Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Heroes were a key part of the cultural imperialism of Alexander and his successors, who brought the cults and myths of Greek heroes to the territories they conquered, actively connecting them with local gods and founding sites for their worship. Following their conquests, heroes, their cults, and images were well established across the Hellenistic east. Yet, the Hellenistic heroes differed from those of earlier periods, with new methods of depiction and characterization, and many of the most widely worshipped and depicted heroes of the Hellenistic period were not the same as in earlier periods and in the Greek cities of the mainland. Herakles did maintain his position as the most popular hero. Inscriptions honoring Herakles have been found in Ai Khanoum in Bactria, and images of the hero have been at a number of sites in central Asia. A relief of Herakles decorated the tumulus at Nemrud Dağ, and his exploits were popular subjects on architectural sculpture produced elsewhere in Anatolia. It does not appear, however, that Herakles was popular because he was the ultimate Greek hero, but rather because of his status as a wandering hero. His travels and exploits could be connected to various locations, allowing for the establishment of specifically local cults and myths. Many of the other popular heroes in the period also fit the mold of the wandering hero. For instance, reliefs commemorating the cult of Bellerophon have been found at Aphrodisias, and his images have been found in Bactria. Jason, Medea, and Ariadne also enjoyed widespread popularity. This lecture will examine how these heroes were depicted in art and the evidence for where and how they were worshipped. It will consider how heroes were transformed from tools of conquest to loci of local identity and cult, focusing on the changed role of heroes in the Hellenistic period, and how modifications to the character and stories of the heroes served the local populations of the Hellenistic east.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
Sabine Albersmeier, Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece. Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 2009.
Rachel Mairs. The Hellenistic Far East: Archaeology, Language, and Identity in Greek Central Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.
Gregory Nagy. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.
J.J. Pollitt. Art in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.