Contacts Between the Hellenistic East and West


On the 21st and 22nd of October 2016, the Ertegun Scholarship Graduate Program for the Humanities hosted a conference on the Contacts Between the Hellenistic East and West in the Annex of the Ertegun House. The conference was convened by Mariana Castro, a current Ertegun scholar and a second-year MPhil student reading in Classical Archaeology. The topics presented ranged from Chinese tapestry designs to Sicilian numismatics and provided a fascinating overview of many interactions between relative “easts” and “wests” during the Hellenistic period. All fourteen speakers – who came from Polish, English, German, Swedish, and Italian institutions – addressed fascinating topics and covered a wide geographical study area. Likewise, the topics and approaches presented exemplified the extremely broad-ranging variety of approaches within Hellenistic studies.

The conference attracted more than one hundred national and international attendees, from all academic levels. It brought together many members of academic and non-academic environments to discuss the Hellenistic period in some of its thematic and geographical complexity; which was one of the most important outcomes of the conference. The speaker’s dinner was also a highlight, as well as a short tour to Christ Church and the UVU stained glass exhibition.

The conference on the Contacts between the Hellenistic East and West contributed to the study of Hellenistic art history, classics, Central Asian studies, numismatics, ancient trade, Silk Road studies, and ancient technological studies and warfare. The speakers also focused on the cultural and artistic exchange implied in some of these study areas and thus expanded on the current conversations about the integration of a “Eurasian” approach to the study of Hellenistic Archaeology. The following schedule provides further details about the logistics and themes of this conference.


Overview of the openings in Eurasia after Alexander the great (Peter Frankopan, Oxford)
Connections across the spine of Asia have linked east and west for millennia, enabling the spread of ideas, languages, faiths and much more besides. Alexander the Great’s conquests opened up a period for a rapid intensification of exchange which had a reshaped both East and West.


Antiochus Margiana: A Hellenistic city in the East (Tim Williams, UCL)

Antiochus I Soter (r 281-261 BCE) is credited with undertaking the massive expansion of the city at Merv. The earlier Achaemenid city of Erk Kala became a citadel within a vast new walled city (today called Gyaur Kala), nearly 2 kilometres across and covering some 340 hectares. This Seleucid city was occupied for more than 1,000 years, and its foundation lie buried under a deep sequence of later occupation. However, excavations of the outstandingly well preserved city wall, and aerial survey of the later town, give us important insights into the scale and organisation of the early city. This paper reviews recent work and considers the motivations for such a massive urban enterprise and its Hellenistic aspirations.


Seleucid cataphact – a Parthian borrowing or a result of internal development within Hellenistic art of war? (Patryk Skupniewicz, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities)

The appearance of the armored cavalry units in Seleucid armies is often perceived as a result of the Eastern campaigns of Antiochus the Great especially his encounter with early Arsacid kingdom. This idea is based on assumption that the Parthian warfare relayed on Aparni/Dahae tradition which is assumed to include heavy cavalry regiments. This view can be challenged from several directions. Firstly, the accounts of Antiochus’ anabasis do not mention Parthian cataphract units at all. Parthian warfare is described as guerilla. The first remark of Parthian armored horse comes from the accounts describing events of the first century BC. Also considerable time gap is to be considered between Antiochus III and battles of Tigranocerta and Carrhae which means that the direction of the possible influence would rather be from Seleucid to Parthian than opposite. Secondly, the difference in the equipment between Hellenistic-inspired and “Saka” or Central Asian type armored cavalries can be observed. The former originated from Hellenistic tradition and supplemented cuirass and pteryges with laminated sleeves perhaps being associated with Anatolian Achaemenid pattern known from iconographical sources. The latter type consisted from long armored coat with high collar which only in later times adopted elements deriving from Hellenistic cuirasses. This contrast is important when considering the Plutarchus’ account of the battle of Carrhae where most likely Saka army of Suren clan defeated Roman legions. In conclusion it should be noted that the heavy cavalry was developed independently in military environments where mounted archers were main force.


The wine-dark sea: understanding the Hellenistic wine trade from shipwreck evidence (Elizabeth Briggs, Oxford)

This paper explores ways in which the survey and excavation of ancient shipwrecks can inform our knowledge of the Hellenistic wine trade. From survey techniques and 3D modelling of wrecks in situ, to advances in residue analysis, isotopic studies, and attempts to extract DNA from the matrices of ceramic transport vessels, what insights can we gain into the trade and exchange of this Mediterranean staple? What can this new information show us about regional wine needs and the dynamics which propelled trade of wine during the tumultuous Hellenistic period? This paper reviews previously published data from Hellenistic shipwreck excavations as well as incorporating new data derived from isotope analysis of ancient shipwreck olives.


