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Part V - Violence, Crime and the State

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2020

Garrett G. Fagan
Pennsylvania State University
Linda Fibiger
University of Edinburgh
Mark Hudson
Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte, Germany
Matthew Trundle
University of Auckland
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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Bibliographic Essay

Riess’s, Werner Performing Interpersonal Violence: Court, Curse, and Comedy in Fourth Century BCE Athens (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012) is the most significant volume in recent years on the topic of Classical Greek violence. Riess admits to limiting himself to Athenian theatre and the law courts in the period after 420 bce. He thus leaves discussions on significant topics like violence in warfare and religion in Greek life to others. The theoretical concept of violence among Greeks does deserve more consideration. Good introductions, however, can be found in the following: Lintott, Andrew W., Violence, Civil Strife and Revolution in the Classical City (London: Routledge, 1982); Kishik, David, ‘Life and Violence’, Telos (2010), 143–9; Spariosu, M. I., God of Many Names: Play, Poetry and Power in Hellenic Thought from Homer to Aristotle (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1991). Sagan’s, Eli The Lust to Annihilate: A Psychoanalytical Study of Violence in Ancient Greek Culture (New York: Psychohistory Press, 1979) presents a pessimistic view of the power Homeric heroic violent codes held over later Greek society, resulting in an overly violent Classical culture that revered its past, despite its violence.

On the terminology of violence see Beloch, R., s.v. ‘bia’, in Der Neue Pauly, vol. ii (Stuttgart and Weimar: Metzler Verlag, 1997), col. 616 and Nagy, Gregory, Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979). Nagy’s volume is a good introduction to concepts of violence in early Greek thought. On specific aspects of violence such as hubris, see MacDowell, D. A., ‘Hybris in Athens’, Greece and Rome 23.1 (1976), 1431; Gagarin, M., ‘The Athenian Law against Hybris’, in Arktouros: Hellenic Studies Presented to Bernard M. W. Knox (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979) pp. 229–36; and Fisher, N., ‘Hybris and Dishonor I’, Greece and Rome 23.1 (1976), 177–93 and Hybris and Dishonor II’, Greece and Rome 26.1 (1979), 3247. For good discussions of the connection between hubris and sexual violence see Cohen, Edward, ‘Sexuality Violence and the Athenian Law of Hubris’, Greece and Rome 38.1 (1991), 171–88.

On changing attitudes to war and optimistic views of a more civil Classical society in Athens than that previously, see Herman, Gabriel, ‘How Violent was Athenian Society?’, in Osborne, Robin and Hornblower, Simon (eds.), Ritual, Finance, Politics: Athenian Democratic Accounts Presented to David Lewis: The History and Archaeology of Athenian Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 99117. Harris, Edward, ‘Feuding or the Rule of Law? The Nature of Litigation in Classical Athens. An Essay in Legal Sociology’, in Wallace, Robert and Gagarin, Michael (eds.), Symposium 2001. Vortrage zue griechischen und hellenistischen Rechtsgeschichte (Wien: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005), pp. 125–41, and Herman, Gabriel, Morality and Behaviour in Democratic Athens: A Social History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) both champion Classical Athenian society as progressive and relatively peaceful. Connected to ideas concerning Athenian civil society are specific practices like bearing arms in Athens, on which see van Wees, Hans, ‘Greeks Bearing Arms: State, the Leisure Class and the Display of Weapons in Ancient Greece’, in Fisher, Nicholas and Van Wees, Hans (eds.), Archaic Greece: New Approaches and New Evidence (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 333–78. For less optimistic views of Athenian civil society see Cohen, Edward, Law, Violence and Community in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Cohen, Edward E., ‘Theories of Punishment’, in Gagarin, Michael and Cohen, David (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 170–90; Humphreys, Sally, The Discourse of Law: Special Edition of History and Anthropology 1.2 (1985), 241–64; and Fisher, N., ‘Violence, Masculinity and the Law in Classical Athens’, in Foxhall, Lin and Salmon, John (eds.), When Men Were Men: Masculinity, Power and Identity in Classical Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 6897. An important study on Athenian civil management is Hunter, Virginia, Policing Athens: Social Control in the Attic Lawsuits 420–320 BC (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).

