Cherchez la femme: Power and Female Agency in Bactriaat the dawn of the Hellenistic Age

Marco Ferrario

Abstract

Due prominently to the scanty nature of evidence on the ground attesting to an imperial presence which, however, historiographical sources claim to have been real and lasting over time, the satrapy of Bactria (roughly embracing northeastern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan) to this day still struggles to free itself of some prejudices, despite some extremely important discoveries and a more general scholarly reevaluation of previous conclusions. Possibly the most stubborn among these is the image of an ungovernable province, constantly on the brink of dynastic revolts (cf. Hdt. 9.113) or threatened by northern barbarians (against whom Cyrus found his end and whom Darius boasts of having subjected in the famous Bīsutūn inscription. With the recently published Aramaic Documents from Ancient Bactria, however, we have acquired an incredibly valuable source regarding the functioning of the satrapy at a crucial period in its history (the late 4th century BCE until the years immediately following Alexander). The present study is based primarily on the following: 1) this documentation, 2) the results of some recent and very significant studies on the Persepolis archive and 3) some methodological reflections on the relationship between empire and the local élite(s) suggested by the comparative analysis of the functioning of this relationship in a different phase of Central Asia’s imperial history (the 1930s). The study is intended, on the one hand, as a first step towards a new appreciation of the role Bactria and Sogdiana played in the delicate transitional phase from Achaemenid to Macedonian hegemony in the upper satrapies. On the other hand, it seeks to raise some hypotheses about the reasons behind the position held during the stormy years of Alexander’s Bactrian campaign and in the subsequent, no less troubled years by two protagonists of these crucial events, who are however still relatively unrecognized in their role as historical agents: the Bactrio-Sogdian princesses Roxane and Apama.

Keywords

Achaemenids; Agency; Bactria; Hellenistic Age; Royal Women; King’s Table

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