It's not every day you get email from a US Consul. But such was the case a week ago when I received a lovely email from Mr Mark Mohr. Mr Mohr's a retired US diplomat and a mystery reader. And very glad I am that he emailed, because he mentioned something interesting to do with The Ionia Sanction
In The Ionia Sanction
there's a character named Thorion. Thorion has a special job: he's a proxenos
Proxenos was one of the most interesting official jobs a man could have in Classical Greece. The pro
means for, the xenos
means foreigner. Hence proxenos
means someone who acted on behalf of foreigners.
The system worked like this: cities didn't have a diplomatic service back then, so what they did was find men among the other cities who were well-disposed toward them, and then ask those foreign men to act on their behalf.
Thorion is a citizen of Athens, and always has been. But he married a woman from Ephesus and he has intricate trade connections to Ephesus. Thorion therefore acts as the proxenos
for Ephesus in Athens. He officially represents them.
If someone from Ephesus is in Athens and in trouble, he can go to Thorion for help. If a merchant in Ephesus wants to trade in Athens, he could ask Thorion for advice and introductions to Athenian traders. If Athens was considering passing some trade law that would disadvantage Ephesus, then Thorion -- even though he was a citizen of Athens -- might reasonably stand up to argue against it, and his fellow citizens would expect him to do just that.
The proxenoi appear to have been at least as effective as the consulates of modern times. With the hundreds of Greek city-states, and their intricate political and trade alliances, the proxenoi must have formed a complex and fascinating network of men.
I thought the proxenoi were no more, replaced by modern consuls. But to my delight, I was wrong. Mark mentioned:
"Actually, there is such a system in modern diplomacy; they are known as honorary consuls. For example, when I was [US Consul] in Brisbane, a prominent Greek-Australian attorney was the honorary consul for Greece. At the time I was in Brisbane, only eight consuls were citizens of the sending country, whereas more than twenty honorary consuls, all Australian citizens, represented foreign interests. So apparently the Greek gift of the proxenoi system continues into present times."
Not only do the proxenoi still exist, but they're in my own country. And one of them is proxenos for Greece!