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

Wuppertal 2021 Call for Papers

This unit is not accepting any new proposals for the 2021 conference

2021: Empire and Institutional Change 
In 2021, ‘Impacts of Hellenistic Empires’ will have three sessions.

Session I: The End of Hellenistic Kingship (participation by invitation)
“Hellenistic Kingship” is a modern concept. It has been developed to explain the nature of kingship after Alexander the Great, which was perceived to be rather different from both earlier (e.g. Persian, ancient Macedonian) and later (e.g. Roman) forms of monarchy. Starting in the 19th century and taking several turns on the way (most importantly the turn from legalistic to sociological explanations), a vast body of literature has sought to define the specific characteristics of monarchy in the empires that emerged after 323 BCE. These characteristics can then inform comparisons, e.g. between Hasmonean and Hellenistic kingship. However, while analytic categories are of course indispensable when writing history, it may be disconcerting that there seem to be hardly any ancient sources that draw strong distinctions between such different kinds of monarchy. In addition, recent research has tended to emphasize the specific character of the Antigonid, Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingship respectively, thus potentially undermining the value of an umbrella term like “Hellenistic Kingship”. Our session seeks to conceptualize this problem by focusing not on beginnings (the way scholarship has taken so far), but on endings. What happens in Judea and elsewhere when the “Hellenistic kings” are gone, and how are they replaced? How do ancient authors (e.g. Polybius) write about “Hellenistic kingship” after its demise? And ultimately: do such findings warrant the continuous use of “Hellenistic kingship” as a scholarly category?

Session II: The Impact of Monetization on Judean and Neighbouring Societies and Their Literary Imagination in Hellenistic Times (participation by invitation)
In Judentum und Hellenismus (1969) Martin Hengel explored the link between what he called “Hellenism as a political and economic force” and “Hellenism as a cultural force,” and the monetization of Palestine/Judea as he saw it was a key element in his analysis. According to Hengel, the development of coinage boosted trade and business, prompting the emergence of secular elites along the road, who were employed in the royal administration, in particular for the levying of taxes. Then a new economic discourse appeared in the contemporary literary production—in particular, wisdom literature—and likewise new literary genres catering to the taste and social needs of this new elite, sch as tales, developed. Thanks to the work of scholars studying the ancient economies in general, and monetization in particular, our understanding of the impact of coinage on the ancient economies and societies has changed to a considerable effect since the publication of Hengel’s book, and therefore the whole picture sketched out by Hengel needs reappraisal. The session will examine afresh the impact of the Hellenistic imperial culture(s) of economic management, primarily monetization and the levy of taxes, on society writ large and on the literary imagination of scribes both in Judea and in neighbouring societies, primarily Ptolemaic Egypt.

Session III: Hellenistic Imperial Economies and Near-Eastern Temples (participation by invitation and through a CfP)
Ancient temples in the ancient Near East and the Mediterranean fulfilled administrative and economic functions, and this aspect loomed large in the interaction between Hellenistic kings and native temples. Yet, scholars tend to separate these aspects from the cultic and intellectual activities of the temple, and this tendency is even truer with regards to the Jerusalem temple, which is often considered to be an exception in two ways: its administrative and economic functions are often minimized, whereas the role of its religious aspects in the interaction with kings is emphasized, and arguably over-emphasized. The session aims to examine afresh several correlated issues: 1) First, the precise nature of the administrative and economic functions of temples in the Hellenistic East. In particular, it is relevant to ask whether and how the monetization of taxes in Hellenistic times affected the temples’ economies. 2) Second, the session will examine whether and to what extent administrative, economic, and cultic aspects were correlated in the interaction between Hellenistic kings and temples; 3) third, whether or not and to what extent the Jerusalem temple was an exception; and 4) fourth, how this correlation between economic and religious aspects comes to the fore in the literary imaginations of the temple literati in Judea and neighbouring societies. 

The Annual Conference 2021
takes place 2-5 August
in Wuppertal. Read more.