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Good Kingship Notes

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

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What constituted a good Hellenistic King?
After the death of Alexander and the long wars of succession the Hellenistic world was left with three major dynasties which, between them, ruled the old Macedonian empire; they were the Ptolemies, the Seleucids and the Antigonids. There were many things which contributed to making a good Hellenistic king; first and foremost was his ability in war to successfully defend, expand and enrich his kingdom. Closely related to this was the patronage that such success allowed him to bestow extensively on his people and supporters, thus buying their loyalty and, at least in the beginning of the period, a sense of legitimacy through the agreement of those being ruled. There were other important factors as well, most notably the personal attributes of the ruler as shown through the cultural manifestations of kingship such as cult and coinage and finally successful succession and legitimate filiation. The key to the success of the three major dynasties was without a doubt their consistent military prowess, beginning with the men who initially carved out a piece of Alexander's empire for themselves and continuing through the generations. It is an interesting statistic to note that of the fourteen Seleucid Kings only two, Antiochus the second and Seleucus the fourth, died at home whereas all the rest died abroad on campaign attempting to extend the scope of their rule. The concept of the 'spear-won' territory was very important because it proved the merit of the king when he lacked the traditional forms of ancestral legitimacy and furthermore it was a strong claim to the loyalty of his troops. The various titles with which the various kings adorn themselves, for example Nicator, Ceraunos and Nicephoros, show that military victory was not only crucial in real, material terms but also it was important that they were perceived by all their subjects as being strong. The importance of military success of Hellenistic kings is emphasised strongly and consistently throughout many ancient writings; firstly there is the Byzantine compilation known as the Suda. It's entry on the subject of kingship says that individual merit and military ability was the basis of all Hellenistic monarchies and it was not descent or legitimacy that was important but rather the ability to command an army well. It then goes on to cite as an example of Alexander's natural son who was weak and useless and compares him to the generals of Alexander who ultimately divided up the empire between them. It is also possible to trace this idea through the works of Polybius, who at various moments throughout his long history gives details of the various campaigns of the Hellenistic kings. In sections fifty eight and eighty six of book five he describes Antiochus' invasion plans for the Ptolemaic land of Coele-Syria and the old Seleucid city of Seleucia. In the latter aim he is successful and is said to spare the population and restore the civic rights of the exiles, the type of benefaction which is expected of a king once he has had success in battle. However in the former aim he fails and Ptolemy wins a divisive victory defending his territory, which prompts all communities in the region to try to outdo each other in the speed with which they give allegiance to him once again and the honours which they can bestow on him. This

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