City and Empire in the Age of the Successors: Urbanization and Social Response in the Making of the Hellenistic Kingdoms

City and Empire in the Age of the Successors: Urbanization and Social Response in the Making of the Hellenistic Kingdoms

by Ryan Boehm

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In the chaotic decades after the death of Alexander the Great, the world of the Greek city-state became deeply embroiled in the political struggles and unremitting violence of his successors’ contest for supremacy. As these presumptive rulers turned to the practical reality of administering the disparate territories under their control, they increasingly developed new cities by merging smaller settlements into large urban agglomerations. This practice of synoikism gave rise to many of the most important cities of the age, initiated major shifts in patterns of settlement, and consolidated numerous previously independent polities. The result was the increasing transformation of the fragmented world of the small Greek polis into an urbanized network of cities. Drawing on a wide array of archaeological, epigraphic, and textual evidence, City and Empire in the Age of the Successors reinterprets the role of urbanization in the creation of the Hellenistic kingdoms and argues for the agency of local actors in the formation of these new imperial cities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520296923
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 02/09/2018
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 273
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Ryan Boehm is Assistant Professor of Classics at Tulane University.

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Imperial Geographies

City, Settlement, and Ideology in the Formation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms

All ancient empires were by nature diverse patchworks of communities, institutions, and geographic zones more or less closely bound to a centralized imperial administration. Even when kings made ideological claims to universal empire (such as the Achaemenids or Alexander), a fragmented reality invariably underlay such totalizing rhetoric. In no other period was the imperial landscape of the eastern Mediterranean more a loose aggregate of constantly shifting borders and alliances than in the chaotic decades after the death of Alexander. As his imperial order began to crumble, a different kind of rule, with distinct institutions and patterns of interaction, rapidly developed. While the heirs to Alexander's conquests may never have renounced the ideal of what Hieronymos of Kardia called "the whole" (ta hola), their intense rivalries fractured the resources of the empire and made the development of regional bases of power all the more critical to competition in a multipolar world of constant warfare.

In this context, all who controlled cities and population groups (ethne) began to harbor hopes of kingship, as Diodoros (following Hieronymos) acutely remarked. The revealing fact that this inchoate world of the Hellenistic kingdoms was deeply rooted in the support of local communities underlies this apposite observation. The surviving narrative of the wars of the Successors plays out against a complex backdrop of cities and communities, but the high-level focus on the personalities and politics of the Successors and the compression and selective interest of our extant sources often flatten the picture. The vigorous struggle over the control of cities and regions, meanwhile, led to the emergence of one of the most characteristic features of relations between kings and cities in the period: the pervasive rhetoric of freedom and autonomy. This became a defining ideological battleground, one that has often led historians, ancient and modern, to attempt to parse the level of sincerity or efficacy behind such slogans. If we examine this interaction from another perspective, however, one that seeks less to determine the relative value of such enunciations and instead focuses on what this struggle reveals — namely, the structural importance of cities to the creation of the Hellenistic states — we get a holistic view of the efforts of imperial authorities to organize their power through the manipulation of populations and political structures.

The staggering investment of the dynasts in urban development stands out as a major feature of the formation of the Hellenistic states. From 316/15 on, a flurry of city foundations took place across Greece, Asia Minor, and the Near East, with the greatest concentration in the first two generations of the kings. The imprint of Macedonian imperialism took a range of forms, from forts and strongholds in and out of civic territory through "military settlements" (katoikiai) carved out of royal land to genuine polis foundations. This scalable settlement policy radically changed the human and imperial geographies of the Hellenistic world and has rightly been seen as a defining aspect — and the most lasting contribution — of Macedonian rule. A wider outcome of the focus on urbanization was the spread of polis institutions to the less urbanized areas of the oikoumene, from the peripheries of the "old" Greek world to the vast stretches of the Middle East and central Asia.

This chapter provides a selective chronological narrative of the years 323–281 and a comprehensive discussion of the central role that urbanization played in the policies of the Successors. This was the crucial period of the emergence of the Hellenistic kingdoms and the creation of many of the most important Hellenistic urban centers in Greece and western Asia Minor. Concentrating on the relationship between the development of Hellenistic kingship and the structural components of territorial control, it argues that the consolidation of regions through the creation of larger urban centers was not a peripheral by-product of the policies of the Successors but a central feature of the formation of the Hellenistic states. The urbanization of these regions through large-scale synoikisms sought to reorganize and revitalize them and further integrate them into an interconnected system. This chapter also details the nature and extent of each of these expansive new urban agglomerations, describing the communities and territories they absorbed and the approximate size of the cities and their territories. Here the pressing political and strategic aims of the Hellenistic dynasts and the place of these urban centers within the wider infrastructural context of the nascent kingdoms come into view. This reconstruction also lays the groundwork for a synchronic exploration of the economic, social, and religious dimensions of the making and maintenance of these new political communities and the complex relationship between king and city visible in these processes, as well as those between the city and its constituent social groups.


