Ryan Boehm

Ryan Boehm (Tulane University): “City and Empire in the Age of the Successors: Synoikismos and Social Response in the Early Hellenistic Period”


As the Successors vied to develop the institutions and resources to establish successful states in the aftermath of Alexander’s death, the foundation of important cities through the merger of city-states and smaller settlements into a single polity (synoikismos) stands out as a striking aspect of royal policy. Despite the administrative headache of assessing and controlling numerous small polities, the tributary empires of the Athenians and Persians maintained or in many ways encouraged a pattern of dispersed settlement. As the “Old Oligarch” bluntly observed (2.2), fragmented and isolated cities were easy to dominate. In the period of the Successors, however, there is a discernible shift towards reorganizing cities and villages into larger settlements, particularly through the process of synoikismos and alienating royal land by attaching it to poleis. There was a concomitant interest in building regional networks through koina that united areas in economic cooperation through the creation of a common coinage, treasury, and other forms of interdependence.


This paper examines the structural role of urbanization in forming these states and the political, economic, and religious implications for the communities that formed new cities. The relationship between state power, urbanization, and the agency of subject collectivities is complex and ambivalent. The development of infrastructure, particularly that of cities and networks of cities, has proved instrumental in various eras of state formation and expansion, but the ambitions of states often falter on the contrary interests of individuals and communities under their rule. This enforced consolidation of diverse city-state cultures challenged the discrete civic, cultic, and ethnic identities of the groups forced to join these unions and provided the considerable challenge of creating a new corporate identity out of disparate populations. Through a series of case studies in northern Greece and western Asia Minor, paper traces the effects of synoikismos and explores the social implications of this process. It seeks to explore the Hellenistic polis as a resilient, flexible, and adaptive locus for social identity and power and to explain the critical role that manipulating urban networks played in the creation and maintenance of large territorial kingdoms. It also examines how the power of the kings depended on complex negotiations with cities, as well as how traditional ties of ethnicity, religion, and identity imposed limits on the authority and opportunism of the kings.

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