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I commence this review with a major contribution to the study of women in the ancient Greek world. The public invisibility of women in the poleis of the archaic and classical period is a well-known phenomenon; equally well-known is the fact that this starts to change from the Hellenistic period onwards, when developments in the culture of evergetism and in honorific practices created a niche for women to be publicly visible and honoured by their communities. Przemysław Sierkierka, Krystyna Stebnicka, and Aleksander Wolicki have published a two-volume collection of all public honorific inscriptions for Greek women from the classical to the Roman imperial period. The work excludes honorific inscriptions for Hellenistic queens and female members of the Roman imperial family, thus focusing on honours for Greek citizen women and foreign women. The first volume includes a book-size introduction to the history of public honours for Greek women, examining diachronic changes and offering an overview of the language of inscriptions and the repertory of honours provided. At the same time, the introduction offers an extensive discussion of the role of women in the public life of Greek cities in the long term. The first volume also includes the corpus of inscriptions from Aegean Greece, the Balkans, and Sicily and Italy in the West; the second volume largely focuses on Asia Minor, while also including the few relevant inscriptions from Cyprus, Syria, Egypt, and Cyrenaica. Each inscription is described in detail, while the Greek text is accompanied by an English translation and followed by a focused commentary. In line with the other major corpus under review here, this editorial choice to provide translation, bibliography, and commentary will make these volumes an impressive research tool for both specialists and non-specialists. I admit that I was really surprised by the quantity of the surviving material: the volume includes 1128 inscriptions from 238 communities. While many of these inscriptions are short, formulaic, and repetitive, the information provided on a substantial number is truly fascinating for Greek social history and the history of women.
I commence this review with a number of important works in Greek social history. As I commented in my last review for this journal, the study of labour is among the biggest holes in current research in Greek history. An important contribution towards filling this gap is the Cultural History of Work in Antiquity, edited by Ephraim Lytle. The volume gives an excellent overview of how work is represented and discussed in both literary and archaeological sources; at the same time, it situates work and workers within four important contexts: the structures of ancient economies and the level of trade and specialization determined demand in urban and rural labour; the changing form of workplaces determined the division of labour among workers; different forms of work developed highly divergent workplace cultures; finally, practices and organizations for the transmission of skills and knowledge were of critical importance. Work and workers are then placed within wider contexts: chapters explore the role of mobility in ancient labour markets, and how political communities and attitudes about different forms of work affected workers. Finally, work is profitably juxtaposed to leisure practices and ideas. Perhaps the strongest point of most chapters is their attention to regional diversity and historical change: the volume sets the groundwork for ultimately producing a dynamic narrative of the history of work in antiquity.
This review commences with three very important recent works that raise an important question: how is it possible that we should have to wait until 2021 to have works devoted to these fundamental subjects? First, Athens is, for better or worse, at the very centre of what we understand and practise as Greek history; yet there are hardly any books that attempt to give an overview of Athenian political, social, economic, and religious history alongside its material and visual culture. It is probably no longer possible for a single scholar to write such a book; but the fact that, despite the surge of companions and handbooks of all sorts over the last fifteen years, there has been no Companion to Athens until now, raises some very interesting questions. Second, Greek economic history has experienced an explosion of publications over the last fifteen years, which have constructed new approaches, examined new questions, and utilized new forms of evidence in innovative ways. How is it possible that there has been no systematic attention paid to the most fundamental institution of Greek economies, that of the household? Finally, the Hellenistic period is one of the most vibrant fields of Greek history, but why are there almost no volumes devoted to Hellenistic social history, in particular given the substantial number of available sources? I will comment below on the contribution of these three works, but pondering on these questions, and trying to identify other huge black holes in the study of Greek history, has a value of its own.
Free labour constitutes the largest black hole in ancient Greek economic and social history. The New Institutional Economics approaches that are currently so influential in Greek economic history focus on growth and transaction costs, but have largely ignored labour; it is not accidental that Bresson's monumental synthesis of ancient Greek economies has no chapter devoted to the issue. This is what makes the volume edited by Edmund Stewart, Edward Harris, and David Lewis on skilled labour and professionalism in ancient societies such an important contribution. The thirteen chapters explore three major issues. The first concerns the processes through which the division of labour and specialization created distinctions between unskilled and skilled labour. The second theme focuses on the major advantages that treasured skills offered to those individuals and groups that possessed them, and the ways in which individuals and states recruited and bargained with skilled labourers. The third is the extent to which it is possible to use the concept of professionalization to describe the process by which some ancient occupations came to constitute professions. The volume examines various case studies: while in some instances it is possible to describe such forms of skilled labour as professions (doctors, sculptors, musicians, actors), in other areas (athletes, soldiers) such a label is highly misleading. Particularly valuable in this respect is the exploration of the impact of various factors and processes on the extent of professionalization of different occupations.
