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Antioch in the Antonine cultural milieu: reception and construction of Seleukid civic past

Chiara Grigolin

The foundation myth of Antioch in Syria, which describes the archaiologia of the Seleukid city and its founding by Seleukos I Nikator, is transmitted at length by two very late authors. The first is Libanius who lived in the fourth century AD and described the foundation of Antioch in his oration in praise of the city (Antiochikos 11.84-93); the second is John Malalas a sixth-century-AD chronographer who, in his Chronographia, preserves an excursus on the foundation of Antioch and other Seleukid cities written by Pausanias of Antioch (4th century AD) (Malal. 8.199-204). This paper asks what these literary accounts can tell us about the reception and re-construction of the Seleukid past and identity in the post-Seleukid Antioch.

Scholarship on the Seleukid Empire (e.g. Ogden, 2011; Saliou, 1999-2000) has generally argued that the foundation myth of Antioch as preserved through Libanius and Malalas was entirely produced at the court of Seleukos I and his successors. In particular, they suggest that the passages representing the core of the myth, in which Seleukos I is guided by an eagle to the right place where Antioch was then built (Or. 11. 85-88; Malal. 8.200), mirror elements of Seleukos I’s propaganda and kingship.

This paper looks at the very passages from Libanius and Malalas containing the core of the Antiochene foundation myth. I contend that this section of the foundation account, rather than being a product of the Seleukid court, was elaborated in second-century-AD Antioch as a result of a wider cultural dialogue between the Antonine emperors and the Greek cities of the Roman East. Basing my assumptions on the idea that foundation stories were altered, manipulated and even created by cities for use in a strategic and sometimes political way (Mac Sweeney, 2015: 4), I will show how Antioch elaborated the account concerning Seleukos I and the guiding eagle to re-construct and defend its Seleukid identity in reaction to the Roman conception of Greekness as it was formulated within the cultural climate of the Hadrianic Panhellenion (Romeo, 2002). Numismatic evidence produced at Antioch under Hadrian and his Antonine successors, and archaeological material such as the third-century-AD relief on the Paseria capital (Seyrig, 1940) provide me with the evidence to support this argument and, thus, offer a glimpse of the dialogue between Rome and the Seleukid cities in the post-Seleukid East.

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Ancient Kingship

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