Roman Arbitration in the Greek Oikumene in the Third–Second Century BCE: Some Observations

Maciej Piegdoń

Rome’s expansion in the Hellenistic world had an impact on the use of various instruments
of diplomacy by the Romans, including arbitration, commonly used by and popular among
the Greeks. The Romans did not have the desire to become arbitrators of the Greek world, but it
was important to them to take advantage of the situation they encountered there and to achieve
their goals. The Greeks, who had been used to employing various, more or less sophisticated,
diplomatic instruments, saw the Roman Republic, a new player in their world, in the same way
as the other large and mighty powers which could be appealed to as arbitrators. Rome did not
become an arbitrator in Greek matters of its own will, but due to the fact that the Greek world
itself appointed it to this role when it replaced the Hellenistic monarchies. The Romans became
involved in solving disputes in the Greek world only when they had to. Despite being offered this
role, the Senate had no intention of being an “arbitration court” for the confl icted Greek states.
Roman arbitrators acted on the basis of the authority given to them by the Senate (senatus consulta),
which fi rst became familiar with the cause of the dispute. Disputes were usually solved by
Roman offi cials (proconsul, governor) or specially delegated legates and decemviri with prepared
instructions which gave them the authority to solve the matter on the spot and to enforce the decisions
they made. The procedure applied both to the Greek world and to the western part of the
Mediterranean Sea, where Rome held power (North Africa, Italy). However, what differentiated
the arbitration in Italy and the western part of Rome’s dominion from the one in the Greek world
was the Republic appointing other Greek states (poleis or leagues) to arbitrate on its behalf. When
deciding to arbitrate, the Romans were usually not interested in the history of the dispute, but
solved the disagreement or confl ict on the basis of the status quo, without going into the details of
who had been right previously. This was different from the rules of arbitration in the Greek world,
where earlier mediation was taken into consideration. Perhaps this was a result of the difference
between the Roman and the Greek worlds in terms of property right. The Roman law of property
had an important distinction between legal ownership of a thing (dominium or proprietas), called
property right, and the actual possession of a thing (possessio). For the Republic, this approach
made it easier to side with their allies participating in a dispute, even if they were wrong. This
attitude mainly protected the interests of the allied state, unless it was benefi cial to Rome to act
against them.
Słowa kluczowe: Arbitratio, Roman Republic, Hellenistic world, mediation.

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