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The Migrant Body and State-Sanctioned Violence

Paul Vadan

Reed College

The interaction of the polis with its foreign residents in the Hellenistic period has generally been discussed through the perspective of public benefaction, where influential and wealthy foreign benefactors are rewarded with public honors and citizenship by the host community for their political, economic, or skilled help during a crisis. While crucial in shedding light on the complex economic character of the polis (Gauthier, 1985 and Migeotte, 2002), such instances provide a narrow insight into the broader experience of migrants within the host community. Because of its seemingly celebratory character, benefaction tends to obscure the inherent tensions that exist between citizens and immigrants; the latter being often perceived with suspicion as a latent internal threat to the cultural, social, or political character of the polis. To better understand this phenomenon, this paper will explore the threats of violence that migrants could expect at the hands of their hosts, and will consider the particular circumstances that could trigger poliadic violence against them.

Given the fragmentary character of the historical record on migrant communities, some scholars have turned to the legal codes of poleis to reconstruct the kinds of problems and protections that migrants could expect as guests of another polis (Bielman, 2002, Chankowski, 2017 and Savalli-Lestrade 2012). However, historical examples point to migrant experiences of violence that circumvent legal protections. For instance, Aeneas Tacticus endorses the limiting of freedoms, confiscation of goods, and exile of foreigners by the host community during a military crisis (Aen. Tac. 10-11). More alarmingly, Polybios records various episodes where mob violence involving foreigners ignore the authority of civic magistrates (Polyb. 13.8). He also admits that foreign guests are more vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse in the public sphere: “natives of the place (ἐγχώριοι), supported as they are by their kinsmen and having many friends, may possibly be able to hold their own against [jealousy and slander] for some time, but foreigners when exposed to either speedily succumb and find themselves in danger (κινδυνεύουσι)” (Polyb. 1.36.3).

As such, the paper explores the possibility of state-tolerated, even sanctioned, violence against migrant communities in an attempt to preserve and strengthen the integrity of the citizen body. In this regard, the epigraphic record proves useful. Scholars have showed how inscriptions reflect collective efforts at community-building, where public festivals function as spaces for social cohesion and integration of foreigners into their host community (Chaniotis, 2013, Gray 2016, and Viviers, 2010). But more often than not, inscriptions also stipulate the physical exclusion of non-citizens from such events, or their segregation through distinct rules of partaking (Austin, 148, Austin 252, LSAM 33, Syll.3 736, I. Priene 5). Equally telling are the examples of public decrees that stipulate the required presence and participation of foreigners to public activities like oath-swearing or military celebrations (Austin 60, 162,  Austin 270). The paper thus explores the social institutions of coercion meant to reaffirm the power of the citizen body by asserting physical or construed power over the migrant body.

Session/Panel Title

Migrants and Membership in the Greek City-States

Session/Paper Number

58.3

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