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Humanities 2018, 7(4), 91; doi:10.3390/h7040091

Recognizing the Delians Displaced after 167/6 BCE
History Section, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Department of the Classics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
Received: 13 August 2018 / Accepted: 7 September 2018 / Published: 20 September 2018


In 167/6 BCE, the Roman senate granted a request from Athens to control the island of Delos. Subsequently, the Delians inhabiting the island were mandated to leave and an Athenian community was installed. Polybius, who records these events, tells us that the Delians left and resettled in Achaea in the Peloponnese. Scholars have tended to focus on Rome’s motivations for siding with the Athenians rather than on what happened to the Delians. Furthermore, translations have tended to use the broad terminology of ‘migration’ to describe the Delians’ movement. Comparatively, this contribution suggests that modern categories connected to ‘displacement’ can help us recover aspects of the Delians’ experience. Particularly, a shift to the vocabulary of ‘displacement’ highlights the creative agency of the Delians in holding the Athenians accountable for their expulsion and in seeking recognition from Rome of their integration into the Achaean state. The application of these modern categories necessitates reflection on differences in the political, institutional landscapes that have shaped the experience of displacement in the ancient Hellenistic and modern contexts, as well as on variations in experience amongst the Delians. Ultimately, recognizing what these individuals experienced within the evolving third-party arbitration system of the ancient world leads us to think about the indirect violence of expanding political institutions in ‘globalising’ worlds, both ancient and modern.
Delos; Delians; koinon of the Achaeans; Athens; Roman senate; Polybius; Hellenistic Mediterranean; third-party arbitration; international humanitarian organizations; migration; displacement; refugee; indirect violence; globalisation

1. The Context of Displacement

After 167/6 BCE, the Delians were expelled from their homes. At the conclusion of what we call the Third Macedonian War, Rome approved Athens’ request to control the island of Delos (see Figure 1). Subsequently, the Delians living on the island were mandated to leave.1 Most scholarly attention to this historical moment has focused on reasons why Rome would curtail Delian independence. Regardless of motivations, however, possibly over one thousand individuals were separated from their homes and common civic institutions.2 Our histories and translations tend to pass over what these people experienced. Here, therefore, we will pay witness to how the Delians reacted to their expulsion and how they negotiated the political structures that facilitated it.
I have used the passive voice above to highlight the difficulties of assigning agency for what happened to the Delians. With hindsight, we understand the Delians’ expulsion in the context of Roman imperialism expanding throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Rome likely granted Delos to Athens for reasons unrelated to Delian actions but instead related to the nearby island of Rhodes.3 Translations of relevant passages of Polybius, who records portions of the Delians’ experience, have phrased the Delians’ movement in terms of ‘migration’, thereby further obscuring the agencies involved. Instead, if we shift to thinking about the Delians’ experience in terms of ‘displacement’, we highlight the dynamics of agency and recognition in the Delians’ response to being outside of a place of belonging.
In fact, the Delians located the cause of their suffering with the Athenians—not the Romans—at least for legal and political purposes. Focusing on this choice to hold the Athenians accountable helps us to understand more fully the roles that agency and recognition had in the Delian response. These two themes are prominent in this volume’s Catalyst pieces addressing present-day displacements (e.g., Ribeiro et al. 2017; Maqusi 2017). Observations regarding how movement happens and how states attempt to categorize and control movement in the modern world can help us think through what is at stake to discuss the Delians’ case in terms of forced displacement. I am not suggesting that we compare directly ancient and modern cases—they are not the same. Modern categories, such as ‘displaced person’ and ‘refugee’, do not have precise parallels in the ancient world, especially in the absence of international humanitarian organizations.
However, political structures and institutions affected movement in the ancient world as well as in the modern context. With attention to differences between the two political, structural landscapes, i.e., the third-party arbitration system of the ancient world and the current international humanitarian aid system, I propose that we can employ modern categories pertaining to forced displacement in our translations and histories in order to generate questions and reflections. However, in doing so, we must be attuned to flattening categories, such as ‘displaced person’ and ‘Delian’, and account for different outcomes among individuals negotiating similar contexts. The displaced Delians as a group, especially those individuals who became citizens of the koinon of the Achaeans, were relatively well-situated to pursue recognition and recompense for their economic and less tangible losses. Nevertheless, we can perceive possible stratifications among the displaced Delians as a whole. Ultimately, thinking about the ancient world through these modern categories prompts us to examine how ‘globalising’ or increasingly connected worlds can magnify inequalities among populations as well as enable and constrain the ways that individuals respond to indirect violence enacted within the expanding sphere of evolving political institutions.