On the relationship between war and violence in Greece generally, van Wees’s, Hans Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities (London: Duckworth, 2004) provides an excellent introduction. On Athens specifically, see several chapters in Pritchard, David (ed.), War, Culture and Democracy in Classical Athens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), including the useful introduction and John Keane’s concluding chapter both addressing the important question regarding the violent nature of democracies. More recently, Crowley, Jason, The Psychology of the Athenian Hoplite (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) explores the relationship between the Athenian citizen and military service. From an equally psychological perspective, Tritle’s, Lawrence From Melos to My Lai (London: Routledge, 2000) and Shay’s, Jonathan Achilles in Vietnam (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995) and Odysseus in America (New York: Scribner, 2002) all discuss the connections between combat trauma and ancient warfare.

For good recent introductions and bibliography to violence on stage see Allan, William, ‘The Ethics of Retaliatory Violence in Athenian Society’, Mnemosyne 66.4/5 (2013), 593615, and Burnett, A. P., Revenge in Attic and Later Greek Tragedy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). Similarly for comedy now see Ruffell, I., ‘Humiliation?: Voyeurism, Violence, and Humor in Old Comedy’, Helios 40.1–2 (2013), 247–77.

The role of the individual within the state legal system has been well discussed. Christ, Matthew R., ‘Legal Self-Help on Private Property in Classical Athens’, American Journal of Philology 119 (1998), 521–45 unpicks many of the issues that vexed state, citizen and household in achieving justice, often independently. The role of religion and justice is well discussed by Parker, Robert, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

Lastly, on the violence of the Thirty Tyrants at Athens see Wolpert, Andrew, Remembering Defeat: Civil War and Civic Memory in Ancient Athens (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) and his briefer treatment, The Violence of the Thirty Tyrants’, in Lewis, Sian (ed.), Ancient Tyranny (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2006) pp. 213–23. Finally, for the interplay between the law and the individual in Athens, Martin Ostwald’s From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law: Law, Society and Politics in Fifth Century Athens (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) covers much ground.

Bibliographic Essay

The fundamental study of Roman violence remains Lintott, A., Violence in Republican Rome, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Also basic is Nippel, W., Public Order in Ancient Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), to which now can be added Fuhrmann, C. J., Policing the Roman Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). The application of violence through imperialism, and Roman warfare, have been well studied in such works as Harris, W. V., War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327–70 BC (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) or more recently Eckstein, A. M., Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009). For the experience and mechanics of Roman battle, see Sabin, P., ‘The Face of Roman Battle’, Journal of Roman Studies 90.1 (2000), 117, and Taylor, M. J., ‘Roman Infantry Tactics in the Mid-Republic: A Reassessment’, Historia 63.3 (2014), 301–22. Also useful are many chapters in Sabin, P., van Wees, H. and Whitby (eds.), M., The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Roman spectacular violence is ably covered in Kyle, D. G., Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World, 2nd edn (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015) and Potter, D., ‘Entertainers in the Roman Empire’, in Potter, D. and Mattingly, D. (eds.), Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire, 2nd edn (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), pp. 280350. Gladiators in particular are surveyed in Fagan, G. G., The Lure of the Arena (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), Kyle, D. G., Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome (London: Routledge, 1998), and Wiedemann, T., Emperors and Gladiators (London: Routledge, 1992); chariot races by Meijer, F., Chariot Racing in the Roman Empire (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). Many useful ancient sources are collected and translated in Futrell, A., The Roman Games: A Sourcebook (Malden, MD: Blackwell, 2006). On violence in the Roman law see the following: Garnsey, P., Social Status and Legal Privilege in the Roman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970); Grodzynski, D., ‘Tortures mortelles et catégories sociales: les summa supplicia dans le droit romain aux IIIe et IVe siècles’, in Du Châtiment dans la cité: supplices corporels et peine de mort dans le monde antique (Paris: Persée, 1984), pp. 361403; Harries, J., Law and Crime in the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), esp. pp. 106–32; MacMullen, R., ‘Judicial Savagery in the Roman Empire’, Chiron 16 (1986), 147–66. For information on ancient bandits and pirates see as follows: Grünewald, T., Bandits in the Roman Empire (London: Routledge, 2004); de Souza, P., Piracy in the Graeco-Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Riess, W., Apuleius und die Räuber. Ein Beitrag zur historischen Kriminalitätsforschung (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2001); Shaw, B. D., ‘Bandits in the Roman Empire’, Past & Present 105 (1984), 352. Also informative is Hopwood, K. (ed.), Organised Crime in Antiquity (London: Duckworth, 1999). For my fuller thoughts on quotidian Roman violence see Fagan, G. G., ‘Violence in Roman Social Relations’, in Peachin, M. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 467–95.

