Fragment of a decree of Apollonia has been deciphered

A rare document of ancient Apollonia Pontica was recently discovered at the excavations of the monastery complex “St. John the Baptist” led by Prof. Dr. Kazimir Popkonstantinov. Among the stones re-used in later buildings on the island of Sveti Ivan (“Saint John”) near Sozopol, the archaeologists recognised a marble slab containing part of a decree of the People’s Assembly of Apollonia Pontica dated to the 3rd century BC.

The official documents of Apollonia – like those of any other ancient city – must have been thousands, but most of them were written only on perishable papyrus and were stored in the city archives. Stone was used only for the decrees granting citizenship and privileges to people with great merits to the city. Since these stone documents were intended to be read by everyone, they were displayed in great sanctuaries or on public squares in order to glorify the honoured citizens and encourage others to imitate their respectable deeds. But even of these durable stone documents, created more than two thousand years ago, only a dozen have survived so far. That is why every find of this type is extremely important.

According to the epigraphist Nicolay Sharankov, the newly found decree is even more valuable, because it throws light on the inter-state relations of ancient Apollonia, in this case with another famous ancient city, located on the southern coast of the Black Sea – Heraclea Pontica (now Ereğli in Turkey). Relations between Apollonia and Heraclea have been suggested long ago according to archaeological evidence found in Sozopol, but now they are explicitly confirmed by a written document for the first time.

As it was typical for such documents, the decree praises the “handsome and virtuous citizens” sent to Apollonia by “the city of Heraclea, which has always been friendly and well-disposed towards our people”. After listing the merits of the Heracleans, the decree proposes that they should be granted the highest honours. But what were these honours?

The list of honours was in the now missing second part of the inscription. However – as Nicolay Sharankov explains – it is not so difficult to reconstruct these signs of respect, since they were common for this kind of documents. The Heracleans have become honorary representatives of their hometown in Apollonia, have been granted the right to buy property there, to trade without additional taxes and duties, not to wait for litigation, to be able to speak to the Council and the People’s Assembly, to sit on the first rows in the theater, etc. A second copy of the decree had probably to be sent to their hometown and displayed there.

Besides the evidence on the relations between the two cities, the new inscription provides us with yet another proof that the island of Sveti Ivan, far away before the establishment of the Early Christian church and monastery there, was the site of an important pagan sanctuary, probably dedicated to Apollonia’s main god Apollo.

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