2. Translating the Delian Experience

We have limited ancient sources that record what the Delians experienced. Polybius is our most detailed source for the Delians’ expulsion, and we are almost exclusively dependent on his record of these events. Polybius was a contemporary of the second century BCE and was born in the Peloponnese in what is now the modern nation-state of Greece. He came from a family prominent in regional politics through the koinon of the Achaeans (also known as the Achaean League) and was taken to Rome as a prisoner around 167 BCE during conflicts between the Achaeans and Romans. In his Histories, he sought to explain how Rome came to dominate almost the whole world known to him. In doing so, his writing covers much of Mediterranean political history between the mid third and mid second centuries BCE.
One passage in Polybius’ Histories is particularly central to excavating what happened to the Delians (Polyb. 32.7.2–3; Walbank and Habicht 2012, p. 269):
τοῖς γὰρ Δηλίοις δοθείσης ἀποκρίσεως παρὰ Ῥωμαίων, μετὰ τὸ συγχωρηθῆναι τὴν Δῆλον τοῖς Ἀθηναίοις, αὐτοῖς μὲν ἐκχωρεῖν ἐκ τῆς νήσου, τὰ δ’ ὑπάρχοντα κομίζεσθαι, μεταστάντες εἰς Ἀχαΐαν οἱ Δήλιοι καὶ πολιτογραφηθέντες ἐβούλοντο τὸ δίκαιον ἐκλαβεῖν παρὰ τῶν Ἀθηναίων κατὰ τὸ πρὸς τοὺς Ἀχαιοὺς σύμβολον.
For after the cession of Delos to Athens, the Delians, having in response to an embassy been ordered by the Romans to evacuate the island, taking their personal property with them, migrated (μεταστάντες) to Achaea, and becoming Achaean citizens (πολιτογραφηθέντες) claimed that the procedure in suits brought by them against Athenians should be in accordance with the convention (σύμβολον) between Athens and the Achaeans.
When translating ancient texts, we tend to mirror the language of ancient sources and to use more neutral terminology. The translation above reflects this tendency. Most notably, the translation employs the English verb “to migrate” to translate the Greek verb μεθίστημι, which broadly means “to change” but more specifically “to move from one place to another”.5 Similarly, an earlier English translation employs the phrase “to remove to Achaea” (Shuckburgh 1889, sct. 32.17, p. 460); a German translation renders the verb as “waren ausgewandert”, meaning “had emigrated, migrated” (Drexler 1963, sct. 32.17, p. 1237); and a more recent Italian translation features the reflexive verb “si erano trasferiti”, meaning literally “had transferred or moved themselves” (Mari 2005, sct. 32.7.3, p. 235).6 Although technically, our modern word “migrate” and associated terminology reflect the ancient Greek text, talking about the Delians’ experience in terms of ‘migration’ obscures what the individuals experienced. It also complicates the involuntary nature of the movement pointed to in preceding clauses. Instead, I propose that thinking about the Delian case in terms of the more specific terminology of ‘displacement’ can help us recover aspects of the Delians’ experience.
In what ways do modern categories or heuristics for movement challenge cross-historical analysis and in what ways do they facilitate new lines of thinking about the Delian narrative? The current ‘refugee crisis’ and the political environment in which it has occurred have intensified the implications of terms and categories related to movement. Particularly, international humanitarian organizations have contributed to the hardening of such categories as ‘migrant’, ‘displaced person’ and ‘refugee’.7 In the modern world, resources from the humanitarian aid regime are often at stake for a person to fit into one category versus another, thus affecting how they are applied and how people seek to categorize themselves (Malkki 1996). International organizations, such as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), disseminate these resources, as manifested in the contributions of Dalal (2017), Maqusi (2017) and Petti (2017) to this volume. Such organizations thereby participate in structuring, and even dictating, the process of defining groups through these categories.
The existence of mediating international organizations in the modern world is arguably one of the most significant analytical differences in studying displacement in modern contexts versus ancient worlds. It is difficult to separate the existence of such organizations or previous lack thereof from ideals of philanthropia and humanitarianism, which have been acted on differently in ancient and modern societies.8 However, in the absence of intermediary organizations in the ancient world, individual city-states and other state formations, such as federations of city-states, Hellenistic kingdoms or the Roman state, more immediately shaped the narratives as well as the experiences of particular displaced individuals. Decisions about granting resources to persons seeking asylum played out more exclusively through the institutions of local government rather than through non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations. Categories for movement did not need to translate as commonly across borders in order to coordinate resource allocation, as they do now.
If resources are not at stake, then what is at stake to refer to an ancient group as displaced persons or as refugees when we translate ancient sources and write about the ancient world? Despite differences in the institutional landscape, the process of categorization in the modern world highlights the power that categories have in shaping not only the experience of people outside a place of belonging but also the perception of displaced people. For instance, until recently, ‘migrant’ served as a relatively neutral term to refer to movement, even that taking place under duress. However, a shift in terminology has occurred in news sources away from ‘migrant’ and towards ‘refugee’ (e.g., Malone 2015 for Al Jazeera; Ruz 2015 for the BBC). When explaining why Al Jazeera would no longer use the term ‘migrant’ in relation to mass movements in the Mediterranean, Barry Malone (2015) assessed this shift:
The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative.
Given this assessment of the term’s contemporary operation, should classical scholarship and translations of ancient texts follow suit?
Archives for the ancient world already perpetuate power structures and violence through their selective recording of events and experiences—largely those pertaining to individuals who were in a privileged situation to record their experiences. Therefore, given modern shifts in terminology and the greater context of what was happening to the Delians, I resist using our term ‘migration’, and even ‘evacuation’, to write about the Delians’ experience. We could refer to the Delians as ‘exiles’ as some authors have done (e.g., Delians as “exiles” in Ferguson 1911, p. 324). However, the term ‘exiles’ refers to a wide range of situations in ancient studies, including, prominently, the expulsion of particular individuals from a city due to political stances or leanings (e.g., Gaertner 2007).9 Based on Polybius’ greater narrative, the Delians’ movement seems to have been involuntary and does not seem to be a reaction to a position or attitude that they took. Arguably, translating and writing about the Delians’ movement as ‘migration’ or even ‘exile’, terms which encapsulate so many different moments of movement, perpetuates aspects of the violence committed against them.
Talking about the Delians’ situation in terms of ‘displacement’ rather than ‘migration’ aids in drawing our attention to what intervenes and goes unacknowledged in Polybius’ narrative. For instance, we tend to conceive of migration as movement from one point to another versus displacement, which implies a sense of suspension and of being between places. The Delians likely experienced such a state of suspension before incorporation into the Achaean state: as long as ten years may have intervened between the Delians’ expulsion and their enrolment in the Achaean state. Moreover, employing terminology associated with displacement in the modern world highlights three other elements of Polybius’ narrative: (1) the creative agency that the Delians exerted in seeking recognition and recompense for being expelled from their homes; (2) the politics of the Delians’ re-emplacement in the Achaean state; and (3) the structures and institutions, such as third-party arbitration, that shaped the Delians’ experience of the increasingly connected second century BCE Mediterranean.