In September 322 BCE, the leaders of the Greek alliance sent heralds to Antipater to negotiate the terms of the cessation of the Greek revolt known as the Lamian War. When Antipater refused to make a common settlement (koinen sullusin), the Greeks objected to terms that would apply to them on a city-by-city basis (kata poleis). Antipater and Krateros responded by besieging the cities of Thessaly. Intimidated by the assault, the majority of the Greek cities sent ambassadors and came to terms. In one stroke, Antipater had dismantled the organized resistance of the Greeks and established a precedent of direct bilateral relations between the Macedonians and the Greek poleis. Mopping up after the Battle of Krannon, his forces entered Athens and instituted far-reaching constitutional changes, reforms mirrored in Greek cities throughout his control. Macedonian power was suddenly more present and more interventionist in the life of the polis than it had been in decades. The Corinthian League (the alliance of Greek states under the hegemony of Philip and Alexander), perhaps already obsolete, had now been fully eclipsed. No similar attempt at organizing the Greek cities of Europe, let alone Asia Minor and beyond, as a unit would be made, outside Antigonos and Demetrios's short-lived Hellenic League of 302 and the much more restricted regional leagues (koina) developed by the Antigonids. Direct negotiations between king and community would henceforth primarily define the structure of power relations between them. As the unrest in Greece prompted by Alexander's death subsided, a much greater conflict sprang to life. After the uneasy division of the satrapies at Babylon in June 323, the latent tensions among Alexander's former generals resulted in the confrontation known as the First Diadoch War (321–320). The alliances, coalitions, and unremitting violence of this conflict set the pattern for the chaotic decades to follow, and it was against this backdrop that the policies of the Successors toward cities and communities developed.

The tenuous settlement among the leading generals quickly turned to open hostilities. "Reaching out for kingship," Perdikkas broke with Antipater and accepted Olympias's offer of marriage to Alexander's sister Kleopatra, intending to use this connection to persuade the Macedonians of his legitimacy and seize the entire empire. Faced with a powerful coalition, Perdikkas chose to strike Ptolemy first, leaving Eumenes in Asia Minor to confront the armies of Krateros and Antipater. After a disastrous attempt to cross the Nile near Memphis in the spring of 320, Perdikkas was killed by a conspiracy of his own officers. That summer, at Triparadeisos in Syria, a new bargain was struck, and in the fall of 319 Antipater died, having passed over his son Cassander and named Polyperchon regent and Cassander his chiliarch (second-in-command). As the dust of the first major conflict among the Successors began to settle, it was clear that little had been resolved. Moreover, Cassander, intensely displeased at not inheriting his father's position, formed a new arrangement with Antigonos, Ptolemy, and Lysimachos. With Polyperchon isolated in Europe, a second conflict had already been set in motion, one that would involve a more active role for the communities ruled by the rival heirs to Alexander's empire.

This changed political reality was signaled almost immediately by a new feature of the struggle among the Successors: a rhetorical battle directed in particular at the Greek cities of Europe and Asia Minor. Immediately after Antipater's death, Antigonos began to consolidate his position in Asia Minor, using the pretext of his concern for the Greek cities to eliminate his opponents. With his strength and ambition manifest, the other players made ready for conflict. Polyperchon, casting about for allies, reached out to Eumenes and Olympias. It was in this context that Polyperchon, in the name of Philip III, made a general announcement (diagramma) of amnesty to the Greek cities in the fall of 319. With Antigonos and Cassander ranged against him, Polyperchon faced threats to both his legitimacy and his resources. His proclamation was designed to alienate the supporters of Cassander and to counter the pro-Antipatrid oligarchies established in Greece. In reversing Antipater's interventions in the cities of Greece, the edict presented itself as a reinstitution of Philip II and Alexander's policy. This was now a world where the Diadochs competed fiercely to be "masters of many ethne and cities of consequence," and Polyperchon shrewdly initiated a style of propaganda that would become a major feature of the period.

The following year (318) saw the outbreak of the Second Diadoch War. Polyperchon's ideological campaign was only temporarily (and partially) successful — the rhetoric and the reality did not fully align. By the spring of 318, when Cassander sailed into the Piraeus, many of the cities of Greece were willing to support him, and he began to find support within Macedonia itself. In the fall of 317, Olympias made a dramatic reentrance into Macedonian politics, aligning herself with Polyperchon and taking control of Alexander IV and Rhoxane. The result was the execution of Philip III and Eurydike and a violent purge of the family and supporters of Cassander, but despite its initial efficacy, the alliance with Olympias proved to be the undoing of Polyperchon's cause. As public opinion shifted in Macedonia, Cassander invaded in 316, capturing Olympias and Alexander IV. That same winter, on a distant battlefield in Iran, another major contest was decided: Antigonos defeated and executed Eumenes and consolidated his hold over the East. Possessed of vast financial resources, Antigonos marched west, now the most powerful of the Successors.


