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Pick one of the historical and cultural contexts that we’ve studied this semester, and examine what we can glean from visual, archaeological, and/or literary evidence about royal women’s agency and power—or lack thereof. You may consider (but aren’t limited to) questions about 1) how women were understood as powerful, 2) how royal women’s political power related to that of royal men (and what this tells us about gendered power dynamics) 3) outline the specific roles of queens, 4) and discuss the tensions and difficulties of studying the question of “women’s agency” in pre-modern situations. Your discussion should be grounded in evidence and historical contexts.

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18
ROYAL MOTHERS AND
DYNASTIC POWER IN
ATTALID PERGAMON
Dolores Mirón
The modest origins of Pergamon and the Attalids were an oddity among the great
Hellenistic kingdoms and their ruling dynasties. Whereas Antigonids, Seleukids and
Ptolemies originated from the Macedonian aristocracy, the first Attalid ruler, Philetairos,
was a man from a non-noble family who began his career under the service of the Diadoch
Lysimachos, and later seized independent power, though under the Seleukid sphere of
influence, in the modest site of Pergamon and the surrounding territory. The third ruler,
Attalos I, took the title basileus and, thus, converted the Pergamene state into a kingdom,
but this did not imply a significant territorial expansion (Strab. 13.4.1–2). It was his son,
Eumenes II, who ultimately made it one of the major powers in the eastern Mediterranean,
thanks mainly to his fruitful alliance with Rome in the wars against Macedonia and the
Seleukid Empire. The Pergamene state and the Attalid dynasty lasted for barely a century
and a half, and comprised six rulers.1
Although they crafted a dynastic power from the beginning, the Attalids showed an apparent
disregard for biological reproduction. Most of them had no known offspring; in fact, Philetairos
was said to be a eunuch, and the last king, Attalos III, died childless and bequeathed the kingdom
to Rome. They also tended to delay marriage. Whether it was the result of an accidental situation or of a conscious policy, the prevailing pattern of succession was from uncle to nephew;
only once did succession pass directly from father to son. Thus, it might seem that female
Attalids had little room to play a relevant public role within the logic of the transmission
of power, as happened in other dynasties. One would expect that politically active, powerful
women, as in other kingdoms, would not be found.
Nonetheless, unusually, the names of all the Attalid rulers’ mothers are known. Most of them
had a geographical and social background far different from that of the Macedonian noble
women who usually served as influential Hellenistic royal women. Despite this, Attalid women
played an essential role in the creation of the dynastic image and, mainly from the late third
century BCE onward, enjoyed public prestige and influence.2
Attalid mothers were publicly visible from the very beginning of the dynasty. Philetairos
(283–263 BCE) was not atypical simply because he was presumably a eunuch.3 He came from
Tieion, a modest city on the Black Sea between the regions of Bithynia and Paphlagonia, and
was the son of Attalos (possibly a Macedonian),4 and Boa, a Paphlagonian woman, said to be
a flute-player and a hetaira by Karystios of Pergamon.5 She was publicly honored by her sons
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Royal mothers and dynastic power
Philetairos and Eumenes, who dedicated to her a temple and an altar of Demeter at Pergamon,
thus associating her with a goddess linked to citizen wives and mothers (the mirror image of
courtesans).6 Probably the hetairism of Boa was a spurious story created by an anti-Attalid
faction,7 but the modest and partially non-Greek origins of Philetairos seem to be certain,
although the Attalids did try to claim aristocratic, even divine origins.8 Motivated, therefore,
by affection for Boa apart from and independent of her social condition, her sons vindicated
their mother through this magnificent tribute monument, Hellenizing her and increasing her
prestige and, thus, that of the entire family. This dedication also demonstrates that, from an early
stage, the Attalids were interested in constructing a dynastic image where the mother played a
significant role.
