Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.01.09


Thomas J. Figueira, Athens and Aigina in the Age of Imperial Colonization. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. Pp. xii + 274. ISBN 0-8018-4296-4.


Reviewed by Gregory Crane, Tufts University.

Few topics command more attention or engender more vigorous discussion in current literary and cultural studies than the ideology and nature of colonialism. The vast majority of such discussion concentrates, however, upon the colonial exploits of modern European powers, and this larger debate is the weaker for its narrowness of context. One anthropologist at a major research university whose work focuses on European colonialism, for example, was utterly surprised when a classicist attended some of her lectures and had no idea that anyone in antiquity colonized anything. Researchers concentrating on European activities are spread so thin moving from China to Africa to Mesoamerica that they have little opportunity to explore ancient forms of European colonialism whether as parallels to, precursors of, or, in some cases, ideological models for the actions of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French or British. Athens and Aigina in the Age of Imperial Colonization is a major step forward that allows us to understand far better than before the nature of colonialism in the prime of Athenian democracy. This perceptive and enlightening study both sheds light upon the subject at hand and, at the same time, provides classicists with a firm new foundation on which to base their own contributions to the general debate on colonialism raging in academia.

Thomas Figueira has been a long-time student of Aigina and its relations, publishing in 1981 Aegina: Society and Politics (Arno Press) as well as a number of articles building upon this work. Athens and Aigina in the Age of Imperial Colonization allows us to see how Figueira has used his detailed knowledge of Aigina and his indefatigable scholarly energy as a foundation upon which to build a more general work on Athenian colonization and its relationship to fifth-century history. F.'s book divides into two parts. The first (7-128) concentrates upon Aigina and its colonization by Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. This opening section is a learned analysis that may discourage non-specialists, but a careful reading of this portion of the book repays the effort and F.'s time is well spent. The second part (131-250) builds upon the methodically argued conclusions of the first and broadens its scope to cover Athenian colonization as a whole. More general readers might be well advised to move rapidly through the book's opening half and focus upon the more general analysis of Athens and its colonial politics.

Part I: The Athenian Colony on Aigina

F. takes as his point of departure the expulsion of the Aiginetans at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war and the subsequent arrival of Athenian colonists -- one of those events which might seem to hold a prominent place in fifth-century history, but which have, perhaps because they seem so obvious, largely escaped detailed analysis. In part, this reflects, as D. M. Lewis has recently stressed [CAH vol. 5, 2nd ed. 370-1 (Cambridge 1992)], a bias of Thucydides, who mentions the dispute with Aigina but chooses instead to devote his time (and thus direct our attention) to Corinth's complaints. Kagan's Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (Cornell 1969), de Ste. Croix's Origins of the Peloponnesian War (Duckworth 1972), and Meiggs' Athenian Empire (Oxford 1972), as well as more recent books such as Hornblower's The Greek World: 479-323 BC (Oxford 1983) and Fornara and Salmon's Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles (California 1991) have little or nothing to say about the expulsion of the Aiginetans. But if the hapless Aiginetans have up to now languished in obscurity, F. makes up for past silence, casting an intense light upon the little that we know about these people and what happened to them.

The starting point for F.'s argument is a neat, but crucial, semantic distinction which the English language naturally obliterates but which must be preserved if we are to grasp the ideological and political ideas which guided the Athenians when they appropriated the land of others for their own citizens. While the argumentation is detailed and not all may agree with F.'s conclusions, the issues which he raises and the method he employs could be brought into an undergraduate lecture as an excellent example of philological practice and its importance to historical analysis. At 2.27.1, Thucydides tells us that the Athenians rousted the Aiginetans from their homes in the summer of 431 and replaced them with epoikoi. "We take it as certain," concluded Meiggs, Wade-Gery and MacGregor on p. 285 of ATL III (Princeton 1950), "that apoikoi and epoikoi are the same, differing only in meaning as do our words 'emigrant' and 'immigrant,' reflecting merely the point of view from which the writer envisaged the process of colonization: either from the mother city or to the new location." Gomme, in his commentary on this passage, suggested that perhaps epoikoi were specifically 'settlers who must keep watch.' Neither Rusten nor Hornblower has anything to say about this particular term. Kagan [Archidamian War (Cornell 1974) 62] discreetly renders it "colonists," thus avoiding any distinction between apoikoi, epoikoi, and klerouchoi.

Like Gomme and the authors of ATL III, F. insists that apoikoi and epoikoi were distinct from klerouchs, but unlike the authors of ATL III, F. (14-24) works out the distinction between apoikoi ("initial colonists") vs. epoikoi ("reinforcing settlers"). Only in the fourth century (from which most of our sources are drawn) did apoikoi and klerouchoi become blurred (45-46). Terminology changed in the fourth century, when virtually all Athenian colonies became klerouchies and all colonists klerouchs. A later author such as Plutarch (Perikles 9.1, 34.2) then applied the fourth-century categories backwards onto the fifth century.

