The Birdcage of the Muses, written by dr. Rolf Strootman (Ancient History and Classical Civilization), is the first book-length historical study of the golden age of Ptolemaic cultural and scientific patronage.
In the third century BCE, the Ptolemaic imperial court at Alexandria was the unchallenged center of culture and learning in the Hellenistic world. Backed by the vast wealth and prestige of the Ptolemies, the city of Alexandria became the symbolic capital of the world, the main hub of a dynamic imperial network that stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Black Sea. Many poets, philosophers, inventors, geographers, and other men of letters migrated to that center to enjoy the generous patronage of the Ptolemies.
Working from new approaches to premodern imperialism, Strootman reconsiders the significance of Hellenistic court poetry from the perspective of current empire studies and the sociological study of the court, arguing that artistic, scholarly and scientific production contributed to processes of elite integration in the heterogeneous imperial world system controlled by the Ptolemies. Rejecting the modernist view that poets, scholars and technicians were autonomous outsiders to court society, the author is able to place these men in the social milieu of the court, showing how their professional behavior was ruled by the same mechanisms of gift exchange, etiquette and competition that determined court society as a whole.