Bryn Mawr Classical Review 94.04.07


Lisa Kallet-Marx, Money, Expense, and Naval Power in Thucydides' History 1-5.24. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Pp. xiii + 229. $45.00. ISBN 0-520-07820-9.


Reviewed by Bob Develin, University of Ottawa.

At the risk of sounding old.... It is a pleasure to find oneself in the presence of a new addition to the business who shows the ability to question, to re-evaluate long entrenched assumptions and force us to think afresh. Lisa Kallet-Marx, who has already shown her qualities in two important articles, now brings us a book version of what began as a 1987 Berkeley dissertation. She takes on two areas where new views are bound to be provocative: interpretation of Thucydides and the finances of the Athenian Empire. The work is, then, as she says, both historiographical and historical, untangling the nexus between Thucydides' evidence and tendencies and the realia of the Archidamian War. As the book is announced as the first part of a wholesale examination of Thucydides centering on financial elements, it deserves more than usually careful attention from reviewers and readers. I offer what I can within a limited compass.

The introduction emphasizes the prevailing tendency to criticize Thucydides for his failure to treat of financial matters. This is to distort his text. The problem is a common one of anachronistic expectations: we cannot use the terms "economy" and "finance" in a modern sense. In fact, Thucydides is keenly aware of the link between empire and finances and is at pains to highlight it as an interpretative focus. The book's first chapter, on the so-called "Archaeology," will demonstrate that the crucial connections are revealed by Thucydides from the beginning: true, unified power -- empire -- can only come from possession of naval authority, and that requires financial resources. The early sections of the history show how that point was reached. So the Trojan War cannot have been a big deal because the essential ingredients were lacking. For Thucydides, financial resources which enable naval power lead to arche, which involves great expense. This is not (p. 7) economic imperialism, but power does lead to enrichment: control is necessary to ensure revenue which is necessary to ensure control. There must logically be surplus funds. What is more, there are profits for individuals, and this encourages support for empire. Subjects too may be willing to enter that condition for the sake of potential profit, another point which is made early (1.8.3; p. 26).

Both Thucydides and K.-M. impress with these observations. It is for the latter to bring out their continuing relevance in subsequent chapters, which, after a necessary look at the pentekontaetia, take us through the Archidamian War sequentially (there was no need to defend the periodization: p. 5). The Pentekontaetia "attempts to present a cogent argument to support the alethestate prophasis...," the link having come at 1.88. The Spartans were afraid of Athens' growth in power, a growth which is inherent in the formula of naval empire. A pretext (proschema) was necessary to explain the amassing of resources. So members expected tangible benefits and this led them into self-willed subjection. The centralization of wealth was part of the unity which defines real power and led to an increase in that power. Thuc. 1.96 is all about tribute -- finance is the key.

When we come to the eve of the war, the relevant elements are frequent in both narrative and speech. The Spartans have manpower but not revenue resources; the latter belong to the naval power and Archidamos knows it, though he cannot prevail. Perikles, of course, knows it best and spells it out at 2.13.

We have now reached the fourth chapter, which takes us down to 427. Essentially, after Perikles' words to the wise, Thucydides shapes his account to suggest that there were difficulties in managing Athenian finances thereafter, a problem of leadership, whereas in fact K.-M. will argue that Athens was quite sound in financial resources. Perhaps the tribute lists are not an accurate measure of economic prosperity in the Empire. The settlement of Mitylene included economic advantages for individual Athenians -- that element of encouraging support for the system, which the state could evidently afford to effect.

The fifth chapter finishes off the war. K.-M. argues that the reassessment of 425, notoriously absent from Thucydides, may not have been so important. Things were fine, financial matters require less notice in the account, and they are not relevant to the Peace of Nikias.