I commence this review with a major contribution to the social history of classical Athens. Athenian social history is traditionally focused on polarities of class, status, and gender; while these polarities were obviously important, it is equally significant to adopt an interactionist approach and explore the shape of encounters between people belonging to the same or different groups. Rafał Matuszewski has chosen to focus on the interactions and communication between male Athenian citizens: in particular, the various spaces in which those interactions took place, as well as the means of communication. As regards the spaces, he explores in detail the noisy streets, the Agora, the various shops, workshops, and places of commensality and entertainment, the baths, the gymnasia, and the palaestrae. This is an excellent synthesis of a large number of social spaces in classical Athens, which have never been explored in the same detail as, for example, sanctuaries and cemeteries. Equally fascinating is the second part of the work and its detailed exploration of the body as a means of communication, alongside elements of material culture like clothes, houses, and graves. The wealth of material that is collected and examined and the interactionist framework employed have the potential to revolutionize how we study Greek social and cultural history; it is to be hoped that Anglophone readers will make the effort to engage seriously with this important German book.
This is the first review of books in Greek history after a year, as the Coronavirus crisis last spring made it impossible to submit a review for the G&R volume of autumn 2020. I apologize to readers and editors for the resulting delay in reviewing two books published in 2018. The multi-volume Lexicon of Greek Personal Names has been a tremendous tool of research that one day could hopefully revolutionize the study of Greek history. The volume under review is the eighth in the series; edited by Jean-Sébastien Balzat, Richard Catling, Édouard Chiricat, and Thomas Corsten, it is devoted to inland Asia Minor, covering Pisidia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, Galatia, Paphlagonia, Cappadocia, Pontus, and Armenia. The onomastics of these areas are complex owing to the various historical processes in which they were enmeshed: centuries of migration, conquest, and cultural change meant that, in addition to the ‘native’ cultural traditions of inland Asia Minor, the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman empires, as well as migratory movements like that of the Celts, left a deep onomastic impact. The issue is further complicated because the majority of the evidence comes from the Roman Imperial period, making diachronic comparison more difficult. This excellent volume offers a new documentary basis for studying social, cultural, and economic processes of change in these important areas of the ancient world: the full collection of the evidence makes it easier to classify names into different linguistic groups, an issue that has bedevilled the study of onomastics in Asia Minor for a very long time; it will also be possible to study regional divergences in the onomastics of different areas.
Pride of place in this review goes undoubtedly to Sally Humphreys’ monumental study of kinship in ancient Athens. A work in progress for four decades, it is finally published in two volumes of almost 1,500 pages. The book's coverage is vast: the first volume focuses on interactions among kinsfolk (legal, social, economic, and ritual), while the second volume explores the various Athenian corporate groups which employed kinship as their organizing principle (phratries, gene, tribes, and trittyes) and provides an exhaustive discussion of kinship networks attested across all Athenian demes. As a result of its size and encyclopaedic coverage, I suspect that most readers will approach this work in a piecemeal fashion, looking for a particular phenomenon or searching for a particular kinship network; the lack of a detailed introduction or conclusions – features that would have been essential in a work of this size and ambition – does not help in this respect. But this work needs to be assessed as a whole, for three main reasons. The first is that households were the main organizing units of Athenian society, while most Athenian groups were organized on a kinship principle. Their roles were crucial, and they need to complement the social models of Athenian society we employ, alongside class and status. The second reason is that Humphreys makes a very good job of exploring the various contradictory tendencies at work in how Athenian kinship operated: the interests of male heads; of wives, children, and relatives; of wider kinship networks; and of the political community. The third is the combination of literary, epigraphic, and material evidence of Athenian kinship, which reveals in often impressive ways the contradictions and gaps of our various sources: not only will this work be essential reading for those working on Athenian oratory, archaeology, or economy, but its accumulated detail offers the basis for writing a novel history of Athenian society. Of course, a work gestated for forty years will also show the unavoidable flaws of its piecemeal construction; but these are largely of secondary importance, compared to the value of the end product.
