Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.12.02

David Whitehead (ed.), From Political Architecture to Stephanus Byzantius: Sources for the Ancient Greek Polis. Historia-Einzelschriften 87. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1994. Pp. 124; 11 figures.

Reviewed by Angelos Chaniotis, Greek History, New York University (

This book inaugurates the series of publications of the Copenhagen Polis Centre (Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre 1), founded in 1993 on the initiative of Mogens Herman Hansen. A second series (Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre) has already presented the proceedings of a symposium organized in 1992: M.H. Hansen (ed.), The Ancient Greek City-State, Copenhagen 1993. Hansen is one of the leading authorities on the history and constitution of classical Athens, the city which many historians stubbornly regard as the Greek city-state par excellence; but the perspective of the CPC is clearly not 'Athenocentric'. One of its basic aims is described by Hansen in the first of the five papers included in the volume here under review (Poleis and City-States, 600-323 B.C., pp. 9-18). The CPC will prepare an inventory of the archaic and classical poleis, to be published by the Oxford University Press. Putting aside theoretical models and definitions -- both ancient and modern -- of what a polis is, the directors of the project have adopted an empirical approach for their inventory. It will contain all the communities called poleis in contemporary sources, i.e., in sources of the the archaic and classical periods (pp. 9, 14). The result is a list of approximately 800 sites or communities. This criterion is clearly narrow, and if it had been followed in a slavish way, then dozens of sites in, e.g., the hekatompolis Crete would have been excluded, since their status as poleis can only be inferred for the archaic and/or classical period from Homer or from Hellenistic epigraphic and numismatic evidence, i.e., from sources before or after the project's chronological limits (e.g.: Anopolis, Aradena, Aria or Arion, Biannos, Bionnos, Chersonesos, Diatonion, Dragmos, Eronos, Hierapytna, Keraia, Lappa, Lisos, Malla, Maroneia, Milatos, Priansos, Rhaukos, Sisai, Stalai, etc.). Fortunately, Hansen and his colleagues at the CPC are conscious of the problem. So, an additional check list (ca. 500 entries) will include localities for which the polis-status is not attested in contemporary sources, but can be assumed. Each entry will include references to the sources and the 'Forschungsgeschichte', as well as information about constitution, institutions, mints, and political architecture (bouleuterion, prytaneion, etc.).

This planned inventory of attested poleis is only the medium through which the CPC intends to approach its main subject, i.e., the nature and history of the ancient Greek polis. The list will be used to verify or possibly to revise current views about the emergence of the polis, the significance of autonomia, the dual notion of polis ('town' and 'political community'), the alleged absence of poleis from the world of the 'barbarians', the relation between polis and region, and the decline of the 'independent' polis in the 4th century. These are undoubtedly central questions, and the approach of the CPC to old subjects is in many respects innovative. To mention only one appealing working hypothesis, the collected evidence might disprove the communis opinio that the emergence of the polis preceded colonization. The project will also raise the issue of the internal and external hierarchy of poleis (i.e., hierarchy within individual cities, and in the relations between poleis). Especially the second aspect (external hierarchy), whose discussion is often reduced to the study of 'hegemonial alliances', needs to be reexamined almost thirty years after F. Gschnitzer's, Abhängige Orte im griechischen Altertum (München 1958). Here, the close cooperation with archaeologists who study the hierarchy of settlements is most urgent. The CPC has also taken the important step to place the phenomenon of the Greek polis in a wider context, by undertaking a comparison with other cultures in which the concept of the 'city-state' exists (e.g., Sumeria, Phoenicia, Etruria, Mediaeval Italy, Africa, pp. 10-13). Hansen's short paper reflects this fresh approach and contains stimulating observations, e.g., about the common features of city-states in 'city-state cultures' (pp. 13-14).

