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29.5.Bradbury

I would like to consider in this paper what Libanius' letter collection tells us about the process of assembling the personal network necessary for gaining high office in the Greek East in the fourth century. Patronage and networking lie at the heart of this vast epistolary corpus, some 1550 letters over a fifteen-year period (355-65 and 388-93), or an average of one letter produced every three days. If Libanius maintained that rate of production during the years for which no letters survive, then we can assume that some 2,000 letters have disappeared. The collection is our most significant witness to the complex patronage networks and the tentacular webs of relations pursued by the Hellenic gentry in their efforts to enhance their social and political fortunes. It reveals the extraordinary lengths to which Libanius went to maintain 'connectivity' with a far-flung network of relations, the largest personal network known from antiquity. Libanius' powers as a patron are quite limited, as he readily concedes, particularly when dealing with very powerful officials. He is better regarded as a broker, a master communicator with an extensive network of connections who puts the right people in touch with one another. The geographical parameters of Libanius' network are well-known, as is much of the prosopography of the network (see Seeck, Die Briefe, Petit, Les Etudiants, PLRE i, Cribiore, The School of Libanius). The letter collection reveals scores of urban notables plying their way among Eastern cities, armed with packets of letters of introduction and recommendation addressed to other notables and imperial officials. This travel -- and these letters suggest a lot of traveling -- insures that enterprising notables can make new contacts, forge new links, and develop new networks of friends in neighboring provinces and at court. But there are practical questions concerning the transport and receipt of letters to which the collection does not provide easy answers, but which should be investigated. For example, when the traveller is received by an official, will it be alone or in a group audience? Will the official actually read the letter right then and there? How will the traveller use the letter to introduce his request? And will Libanius' letter be the only one, or will the traveller have a number of other letters to help his cause? And how many others will there be with similar requests, for the trafficking in favors never really ends. Every person of influence from the emperor on down is constantly bombarded with requests for favors and advice on appointments. The requests are legion; the favors dispensed are, by comparison, quite few. The corpus offers some good case studies of both successful and unsuccessful efforts at advancement.

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