BMCR 2022.01.36

Zwischen zwei Welten: Die Königsfreunde im Dialog zwischen Städten und Monarchen vom Jahr der Könige bis zum Frieden von Apameia (306-188 v. Chr.)

, Zwischen zwei Welten: Die Königsfreunde im Dialog zwischen Städten und Monarchen vom Jahr der Könige bis zum Frieden von Apameia (306-188 v. Chr.). Hamburger Studien zu Gesellschaften und Kulturen der Vormoderne, 13. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2021. Pp. 326. ISBN 9783515129961 €60,00.

Within the last several decades the Hellenistic polis as well as the Hellenistic courts have become subjects of intense study, and the constitutions and political status of the Hellenistic cities have undergone a close reexamination. One field of research has primarily addressed the internal affairs of the cities, with a special focus on the phenomenon of euergetism. Other studies have tried to categorize the cities by their degree of dependence, taking into account the Hellenistic kings as well as their relations to the cities, which were often characterized by euergetic behaviors. The intermediaries in this relationship, such as the friends of the kings or the royal representatives within the Hellenistic cities have until now—with the exception of the recent study by Paschalis Paschidis—mostly been studied from the perspective of the central courts.[1] With special regard to the phenomenon of proxeny, the recent publication of William Mack also deals with the intermediaries of the kings.[2] The study of Philip Egetenmeier under review here also takes a “bottom-up” perspective on the friends of the kings as intermediaries between city and king. While the work of Paschidis in particular focusses on the Greek mainland, including some islands, Egetenmeier’s discussion also includes the rich epigraphic material from other regions. In addition to the inscriptions from Athens and from important Panhellenic sanctuaries, he considers in particular the vast documentation from the Greek cities in Asia Minor.

The welcomely dense book, based on a 2020 doctoral thesis submitted at the University of Hamburg nicely produced for the series “Hamburger Studien zu Gesellschaften und Kulturen der Vormoderne”, therefore fills a gap. In general, the study, which is mainly based on the rich epigraphic material but also takes into account the literary record, aims to analyse the role played by local elites as well as by powerful individuals from the royal courts within the relationships of the Hellenistic monarchs and the cities. The book focusses less on the relationships themselves than on the modalities of interactions. For reasons convincingly outlined in the introduction, the study is limited to the early Hellenistic period, from the year 306 BC—the so-called “Jahr der Könige”—to the Treaty of Apameia in 188. While the year 306 BC marked a decisive step towards the consolidation of the kingdoms of the Diadochs, the increasing influence of Rome in the Greek East from the beginning of the second century BC limited the political options for the kings as well as for the Greek city-states.

A comprehensive introduction outlines the aims of the study, gives a well-informed overview of previous publications, and outlines the structure of the work, which is arranged in five chapters. Egetenmeier illustrates his approach through discussion of the well known honorific decree for Herodoros—a trusted friend of Antigonos Monophthalmos honored by the city of Athens in the year 295/294 BC.[3] The individual chapters, which will be discussed in more detail in the following, are all summed up by short preliminary conclusions before a general conclusion at the end of the book which outlines the results of the study as a whole. The book is rounded off by an appendix on the διατρίβων παρὰ τῶι βασιλεῖ, a list of tables, a bibliography and a very useful register divided into different subsections.

Starting with a close examination of the phenomenon of embassies, well documented in the epigraphic record, the first chapter considers communications between cities and kings in general and sets out the broad interpretive frame for the following discussions. After analysing the media of communications, such as royal letters and honorific decrees, as well as the conventions and expectations connected with these forms of communication, the chapter closes with an over-all examination of the strategies of communication. While the modes of communication followed fixed patterns and a standardized rhetoric, the exchange between cities and kings itself was a dynamic process of steady negotiations. By stressing mutual interests or common alliances in the past, the cites affirmed their loyalty to the kings, who in exchange guaranteed freedom and autonomy at least to a certain degree.

The second chapter first examines the relatively fluid category of “friends of the kings” with reference both to the literary tradition and to the epigraphic sources. The friends of the kings are considered within their three principal fields of action: as members of the royal court, as royal representatives within the regional government or in the army, and as members of the local elite. Through a close examination of the epigraphical record for the φίλοι, pointing out the lack of conceptual clarity in the use of the expression at least within the third century BC, Egetenmeier develops his own definition for the friends of the kings, including all persons acting in service of the kings to organize and secure the reign, which is thereafter used as a heuristic category in the following chapters of the book. The vagueness of the term in the sources suggests that every person who enjoyed direct contact with the kings on a (fictive) egalitarian level, and who was acting in the interest of or on behalf of the kings, was regarded as “Königsfreund”—regardless of whether the persons were in high positions at the royal court or in the regional government, or were to be found among the local elites.

