The Expression of Identities in Hellenistic Victor Epigrams

The many identities of agonistic victors

“The 120th Olympiad. Pythagoras the Magnesian, stadion. Wrestling, Keras the Argive (who tore the hooves of a cow).” [1] The Olympiad list copied by Eusebius identifies a long series of Olympic victors—in this case two victors from the year 300 BC—with their name, home, and specialty (and occasionally a legendary feat). This recalls the formal proclamation by the herald in Olympia, where also the father’s name was added to this list of identifiers. No athlete, however, was just citizen of his polis or just specialist in a certain sport. He was also a man, a son, a descendant, a husband, and/or a father, belonged to different social groups, lived in a town and at the same time a region, and had political ambitions influenced by historical circumstances. Victor lists therefore provide us with only one part of these victors’ individual, multi-layered identity, or, to be more precise, only some of their many (sometimes overlapping) potential identities.
This paper aims to analyze whether and how the victors of athletic or equestrian contests express a sense of belonging to the Greek world, kingdoms, regions and poleis in the epigrams they commissioned to advertise their success. These ethno-political identifications cover only some of the identities just listed. Much has already been written about the social groups to which athletes belonged. [2] Regarding the ethnic and political identities of victors, however, much is taken for granted. Epigrams are often treated as the competitors’ census declarations, that is as documents applying an objective classification into clearly defined ethnic or political groups. When, for example, the epigram for Leon, a pentathlete from Messana in the Peloponnese, declares his patris to be autonomous, this is taken as evidence that it predates the inclusion of Messana in the Achaean League in 191 BC, when Messana lost its independence. [3] What the choice for this particular formula shows above all, however, is a strong feeling that Messana should be independent, which would have been on Leon’s mind shortly before as well as shortly after 191 BC. Although this political statement could predate 191 by a couple of years, it can equally be interpreted as an act of defiance in 190 or in the 180s. [4]
Fundamental sociological research on identity and ethnicity, in particular by Rogers Brubaker, [5] has shown the difficulty of defining these terms as well as the fluidity of the feelings of belonging they represent. Two of Brubaker’s observations will guide our analysis. Firstly, not every identity is relevant in every context. Instead, specific circumstances activate a sense of belonging. As groups are not stable and ever-present entities, Brubaker warns for the use of ‘groups’ (i.e. the Greeks, the Athenians, etc.) as categories of analysis. Instead he prefers to analyze ‘groupness’, that is the process during which the latent sense of belonging crystallizes or congeals. Applied to antiquity, this means that we will not focus on being Greek or being a polis citizen as stable and ever-present elements of the victor’s identity, but on the specific circumstances that brought him to see himself as such. Secondly, even in situations in which a certain groupness has crystallized (e.g. situations in which people actively define themselves as ‘Greek’, ‘Athenian’, etc.) the emerging groups are not stable entities, as people can work with widely diverging definitions of what characterizes them. This is in particular the case when there are no authorities proscribing a classification system. The “Greeks” were, for example, less clearly delineated than the “Athenians”, as only for the latter a political institution maintained lists and granted citizenship. But even an identification with a political community can be problematic. Although categories used by political institutions often affect the self-understanding of people and their categorization of others, their self-understanding must not reflect the official category precisely.
In this paper, we want to analyze the self-understanding of agonistic victors on the basis of Hellenistic victor epigrams. The changes of political constellations in this period (the formation of new kingdoms and of leagues and the institution of new poleis) created the potential for new identifications, which could not be included in the fixed format of the herald’s announcement. The first section deals with the expression of Greekness in the epigrams of victors coming from the periphery of the Greek world, the second deals with the tension between the local and regional community in victory epigrams from two places with a long agonistic tradition, namely Rhodes and Thessaly. Although at first glance, epigrams form a fairly limiting genre (short texts with a restricting meter), they are actually well-suited for expressions of a more multi-layered identity, because they could divert from the restricting official identification pattern used by the herald and often copied in prose. In these pieces of poetry, victors—and the poets who turned their wishes into literature—could claim any identity that they found relevant to their self-understanding, and they did not have to use state-sanctioned categories. Epigrams should, therefore, not be treated as a kind of poetic census declarations containing objective attributions to stable categories, but as evidence for the various groups with which victors identified on the occasion of their agonistic victory. The analysis of selected examples will show several discrepancies between self-understanding and political reality.

Claiming a Greek identity

A common way to express a Greek identity in epigrams was the explanation of mythological kinship connections. Genealogical constructions in which the hometown of a victor is connected via mythical founders to a traditional Greek polis indeed represent a recurring topic in Hellenistic victory epigrams. Because of reminiscences to the episode in Herodotus’ Histories (V 22), in which the right of Alexander I of Macedon to compete at Olympia is questioned by his competitors, but then granted by the Olympic judges on the basis of a mythological connection of the Argeads to Argos, the presence of such genealogical constructions in epigrams has in the past been interpreted as a necessary proof of Greekness. [6] The genealogical construction is, in other words, interpreted as the claim which the athletes or horse owners from new Greek areas had made at Olympia or another Panhellenic sanctuary before they were allowed to compete. The unease about Alexander’s presence at Olympia circa 500 BC, however, should be interpreted in the specific historical contest of Persian threats, with the emerging Greek coalition and self-definition and an uncertainty about the Macedonian alliance. [7] Herodotus says nothing about this test of Greekness becoming a standard procedure. As will be argued elsewhere [8] , the widespread idea that proof of Greekness was a requirement at Olympia and similar sanctuaries throughout the history of these games is not supported by the evidence. Greekness was, moreover, too flexible a concept for this to be workable.