3. The Creative Agency of the Displaced Delians

Whereas the term ‘migration’ often suggests (sometimes problematically) agency in choosing to move, the term ‘displacement’ helps shift attention to how the Delians demonstrated agency in responding to an involuntary situation.10 To understand the Delians’ response to their expulsion from the island, we need to return to Polybius and unpack disparate sections of his narrative that address different moments in Delian history.
The dispossession of 167/6 BCE was not the first for the Delians. Athens had exercised authority over the island, which was an important trade hub, in the sixth to fourth centuries BCE, and the Athenians had expelled the Delians previously in 422 BCE (Thuc. 5.1).11 In this earlier instance, however, the Delians were able to return one year later (Thuc. 5.32.1; Constantakopoulou 2007, p. 73; 2016, p. 127). Due to Athens’ earlier hegemony over Delos, Polybius (30.20.3) recognizes that the Athenians had legitimate grounds for requesting that the Romans grant them the island. He criticizes them, though, for presenting Athens as a homeland for all people while displacing others from their homes (Polyb. 30.20.6). In going against their own civic philosophy, even if they had legitimate reasons, Polybius suggests that the Athenians made a mistake and paid for it. He reflects that the Athenians suffered from their embittered relationship with the Delians, since the Delians did not take the second expulsion lightly—he compares their reaction to wolves held by the ears (30.20.8–9).12
The Delians did not passively accept their second expulsion. Collective memory of Athens’ previous domination of the island likely intensified Delian reactions.13 Through their reactions, the Delians actively sought to hurt the Athenians, at least financially and diplomatically. For instance, evidence from inscriptions indicates that inhabitants of the island were repairing buildings a decade after the expulsion: the Delians possibly destroyed non-movable property before they left the island in order to avoid handing it over to the new authorities (Kent 1948, p. 314 n. 221; see ID 1416 B I, ll. 61–62 and B II, ll. 39–40; 1417 B II, l. 92 and C, ll. 30–98). In addition to material actions taken against the Athenians, the Delians successfully exerted agency within the contemporary legal context to hold the Athenians accountable for this second expulsion.
The Delians were aided in their campaign to hold the Athenians accountable by the people who provided them with asylum. After the Delians involuntarily left the island, Polybius (32.7.1–5) records that they settled in Achaea, where individual cities cooperated in a regional, ‘federal state’ structure called a koinon. Polybius specifies that the Delians were enrolled as citizens in the federal Achaean state (32.7.3: πολιτογραφηθέντες). Based on comparative evidence from other ancient federal states, the Delians may have received federal Achaean citizenship from the whole koinon and possibly chose the particular Achaean city in which they received civic citizenship (Aymard 1938, p. 113 n. 2; Walbank 1979, p. 525; Rizakis 2012, p. 32; Müller 2017, p. 94).14 In the modern context, this process would be similar to someone receiving European Union citizenship from federal institutions and also choosing the member country in which they settled and received further benefits and rights.
By making the Delians Achaean citizens, in addition to citizens of individual member cities, the koinon of the Achaeans granted the Delians access to privileges available to all Achaeans. Notably, the Achaeans had previously established a symbolon, an agreement or treaty, with the Athenians earlier in the second century BCE (Gauthier 1972, pp. 173, 204; Walbank 1979, p. 526; Ager 1996, p. 387). Now as Achaean citizens, the Delians proceeded to sue the Athenians under this symbolon. It appears that the Delians had been told that they could take their personal property with them when they left Delos, but they may not have been able to take all of it in the moment. Some protection established in the symbolon enabled the Delian-Achaeans to sue the Athenians for the loss of this personal property (Larsen 1968, p. 486; Müller 2017, p. 95). As Benjamin Gray (2018) illustrates in other ancient case studies in this collection, citizenship was not necessarily a mechanism for excluding the displaced, but instead it opened up opportunities for the Delians to exercise collective agency.
In fighting the suit, however, the Athenians claimed that the symbolon did not apply to the Delians. Essentially, therefore, they contended that the Delians were not eligible for the full rights of Achaean citizens, at least those established before their enrolment. Ultimately, in order to settle the dispute, the Achaeans and Athenians sent an embassy to Rome in 159/8 BCE. Through the embassy, the Delians sought rhysia, or the right to make reprisals against Athens, more specifically, possibly the right to take property as compensation for what they lost (Polyb. 32.7.4; Ager 1996, p. 5; Larsen 1968, p. 486; Buraselis 2016, p. 150). The Roman senate upheld the right of the Achaeans to make arrangements regarding the Delians according to Achaean laws, including the symbolon. They seem to have recognized the Delians’ ability to sue Athens as Achaean citizens and, by extension, to make the reprisals. Polybius does not record, however, how the affair was settled beyond this decision.

