The Evidence for Proxenia

PNAW collects data on attestations of proxeny in a range of different textual sources. One of its principal aims is to illuminate the important differences between different the different types of evidence - literary texts and inscriptions on stone, but just as importantly, the different sorts of inscriptions - as this is crucial for interpreting the information each conveys. The important point is that, although we possess a historical record for proxeny which is, by the standards of Ancient History, extremely rich, comprising more than two thousand inscriptions, it is also highly patchy and variegated, the product of local and regional norms governing the production of public inscriptions.


[When . . . was phrouros, in the month Anthesterion . . . , when Autonomos was prytanis, in the duly constituted assembly Metagenes, son of Metagenes, proposed that: since Adolos, son of Adolos, of Sigeion is [a good man] and zealous towards the polis, he and his offspring be named proxenoi and euergetai of the polis (of the Kians), and that the following rights be given to them the right to possess real estate at Kios (enktēsis), and the right to travel to and from Kios by sea and land without threat of seizure and without the need for a treaty, both in war and peace; and that they also be given preferential seating at festivals (proedria) and freedom from tax (ateleia) on goods which they import and export for their own use . . . and this proxenia is to be inscribed on a stele which the hieropoioi are to erect . . . in the sanctuary of Athena . . .

A proxeny decree from Kios, Asia Minor (I.Kios 1, fourth century BC)

The vast majority of surviving attestations to proxeny come in the form of texts inscribed on stone. The most common type of these is the proxeny decree, an inscribed version of the official decree passed by the authorities of a state (the ‘granting community’), recognising an individual’s services and naming him proxenos in recognition of them, usually with a series of other honours and privileges. The majority of these are inscribed on the orders of the community making the grant, as a way of emphasising the honour it was paying to the individual in particular. However, judging from the evidence we have, the number and proportion of the proxeny decrees made by a community which was then inscribed on stone seems to have varied enormously between poleis, and to have depended on a wide variety of factors.

For some cities in some periods, all or most decrees are likely to have been routinely inscribed (as, for example, at Delphi), but the norm seems to have been highly selective inscription (70 % of the poleis attested in the database are represented by five or fewer texts). Where communities inscribe a larger number of proxeny decrees, the epigraphic medium for them seems to play a significant role. At Oropos and Delphi, where substantial numbers of individual decrees survive (and inscribing proxeny decrees seems to have been the norm rather than the exception, at least in certain periods), the majority of the decrees are inscribed not on purpose made, free-standing stone stelai, but on already existing stone surfaces, especially the bases of statues or monumental walls. Epigraphic medium also has an impact on rates of survival. The almost complete absence of proxeny decrees from Sicily and the West probably relates to the fact that the normal epigraphic medium for honorific decrees in this area, bronze tablets, are much less likely to survive because bronze tends to be melted down and reused rather than discarded.

One other type of epigraphic material deserves particular notice - inscribed lists of proxenoi. These texts come in the form of catalogues (collecting all proxenoi at a particular point) and chronological lists (proxenoi appointed within a certain intervals of time). Although they mostly survive in a highly fragmentary state, they provide us with samples of proxeny networks which are less likely to be distorted by biases of selective inscription. For a discussion of the ways in which this material can illuminate patterns of proxeny networking, see Proxeny and Polis, Chapter 3.

To give a sense of how the specific epigraphic practice of inscribing proxeny decrees developed throughout the Mediterranean world over time, an earlier version of the data was used to produce the following visualization in Microsoft Excel’s Powermap function. The numbers in the corner correspond with the fifty year periods indicated in the table below the video. In order to prevent the data being distorted by the particularly large numbers of decrees inscribed at Hellenistic Delos, Delphi, and Oropos (which collectively amount to more than half of the data), these have each been caped at 150 decrees per fifty year period.

Date range 499-450 BC 449-500 BC 399-350 BC 349-300 BC 299-250 BC 249-200 BC 199-150 BC 149-100 BC 99-50 BC 49-1 BC 1-50 AD 51-100 AD 101-150 AD 151-200 AD
Number of communities attested per 50 year period

Literary texts

Relatively few attestations to relations of proxeny are made in the surviving literary sources. They tend only to be made where the relationship of proxeny is relevant in some way to the events or actors described. One of the most common contexts is rhetorical: foreign speakers on a number of occasions make reference to the fact that they are proxenos of the political community they are addressing.

PNAW is a database of references to concrete relations of proxeny, and does not, therefore, collect references which are clearly fictional or allegorical (for example, references made to proxeny in the plays of Euripides).


One of the most important pieces of information about a given attestation is the date of the proxeny in question (and the source attesting to it, where this differs). Dates are given in the format used by the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (see glossary of terms). Where the date assigned to a text in this database differs from the date assigned to it in the publication used to refer to it, the source of the date is given.

Probability of attestation

Inscriptions are often preserved in a fragmentary state, so that in some cases we cannot be certain whether the text in question granted proxenia. In order to recognise and assess the degree of likelihood that a particular piece of evidence attests to a relationship of proxeny, PNAW adopts a four point probability scale which is signalled in the ‘Honours’ column by the following transcriptions:

proxenia (1) - indicating a certain attestation of proxeny (i.e. the word itself survives or an unambiguous portion of it)
proxenia (2) - indicating a judgement that, although unambiguous traces of a reference to proxeny do not survive, one can be assumed with a high degree of probability on the basis of textual and contextual factors (e.g. 80-100%)
proxenia (3) - indicating a judgement that a particular inscription probably contained a reference to proxeny, although with less confidence than proxenia (2) (e.g. 51-79%)
proxenia (4) - indicating a judgement that the most likely of the possible restorations of a text involve a reference to proxeny (e.g. up to 50 %). Instances where other restorations appear as probable as proxeny, on the basis of textual and contextual factors, are not included.

These categories, which have also been indicated in a similar way in relation to the other honours and privileges noted, inevitably involve a degree of personal judgement, especially in relation to weighing contextual factors which become extremely important in assessing texts in which a direct reference to proxeny does not survive. Thus almost identical fragmentary texts from different cities may be given quite different ratings (or excluded entirely) on the basis of contextual factors and local patterns of practice. So, for example, a decree evidently for a non-citizen from Oropos may be included as proxenia (1), even though it is similar in form to an Athenian decree excluded from consideration, on the basis that almost no honorific decrees for outsiders are known from Oropos which do not grant proxenia, whereas at Athens other kinds of honorific decree, including citizenship decrees, are equally well attested from the mid-fourth century onwards.