That the genealogical information in Hellenistic victor epigrams should not be taken as an active defense against people denying an athlete or horse owner’s right to compete at the Panhellenic games is shown by an epigram celebrating a Pythian victory in the stadion for boys of Herogeiton from Magnesia on the Meander (Ebert 1972:no. 53). This epigram has been dated to circa 300 BC on the basis of style and paleography. Whereas the first words identify Herogeiton’s patris (verse 1: Μάγνης μὲν γεννεάν), the last of the four lines is entirely devoted to Thessaly as metropolis of Magnesia (verse 4: [θ]εσσαλία πατρίδος μητρόπολις λέγεται). Although the first Magnesian in the list of victors preserved by Eusebius is Herogeiton’s contemporary Pythagoras, who won the Olympic stadion race in 300 and 296 BC, [9] Magnesia on the Meander already sent athletes to the Panhellenic games in the fifth century BC. We indeed know of a Magnesian who competed in the fifth century: Kleomachos, a Magnesian boxer famous for copying all the mannerisms of cinaedi, was a contemporary of Aristophanes and Cratinus. [10] Athletes from other cities along the western coast of Asia Minor had been going to the Olympics since the seventh century. Herogeiton’s presence at Delphi would therefore not have surprised the other attendees, nor would his right to compete have been questioned by them.
The poet commissioned by Herogeiton made a deliberate choice when he included Thessaly in the epigram, as he seems to have been aware of uncertainties and conflicting tales about the foundation of Magnesia on the Meander, hence the addition of λέγεται in the fourth verse. The version that the original Magnesians came from Thessaly was inspired by the existence of a city with the same name here, and was well established in Magnesia on the Meander in the third century. In the late third century, when embassies were sent out to promote the Leukophryenia, an historiographer describing the foundation of the city indeed similarly suggests that the Magnesians came from Thessaly, though he explains that they first went to Crete and from there later migrated to Asia. In this way Magnesia connected itself to not one but two other cities of the same name. [11] Unlike this more complex history of Magnesia, the epigram for Herogeiton does not mention Thessalian Magnesia as metropolis, but just Thessaly, although this is in fact not a polis at all. The description of Thessaly as ἱπποτρόφος might seem surprising as well, as the epigram celebrates an athletic rather than an equestrian victory. Nevertheless this adjective, which probably refers to the well-established agonistic glory of the Thessalian horses, can help to explain the surprising focus on the entire region in the kinship construction as well as the general prominence of Thessaly in the epigram: in this way a Magnesian winner of the stadion race could bask in the reflected glory of the Thessalian horses of his constructed motherland.
That a similar, though more precise, reference to a Thessalian origin appears in the genealogical construction published in the context of the embassies sent out by Magnesia for the Leukophryenia contains a hint to why kinship constructed on the basis of the movements of mythical Greek heroes was so popular in Hellenistic epigrams. The argument of kinship was a central element in the discourse of polis diplomacy. Despite the new political constellations, the self-governing city remained the central political unit. For the political reality, it was no doubt important in which sphere of royal influence a city was located, or to which league it belonged, but this was not included in the self-representation. Herogeiton does not, therefore, refer to Lysimachos or Seleukos. In its epigraphic advertisement, the city remains an independent player. The overarching community, which the elite in these cities identified with, was the network of cities that formed the Greek world. The Hellenistic period was therefore characterized by a very active diplomatic interaction between poleis, especially in Greece and Asia Minor; new connections between poleis were habitually forged on the basis of constructed kinship. [12]
Kinship connections between Greek poleis are also explored in a victor epigram written for Diotimos, son of Dionysios, from Sidon, who won the chariot race at Nemea (Ebert 1972:no. 64). [13] Here, this focus on genealogy is more noteworthy, as Syria was not so actively involved in the diplomatic polis networks as the Asian poleis. According to the accompanying prose inscription, the monument for Diotimos was made by Timocharis, who is known to have worked in the last decades of the third century BC. This means that this particular inscription was one of the first Greek inscriptions erected in Sidon. Diotimos was not the first Sidonian to be interested in agones, however. An inscription from 269 BC records Sillis of Sidon as victor in the boxing for young men at Delos. [14] Sillis is a common Phoenician name, so he was certainly not a Greek immigrant. Therefore, we have no reason to assume that Diotimos—who was, as we will see, also of Phoenician descent—was the first Sidonian to appear at a Panhellenic festival. In general, the Sidonian elite seems to have developed a taste for Greek culture before the rest of Phoenicia. [15]
Following the epigraphic practice of the time, the prose introduction presents the monument as erected by the polis to the dikastes Diotimos. This does not mean that the victor monument represents an initiative of the city council, as it may have been in more traditional poleis. The highest authority in Hellenistic Sidon was a monarchic regent called sofet. After the conquest of the city by Alexander, Abdalonymos was appointed as monarch. He is well-known for his interest in Greek culture: he is the probable owner of the so-called Alexander-sarcophagus and gave at least one of his sons a Greek name, [Dio]timos. Christian Habicht has made the convincing suggestion that the Diotimos of the victor epigram may very well be a direct descendant of this family. [16] Using the translation basileus for sofet would have been politically unwise in the late third century, as Sidon lay in the sphere of influence of the Ptolemies, who of course already claimed this title. Therefore, Diotimos and his poet went for the more literal translation of ‘judge’ or dikastes. [17] What we have, therefore, is a monument of a philhellenic Sidonian regent praising himself.
Although making no secret of the fact that he was a Sidonian regent, the epigram identifies Diotimos foremost as a Greek, using a genealogical argument. In the third verse he is connected to Phoroneus, the mythical ancestor of the Argives. Then this link with the Argives is further explained. The sixth line namely described Sidon as home of the Agenorids, a family named after Agenor, a scion of the family of Phoroneus who traveled to the East. Among Agenor’s children were Phoinix, the founder of Phoenicia, Kadmos and Europa. Kadmos went back to Greece when his sister was taken and there he founded Thebes. [18] The specific link between Kadmos and Sidon was already made by Euripides. [19] Whereas in the case of Phoroneus and Agenor a mere reference seems to have sufficed for the poet, the last connection between Sidon and Greece was deemed worthy of elaboration. “Also the sacred city of Kadmean Thebes plumes herself, as she looks upon her metropolis, famous for victories.” [20] If the kinship construction was there to proof his Greek origin, one expects Diotimos to highlight the Argive connection—as Alexander did in the fifth century—and not the Theban one. But Diotimos was above all a ruler, and being a metropolis to a famous Greek city gave Sidon far more prestige than merely having a metropolis in Greece. As a monarch, he wanted to transcend the local level to compete in the same arena as the mightier Hellenistic kings, and this is why he squarely located himself in the Greek community that included the entire eastern Mediterranean.