4. The Politics of Refuge

The Delians did not remain displaced, in the sense of being without a place, at least legally: they were incorporated into the Achaean state and were eventually recognized as fully, legally Achaean by an external state. Our general term ‘displacement’ does not encapsulate the re-emplacement involved in the ancient term μεθίστημι, which involves both movement away from a place and incorporation within a new place. Arguably, the Delians experienced something similar to what we now think of as refugee status during the process of becoming full Achaean citizens. Whether or not the modern category of ‘refugee’ applies technically to the ancient Delians, it can help us think about Polybius’ limited narrative from new directions.
Attention to how the category of ‘refugee’ operates in the modern world prompts questions about the competing interests of actors involved in the Delians’ situation. Indeed, Kostas Buraselis (Buraselis 2016, pp. 150–51) has recently described the Delians as “refugees”.15 In his analysis, he draws attention, seemingly for the first time, to the factors that drove the Delians’ incorporation into the Achaean state. Since the term ‘refugee’ prompts reflection on where the person fleeing seeks ‘refuge’, the use of the term, whether consciously or unconsciously, draws attention to a previously overlooked aspect of the Delian narrative: why the Achaeans would agree to grant the Delians refuge. In the modern world, the competing interests of different political parties and nations shape the discourses surrounding grants of refuge and the recognition of refugee status. Likewise, the Delians’ process of gaining citizenship in a new state was deeply political: it did not play out in isolation between one party seeking refuge/recognition (the Delians) and one party granting refuge/recognition (the Achaeans).
After the Battle of Pydna in 168 BCE, the koinon of the Achaeans and Athens were two of the more stable powers in the Greek mainland. They consistently positioned themselves against each other and played each other off against Roman authority. Polybius’ narrative potentially masks the Achaeans’ own investment in this process. Polybius has a general tendency to place the Achaeans in a favourable light and to avoid criticizing Rome for mass displacements (Gray 2013; Isayev 2017b, p. 287). Polybius’ own brother Thearidas led the Achaean embassy on behalf of the Delians (Polyb. 32.7.1; Walbank 1979, p. 525), and the Achaeans may have financed the embassy to Rome through the federal treasury. The embassy may also have attempted to address the situation of over one thousand Achaean individuals, including Polybius, who were being held in Rome since 167 BCE.16 Therefore, broader Achaean interests may have been at play in accepting the Delians. While claims to common mythical relations—the brothers Ion and Achaeos—may have facilitated the incorporation of the Delians (who could present themselves as ‘Ionians’) into the Achaean state, the Achaeans also likely acted out of self-interest in positioning themselves against Athens.17 In particular, the Achaeans, or at least Polybius, may have been invested in presenting the Athenians as the agents of the Delians’ suffering, since doing so suggested that the Achaeans were more open and welcoming to other ‘Greeks’ than Athens (Buraselis 2016, pp. 150–51). Moreover, they might also have held up their advocacy and support of the Delians as a model for the treatment of their own forcibly displaced individuals in Italy.
The factors that surround being recognized within the category of ‘refugee’ in the modern world help us better understand possible broader Delian motivations for the suit against the Athenians. Since the UN Convention of 1951, the term ‘refugee’ has been closely tied to processes through which individuals gain acknowledgement for what they have experienced and for what they are still experiencing while outside their home community of belonging. Obtaining refugee status has been a way of having losses recognized, as well as of refusing invisibility, and therefore of securing rights and resources (Feldman 2008; 2012).
In the absence of an international humanitarian aid regime in the ancient world that could grant recognition, the Delians deftly turned to an interstate legal option. Scholars have read a desire for economic reparations as lying behind the Delians’ suit (Buraselis 2016, p. 149). While economic incentives certainly played a substantial role, a broader interest in having their situation recognized and in holding the Athenians visibly accountable may have also driven the suit. Through the arbitration process, the Delians seem to have successfully ascribed agency for their suffering to the Athenians, pursued the opportunity for retributions and sought recognition of the justice of doing so from external sources (see Müller 2017, p. 91). In doing so, the Delians demonstrated their continued capacity to act politically despite being disassociated from the home institutions—their own polis and related entities, demos, boule, etc.—through which they had previously defined themselves and made themselves visible. Although incorporated into the Achaean state, the Delians may have fostered a continued sense of community by insisting on visibility and by gaining recognition of shared losses as a ‘polis-in-exile’ within the Achaean state.18
Therefore, thinking about the Delian situation through the category of ‘refugee’ helps bring the politicization of their re-emplacement and response into focus. In recognizing the politics of the Delians’ re-emplacement, we gain the impression that it mattered that the Delians were incorporated into the Achaean state versus another state. Incorporation into the Achaean state gave the Delians increased access to resources and support for their suit within the evolving geopolitical situation of the Greek mainland. Relationships between states are not equal, and not all asylums are desired equally.19

5. Giving Depth to a Category

The Delians as a whole were relatively well positioned within Mediterranean politics, based on kinship ties and the status of the island as an important trading post, to pursue recompense and recognition for their losses. Ultimately, the displaced Delians were able to navigate the complex interstate structures of the second century BCE Mediterranean—a feat that required political know-how to appeal to the Achaeans and to Rome. It also necessitated the mobilization of political and economic resources (be they technically Delian or Achaean)—in the sending of embassies and requesting rhysia. The Delian case, therefore, can also point to how the category of ‘displaced person’ or ‘refugee’ can flatten variations in a certain situation and in experience between groups.
This variation extends to the level of individuals. In this volume, Dalal (2017) draws our attention to the social differentiation and cultural hybridity that can exist within the physically uniform refugee camp: what seems to be a relatively homogenous group according to categories of the humanitarian aid regime can mask differentiation in socio-economic status and cultural practices. Religious, economic, political, etc. differences exist within these groups and can affect how individuals experience violences of leaving a place of belonging or how they survive violences at home.
Likewise, the focus of Polybius’ narrative and modern scholarship on the ‘Delians’ has a tendency to flatten the experience of the individuals who made up this group. Scholars estimate the number of Delian citizens inhabiting the island before the expulsion at over a thousand individuals (Vial 1984, p. 20; Müller 2017, p. 94). However, not all of these ‘Delians’, if we understand the term as indicating the Delian citizens living on the island, necessarily left. It was not uncommon in the ancient world for a new power to expel the elites of a community, while letting others remain, as a sort of social and political decapitation (Lomas 2006, p. 109). In the case of the Delian expulsion, we can ask whether the Delian population as a whole was expelled or whether a subset was.

