of Delos suggests that besides its religious nature lies also an economic motive.  The second bilingual dedication, from Cos, by the son of King Abdalonym of Sidon (332-326 BCE), is similar in tone.  The Greek text records a dedication to Aphrodite on behalf of “those who sail,” while the more detailed Phoenician text notes that a maritime monument was dedicated to Astarte because of her protection of all sailors and mentions some taxes owed to the Phoenician god Eshmun (SEG 36, 758).  Both bilingual inscriptions attest to the fact that members of the Sidonian royal house were intimately involved in the trading ventures of Sidonian citizens, which profited the state, and attempted to liaise not only with the Greek communities where they set up their dedications but also the Phoenicians living in these Greek poleis.  Such practices forged and maintained positive diplomatic relations both on the state and individual levels, and benefited all parties.

This epigraphic evidence demonstrates the multifaceted nature of fourth-century international diplomacy, in which a political relationship could translate into an economic one, and a religious dedication could bring about economic and political ties.

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Empires, Kingdoms, and Leagues in the Ancient Greek World

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