In the victor epigrams for Ptolemy II and his daughter Berenike (Posidippus no. 78, 79, 82, 87 and 88) [21] , however, a similar claim of Greekness is not even hinted at. These poems do not want to create a connection between the victorious royals and the Greek community at the games. The Ptolemies had higher ambitions than Diotimos; their epigrams, therefore, aim to set these kings apart. Only in one of the five epigrams for royals (the short Ep. 87) the words ‘king’ or ‘princess’ are absent. In epigram 78, it falls at least thrice. [22] The two longer epigrams (78 and 88) are, moreover, all about keeping victory in the family: words for family (γένοςσ, προπάτωρ, πάτηρ, μάτηρ, etc.) are omnipresent. This focus on kinship can again be linked to kingship, as family was an important motif in Ptolemy’s II claim of legitimacy. [23] Four of the five epigrams identify the ethnicity of this family as Macedonian. Egypt and Greece are not referred to. Whereas retrospectively, one cannot but associate the Ptolemaic kingdom with Egypt, at the time the Ptolemies did not see themselves as kings of Egypt, but as the legitimate successors of Alexander, who just happened to be residing in Egypt. [24] The absence of any claim to Greekness should not surprise us either: why would they see themselves as ordinary Greek polis citizens if they could see themselves as Macedonian kings in the line of Alexander? [25] These are no poems about belonging, they are about standing out.

Local and supra-local communities as competing identifiers

In the traditional center of the Greek world, Greekness is not a topic addressed in victor epigrams. [26] Although the cities here similarly strove for preeminence in the Greek world, their inclusion was never questioned. This does not mean that victors from the Greek mainland and the Aegean expressed their political identities in a more straightforward way when presenting their agonistic successes in epigrams. They too imagined themselves as members of communities that did not quite overlap with official political structures.
Examples of a discrepancy between self-understanding and political reality can for example be found in victor epigrams from Hellenistic Rhodes. [27] The hometown of the victor is a standard element in all victor epigrams; two Rhodian epigrams, however, include not only a reference to the polis Rhodes, but also mention subdivisions of the polis. The first of these two poems, which is extraordinary in metrical terms and can be dated to the first half of the second century, [28] emphasizes the Lindian identity of the victor Hagesistratos, son of Polykreon: “the first to grant fortunate Lindos the blessed reward.” [29] Although the athlete was first introduced as a Rhodian, [30] his victory is connected with the ancient town of Lindos. An honorific inscription for the same Hagesistratos, which is not part of the same monument but records the same victory, does not even mention Rhodes, but Lindos twice. [31] Similarly, another Rhodian epigram for a certain Kleonymos dating to the end of the third century first mentions the polis—Rhodes is called εὐστέφανος in line 6—but then presents the victory as a reward for the little island of Chalke, which was part of the territory of the ancient city of Kameiros. [32] In this way, the successful horses of the victor are connected to their local origin. Hence the ethnic identity of Rhodian athletes as expressed in these Hellenistic victor epigrams is a multiple one. There is more to it than that, however.
Interestingly, the Rhodian victors of the fifth century BC instead emphasize their Rhodian identity and were even called ‘Rhodians’ in the herald’s announcement, [33] although unlike their Hellenistic successors, they were no Rhodian citizens, as there was no city of Rhodes prior to the year 408/7, when a synœcism united the entire island into one polis. In the course of that event the three ancient poleis of Ialysos, Kameiros and Lindos were reduced in rank to phylai within the state territory of the new polis Rhodes. This means that both the Hellenistic athletes emphasizing their local identity in epigrams and the classical athletes asking to be called Rhodians in epinikia are presenting themselves as citizens of a desired fatherland, an imagined community. The famous Olympic victors of the family of the Diagoridai had a pan-Rhodian political ambition, which is for example illustrated by the seventh Olympian ode on Diagoras from Ialysos (464 BC): in the center of this poem there are three myths about the entire island, not just about the hometown of the victor. In addition, a stele with a copy of the ode in golden letters was erected at the sanctuary of Athena Lindia in Lindos. [34] Since we know that the family of Diagoras played a crucial role in the new city in the years after the synœcism of 408/7 it is clear that the pan-Rhodian emphasis in their self-advertisement reflected a political program. Their attempt to rule the entire island ended with their expulsion from the island in 395. [35] The fortune of the Diagoridai changed the agonistic discourse on Rhodes in a permanent way: after that, we know of nobody who tried to secure for himself a position of power on Rhodes based explicitly on agonistic success.
In a political sense, victors became more modest. Whereas in the fifth century the Diagoridai used agonistic victories to underline their pan-Rhodian identity and to express their political ambitions, two of the three known victor epigrams from Hellenistic Rhodes stress the local identity as citizen of a no longer existing polis, maybe because the new, pan-Rhodian aristocracy wanted to show that they remained in touch with their local power base. This is also indicated by the fact that all but one inscription for a Rhodian Hellenistic victor (including epigrams as well as other inscriptions) were erected on Rhodes, rather than in Panhellenic sanctuaries. [36] The third preserved Hellenistic victor epigram does not connect the agonistic glory with the local power base of the athlete. This victor, however, was in fact the most modest of all. In the epigram the word kudos—the fame which according to Leslie Kurke is of central importance for the reintegration of the victor into the community of citizens [37] —is no longer connected with the personal arete of the victor. Instead, it becomes an identifier of the whole patris: the island is called κυδιάνειρα. [38]
In epigrams of successful athletes from Hellenistic Thessaly, the tension between the adherence to local as well as regional communities is dealt with in a somewhat different way. After the much debated ‘royal poems’ for Ptolemaic victors, epigrams celebrating Thessalian victories constitute the second biggest group in the Hippika of Posidippus. [39] As with the royal epigrams, also these literary showpieces about clearly identified agonistic victories were presumably commissioned and therefore reflect at least partially the own identity construction of the Thessalian victors. As the Egyptian royals, they all won horse races. We have already seen in the epigram for the Magnesian Herogeiton that Thessaly and Thessalian horses were an important point of reference even in some non-Thessalian victor epigrams. [40] Thessalian horses and chariots were very famous indeed during the Hellenistic period. [41] More important for our current topic, however, is that it is always the entire region of Thessaly Posidippus’ poems refer to. The hometown of the victors is never even mentioned.
