The Miletus Decree: is dating by three-bar sigma true or illusory?

In a paper given at a seminar on 6th February 2002, I challenged the accepted date of the Miletus decree (IG I3 21) and argued that it was passed in 426/5 BC, probably at the last prytany of 426/5 BC. The following is a summary of my presentation.

Traditionally, the Miletus decree has been dated to 450/49 BC. Although the archon's name Euthynus appears twice in the decree and we know that Euthynus was an archon in 426/5 BC, until recently this was not considered to be the date of the decree because the consistent use of a three-barred form of sigma in the inscription seemed to indicate an earlier date. Consistency has been maintained by following Kirchoff's tentative suggestion that the name of the archon of 450/49 at Diodorus 12.3.1 could be emended from Euthydemus to Euthynus. Until Harold Mattingly first questioned its validity no one doubted this change. In spite of Mattingly's continuing work and the demonstration by Chambers et al. in 1990 that the three-bar sigma was used in the Egesta Decree of 418/7 BC, dating by style changes in letterform, particularly of sigma, continues to be favoured over other types of evidence.

For this reason I have re-examined the letterforms used in 5th (and early 4th) century Attic inscriptions, paying particular attention to the letterforms of numeral signs for staters and the flexibility of usage of some letterforms such as nu and upsilon with a stem, where clear changes are hard to recognize. Examination of stater signs shows that some anomalies did exist. At least 6 masons continued to use three-bar sigma for engraving staters in the later 5th and early 4th centuries. This seems to suggest that each mason could use his own preferred letterforms (see my forthcoming paper in ZPE). As for nu and upsilon, it was not easy to find any particular year when older letterforms changed to the modern ones: from sloping nu to the more classical shape of nu; from two-stroke upsilon to three-stroke, and so on. They are used rather changeably and a variety of letterforms can often be found in one inscription.

I conclude, accordingly, that there were no rules for using particular letterforms and that letterforms can only be used to establish general trends. It is not strange if there were exceptions.

To turn to the Miletus decree itself, there are certain irregularities in its stoichedon style and orthography which have been considered to reflect the translation into Attic of an originally Ionian text. Careful examination of inscribing style and orthography in the Miletus Decree, however, leads to a different conclusion. In the decree, ξ and ψ are consistently inscribed in Attic style, that is, κ + σ and π + σ respectively. This suggests that the original text was prepared by an Athenian secretary but contained some Ionicisms. Mixed usages of Ionic and Attic orthography in a decree are seen in Attic inscriptions throughout the fifth century BC - particularly from around 430 BC. The date of the decree seems to fit better in the 420s BC when Ionic orthography began to be common in Athens.

The draft of this decree was made by the syngrapheis. The only parallel phrase is seen in IG I3 78, 3-4, the so-called First Fruits decree. Why were the syngrapheis asked to make a draft for the Milesians? In 428 and 427 BC, several major revolts and staseis took place. Although we do not know exactly what procedures were followed after the suppression of the revolts, decisions seem to have been made at the Assembly in the normal way. However, the Milesian case seems to have been a somewhat irregular one, perhaps because of the Athenians' considerable confusion at this time.

In studying IG I3 21, I have found a number of problems with reading and restorations. I also have great doubts about line length in the inscription - each line should have had 59 stoichoi (instead of 58). When these problems have been resolved, we will have a more vivid picture both of the relations between the Athenians and the Milesians, and of the Athenian Empire.

Akiko Moroo, Chiba University of Commerce


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Created on Sunday, 22 September, 2002: 22:38:02