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The Soteria at Delphi: Aetolian propaganda in the epigraphical record.

The Delphic sanctuary was the scene of two extraordinary events involving barbaroi in ancient Greek history. In both cases tradition stated that divine forces aided the Hellenic cause. The first of these events was the famous repulse of Xerxes' army in 480 (Hdt. 8.35-39). The second episode, the defeat of the Gallic chieftain Brennus' forces before the precinct in 279, was equally famous in antiquity, if not in modern times: Pausanias refers to the Gallic invasion as the greatest foreign peril in Greek history (10.19.5); Polybius pairs the incursion with the fifth-century Persian invasions (2.35.7; cf. Plut. Cim. 1.1) and uses it to date lesser events (1.6.5, 2.20.6, 4.46.1-2).

The Aetolians legitimized and tightened their control of Delphi through their self-declared role in the repulse of the Gauls from the sanctuary.(1) In commemoration of their alleged heroics they reorganized the annual Amphictionic festival of thanksgiving into an Aetolian penteteric festival in 246/5.(2)

Five decrees have been associated with the Aetolian establishment of the penteteric Soteria.(3) Elwyn ("Inviolability") has demonstrated that four use common language and phrasing (Actes 21-24), whereas Actes 25 (Smyrna) is unique in its wording.(4) Moreover, the inclusion of the Smyrnan decree among those of 246/5 creates serious chronological difficulties. The decree refers to Seleucus II Callinicus, who assumed power in the summer of 246.(5) Seleucus declared Smyrna and its temple of Aphrodite Stratonikis to be inviolable on account of the city's loyalty when it had been besieged by Seleucus' enemies.(6) It is likely that this is a reference to the Third Syrian War of 246-241, waged by Seleucus and Ptolemy III Euergetes.(7) The Delphian response to Seleucus' proclamation is preserved (FD III.4.2 153). The inclusion of Actes 25 (Smyrna), among the recognition decrees of 246/5 allows very little time, perhaps a month or two, for Smyrna to be attacked, for Seleucus to grant Smyrna asylia in recognition of its loyalty, and for Delphi to acknowledge Smyrna's inviolability, all of which must precede the Pythian games of 246. On the basis of its unique wording and these chronological considerations, Actes 25 (Smyrna) must be dissociated from the group of recognition decrees of 246/5 and assigned a later date, probably 241, in response to the announcement of the second celebration of the Soteria.(8)

Interesting indications for Aetolian diplomacy emerge from Elwyn's demonstration. The unique elements of Actes 25 (Smyrna) echo an older diplomatic tradition in which divine intervention plays a key role in the Greek victory. The recognition decrees of 246/5 reflect the Aetolians' letter seeking recognition of the expanded festival under their sponsorship, and they suggest an Aetolian version of the events of 279 which runs counter to the main tradition. The Aetolians take the prominent role in the repulse of the Gauls before Delphi, and the divine elements of the Delphic tradition are conspicuously absent.


Pausanias' account of the Gallic invasion of 279 includes a stirring narration of Aetolian heroics in avenging the sack of Kallion (10.22.2-7). Yet the supernatural dominates the narrative once the Gauls reach Delphi (10.23.1-9). Apollo assures the Delphians of his protection and proceeds to send swift and clear warnings to the barbarians: earthquake, thunder and lightning, the epiphany of heroes, and the unexpected terrors of night (10.23.1-4).(9) In the end, a heaven-sent madness leads the Gauls to self-annihilation (10.23.8). Justin's epitome of Pompeius Trogus' account provides additional information on the divine element in the battle: there Apollo forbids the agrestes to convey their grain and wine elsewhere for safe keeping, and the priestesses see the god, appearing as a youth of superhuman size, clanging his bow and rattling his weapons, come to the defense of the sanctuary with Artemis and Athena (24.7.6, 24.8.3-7).(10)

Epigraphical evidence suggests that these divine elements in the literary sources derive from a tradition established shortly after the invasion. In a Coan decree (Dittenberger, [Sylloge.sup.3] 398.1-4) dated to between March and July 278, the barbarians have directed their attack against the Greeks and the sanctuary of Delphi.(11) The precinct was decorated with the shields of the barbarians defeated at Delphi (9-10), and the remainder perished in subsequent struggles against the Greeks (11-14).