Philetairos was succeeded by his nephew, Eumenes I (263–241 BCE), son of his brother
Eumenes. Of his mother we only know her name, Satyra, and that she was the daughter of
Poseidonios, a man unknown elsewhere. It is also remarkable that this information comes from a
statue base from Delos dedicated to Eumenes I, where he is identified through both patronymic
and matronymic, and that this statue was associated to another statue of King Attalos I, Eumenes’
successor, named as son of Attalos and Antiochis.9 Moreover, these dedications were part of an
ensemble that included statues of Mysian eponymous heroes, whose fathers and mothers, also
eponymous heroes and heroines of the region, were named.10 Erected at the heart of the Greek
world, this dynastic monument thus linked the royal genealogy to mythical local genealogies,
including both the male and the female line, as a way to give prestige both to the Pergamene
state and its ruling family.11
Antiochis, the mother of Attalos I (241–197 BCE), supplied the Attalids with royal blood, by
relating them to the Seleukids, as she was the daughter of Achaios and granddaughter of King
Seleukos I and Apama, and thus the sister of Laodike I, King Antiochos II’s wife.12 Since Attalos
was born in 269 BCE (Liv. 33.21.1; Polyb. 18.41.8), the wedding of his parents was held no later
than 271/270 BCE, at a time when Pergamon was a client state of the Seleukid Empire and the
Seleukid kings were implementing a marriage policy that linked them to dynasties and notable
people under their sphere of influence, as a way to create loyal family ties.13
Antiochis was honored by her husband with a statue in Mamurt-Kaleh, in the temple of
the Mother of the Gods, built by Philetairos, the same place where some years later a priestess
of the cult dedicated a statue of Attalos I, already called king and Soter, titles he acquired after
his victory over the Gauls in the Kaikos.14 Although Antiochis had the potential to increase the
genealogical prestige of the dynasty, no other honors for her are known. Apart from the Delian
monument, her son did not seem very interested in using her figure in the construction of his
self-representation. Granted that no brothers of Attalos are known, Antiochis may have died at
an early age, and consequently her influence within the family and over her son could have
been limited. But, above all, perhaps she recalled too much the family tie with the Seleukids,
against whom Attalos ultimately struggled, an effort not easily reconciled with the image of
family harmony vaunted by the Attalids.
Conversely, Attalos’ marriage in his late forties entailed a noticeable transformation in the
public profile of Attalid women. Incorporating Apollonis of Kyzikos,15 the mother of the kings
Eumenes II (197–159 BCE) and Attalos II (159–138 BCE), into the Attalid family not only
involved a more extensive use of the mother in royal ideology, but also the development of a
more active public role for royal women.
Apollonis had no royal blood and was, in general, an unusual bride within the trends of
Hellenistic royal marriages, particularly considering the lineage of Attalos’ mother and the fact
that he had only recently been proclaimed king (basileus). Apollonis was as a citizen of Kyzikos,
a plebeian (demotes: Polyb. 22.20.1–2); because of her status modern historians have tended to
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Dolores Mirón
disregard the possible political implications of this marriage.16 However, at the time it happened
(c. 223 BCE), Attalos I was trying to turn the Pergamene state into a kingdom able to compete with Macedonia and the Seleukid Empire. In addition to his proclamation as a king, he
was involved in the politics of territorial expansion and in trying to win the support of the
cities in Asia Minor. In this sense, the prosperous city of Kyzikos, in the region of Mysia in the
Propontis, was not only relevant for gaining access to the Black Sea, but also for its strategic
position regarding the Attalid struggles against Macedonia, Bithynia, Pontos, the Gauls, and
the Seleukids.17 In fact, Philetairos had already sought its friendship.18 Therefore, the marriage
of Attalos I and a woman from an elite family of Kyzikos19 would have helped to strengthen
friendship bonds between the two powers, and likely, from the very beginning, to establish a
war alliance.20 In any case, it was a useful, lasting friendship that involved collaboration in war
and intensive personal relationships between the Attalids and the leading families of Kyzikos, an
essential part of Hellenistic diplomacy.21
Furthermore, the marriage between a king and a citizen, even a posteriori, could have had
positive impact on the relationship of Pergamon with the Greek cities in terms of propaganda
and diplomacy. It could also have given more credibility to the self-representation of the Attalids
as epitomizing the traditional family values of the Greek polis, even though they were kings
and acted as such, and even though Apollonis was proclaimed basilissa (a title that, in the context of the usage of this particular dynasty, signifies the king’s wife and will here be translated
as “queen.”) This title was probably conferred upon her at her wedding or in the early years of
her marriage, and it indicates that, although Attalos presented himself as a citizen ruler, he had as
referent the great Hellenistic monarchies—the Ptolemies and especially the Seleukids—where
the figure of the basileus was accompanied by the figure of the basilissa.22 The title also signaled
a formal public position for Apollonis, whatever her specific role, and taking into account that
each dynasty developed its own ways of being basilissa.23 In any case, when the title appeared in
Pergamon, the first holder could profit from the previous experience of other monarchies when
creating a particular “queenship,” one which, in this case, was constructed around motherhood.