The first of the four Thessalian epigrams (Ep. 71) ends with the emphatic invocation of the personified πότνια Θεϲϲαλία in verse 4, whereas the last one (Ep. 85) explicitly calls Thessaly patris. [42] Both phrases come at the very end of the epigram, a stressed position in every poem. The same is true for the initial word(s) of an epigram. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that epigram 83 begins with the word Θεϲϲαλόϲ referring to the victorious horse of the victor. More complicated is the reading of epigram 84. This poem includes a certain reference to Thessaly in the second verse. Some editions give the desperate θεϲ̣ϲαλοτυλοϲιδα, but we prefer the version of the editio princeps Θεϲ̣ϲαλ‹ὲ› ‹Φ›υλο‹π›ίδα which has the advantage of actually making sense. As none of the other gaps in the text on the left side of the papyrus is large enough to contain the name of the victor, the last part has to be a misreading of the name and the first part is than clearly an ethnikon. This reconstruction renders them both in the vocative. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Thessaly is mentioned in this verse in one form or another.
In none of these four epigrams we hear anything explicit about the polis the victors belonged to. The only case where a local identity is alluded to can be found in epigram 83. Here the poet, probably referring to an (imagined or real) victory monument, calls the victorious horse “a monument sacred to the Skopadai.” [43] The name of the victor is lost in a gap at the beginning of the fourth line. Since the Skopadai were an important aristocratic family from the Thessalian polis Krannon, [44] this reference may suggest that this was his home. [45] It is less clear, however, whether the victor also belonged to this family. The Skopadai are not the only family mentioned in this epigram: the epigram concludes with the invocation of the Iamidae as witnesses (μάρτυρεϲ Ἰαμίδαι). [46] Like Σκοπάδαιϲ in verse 2, Ἰαμίδαι is reserved for the last word of the pentameter which indicates a parallel use at a stressed position within the poem. As the mention of the Iamidae, a family of priests from Olympia, serves as a literary reference to the place of the victory, the reference to the Skopadai may allude to the citizens from Krannon in general, rather than the victor. In any case, the fact that the Skopadai are brought up is noteworthy because there is no other Hellenistic victor epigram where the name of a (contemporary) noble family is mentioned explicitly. [47] This demonstrates not only the essential role of aristocratic families in Thessaly, but the particular importance of the Skopadai as well. As in the case of Rhodes, in Thessaly agonistic success goes hand in hand with a strong aristocracy. [48] How successful some of these aristocratic families were, is clearly shown by the phrase [μ]έγα δῶμα μεθύϲτερον ἐϲτεφανώθη (“a large hall was later decorated with wreaths”) in epigram 84, verse 3. This even brings to mind the often-cited words of a victor epigram from Miletus: “the entire house is full of crowns.” [49] The focus in both phrases seems to be on the large number of victories in one family. Obviously, both victors were not alone in their success.
The focus on the larger regional community in the self-representation of the Thessalian victors in the Posidippus epigrams can be again compared with their classical precursors. The well-known pankratiast Poulydamas from Skotoussa, who won at Olympia in the competition of 408, is praised in a classical verse cited by Pausanias: “Scotoessa, nurse of unbeaten Poulydamas.” [50] A second pre-Hellenistic point of reference is the epigram for the Pythian victory of Agias, written on the famous Daochos monument at Delphi. [51] Agias is in the first place presented as citizen of his hometown (l. 1: Φαρσάλιε). His Thessalian identity follows in the next pentameter (verse 2: γῆς ἀπὸ Θεσσαλίας). This is in line with the way in which Poulydamas of Skotoussa was praised. In classical times, therefore, the polis identity of Thessalian victors was stressed in their self-presentation, whereas the regional identity could be used in addition. In the Hellenistic period, however, the region became the primary point of reference.
The regional option, though obviously more important in the Hellenistic period, had in fact been available since the sixth century BC. In this century, at least two athletes were officially proclaimed as Thessalians in the herald’s announcement at Olympia. [52] This is remarkable because there are only four examples from that century where the name of the polis of the victor is not known. [53] The reason for this relative prominence of the regional identity in Thessaly is to be found in the fact that the polis-structures in Thessaly were rather weak compared to other regions of mainland Greece: besides poleis as Krannon, Larisa or Pharsalos, at least in the adjacent regions of Thessaly there were political entities with a tribal structure like the Athamanes, the Dolopians, the Ainians and the Malians. [54]
If the regional option had been on the table since the sixth century, why did it then become only in the third century the main point of reference for the successful Thessalian athletes? The ‘old élites’ in Thessaly had to find an answer to the challenge brought on by the successes of the “new society of victors” [55] including courtiers and kings. Instead of connecting their kudos in the first place to their family and fellow citizens, as the Daochids had done in the classical period, the new Thessalian victors wanted to share in the agonistic fame of a larger community. As in the political reality, where we can now see an increase and spread of koina to strengthen the position of each individual member-polis, in the agonistic sphere it made sense to refer to the region instead of the polis as patris, especially as the entire region was so well-known for its successful horses. So the difference between the classical stone-epigrams and the Hellenistic literary products may also be explained with reference to the involved disciplines. Whereas the successful Thessalian athletes of the Classical era won their victories in athletic disciplines, the competitors praised by Posidippus were hippic victors.