Ancient Greek history can have no serious future in which the study of slavery does not play a prominent role. But in order to fulfil this role, the study of slavery is in urgent need of new approaches and perspectives. David Lewis’ new book is a splendid contribution in this direction. Lewis stresses the fact that slavery is primarily a relationship of property, and develops a cross-cultural framework for approaching slavery in this manner. Using this framework, he shows that Greek slavery cannot be equated with slavery in classical Athens, but consisted of various epichoric systems of slavery. Spartan helots and Cretan woikeis were not serfs or dependent peasants, but slave property with peculiar characteristics, as a result of the peculiar development of these communities. These findings have major implications for the study of Greek slavery. At the same time, he presents a comparative examination of Greek slave systems with slave systems in the ancient Near East (Israel, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Carthage). While previous scholarship assumed that slavery in the Near East was marginal, Lewis shows that slaves constituted a major part of elite portfolios in many of these societies. This has revolutionary implications for the comparative study of Mediterranean and Near Eastern history in antiquity. Finally, he presents a model for explaining the role and significance of slavery in different ancient societies, which includes the factors that determine the choice of labour force, as well as the impact of political and economic geography. It is remarkable that an approach to slavery based on a cross-cultural and ahistorical definition of property does not lead to a homogenizing and static account, but on the contrary opens the way for a perspective that highlights geographical diversity and chronological change.
Ancient Sparta has become a major field of study in ancient history over the last four decades. But so far it has largely remained an issue for Sparta specialists, while the rest of Greek historians have rarely put Sparta at the centre of their attention. The two-volume Blackwell Companion to Sparta, edited by Anton Powell, is a major contribution which should give Sparta its rightful place in the study of Greek history. This companion should stand as a model for companion volumes: the twenty-nine contributions manage to combine introducing beginners and non-specialists to the field, providing encyclopaedic coverage of the evidence and the aspects of the subject, and asking new questions and offering new points of view. The volume is divided into an introduction and four further sections: on Spartan origins and archaic Sparta; on political and military history from the Persian Wars to the Roman period; on the politics, economy, society, and culture of classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Sparta; and on the reception of Sparta in the modern West.
This is a particularly rich crop of books on Greek history. I commence with two important volumes on citizenship in archaic and classical Greece. Traditional narratives of Greek citizenship are based on three assumptions: that citizenship is a legal status primarily linked to political rights; that there was a trajectory from the primitive forms of archaic citizenship to the developed and institutionalized classical citizenship; and that the history of citizenship is closely linked to a wider Whig narrative of movement from the aristocratic politics of archaic Greece to classical Athenian democracy.
Traditional accounts of Athenian society tend to take their sources at face value, as direct reflections of Athenian reality. They present a model of free citizens working as independent producers, while the elite derived its surplus income from the exploitation of slaves. This model underestimates the systematic omissions of the sources, their consistent and distorting focus, and the implications of these biases. By mapping the field of vision of Athenian sources and the discourses that focus attention on certain aspects while leaving others in the shadows, this article offers an alternative methodology for reconstructing Athenian society. In particular, it considers the Athenian distinction between slave and free, arguing that the emphasis on a clear distinction between the two is not an automatic result of the significance of slavery in Athens. It also shows how the sources render invisible the large numbers of freemen that did not live as independent producers, and argues that there was a significant gap between the theoretically clear-cut distinction and its application in practice. A renewed approach to Athenian society needs to account for the dimensions that remain systematically beyond the sources’ field of vision. It must also take major conceptual distinctions like that between slave and free not as reflections of reality but as choices which relate to Athenian society's view of itself and require historical explanation.
Political and military history used to be the main staple of ancient Greek history. This review includes a number of volumes devoted to the subject. Matteo Zaccarini's book focuses on Cimon and the period between 478 and 450 bce. Sandwiched between Herodotus’ Persian Wars and Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, the Pentekontaetia (478–431) is the most problematic period of classical Greek history, primarily because of the lack of a continuous narrative and our reliance on much later and fragmentary sources. Zaccarini has divided his work into two sections: the first studies the development of narrative traditions concerning Cimon and his age, from the fifth century to the Second Sophistic, and presents a context for interpreting the shaping of the information provided in these traditions. This is undoubtedly the most profitable part of the work, and a good model that others could imitate. The second part attempts to present a historical reconstruction of the period 478–450 on the basis of the conclusions of the first part. Many of Zaccarini's arguments are, in my view, correct: he shows the need to emancipate our narratives from models based on competition between aristocratic/popular or pro- and anti-Spartan leaders and programmes; he argues that the late 460s–450s is the crucial period of change in the balance of internal and external forces; and he minimizes the actual significance of Cimon's role. These sensible conclusions could have been strengthened by engaging with the rethinking of the nature of early Athenian imperialism by scholars such as Lisa Kallet and John Davies. But the volume is still a worthy contribution towards reassessing this crucial period.