As a mother, Apollonis’ fertility was exemplary. In seven years, she gave birth to four male
children: Eumenes, Attalos, Philetairos, and Athenaios,24 breaking with the prior (even traditional) low fertility of the Attalids. Consequently, Apollonis was a successful queen who fulfilled
her fundamental mission of ensuring the easy transmission of royal power by providing the dynasty with heirs. But she would also become a model of motherhood in the context of Greek
ideology, where having male offspring was the vital goal of every free woman. This fruitful
motherhood would have been significant both in terms of her prestige within the royal family
and in the construction of her public image. At the same time, it elevated the whole dynasty and
its self-representation as a paradigm of family virtues.
Ancient sources usually praise her virtues as a wife and mother. Polybios (22.20.1–3)
considered her worthy of memory, since, being a plebeian, she became a queen, “and preserved
this dignity until the end not by using the arts of seduction of a hetaira,” but “by the virtue
and integrity of her conduct.” He also remarks the “perfect affect and love” in her relationship with her four children until the last day of her life. Plutarch (Mor. 480C) states that she
“always congratulated herself and gave thanks to the gods, not because of wealth or empire,”
but because of the harmony and trust among her four sons. This positive image of Apollonis in
Roman sources reflected the good relationship between Rome and the Attalids, and generally
matched expectations of the Roman matron, but it also reflected Attalid propaganda. In the
sanctuary of Athena at Pergamon, Apollonis’ son Attalos celebrated her affection (philostorgia)
toward him (IPergamon 169). In a decree from Hierapolis, she is praised for her “reverence
toward her parents,” her “distinguished” life with her husband, and, above all, her harmonious
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Royal mothers and dynastic power
relationship with her children (OGI 308). After her death, her sons built her a temple in her
native city, Kyzikos, and decorated it with mythological scenes related to love between mother
and son, and brotherly love.25
She also appeared publicly and formally as an essential part of the royal family and was
granted public honors in and outside of Pergamon, alone or with other family members.26 Her
name was present in some public documents through her sons’ filiation.27 A city in Mysia was
named after her (Strab. 13.4.4), as well as an Attic demos (Suda s.v.“Apollonieis”). After her death,
she was declared a goddess and received cult in and outside of Pergamon.28
She is present symbolically in the Great Altar of Pergamon, a monument that summarizes
Attalid royal ideology, exalting both the ruling dynasty and the city of Pergamon.29 In the outer
façade, the famous frieze of the Gigantomachy has significantly more female than male figures,
and repeatedly depicts children fighting cooperatively alongside their mothers.30 Thus, family
unity, especially of mother and children, is exalted. Although this allusion to family cooperation and motherhood could comprehend the entire dynasty, it is undeniable that it especially
referred to the quintessential Attalid mother: Apollonis. This is confirmed in the inner frieze
that represents the myth of Telephos, ancestor of the Pergamenes, where Apollonis is symbolically identified with the hero’s mother, Auge.31 In this version of the myth Auge plays one of the
main roles, essential to the seizure of the Mysian throne by Telephos. One of the principal panels
of the frieze depicts Auge’s apotheosis, clearly referring to Apollonis’ deification. Likewise, in
her temple at Kyzikos the apotheosis of Semele and Alcmene through their sons evokes the one
of Auge/Apollonis. Also, the scene of the wedding night, where Telephos is recognized as her
son by Auge, is depicted in both monuments.
