Sabine Müller

Sabine Müller (Innsbruck University/Kiel University): “The Commemorative and Legitimizing Dimension of Cultural Property in the Hellenistic Empires”


In the Greek cultural memory, the treatment of the enemy’s artworks and sacral property in wartime was an issue used as a marker of appropriate behaviour. Thus, the Persian destruction and theft of Greek cultural property during Xerxes’ Greek campaign kept on being commemorated as a central point of reference. Even in the 2nd century AD, Pausanias attests the existence of blackened and damages statues in Hadrianic Athens, according to him originals stemming from the time of the Persian Wars left as memorials by the Greeks who fought the Persians (1.27.6).


Also in Egypt, the plundering of temples and removal of sacral items during the First and Second Persian dominion was a key issue in the collective memory. According to the traditional pattern of thought, the evil illegitimate usurper loots the temples while the legitimate savior king restores the stolen property.


Alexander’s Successors used the symbolic value of artworks taken as booty for their own profit. Seleucus is credited with the restoration of Greek cult statues, among them the image of Apollon from Didyma, and books from the Athenian library carried away by the Persians. In Egypt, the four early Ptolemies are all attested to have returned Egyptian cult images and other temple property from Persia.


In addition, there is evidence that the Hellenistic kings used their own booty from Persia (like Persian gemstones) and artworks stemming from the Macedonian court for their political self-fashioning.Exemplary, this is mirrored by the epigrams of Poseidippos of Pella.


This paper aims at examining the political discourse on the treatment of the enemy’s cultural property in Greek literature and against this background, discussing the policy of the Hellenistic rulers regarding such specific booty. In addition, it will also scrutinize the symbolic significance of artworks from the Macedonian court, even in part commissioned by Alexander, for the legitimatization of his successors.




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Moggi, M., 1973: I furti di statue attribuiti a Serse e le relative restituzioni, Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa 3, 1-42.

Müller, S., 2014: Poseidippos of Pella and the Memory of Alexander’s Campaigns at the Ptolemaic Court, in: Heckel, W./Wrightson, G./Müller, S. (eds.), The Many Faces of War in the Ancient World,  Cambridge 2014 (forthcoming).

Pekáry, T., 2002: Imago res mortua est. Stuttgart.

Petrovic, I., 2014: Posidippus and Achaemenid Royal Propaganda, in: Hunter, R. et al. (eds.), Hellenistic Studies at a Crossroads. Exploring Texts, Contexts and Metatexts. New York, 273-300.

Strocka, V.M., 1999: Kunstraub in der Antike, in: Strocka, V.M. et al. (eds.), Kunstraub – ein Siegerrecht? Historische Fälle und juristische Einwände. Berlin, 9-26.


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