Envoys are people who participate in the diplomatic negotiations between nations. Since there was no permanent diplomatic service in either ancient Greece or Rome, envoys (called proxenoi in Greece and legati in Rome) were appointed by ruling bodies in times of tensions between countries. The work of an envoy was essential in maintaining peace and avoiding war.
In ancient Greece, the council and assembly chose envoys from among the active politicians. In Rome, senators usually chose envoys from among themselves. Envoys were expected to secure treaties or forge alliances between their country and others. For instance, Rome’s Senate would send out ten envoys to help the military commander settle the peace between Rome and a defeated or conquered territory. This work required superior communication and interpersonal skills and could mean the difference between securing a lasting peace or sowing the seeds for future war. The Greek city-states* usually gave vague orders to their envoys. Roman envoys, on the other hand, usually received detailed, written instructions. Any negotiations carried out by a Roman envoy had to be approved by the Senate. Envoys were personally responsible for the success of their diplomatic mission. If they failed, they could be tried for negligent or criminal behavior.
The ancient Greeks and Romans provided envoys with special treatment because of their importance. They were given safe passage on their diplomatic missions to other countries. Killing, kidnapping, or harming an envoy was considered a barbaric act. Romans, in particular, regarded failure to receive or protect their envoys in time of war as a serious breach of international law. (See also Diplomacy; Wars and Warfare, Greek; Wars and Warfare, Roman.)
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory