Letters of Hadrian: SEG 56.1359

In the first and second century AD, many cities introduced new contests. This occasionally caused problems. The participants complained that in some cases, a city announced a contest, but when they turned up to compete, the city had used the money for other purposes. Another common complaint was that because of the many new contests, old contests lost participants, because the competitors had no time to compete in all of them. While emperor Hadrian was visiting the contest of Napels in AD 134, cities as well as the associations of professional athletes and artists approached him with their complaints. In the letters below, the emperor enforces new regulations: his policy on the funds of games becomes more strict, and he reschedules some of the contests, so that traveling from one contest to the other became easier.

I order that all the contests be held, and that it is not permitted for a city to divert funds destined for a contest to other expenses, nor do I permit money from which prizes are offered to contestants to be used on the construction of a building If it should be urgent that a city find some source of revenue, not for the purpose of luxury and extravagance, but in order to procure wheat in a time of shortage, then let me be written to. It involves not only unfairness but in a certain way even a fraud to announce a contest and invite the contestants, and then after their arrival to dissolve the festival halfway. And where this happens, the contestants shall divide up the prizes even without contesting.

How I decided that the contests should be arranged, about which there were speeches and petitions before me in Naples : I have set the beginning from the Olympics, since this contest is ancient and certainly the most prestigious of the Greek ones. After the Olympics shall be the Isthmian games and after the Isthmian games the Hadrianeia, so that this contest begins on the next day after the festival at Eleusis ends, and this is by Athenian reckoning the first day of Maimakterion. There shall be forty days for the Hadrianeia, and the contest in Tarentum shall be held after the Hadrianeia in the month of January, with the Capitolian games, as they have been completed up to now, preceding the contests in Naples. Then shall be the Actia, beginning nine days before the Kalends of October, and ending within forty days.

Translation C.P. Jones

The Olympics, the Isthmian games and the Hadrianeia were all held in Greece, in the summer and early fall. Then the competitors had time to travel to Tarentum, located in the south of Italy, but relatively easy to reach from Greece. The competitors would stay in Italy for the next months, to compete in the Capitolian games and the games of Naples. The Actian games were again held in Greece, but at the west coast and hence easy to reach from Italy.


© KU Leuven, 2012