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Diplomatic Gifts in the Principate and in Late Antiquity

Gifts exchanged between ambassadors and rulers of polities were a staple of ancient diplomacy. They could serve to open and support negotiations, but also to celebrate the successful conclusion of a treaty, and, particularly in Late Antiquity, were firmly embedded in an elaborate ceremonial of diplomatic exchanges. However, no gift is innocent. In ancient sources, interpretations and judgements of gifts vary wildly and depending on who gave what to whom and on which occasion. Gifts to the Roman Empire were likely to be seen or represented as tribute owed. Conversely, similar transfers of wealth by Romans to external polities may have been presented as voluntary gifts by the imperial court, but our sources often see in them little less than tributes. A contemporary discourse about the purpose, appropriateness and adequacy of diplomatic ‘gifts’ interpreted them either as economically preferable alternatives to war, as subsidies given to loyal allies or as humiliating tributes paid from a position of weakness, depending on the circumstances. This project aims to investigate these discourses, with a particular focus on Late Antiquity, but always taking into account the evolution of such discursive elements from the time of Augustus onwards.