Impact of Hellenistic Empires


The Research Group is primarily concerned with the impact of empire on the political organization, social structures, and ideology of local polities of the Ancient Near East in Hellenistic times, on the one hand, and their literary imagination, on the other. The structural changes and historical events affecting Judaea will be both addressed directly and set in their wider, regional and interregional context(s), primarily (but not exclusively) defined as the Seleukid empire at large and Ptolemaic Egypt. Likewise, the question of the relation between, on the one hand, the Hellenistic, imperial setting and its bearings on Judaea and neighbouring polities and, on the other hand, the literary production of the time, will be of central concern. To this end, the Research group intends to bring together historians, social scientists, epigraphists, archaeologists, and text scholars. Although the Research Group will focus on Hellenistic times, its chronological range will also cover Persian and Roman imperial times, and cooperation with Research Groups focusing on these periods as well as on narrowly-defined topics (such as “resistance”) overlapping with the concerns of the Research Group will be considered. 



Hellenistic World, Hellenistic Empires, Social Location of Texts, Empire and Literary Imagination


Benedikt Eckhardt
University of Edinburgh

Sylvie Honigman
Tel Aviv University 

Member Area

Syracuse 2023 Call for Papers

Session 1: Law and Agency

In recent years, the study of law and empire in antiquity has changed significantly. Whereas much earlier research had been dedicated to the study of law as a centrally disseminated regulatory framework that could clash or co-exist with indigenous legal systems (or “custom”), more recent research has tended to emphasize individual agency in the use of law. This typically involves a combination of “imperial” and “indigenous” elements to either be on the safe side or gain the upper hand in legal proceedings, calling into question the very notion of “imperial vs. indigenous” legal systems. To date, most work of this kind relates to the Roman Empire, where both the imperial legal tradition and (at least in certain regions) local responses are well documented. This session will explore the possibility of applying similar methodological assumptions to the Hellenistic empires. Is there scope for re-opening debates about local and imperial law in the Hellenistic period, or do we lack the evidence needed to reach satisfactory conclusions? Is Egypt an outlier or a paradigm (a much-discussed question in Roman debates)? Was there even an imperial ambition to establish the king and his administration as sources of law? 


Session 2: Law and Institutions

It is universally accepted that the Hellenistic empires in the East imposed certain legal categories on their subjects. A clear example is the distinction between Greek citizens and others, another is the territorial division between cities and royal land. But how far down the societal ladder did the creation of legal categories extend? Was it even in the interests of Hellenistic imperial administrations to clearly define the status of individuals and collectives? And conversely, what interests and what stakes did Hellenistic subjects have in creating and maintaining such categories? In Egypt, basilikoi georgoi are known from petitions a century before a Ptolemaic king officially used the term: is this an example of subjects shaping institutions, and are there more? The session forms the counterpart to the previous one on law and agency, confronting traditional notions of Hellenistic legal institutions with a bottom-up perspective. Institutions are understood here as enabling dynamic processes of interaction both among subjects and between subjects and rulers.