The author has made her point and has brought out that of Thucydides. There are no arguments in this book which can be dismissed without serious thought and there are many which I find convincing. Indeed, even those such as myself who have long held to the importance of financial resources in Thucydides' vision will be informed as to its pervasive presence (for once the dust jacket hype is deserved). Along the way we will have to reconsider passages of Thucydides, such as 2.13 and 3.17; we will find a sensible defence of 460 Talents as the original tribute assessment; we will reasonably be asked to re-evaluate the identification of the argyrologoi nees which appear as tribute-collectors and see them rather as out for extra cash, even as a sort of pirate fleet. As for the epigraphical evidence, we are again led to place the first Kallias decree (IG i3 52A) in 431/0 (where I have long itched to place it); we must question reconstruction of the reassessment document of 425 (i3 71) and wonder about its efficacy. Perhaps it is surprising to find the Kleinias decree (i3 34) and the coinage decree (ML 45) relegated to passing comment: both could belong to the 420s, though I have thought the latter would fit well around 430.

The sequential treatment of Thucydides was an obvious convenience, addressed on pp. 4-5, but has disadvantages, as K.-M. realizes, especially in obstructing the emphatic emergence of patterns and linking themes. Her final chapter was meant to compensate for this by looking at the Archidamian War as a whole and attempting a synthesis, while noticing some further evidence. This is quite successful. The approach does, however, lead to a good deal of repetition through the book. This may be tedious, but it produces clarity, a distinct virtue, and K.-M. strives to vary her expression. The book has been written so as not to risk misunderstanding.

This may take us back to its origins as a dissertation, something rarely disguised as the book version forms. So the literary quality is not high. I was surprised to be marking things which I constantly have to point out in undergraduate essays, things which, though understandable at that level, are not good English. "Insure" is not a variant for "ensure," nor "alternate" for "alternative." Do we allow "transform" as an intransitive verb? "Key" may be used as a noun in adjectival apposition (p. 70: "key thematic statements"), but surely not in the modern perversion as a predicative adjective (e.g. p. 91: "money is key" -- and passim). The transliterated Greek chremata attract a singular verb throughout (Greek practice in English language?). There is an ugliness too when on pp. 148-9 three consecutive sentences begin respectively "It is reasonable...," "It is an easy step...," "It is notable...," and the attached n. 103 has "It is interesting...," "it also makes sense." I do not think these matters are petty, the obsessions of a Classicist pedant, unless we are prepared to see sensitivity to language decline further. The book seems likely to be widely read in the field, and those readers do not need to be encouraged to write sloppily.

To return to matters of substance, I do, of course, have doubts about some of the opinions expressed. The Delian League was not, in my belief, a new organization, nor did Thucydides think it was. At p. 43 n. 16, K.-M. finds unpersuasive argument to that effect, but the promised reasons for her opinion, which come at pp. 44-5 and n. 19, are little more than assertion. Clearly (and I think it is clear) the organization was "The Greeks," and the expression "Delian League" has done more harm than good. We are thus dealing in 478 not with organization, but with reorganization. Historically this makes a considerable and continuing difference. Indeed, had K.-M. seen it this way, it would fit even better with her point about building on inherited power (p. 68), which again has been set before us in the opening chapters of Thucydides' work. Less importantly, I find K.-M.'s views on Herodotos old-fashioned and imperceptive. Also, though we would like to believe that Thucydides was a diligent researcher, the assumption needs to be used with caution in argument (pp. 64, 110). One thing she has learned, however, is the technique of banishing discomfort (i.e., elements which may tell against what she wishes to believe) to footnotes. I hope she unlearns it.

I have carped long enough. This is a well produced book with few misprints. The bibliography is what you would expect, the general index is good and there is an index of passages in Thucydides. It is a work full of perception and ideas upon which interested minds will feed, whatever the failings of expression. Let us hope that the continuation of the investigation will be pleasanter to read, but even more forthright in facing up to contradictions and throwing challenges before us. May I conclude by saying that my own first article, though some of its conclusions have found favour, was a horrible piece of English.