In the fifth century (71-72), apoikoi, epoikoi and klerouchs all retained their Athenian citizenship. Klerouchs simply inhabited territory that was, in effect, an extension of the Athenian state and that did not have any status as a separate polis. The inhabitants of an apoikia, by contrast, became citizens of a separate, fully formed polis, but enjoyed a "sympolity," i.e., citizenship both in the Athenian metropolis and in their new polis.

The technical term, epoikoi, which Thucydides uses, implied continuity -- Athenians sent settlers to augment an existing population in a relatively stable polis. Nothing in the general material record or in the practice of cult suggests a sudden upheaval at 431 (30-39). The term epoikoi is thus politically loaded, attempting to confer upon the Athenian occupiers a legitimacy that continuity alone could produce, for it implied that the Athenians were restoring Aigina to its rightful inhabitants. The Athenians thus presented themselves as a conservative force at Aigina, and self-consciously maintained the forms of material culture and cult to support this self-serving fiction.

In his chapter "Foundations of the Apoikia" (104-128), F. suggests an historical explanation to justify the Athenian use of the term epoikoi. Herodotus describes an attempted coup c. 490 (6.90-91), which led to a brutal and impious massacre of 700 members of the Aiginetan demos. Those fugitives who escaped were settled as Athenian citizens at Sounion. The Athenians may have taken a "populist" perspective, viewing the oligarchic government of Aigina as an illegal entity and arguing that they were acting in behalf of the legitimately sovereign demos when they intervened on Aigina c. 460 (110). The ultimate expulsion of Aiginetans two generations after 490 in 431 may only have affected the leading citizens in Aigina, leaving in place the demos and non-citizen Ionian population.

Starting from the famous reference at Ach. 652-655 to the poet as Aiginetan, F. argues that the comic playwright Aristophanes probably belonged to a democratic Aiginetan family that fled and was received at Athens in the early fifth century. These Athenians of Aiginetan extraction would have been an ideal group to dispatch to Aigina in the early 450s when Athens asserted hegemony over the island. F. suggests that Aristophanes' father may have been one such Aiginetan Athenian who settled in Aigina and bore his son in c. 445 as polites both of Aigina and of Athens. Aristophanes would thus provide us with a concrete example of the way in which the Athenians managed to support the idea of Aiginetan continuity (the settlers were still "Aiginetan") while filling the island with Athenians.

Overall, F. stresses this ideological perspective by which Athens could have justified its actions in Aigina. By sending epoikoi, the Athenians implied that they were not disturbing the natural order, but reinforcing the existing polis of Aigina (128). "What constituted a legitimization of a decision of policy in Athens, such as the reconstruction of a democratic Aigina in place of a brutal oligarchic usurpation, was indeed defensible in terms of a populist ideology that prioritized the existence of a sovereign and activist demos. But it was not only indefensible, but inexplicable among those to whom more stratified societies were natural and whose Greece was made up of an irreducible number of primordially autonomous city-states." Only the oblique language of Thucydides at 7.57.2 allows us to see beyond this facade and the implications of Thucydides' own language at 2.27.1.

Part II: Athenian Colonization

With Part II, F. broadens his subject and provides an overview of Athenian colonization as a whole. He begins with a chapter on "the Early Evolution of Colonial Policy" (131-160). Lagging far behind other states, Athens seems to have sent out its first colony at the end of the seventh century to Sigeion (132-133). This colony set a pattern for Athenian patronal colonization: it took place in the north of the Aegean and was led by a particularly distinguished member of Athens, Phrynon an Olympic victor. In the sixth century, the great families of the Peisistratids and Philaids continued expanding in the same area. F. connects this to the realities of the time: in the still loosely organized Athenian state, the ritualized xeniai of the great families tended to define relationships between Athens and places at a great distance, while relationships with nearby states were defined by the subsistence issues which concerned the farmers who comprised the bulk of Athens' population (136).

These Athenian colonies seem, however, to be much less well defined than similar enterprises from other states. The "early undifferentiated and primary-productive polis" (136) was in no position to provide sharp rules for these colonial enterprises, and the nobles who led them remained outside the "network of institutions of their home or original polis" until the end of the sixth century (138). The Kleisthenic reforms, with their consequent emphasis on who was or was not an Athenian citizen, pushed to the fore questions as to the exact status of those Athenians who had settled abroad, many of whom seem to have retained their citizenship (unlike colonists from other poleis, who had traded one form of citizenship for another, 138-142). Ultimately, these patronal colonies provided Athens with an institutional framework on which to build in later colonization and at the same time confronted the expanding Athens of the fifth century with a large number of ambiguously Athenian groups outside the borders of Attika.

