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This paper argues for a regional, systemic, and quantitative approach to proxeny. Scholarship on proxeny has concentrated on three levels: individual attested cases of proxeny (Wallace 1936, Walbank 1974); proxeny relations of individual poleis, particularly Athens (Walbank 1978, Veligianni-Terzi 1997); and the institution as a whole (Marek 1984, Gauthier 1985). There has been less emphasis on how neighbouring poleis’ proxeny networks compare to each other quantitatively and qualitatively (brief partial exceptions: Étienne and Dourlot 1996, Fossey 1996). In the light of recent work on networks in antiquity (Constantakopoulou 2007, Ruffini 2008, Malkin 2011), this paper analyses the Cycladic proxeny network, its structure, and historical embeddedness. It demonstrates the importance of a regional, networked perspective to proxeny, and draws wider conclusions for our understanding of the Cyclades themselves, and of their position in the broader Greek world at this time.

Drawing on a fresh collation of the evidence, the paper first identifies important structural divergences between the network of proxeny relations we can trace among the Cycladic islands themselves, and the network of proxeny relations traceable between the Cycladic islands and other states. The internal network is more complete and more dense both with respect to the number and the frequency of proxeny relations attested. These disparities point to different behaviour by the islanders, and so indicate that the Hellenistic Cyclades did sociologically form a meaningful region at this time. They also reemphasise the importance of the Cyclades as a broader unit in the Hellenistic Period against the more restrictive visions universally offered us by our later literary sources, which contrast the Cycladic islands encircling Delos with the Sporades of the broader Aegean (Strabo 10.5.2–3 484–485C; Pomponius Mela 2.97.111; Pliny HN 4.65–68; Dionysius, son of Calliphon 130–147). Just as our earlier Athenian sources impose an imperialising perspective (Brun 1993, Constantakopoulou 2007), so too our later literary sources retroject later economic and social patterns.

Second, the paper argues that the network structure here identified provides a powerful new explanation for Cycladic decline in the imperial period, and simultaneously justifies the disjunction between our broad networked Cyclades and the narrow Cyclades of our literary sources. It allows us to move beyond pure geographical determinism in explaining the phenomenon of regionality in the Cyclades: the ‘hub’ that was Delos itself enabled the continuing construction of the region to which it was central, but also involved its fragmentation as Delos itself declined. To embed Delos in the broader Cycladic network is thus to explain how the sack of Delos should have had systemic repercussions across the entire Cyclades, without needing either to assume widespread destruction on a range of islands at that time, or to posit that the sack of Delos was somehow uniquely extensive beyond other attacks.

Finally, the paper compares the decentralised, hierarchical structure of our proxeny network with the more distributed, non-hierarchical vision implicit in approaches inspired by the concept of peer-polity interaction, with its emphasis on the rhetorical and actual equivalence of poleis (Snodgrass 1986, Ma 2003). These paradigms are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, both the historical explanatory power of our model, and diachronic comparison with social and other networks (Watts 1999) urge a broader reassessment, to allow more space for what we may term a principle of preferential attachment in relations between poleis, and for citizens’ conscious awareness of the differences between their poleis, as well as their similarities.

Cumulatively, these three aspects argue for greater regional contextualisation of the polis and, more generally, reemphasise the importance of quantitative and regional analysis in our approaches to antiquity. At least concerning the proxeny network, to insist on each polis as an independent atomised unit fundamentally misrepresents the way in which the citizens of each polis regarded each other, and the dynamics of the world in which they lived.