The Bodily and Material Presence of Dynastic Women in the Seleucid Empire
Patricia Kim, PhD
Assistant Professor, Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Affiliate Faculty, Department of Classics
New York University
In this talk, I explore the multi-modal strategies through which the physical presence of royal women was evoked throughout the Seleucid empire. Scholarship on Hellenistic-period royal art has focused primarily on the king’s ruler portrait as a potent “technology of power” (A. Stewart 1993) to consider the role that these objects played in communicating dynastic legitimacy and continuity across the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia (R. von den Hoff 2021). Yet the material and corporeal presence of dynastic women was likewise important to the articulation of dynastic power in the Hellenistic world. Such representations of dynastic femininity were unique, especially in the Seleucid realm, and thus merit a more nuanced understanding of how we identify and approach the category of “portraiture,” as well as queenly faces, in ancient contexts.
I examine the evidence for Seleucid royal women from the third and second centuries, who were honored and represented in a variety of spatial contexts from Anatolia to Iran. Honorific statues, glyptic and numismatic images, and surviving records of performative activations of the queen’s corporeality comprise the extant corpus of evidence, demonstrating the diverse material and aesthetic means by which their presence was materialized. What emerges from such an examination is that the Seleucid court and its subjects were not limited to any single mode of representation, and instead embraced different kinds of portrait cultures—from the durable to the ephemeral, the over life-size to the miniature—to evoke dynastic femininity. Furthermore, the evidence for Seleucid women charts the distinct movements of images, cults, and memories, as well as the physical mobilities of dynastic women themselves, across geo-cultural regions throughout the Hellenistic world. Ultimately, Seleucid portrayals of their royal women encourage us to challenge our own expectations of and encounters with figural representations in visual culture.