A decade would pass before the "Jahr der Könige" (306/5) made formal monarchs of erstwhile generals, but on the ground the Diadochs had already begun to define the shape of Hellenistic kingship, carving a new style of sovereignty from elements both improvised and traditional. Central to this presumptive rule were cities, essential pillars of royal legitimacy and critical nodes of resources and control. All of the Successors invested heavily in the infrastructure and urbanization of their kingdoms in this period, consolidating their power and articulating the contours of the nascent territorial kingdoms. This period also saw the growing but limited use of the title of king by the Successors in relations with non-Greek local communities under their control. For the time being, however, Alexander IV still lived, and without any clear claim to legitimacy or precedent, the Successors walked a fine line between acting as kings and proclaiming themselves as such.

Cassander, securely in power in Macedonia, began to surround himself with the trappings of kingship. In the spring or summer of 316, he married Thessalonike, a daughter of Philip II and half sister of Alexander, securing a direct connection to the Argead line. At the same time, he initiated the first major city foundation of the period of the Successors: the synoikism of Kassandreia. Rounding out this royal posturing, he interred Philip III Arrhidaios, Eurydike, and her mother, Kynnane, with great ceremony at the royal cemetery at Aigai, effectively, as Diodoros remarked, "administering the affairs of the empire as king." Moving south to confront Polyperchon's son Alexander in the Peloponnese, Cassander faced stiff resistance from the Aitolians at Thermopylai. On entering Boiotia, he assembled the surviving Thebans and began the restoration of the polis, which quickly gathered support from many of the cities of Greece, Asia Minor, and beyond. Although the date of Thessalonike's foundation is unknown, it is highly likely that this took place in the same year, on the occasion of Cassander's marriage to the city's namesake Thessalonike. At around the time, his eccentric brother Alexarchos founded the city of Ouranopolis through synoikism on the peninsula of Mount Athos, the easternmost of the Chalkidike.

Within months of assuming control over Macedonia, Cassander had considerably bolstered his position. While appealing to Macedonian traditionalism, he had conspicuously embraced innovation, founding an eponymous dynastic city and symbolically and physically reversing the policies of his predecessors on the Macedonian throne. His first major synoikisms fundamentally reorganized key regions under his control and set the standard for a process that would become so characteristic of the Hellenistic age. With these projects, Cassander signaled his aspirations to kingship — a fact not lost on our ancient sources or his contemporaries — and the crucial role that urbanization, human mobility, and polis institutions would come to play in the development of the Hellenistic states.

Kassandreia included many features of the numerous royally directed synoikisms that followed. It was created from the territories and populations of much of the southern Chalkidike, primarily Poteidaia, Olynthos, and other communities on the peninsulas of Pallene and Sithonia, ultimately constituting the majority of the poleis of the former Chalkidian League (see map 2). Kassandreia was built on the site of classical Poteidaia, a city whose fortunes had been bleak over the previous half century. In 356 Philip had compelled the Poteidaians to submit to Olynthos, giving their city and territory to the latter and subjecting them to mass enslavement and deportation (andrapodismos). Philip destroyed Olynthos in turn in 348, and the entirety of the Chalkidike became subject to Macedonia. Cassander reassembled the surviving Poteidaians and Olynthians, some of whom had reinhabited the site of Olynthos, and merged them with other communities and populations into a powerful new polity. This rich and strategically critical region had often felt the centrifugal and centripetal forces of state power, from the synoikism of Olynthos in 432 in response to Athenian imperialism and the subsequent attempts of the Athenians to break the union during the Peace of Nikias, signed in 421, to the resurgence of Olynthos as the head of the Chalkidian League in the fourth century and its defeat by Philip.

Diodoros remarks that Cassander "ambitiously aided in the city's growth," adding extensive tracts of quality land to Kassandreia, which soon became one of the most important centers of the northern Aegean. Its scale outstripped that of Olynthos at its height, and some seventeen poleis were included in the synoikism. On the southern promontory of Pallene, Mende, the prosperous Eretrian colony famous for its wine export, and Skione became part of the civic territory ofKassandreia, and Mende is later referred to as a seaport of Kassandreia. Torone, a substantial polis on the central finger of the Chalkidike, was also included. Controlling a territory of roughly one thousand square kilometers (386 square miles), Kassandreia probably extended to the borders of Cassander's foundations Thessalonike and Ouranopolis to the east and west, respectively, and to the north it ran up to Alexander's reorganized Kalindoia.

To its core of Greek and Bottiaian settlers, the flourishing city quickly added new residents, chiefly Macedonian nobles formerly in the service of the kings. Epigraphic documents record several land grants bestowed on Macedonians in the years following the synoikism. The wholesale reorganization of this extensive area of the Chalkidike allowed the kings to carve out large agricultural estates for their subordinates, in one case including nonadjacent tracts stretching from the central Chalkidike to Bottike. Although these estates do not seem to have been incorporated into the territory of the polis but formally lay on royal land, their owners may have become citizens of Kassandreia, and in one instance this was demonstrably the case. Woven together from disparate elements, Greek, non-Greek, and Macedonian, and a blend of royal and civic authority, Kassandreia was a city for the new age.


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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations ix
Introduction 1
1. Imperial Geographies: City, Settlement, and Ideology in the Formation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms 29
2. Urbanization and Economic Networks 89
3. Civic Cults between Continuity and Change 143
4. Consensus, Community, and Discourses of Power 184
Conclusion 225
Bibliography 229
Index 269

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