5.1. Differentiating Experiences of Delians

We have limited literary sources we can turn to besides Polybius in order to examine the scale of the displacement. Later authors, who may themselves have drawn on Polybius as a source, refer to the transfer of authority over the island (e.g., Strabo 10.5.4). Notably, Pausanias (8.33.2), much later in the second century CE, recounts that Delos did not host Delian inhabitants but the people sent by Athens to guard the sanctuary. In addition to the literary record, we can also examine the epigraphic and material record. In the 150s BCE, a majority of individuals listed as renting land from Delos’ temple of Apollo were Athenian (ID 1417, B II, ll. 78–167; Prêtre 2002, p. 236). Moreover, the island of Delos begins to reveal shifts in its material landscape after 166 BCE. Beginning in the late second century BCE, particularly in the 130s BCE, dedications involving Athenian officials and Roman individuals populate the island (Dillon and Palmer Baltes 2013, p. 221). Significant demographic shifts seem to have occurred.
We have sporadic evidence for Delian individuals remaining or returning. However, these seem to be isolated cases and they would have become political outsiders within the new society that repopulated Delos (Roussel 1916, pp. 17–18; Baslez 1976; Habicht 1997, p. 248 n. 10; Buraselis 2016, p. 149; Müller 2017, pp. 94–96). Unfortunately, distinguishing Delians remaining on the island from foreigners or other non-Athenians inhabiting Delos after 166 BCE is challenging due to the varied categories into which they could become integrated. A few individuals attested before the transfer of the island appear on inscriptions dating after the expulsion with the qualification that they ‘live on Delos’ or with a connection to the nearby island of Rhenea (Baslez 1976, p. 359).
However, the difficulty that we have differentiating any remaining Delians from foreigners tells us something about the experience of remaining. Individuals who remained seem to have experienced a loss of belonging: not physical displacement per say, but civic displacement. They would not necessarily have been participant members of the boule (council) and demos (people/state) of ‘the Athenians living on Delos’, which mirrored institutions that existed in Athens and that now acted as the primary political bodies on the island.20 A certain Nikandros, who seems to have remained on the island, became an Athenian citizen and enrolled in an Athenian deme (ID 1417, B II, ll. 95–96).21 He therefore would have gained access to these imposed political institutions that made decisions for the newly constituted population of Delos. In fact, another Delian named Timotheos also appears to have become an Athenian citizen after 166 BCE and subsequently to have served as an official overseeing trade (epimeletes of the emporion) about two decades later.22 Yet, individuals, such as Nikandros and Timotheos, who voluntarily or involuntarily became Athenian citizens—even though they could participate in the new political community on Delos—likely experienced some sense of compromise or conflict of self and of being suspended between old and new citizenships.
We encounter further difficulties when we attempt to discern why individuals like Nikandros and Timotheos remained on Delos. Was it a ‘political decapitation’? Was there an opportunity to stay if one forfeited Delian citizenship? If movements were more individually determined, what factors most commonly dictated leaving and staying? Was return possible? We cannot answer these questions definitively given the percentage of individuals for whom we have evidence and the fragmentary nature of the evidence. However, these fragments can provide insight into possible factors that shaped individuals’ disparate experiences.
Overall, our best insight into why particular Delians, including Nikandros, remained comes from rent records of the island’s temple of Apollo. Nikandros seems to have been involved in agriculture, since he rented farmland on the nearby island of Rhenea from the temple. He also appears to have belonged to a branch of a prominent family of farmers who periodically had held political positions on Delos during the island’s previous period of independence (Vial 1984, pp. 56–57). Thus, his income and his extended family’s social prominence was founded on continual access to local land, which was limited in the islands.23 His ties to, and knowledge of, local lands may have led him to stay connected to Delos and to become an Athenian citizen. Ultimately, at the end of his lease, Nikandros had sufficient economic resources to guarantee others’ leases. He possibly guaranteed the lease of Ktesonides, who likewise appears to be a Delian who remained on the island (ID 1417, B II, ll. 86–90).24 If so, the Delians who remained may have fostered a network of support, perhaps facilitated by prominent individuals enrolling as Athenian citizens, which then helped them to navigate the island’s new political reality under which renting processes and avenues of political participation had changed.
Remaining was not necessarily fully voluntary, nor straightforward. A fourth individual, a woman named Echenike, reimbursed the temple in 161/0 BCE for 2750 drachma, suggesting a very sizeable original loan, which would have required significant capital to procure (ID 1408, A II, ll. 39–40).25 The record of her payment specifies that she was ‘living on Delos’ (see Baslez 1976); possibly, she remained in Delos because of her debt, non-movable investments or marriage ties. Along with Echenike, several of the others paying for themselves or their relatives were also Delians whom the Athenians may have required to remain on the island until they had paid their debts.26 Echenike’s situation and that of other debtors further suggests that we can understand the different movements of Delian individuals as reflective of a more complex web of personal factors than simply enforcement of a top-down directive carried out under a Romano-Athenian directive.

