Letter from Artabanus II to Susa
Validating the Election of the City Treasurer
December, A.D. 20
|Photo by Chris Hopkins
The above block of grey marble was found by M. de Mecquenem at Susa in 1931/1932. It is 65 cm long, 22 cm. high and 16 cm thick. It is presently located in the Louvre Museum, Paris, in the gallery dedicated to Parthian and Sasanian artifacts, accession Sb 2786.
The marble apparently decorated the base of a statue. In the inscription, the Parthian king overrules constitutional term limits in the case of a city treasurer and validates his reelection.
The letter is single-dated year 268 (Parthian era) Audnaeus 17, that is, 17 December A.D. 20 which places it in the reign of Artabanus II
(c. A.D. 10 - 38). Using the obsolete chronologies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the inscription was previously attributed to Artabanus III. Note the year is here properly calculated to A.D. 20, not 21 as per Welles.
Internally, the letter makes several references to Seleucid era years, 330 S.E. (A.D. 18/19), 331 (19/20) and 332 (20/21).
Following is the translation of the text by C. B. Welles, "Letter of Artaban III, King of Parthia, to Seleucia on the Eulaeus (Susa), validating the election of the city treasurer. Audnaeus 17, A.D. 21":
King of kings Arsaces to Antiochus and Phraates the two archons in Susa and to the city, greeting. [Since Hestiaeus the son of Asius], one of your citizens and a member of the order of "the first and chief-honored friends" and of "the bodyguards," conducted himself in the office of treasurer in the year ([according to the former] numbering) 329 most honorably and justly and with all incorruptibility, shrinking from [no expense] of his own when the outlay was for the good of the city; twice during his term of office when the city [had] need of an envoy [he made the journey] himself, thinking the care of his own property unimportant but the city's affairs more urgent, and sparing neither money nor trouble he devoted [himself without reserve] to the two embassies, and having managed them to the city's advantage he received the appropriate honors, as the decree voted [by the city] in the year 330 testifies; since in the year 331 when need arose of a good [man he was again nominated] for the same office for the year 332, and after a long examination (when Petasus the son of A[ntiochus had been elected archon with Aristomenes] the son of Philip) he came forward and deposed that he was debarred by the constitution (?) from filling the same office a second time before the lapse of three years; since the city, [knowing from experience] his good character and remembering his administration of the same office, decided to choose him treasurer, and so he was elected [for the] year 332 in the archonship of Petasus the son of Antiochus and Aristomenes the son of Philip; since then [you have reported] Hestiaeus [to us] on the above grounds, we decide that his election was valid and that he is not to be prosecuted for having filled the same office twice without allowing an interval of three years to elapse, nor on the basis of any other royal order dealing with the subject whatsoever, and we decide in general that the [illegality which] has been pointed
out be expressly forgiven, no denial or investigation either general or specific being required (?).
Year 268, Audnaeus 17
|The Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents (CSAD) Image Bank of Inscriptions, Oxford University's epigraphical archive, contains 72 dpi and 150 dpi digital images of the squeezes of the Artabanus III letter to Susa. (Oxford retains the obsolete chronology, attributing the letter to Artabanus III.)
Cumont, F. (1932): "Une lettre du roi Artaban III a la ville Susa", Comptes rendus de l'acad?ie des inscriptions, 1931, pp. 238-259.
C. B. Welles, "Letter of Artaban III, King of Parthia, to Seleucia on the Eulaeus (Susa), validating the election of the city treasurer. Audnaeus 17, A.D. 21", Royal Correspondence in the Hellenistic Period (Chicago: Ares, 1979), pp. 299-306.