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Ancient Greece: Social Structure and Evolution. (D.B.) Small, Pp xvi+270, ills. Cambridge University Press, 2019. Paper, £26.99. ISBN: 978-0-521-71926-1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 December 2020

Peter Liddel*
Affiliation:
The University of Manchester
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Abstract

Type
Book Reviews
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

The subject of this book is social structure and its development in Greece in the period stretching from the Neolithic to the Roman Empire. Small's approach draws upon the results of Complexity Theory to think about long-term change: this is an approach which views societies as open systems in which connections between different groups give rise to complex forms of interaction; the theory produces an analytical framework which proposes that societies transition between periods of structured organisation and chaotic change. In this way it offers a productive way of rethinking the notion of evolutionary change and the development of institutions as an articulation of complex networks of interaction.

Small draws widely upon archaeological research on prehistoric and historical Greece and highlights the role of feasting as a context for interaction, transformation and the solidification of social structures. This is, however, not really a book about feasting in Greece (for such a study, with particular emphasis on the classical period, see Floris van den Eijnde, Josine Blok and Rolf Strootman (eds), Feasting and Polis Institutions, not referred to by Small), but one which makes reference to feasting as an node of social interaction.

The book opens with a survey of the ecology of the Greek world (chapter 2) and then moves on (chapter 3) to a terse exploration of the possibility of hierarchical relationships between households during the Neolithic period in Greece (6800-2900 BC). Chapter 4 interprets the evidence for communication, defence and exchange as an indication of increasing social complexity in Greece during the Early Bronze Age (3200-2200 BC); Small suggests a shift in feasting gatherings from small to larger groups. Chapters 5 and 6 survey the indications of cultural complexity in the form of palace centres, towns and rural peak sanctuaries in Crete, the Cyclades and mainland Greece during the second millennium BC: cult facilities including banqueting halls are indicative of the significance of shared feasting. Small argues also that the emergence of an Aegean way of life gave rise to the development of complex commemorative administrative institutions. The collapse of the Palace cultures at the beginning of the first millennium (chapter 7) is treated as the impetus for dynamic re-organisation over the course of the eighth century BC. This gives rise to the institutions of a ‘Brave New World’, that of Greece of the archaic and later periods (chapter 8). Small champions the view of the classical polis as a ‘stateless’ institution with an ‘underdeveloped political community’ with ‘weak arrangement of social contexts within the community’ but rightly flags the controversy of this view (p. 171). The top-down approach of chapter 9 emphasises institutional continuity in the Hellenistic and Roman periods of Greek history and suggests that it was used by territorial rulers to ‘control the direction of much of the Greek world’; recent scholarship, such as the work of John Ma (Antiochus III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor) offers a more nuanced assessment of the complexity of Hellenistic institutions. Chapter 10 brings us back in time to the Cretan Iron Age (1100-700 BC), where Small emphasises the distinctive aspects (and heterogeneity) of Cretan institutions and practices in that period.

Much of the underlying narrative that runs through this book is familiar and the volume draws upon a wealth of well-known material. Small revisits the notion of social complexity in each substantive chapter and his conclusion (chapter 11) highlights the unevenness of structural change across space and time. Chapter 12 briefly compares the characteristics of Greek organisation with those of the Classic Mayan period (AD 250-900); this chapter certainly enrichened this reviewer's knowledge of the institutions of the latter civilisation, but I lack the expertise to assess how far it progresses the modern understanding of that culture.

The book's main contribution is to offer an interesting overarching perspective on how it might be possible to analyse the Greek world in a way that cuts across conventional chronological parameters. This volume could be suitable a volume for undergraduates (who may find its introduction to the prehistoric periods of use and its general direction interesting), graduate students and scholars of ancient Greek history and archaeology.

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Ancient Greece: Social Structure and Evolution. (D.B.) Small, Pp xvi+270, ills. Cambridge University Press, 2019. Paper, £26.99. ISBN: 978-0-521-71926-1
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Ancient Greece: Social Structure and Evolution. (D.B.) Small, Pp xvi+270, ills. Cambridge University Press, 2019. Paper, £26.99. ISBN: 978-0-521-71926-1
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Ancient Greece: Social Structure and Evolution. (D.B.) Small, Pp xvi+270, ills. Cambridge University Press, 2019. Paper, £26.99. ISBN: 978-0-521-71926-1
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