5.2. Comparing Corinth in 146 BCE

The variation that we start to perceive amongst the Delians raises the question: to what extent did socio-economic status influence movement (or lack thereof) in the ancient world, as it can in the modern world? Another case study helps us to question the role of socio-economic factors in differentiation among groups affected by the same event: the case of individuals displaced by the destruction of Corinth in 146 BCE. Power struggles between the koinon of the Achaeans and its member city Sparta had unintended consequences for its own population (see Gruen 1976). Rome decisively put a stop to Achaean aggression against Sparta by destroying Corinth, a major city of the koinon, and carted beautiful works of art off to Rome. We often talk more, however, about what happened to this art than to the living people who inhabited the city.27
Literary sources offer hints about what happened to these individuals, although they are all much later than the actual event. Pausanias (7.16.7), for one, records that most of the Corinthians fled the city before the Romans entered. Zonaras’ epitome of Cassius Dio also recounts that the city was mostly empty when the Roman general Mummius entered and that Mummius sold off the remaining, surviving Corinthians as slaves after the battle (Zonar. 9.31 on Cassius Dio Book 21; see also Flor. 1.32.5).
As in the Delian case study, it is difficult to track particular individuals who fled Corinth. However, scholars have recently begun making conjectures. Benjamin Millis (2010) has traced Corinthian names in inscriptions found elsewhere in the Mediterranean around 146 BCE. Individuals whom he labelled as certain or likely to have lived around the time of the sack are attested in Egypt and Athens predominantly, with at least one at Rhodes and more on Delos. These individuals may have belonged to families that left Corinth earlier but continued to draw on their Corinthian identity, or they could be Corinthian refugees from the sack that travelled farther afield. Meanwhile, Sarah James (2014, p. 33) has suggested, based on evidence for continuity in ceramic and agricultural production at Corinth in the years around 146 BCE, that Corinthian potters and small-scale farmers remained in the surrounding area. Building on Millis’ work, she suggests that Corinthian potters and farmers stayed in the area of the city around 146 BCE, but that wealthier individuals may have escaped to Athens, Delos, and farther abroad.
The cases of Nikandros and Ktesonides, who were likely engaged in agricultural production, may illustrate similar patterns in the movements of the displaced Delians. However, the cases of Nikandros and Echenike in particular suggest that, although access to economic resources may have constrained or enabled how one responded to displacement, we should not necessarily privilege wealth as a determining factor of whether people left or stayed on Delos. Other realities of people’s livelihood, such as ties to and knowledge of local resources, the form of their wealth or less physical attachments, may have intervened.
For example, a fourth individual, Demetrios, who belonged to an Egyptian family that may have acquired Delian citizenship, was a priest at a Serapeum and remained on the island. He sought out permission from Rome to keep open the sanctuary, which a family member likely established, against Athenian objections (ID 1510).28 Meanwhile, the family of Stesileos, who founded a sanctuary of Aphrodite on the island, disappears from the epigraphic record after 167 BCE, perhaps suggesting that family members left the island, or at least that the family was displaced from its prominence at the sanctuary, which continued to flourish (Durvye 2006, p. 101).29 Potentially, Athenian attempts to close Demetrios’ Serapeum or his Egyptian ties prompted or even enabled Demetrios to obtain a special order of the Roman senate to stay and continue his guardianship. Beyond socio-economic status, such factors might account for differences in experience between Demetrios and the descendants of Stesileos, who otherwise seem to have been similarly positioned.

6. The Indirect Violence of a ‘Globalising’ Hellenistic World

Intensifying interconnection within the second century BCE Mediterranean, which enabled Demetrios to obtain and implement a special decree of the Roman senate, exacerbated inequalities—financial or otherwise—between individuals. Ancient historians have been turning to the framework of ‘globalisation(s)’ in order to explore this increasing connectedness.30 However, studies focused on applying ‘globalisation’ to the ancient world have had a tendency to prioritize connection and overlook moments in which connection meets resistance or breaks down, as we see in the case of the Delians. Comparatively, when we engage with the whole picture of ‘globalisation’ that we see playing out on today’s world stage, we witness moments when increasing connection creates ruptures. As states become increasingly interconnected, the scales on which states conduct activities grow and, therefore, the possibilities for affecting violence and causing suffering grow as well (e.g., Hein 1993, p. 55; Farmer 2002; Devetak and Hughes 2008; Demenchonok and Peterson 2009).31 Institutional changes that accompany ‘globalising’ processes can open up new possibilities for enshrining unequal power relationships, positioning particular individuals to respond to inequalities more successfully and making certain populations more vulnerable to suffering.
