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AUTON´OMI (αὐτόνομοι), the name given by the Greeks to those states which were governed by their own laws, and were not subject to any foreign power (Thuc. 5.18, 27; Xen. Hell. 5.1.31). This was the proper meaning of the word; but, in the days of the Athenian maritime empire, it was applied to those of the subject-allies who were merely controlled in their foreign policy, and required to furnish a contingent of ships, but not otherwise interfered with. At the time of the Sicilian expedition, the Chians and Methymnaeans seem to have been the only members of the confederacy who retained this amount of freedom; as ϝεῶν παροκωχῇ αὐτόνομοι they are distinguished from the payers of tribute (φορά), the badge of the ὑπήκοοι, and from the really independent allies (πάνυ ἐλευθέρως χυμμαχοῦντας, Thuc. 6.85.2). Before the revolt of 428 B.C. the Mitylenaeans had enjoyed the same privileges; and the language of Grote in describing their political state may be taken as a sufficient account of this form of autonomy: “Lesbos, like Chios, was their ally upon an equal footing, still remaining under those conditions which had been at first common to all the members of the confederacy of Delos. Mitylene paid no tribute to Athens: it retained its walls, its large naval force, and its extensive landed possessions on the opposite Asiatic continent: its government was oligarchical, administering all [p. 1.264]internal affairs without reference to Athens. Its obligations as an ally were, that in case of war it was held bound to furnish armed ships; whether in determinate number or not, we do not know. It would undoubtedly be restrained from making war upon Tenedos, or any other subject-ally of Athens; and its government or its citizens would probably be held liable to answer before the Athenian dicasteries, in case of any complaint of injury from the government or citizens of Tenedos or of any other ally of Athens; these latter being themselves also accountable before the same tribunals under like complaints from Mitylene. That city was thus in practice all but independent .. .” (Hist. Gr. ch. l. init.) It should be added that, while the tributary allies were compelled to bring their criminal causes to Athens, the autonomousallies were not. The changed condition of the Mitylenaeans after the suppression of the revolt is illustrated by the speech of Antiphon On the Murder of Herodes, which belongs to the subsequent period; the prisoner and the prosecutors are alike residents in Mitylene, but the trial takes place at Athens.

The same two characteristics--the retention of their own leges and judicia--mark the liberae civitates under the Roman dominion, of whose designation αὐτόνομοι was the Greek rendering. Thus Cicero writes of the beneficial effects of his own humane provincial government: Omnes, suis legibus et judiciis usae, αὐτονομίαν ad eptae, revixerunt (ad Att. 6.2). In another letter, however, he mildly ridicules the fancied independence of this class of subjects: Graeci vero exultant quod peregrinis (i.e. suis, non Romanis, Ern.) judicibus utuntur. Nugatoribus quidem, inquies. Quid refert? tamen se αὐτονομίαν ad eptos putant (ad Att. 6.1.15). This self-government was regarded as a great privilege and mark of honour; and the cities which enjoyed it recorded the fact upon their coins, medals, and inscriptions. We find, for instance, on coins of Antioch ΑΝΤΙΟΧΕΩΝ ΜΗΤΠΟΠΟΛ. ΑΥΤΟΝΟΜΟΥ, on those of Halicarnassus ΑΛΙΚΑΠΝΑΞΞΕΩΝ ΑΥΤΟΝΟΜΩΝ, and so of many other cities. In numismatics, “autonomous” medals are those which bear no sign of subjection in the head of an emperor or provincial governor. There are many such belonging to cities which never were really autonomous, and to Roman colonies. (On this branch of the subject, see Essai sur les médailles autonomes romaines de l‘époque impériale, by the Duc de Blacas, in the Revue numism., 1862, pp. 197-234, 387-390; on Greek autonomy in general, Hermann, Staatsalterth. § 41, 1 ; Schiffer, Die Autonomie bei den alten Griechen, a gymnasial programme, Münster, 1862.)

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.18
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.27
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.85.2
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