Transmission and Translation: Motya and Lilybaeum from Hellenisation to Hellenism (Lorenzo Nigro, Sapienza University of Rome)

Motya was a key-site in ancient Sicily where pre-existing cultures (Elymians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians) met and melted with the increasingly dominant Greek one from the 8th century BC onwards. The dynamics of this process of Hellenisation during the 5th to the 4th century BC – seen through the lens of an originally Phoenician and Punic site – may rise questions and highlight economic and cultural complexes. The dramatic days of Dionysious’ siege (397/6 BC), as well as the following foundation of nearby Lilybaeum at the western tip of Sicily show the premises and the outcomes of conflictual relationships – that between Carthage, Sicilian Phoenicians and the Greek world – which, nonetheless, will turn into an apparent full Hellenisation of the harbour city of Lilybaeum during the Hellenistic period. Phoenician and Punic traditions were transmitted to future generations by translating them into a new international language. This phenomenon is paralleled in the Phoenician homeland and Lilybaeum was an active centre in such a Mediterranean Hellenistic exchange of not always-Greek contents.


Hellenistic mechanical technologies in the Roman west (Andrew Wilson, Oxford)

This paper will assess the significance and spread of Hellenistic developments in mechanical technology, in particular the development of gearing at Alexandria in the third century BC, and its significance and impact in both economic and cultural terms. The spread of particular technologies to the Roman west in the third to first centuries BC will be examined, with special reference to geared complex machines. Did Archimedes’ odometer enable the equipping of Roman roads with regular milestones along Roman roads? How much does Republican Roman bathing habit owe to the spread of Hellenistic water-lifting machines? At the level of elites, what role did mechanical clocks and planetaria play in cultural exchange between the Hellenistic eastern Mediterranean and Roman Italy?


Contacts through the steppe routes: transmission of a carpet design during the second half of the 1st millennium BC (Raphael Wong, Oxford)

Today the study of the Steppe Routes linking the Mediterranean World, the Steppe and China is very active. Scholars such as David Christian and Jessica Rawson have argued that the pastoralists played a major role in cultural exchanges on this vast piece of territory. This paper expands their arguments by showing the transmission of a carpet and its design in the same area during the second half of the first millennium B.C. We know about the currency of the carpet design in Central and Western Asia during the eighth to seventh centuries B.C. from the famous stone doorsills in Assyrian palaces. But a carpet from a pastoral cemetery in South Siberia is central to this discussion. It is decorated with a grid with animal borders and it was used with a wooden carriage. Similar designs were also found on saddlecloths from the same cemetery. In the borderlands of the steppe and China, the carpet design was copied with metal sheet cut-outs by pastoralists decorating their chariots. The design was later borrowed by the pastoralists’ neighbors in China for chariots and ceramics bricks in palaces and tombs. On the Northern Black Sea littoral, where interactions between pastoralists and Greek were equally vibrant, the carpet design was reproduced in mosaics dated to the Hellenistic period. All these examples show that there was a sub-strate of shared designs across Northern Eurasia. It is hoped that this paper will draw more attention to the Steppe Routes in the study of the Hellenistic period.


The Seres in Hellenistic times – Chinese, Tocharians or Indians? (Gościwit Malinowski, University of Wroclaw)

Silk (sericum) and its manufacturers, or rather its suppliers (the Seres), began to be mentioned frequently in ancient texts only from the Augustan era (Virgil, Tibullus, Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Strabo). However, there are testimonia which indicate unambiguously that the Seres were also known to authors of the late Hellenistic period (for example, Apollonius of Artemita or Hellenistic interpolations to Ctesias). The aim of this presentation is to analyse the oldest testimonia available to us in Greek literature which relate to the Seres, and to consider the questions of whether they feature in this literary corpus as a long-lived nation from India (southern or northern), or also as suppliers (Tocharians) or manufacturers of silk (Chinese) from central Asia.


Διώνυσος ανίκητος - on Triumph of Dionysus in iconography of post-Hellenistic Central Asia and its reflection in Chinese art (Patryk Skupniewicz and Marcin Lichota, Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities)

Dionysiac iconography gained popularity in Asia in Hellenistic times. Dionysiac elements were present in Parthian art and lasted in Sasanian iconography late into Pre-Islamic era. It is important to note that the images do not contain any cultic associations however simplified attempts of direct identification of the personages in intarpretatio iranica should be refuted. One of the aspects of Dionysiac iconography adopted in Iranian art is the triumph of Dionyos, already present in Tillya Tepe treasure but later repeated in Sasanian toreutics. Sasanian examples initially follow Hellenistic pattern than show growing lack of understanding of the original form and transfer the main personage into female. This was explained as a part of development of iconography of Anahita however it seems that even later the general layout was adopted to represent feasting scenes which probably resulted from mixture of older Iranian feasting scenes with “dionysiac” features. Even more interesting seems the presence of the layout of the Triumph of Dionysus on the Sung Dynasty Chinese painting representing the planets where Dionysus is replaced by the allegory of Sun. Other personages from the dionysiac entourage were replaced by different planets in Chinese garb. This travel of the compositional formula being almost fully independent from the original content provides an important argument to stay extremely cautious when it comes to interpret the spread of iconography in religious terms or spread of the cult. Also interpretatio iranica or interpretatio sinica seem more difficult to interpret than direct attribution to certain goddess.