In this decree Apollo is responsible for the defeat of the Gauls before his sanctuary. A sacrifice is offered in his honor for ensuring the safety of the Greeks (24), and this service is repeatedly emphasized (20, 25, 40). Apollo's epiphany is mentioned (16-18), and he takes priority over Zeus Soter and Nike in the list of dedicatees for the sacrifice of thanksgiving (31-33). The Gauls who approached the sanctuary were vanquished by the god and by men who came to defend Apollo's sacred ground:


(4-8; cf. 28-29)

Here Apollo plays the leading role in the repulse of the Gauls, while the men who actually defeated the barbarians are unidentified and take a secondary position.

In Actes 25 (Smyrna) the divine element in the defense of Delphi in 279 reappears. The god, presumably Apollo, is responsible for the victory: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (4). He commands a sacrifice to the gods (5), and in contrast to the Coan decree, which mentions the epiphany of Apollo only ([Syll..sup.3] 398.16-18), there is an epiphany of gods: [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (6). The question arises whether these elements of the Smyrnan decree are to be viewed as the wording of an Aetolian invitation or as Stayman improvisation. The answer must remain inconclusive. Comparative analysis, which allows for the isolation of divergences from the rest of a group and which is possible for the decrees of 246/5,(12) is impossible for a single inscription. If the divine element in the battle is of Smyrnan origin, it simply may reflect the Delphic tradition of which the Coan decree of 278 and the literary sources are manifestations.

The epiphany in the Smyrnan recognition decree admits of four interpretations: it could represent the demigods at Pausanias 10.23.2,(13) Apollo and the White Maidens at Diodorus 22.9.5,(14) Zeus Soter and Apollo, the dedicatees of the recognition decrees of 246/5 (as Elwyn suggests, "Inviolability" 178), or the appearance of Apollo, Artemis, and Athena which is reported at Justin 24.8.5. The last of these interpretations would suggest that Actes 25 (Smyrna), line 6, may duplicate pan of an Aetolian invitation. Pausanias' account, excepting the brief mention of an epiphany of minor heroes (10.23.2),(15) attributes the divine role in the battle of 279 at Delphi to Apollo. On the human plane, his version credits the Phocians with heroic exploits in the actual defense of the sanctuary, while the Aetolian forces were occupied with Acichorius' contingent, which had left Heraclea to join forces with Brennus at Delphi.(16) The epiphany of Artemis and Athena would incorporate two Aetolian deities into the Delphic legend and may have served as part of a variant account to counter a tradition in which Apollo and the Phocians were the saviors of the sanctuary.(17)

The origin of the epiphany of gods in the Smyrnan decree and its meaning cannot rise above the level of conjecture. The god who fashions the victory at line 4, the oracle at line 5, and this manifestation of gods at line 6, however, demonstrate the persistence of variant forms of a legend in which the Delphic sanctuary was saved by divine intervention.


The Aetolian version of the repulse of the Gauls is reflected in the recognition decrees for the first celebration of the Aetolian penteteric Soteria in 245.(18) These decrees are dated to 246/5 by the Athenian archon of the same year, Polyeuktos, who is mentioned in the Athenian recognition decree.(19) The provenance of Actes 21-24 suggests that the Aetolians issued a Panhellenic invitation: Athens, Chios, Tenos, and a Cycladic island.