Bibliographic Essay

Much of the secondary literature on suicide and martyrdom among ancient Christians and Jews uses as its source texts the two-volume Herbert Musurillo collection Acts of the Pagan Martyrs and Acts of the Christian Martyrs. Additional source texts for Christianity can be found in the Acta Sanctorum (71 vols.; Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1643–1940). For the usually marginalised martyrdom accounts of the Donatists, see Tilley, Maureen, Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conflict in North Africa (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996). Syriac martyrdom accounts have received notably less attention than Greek and Latin versions, but important critical editions and preliminary analytical scholarship has been undertaken by Smith, Kyle, Constantine and the Captive Christian of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016). Jewish martyrdom accounts can be found in the critical editions prepared by Saul Lieberman and available at; English translations of portions of these can be found in van Henten, Jan Willem and Avemarie, Friedrich, Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from the Graeco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian Antiquity (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).

Classic studies of martyrdom among ancient Jews include Lieberman, Saul, ‘The Martyrs of Caesarea’, Annuaire de l’Institut de Philologie et d’Histoire Orientales et Slaves 7 (1939–44), 395446, which was the first scholarly piece to draw attention to the connections between Christian and Jewish martyrdom accounts, and Blidstein, Gerald, ‘Rabbis, Romans and Martyrdom: Three Views’, Tradition 2.3 (1984), 5462. Both should be read with the more theoretically savvy approach of Ra’anan Boustan, S., From Martyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005).

For much of the Common Era commentators and scholars have used modern definitions of martyrdom and suicide to distinguish between the two. The result is a divided and often truncated body of primary sources that follows the canon of traditional religious groups rather than the ancient evidence. Exceptions to this rule include Droge, Arthur J. and Tabor, James, A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), which should be leavened with Tabernee, William, ‘Early Montanism and Voluntary Martyrdom’, Colloquium 17 (1985), 3344. On the invention of the category of ‘voluntary martyrdom’ as a theoretical patch to create space between the categories of martyrdom and suicide, see Moss, Candida R., ‘The Discourse of Voluntary Martyrdom: Ancient and Modern’, Church History 81.3 (2012), 531–51.

Introductions to the study of martyrdom in the ancient world abound. Frend’s, W. H. C. magisterial Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965) remains a standard only in the ambitiousness of its scope. It suffers from a tendency to homogenise ancient Christians. More recent scholarship has focused on the diversity of ancient evidence. A less monolithic version of Frend’s theory is reproduced in Jan Willem van Henten’s study of the Maccabean martyrs, in which he posits that the deaths of Jewish heroes for the ‘salvation’ of their people formed the notion of martyrdom in the early church: van Henten, J. W., The Maccabees as Saviours of the Jewish People: A Study of 2 and 4 Maccabees (Leiden: Brill, 1997). Others have sought to diversify the phenomenon; in Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions, Anchor Yale Reference Library (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012) the present author traces the multiple ideologies of martyrdom that spanned the ancient world, while others have undertaken studies of individual martyrs or regions in an effort to diversify our understanding of the cult of the saints in antiquity. See, for example Lamberis, Vasiliki M., Architects of Piety: The Cappadocian Fathers and the Cult of the Martyrs (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Because martyrdom is a category that ancient writers used to distinguish themselves from other groups, Christian and Jewish martyrdom literature has often been treated quite separately. More recent scholarship has sought to redress this gap. On the intersection of Jewish and Christian martyrdom traditions in late antiquity, see Boyarin, Daniel’s Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999) and Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004). Smaller studies comparing and drawing into dialogue Jewish and Christian relations include van Henten, Jan Willem, ‘Jewish and Christian Martyrs’, in Schwartz, J. and Pooerhuis, M (eds.), Saints and Role Models in Judaism and Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 163–81.

On martyrdom as a means of shaping identity in particular vis-à-vis non-Jews and non-Christians, see Lieu, Judith, Neither Jew Nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity (London: T & T Clark, 2002). For the use of martyrdom in the making of Christian memory more broadly see Castelli, Elizabeth A, Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

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