A foretaste of the work carried out in the Center and of some preliminary results is given in two short notes and two lengthy articles. In the first note "Polis, civitas, Stadtstaat, and city-state", pp. 19-22, Hansen demonstrates that the concept of the city-state (Danish 'bystat') is to be found for the first time as early as 1840, namely, in a work of the Danish historian Johan Nicolai Madvig, in a prospectus published by the University of Copenhagen to celebrate the coronation of King Christian VIII. The word was a rendering of the Latin civitas. The second note "Polis, politeuma, and politeia: A note on Arist. Pol. 1278 b 6-14", pp. 91-98 is dedicated to a difficult passage in Aristotle's Politics. A close analysis of the terms polis, politeuma ('the politically privileged body of citizens'), and politeia ('constitution') leads to a new understanding of the passage. Although I am not entirely convinced that in the phrase E)/STI DE\ POLITEI/A PO/LEWS TA/CIS the word PO/LEWS is not an objective genitive, but instead a subjective genitive (i.e., POLITW=N TA/CIS), thus making the polis (i.e., the citizens) the agent of civic order, still Hansen offers a convincing translation and interpretation of the passage: "A constitution is the city's organization of its officials, and principally of those who rule with supreme powers. Now, everywhere it is the politically privileged body of citizens who rule the city, and the constitution is in fact the city's politically privileged body of citizens. In a democracy it is the demos, in oligarchies it is the oligoi".

The core of the volume is a stimulating article by M.H. Hansen and T. Fischer-Hansen "Monumental political architecture in archaic and classical Greek poleis: Evidence and historical significance", pp. 23-90, in which the authors review the evidence for monumental 'political' buildings (palaces, prytaneia, bouleuteria, ekklesiasteria, dikasteria, stoai) in the archaic and classical poleis, in order to demonstrate the quite surprising absence of monumental structures serving the political and judicial organs (assembly, council, magistrates, courts). There is no reliable evidence for palaces occupied by tyrants in archaic Greece; only the borderland with the Orient (Asia Minor, Cyprus) has yielded a few monumental private dwellings often called 'palaces'. The survey of the 91 prytaneia known from literary, epigraphic, and archaeological sources (pp.30-37) -- and of which, three to six have been identified with some certainty by archaeologists -- shows that they were unpretentious buildings, which do not present a specific architectural form or type. This conclusion seems better founded in the case of the bouleuteria, since more than 40 buildings have been identified so far as meeting places of the council. Corroborative evidence is given by the survey of buildings used as courts (pp. 76-79) and of stoai for the accommodation of magistrates (pp. 79-80). The case of the meeting places of the assembly (agora, theaters, ekklesiasteria, pp. 44-75) is somewhat different. Very few poleis had a separate ekklesiasterion, but these buildings (usually theatrical structures) can be called monumental. The result is persuasive: The lack of conspicuous political buildings in the archaic and classical periods is obvious, matched by the absence of monumental private houses in the same periods. Things begin to change in the 4th century B.C. (pp. 84f.), but the authors offer no explanation for this change of architectural attitude, which is certainly related to social and constitutional developments.

This article is a welcome addition to our knowledge of political practices in the respective periods. The authors update the monographs on Greek 'political architecture', adding another seven attestations of prytaneia to S.G. Miller, The Prytaneion. Its Function and Architectural Form (Berkeley-Los Angeles 1978) and another 12 cities with a bouleuterion to D. Geisz, Das antike Rathaus (Wien 1990). They also contribute to many specific questions, e.g., rejecting some of F. Kolb's evidence (Agora und Theater, Berlin 1981) of theaters used for the meetings of the ekklesia (p. 48 note 103), disproving Kolb's view that the primary function of theaters was to serve as meeting places for the assembly (p. 51), identifying an imposing structure at Kassope and the 'theater' of Lato as the local ekklesiasteria (pp. 62-65), and arguing convincingly (pp. 86-89) that Olympia was the political center of the Elean state down to the synoikism of 471 B.C., the seat of the Elean prytaneion and bouleuterion.

