The Letter Network of a pagan Scholar of Late Antiquity

Networks, Networking, and Social Network Analysis: An Exploration through Libanius’ Letters

Letter collections have been amongst the most fruitful sources used to carry out historical network analysis (e.g. McLean 2007). Yet barring few exceptions (e.g. Alexander & Danowski 1990, Schor 2007), most ancient collections still await exploration from this point of view. This paper applies social network analysis to the letters of the pagan sophist Libanius of Antioch (A.D. 314-393).

With more than 1500 letters, Libanius’ is not only the largest, but also one of the most variegated and important epistolary collections to have come down to us from antiquity : addressing and mentioning an exceptionally wide social, geographical, and religious range of people, his letters show

networking in action not only between the author and his correspondents, but also amongst the addressees and people mentioned. While previous studies have a) limited themselves to selected anthologies of letters, and b) focused on the nodes rather than the edges in the network, this paper studies the nodes and edges of the whole letter collection in order to draw conclusions about

1. the position of specific figures in the network : emperors are much less central in Libanius’ network, and Christians much less marginal, than is usually thought ;

2. the evolution of Libanius’ network : spanning almost four decades, Libanius’ letters show clear and specific evolutions in the composition and uses of his network, and thereby demonstrate that he was a clever networker ;

3. the unique possibilities which letters present for social network analysis : they allow to study not just relations, but interactions between the nodes in a network.

Text: Lieve Van Hoof (, Ghent University