The activities of Thessalian competitors in the third century—or at least of those competitors whose victories were described by Posidippus—were centered at the Olympic Games. [56] Especially in the first half of that century, until about 240, the success of Thessalian horses was outstanding. At the end of that century the Thessalians literally brought their Olympian success home when they established their own Olympic festival. [57] It is in that context that we even find a connection between the region of Thessaly and Olympia on the religious level. The inscription that mentions the establishment of the Olympic festival also demonstrates that the heros Thessalos was worshipped together with Zeus Olympios. [58] Perhaps this is to be interpreted as an attempt to connect Olympic success with the entire region of Thessaly in a more permanent manner. Even more important than the fact that the Thessalians themselves made this cultic connection is that they were able to introduce it in their apoikiai outside of Thessaly. One might therefore say that this cult became an instrument of Thessalian foreign policy.
The passion for the Olympic games, however, seems to have declined in the second and first centuries. According to our sources, the agonistic activities of Thessalian athletes shifted to a more regional or even local level. [59] This goes hand in hand with another phenomenon: the epigraphic record clearly demonstrates that the Thessalians had very particular agonistic interests in that time: Denver Graninger has recently called the three otherwise not (or only rarely) known disciplines of taurotheria, aphippolampas and aphippodromas a “Thessalian triad” [60] and a newly found inscription from Pelinna shows that the Thessalians even had a tristadion race. [61]
Whatever the reasons for these new developments at the Thessalian agones may have been, it is clear that the first half of the third century saw the peak of Thessalian success at Olympia. It was at that time that the victorious athletes explicitly stressed their Thessalian identity without even mentioning their hometown. As on second-century Rhodes the basis of the success was a strong local aristocracy, but the Thessalian aristocracy seems to have understood the competition very differently from their Rhodian peers: whereas the Rhodians celebrated their success with stone-epigrams on the island itself to demonstrate their kudos to their fellow citizens, the Thessalians commissioning one of the most famous poets of their time paid less attention to their local power base but instead tried to compete internationally with kings and queens, both with their chariots and with the advertisement of their agonistic success.


The epigrams commissioned by the victors of famous agones connect their agonistic glory to various political and ethnic groups, to which they belonged or, more precisely, to which they imagined themselves belonging. This paper aimed to show that these imagined communities reflect the ambitions of the competitor and his circle rather than political realities. The first section dealt with the imagined community of Greeks. All victors discussed in this paper could claim a Greek identity: with the acts of participating in agones and of commissioning victory epigrams they indeed all presented themselves, non-verbally, as Greek. Only some, however, also explicitly claimed a Greek identity in these epigrams and, therefore, presented a heightened awareness of this often latent layer of their self-understanding, now activated by particular historical circumstances. The normal way of claiming Greekness was by creating a genealogical connection with a traditional Greek city. The epigram for Herogeiton, the young runner from Magnesia on the Meander who linked his home to Thessaly, indirectly reflects the contemporary ambition of his city to be perceived as an equal partner in the community of Greek poleis. When Diotimos, the ruler of Sidon, advertised his Greek credentials, he phrased a similar ambition in a far more confident way: he presented his city not only as a Greek foundation, but also as the metropolis of a Greek city as important as Thebes. Ptolemy II and his family did not claim a Greek identity, as they were even more confident: they did not want to belong to the Greek polis world, but instead to rule it in the Macedonian tradition of Alexander.
The second section dealt with tensions between local and supra-local identifiers. The normal practice of competitors at the games was to identify themselves as citizens of their polis. The analysis of examples from Rhodes and Thessaly, however, showed that this constitutionally defined community could be superseded in the self-understanding of the competitors by either more local or supra-local communities. Especially in Rhodes, a clear discrepancy between political reality and the citizen community imagined in the epigrams can be observed: whereas before the Rhodian synœcism, the ambitious Diagoridai expressed their political program when they presented themselves as Rhodians and not as citizens of Ialysos, in the Hellenistic period, prominence is given to the local level, even if these towns lost polis-status after the synœcism. In the third-century epigrams for Thessalian victors of the Olympic horse races, the polis adherence became completely overshadowed by the regional level. For the Hellenistic elite in the Thessalian poleis, the key to being taken serious as a partner in the international network of Greek communities was the coherence of the region. As Thessaly had long been known for its fine horses and as agones were traditional occasions for the members of different Greek communities to forge diplomatic networks, the Olympics were the perfect occasion to play the regional card.


Austin, C., and G. Bastianini. 2002. Posidippi Pellaei quae supersunt omnia. Milan.
Barbantani, S. 2001. Φάτις νικηφόρος. Frammenti di elegia encomiastica nell’ età delle Guerre Galatiche: Supplementum Hellenisticum 958 e 969. Milan.
Bikerman, E. 1939. “Sur une inscription grecque de Sidon.” Mélanges syriens offerts à Monsieur René Dussaud (Bibliothèque archéologique et historique 30) 91–99. Paris.
Bouchon, R., and B. Helly. 2013. “Construire et reconstruire l’État fédéral thessalien (époque classique, époque hellénistique et romaine). Cultes et sanctuaires des Thessaliens.” Greek Federal States and Their Sanctuaries. Identity and Integration. Proceedings of an International Conference of the Cluster of Excellence Religion and Politics Held in Münster, 17. 6. – 19. 6. 2010 (eds. P. Funke and M. Haake) 205–226. Stuttgart.
Brubaker, R. 2004. Ethnicity without Groups. Cambridge, MA and London.
Christesen, P., and Z. Martirosova-Torlone. 2006. “The Olympic victor list of Eusebius: Background, text, and translation.” Traditio 61:31–93.
Curty, O. 1995. Les parentés légendaires entre cités grecques. Catalogue raisonné des inscriptions contenant le terme συγγένεια et analyse critique. Genève.
Curty, O. 1999. “La parenté légendaire à l’époque hellenistique. Précisions methodologiques.” Kernos 12:167–194.
David, E. 1986. “The Diagoreans and the Defection of Rhodes from Athens in 411 B.C.” Eranos 84:157–164.