F. moves on to a long chapter on "Colonization during the Empire" (161-225). He begins by outlining the problem of the "demographic/productive calculus": since labor power was the only power available, you decreased local production if you decreased population too far, and thus there was a cost to excessive colonization. This problem became more important as Athenian citizenship acquired greater privileges and became correspondingly more exclusive. It became harder to increase the number of citizens by naturalizing others such as the Aiginetans settled at Sounion (162). One can thus categorize different colonies according to how "Athenian" they were, ranging from Melos (completely) to Amphipolis, in which the Athenians seem to have been a relatively small minority (164).

Klerouchies helped this problem, in that they provided additional wealth but did not require Athenian citizens to remove permanently from Attika (166). Any such moves would have been -- from a legal standpoint -- temporary, since klerouchies founded no new communities. As a result, with the exception of Lesbos, most klerouchies seem to have been readily accessible from Attika (168). Taken as a whole, these klerouchies "were a secondary category during the height of the arkhe, as colonies of various kinds far outnumber them" (171).

Both klerouchies and apoikiai helped secure and defend the empire, although this was not their only justification and F. (176) lists as many Athenian settlements at places of little strategic value (e.g., Melos, Mytilene) as at crucial sites (e.g., Amphipolis, Aigina).

In the early fifth-century, the Athenian economy was still based primarily upon the local production of agricultural goods (179-180). The Delian league opened "exciting possibilities" and led to a "politicization of the Athenian economy," with citizens acquiring "new economic lives through the dispensation of the state" (180). Klerouchies in which Athenians could draw rent from distant lands gave Athens a chance to support landless agricultural thetes and, during the war, to ameliorate the position of conservative, small farmers whose land was lost or inaccessible (181). Such additional prosperity allowed more Athenians to move up into hoplite rank.

Colonies -- especially those few as large and wealth as Amphipolis -- could provide Athens with additional raw materials and revenue (Thuc. 4.108.1). F. explores some of the mechanisms by which this wealth could have been transferred to Athens without offending the political sensitivities of the colonists (e.g., 191: harbor taxes rather than "tribute").

In some measure, colonization was punitive. Before the war, the Hestiaians who murdered the crew of a captured Athenian ship were -- exceptionally -- driven from their land. The case of Lesbos, in which the original population remained in place but paid rent to klerouchs, seems, however, to have been more typical.

F. sums up his views by observing (197) that the fifth century klerouchies on the whole differed from their sixth century counterparts in that the Athenian klerouchs never fully embraced their new land and melded in with the local population, but remained permanently a class of foreigners who extracted revenue.

F. spends a good deal of time considering how colonization might affect Athenian manpower (201-217) and concludes that the increase in wealth may have produced a disproportionate number of hoplites in Acharnai, which seems to have accounted for 12% of all hoplites but only 4.4% of the boule. This agricultural plain would have been a logical home for large numbers of prewar thetes who, by their relative proximity to the Peiraeus, would have been in an unusually good position to take advantage of klerouchies. The opportunities of the empire would thus have more than doubled the percentage of hoplites that we might otherwise expect from this area.

F.'s final chapter, "the Birth and Death of Imperial Colonial Practices" (226-249), surveys "the Genesis of Periclean Colonial Policy" (225-236) and "the Legacy of Fifth-Century Colonization" (236-249). The problem with the first subject, as F. emphasizes, is that our sources, beginning with Thucydides, give Perikles far too much prominence, but "it will not, in the absence of other evidence, be possible to replace ancient reconstructions that put the career of Perikles at the center of the causes for imperial colonization" (228). Ultimately the most tantalizing development is the citizenship law of 451, which limited Athenian citizenship to children of Athenian mothers and fathers, a move which resisted the historical tendency then active of attracting people to Athens and the trend to increase number of hoplites through colonization.

In the fourth century, the terms klerouchos and apoikos merged into one another, while klerouchos began to predominate, at least in official discussions, because Athens yielded its claim to new territory but tried to reassert its control over its ancestral possessions. "The use of the term klerouchos for fourth-century colonists helped to convey the idea that the fourth-century colonists were not apoikoi being dispatched to new foundations, who might have dispossessed the original inhabitants. Rather, they were settlers reclaiming earlier possessions of Athens in the company of a continuing population" (239). Ironically, the Athenian restraint did them relatively little good -- by seeking to control ancestral colonies they only raised the suspicions of the new allies and weakened the Second Confederacy.