To sum up, Apollonis was a key figure in the Attalid image. In this respect, modern historians
have usually noted how her sons used the mother figure to highlight their own family virtues.32
True, but Apollonis was not a mere passive symbol. Evidence exists of her authority within the
family, her public agency, and her active participation in the construction of the dynastic selfrepresentation as well as of her own image.
There are two noteworthy aspects of Apollonis’ public agency: her role in the relationship of
the Attalids with the Greek cities and her activity as public benefactress. Concerning the former,
she may have acted in dealings between the Attalids and Kyzikos, beyond merely the marriage
alliance itself: her visit to Kyzikos with Attalos and another of her sons c. 183/182 BCE offers
proof.33 During the visit, she toured all the monuments and temples of the city, always with the
help of her sons, who placed her between them and took both her hands.This display of respect
and affection toward their mother was applauded by the Kyzikenes, who recalled the story of
the brothers Kleobis and Biton helping their mother to reach the temple (see Hdt. 1.31), and
this mythological story was finally depicted in the temple of Apollonis as a direct evocation
of this visit. The construction of such a place of memory in her native city demonstrates that
Apollonis was a compelling figure—a distinguished citizen—in Kyzikos, in addition to symbolizing loyalty and unity within the royal family as well as between Kyzikos and Pergamon.
It is also probable that she visited Teos.This city had maintained unstable, conflicted relations
with the Attalids in the past, but finally became a major center of Pergamene ruler cult.34 After
her death, the city decreed divine honors for her, among them the erection of an altar of Thea
Apollonis Apobateria. The epiklesis Apobateria (“who disembarks”) was associated with deities
protective of seafaring, but was also related to royal or imperial visits in the context of ruler
cult.35
Certainly, her sons used Apollonis as a powerful token that linked them to the Greek cities,
particularly the Ionian ones like Kyzikos and Teos.36 The iconographic program of the Kyzikene
temple went further by including myths from around the Greek world and even Rome, as a
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Dolores Mirón
material symbol of the harmony within the family and in international relations, under a cosmic
order embodied by the Attalid mother.37 In so doing, Apollonis’ sons resumed the practice, especially developed in the context of territorial expansion or regional influence, of linking mythic
genealogies with the royal lineage. With Apollonis, this practice attained the highest degree of
elaboration and centrality of the mother.
Apollonis’ participation in royal visits not only reinforced the image of monarchy as the
power of a family, but also materialized the union of king and poleis through a living symbol.
Furthermore, as royal visits were themselves diplomatic acts, it can be concluded that Apollonis
collaborated actively in the internal and external politics of the Attalids, regardless of her specific
activities in their course. Undoubtedly she was not there simply to be exhibited as a token. We
have no evidence of a more direct diplomatic role on her part, like corresponding with cities or
receiving embassies, as did Laodike III, Antiochos III’s wife, with whom Apollonis is sometimes
compared.38 But it is possible that Apollonis was recognized at an international level as an individual and significant member of the royal family, and thus a potential interlocutor.39
Apollonis could also have been internationally known as benefactress,40 but her euergesia
(“benefaction”) is only documented for Pergamon. Apart from a votive offering in the royal
palace (IPergamon 170), her most remarkable action was her renovation of the above-mentioned
sanctuary of Demeter (see p. 211). She enlarged it, encircled it with stoas, and equipped it with
other facilities, transforming it into one of the principal architectural structures of the city.41
Significantly, she dedicated it as a thank-offering to Demeter and Kore Thesmophoroi. Her
dedication connected the building to the Thesmophoria, a festival known around the Greek
world in which only female citizens participated. It celebrated the fertility of the earth and
motherhood, principles closely linked in Greek ideology, and essential for the prosperity and
continuance of the city. Thus, Apollonis associated herself, symbolically and materially, with the
Pergamene mothers, linking up the continuity of royal power with the continuity of the city.
