Laura Surtees (University of Pennsylvania) and Lana Radloff (State University of New York, Buffalo): “Harnessing the Power of Land and Sea: City-Harbor Dynamics as a Mechanism of Royal Control at Hellenistic Miletos and Demetrias”
For Alexander and his successors, the urban landscape played a pivotal role in the negotiation of socio-political relationships between the newly established kings and their subject peoples. Encompassed within a defensive system, the urban plan integrated pre-existing structures and spaces with new royal institutions, whose monumentality served as a visual reminder of royal benefaction and, thereby, monarchical authority. As part of these urban landscapes, connectivity with the maritime environment featured prominently in the fulfillment of power dynamics.
Facilitating economic stability and military strength through access to trade and communication routes and revenue from import and export taxes, harbors were a key component for maintaining a dynasty’s territorial control. The harbor and urban plan, therefore, functioned as two nodes of the polis, which controlled spatial access and mediated social interaction within the city, between the city and surrounding territory, and the city and larger Mediterranean world.
While old, previously established cities were deliberately repurposed to demonstrate these themes, Alexander’s successors also founded new cities to further their dynastic ambitions. To examine the spectrum of city-harbor dynamics used by the Hellenistic kings, we juxtapose two settlements: Miletos on the west coast of Asia Minor and Demetrias on the Pagasitic Gulf in
mainland Greece. Miletos, a well-established city and hub for maritime trade, was used as a repository for royal authority. As kingly patronage interspersed royal monumental architecture throughout the urban fabric, a new cultural ideology was subtly co-mingled in the new and old institutions. Conversely, Demetrias, the newly established capital of Demetrios Poliorketes, housed his palace and military fleet. Overlooking the massive grid planned city and dominating the urban and cultural landscape, the palace served as a monument to Demetrios’ authority and control over the region, its communication routes, and maritime environment.
As diverse examples of settlements located in opposing geographical regions, Miletos and Demetrias elucidate alternate approaches to the use of the maritime and terrestrial environment in the creation and sustainability of royal power. In assessing the permeability and visibility of the boundary between these landscapes, we explore how this city-harbor relationship contributed to royal authority. What was the impact of these new institutions on local and foreign populations? Through an analysis of the spatial connectedness and movement within and between their urban and maritime environments, Miletos and Demetrias serve as examples for the use of these spaces as physical and symbolic institutions of royal power during the Hellenistic period.
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