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Journal des Savants : January-June 2017

190 p., 31 ill., January-June 2017
Annual subscription (two fascicles) : 80 €.


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« Les mines d’or des Ptolémées : d’Agatharchide aux archives de Photios », par Didier Marcotte.

Active in Alexandria of Egypt in the middle of the second century BC, Agatharchides of Cnidus is one of the most original authors of the Hellenistic age. His work, On the Erythraean Sea, encompassed in five books the geography and ethnography of the southern regions of the inhabited world, starting from the Nile and the Red Sea, in an age when the Ptolemies attempted to get hold of the maritime routes that led to the Aromata and the Frankincense Land through the Horn of Africa. The author discussed different issues, from human communities that are very close to the state of nature, to the relations between men and beasts, to the earliest forms of social structure, as well as the exploitation of the soil by the Ptolemies and the sophistication of south Arabian civilisation. The fifth book of On the Erythraean Sea survives in large excerpts in Diodorus Siculus, Strabo and the Bibliotheca of Photius (cod. 250). The sections that the author dedicates to the description of the gold mines in the Eastern desert of Egypt are among the most famous passages of Agatharchides because of the dramatic intensity and the technical precision that is employed in the account of the preparation of the gold. These reports have contributed to Agatharchides’ reputation in Late antiquity and Byzantium as the most ancient author to deal with ‘chrysopoeia’, as it is displayed in the frequent loans by later alchemists, from Zosimus of Panopolis onwards. The approach of this paper is mainly philological : the purpose is to assess the contribution of the alchemical tradition to the constitutio textus of Agatharchides’ fragments and to place the manuscript of Venice, Marcianus 299, in the stemma of the Bibliotheca and in relation to Photius’ archives.


« Autour des Appii d’Asie : réseaux familiaux, ascension sociale, carrières et cités au cours du IIIe siècle », par Michel Christol et Anne-Valérie Pont.

The recent publication of documents and the comparison of new prosopographic material on the family of Appius Alexander, known to have been procurator of Asia and then governor of Lugdunensis in the middle of the 3rd century, provide an opportunity to reflect on the family ties and career steps of all those presently known to have been involved. Between Africa and Asia, a history of their matrimonial alliances, land ownership, and finally of their ascension in the ranks of the municipal notables and in the imperial aristocracy, emerges across several generations. One can bring to light the interprovincial relationships between the Carthaginian and Ephesian élites, and situate this family, which included Appius Sabinus, prefect of Egypt who became corrector of Asia, among the senatorial families of that period in this province. Also discussed is the administrative history of Asia in the middle of the 3rd century.


« L’invention des armoiries en contexte. Haute aristocratie, identités familiales et culture chevaleresque entre France et Angleterre. 1100-1160 », par Jean- François Nieus.

The present study builds on Michel Pastoureau’s views about the origins of heraldry by proposing a reframing of the “appearance phase” of heraldry. It is chiefly based on an updated catalogue of the earliest identifiable seals with heraldic or pre-heraldic emblems (presented in Part 1). The new data (as explored in Part 2) allow us to reaffirm the existence of a northern cradle for heraldry, which can be located in eastern Picardy and is visible from the 1110s onwards. It was further developed after 1130 in southern England, a development which can be accounted for by the links between prominent aristocratic families in the two regions, men who were responsible for popularizing the new fashion within the upper nobility. In Part 3 it is argued that from the very beginning heraldry assumed the familial significance it would continue to display in its classical form. “Heraldic groups” of early emblems appeared, whose analysis betrays a very open conception of kinship, mixing lineage and parage, agnates and cognates. Finally, in Part 4, this study argues that the invention of heraldry was not a response to any new battlefield imperatives, but a corollary to the rise of tournament in northern France and England. Both tournament and heraldry were features of the emergence of a chivalric culture after 1100. Heraldry however introduced into the process the social elitism found in the upper aristocracy with its pride in Carolingian origins and anxiety to advertise its superiority over the lower ranks of knightly society. A detailed catalogue of seventeen pre-1150 armorial seals is given in an appendix.

« Eugène Burnouf et sa traduction du Bhāgavata Purāṇa », par André Couture, Foreign corresponding Member of the Academy.

Given Eugène Burnouf’s (1801-1852) reputation as an expert on Buddhist and Iranian manuscripts, it is surprising that his translation of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa has not garnered more attention over the years. Indeed, why did Burnouf chose to translate this particular text at a time when the Purāṇas were still poorly known in the West ? Indications scattered throughout his books, papers and letters, as well as in the long prefaces to his three-volume edition and translation reveal that Burnouf was quick to recognize the value of the Purāṇas as an encyclopedia of popular beliefs and Indian science. He understood that these texts could help Westerners discover the true India, correcting the claims of the extravagant systems cooked up by his colleagues. In Paris, Burnouf was fortunate to have access to the very best manuscripts of this Purāṇa. As he began to study them with a rigorous scientific method, the choice of which text to translate undoubtedly became ever more obvious. At any rate, this paper attempts to demonstrate as much.


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