Such realities were not new in the mid second century BCE, when the Delians were displaced, arguably by a confluence of political and economic forces. However, the mid second century BCE has been pointed to as a relatively intense ‘globalising’ moment (e.g., Isayev 2014, p. 124), particularly as Roman authority expanded throughout the Mediterranean. As it did so, institutions that had developed in the particular context of Rome, such as the senate, promagistracies, and the patronage system, began to extend farther and to have effects on populations to which they had not previously pertained. Scholars of the ancient world have drawn attention to the increasing rate of direct violence in the Hellenistic period, such as what ultimately happened at Corinth in 146 BCE, as states grew in size and as groups came into increasing contact with each other (e.g., Chaniotis 2005; Eckstein 2006). But, we have been less explicit about considering the changing scales of more indirect forms of violence and the role of such political institutions in enabling indirect violence, such as that which the Delians experienced.
For instance, the third-party arbitration system that the Delians and Achaeans turned to was well established in the Greek world by the mid second century BCE (Ager 1996, 2013; Camia 2009; Magnetto 2015a). City-states that found themselves in non-violent conflict would turn to a supposedly neutral third party to help them settle the dispute. The third-party arbitration system developed in a world of relatively fragmented city-states that often chose to cooperate to pursue common interests. However, by the mid second century BCE, this system had begun to focus around Rome as arbiter, and Rome was not entirely neutral. Moreover, states like Rome, which had a strong military force to enforce decisions, had an increased capacity to compel entities to abide by the decisions made within an arbitration system that entities historically volunteered to enter (Magnetto 2015a). Increasing interconnectedness compounded power unequally: Rome benefited, while smaller entities did not necessarily and, in fact, often became more dependent on the patronage of larger states.
We tend to examine Rome’s increasing involvement in third-party arbitrations with the benefit of hindsight, in order to explain how Rome, intentionally or unintentionally, expanded its power into the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., Camia 2009; Magnetto 2015b). However, when we consider the case of the Delians in the context of the third-party arbitration system of the Greek world, the Delians emerge not just as the “collateral damage” of Roman expansion (Buraselis 2016, p. 151). They emerge more broadly as individuals who suffered due to evolutions in local institutions that were part of an increasingly concentrated interstate system, the operation of which was shaped by perceptions of military strength and cultural hegemony.
Ultimately, in the historical record that survives for us, the Delians held the Athenians, instead of Romans, accountable for what happened to them. Regardless of whether or not the Delians conceived of Rome’s more indirect role in their suffering, they needed to treat the violence as direct and name a perpetrator of the violence in order to seek redress and recognition regarding what happened to them within the contemporary interstate system. The Athenians were a more immediately accessible (and seemingly effective) group against whom to conduct suits and rhysia. Meanwhile, somewhat paradoxically, Rome, which created the conditions for the Delians’ displacement, acted as the third-party arbiter that recognized the Delians’ ability to seek redress from the Athenians for what Rome itself had arguably done. Similarly, it was also the entity that granted Demetrios the ability to retain guardianship of his sanctuary, when the new power on the island wanted to close it.
Rome’s role in the Delians’ experience ought to prompt us to reflect on the role of hegemonic states in modern contexts of displacement. The ‘asylum’ narrative of early Rome is often put forth as a touchstone for thinking about twenty-first century attitudes towards refugees. Editorials remind us of the Romans’ policy of openness towards outsiders in order to challenge entrenched attitudes that associate citizenship with national borders (e.g., Bazelon 2015; Beard 2015; compare Jewell (forthcoming) in this issue). However, beyond discourse, the actions of Rome in shaping the Delians’ experience is a touchstone for the modern context in unsettling ways. The displacement of the Delians happened due to Roman intervention, debatable how purposefully, in regional politics. Ultimately, the actions of Rome, which benefited from the Mediterranean’s increasing interconnectedness, both accomplished the Delians’ physical and civic displacement and supported their ability to pursue recognition and recompense for their displacement. Too similarly, in the modern world, the actions of the major ‘first-world’ powers, which benefit from the unequal process of ‘globalisation’, create the conditions which prompt the mass movements of individuals from regions that have not benefited as directly from increasing interconnection. At the same time, these ‘first-world’ countries serve as the gatekeepers for resources dispersed by the international humanitarian aid regime. Through such actions and decisions, they mould the categories and definitions that shape the experience of displacement.
However, our reception of the Delians’ experiences does not have to be entirely pessimistic. Knowing as we do now that Rome would go on to develop a pan-Mediterranean imperial system, we might suppose that Rome sided with the Achaean-Delian embassy because it aimed to keep any one state entity from gaining too much power and challenging Rome’s rising authority in the region. Allowing the Achaeans and Delians to seek rhysia against the Athenians, who had benefited from Rome’s earlier judgement, would prevent any one state from capitalizing on Rome’s favouritism. But, what if it was not a fully strategic choice? What if the Roman senate perceived its own role in the Delian situation and felt an ethical imperative to acknowledge the Delians as fully participant citizens in their new state? In doing so, the senate would have recognized the Delians as political actors in their newfound state and granted them access to resources, which would have helped them resettle successfully in that state, away from a home from which Rome itself had removed them.