The third chapter examines the role of the friends of the kings as intermediaries within different fields of action. It considers the duties as well as the roles and expectations they had to meet. The discussion starts with the important role of the friends as royal ambassadors and then analyses the function of the intermediaries as representatives of the royal politics (“Personifikationen der königlichen Gesinnung”) by publicly sharing the views of the monarchs. The following sub-sections deal with their functions as arbiters, as πρόξενοι for civic ambassadors, as advocates of the cities and as saviors from threats like war or food shortage. The chapter closes with an examination of the role the intermediaries played within the field of cult and religion and adds some interesting thoughts on possible conflicts of interests, exemplifided by the famous decree for Boulagoras of Samos, who led an embassy to Antiochos II and succeded in regaining Samian landed property in the Anaïtis occupied by royal representatives.[4] Regarding the vast and heterogenous fields of actions, the intermediaries of the kings are to be seen as “suprapolite Eliten”, who were expected to fulfil the expectations of the cities as well as of the kings. When there arose conflicts of interests, however, loyalty towards the cities sometimes started to crack.

Addressing the question of rewards for these intermediaries, the fourth chapter examines the honors and privileges granted to the friends of the kings by cities as well as by the kings themselves. It reveals the royal intermediaries again as persons “zwischen zwei Welten”. Within the cities, the close friends of the kings were in general granted more privileges than other benefactors. The honors themselves differed from case to case and were the subject of negotiations. They also depended on the personal situations of the honorands. Furthermore, proxeny could be granted without any preceding efforts as a “proleptic honor”—a heuristic category first introduced by Marc Domingo Gygax—to initiate the exchange of gifts and to raise expectations for future benefits.[5] The Hellenistic kings on the other side endowed their friends with material goods or entrusted them with vast estates. While the honors and privileges in general show the enormous wealth and the great importance of the intermediaries within the Hellenistic world, the wide range of privileges granted to certain individuals is best understood as an indication of their several and complementary functions.

The fifth and final substantive chapter examines civic honors for royal intermediaries within the field of public memory and asks how the honorands were represented within the public space of the cities and thereby integrated into their commemorative landscapes. Starting with some general remarks on the phenomenon of “intentional history”, Egetenmeier in the following section has a closer look at the hortatory functions of the honorific decrees for the friends of the kings. The subsequent analysis of the virtues mentioned within the honorific decrees shows the royal intermediaries being honored in the traditions of civic benefactors. Regarding their characterization, they are almost presented like good citizens serving as an example for other benefactors. By proclaiming the honors for the friends of the kings, the cities also publicly witnessed their own benevolence towards the monarchic rulers. Furthermore, the monuments for the intermediaries, like inscriptions or statues, were in most instances closely connected to the monuments of the kings. In sum, all these measures served to represent the positive relationships with the kings and their intermediaries as integral part of the history of the Hellenistic cities.

In a short concluding summary Egetenmeier outlines the results and the central arguments of his study. The Hellenistic monarchies never managed to establish stable conditions, and their dominance over the Greek cities, especially on the margins of their territories, was never taken for granted. This called for a process of steady negotiations, in which benefactions played a central part to gain acceptance for their rule among the cities. Within these relationships, the friends of the kings played a central part as intermediaries organizing the communication between cities and kings. Socialized within the civic elites of the Greek cities, the royal intermediaries are to be located “zwischen zwei Welten”. They tried to fulfil the expectations of the cities as and of the kings—although in cases of doubt the loyalty towards the Hellenistic monarchies seems to have been predominant. As trusted friends of the kings, the intermediaries were often awarded valuable gifts, thereby managing to develop their predominant position within Hellenistic societies to form an elite beyond the political spheres of the cities. Neither the position of the royal friends nor their titles seem to have been formalized, however. As Egetenmeier shows, denominations like φίλος or διατρίβων παρὰ τῶι βασιλεῖ varied within different documents and depended on their respective contexts.

In sum, this important study offers a comprehensive insight into the phenomenon of the royal intermediaries which will stimulate further debates. Because it aims to cover the phenomenon as a whole, it deliberately forgoes case studies on single cities or a close analysis of single inscriptions. In that regard, one might however sometimes have wished for a more detailed debate on single inscriptions, which are only presented in excerpts of selected passages to illustrate the argument.[6] By offering a close analysis of the friends of the kings up to the beginning of the second century BC, Egetenmeier’s study leaves space for further research on the elites beyond the civic spheres in the late Hellenistic period under the growing influence of Rome. In some aspects, the friends of the kings might have been replaced by the friends of the Romans—but this would be the subject of another study.


[1] P. Paschidis, Between City and King. Prosopographical Studies on the Intermediaries Between the Cities of the Greek Mainland and the Aegean and the Royal Courts in the Hellenistic Period (322–190 BC), Athens 2008.

[2] W. Mack, Proxeny and Polis. Institutional Networks in the Ancient Greek World, Oxford 2015.

[3] IG II/III3 1, 4, 853.

[4] IG XII 6, 1, 11.

[5] M. Domingo Gygax, Proleptic Honours in Greek Euergetism, Chiron 39 (2009), 163–191. Cf. now as well M. Domingo Gygax, Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City. The Origins of Euergetism, Cambridge 2016.

[6] Cf. for example the discussions of inscriptions on pp. 89-91 or the examples given on pp. 114-118.