Contacts between the Seleucid Empire and Bactria after the Peace of Apamea (Jens Jakobsson, Independent Researcher)

There are no recorded contacts between the Seleucid Empire and the Graeco-Bactrian/Indo-Greek kingdoms between the anabasis of Antiochus the Great c.208-206 BC, and the Parthian campaign of Demetrius II in 139-138 BC, where Bactrian troops participated. This speech discusses two unpublished overlaps between western and eastern sources, which may hint at contacts. While caution is due, it is valuable to record overlaps for further studies. A provincial source, 1 Macc (8.6-8.9), makes the remarkable claim that Seleucid ”lands in India” were given to Eumenes II of Pergamon as part of the dissolution of the Seleucid vassal network at Apamea. While the Attalids certainly exercised no actual control in the east, a Bactrian tax-receipt from this period records a king Eumenes, unknown from coins. In the Buddhist text Milindapanha, king Milinda (usually identified with Menander I) records his birth-place as the island Alassanda, c. 1500-2500 km from Punjab. This island can with some certainty be identified with Qeshm in the Persian Gulf, called Alexandria by Ptolemy (Geography 6.4), and on the sea route to India.  Possibly, this reference reflects an Indian recollection of how Hellenised people migrated from Iran to become colonists and soldiers in the newly founded Indo-Greek kingdom, when Seleucid economy was drained by the war indemnity of Apamea. Such a migration would possibly have contributed to the de-hellenisation of Iran. Finally, some comments on an overlooked Bactrian-Seleucid overstrike.


Heracles in India: Multiple faces of the same hero or multiple heroes of the same face? (Olga Kubica, University of Wroclaw – in absentia)

Traces of Heracles in India appear in several contexts, such as Arrian’s description of Alexander capturing the rock of Aornos, Megasthenes’ account of indigenous Indian Heracles, or the depictions of Vajrapāṇi, the Protector of the Buddha, in the manner of Greek Heracles in the Buddhist art of Gandhāra. The descriptions in the Greek sources are usually interpreted as referring to one of the Indian gods, e.g. Kṛṣṇa; while the figure of Vajrapāṇi as a result of Hellenistic influence on the art of Gandhāra. However, the identification of Heracles in both of these cases has been repeatedly called into question. Therefore, in my paper I undertake to re-examine all the available evidence and analyze it in the context of cross-cultural processes taking place in the so-called middle ground. And thus, the research problem here concerns the use of certain motifs by a given ethnic group, rather than the study of influence.


Indigenous Elites and Royal Rule between Coexistence and Conflict: Turkestan in Achaemenid and Early Hellenistic Times (400-234 BCE) (Thomas Brüggemann, Freie Universität Berlin)

The paper’s starting point is the observation that the indigenous populations and tribes inhabiting the NE Iranian frontiers of the Achaemenid Empire (Hyrcania, Chorasmia, Bactria, and Sogdiana) offered Alexander the Great the most protracted and fierce resistance of his campaign. The paper will not only show in what manner the Macedonian kings acted in that region differently to the Achaemenids, but also why they choose just here other ways in dealing with the indigenous. That is why the contribution, although its main focus will be Alexander’s Asian Campaign from about 330 BC and the early Seleucid rule in Turkestan (Seleucus I, Antiochus I, Seleucus II), has to take into account the prevailing conditions in that region during the 4th century during Achaemenid rule as well. Particularly in regions like the Outer Iran, where the infrastructural and power-political presence of the central government was rather weak, the local elites traditionally possessed a stronger position. The paper will examine to what degree the implementation of the Macedonian system of domination caused disturbances to the everyday-life of the local populations as well as to the traditional status and influence of their elites. The local settings in the NE Iran were characterized rather by oriental civilization-manners and habits, pasture and nomadism, sparsely urbanized landscapes and in political and administrative terms by low-level and only little diversified forms of political or state-like organization.


Agathokles of Syracuse and Hellenistic Kingship (Christopher de Lisle, Oxford)

Agathokles of Syracuse, who ruled much of Sicily and Italy between 317 and 289 BC, offers an important case study in the interactions between different styles of autocracy at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. To what extent did close interaction with the Diadochoi cause Agathokles to abandon traditional modes of autocracy in favour of those of the Diadochoi? I argue that the ideological interaction between Agathokles and the Diadochoi was complex; not the simple adoption of a novel Hellenistic form of autocracy that most scholars have presented. Agathokles’ engagement with the Diadochoi’s style of rule was uneven, focussed particularly on international and military contexts. Even when Agathokles adopted elements of self-presentation directly from the Diadochoi, as in the case of coin iconography, I show that he reshaped his borrowings to fit his own Sicilian context. In other areas, he ignored the developments of the Diadochoi altogether. Although he faced the same problem of ruling over Greek cities while claiming to defend their freedom, which the Diadochoi grappled with, Agathokles did not adopt the diplomatic and euergetic solutions devised by them. Instead, he continued the practices of his predecessors. Rather than a simple single transformation, then, Agathokles’ ideological interaction with the Diadochoi proves to be a careful and selective engagement – a sign of the continued importance of the local context in interactions with broader trends at the beginning of the Hellenistic Age.