The significant contribution of this paper is not seriously affected by minor inaccuracies and a few questionable interpretations of details. First, the study of ekklesiasteria should have taken into account the different constitutional forms. The assembly did not meet in every city as often as it did in democratic Athens or, e.g., in the Hellenistic period. The absence of monumental ekklesiasteria in certain regions reflects, to some extent, the subordinate role of the assembly and its rare meetings. Second, from the scanty evidence for dikasteria (pp. 76-79) I would exclude the case of Knidos (Syll3 953 ll. 10-13). This text refers to arbitration carried out by Knidos between Kalymna and some Koan citizens. The text provides for the submission of various documents to the court (TIQE/SQWN E)PI\ TO\ DIKASTH/RION) and this is taken by the authors to imply the existence of a building (dikasterion). This is rather improbable. These documents were not deposited in the archive of a permanent court, accommodated in a special building, but were submitted as evidence to foreign judges invited to arbitrate in an extraordinary situation. Third, references are often given to antiquated epigraphic publications and not to the standard regional corpora. In the list of prytaneia, e.g., the authors (following S.G. Miller) cite the inscriptions found on or related to Crete in an inconsistent way, sometimes after C. Michel's Recueil d'inscriptions grecques (1900), sometimes after the Sammlung der griechischen Dialektinschriften (1905), and in a few cases after the standard edition of M. Guarducci, Inscriptiones Creticae (1935-1950), although all these texts can be found in the Inscriptiones Creticae. Fourth, the survey of prytaneia, bouleuteria, and ekklesiasteria contains some minor inaccuracies. Prytaneia: a) Andania (p. 31): The text should now be cited after F. Sokolowski's, Lois sacrées des cités grecques, Paris 1969, no 65. The correct date is 92/91 and not 93 B.C., and, more importantly, the prytaneion mentioned in this inscription is that of Messene; Andania was not an independent polis at that time. b) Mallia (p. 33): The prytaneion is not that of Mallia (site of a Minoan palace on the north coast of Crete), but of Malla (city in south-east Crete). c) Olos (p. 33): The city's name is Olous. d) The prytaneia of Phaistos and Ayia Pelagia (Apollonia) should be added to the list (see now D. Vivier, "La cité de Dattalla et l'expansion de Lyktos en Crète centrale", BCH 118, 1994, 244s. and 247 fig. 5, with the older bibliography). Bouleuteria: a) Ayia Pelagia (Crete, p. 39): The identification as a bouleuterion is doubtful; the building is probably a prytaneion (see Vivier, o.c. 245). The site can be identified with Apollonia (see St. Alexiou, Une nouvelle inscription de Panormos-Apollonia en Crète, in: Aux origines de l'hellénisme. La Crète et la Grèce. Hommage à Henri van Effenterre, Paris 1984, 325f.) b) Two further bouleuteria have been identified with some probability on Crete, in Aphrati (see Vivier, o.c. 244s.) and Lyttos (see A. Chaniotis--G. Rethemiotakis, "Neue Inschriften aus dem kaiserzeitlichen Lyttos, Kreta", Tyche 7, 1992, 27ff.). Ekklesiasteria: a) Amnisos (p. 55 note 123): Amnisos never had the status of a polis. The structure of seven steps found there is part of the Knossian sanctuary of Zeus Thenatas (see now J. Schäfer, ed., Amnisos nach den archäologischen, topographischen, historischen und epigraphischen Zeugnissen des Altertums und der Neuzeit, Berlin 1992). b) Rhittenia (p. 49): Rhittenia was not a 'perioikic community' (cf. Gschnitzer, o.c. 41-43; cf. now H. van Effenterre, Le pacte Gortyne-Rhittèn, Cahiers du Centre G. Glotz 4, 1993, 13-21.). Its treaty with Gortyn should be cited after Staatsverträge II 216.

D. Whitehead contributes the second major article in the volume (Site-classification and reliability in Stephanus of Byzantium, pp. 99-124). Stephanus of Byzantium has often been attacked by modern scholars for the artificial nature of the ethnics which he attributes to many sites. His reliability is not estimated very highly, and the evaluation of the information he gives is aggravated by the many textual problems connected with his work. Without seriously questioning the scepticism which L. Robert and others have established towards Stephanus' ethnics as evidence for the status or the self-representation of ancient poleis (p. 105), Whitehead undertakes the task of rehabilitating this author. In order to prove Stephanus' reliability, he examines the way Stephanus treated his sources -- of course, those sources that are still preserved (Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Polybius, Strabo, Dionysius of Halicatrnassus, Josephus, Arrian, and Pausanias). The two interesting conclusions Whitehead reaches show that the effort was worth-while:

