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Growing an Empire: Classical Macedonian Expansionism and its Early Hellenistic Legacy

Talia Prussin

UC Berkeley

The history of Macedonian expansionism has been presented almost exclusively as a linear narrative in past scholarship. While this approach has been incredibly valuable for reconstructing this highly fragmentary history, it tends to emphasize the military aspects of conquest and fails to interrogate other aspects. Macedonian political and economic history remains relatively unexplored since the publication of M.B. Hatzopoulos’s landmark study in 1996. Drawing on his rich and detailed study, I will present in this paper a brief sketch of the strategies of occupation and conquest that the Macedonian kings developed in the Classical period. This approach draws loosely on the model of Greenwalt (1999)’s study of Archelaus’ choice to move the capital from Aigai to Pella at the end of the fifth century. Greenwalt considers the significance of the move to Pella beyond questions of mere territorial defensibility, focusing instead on Pella’s importance as a port city after the loss of Methone and Amphipolis to the Athenians. Although much of my paper will inevitably concentrate on the well-documented reign of Philip II, well-known cases, such as Pella under Archelaus and Thessalonike under Cassander, demonstrate that the strategies that I identify were not exclusive to Philip but rather part of a Macedonian royal vernacular of power and occupation.

Under the Macedonian kings, access to resources and trade routes shaped local royal interventions, directing the kings’ efforts within conquered territories to certain key locations. Rather than looking at conquered territories as regional polygons on a map, I envisage these areas as a series of networks with roads, mountain passes, and bodies of water connecting resources, trading posts, and communities. Within Thessaly, Gonnoi, Gomphoi, and Pagasai reflect two substantially different strategic policies under Philip II. While all three cities are near or at regional borders, only Gonnoi and Gomphoi are known to have received Macedonian settlers. Both these towns controlled key mountain passes. Pagasai, in contrast, was a major port city situated on the Pagasetic Gulf, which provided ideal anchorage for passing fleets. Philip II seems to have been content with the (admittedly substantial) revenues from Pagasai.

However, while Macedonia is often thought of as a kingdom primarily concerned with movement over land, I seek to refute that persistent argument and demonstrate the importance of movement across bodies of water (whether seas, rivers, or lakes) to the Macedonian economy and territorial occupation. Maritime, riverine, and lacustrine trade routes fundamentally shaped Macedonian territorial expansion. By mining Thessaly, the Chalkidike, and western Thrace for examples of colonization and colonial exploitation, I can present a complex portrait of Macedonian expansionism in the Classical period and into the Hellenistic.

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Greek History

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