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Myth and Polis XI: Hellenistic kings and kinship myth

We have now reached the eleventh part of the series on the use of mythological kinship in Greek diplomatic interaction. Since most of the sources come from the epigraphic material of the Hellenistic period, we have already looked several times at how mythological kinship was used by cities in that period in their interactions with third parties. We have further also seen how Alexander the Great used his descent from great mythological heroes such as Heracles and in his contacts with conquered territories. After Alexander the Great’s death, his successors continued this use in their contacts with the Greek poleis. But what form did these contacts take in the changing world of the late Hellenistic period?

After the sudden death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., his followers were left with a problem. He had died far too early and the heir to his great empire, Alexander IV, was only a small child and thus incapable of ruling. For his generals and friends, moreover, choosing a successor proved more difficult than expected, and they were soon embroiled in a war of succession. In the so-called Diadochen Wars (322-281 B.C.) they fought against each other to conquer their own part of Alexander the Great’s empire. In the end, three major kingdoms remained: the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt, the Seleukids in the eastern part of Alexander’s empire, and the Antigonids in Macedonia.
The arrival of these kingdoms brought about quite a change for the Greek cities. Unlike before, these cities now also had to reckon with a new power dynamic in which these kings held an important position. In many cases the cities were also located in an area that was part of one of these kingdoms and they were then under the direct or indirect control of these kings. It is therefore not surprising that mythological links between the cities and these kings are also frequently referred to in the interactions between the various parties. Time to look at some examples.

Between 208 and 203 BC, there are several instances of Ionian cities applying for immunity from Hellenistic kings. This is not surprising because during these years Rome and her allies waged war against Philippus V of Macendonia and her Greek allies. After this war was stopped for a short period in 205 and Philippus V was able to turn his attention to Ionia. The Seleukidi sche king Antiochus III was also on his way back to the region from his eastern satrapies. Thus, it was the ideal opportunity for the Ionian cities to launch a kinship claim because it could save a city from possible plunder or destruction.
One such claim is the campaign by the inhabitants of Magnesia to recognize their festival of Artemis Leucophrene, as already discussed in earlier parts of this series. Among the many responses preserved in this campaign is that of Antioch in Persis, where Antiochus III was residing at the time. The citizens of this city praised the Magnesians for recognizing the kinship between their two cities. This kinship was a bit more recent than we have seen so far because several generations before, the inhabitants of the city were asked by Antiochus I to be able to populate as settlers the new settlements of the Seleukic kings. In this case, the Magnesia essentially also became the mother city of Antioch in Persis. This makes it a little easier for us to trace this kinship claim; after all, we don’t have to go back to some mythical ancestor. The inhabitants of Antioch also hope that the inhabitants of Magnesia will continue their current political orientation, i.e. continue their support for Antiochus III. It thus also seems plausible that Antiochus III played an active role in the response of the city of Antioch to the request of the Magnesians.

This is also evident in another example. In 204/203 BC Antiochus III conquered the coastal city of Teos and declared their city and land sacred and immune from confiscation. As a result, residents of the city began a similar recognition campaign as the Magnesians. Among other things, they also sent envoys to cities in Crete that they had a so-called kinship link with, probably based on a Minoan link. The interesting thing here is that Antiochus III also sent his own representatives along with the envoys to the Cretan cities. This was to ensure that the cities under his sphere of influence remained protected after all.
The relations between the cities and the Hellenistic king thus also played an important factor in the interactions between the cities themselves in the late Hellenistic period. In the case of cities that were under their direct (or indirect) control, the presence and desires of these monarchs seems to have had an impact on the way the cities interacted anyway. And as the examples discussed show, these princes were also familiar with political and diplomatic customs, including the use of mythological and non-mythological kinship. Clearly, they also had no hesitation in using these processes for their own benefit by encouraging certain cities to use their kinship with other cities. If they could then subtly – or also somewhat less subtly – point out there their positive relationship with kings such as Antiochus III or Philippus V, that was then only a good thing.

This is already the eleventh post in a series of twelve which dives into the ways in which the ancient Greeks used their mythological past as a diplomatic tool in their relationships with others. This series is written in collaboration with Hippocrene – een Mythologisch Genootschap; where you can find a Dutch version of the post every month. Hippocrene a young association committed to bringing together academics, artists and interested parties to learn about mythology. Follow them on Facebook to keep up with their activities.

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