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Hellenism - a modern invention

M. M. Austina
University of St Andrews

My title links together kings, war, and the economy, and the linkage is deliberate. I do not of course wish to suggest that Hellenistic kings did nothing but fight wars, that they were responsible for all the wars in the period, that royal wars were nothing but a form of economic activity, or that the economy of the kings was dependent purely on the fruits of military success, though there would be an element of truth in all these propositions. But I wish to react against the frequent tendency to separate topics that are related, the tendency to treat notions relating to what kings were or should be as something distinct from what they actually did, and the tendency to treat political and military history on the one hand as something separate from economic and social history on the other.

A number of provisos should be made at the outset. The title promises more than the paper can deliver; in particular, more will be said about kings and war than about kings and the economy. The subject is handled at a probably excessive level of generalization and abstraction. I talk about Hellenistic kings in general, but in practice it would obviously be necessary to draw distinctions between different dynasties, different times and places, and individual rulers, and some of those distinctions I shall indicate. Conclusions are provisional and subject to modification and considerable expansion in detail. Finally, two points of terminology. I use the word ‘Hellenistic’ for no better reason than out of the force of acquired habit, but of course the word and the concept are modern inventions that were unknown to the ancient world.

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