Tablet with Greek transcription of Letter from Emperor Hadrian to Common Assembly of Macedonians
Unknown artist, Roman
Tablet with Greek transcription of Letter from Emperor Hadrian to Common Assembly of Macedonians, 136 - 137 CE
75.3 x 48.3 x 3 cm (29 5/8 x 19 x 1 3/16 inches)
Mary B. Jackson Fund 1988.060
This inscription, a carving of a letter from Hadrian to an assembly of Macedonians, offers a glimpse into the state of Macedonian politics in the 2nd century CE. Remains of pigment indicate that the text was originally painted red to make it more visible; it would have been mounted on a wall in a central location for everyone to read.
In the letter, Hadrian states that in accordance with the request of a delegation from Macedon, all Macedonian politicians must inform their chosen successors thirty days in advance when leaving office. The first six lines of the inscription give the full titles for the emperor, the seventh line addresses the assembly, the next six lines make up the substance of the official decree, and the remaining lines list the five members of the delegation and state the year. The decree itself takes up less than a third of the text.
About the work
Translation of inscription:
The Emperor Caesar, son of the god Trajan Parthicus, grandson of the god Nerva, Trajan Hadrian Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, granted tribunician power for the 21st time, Imperator twice, Consul thrice, Father of the Fatherland, to the Common Assembly of the Macedonians, greetings. As you requested, let those who, during the final period of their office, put forward others as candidates, inform those whom they intend to put forward with thirty days’ notice. The delegation consisted of Fabius Paternianus, Julius Kassandros, Attianos Alexandros, Aelius Artemon, Ulpius Lucianus. Good fortune to you. In the period of office of the Politarchs under Theodas, son of Theodas. Year 169 of Augustus.
This marble tablet is inscribed with the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s response to a delegation sent by the Macedonian assembly, or the local government of Macedonia, a region of northern Greece. The response itself takes up less than a third of the inscription; the first six lines are devoted solely to the emperor’s titles, and the last few lines name the members of the delegation. This is one of only eight known letters from Hadrian to his subjects’ local governments in the Greek East, and the only one to the Macedonians. Originally mounted in a public place, the letters on the stele were painted red for increased readability. Traces of pigment are still visible with the use of a microscope.
Hadrian was known for his appreciation of Greek culture; like many educated men of his time, he read and wrote in Greek. Most governmental documents from the time were written in Latin, so this tablet is unusual in that its inscription is in Greek. Without mechanized transportation or mass media, Hadrian had to find other ways to broadcast his imperial authority throughout the far-flung reaches of the Roman Empire. By having posted in public places his responses to local concerns—especially about something as minor and administrative as this example—Hadrian showed his attentiveness to detail and his concern for his subjects. This also benefited the local assembly members: being named in a letter from the emperor gave them legitimacy and increased their social and political capital. One of the reasons the Roman Empire lasted as long as it did is that there were clear gains in seeking imperial patronage.
What do archaeologists learn from inscriptions? Analyze this example to determine what we can learn from it.
Ask students to compare and contrast how Roman emperors communicated with their subjects with how the federal government communicates with U.S. citizens. What are the ways citizens respond? Consider petitions at WhiteHouse.gov as one modern example.
Consider the use of Greek, rather than the more typical Latin language. The English language has complex roots and history, with ancient Greek as one influence. Examine the writing closely, paying attention to the letters and spacing. What is familiar? What can you tell about how this was written?
This tablet is carved from Pentelic marble, taken from Mount Pendeli in Athens, Greece. What considerations do you think stoneworkers make when selecting types of marble? Macedonia is more than 10 hours away from Athens. What might this reveal to archaeologists and historians?
Do some research related to ancient Greece public life, especially education, laws, voting rights, religious practices, and trading customs. Use this information to write a letter to the emperor Hadrian, speaking as a citizen in a Greek city. What will you ask him, and why?
Opper, T. Hadrian: Empire & Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.