Many strikes do not leave any substantial traces in the historical record.
In other cases, the historical record proves extremely hard to read.
The following instance is one such example – to show just how sketchy the evidence can be sometimes.
A frequently mentioned instance of an ancient ‘strike’ that fits the narrative about a strike-prone Eastern Roman Empire is the strike of building workers of Pergamon.
The sole piece of evidence for this event is a Greek inscription that has been read as follows (IGR iv 444 = MDAI(A) 24 (1899) 197.62; text from here):
[- – – ἀν]θύ(πατος) (vac.) λέγει·
[- – – ὅ]σοι μὲν παρῆσαν, ὅτε περὶ τῶν
[- – -]αν τῆς τῶν ἔργων κατασκευῆς
[- – – ὅπως – – -] ἴδω πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτοὺς
[- – -] φιλανθρωπίᾳ κέχρημαι καὶ α-(?)
[- – – ὅσ]οι δὲ τῷ μὲν μὴ ἀντειπεῖν πρὸς
[- – -] ὅθεν γεινωσκέτωσαν ὅτι, ἐὰν
[- – – γεινώσ]κ̣ειν αὐτοὺς ὡς καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους
[- – – τ]όκους αὐτοῖς ἀπὸ τοῦ χρόνου
[- – – ἐ]κτελέσαι τὰ ἔργα· τοὺς ἐργε-
[πιστάτας – – -]ων ἀποθέσθαι παραχρῆμα
[- – -] προιεῖσιν τριβῆς ἐν τ̣[- – -]
[- – -]κότες, εἰ δ’ ἄρα καὶ εὐ̣[- – -]
[- – – ἐργε]πιστάται ὅσον ὑπὸ [- – -]
[- – -]νη καὶ γεινωσκέτ̣[ωσαν – – -]
[- – – μισθ]ὸν λαμβάνειν ἐπ̣[- – -]
[- – -]οιντο ἐκ τοῦ [- – -]
[- –]ο ἐπ[- – -]
– – – – – –
Although at first glance this may appear to be a substantial chunk of text, it just so happens that very little useful information can actually be derived from it due to the text losses that have occurred.
The opening line makes it clear that this is the edict (λέγει – ‘he states’) of a proconsul (ἀν]θύ(πατος)), whose name does not survive, but who presumably was the provincial governor at the time (probably during the reign of Hadrian).
The proconsul appears to have visited a building site.
In the text he mentions those who were present (ὅ]σοι μὲν παρῆσαν; — ὅτε περὶ: when he was there, perhaps?) and somehow occupied with the construction of the works (τῆς τῶν ἔργων κατασκευῆς) – something he witnessed with his own eyes (ἴδω πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτοὺς).
For the benefit of those individuals, it would appear, he chose to exercise benevolence (φιλανθρωπίᾳ κέχρημαι). He may have extended the same policy also to those who chose not to raise their voices in anger (ὅσ]οι δὲ τῷ μὲν μὴ ἀντειπεῖν).
What follows is rather less clear. One might deduce, however, that the proconsul decided to dock a day’s pay from those who (presumably) were found to be on strike, or otherwise protesting, for the time they were not working (τ]όκους αὐτοῖς ἀπὸ τοῦ χρόνου), thus failing to work towards completion of the works (ἐ]κτελέσαι τὰ ἔργα).
Finally, the proconsul addresses the site managers (τοὺς ἐργε|[πιστάτας), equipping them with instructions that are not altogether clear, but may have related to additional walkouts (ἀποθέσθαι παραχρῆμα), friction (τριβῆς), and docking (?) of salary (μισθ]ὸν λαμβάνειν).
The scaremongering rhetoric has not changed much over time. Still employers talk about their generosity and benevolence and suddenly discover their deep concern for health and safety and security. Yet they feel right docking pay for work they expected to be completed during disputes as well as using their alleged concern to rid themselves of confrontational voices that they don’t want to hear and listen to.
The Greek term for generosity and benevolence used by the proconsul in this text is philanthropia, literally ‘the love of humankind’.
One might think that the proconsul had a warped sense of love and a narrow definition of humankind.
But that would mean to miss the quintessential point.
This is rhetoric.
It is designed to inspire a sense of fear and dependence on goodwill, nothing to do with love and care – and the limits of his alleged love are reached as soon as there is a disagreement.
He thinks such ‘love’ can be unilaterally ’employed’.
This isn’t love.
This is an expression of a toxic, abusive relationship in which the abuser wants to force their ways on the abused while maintaining the pretence of a deeply held care, expecting gratefulness for the abuse itself.
One mustn’t fall for such rhetoric.