An examination of the contents of these decrees provides striking contrasts with the Coan decree of 278 ([Syll..sup.3] 398). The Athenian and Chian decrees emphasize Aetolian piety,(20) and the deities and their order for the commemorative games of the Soteria are preserved.(21)

In contrast to the literary tradition and epigraphical evidence considered above, divine intervention does not play a role in the battle before the Delphic sanctuary in the recognition decrees for initial celebration of the Soteria. The Coan decree of 278 emphasizes the role of Apollo in the victory and does not specify the men who defeated the Gauls. In the decrees of 246/5 Apollo's contribution in the actual battle has dropped out,(22) and he yields pride of place in the list of dedicatees: Apollo Pythius, Zeus Soter, and Nike are replaced by the designation of Zeus Soter and Apollo Pythius.(23) The recognition decrees imply one Gallic attack, whereas the Coan decree suggests the series of attacks which are reported by Pausanias.(24) The Aetolian version as reflected in the decrees of 246/5 deemphasizes the divine element in the defeat of the Gauls and implies that the Gallic threat came as one massive invasion and was repulsed by the Aetolians before Delphi.

In the letter of invitation which sought Panhellenic participation for the first penteteric festival of the Soteria, Aetolian propaganda apparently emphasized the Aetolian role in the defense of the sanctuary in 279 against the Gallic forces and diminished or eliminated the divine elements of the older diplomatic tradition which are present in the other evidence on the invasion, both literary and epigraphical. The epigraphical record suggests that in the initial celebration of their reorganized festival the Aetolians would share the credit for the actual defense of Delphi with no one, human or divine.(25)


1 Flaceliere, Aitoliens 112. On the origins of Aetolian power at Delphi see Bousquet, "Aitoliens" 494-95; Nachtergael, Galates 196 n. 299. Pausanias (10.19.4-23.14) provides the most detailed account. See Habicht, Pausanias' Guide 84 n. 70, for modern scholarship on the invasion.

2 Roussel, "Fondation," esp. 101-9. On the periodicity of the festival and the date of its initial celebration see Nachtergael, "Polyeuctos" and Galates 223-41.

3 Inscriptions which have been identified as recognition decrees for the Aetolian penteteric festival of the Soteria are cited as in Nachtergael, Galates 435-47, henceforth referred to as Actes, nos. 21-27. These inscriptions are E.M. 7400 = IG II/[III.sup.2] 680 = [Syll..sup.3] 408 = Acres 21 (Athens); Delph. Inv. 2275 = IG [IX.1.sup.2] 194b = FD III.3 215 = [Syll..sup.3] 402 = Actes 22 (Chios); Delph. Inv. 688 = IG XII suppl. 309 = FD III.1 482 = Actes 23 (Tenos); Delph. Inv. 2158, 2159 = FD III.1 481 = Actes 24 (Cyclades); Delph. I nv. 697, 698, 699 = FD III.1 483 = Actes 25 (Smyrna) (see now Petzl I. Smyrna 574); Delph. Inv. 6377, 2872 = Actes 26 (Abdera); Delph. Inv. 6203 = Acres 27 (unknown origin). Because of their fragmentary nature Actes 26 (Abdera) and Actes 27 (unknown origin) defy meaningful analysis. All dates are B.C.E.

4 On the provenance see Robert, "Notes" 326-32; Segre, "L'Asilia" 248-52.

5 On Seleucus' identification see Robert, "Recherches" 9-10; cf. his "Notes" 331-32 and appendix, 351.

6 I. Smyrna 573 = OGIS 229.

7 See Heinen, "Syrian-Egyptian Wars" 420-21.

8 Elwyn ("Inviolability" 180) suggests that the conflict of the Laodicean War may have blocked the Aetolian invitation to Smyrna in 246/5. She dates the Delphian response to Seleucus' grant of asylia to Smyrna (FD III.4.2 153) to the latter half of 243, shortly before the dispatch of theoroi announcing the Pythian games of 242.

9 [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (23.1); cf. 8.10.9. Bearzot ("Fenomeni" 75-76) views the divine elements in the literary tradition as being of Delphic priestly origin rather than simply as imitationes Herodoti. She maintains that the natural phenomena in Pausanias' account are historical.