Decourt, J. C., T. H. Nielsen, and B. Helly. 2004. “Thessalia and Adjacent Regions.” An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis . An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation (eds. M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen) 676–731. Oxford.
Ebert, J. 1972. Griechische Epigramme auf Sieger an gymnischen und hippischen Agonen. Abhandlungen der sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig. Philologisch-historische Klasse 63, 2. Berlin.
Geominy, W. 1998. “Zum Daochos-Weihgeschenk.” Klio 80:369–402.
Golden, M. 2008. Greek Sport and Social Status. Austin.
Grainger, J. D. 1991. Hellenistic Phoenicia. Oxford.
Graninger, D. 2011. Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly. Leiden.
Habicht, C. 2007. “Neues zur hellenistischen Geschichte von Kos.” Chiron 37:123–152.
Hall, J. M. 2002. Hellenicity between Ethnicity and Culture. Chicago and London.
Helly, B. 1995. L’État thessalien, Aleuas le Roux, les tétrades et les tagoi. Lyon.
Helly, B. 2010. “Un concurrent originaire d’Antioche de Pisidie dans un catalogue de vainqueurs aux concours des Éleuthéria de Larisa (entre 80 et 70 av. J. C.).” ZPE 172:93–99.
Jones, C.P. 1999. Kinship Diplomacy in the Ancient World. Cambridge, MA.
Kainz, L. forthcoming. Usurpationen im ptolemäischen Ägypten. PhD Diss. Mannheim.
Kertész, I. 1999. “‘Pleres de oikos hapas stephanon’.” Nikephoros 12:143–148.
Kontorini, V. N. 1989. Ἀνέκδοτες Ἐπιγραφές Ρόδου, II (Inscriptions inédites de Rhodes 2). Athens.
Kurke, L. 1991. The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Poetics of Social Economy. Ithaca, NY.
Kurke, L. 1993. “The Economy of kudos.” Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece: Cult, Performance, Politics (eds. C. Dougherty and L. Kurke) 131–163. Cambridge.
Ma, J. 2003. “Peer Polity Interaction in the Hellenistic Age.” Past and Present 180:7–38.
Malay, H. and M. Ricl. 2009. “Two New Hellenistic Decrees from Aigai in Aiolis.” EA 42:39–60.
Mann, C. 2001. Athlet und Polis im archaischen und frühklassischen Griechenland. Hypomnemata 138. Göttingen.
Meeus, A. 2014. “The Territorial Ambitions of Ptolemy I.” The Age of the Successors and the Creation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms (323276 B.C.) (eds. H. Hauben and A. Meeus) 263–306. Studia Hellenistica 53. Leuven.
Merkelbach, R. and J. Stauber. 2002. Steinepigramme aus dem griechischen Osten: 4. Die Südküste Kleinasiens, Syrien und Palaestina. München and Leipzig.
Moretti, L. 1957. “Olympionikai, i vincitori negli antichi agoni olimpici.” Atti della academia nazionale dei Lincei: Mem. scienze morali 8:53–198.
Nielsen, T. H. 2004. “Victors in Panhellenic Games as Evidence for Polis Identity.” An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis . An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation (eds. M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen) 107–110. Oxford.
Nielsen, T. H. and Gabrielsen, V. 2004. “Rhodos.” An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis . An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation (eds. M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen) 1196–1210. Oxford.
Nielsen, T. H. 2007. Olympia and the Classical Hellenic City-State Culture. Copenhagen.
Pleket, H. W. 1974. “Zur Soziologie des antiken Sports.” Mededelingen van het Nederlands Instituut te Rome 36:57–87.
Pleket, H. W. 2005. “Athleten im Altertum: Soziale Herkunft und Ideologie.” Nikephoros 18:151–163.
Remijsen, S. forthcoming.
Satre, M. 2002. “La construction de l’identité des villes de la Syrie hellénistique et imperial.” Idéologies et valeurs civiques dans le Monde Romain. Hommage à Claude Lepelley (ed. Hervé Inglebert) 93–105. Paris.
Scharff, S. forthcoming. “Die Selbstdarstellung rhodischer Athleten im Hellenismus. Politische und soziale Identitäten.” Nikephoros 27.
Stavrianopoulou, E. 2013. “Hellenistic World(s) and the Elusive Concept of Greekness.” Shifting Social Imaginaries in the Hellenistic Period. Mnemosyne Supplements 363 (ed. Eftychia Stravianopoulou) 177–205. Leiden.
Strootman, R. 2014. “‘Men to whose rapacity neither sea nor mountains sets a limit’: The aims of the Diadochs.” The Age of the Successors and the Creation of the Hellenistic Kingdoms (323276 B.C.) (eds. H. Hauben and A. Meeus) 307–322. Studia Hellenistica 53. Leuven.
Van Bremen, R. 2007. “The Entire House is Full of Crowns: Hellenistic Agones and the Commemoration of Victory.” Pindar’s Poetry, Patrons, and Festivals. From Archaic Greece to the Roman Empire (eds. S. Hornblower and C. Morgan) 345–375. Oxford.
Wiemer, H. U. 2002. Krieg, Handel und Piraterie. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des hellenistischen Rhodos. Klio Beihefte NF 6. Berlin.


[ back ] 1. Eusebius Chronica App. Ol. 120 (ed. Christesen and Martirosova-Torlone 2006): Εκατοστὴ κ’. Πυθαγόρας Μάγνης στάδιον. Πάλην Κερᾶς ᾿Αργεῖος, ὃς χηλὰς ἀπέσπα βοός.
[ back ] 2. To name just two examples: Golden 2008; Pleket 1974 and 2005.
[ back ] 3. Ebert 1972:no. 71, v. 4: αὐτόνομον πατρίδα. See also his comment on page 213: “Im Jahre 191 v. Chr. trat das peloponnesische Messana dem Achäischen Bund bei, so daß wir darin den terminus ante quem für das Epigramm zu sehen haben. Denn “autonomes Vaterland” konnte Messana nur von 370/69 v. Chr. (…) bis zum Eintritt in den Achäischen Bund heißen.”
