Sebastian Scharff

Sebastian Scharff (Mannheim University): “Victorious Kings: Hellenistic Rulers and Agonistic Success”


Sport is an essential part of the cultural history of any society. This is all the more true for the societies of Ancient Greece where the status of a person eminently depended on their agonistic victories. Whereas this connection is intensively analyzed for the Archaic and Classical age (esp. Mann [2001]), more recent studies focus on the agonistic history of the Roman Empire (e.g. Newby [2005]). In contrast, Hellenistic sport has never been the subject of academic research in a monographic manner. The Mannheim research project “The representation of Hellenistic athletes: social identities, political identities, ethnic identities” which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) aims to fill this gap.

One of the most important aspects of our inquiry is the meaning Hellenistic rulers attributed to agonistic success. Whereas some dynasties as the Ptolemies or the Attalids often used agonistic victories to enhance their reputation, others like the Antigonids or the Seleucids (with the characteristic exception of Alexander Balas [cf. Tracy – Habicht [1991]) never got involved in agonistic competition. New sources like the papyrus fragments of Posidippus’ Hippika shed some light on the way the Ptolemies, their women and even their mistresses and courtiers celebrated their victories – “una nuova ‘società’ di vincitori” as Silvia Barbantani ([2001], 78; see also van Bremen [2007], 348) puts it. This paper focuses on the question of how the differences in the agonistic behavior of the Hellenistic dynasties are to be explained. Contrary to Kralli (2013), I will argue that agonistic activity should not be interpreted in terms of realpolitik, but rather in the categories of rulers’ self-representation.



Barbantani, S., Φάτις νικηφόρος. Frammenti di elegia encomiastica nell’età delle guerre Galatiche: Supplementum Hellenisticum 958 e 969, Milano 2001.

Kralli, I., The Panhellenic Games in the Political Agenda of Hellenistic Leaders, in: N. Birgalias et al. (edd.), War – Peace and Panhellenic Games, Athens 2013, 149-168.

Mann, C., Athlet und Polis im archaischen und frühklassischen Griechenland, Göttingen 2001.

Newby, Z., Greek Athletics in the Roman World. Victory and Virtue, Oxford 2005.

Tracy, S. – Habicht, C., New and Old Panathenaic Victor Lists, Hesperia 60 (1991), 187-236.

Van Bremen, R., The Entire House is Full of Crowns: Hellenistic Agones and the Commemoration of  Victory, in: S. Hornblower – C. Morgan (edd.), Pindar’s Poetry, Patrons and Festivals: from Archaic Greece to the Roman Empire, Oxford 2007, 345-375.


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