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“It seems that they are using the Carian Language”: Multilingualism, Assimilation, and Acculturation in Caria

Georgios Tsolakis

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University

The paper investigates multilingualism in Caria during the Classical Age, a phenomenon which mirrors the complex cultural interactions in south-western Anatolia, and seeks to find its outcome in the Hellenistic Era.

In their attempt to categorize the Greek poleis in three degrees of Hellenicity, Hansen and Nielsen (2004) chose two Carian cities, Halicarnassos and Kaunos, as representative examples of their polis-types b and c respectively. The former category is described as “a mixed community in which Greeks and non-Greeks live side by side,” and the latter as “a predominantly barbarian community in which there are some elements of Hellenic civilization.” While one must acknowledge the difficulties of categorization according to levels of Hellenicity, the aforementioned classification system fails to echo the dynamic, linguistic phenomena that prevailed in Caria during the Classical Age. The complex multilingual situation is reflected also in the literary tradition: Herodotus attests an anecdotal story of a Carian named Mys, who, after having visited the oracle of the Ptoan Apollo near Thebes, received a prophecy that "seemed to be in Carian language" (Hdt. 8.135); Thucydides speaks about Gauleites, an associate of Tissaphernes, who was a bilingual Carian (Thuc. 8.85.2); lastly, when Kimon sailed to Caria, he was able to persuade immediately all the costal Greek cities to revolt against the Persians, but had to besiege the "bilingual cities" (Diod. 11.60.4; Carless Unwin 2017 45-49).

While the Carian language remains mostly undeciphered and the most extensive Carian inscription is still “a virtually impenetrable text” (Adiego 2007, 301), the bilingual inscriptions permit an analysis of the language contact between Greek and Carian and offer insight into the cultural and political interactions of the populations of Caria. Avoiding on the one hand the traps of the terms "Carianization" and "Hellenization", which hinder the examination of bilingualism, and on the other hand the overly simplistic interpretation of bilingualism as a mechanism for enabling understanding between two linguistically distinct audiences, the paper draws parallels and seeks differences in the formulaic expressions used in the inscriptions, and in their materiality and context (Nováková 2016). In a bilingual inscription from Kaunos (Marek 2006, K 1), scholars of Greek epigraphy can easily identify an honorary decree written for two Athenians as well as common formulaic expressions closely connected with proxenia. The inscription raises the question of political and cultural assimilation between Greeks and Carians. Despite the fact that scholars have discussed extensively the parallels between the two texts of the inscription (Frei and Marek 1997; Frei and Marek 1998), we lack a comprehensive answer to the meaning of the Greek practice of honoring foreign ambassadors for a Carian audience. Additionally, the paper aims to trace continuities and deviations in connection with the material aspects of the bilingual inscriptions focusing on their style and visuality and seeking to illustrate how people alter and are altered by monumental scripts. Although bilingual inscriptions are only a small part of the corpus of the Carian inscriptions, a new reassessment of their linguistic interactions seems necessary.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Approaches to Multilingualism and Multilingual Societies in the Ancient Mediterranean

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