[ back ] 4. Although Ebert 1972:214 almost comes to a similar conclusion (“Man darf wohl aus diesem αὐτόνομον einen trotzig stolzen Ton und etwas von dem Widerstandswillen der Messenier gegen den Anschluß an den Achäischen Bund herauszuhören. Das mag für ein Datum des Epigramms unfern dem Jahre 191 v. Chr. sprechen.”), in the end he nevertheless chooses for a date “vor 191 v. Chr.”
[ back ] 5. Brubaker 2004:esp. 7–27 (on groupness) and 64–87 (on categories).
[ back ] 6. E.g. Ebert 1972:190 “Das Auftreten eines Phöniziers bei hellenischen Wettspielen bedurfte also einer Art Rechtfertigung.”
[ back ] 7. See in particular the discussion of this episode in Nielsen 2007:18–21, who argues convincingly that exclusiveness of the Olympics (as attested in the Alexander episode) was a product of the confrontation with the Persians. For the development of Greekness (or ‘Hellenicity’) in general see Hall 2002:226–228.
[ back ] 8. Remijsen, forthcoming.
[ back ] 9. Eusebius Chronica App. Ol. 120–121.
[ back ] 10. Moretti 1957:no. 329. See Strabo 14.648 for his mannerisms. Cratinus Fr. 15 names him, Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae 22 contains an allusion.
[ back ] 11. I.Magnesia 17. Cf. Stavrianopoulou 2013:185–186.
[ back ] 12. Curty:1995 (a catalogue of inscriptions); 1999; Jones 1999:50–65; Ma 2003:esp. 11–12; Stavrianopoulou 2013:esp. 180.
[ back ] 13. Bikerman 1939; IAG 41; Ebert 1972:no. 64; Merkelbach and Stauber 2002:no. 20/14/01; Sartre 2002:97–98.
[ back ] 14. IG XI.2 203, l. 68.
[ back ] 15. Grainger 1991:80, 110.
[ back ] 16. Habicht 2007:125–127.
[ back ] 17. Bikerman 1939:97–99.
[ back ] 18. J. Schmidt, Art. “Phoroneus”, RE 39 (1941):645–646; Dümmler, Art. “Agenor”, RE 1 (1893):773–775.
[ back ] 19. Bacchae 171; Phrixos Fr. 819 (ed. Nauck).
[ back ] 20. v. 7–8: αὐχεῖ καὶ Θήβης Καδμηΐδος ἱερὸν ἄστυ / δερκόμενον νίκαις εὐκλέα ματρόπολιν.
[ back ] 21. Ed. Austin and Bastianini 2002.
[ back ] 22. Ep. 78, v. 6 ἐκ βασιλέω[ς] βασ[ι]λεύς; v. 10 [βασιλί]ς; v. 14 βασιλευούσης.
[ back ] 23. Kainz, forthcoming.
[ back ] 24. E.g. Meeus 2014 and Strootman 2014.
[ back ] 25. Interestingly, the Ptolemies present themselves differently in the second-century context of the Panathenaic games: they still appear as kings, but as Greek kings belonging to an Athenian phyle named after themselves (cf. SEG XLI 115, Col. III 32–33). In this historical context, the display of influence on a polis as important as Athens was clearly thought to be more important than the continued insistence on Macedonian ethnicity.
[ back ] 26. Although is commonly re indeed included Satre 2002, urs civiques dans le Monde Romain. Hommage à Claude Lepelleye were indeed included is commonly re indeed included Satre 2002, urs civiques dans le Monde Romain. Hommage à Claude Lepelleye were indeed included ῞Ελλην is a fairly common word in victor epigrams from the classical and early Hellenistic period, victors do not use it to describe themselves. Instead, ῞Ελληνες seems to be the only available term to describe the entire community involved in the major agones, who witnessed the victory. See e.g. Ebert 1972:no. 20, 37, 38, 56, 59, 65, and 67.
[ back ] 27. For a more detailed discussion of the self-representation of Rhodian athletes, see Scharff forthcoming.
[ back ] 28. Ebert 1972:214 prefers a more precise date around the year 172 BC.
[ back ] 29. Ebert 1972:no. 72, v. 4: πρᾶτος ὃς ἀγαθέαι γέρας ὄλβιον ὤπασε Λίνδωι.
[ back ] 30. Ebert 1972: no. 72, v. 2: παῖδα … Ῥόδιον.
[ back ] 31. IG XII 1, 841, l. 4–6: Λίνδιοι Ἁγησίστρατον Πολυκρέοντος νικῶντα Ὀλύμπια παῖδας πάλαν πρᾶτον Λινδίων.
[ back ] 32. Ebert 1972:no. 69, l. 18–20: σαῖς δ’ ἀγλαὸν ὤπασεν ἵπποις | Χαλκεία, πράταις | [ἄστεϊ τῶιδε] γ̣έ̣ρας. See also the honorific inscription Tit. Cam. 92, l. 8: Καμιρέων τὸ κοινὸν ἐπαίνεσε καὶ ἐστεφάνωσε Φιλοκράτη Σωσιτίμου θαλλοῦ στεφάνωι καὶ εἰκόνι νικάσαντα πρᾶτον Καμιρέων Πύθια παῖδας πάλαν.
[ back ] 33. Rhodian identity: Pindar Olympian 7; herald’s announcement: IvO 151, 152.
[ back ] 34. Gorgon from Rhodes, FGrHist 515, Fr. 18 (= Scholion on Pindar Olympian 7); see Mann 2001:43, Nielsen and Gabrielsen 2004:1204.
[ back ] 35. For the political fortunes of the Diagoridai see David 1986, Wiemer 2002:53–55.
[ back ] 36. The only exception is IvO [new] 30 which is a late one according to Kontorini 1989:168f. who gives the second half of the first century BC.
[ back ] 37. Kurke 1991; 1993.
[ back ] 38. Ebert 1972:no. 75, v. 6.
