Of swords and strigils: Social change in ancient Macedon

by Butler, Margaret Erwin, Ph.D., STANFORD UNIVERSITY, 2008, 256 pages; 3313538


I examine the rise of Macedon as a major Aegean power in the middle of the fourth century BCE. Past scholarship emphasizes either the role of Philip II, under whose rule Macedon became a strong state, or earlier political and economic conditions in Macedon. My contribution to this scholarship is the identification and use of a body of evidence—burial data—that can illuminate the link between these antecedent conditions and the rise of strong Macedonian social and political institutions during Philip's and his successors' reigns. I argue that Philip and his immediate successors were able to act as transformational leaders by building a new state out of a society with rich resources but weak institutions.

Death-ritual was an important social institution in the ancient Aegean world; it was a means of expressing community, identity, and social differentiation. I employ a rich database of Balkan and Greek graves, in concert with institutional theory from sociology, ancient textual evidence, and settlement data, to help understand the series of social and structural changes leading up to Macedon's emergence as a major Aegean power. My evidence suggests that as the Balkan tribes of northern Greece were integrated into the Aegean world during the fifth century BCE, a previously strong regional burial tradition, constituting an important means of forging community, began to fall apart. Selected Greek burial practices were integrated into Balkan death-ritual as the loosely-organized Balkan tribes looked to exogenous sources for cultural models.

Adopted selectively and reconstituted in the radically different Balkan framework, the Greek burial practices became decoupled from their larger significance in the original framework of the polis. The integration of these decoupled practices into this important social institution resulted in the disintegration of the previously strong Balkan tradition, suggesting that in the century preceding Philip's reign, there was no strong idea of a Macedonian state and a weakened regional sense of community. This institutional environment was especially conducive to the rise of a transformative leader. Rich resources but low institutional rigidity facilitated Philip's and his successors' forging of strong new replacement practices and institutions in the new Macedonian state.

AdviserIan Morris
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsAncient languages; Archaeology; Ancient history
Publication Number3313538

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