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Abstract | Improving the Public Image through Athletics. Young Victors in Hellenistic Thebes

The political history of Hellenistic Thebes was far from a success story. Razed to the ground by Alexander in 335 BC, the city never regained its former political significance. Nevertheless, there is a particular kind of Theban success in this period which is worth investigating: the agonistic achievements of Theban athletes. A deeper analysis of their victories results in an agonistic profile of Hellenistic Thebes which includes the disciplines and age-categories that were most prominent among Theban victors. In what follows this paper analyzes the way these athletes wanted their victories to be understood. It will detect some typical features of the self-presentation of these athletes.

Yet, apart from the agonistic success the main feature of political discourse on Hellenistic Thebes was the stigma of decline. The city was actually mocked for its political insignificance by 3rd and 2nd century authors like Heraclides Criticus and Polybius.

This paper reads the surviving Theban victor epigrams against the background of these contemporary historical accounts. It will demonstrate that both kinds of narrations ties in with each other very well. They should thus not be understood as competing sources, but as complementary accounts.

About Sebastian Scharff

Sebastian Scharff (PhD University of Münster) is a post-doctoral researcher, currently working at the University of Mannheim. His research focuses on the impact of Greek religion on international relations and on the cultural history of Greek agonistics. His first monograph is on Greek treaty-oaths (Eid und Außenpolitik. Studien zur religiösen Fundierung der Akzeptanz zwischenstaatlicher Vereinbarungen im vorrömischen Griechenland, Stuttgart 2016), and he has co-edited a volume on sport in the Hellenistic period, which is now in print. While at the CHS, he plans to finish his second book on the representation of Hellenistic athletes.

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