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Ptolemaic Power and Local Response in Hellenistic Cyprus

Paul Keen

University of Massachusetts Lowell

The goal of this paper is to examine the model of Ptolemaic hegemonic control at work in Cyprus from the perspective of Hellenistic state formation and the epigraphic representation of power in imperial and local terms. In 313/12 BCE, Ptolemy I arrested or killed four of the seven Cypriot city-kings (Diodorus 19.79.3-4) and, following the death of Nikokreon of Salamis in 311/10, took control of the island by installing Menelaus, his own brother, as the king of Salamis and the commander of Ptolemaic forces on the island. When Ptolemaic forces returned to Cyprus following a brief Antigonid occupation from 306-294, the island came under the control of a direct form of Ptolemaic administration as the Cypriot cities took on the structural forms of Hellenistic poleis. As a result of this regime change and the imposition of imperial rule by the presence of the Ptolemaic military-administration, scholarship has often been inclined to view the Ptolemaic takeover of the island in terms of near-absolute power with the Cypriot cities serving as mere economic entities with little or no role in territorial administration. For Iacovou (2007), most clearly, the Ptolemaic conquest and the elimination of the city-kings signifies the end of “Cypro-centric state formation” as the Cypriot cities were integrated into royal space, leaving behind their multi-poliadic past for an imperial future as a politically unified island under the heavy thumb of Ptolemaic military and administrative power.

The paper approaches the question of the nature of Ptolemaic rule in Cyprus in two parts: structural and representational. The first section of the paper, building on studies of Ptolemaic administration by Bagnall (1976) and Huß (2012), surveys civic and Ptolemaic structures in the Cypriot political landscape. By examining the limited evidence of honorific decrees and statue bases, as well as the famous Amnesty Decree from Kition (Yon 2004 no. 2014) the paper presents a model of close Ptolemaic control with particular emphasis on greater structural unity across the coastal regions of the island in the second century BCE. Nonetheless, the paper also suggests a greater role and significance of the Cypriot cities within the Ptolemaic state as political and economic units parallel to models presented by garrisoned cities elsewhere in the Hellenistic east.

In the second section, the paper examines the epigraphic evidence of dedications and honorific monuments set up by the Ptolemaic military administration as representations of imperial power. As noted by Ma (2013: 226), Cyprus offers a “striking” example of the use of honorific and family statues as markers of what he terms “the authority of the supra-local state formation in process.” Yon (2004) no. 2022, for instance, presents Eirene, the daughter of the Ptolemaic strategos, as honored by her son, himself a Ptolemaic commander, and Mitford (1961) no. 4 provides epigraphic evidence for honors granted to a Lycian artillery commander by his own troops, including sacrifices to Aphrodite in the sanctuary at Palaipaphos and Leto in Nea Paphos. These monuments, set up in Cypriot sanctuaries, serve as important evidence for the construction of military society, the expression of royal ideology by the Ptolemaic garrisons and administration, and the expression of power through the capture of local political space. Included among these “Ptolemaic” monuments, however, are numerous examples of civic monuments honoring both the Ptolemaic administration and civic elites (e.g. Yon 2004, no. 2021, a statue set up by Kition honoring the Cretan garrison commander of the city). By examining these dedications in the context of imperially dominated Cypriot sanctuaries, and exploring the ways in which civic monuments engaged with imperial ideologies, the paper sheds light on the ways in which Cypriot political institutions and civic elites adapted their models of self-representation as a means of claiming a role as actors within the structure and rhetoric of the Ptolemaic state.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphy and Civic Identity

Session/Paper Number

66.3

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