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MC1.2 The dynamics, asymmetries and tensions in the gift exchange between king and city in the Seleucid empire

The dynamics, asymmetries and tensions in the gift-exchange between king and city in the Seleucid empire: a case study in transcultural reciprocity

Coordination: Diamantis Panagiotopoulos


Previous research on ‘gift’-exchange between Hellenistic monarchs and subjugated cities has primarily focused on some isolated aspects of this complex phenomenon. Two interrelated practices have attracted the bulk of interest and have systematically collected and evaluated: the veneration of the king and the kings’ beneficences to the depended cities. Despite the fact that the mutual character of these practices binding them to each other as part of a single reciprocal action has already been reckoned, there has been yet no comprehensive treatment on the asymmetries and tensions of this exchange. Recent studies on reciprocal actions in the field of Greek religion provide an ideal point of departure for this analysis.

The project has focused on the exchange of various gifts (food, money, aid, privileges, diplomatic immunity, cult/non-cult rituals) between rulers and cities belonging to the ruler’s domains. Contemporaries inscribed symbolic meaning into such gift exchanges that went beyond the mere act of exchange: it represented the demonstration or acceptance of power as well as the demonstration or acknowledging of loyalty. In structuring relationships between rulers and cities, reciprocal acts thus embodied a crucial organisational element of Hellenistic monarchies. In accordance with the mini-cluster’s guiding methodological agenda, the sub-project aimed at the investigation of gift exchange and its dynamics, asymmetries, and tension resulting from ruler-city-relations in a transcultural perspective. The conducted research has critically challenged the traditional – and very influential – notion of a harmonious exchange while simultaneously added to our understanding of the nature of transcultural political networks.