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Carving Communities in Stone: Cosmopolitan Space on Hellenistic Kos

Sjoukje M Kamphorst

University of Groningen

In this paper, I demonstrate how the island polis Kos used inscriptions as a medium for connectivity within the larger Hellenistic community of cities. This case study sheds light on a paradox in the position of the Greek city in the early Hellenistic era. Greek cities in this period were confronted with the new and ever-shifting hegemonies of the diadoch dynasties. At the same time, however, they managed to maintain a striking degree of cultural similarity and intense cosmopolitan interactions among each other, even across the boundaries of these empires. Furthermore, we see a huge rise in the production of inscribed decrees by those cities, a large part of which concerned those inter-city relationships. Looking at how inscriptions were employed as a medium in inter-city communication will help us understand the relation between these processes.

Interest in Hellenistic inter-city relations has been on the rise since the late 1980s, with essential publications dedicated to the institutions in which these interactions were embedded, such as the indispensable corpora on asylia (Rigsby 1996) and interstate arbitration (Ager 1996). Some suggestions for thinking about Hellenistic inter-city connectivity as an umbrella subject were given by John Ma in his seminal 2003 article Peer Polity Interaction. Most recently, research has developed in the direction of analysing inter-city networks, of which the monograph by Will Mack on proxeny (2015) and the new project on Hellenistic festival networks by Van Nijf and Williamson (2016) are excellent examples. My paper contributes to the debate by exploring what happens when we study inscriptions as constituent elements of interaction: as media, rather than as passive records.

The epigraphic corpus of Kos serves as a case study of this new approach. Kos presents us with more than 150 decrees related to inter-city interactions. This includes honorific decrees issued by other cities for Koan judges and doctors who had travelled abroad; Koan decrees appointing proxenoi in other cities; responses by other cities to the asylia venture of 242 BCE, in which the Koan Asklepieion and its festival were broadly promoted; and various texts of individual interest. To bring this material into focus, the paper is divided in three parts.

In the first part, I use publication clauses in the relevant inscriptions to bring out the media strategies involved in publicizing information about inter-city relationships. These are a) inscribing; b) (oral) performances at public events; c) the duplication of (oral) performances between cities; and d) the duplication of inscriptions between cities. In the second part of the paper, it will become clear how these strategies endow polis populations with the type of common knowledge needed for effective inter-city cooperation. The example of the Koan sacrifice in honour of the victory over the Galatian Celts in 279/8 BCE (IG XII 4.1.68) illustrates how this process contributed to the creation of a sense of community between cities. Finally, I compare various groups of Koan inscriptions to highlight how different places in the city were employed to publicize different types of connectivity. Tracing the development of the city's publicity programme in this way will show how Kos made a conscious effort to develop a cosmopolitan space, where connectivity could be explicitly experienced by locals as well as by visiting foreigners.

This way of studying inscriptions as media instead of just as sources, I argue, gives a clearer outlook on how cities instrumentalized their connectivity with the rest of the Greek world. In the end, this will not just provide a better understanding of how Kos carved out a place of its own in the cosmopolitan playing-field. It will also shed light on the enigmatic rise of an intricately interactive and sustainable community of cities under the changeable hegemonies of the Hellenistic empires.

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Greek History

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