Three cities dominated the late antique eastern Mediterranean: Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Constantinople was the late Roman re-foundation of an archaic Greek apoikia, Byzantion; Alexandria and Antioch were cities created by Alexander and his Hellenistic successors. This review includes two important books that examine the long-term history of two of these cities: Byzantion and Antioch. Both books stress the need to situate these cities within the landscapes and territories from which they drew their economic, political, and spiritual sustenance; both also adopt a long-term perspective, covering roughly a millennium each, which makes it possible to trace wider continuities, trends, and changes.
Mediterranean islands and their adjacent coastlands have long been the subject of a wide range of disciplines and discourses; from prehistory to late antiquity and beyond, the processes of imperial expansion, economic interconnectedness and cultural change have had a deep impact on their history. In recent decades the conceptual apparatus through which we study those processes has started to shift significantly. Earlier approaches influenced by nationalism and colonialism tended to adopt totalizing, top-down, and centre–periphery perspectives. The three volumes examined in this review are evidence that things are changing radically; but they also demonstrate the need for particular disciplines and subdisciplines to pay attention to each other. Though all three volumes focus on, or give major attention to, archaeological evidence, it is quite evident that prehistoric, classical, and late antique scholars follow distinctive scholarly traditions that could all benefit from more cross-fertilization.
It is quite remarkable that the study of Greek economic history has been long pursued in the absence of any overall synthesis. The revised translation of Alain Bresson's The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy, originally published in French in 2007, is undoubtedly a major contribution that will have a significant impact on how the subject is taught and studied in the Anglo-Saxon world. The volume is effectively divided into two parts. The first situates Greek economies in their environment, by exploring demography, sources of energy, agriculture, pastoralism, and non-agricultural production. The second part focuses on the nature of ancient markets, by examining internal and external markets, the international division of labour, and the role of currency, credit, and taxation. While the first part is primarily a useful summary of current research, the second part is an original contribution to our understanding of Greek markets. Not only are we given for the first time a detailed analysis of how the agora and the emporion functioned, but Bresson is able to fully document the existence of complex networks creating an international division of labour. These are major advances, but the work has two major problems. Despite its size, it is a lopsided analysis. It is remarkable, for example, that there is not a single chapter devoted to labour, and that its nineteen-page index lacks any reference to terms such as wages, class, exploitation, poverty, or consumption. And, while Bresson offers an excellent description of many economic aspects, the book is distinctly unconvincing whenever it tries to explain patterns or the nature of Greek economic growth. It will be essential for any future work in Greek economic history, but for a comprehensive framework that can actually explain things, we will unfortunately have to wait.
Les récits traditionnels sur la société athénienne interrogent peu les sources, considérées comme le reflet fidèle de la réalité athénienne. Ils présentent le modèle de citoyens travaillant sans contrainte en tant que producteurs indépendants tandis qu'une élite accumule les richesses en exploitant des esclaves. Ce modèle sous-estime aussi bien les effets grossissants que les omissions systématiques des sources, ainsi que leurs implications. Cet article offre une méthodologie alternative pour représenter la société athénienne, en cartographiant le champ de vision des sources athéniennes et les discours qui ciblent délibérément certains aspects, tout en en laissant d'autres dans l'ombre. Il étudie en particulier la distinction en vigueur à Athènes entre hommes libres et esclaves, et montre que la mise en avant de cette distinction découle moins de l'importance de l'esclavage à Athènes qu'elle ne révèle la tendance des sources à ignorer le grand nombre d'hommes libres qui ne travaillaient pas à leur compte. La marge est donc grande entre le clivage qui sépare en théorie nettement hommes libres et esclaves, et son application dans la pratique. Afin de renouveler notre approche de la société athénienne, il convient de prendre en compte ces aspects, systématiquement exclus du viseur de nos sources, mais aussi d'appréhender certaines distinctions conceptuelles majeures, par exemple entre hommes libres et esclaves, non pas comme le reflet de la réalité, mais comme l'illustration du regard qu'une société choisit de porter sur elle, et d'en rechercher les fondements historiques.
Epigraphic studies are usually addressed to specialists and are often timid in terms of asking big questions about their evidence. This review includes four brilliant recent studies, which use primarily Hellenistic inscriptions in order to discuss some major issues of Greek history from new perspectives. The first two books focus on politics and political institutions, while the other two raise similar issues from the point of view of Greek religion. All of them are fruitful applications of novel approaches to Greek communities which move beyond traditional approaches to the polis as a static and self-enclosed entity in favour of new approaches that stress the variability of Greek politics and the historical processes that involved regions and networks of which they formed part.