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Ancient and modern

The northern powerhouses of ancient Turkey

If George Osborne and the northern cities want a model of how to interact, they should read inscriptions about Antiochus III

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

Government claims that it will ‘free’ northern cities to turn themselves into ‘powerhouses’. Since most of them are held by Labour, this is obviously nonsense. The tedious tribal backbiting and recriminations will continue as usual. There is a better way.

When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 bc, the Greek generals he had left in charge of his vast empire all began scrapping to become the next Alexander. Eventually they gave up, leaving three main power blocs: Greece, Egypt and Asia. It is the relationship between Antiochus III, the ‘great’ king of Asia (242–187 bc), and the fractious, freedom-loving Greeks living in western Turkey, that provides a model for how things might be done.


Numerous stone inscriptions from Antiochus to various cities make it clear that Antiochus will put up with no rebellions. At the same time, they offer the hand of friendship and support. Part of one to Herakleia in southwestern Turkey reads: ‘We will make certain that all measures will be taken that benefit you… On your part, you will do well to keep the king’s interests at heart so that we will have no reason not to do all we can to preserve your city’s reputation and honour.’ Action followed. One town received 40 tons of wheat a year, the income from which was to support dowries for daughters of the poor, another received help with reconstruction after earthquakes, in another, ‘foreign judges’ would be invited in to settle difficult disputes, and so on.

And the cities responded in kind. One listed the king’s many benefactions and, ‘to show our gratitude … and surpass ourselves in honours for them in relation to benefactions’, announced the setting up of cult-images of Antiochus and his wife in the temple of Dionysus.

There is an elegant mutuality about these many inscriptions, a sense of interaction for advantage on both sides. Such a relationship between Tory government and Labour ‘powerhouses’ would be far more beneficial than the usual vilification.


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