Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Wandsnider, LuAnn

2015 "Fighting over a Shadow?": Hellenistic Greek and Greco-Roman Cities as Fora and Media for Multi-Level Social Signaling. In Urban Dreams and Realities in Antiquity: Remains and Representations of the Ancient City, edited by Adam M. Kemezis, pp. 69-98. Brill, Leiden.

doi: 10.1163/9789004283893_005


Copyright © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2015. Used by permission.


The cities of Hellenistic western Anatolia and Roman Asia Minor served as fora for complex social, economic, and political transactions. This chapter introduces social signaling theory in which these transactions are considered as social signals emitted by individuals (i.e., citizens) and groups (i.e., cities) and emphasizes the different qualities of these signals, especially their materiality and differential costliness. Social signals convey information about the otherwise difficult-to-assess capabilities of individual and groups; only some have the talents or resources to emit a high-quality signal. At the individual level, the nature, location, and possibly size of a civic benefaction signal’s an individual’s pro-social orientation and the ability to negotiate a complex situation. At the community level, the city’s public buildings indexes its effective collective action. Anthropologist Paul Rosco’s recent examination of social signaling for contact-era New Guinea highlights the critical linkage between signaling by individuals and by groups: effective individuals are rewarded and their efforts contribute to a coherent group signal; effective, competitive groups are composed of effective, pro-social individuals. This same “piggybacked” social signaling is employed to interpret the competitive civic benefactions seen among citizens as well as the competitive public building seen among cities in Hellenistic Anatolia and Roman Asia Minor.