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Divine Women: Worship of Female Rulers and the Survival of Indigenous Tradition in Hellenistic Ruler Cult

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Although the topic of Hellenistic ruler cult for kings has garnered a great deal of interest over the years, only recently have scholars begun to look at cults for Hellenistic royal women. Scholars have generally assumed cults for royal women were an honorary courtesy rather than a response to power, and therefore somewhat insignificant. This would be compatible with the disempowered position of women in Greek tradition, from which Hellenistic ruler cult is generally believed to have evolved. In this logic, a royal woman received cult because of her connection to a deified royal husband or male relative, not due to political power of her own.

One problem with this theory was that not all Hellenistic queens appear to have received cult and the title basilissa. Hellenistic kings were often polygamous. If the honors were corollary, every wife of a king should have received cult and title, yet not every queen did. More confoundingly, some royal women who received cult and the title were not even queens, while yet others were divorced, widowed, or showed other signs of independence from kings, at times with access to their own resources or wielding power in their own right.

The central research question of this dissertation is thus the following: “Were cults and titles for Hellenistic royal women truly just a diplomatic courtesy, that is, a largely meaningless formality? Or were they a response to real power in the hands of women?” Current scholarship has more or less given the answer: “Yes, the cults and titles were largely meaningless”.

Through examination of archaeological and textual evidence of cults, titles, and marriage patterns, this dissertation argues that cult for Hellenistic queens was not a decorative formality based on Greek precedent but a reflection of real power that was potentially derived from indigenous traditions assimilated from the region of Anatolia. The evidence lies in the unusual practice of deifying queens, the discovery of a legitimizing royal matriline that emerges geographically out of Anatolia and appears to correlate with worship of royal women, and patterns of cult on the Anatolian peninsula. The research concludes that Hellenistic queens, supported by a favorable environment and a hereditary matriline, likely did have leverage that could lead to real political power; and titles and cult for Hellenistic queens would have had much the same meaning and purpose that they did for a king.

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This item is under embargo until September 9, 2027.