Her thanksgiving to the goddesses could be a celebration of her own success as a mother. In this
sense, it has been suggested that her intervention in the sanctuary can be dated back to the late
third century BCE, and, consequently, that it antedated the great building programs of her sons,
maybe when they were still little children.42 Therefore, Apollonis may have been participating,
from an early date, in the construction of the dynastic self-representation and the creation of a
powerful image of herself as a royal mother.
All these benefactions were religious. Her visits also involved an agency of this kind. This is
implicit in the narration of her visit to Kyzikos. Teos was a notable religious center, even before
the development of Attalid royal cult there, since it held an important festival of Dionysos
and was the headquarters of the influential Association of Dionysiac Artists of Ionia and the
Hellespont.43 In fact, her piety toward the gods (eusebeia) was one of the essential virtues that
embellished her public image and, consequently, she received the epithet Eusebes, perhaps after
her death.44 Thus, she completely satisfied the Greek ideal of a female citizen, which included
domestic virtues as a wife and mother as well as religious devotion, mirroring the traditional
model. However, religion was also traditionally the only public sphere where female Greek
citizens could formally participate and even hold power through priesthoods. Even in the
Hellenistic period, when feminine presence and action in the formal public realm beyond religion increased, many female citizens and royal women—including those who exercised political
power—often employed religion in their public agency, resorting to an area where their public
participation was more acceptable to a strongly patriarchal society.45
The public visibility of Apollonis would certainly not have been possible had she not had
important clout within the family. As stated above (p. 212), the mothering of four male children
could have endowed her with prestige, respect, and authority in the domestic realm. She showed
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Royal mothers and dynastic power
public pride in it, as seen in the sanctuary of Demeter.There were fertile royal mothers in other
dynasties, like Laodike III, but even when their status as mothers was present in their public
image, motherhood did not play the central role observable for Apollonis, nor was affection
between mother and children so highly emphasized.46 Apollonis could actually have had strong
personal influence on her children, a possibility favored by some family circumstances, as well
as by her own personality. First, she was directly involved in her sons’ education, as implied
by an Athenian decree, where both Attalos and Apollonis were praised for their excellence as
educators (OGI 248). Since this sort of praise was not usually addressed to a woman (citizen or
royal), this public acknowledgment could certainly reflect an actual situation. Second, she had
the opportunity of continuing and even reinforcing her maternal authority during her lifetime.
When Attalos I died, although his children were already adults, they were still young. Conversely,
Apollonis had a long life and, thus, a long widowhood.47 During her almost 30 years as a widow,
she was also the only female figure—at least the only relevant one—in the family, so that the
bonds of mother–child affection and her maternal/domestic authority remained unchallenged
for decades. Therefore, her family authority would have been translated into public presence
and influence.
When Eumenes II married, the new basilissa joined the family image by directly relating to
her mother-in-law. The Hierapolitan decree states that Apollonis “always behaved with goodwill in all circumstances toward Queen Stratonike, believing that the woman who shared her
son also shared her own affection.” Stratonike was included in the honors to the royal family,48
particularly in association with Apollonis and her cult.49 In this way, the figure of the new queen
was shaped by the model of the queen mother, in solidarity and continuance with her.
Nevertheless, Stratonike was in essence a very different kind of woman from Apollonis, a
much more controversial one. Firstly, she was the daughter of a king,Ariarathes IV of Kappadokia,
and her royal blood descended from the Seleukids. The ancient sources tell that, on the eve of
Antiochos III’s war with Rome, the Syrian king offered Eumenes one of his daughters’ hand, as
he did with other kings, including Ariarathes himself, who married Antiochis. The Pergamene
king declined, since he thought this marriage implied enmity with Rome and submission to
Antiochos (App. Syr. 1.5). But, in the context of the Treaty of Apamea (188 BCE), Eumenes was
betrothed to Ariarathes’ daughter, and, as a result, the Kappadokian king was partially forgiven
by the Romans (Liv. 38.39.6) and a lasting alliance was established between Pergamon and
Kappadokia (Polyb. 24.8–9; 25.2).
