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The presence of Italian bankers in the ID and their participation in the economic life of the Delian sanctuary (3rd - 2nd century BCE)

Lucia Carbone

Columbia University

Delos, if you would like to be the home

of my son, Phoebus Apollo, […]

your inhabitants will be nourished

 by the hands of foreigners

(Hom., Hymn to Apollo, vv. 34-40,  

transl. M.P.O. Morford - R.J.Lenardon)

Leto’s promise to Delos was not vain. Apollo’s island became rich through the presence of foreigners who came as pilgrims or traders. Among the foreigners that caused the Delian economy to flourish, Italians played a central role in positioning the island as one of the foremost commercial hubs in the Mediterranean between the 3rd and 2nd century BCE.

The presence of Italians on Delos has been studied in the fundamental works by Hatzfeld (HATZFELD 1932), Treheux (TREHEUX 1914) and Le Dinahet (LE DINAHET 2001), but the role played by Italian bankers in the economic life of the Sanctuary in the course of the 2nd century BCE has remained largely unexplored, even in more recent scholarship (BASLEZ 1996; MULLER – HASENOHR 2002). Finally, the seminal monographs by R. Bogaert and J. Andreau (BOGAERT 1968, ANDREAU 1999) on banking in the antiquity merely mention the presence of these bankers on the Delian island, without providing specific information on their specific economic activities and their involvement in the life of the Sanctuary.

Through the analysis of the inscriptions included in ID (Inscriptions de Délos) and IG XI, this paper aims to shed some light on the activities of the Italian bankers on Delos during the period between the island’s liberation from Athenian domination with the aid of Antigonus Monophthalmus (314 BCE) and the last of the inventories compiled by the hieropoioi, the administrators of the Delian sanctuary (140-139 BCE).  

The importance of the Italian bankers in the Delos in the 3rd and 2nd century BCE can hardly be denied, as the inventories of hieropoioi show the centrality of their banks in the diverse economic enterprises of the Sanctuary. It is precisely their relevance that opens up a series of important questions. Why did the Sanctuary resort to the services of foreigners for its economic activities? What led these bankers to leave their cities and move to Delos? Could their presence be a consequence of the Roman conquest of Southern Italy?

I will argue that the Roman conquest of Southern Italy is key to understanding the significance of these bankers on Delos. Analysis of the economic activities of the Italian bankers is relevant not only to the study of the Delian economy in the 2nd century BC, but also for the consequences of the Roman conquest of Southern Italy for the Eastern Mediterranean.

After a brief introduction on the use of the term Ἰταλικός (here translated as “Italian”) on the island and its applicability to Southern Italians in the 2nd century BCE, I will analyze the epigraphic attestations of the banks of Timon from Syracuse, his son Nymphodoros, and Herakleides of Tarentum, key figures in the economic life of the Sanctuary between the end of the 3rd century BCE and the first half of the 2nd century BCE. In the second part of the paper, I will analyze the manifold nature of the economic transactions of their banks.

The analysis of the epigraphic evidence of the activities of these Italian bankers is therefore not only instrumental to understanding the economic life of Delos in these centuries, but also the interconnections between Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean caused by the Roman conquest of Southern Italy.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Economies (organized by the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy)

Session/Paper Number


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