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Attalid Pergamum Notes

Classics Notes > The Hellenistic World: societies and cultures 300 BC to 100 BC Notes

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Why did Attalus the third will his kingdom to Rome?
The Attalid dynasty ended in the year 133 BC with the death of the fourth king, Attalus III, and the bequest of his kingdom to Rome. For the Romans, at least, this was a much unexpected act and they were slow to accept what was to become the foundation of their empire in Asia. Therefore it is important to consider the motivations behind such an extraordinary move including the different nature of the Attalid kingdom compared with the other Hellenistic dynasties, their historically close relationship with Rome and the particular circumstances of the reign of Attalus III. The origins of the Attalid kingdom are certainly very different from those of the other Hellenistic kingdoms and it is notable that it is the only dynasty which was not founded by one of the direct successors to Alexander or even by a man who fought with him. Furthermore the other three dynasties, Seleucid, Ptolemaic and Antigonid, all began in the year of the kings, 305, when their founders assumed the diadem, whereas the beginnings of the rise of Pergamum were over twenty years later in 283 and the first true king only took the diadem in 241. Strabo preserves a short outline of the whole history of the Attalid kingdom and in it he describes how Philetairos came to acquire independent control over the citadel of Pergamum. The account gives the impression that it was almost an accident of fate during the interactions of two much more powerful successor dynasts; Seleucus Nicator overthrows Lysimachus' control of Pergamum but lets the eunuch he left in charge, Philetairos, keep his command. He succeeds in securing his position for the next twenty years by pursuing, "a policy of making promises to and courting whoever was powerful and at hand (Austin 193)"; such were the innocuous beginnings of what was shortly to become the Attalid kingdom. In other words Attalid power was not firmly entrenched, at least initially, by a powerful military leader with a large army and therefore not "spear-won" as the others certainly were. This lack of a strong military tradition reveals why the Attalid rulers consistently had a preference for aggressive diplomacy to win friends and secure their kingdom through these means rather than through direct force, as Strabo says Philetairos did right from the start. The expansion of their territory rarely came about through military action and only in the case of Attalus the first, who took the diadem after his victory over the Galatians, could it be said that the kingdom was consolidated by an independent Pergamene army. This is in stark contrast to the other Hellenistic kingdoms which are constantly, at least in the early stages of their formation, fighting and exchanging control over territory, even Ptolemy, who was famously trenchant in Egypt, launched campaigns in Coele-Syria and there were numerous other significant encounters, not least the battle of Ipsus in 301, which secured the kingdom of Seleucus in Asia and that of Lysimachus in Thrace. The policy, as begun by Philetairos, of creating a strong system of alliances with surrounding city states and other potentially very powerful and useful friends was followed consistently by all successive rulers of Pergamum. Polybius (23.11.7-8) says that Eumenes and Attalus the

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