This fiancée was most probably Stratonike. Notwithstanding this early betrothal, she does
not appear in official documents where members of the Attalid family, particularly Apollonis,
are mentioned, prior to 174 BCE, but she was certainly already married by 172 BCE (see
p. 215-216). This means that, most probably, Stratonike’s mother was Antiochis, Antiochos III’s
daughter, and that she was therefore likely betrothed while still a little child, but that the wedding
happened more than 15 years after the engagement, and that the groom was around 50 years
old when he married. Although other explanations have been suggested, there is nothing extraordinary about such a situation.50 Betrothals of little girls and wide age gaps between spouses
were not unusual in antiquity. As for the groom, he followed his father’s example in marrying
at a mature age, demonstrating no rush to have offspring, even though his brother Attalos was
still a bachelor, and no spouses of his other two brothers are certain.51 In any event, granted that
Stratonike lived with her mother-in-law for some years, it is not improbable that she joined the
Pergamene court sometime before her marriage.
Stratonike had a more eventful marital life than her mother-in-law. When, in 172 BCE,
Eumenes II was attacked at Delphi and was believed dead, his brother Attalos assumed royal
power and seemingly married—or intended to—his “widow.” When Eumenes reappeared,
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Dolores Mirón
Attalos loyally returned both power and Stratonike to his brother, and ultimately the fraternal
relationship did not seem damaged (Diod. 19.34.2; Liv. 42.16; Plut. Mor. 184A–B; 489E–F).
After Eumenes’ actual death in 159 BCE, Attalos assumed the throne on the expectation of
being succeeded by Attalos III, who was still a child, and married the widowed basilissa, by
whom no offspring of his is known.52 The marriage of the dead king’s brother with the widow
and mother of the heir confirmed the legitimacy of Attalos’ accession to the throne, and also
contributed to preserving both the harmonious family image and the alliance with Kappadokia.
Such a marital practice was not exceptional in Greek and Macedonian monarchies.
Since all epigraphic evidence and almost all of the literary evidence53 state that Attalos III
(138–133 BCE) was the son of Eumenes and Stratonike, modern scholars have generally agreed.
Some authors, however, consider him a son of Attalos54 or even son of Eumenes and a woman
other than Stratonike.55 The important fact is that Attalos III was recognized officially, without
doubt, as Eumenes’ son, and that he publicly displayed his affection for his mother, Stratonike.
Attalos praised her religious piety, as well as her love toward him and his father (OGI 331; RC
67). He himself assumed the epithet Philometor (“who loves his mother”) (OGI 332). His great
love for Stratonike has also been remarked by authors like Justin (Epit. 36.4), who affirms that
the suspicion that his mother was murdered led Attalos to a terrible outburst of rage and that he
died of sunstroke while he was busy attending in person the building of a monument for her.
Although caution is advisable when dealing with Justin’s assertions, this story seems to reflect
the lasting fame of Attalos as a devoted son, even in the works of authors fiercely hostile to him.
In any event, Stratonike’s persona seems to have been modeled on that of Apollonis. Her
mother-in-law would have been her main reference concerning image as well as agency. Like
Apollonis, she also showed herself to be pious toward the gods and introduced in Pergamon the
cult of Zeus Sabazios, which was located in the temple of Athena.56 Likewise, references to her
eunoia (“goodwill”) toward the Pergamenes and the Athenians could indicate some action as
benefactress both at the local and the international level.57
Motherhood was the very essence of Attalid royal women’s image and agency. It also affected
their public visibility, since, of Attalid women, only the names of kings’ mothers are known.58
They were subsumed as mothers into the lineage they entered through marriage, and linked up
with other mythical and real mothers. Here, myths and religion played a crucial role. We have
already seen how statues of Satyra and Antiochis were placed in Delos among mythological
mothers, but the link reached its most perfect expression with Apollonis and her identification
with Greek mythic mothers, especially Auge, ancestor of the Pergamenes. As for Stratonike, she
was not associated with figures of early times, but with the new goddess

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