What’s your favorite hellenistic Greek City-State and why?
So, even as a classicist it has never really occurred to me to have a favourite Hellenistic Greek city-state (because… why?). Maybe this makes me a bad classicist. But it really seems like a weird thing to have, because we usually think of the Hellenistic period as the era when the city states don’t particularly matter anymore; it’s all about empires and god-kings. So I had this hour-long discussion with Jim the Editor about what possible valid answers this question could even have, because what still counts as a city-state in the Archaic-to-Classical Greek sense? He doesn’t think anything that’s part of one of the big kingdoms counts, because city-states are supposed to have political autonomy – so we can’t pick the really big centres like Alexandria or Antioch, and Jim thinks Pergamon does still count, whereas I don’t think you can count Pergamon if you’re not also willing to count Alexandria (and anyway, can’t you be both a city state and the capital of an empire? I mean… Athens and the Delian League, for fµ¢£’s sake). And then what even counts as Greek, because all this stuff is, like… Greco-Macedonian(-Persian?) koine that doesn’t closely resemble classical Greece in its politics, society or culture; the only ones that you could reasonably argue aren’t a little Macedonian by this point are the western colonies (Syracuse, Neapolis, Tarentum, Massilia, etc.) and Sparta (and no one, at all, in the world cares about Hellenistic Sparta). Or you can swing wildly in the other direction and argue with equal merit that everything is Greek, because I have definitely heard people suggest, only a little bit ironically, that Rome is in practice a Greek city-state up until basically the Punic Wars (especially if you buy into Dionysius’ “the Romans are totally Greek, guys!” bull$#!t).
So yeah, I dunno. My actual favourite is probably Cyrene but they only barely make it into the Hellenistic period with their independence so maybe that’s not in the spirit of the thing. Rhodes is cool. Colossus of Helios, obviously. Lots of good glasswork done on Rhodes in the Hellenistic period too, and I am nothing if not a glass nerd. Syracuse has Archimedes’ giant death laser (I want to believe, okay???). Hellenistic Athens is really interesting, actually; like, we all fixate on the Classical stuff in Athens but they get up to just as much Game of Thrones bull$#!t as any Hellenistic monarch in trying to preserve their independence and democratic traditions. They also have this fascinating position as, like, the ex-cultural capital of the Greek world that they continue to leverage for political gain well into the time of the Roman Empire. These are certainly some opinions that I have.