Portions of this research were supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Mediterranean Regional Research Fellowship from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the American Academy in Rome, and a Charles Eliot Norton Fellowship from the Department of the Classics at Harvard University.


I would like to thank the editors for the invitation to participate in this volume and for their guidance in crafting this contribution. I am indebted to them as well as other participants in the conference ‘Refuge and Refugees in the Ancient World’ held at Columbia University in November 2016 for questions and comments on an earlier version of this paper. Geoff Bakewell, Emma Dench, Paul Kosmin, Anne Röhrborn, and an anonymous reviewer also offered invaluable reflections and reactions at various stages of the project. Most importantly, this article was indelibly shaped by interactions with children and families that I met at a refugee squat in Athens during fall 2017. I extend my most heartfelt thanks to these children for sharing their stories with me while making bracelets and jumping rope, and I send my deepest wishes for their continued health and safety. Moreover, thank you to the dedicated individuals who tirelessly continue to mobilize support and resources for these families.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest. Funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish the results.


IDInscriptions de Délos (multiple volumes)
LGPN IFraser, P. M. and E. Matthews, eds. 1987. A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names: Volume 1: The Aegean Islands, Cyprus, Cyrenaica. Oxford: Clarendon.
LSJLiddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon


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  • Scholars have proposed that Rome may have wanted to hurt financially the nearby island of Rhodes by making Delos a tax-free port, or they view the decision as a more broadly political one intended to limit Rhodes’ reach and bolster Roman power. On financial reasons, see Roussel (1916, p. 8); Sippel (1985, pp. 97–104); Bruneau and Ducat (2005, p. 41). On broader political arguments, see Gruen (1984, pp. 106, 312); Reger (1994, p. 270 n. 48); Isayev (2017b, p. 278).
  • The Greek text (the Büttner-Wobst text of the Teubner edition) and English translation both feature in the Loeb Classical Library 2012 edition, for which Frank Walbank and Christian Habicht revised W. R. Paton’s 1927 edition. However, Walbank and Habicht (2012) appear to have made no changes to Paton’s translation of this particular passage.
  • LSJ, s.v μεθίστημι, A and A.II.3. Also, Polybius avoids using nouns to describe the Delians, and some scholars have followed his lead in writing about this historical moment (e.g., Walbank 1979, pp. 525–26; Habicht 1997, pp. 247–49). Instead, Polybius refers to them by the ethnic, Delians.
  • Schick’s (1988) Italian translation summarizes the content of this passage but does not translate it (p. 840). Dübner’s (1839) Latin translation employs the verb “commigraverunt” (sct. 32.17, p. 92).
  • These frameworks largely depend on the concept of the modern nation-state, which tends to be more bounded and less porous than most ancient states. See (UNHCR 2017, pp. 56–57) for definitions of modern categories of forced displacement according to one of the most prominent international organizations pertaining to displaced persons. In practice, however, these categories are often more fluid. See Fiddian-Qasmiyeh et al. (2014) for histories of the development of studies involving these terms and for case studies in forced migration.
  • On the concepts of ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘philanthropia’ as they apply to the ancient Greek world and on moral and ethical attitudes towards refugees in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, see Gray (2016).
  • Garland (2014, chp. 5) employs the term “deportee” for similar situations.
  • On the importance of recognizing different forms of displaced agency in the ancient world, see Isayev (2017a).
  • Diodorus Siculus (12.73.1) records that the expelled Delians settled in Adramyttium on the coast of Asia Minor, in an area now located in Turkey.
  • Polybius (30.20.8) says that in taking authority of Lemnos and Delos, the Athenians were “according to the saying, taking the wolf by the ears” (“κατὰ τὴν παροιμίαν τὸν λύκον τῶν ὤτων ἔλαβον”).
  • Regarding earlier tensions between Delians and Athens while the island was under Athenian control, see Constantakopoulou (2007, pp. 73–75; 2016).
  • Aymard (1938) suggested that the Delians would not have needed to be enrolled in a member city in order to practice the rights of Achaean citizens, but Rizakis (2012), whom Müller (2017) follows, has opposed this claim. All agree, however, as pertains to the points made here, that the Delians were Achaean citizens in practice and that their enrolment was not simply honorary.
  • Roussel (1916, p. 16) and Aymard (1938, p. 113 n. 2) also refer to the Delians as refugees in passing.
  • On the Achaean prisoners, see Polyb. 30.13 and Paus. 7.10.6–12. See also Gruen (1976); Tagliafico (1995); Allen (2006).
  • On this argument, see Buraselis (2016, pp. 150–1). On the relationship between Ion and Achaeos, see Hall (2002, pp. 25–28 including Figure 1.1).
  • On the concept and practices of ‘poleis-in-exile’, see Gray (2015, chp. 6; 2018). On the Delians as practicing such activities, see Gray (2015, p. 316, Table 6.1).
  • For a controversial reflection on such dynamics in the contemporary world and the ethics of the current system, which can be seen as incentivizing movement towards better-off asylums, see Carens (2013, pp. 203–17). However, historical and cultural ties between countries, as well as the location of family members—to name only a few potential factors—can also render particular asylums, often closer ones, more desirable than ones considered to have more financial resources.
  • On the installation and institutions of this Athenian political community, see Migeotte (2014, pp. 590–91) and Müller (2017, pp. 95–96).
  • On this Nikandros, see Vial (2008, p. 99) s.v. Νίκανδρος Ἀρησιμβρότου and LGPN I, p. 329 s.v. Νίκανδρος, no. 33. See also earlier notes: Roussel (1916, p. 18 n. 1); Kent (1948, p. 319 n. 243). However, Kent (1948) conflates two individuals of the same family that Vial (2008) notes as separate individuals. For a text, French translation, and commentary of ID 1417, see Prêtre (2002, pp. 199–238).
  • See especially ID 449, B, ll. 22–25; 1416, B II, ll. 90, 117; 1419, l. 17; 1507, l. 17. On this individual, see LGPN I, p. 441 s.v. Τιμόθεος, no. 10; Baslez (1976, pp. 359–60); Vial (2008, p. 134) s.v. Τιμόθεος Νίκιος.
  • On the relationship between land and social prominence on Delos, as well as the generally elevated socio-economic status of individuals who leased land from the temple (especially in the period of Delos’ independence), see Osborne (1985, pp. 125–27); Osborne (1988, pp. 299–303); Prêtre (2002, pp. 238, 263). Although, in the 150s BCE, renters included slaves, perhaps managing the land for their owners: see Prêtre (2002, p. 236).
  • On this individual, see Vial (2008, p. 87) s.v. Κτησωνίδης Άπολλωνίδου and LGPN I, p. 277 s.v. Κτησωνίδης, no. 7. Nikandros’ patronymic and deme are almost completely restored in these lines based on line 98. On ID 1417, see Prêtre (2002, pp. 199–238). Nikandros also guaranteed the lease of a person from Tarentum who took over the land he had been renting (ID 1417, B II, ll. 95–98); it was not uncommon for the previous renter to guarantee the lease of his successor (Prêtre 2002, pp. 263–64).
  • See LGPN I, p. 192 s.v. Ἐχενίκη, no. 3. On this individual as Delian, see Roussel (1916, pp. 17, 387); Baslez (1976, p. 345); Vial (2008, p. 70) s.v. Ἐχενίκη Παρμενίωνος. On the relatively large size of the original loan, see Vial (1984, pp. 3, 369–72); Migeotte (2014, p. 632).
  • ID 1408. See Roussel (1916, p. 387) and entries for named individuals in Vial (2008). We do not have direct evidence, however, for how the Athenians handled debts during the island’s transfer: see Migeotte (2014, p. 632).
  • We witness the same phenomenon in scholarship regarding the sack of the Athenian Acropolis during the Persian Wars and in recent discussions of the destruction of Palmyra.
  • On this individual’s case, see Roussel (1916, p. 17); Sherk (1969, pp. 37–39); Baslez (1976, pp. 353–54, 359); and Vial (2008, p. 51) s.v. Δημήτριος ὁ καὶ Τελεσαρχίδης. Tréheux (1992, p. 37) also includes Demetrios in his index of foreigners on Delos, s.v. Δημήτριος Ῥηναιεύς. Even if we question his Delian citizenship, the epigraphic record suggests that the Athenians attempted to displace him from the sanctuary but that he successfully circumvented this displacement.
  • On Stesileos himself, see Vial (2008, p. 123) s.v. Στησίλεως Διοδότου.
  • Morris (2003) explores the related concept of ‘Mediterraneanization’. For globalisation and the Hellenistic period, see, for example, Isayev (2014) and Müller (2016). For globalisation and the Roman imperial period, see particularly Hingley (2005) and Pitts and Versluys (2014). A handbook on archaeology and globalisation (Hodos 2017) was published recently including chapters on the ancient Mediterranean.
  • This scholarship includes work on ‘structural violence’, see especially Farmer (2002). Ancient legal systems could not always account for the operation of indirect violence. See Bryen (2013, pp. 54–55) on the lack of an understanding of ‘structural violence’ in Egypt under Roman power.
Figure 1. Map of mainland Greece and Cycladic islands. Map Citation: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”. ( (Accessed: 26 July 2018).
Figure 1. Map of mainland Greece and Cycladic islands. Map Citation: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”. ( (Accessed: 26 July 2018).
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