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Alexander the Great, reception of  

Diana Spencer

What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.



George Ronald Watson and Andrew Lintott

Crucifixion seems to have been a form of punishment borrowed by the Romans from elsewhere, probably *Carthage. As a Roman penalty it is first certainly attested in the *Punic Wars. It was normally confined to slaves or non-citizens and later in the empire to humbler citizens; it was not applied to soldiers, except in the case of desertion. *Constantine I abolished the penalty (not before ce 314). Two inscriptions of the 1st cent. ce from *Cumae and *Puteoli have been found containing the contract of the undertaker both of funerals and of executions of this kind (see lex(2), ‘lex libitinaria’). The general practice was to begin with flagellation of the condemned, who was then compelled to carry a cross-beam (patibulum) to the place of execution, where a stake had been firmly fixed in the ground. He was stripped and fastened to the cross-beam with nails and cords, and the beam was drawn up by ropes until his feet were clear of the ground. Some support for the body was provided by a ledge (sedile) which projected from the upright, but a footrest (suppedaneum) is rarely attested, though the feet were sometimes tied or nailed.


Ioannes Damascenus, priest-monk and theologian, 650/675?–c. 750 CE  

Andrew Louth

Little is known of the life of John of Damascus, save what can be deduced from his taciturn writings and a few references to him in chronicles; the later Greek life is unreliable. He seems to have come from a family in Damascus that had for several generations been in charge of fiscal matters; his grandfather, in Arabic Mansur ibn Sarjun, had apparently retained his position during the regime changes in the first half of the 7th century ce (Roman–Persian–Roman–Arab) and had been succeeded by John’s father, with whom John was initially employed. Most likely around 705, John left the service of the caliph and became a monk in or near Jerusalem (traditionally, but a late tradition, at the monastery of Mar Saba in the Judaean desert). He remained there for the rest of his life. For a time he seems to have been close to the patriarch of Jerusalem, John V (d. 735). He opposed the iconoclasm of the Byzantine emperors in three treatises (or one treatise, twice revised), the first from around 730. His opposition was known in Constantinopolitan circles (though not much of the detail of the treatises, perhaps); at the Synod of Hiereia in 754, he was anathematized, under his Arabic name, Mansur, along with Germanus of Constantinople and George of Cyprus, as already dead (“The Trinity has deposed the three of them”1).



William Moir Calder, John Manuel Cook, Antony Spawforth, and Charlotte Roueché

Smyrna (mod. Izmir), a city on the west coast of Asia Minor at the head of the Hermaic Gulf, the natural outlet of the trade of the *Hermus valley and within easy reach of the *Maeander valley. Old Smyrna lay at the NE corner of the gulf. Occupied by Greeks c.1000 bce, the site is important archaeologically, with excavations revealing a Dark Age Greek settlement, its village-like layout replaced in the 7th cent. by a handsome fortified city with regular streets and a peripteral temple (unfinished). Captured by *Alyattesc.600 bce, the city was thereafter inhabited ‘village-fashion’ (Strabo 14. 1. 37). It was refounded on its present site around Mt. Pagus by *Alexander (3) or his successors *Antigonus (1) and *Lysimachus; its Augustan appearance is recorded by Strabo (ibid.). Throughout the Roman period it was famous for its wealth, fine buildings and devotion to science and medicine. A major centre of the *Second Sophistic, it was home to Aelius *Aristides, who persuaded Marcus *Aurelius to restore it after earthquakes in ce 178 and 180.


Symeon the Stylite the Younger  

Dina Boero and Charles Kuper

Symeon the Stylite the Younger (521–592 ce), a pillar-saint or “stylite,” practised his mode of Christian asceticism for more than sixty years on a mountain southwest of Antioch. Symeon’s lifetime, spanning most of the 6th century, coincides with a drastic time of transition in the history of Antioch, which began with the devastating earthquake of 526 ce and includes events such as the sack of Antioch in 540 ce and the Plague of Justinian in the following years. Symeon also happens to be one of the best-documented holy men from this period. The remains of his monastery have been preserved and studied extensively. A number of pilgrimage objects, most notably clay tokens, have also received much scholarly attention. The extant literary evidence is also vast, though understudied in comparison. It includes homilies, letters, and short hymns penned by the saint himself, as well as two hagiographies composed by members of his monastic community shortly after his death. Symeon, therefore, is a critical figure for understanding many issues relevant to the study of the Eastern Roman Empire during this period: political, social, and theological history; the development of cult sites and pilgrimage; the literary self-representation of a stylite and his community; and the construction of monumental architecture and water management in remote locations in Syria, among many others.