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Erroneous Dates In Athenian State Decrees And Financial Documents

John Morgan

University of Delaware

Scholars who study ancient Greek and Roman history must contend with the fact that literary sources describing ancient events were often written centuries afterwards at second or third hand, and frequently suffer from errors made by scribes in copying mediaeval manuscripts. Hence modern scholars tend to regard as much more reliable documents inscribed on stone at the same time as the historical events.

Since “chronology is the backbone of history”, it is important that the dating of historical events be accurate. Detecting an erroneous date in a document is usually difficult or even impossible if it mentions only one date in a single calendar. E.g., if a modern document has been misdated “March 9, 2009” instead of “March 19, 2009”, it may not be obvious that its date is incorrect, unless it also mentions an event which occurred after March 9, or it also bears a date in the weekly calendar, such as “Thursday, March 9, 2009”, since in 2009 March 9 fell on a Monday.

Similarly, if an ancient inscription was dated by the eponymous magistrate of a Greek city-state and only the day of a month in a lunisolar calendar, as was the case with the decrees of almost all ancient Greek city-states other than Athens, it will almost never be obvious that the day of the month or the name of the month is wrong. Only if the inscription mentions other dates in the same calendar, or was dated in some other calendar, might it be deducible that there is an internal inconsistency.

Because Athenian state decrees from about 340 BC onward were usually dated in both the lunisolar and the prytany calendars, it is sometimes possible to deduce that a decree’s prescript suffers from an error in the name or day of the month, or the number or the day of the prytany. The last systematic survey of the “calendar equations” inscribed on Athenian state decrees involving dates in both the lunisolar and prytany calendars was published by W.K. Pritchett and Otto Neugebauer in The Calendars of Athens (1947). Since then there has been much progress in understanding the operation of the ancient Athenian calendars, especially in dating archons and determining whether they held office in ordinary years with 12 months or intercalary years with 13 months, many more decrees have been excavated and published, and many better restorations of the dating formulas in fragmentarily preserved prescripts have been devised. Hence it is now timely to present an updated survey of the errors in the dates inscribed on Athenian decrees and financial documents. Certain examples of these errors include the following:

  • An incorrect name of the month (IG II3.385 and 885)
  • An incorrect day of the month (IG I3.377, line 8, and IG II2.1028, line 67)
  • An incorrect number of the prytany (IG II3.857 and 1155)
  • An incorrect day of the prytany (IG II3.352 and IG II2 1072)
  • An incorrect name of the tribe holding the prytany (IG XII.6.1, 261, IG II2.1672, and SEG 30.70)

After reviewing these certain examples of erroneous dates of Athenian decrees and financial documents, I shall discuss the calendar equations in the prescripts of two decrees of Peithidemos’ archonship, one of which (IG II3.912) is the famous decree of Chremonides proposing an alliance with Sparta and various Peloponnesian cities and Ptolemy II against Macedonia. Following Meritt (Hesperia 38 (1969), 110-112), I shall argue that the day of the prytany on IG II3.913 should be restored so that Peithidemos’ year was intercalary rather than ordinary, that the apparently inconsistent calendar equation Metageitnion 9 = Prytany II.9 on IG II3.912 reflects either an archon’s calendar retarded by insertion of two ἐμβόλιμοι ἡμέραι or an error of perseveration in inscribing the day of the prytany, and that Peithidemos’ archonship and the outbreak of the Chremonidean War should be dated to 268/7 rather than 269/8 BC.

Session/Panel Title

Inscriptions and Dates

Session/Paper Number


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