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Association and Archive: The Technitai of Dionysus as Keepers of Knowledge

Mali Skotheim

American School for Classical Studies at Athens

The spread of drama in the Greek world in the late 5th and 4th centuries BCE led to the creation of groups of professional, traveling actors. As early as 279-278 BCE, they began to form regional professional associations, calling themselves the Technitai of Dionysus. These actors' associations, which remained active into the 3rd century CE, secured rights and privileges for their members through frequent correspondence with festival organizers, civic authorities, and imperial administration. The Technitai regularly elected secretaries to handle their voluminous correspondence, and many of their inscribed letters survive, published in two important collections (Le Guen 2001, Aneziri 2003). Inscribed letters, such as the correspondence between Hadrian and the Technitai found at Alexandria Troas (Petzl 2006), reveal that actors faced a number of risks, such as festival organizers neglecting to follow through with payment of prize money, or the cancellation of contests without advance warning.

    While the festivals relied on the labor of traveling performers, the performers relied on the labor of such secretaries, and other officials of the actors' associations, in order to ensure that their privileges would be respected in each city in which they competed, and that festival organizers respected the rules of their own competitions. In this paper, I argue that the central purpose of the Technitai of Dionysus was to mitigate risks posed to their members, who, as traveling professionals, were legally and financially vulnerable, and that the maintenance of archives was a major part of the project of risk mitigation.

    But the archives of the Technitai did not just include records of correspondence. The Technitai also maintained a centralized system of knowledge of another sort, libraries, presumably of poetic and dramatic literature useful for the reproduction and composition of plays. In 141/2 CE, the Technitai honored Titus Aelius Alcibiades of Nysa for his bequest of a books to their headquarters in Rome, where they maintained a temenos for Hadrian (SEG 4-418). Such libraries can also be considered part of the archival labor of the Technitai, a rare example of the provision of literature for a sub-elite population of professionals, comparable to the libraries maintained by other professional associations, such as the collegium poetarum, housed in the Temple of Hercules Musarum in Rome. The archives of the Technitai, then, provided not only practical knowledge, but also knowledge aimed at creative production.

Session/Panel Title

Systems of Knowledge and Strategic Planning in Ancient Industries

Session/Paper Number

36.3

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