Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary

Had the official known the thorny road that diplomatic protocol has passed before reaching us and the challenges that it often faces today, he probably would have spared Patrick and wouldn’t want to see him in the position of the chief of protocol.

The chief of protocol of the White House has compared her staff’s responsibilities to those of a de-mining battalion. Nobody notices anything as long as everything is running smoothly, but if something goes wrong, everything explodes. Aleksandr Pushkin has stressed the importance of diplomatic procedure back in his day, saying: "Where there is no etiquette, the court attendants can do something savagely indecent.”

Protocol, from its inception, has never been easy for diplomats. Ambassadors visiting Athens, for instance, were not allowed to enter the city; they were housed outside the city walls, in taverns that were worse than the cheapest motels of today. Then the foreign ambassadors had to stand in front of the Citizen’s Assembly (the Ecclesia), where they would pass a rigorous "examination.” Those who "passed” were welcomed with respect and great splendor—visits to theaters, participation in festivities, including Olympic Game ceremonies. They also received expensive gifts. Those, who didn’t get the approval of the highest apparatus, the Ecclesia, ended up in an unenviable position, being thrown out of the country in the most disgraceful way. There were cases when they were denounced as spies and subjected to an execution. As much as Athens was proud of its democracy, political motives, the level of relations with the ambassador’s country and that country’s economic and military potential, of course, all played a role in this. Rome went farther in terms of strict protocol compliance. Before coming to Rome, envoys had to be confirmed by military and financial bodies. Emissaries were housed in cheap taverns as in Athens, staying in filthy, rat-infested holes. After long waits they would be summoned to the Curia in Rome where the Senate usually met. As in Athens, they would also pass through an "examination” with the only difference that in Rome the foreign emissaries were refused and executed more often. For instance, in 205 BCE all the emissaries of Carthage were executed in Rome.

The more Rome grew in power, the stricter protocol compliance became, which was never reciprocated and was ignored when dealing with other states. When signing treaties Rome always dictated its interests. In 197 AD members of the Macedonian envoy in Rome were given an ultimatum to either finish their negotiations in sixty days and sign a treaty or lose immunity and get hanged as spies. Rome delayed the negotiation process on purpose and as a result the Macedonians were hanged.

When talking about ancient diplomatic protocol we can’t not talk about Tiridates I’s visit to Rome in 65 AD to be crowned king of Great Hayk by the Roman emperor Nero. Tiridates’ "business trip” took nine months and he was accompanied by his family and courtiers (around 3,000 people). Rome spent 200,000 gold coins per day to host the Armenian king and the lavishness of the festivities astounded even the affluent patricians. This was not done for Tiridates’ handsome looks, of course. Rome and Parthia were trying to win over Great Hayk, which was strategically located on the banks of the Euphrates and was militarily important for both empires. And the Armenians displayed their diplomatic flexibility in the art of maneuvering between the great powers. After the coronation, the Roman army was brought out of Armenia and the country gained independence from Rome. The rule of the Arsacid dynasty was finally established and the country entered a period of peace. So we, too, can pride ourselves in the diplomatic victories of our ancestors.

If they ask a beginner diplomat today what his dream is, he will reply—to become an ambassador. It was a bit different in ancient Greece and Rome. To say that people didn’t want to become ambassadors wouldn’t be right; despite the above-mentioned "horrors,” the profession has always been attractive and tempting. But the "trials” of the ambassadors didn’t end in antiquity; they transferred to the Middle Ages. Venetian ambassadors, for example, were forbidden to own private property in the country of their service. After finishing and returning from a mission, the ambassador was obliged to return all the gifts to the chief magistrate. The ambassador had no vacation time, but he had his own cook, since there always was the threat of being poisoned. The ambassador couldn’t take his wife abroad with him so as to prevent her from leaking information. (Could our ancestors have guessed that centuries later the ambassadorial wives would continue causing trouble and damaging the activities of the mission?). At the end of the mission the ambassador was expected to submit an accountability report within fifteen days after his return. And if he failed at his duties, his own state implemented different types of punishments against him, including stripping him of his citizenship. The ambassador’s arrival on station implied huge expenses. He had to transport his belongings, carpets, chinaware, servants, and all of this at his own expense. Hurdles on the road, pirate attacks, terrible conditions at the inn, contagious diseases—these (and I am only giving a partial list) were the "inseparable companions” of the ambassador. It’s only natural that people avoided the appointment. Especially if they had achieved a certain position "at home.”

As in other periods, appointing someone to an ambassadorial position was equivalent to forcing him out of a political game.

In 1271, Venice created a law that fined all those who refused to become an ambassador (these were huge fines exceeding the expenses that a candidate would make as an ambassador) in order to secure candidates for the diplomatic service.

There is an erroneous opinion that the obsession with spying and surveillance is a new phenomenon. It actually comes to us from the past. People in the past, just as today, kept thinking that they are being spied on both at home and abroad. The Venetians were forbidden to communicate with foreign diplomats by law. Those who broke the law were fined two thousand liras and exiled from the republic. Venetian ambassadors were not allowed to discuss political issues with private parties abroad and make political comments in their letters. It was an absurdity. How could the poor ambassador function?
2143 reads | 19.06.2013

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