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Upon his death in 422, the Spartangeneral Brasidas was buried by the citizens of Amphipolis in their agora and worshipped as a hero with yearly sacrifices and contests (Thuc. 5.11.1). The event has typically been treated as a religious phenomenon (Malkin, Ekroth) or as an act of interstate diplomacy between Amphipolis and its new patron Sparta (Lewis, Hornblower). I show, however, that there are good reasons for considering Brasidas’ heroization a point of political contestation between democrats and oligarchs within Amphipolis. The worship of Brasidas was not a unanimous act by the citizenry meant to placate the Spartans, but likely constituted an attempt by Amphipolitan oligarchs to symbolize their rule, project their power, and intimidate the demos. In these respects the example of Brasidas conforms to other instances of the manipulation of hero-cult for highly politicized purposes, which together suggest new ways of approaching the politics of Greek religion.

Before Brasidas’ arrival Amphipolis was almost certainly a democracy (Graham; IACP no. 553; Robinson), but a minority within the city favored Brasidas (Thuc.4.104.4), and he later sent a Spartan governor, Clearidas, to control the polis (4.132.3). It is in this context that we should understand the actions taken after Brasidas’ death: what was likely a new ruling group of oligarchs backed by Clearidas conspicuously tore down the monuments devoted to Amphipolis’ original, Athenian founder, Hagnon, and instituted Brasidas’ hero-cult (5.11.1). The obliteration of one political figure and the memorialization of another strongly indicate a struggle between competing political factions: I adduce a previously neglected comparandum, a third-century decree from the Troad against tyranny and oligarchy (IKIlion 25), to illuminate the importance for ruling groups of erasing the evidence – including specific individuals’ inscribed dedications and monuments –for the regime that came before.

The politicized nature of Brasidas’ hero-cult becomes even more apparent when we compare similar treatments of other figures. The deification of Lysander at Samos and the renaming of the Heraia festival as the Lysandreia (Plut.Lys. 18.4, Duris FGrH 76 F 71) clearly served partisan oligarchic purposes and would have impressed upon the demos their weak, subject position. From the opposite political perspective, the demos of Sicyon buried the populist tyrant Euphron in the agora and worshipped him as the true (democratic) founder of their city, to the chagrin of the oligarchs (Xen. Hell. 7.3.12). We also know of instances where political actors mistreated their enemies’ heroes: Ephesian oligarchs dug up the grave of Heropythes, the liberator of the city (Arr. Anab.1.17.11), while an oligarchic regime at Erythrae removed a sword from the statue of Philites the tyrant-killer (IKErythrai 503). I argue that all of these acts, like the damnatio memoriae of Hagnon at Amphipolis, were meant to send a threatening signal to potential revolutionaries to dissuade them from opposing the regime.

Finally, strategic considerations along these same lines can also be seen in Aristotle’s advice to oligarchs in the Politics (1321a35-40) to co-opt and intimidate the demos through public spectacles such as sacrifices and building dedications. The Amphipolitanoligarchs would have produced just this result through the construction of a physical mnÄ“meion to Brasidas and the institution of thusiai. The publicity of these events and the common knowledge among the members of the demos that they were acquiescing to the oligarchy through their participation would have created an aura of invincibility around the regime and served as a powerful indicator to the demos that resistance was futile. The sacrifices to Brasidas were therefore not simply an ideological message but a practical tool for exacting everyday compliance.

My analysis of Brasidas’ hero-cult reveals the extent to which stasis lay behind seemingly unified political actions and affords us a better understanding of the techniques by which revolutionaries, especially oligarchs, secured their rule. The (nominally shared) cultural symbols of the polis could be put to highly factional ends.

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