Cretans: Athenians and Rhodians on suppressing supposed bandit peoples (fifth-third centuries BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Cretans: Athenians and Rhodians on suppressing supposed bandit peoples (fifth-third centuries BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 29, 2024,

Ancient authors: Citizens of Athens and Halieis, IG I³ 75 (424 BCE; link); Citizens of Rhodes and Hierapytna, SIG³ 581 = ICret III iii 3A (ca. 200 BCE; link).

Comments: One of the dynamics of a current ruling power’s relations with subjugated or enemy peoples in ancient Greek and Roman contexts is the categorization of resistance against, or lack of alliance with, the ascendant power as the equivalent of “banditry” or “piracy,” in other words criminal activity – rather than legitimate war – deserving of violent suppression. This can be witnessed in a number of treaties or legal actions between a succession of imperial powers and particular allies or potential allies, aiming at control, expansion, and the exclusion of particular peoples or alliances. The inscriptional evidence presented below provides the examples of the Athenians (ca. 424 BCE) and the Rhodians (ca. 200 BCE). In another post I deal with the Romans’ dealings with Cilicians (100 BCE).

Each of the treaties or legal documents below illustrates the intimate relation between imperial control and notions of “banditry,” implying the labelling of particular groups or peoples as bandits (at sea in these cases). As Thucydides’ discussion of the progress from banditry to civilization shows (link), the Athenians were prone to categorize peoples such as the Aitolians as bandits. Lurking in the background of the Rhodian case is the notion that Cretans were bandits.

The marginalization of Cretans (among Greeks) as “always bandits and pirates, and never just” (αἰεὶ ληισταὶ καὶ ὁλιφθόροι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι; Leonidas of Tarentum, Anthology 7.654) reaches back beyond the third century BCE. Polybios clearly reflects the ongoing tradition in the second century (e.g. Histories 4.8; 13.8). It is in the late third century during the so-called Rhodian-Cretan wars that we clearly see the labelling being employed by Rhodians for the purpose of imperial expansion. Like the nearby Cretans, Cilicians on the sourtheastern coast of Turkey were cast as a bandit people (link coming soon). These documents show how such treaties aim at defining two clearly demarcated categories: allies of the hegemonic power who will not harbour “bandits” and illegitimate bandits or pirates or harbourers of bandits deserving of violent suppression.

Works consulted: Philip de Souza, “Rome’s Contribution to the Development of Piracy,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes 6 (2008): 71–96 (link).


IG I³ 75: Treaty between Athens and Halieis with reference to not harbouring “bandits” or engaging in “banditry” (424/3 BCE (?))

Gods. Neokleides . . . was secretary. It was resolved by the Council and People. . . . Aigeis (?) . . . was civic president (prytanis), Neokleides was secretary, . . . Name presided. Laches (5) made the proposal: there shall be an agreement between the Athenians and the Halieians [located on the southern coast of the Argive peninsula of the Peloponnesos] and a truce . . . for x years (?) . . . without deceit on the following terms:

The Halieians shall permit the Athenians . . . to establish a garrison (?). They shall also treat well (?) . . . the Athenians and . . . shall not receive bandits (or: raiders) (?) . . . or themselves engage in banditry or . . . campaign with (?) . . . the Athenians’ enemies against the (10) Athenians or the allies of the Athenians, or supply money . . . to the enemies (?) . . . or receive . . . any enemy garrison (?) . . . within their walls.

Now if any enemy attacks Halieis, the Athenians shall immediately help the Halieians . . . and do whatever they can to oblige (?). . . the Halieians; and whatever (15) the Halieians hold . . . they shall be allowed to hold for the future (?). No-one shall harm the Halieians . . . or overlook it if any of their enemies (?) harms them. Now the Athenians . . . shall establish a garrison in Halieis (?) . . . for as long as the war . . . lasts, but when peace is restored, the Halieians shall guard (?) . . . their own land. If the Halieians need anything else which is justifiable (20) from the Athenian People, they shall obtain it.

The Halieians swore as follows: “we shall be . . . allies to the Athenians and permit the Athenians to establish a garrison; we shall do well to the Athenians as far as we can at every opportunity and shall abide by the (25) agreement which we have made with the Athenians”

Their envoys (?) . . . shall swear and shall invoke destruction on any Halieians who do not abide by the oaths which they have sworn. On behalf of the Athenians, the Council and the generals swore to abide by the agreement which they made with the Halieians (30) responsible for making terms. Now the secretary of the Council shall inscribe the agreement on a stone slab (stele) and put it on the acropolis. The payment officers shall give the money. The Halieians shall place [their copy of] the slab in the sanctuary of Apollo. The following envoys swore to the alliance: Neon . . . (list of names largely missing on the damaged stone).


SIG³ 581 = ICret III iii 3A: Treaty between the Rhodians and the Hierapytnians with reference to excluded “bandits” (ca. 200 BCE)

God. With good fortune. It was resolved by the people, with good fortune. The priests and the sacrificers shall pray to the Sun and to Rhodos and to all the other gods and goddesses and to the founding deities and to the heroes who possess the city and territory of the Rhodians, that what has been resolved concerning the alliance may be of advantage to the Rhodians and the Hierapytnians. When the prayer has (5) been completed, a sacrifice and a procession shall be offered as resolved by the people.

When the alliance has been ratified and the oaths have been sworn according to the written treaty, there shall be an alliance <between the Hierapytnians> and the people of the Rhodians. The Hierapytnians shall assist (10) the people of Rhodes, and make available their city, harbours and naval bases, and shall be well disposed, friendly and allied for ever. . . [sections omitted].

The Hierapytnians shall give every assistance to the troops sent by the (50) Rhodians, to the best of their ability, and shall take every care for them as though they were their own citizens.

Now if sea-bandits (lastai / lēstai) establish bases in Crete (or: Crete) and the Rhodians wage war at sea against the bandits or those who provide shelter or assistance to them, (55) the Hierapytnians shall take part in the operations by land and by sea with all possible strength at their own expense. The bandits who are captured shall be handed over to the Rhodians together with their ships, while each of the allies shall take half of the rest of the booty. On these terms the Rhodians shall be well disposed, friendly and (60) in alliance with the Hierapytnians for ever . . . [sections omitted].

Now if during a campaign which the Hierapytnians are waging (80) with the Rhodians to destroy bandits, any of those who provide shelter or assistance to the bandits wage war on the Hierapytnians because of this campaign, the Rhodians shall come to the help of the Hierapytnians with all possible strength, and anyone who acts in this way shall be an enemy of the Rhodians. . . [remainder omitted].


Source of translations: IG I³ 75 adapted from Stephen Lambert (link; license: CC BY-SA 3.0); SIG³ 581 adapted from M.M. Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation (Cambridge: CUP, 1981), no. 113.

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