10 The remaining literary references to Apollo's prophecy and epiphany are collected in Parke and Wormell, Delphic Oracle 133-34, to which add Call. Del. 171-87. Scholars have been divided on the source of our most detailed account (Pausanias'), between Hieronymus of Cardia and Timaeus of Tauromenium: see Nachtergael, Galates 27-49.

11 On the date see [Syll..sup.3] 398, nn. 1, 6; Flaceliere, Aitoliens 105 n. 2; Nachtergael, Galates 172-73.

12 E.g., Athens' contribution to Deiphi's defense: Actes 21 (Athens), 12-14.

13 No epigraphical evidence supports this interpretation: see Flaceliere, "Pyrrhos" 300 and n. 4.

14 Diodorus is the earliest source for the variant account of the White Maidens; further references are assembled in Parke and Wormell, Delphic Oracle 133. The origin of this feature of the legend remains elusive. On the identification of the White Maidens see Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Glaube 379-81; for more recent references, Bearzot, "Fenomeni" 74 n. 14.

15 Cf. the slightly different list at 1.4.4: the substitution of Amadocus for Laodocus and the omission of the Delphian hero Phylacus. Bearzot ("Fenomeni" 82-86) sees the epiphany of the hero Pyrrhus-Neoptolemus at Paus. 10.23.2 as an attempt on the part of King Pyrrhus of Epirus to improve relations with the Thessalians and gain influence at Delphi (contra, Flaceliere, "Pyrrhos"). On attempts of other Hellenistic powers (Antigonus Gonatas, Ptolemy Philadelphus) to claim credit for defeating the Gauls see Nachtergael, Galates 176-91.

16 Paus. 10.22.13; cf. 23.3 (heroics of Aleximachus), 23.5-6 (Phocian tactics), 23.9 (Phocian reconnaissance). At 1.4.4 Pausanias attributes the defeat of the Gauls to the Delphians and Phocians; the Aetolians are added almost as an afterthought. See Flaceliere, Aitoliens 104-7.

17 Paus. 10.15.2 records an Aetolian commemorative monument which included Aetolian commanders and the three deities Apollo, Artemis, and Athena. A fragment from a marble base may belong to this monument: see Blum, "Nouvelles inscriptions" 23-25. See also Bearzot, "Fenomeni" 80-82.

18 Coincident with the Nemean games: see Nachtergael, "Polyeuctos" 74-78.

19 Nachtergael, Galates 71-73, followed by Habicht, Untersuchungen 134 n. 97. Meritt ("Archons" 80-82, 85-87, and chart on 95) places Polyeuktos' archonship in the preceding year, 247/6.

20 Actes 21 (Athens), 6-7, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Actes 22 (Chios), 2-3, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Cf. 19, 23. Actes 23 (Tenos) and Actes 24 (Cyclades) leave this element out.

21 Actes 21 (Athens), 8-9, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Actes 23 (Tenos), 3-4, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Cf. Actes 24 (Cyclades), 5-7. These elements are not present in the Chian decree, which is the longest of the decrees and the loosest paraphrase of the Aetolian letter of invitation.

22 Cf. [Syll..sup.3] 398.6; Actes 25 (Smyrna), 4.

23 See note 21 above; cf. [Syll..sup.3] 398.30-34.

24 [Syll..sup.3] 398.11-14, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. See Nachtergael, Galates 126-75.

25 An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 125th annual meeting of the American Philological Association in Washington, D.C., 28 December 1993. I thank Christian Habicht, David Silverman, and the referee of the journal for their helpful suggestions.


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Blum, Gustave. "Nouvelles inscriptions de Delphes." BCH 38 (1914) 21-37.

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-----. Les Galates en Grece et les Soteria de Delphes. Brussels: Palais de Academies, 1977.

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-----. "Recherches epigraphiques." REA 38 (1936) 5-28.

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Segre, Mario. "L'Asilia di Smirni e le Soterie de Delfi." HistStudStAntCl 5, no. 2 (1931) 241-60.

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Author:Champion, Craige
Publication:American Journal of Philology
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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