The Achaemenid Aegean (Fifth to Fourth Century BCE)

Dr. Rolf Strootman is currently working on this research, which is part of a bigger project entitled Iranians in the Hellenistic world. It aims to investigate the impact of western Achaemenid elites upon the development of Hellenistic imperial culture and royal style. Specifically it endeavors to place the rise of Argead Macedon in the context of the late Achaemenid Aegean.

The entangled world of satraps and local rulers in fourth-century Asia Minor, with its many cross-cultural interactions, has been rightly described as a West Achaemenid koinē. As a former Achaemenid satellite state, the Argead dynasty too participated in this world of interconnected elites and courts even after its breakaway from direct Achaemenid control. It has often been noted that the closest model for early Hellenistic kingship, apart from Macedonian customs and traditions, was the world of the western satrap-kings, in particular the rulers of the Hekatomnid dynasty, and among them most of all the ‘philhellene’ empire-builder Mausollos. But this has never been the subject of a focused historical study.

The research project will now examine these dynastic entanglements (1) by charting the networks connecting the Argead court with the households of the other Aegean dynasties on the basis of narrative sources, and (2) by studying the development of royal and religious iconography on the coinage, material culture and inscriptions of the Aegean kings and satraps from a comparative perspective. With the aid of globalization theory, and working from the Imperial Turn in current historical studies, the research moves beyond the traditional understanding of the Achaemenid Empire as a bounded, centralized nation state avant la lettre and instead considers the empire as a dynamic, ever-shifting network of interactions between various individuals and interest groups.

The final aim is not simply to write a history of cultural developments as such, let alone to describe the so-called ‘influence’ of one ‘culture’ upon the other. Abandoning modern ideas about ‘East’ and ‘West’ and the concomitant conceptualization of ‘Greece’ and the ‘Near East’ as distinct cultural zones (as in the ever-popular notions of a ‘Near Eastern influence on Classical Greece’ or the ‘Hellenization of the Near East’), the aim is to learn how cultural exchanges worked in the Achaemenid Aegean and why they took place, without the restrictions imposed by preconceived cultural and national categories.

The research project is generously sponsored by the J. Paul Getty Foundation and will take place in the Getty Villa in Los Angeles in 2017–2018.