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The Afterlives of Royal Land Grants

Talia Prussin

University of California, Berkeley

Grants of royal land are often only captured in the historical record at the moment when the king grants the land to a lucky elite. It is therefore considerably more common to find documentation of the movement of land from the Seleucid kings into the hands of the elite or family members (e.g., the Aristodikides dossier [RC 10-12] and the Laodike dossier [RC 18-20]) than to find documentation of what happened to those estates afterward. Setting aside the management of these estates while in the hands of the original grant recipients, I will elucidate what other fates may befall an estate of royal land after it leaves the direct control of the king.

Although it is something of a commonplace that royal land cannot be alienated, that is not in fact the case. In the Laodike dossier, provisions are made that specifically require her to sell the land to another individual. Yet this is often treated as though it were an exception because the Laodike dossier makes use of the language of sale where other royal land grants prefer verbs indicating a gift. However, other evidence suggests that these provisions were not anomalous: royal land grants could, and were, transferred out of the hands of the original grantee. The Mnesimachos document (I.Sardis 1) details the transfer of an estate of royal land from Mnesimachos to the temple of Artemis because he had defaulted on a loan. The temple may cultivate and even make improvements on the estate; it will be wholly out of Mnesimachos’ control until he repays his debts. Mnesimachos has not sold the land to the temple, however, and the inscription makes provisions in case Mnesimachos’ actions lead the king to seize the land. Mnesimachos’ connection with the land is not at a complete end; for such evidence, we must look elsewhere at the estate of Laodike.

Laodike, the wife of Antiochus II, has perhaps the best documented royal land holdings in the Seleucid kingdom with mentions of land holdings in three different parts of the Near East. Although she is most strongly associated with RC 18-20, Laodike also appears in a text from Labraunda, having sold land in the vicinity of that city to one Olympichos who later dedicated that land to the gods. There is some debate within the scholarship about the identity of Olympichos’ queen Laodike: the wife of Seleukos II, who is contemporary to the document, or the wife of Antiochus II, who is much better attested. I favor the latter argument, especially because Laodike, the wife of Antiochus II, appears in 236 in a third, little known document in Akkadian, detailing the life of a land grant by Antiochus II.

This tablet (CTMMA IV 148) details the gift of land from Laodike, Seleukos II, and Antiochos Hierax to the cities of Babylon, Borsippa, and Cutha. While this land was granted to them by Antiochos II, the tablet seems to date the gift of land by these three to the Mesopotamian cities to 236 during the reign of Seleukos II. The detailed provisions for the allotment of revenue from the land and the curious assignment of these holdings to three different cities at once (although the text largely refers to the arrangements at Babylon) help tease out more details about the life of royal land grants after the moment of granting.

The afterlives of royal land grants have often been allowed to fade into the background in favor of the details of land tenure and institutional analysis. By bringing together the evidence for what happened to royal land grants after they were granted by the king, I show how royal land grants connected not only the king to the elites who received him but also to the cities and temples within his kingdom.

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