Ritual Mutilation and the Construction of Treason: The Execution of Molon and Achaios by Antiochos III

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Abstract

In ancient Near Eastern monarchies, captured opponents were often ritually ‘dehumanized’ by the mutilation of their bodies, which were then usually ‘hung up’ (impaled or crucified) in public, especially liminal places. The Seleukid Empire was no exception. Two notorious cases have been recorded by Polybios for the reign of Antiochos III: the executions of Molon and Achaios in 221 and 214/13 BC, whose noses and ears were cut off, among other things. In this article, I argue that through such acts of severe cruelty, Antiochos’ political rivals were constructed as rebels, and thus traitors, while he himself was presented as a legitimate sovereign precisely because he was the one who inflicted the punishment upon his defeated opponents. Molon and Achaios, however, likely were considered legitimate by their supporters. A similar argument will be made in the case of Alexander’s dehumanization of the captured Achaemenid king, Artaxerxes V (Bessos), in 329 BC – the link between Achaemenid and Seleukid practices. Mutilation and the denial of burial should thus not be seen as punishment for treason, but as ritual acts by which treason is constructed as a category of social conduct: a means to remove legitimacy from an executed rival ruler and underline the legitimacy of the victorious king.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSeleukid Ideology
Subtitle of host publicationCreation, Reception and Response
EditorsAltay Coşkun, Richard Wenghofer
Place of PublicationStuttgart
PublisherFranz Steiner Verlag
Chapter7
Pages108–121
Number of pages18
Edition1
ISBN (Print)9783515134781
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventSixth International Seleucid Study Day: Reception, Response, and Resistance: Reactions to Seleukid Claims to Territorial Rule or Hegemony - Nipissing University, North Bay, Canada
Duration: 1 Sept 20173 Sept 2017

Publication series

NameSeleukid Perspectives
PublisherFranz Steiner Verlag
Volume1

Conference

ConferenceSixth International Seleucid Study Day
Country/TerritoryCanada
CityNorth Bay
Period1/09/173/09/17

Keywords

  • Hellenistic World
  • Hellenistic Kingship
  • Ancient Near East
  • Seleucid Empire
  • Violence
  • Torture
  • Death Penalty
  • Rebellion
  • Imperialism
  • Ancient History

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