[ back ] 39. There are five ‘royal’ (Ep. 78, 79, 82, 87 and 88) and four ‘Thessalian’ epigrams (Ep. 71 and 83–85). To the ‘royal’ poems one may also add Ep. 74 which is written for the Ptolemaic courtier Kallikrates of Samos who designates his victory to the dynasty.
[ back ] 40. For a reference to horses from Thessaly in a non-Thessalian poem see also the victory epigram on Attalos, the adopted son of Philetairos, from Pergamon: Ebert 1972:no. 59 v. 2.
[ back ] 41. This fame is proudly alluded to in Ep. 85, v. 3f.
[ back ] 42. Ep. 85, v. 5: πατρίδα Θεσσαλίαν.
[ back ] 43. Ep. 83, v. 2: μνῆμ{α} ἱερὸν Ϲκοπάδαιϲ.
[ back ] 44. For the Skopadai see Helly 1995:107–112.
[ back ] 45. Maybe the victor of Ep. 83 could be identified with a certain M[…] from Krannon who according to P.Oxy. XVII 2082 won an Olympic victor with the single horse in 268 BC. In Ep. 83 his name is to be expected in the lacuna at the beginning of verse 4.
[ back ] 46. Ep. 83, v. 4.
[ back ] 47. Only Ebert 1972,:no. 54, v. 1 explicitly talks about the family of the victor but without mentioning the name: Φωκεὺς μὲν γένος εἰμί (…).
[ back ] 48. For the Rhodian example see Scharff forthcoming.
[ back ] 49. Ebert 1972,:no. 74, v. 6: πληρῆς δ’ οἴκος ἁπᾶς στεφανῶν. There are at least two articles citing this verse in the title: Kertész 1999; van Bremen 2007.
[ back ] 50. Pausanias VII 27.6: ὦ τροφὲ Πουλυδάμαντος ἀνικάτου Σκοτόεσσα. See also Pausanias VI 5.2: Σκοτοῦσσα δὲ ἡ τοῦ Πουλυδάμαντας πατρὶς; but note Diodorus IX 14.2: Πολυδάμας ὁ Θετταλὸς.
[ back ] 51. Ebert 1972:no. 43–45, with Geominy 1998:381f. The dating of the monument has recently been questioned: Geominy 1998 favors a date between 287 and 277. As there can be no doubt that the victories were still won in the classical era, the monument must have been erected/renewed by a descendant of the athletes belonging to Hellenistic times. It is unclear whether all the epigrams were written on the occasion of the victory, or when the Hellenistic monument was erected. Ebert 1972:142 argued convincingly that the epigram for Agias is older than the other two. Given the fact that there is another victory monument for Agias at Pharsalos we may conclude with Geominy 1998:379f that the poem for Agias was created for that monument and should be dated to middle of the fourth century BC.
[ back ] 52. Moretti 1957, no. 128 and 165 (with Nielsen 2004:108f.); but see also no. 53, 107, 150 and 156 where the polis-identity seems to be stressed.
[ back ] 53. Besides the aforementioned Thessalians, we know of one victor from the four-polis island Keos (Moretti 1957, no. 116), and of another from an unknown patris (Moretti 1957, no. 158); see also Nielsen 2004:109 with no. 41.
[ back ] 54. “There cannot be any doubt that the adjacent areas were conceived of as individual regions and were distinct from Thessalia in the Classical period” (Decourt and Nielsen and Helly 2004:677), but this is not equally true for other periods of Greek history. At least the Greek city-states existed in an environment totally familiar with political forms of organization besides the polis.
[ back ] 55. Van Bremen 2007:348 translating a phrase of Barbantani 2001:78.
[ back ] 56. We know of seven hippic victories of Thessalian athletes at the Olympian (Posidippus Ep. 83–85, P.Oxy. XVII 2082 where three hippic victors from Thessaly for one and the same year [268] are mentioned and Eusebius Chronica App. Ol. 131) and only one at the Pythian Games (Posidippus Ep. 71) in the third century. In addition, there are two gymnic victors from Thessaly (Eusebius Chronica App. Ol. 124 and 174), both of them successful stadion runners.
[ back ] 57. The establishment of an Olympic festival in Thessaly is known from a recently published inscription from Aigai in Aiolis including a decree of the Thessalians granting privileges to the Aiolians, the Koans and the citizens of Magnesia on the Maeander (second half of the third century), SEG LIX 1406, B, l. 9f.: Σπεύδουν ὁ λειτόρας τὰν εὐχαριστίαν Πετ|θαλοῦν ἐν Ὀλυμπίοις τοῖς Πετθαλοὶ ἄγουνθι (“at the Olympia which the Thessalians conduct”). We prefer this reading of Helly BE 2010:no. 522, pp. 832–836 to that of the editio princeps by Malay and Ricl 2009: B, l. 10 who give: τοῖς Πετθαλοῖ ἀγοῦσι (“during the games in honour of Thessalos”). For a possible location of the games see Bouchon and Helly 2013:218–222.
[ back ] 58. SEG LIX 1406, B, l. 14–17: τοῦ τε γὰρ Δὶ τοῦ Ὀλυμπίου | καὶ εἵρουï Πετθαλοῦ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις θεοῖς | τελετὰν καὶ θυσίαν πεποεῖσθαι τὰς πόλις π|άνσας. It is true that this passage refers to the cities of the Troad, of Aiolis, of Kos and of Magnesia on the Maeander, but it is also very reasonable to think with Bouchon and Helly 2013:209 that these cults “existaient également en Thessalie.” The connection between these cities and Thessaly was one of kinship, since the cities believed to be founded by Thessalians.
[ back ] 59. For the second and first centuries, we know only one Olympic victor from Thessaly (Eusebius Chronica App. Ol. 174), but a large amount of athletes who were successful at the Eleutheria in Larisa (for the victor lists of this contest see Helly 2010 and Graninger 2011:159–182). Also the comparatively well-preserved Panathenaic victor lists from the second century does not include a considerable amount of Thessalian victors.
[ back ] 60. Graninger 2011:81.
[ back ] 61. SEG LIV 566.