a) Stephanus was often conscious of the differences between the various terms he used for site-classification (see the list at p. 105 note 19, cf. p. 120); sometimes he even drew the attention of his reader to the respective problem (pp. 105f.). Yet, although in most cases Stephanus used any given term in clear contradistinction to all others, there are exceptions to this rule, as Whitehead's survey of polis-cognates and synonyms shows (pp. 120-122). This is particularly so in the case of the words polichne, polichnion, polidion, polisma, and polismation, i.e., terms used as semantically interchangeable with polis. I should add, however, that Stephanus is only partly responsible for this indifferent use of the terms. At least in some cases the use of different terms for the same site is simply the result of a change of source. This is quite clear in the case of Doros/Dora in Phoinike (p. 121 A i), categorized by Stephanus both as polis and polichne. The term polis probably goes back to the authority of Hekataios, whereas the term polichne is used only in a verbatim quotation from the 'Phoinikika' of Claudius Iulius. There could be, of course, a real historical development here, since six centuries (or more) separated Hekataios and Claudius Iulius.

b) Despite a clear tendency of Stephanus to 'generate' site-classifications which were absent in his sources (in most cases granting a site the status of a polis), his transmission of the site-classification found in his source is, generally, accurate. The accuracy reaches 77% in relation to Herodotus, 82% in relation to Pausanias, 72% in relation to Strabo, but only 26% in the case of citations of Homer. Whitehead concludes: "The value and reliability of Stephanus of Byzantium does therefore come down in the end to the value and reliability of his sources". But since there still remains that 20-70% of inaccuracies, should we not assert that Stephanus' value and reliability is lower than that of his sources? Whitehead's meticulous study (pp. 109-116) shows that in several cases Stephanus simply inferred a classification not directly stated in his source, in a few cases he even altered it. Even if Stephanus in most cases transmitted what he found in his sources, sometimes he did not. Things become more complicated, when we consider the entries in which Stephanus is not mentioning his source. Usually, a control is impossible, but sometimes we may trace back the ultimate source, and then the comparison between Stephanus and the original can be quite informative. Let me present briefly a characteristic example of how the source's testimony has been altered by Stephanus (or by an intermediate source). Stephanus' lemmata on the Cretan sites Thenai and Omphalion (pp. 309,5-6 and 493,11-12 ed. Meineke) ultimately derive from Callimachus (hymnus in Jovem 42-45 ed. Pfeiffer). Here, the poet describes how a nymph carried Zeus from the place of his birth to Mount Ida, over Thenai, Knossos, and the plain Omphalion. Callimachus simply states that Thenai was located near Knossos and that Omphalion was a plain (pedon). However, Stephanus (or an intermediate source) characterizes Thenai as a polis and Omphalion as a topos. The accurate attribute (pedon) is lost. Furthermore, the location of Thenai (E)GGU/QI *KNWSOU= in Callimachus) is transferred to Omphalion (PLHSI/ON *QENW=N KAI\ *KNWSSOU=).

There is no need to praise a doctor for not killing his patients, and similarly no hurry to 'rehabilitate' Stephanus only because he usually transmits his sources with accuracy. I am not raising the question as to whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. I am only pointing out the problem that whenever Stephanus is our only source about the status of a community or the classification of a site, we cannot adopt his assertion automatically, because it might originate in the misunderstanding or alteration of an older source. Whitehead's study undoubtedly permits us to have a better understanding of Stephanus' method and reliability, but cannot rule out a certain scepticism.

The reader of this review must have noticed that my critical remarks concern, almost exclusively, Crete, the area I am most familiar with. This was intentional, aiming to point at an inherent difficulty faced by most projects which intend to embrace the whole Greek world. In an era of high specialization in historical research, one cannot expect that a scholar be familiar with the research (historical, topographical, epigraphic, numismatical, archaeological, etc.) and the specific problems of every region of the Greek world. Consequently, the success of an ambitious project like the one pursued by the CPC relies on the creation of a wide network of international and interdisciplinary cooperation, which will supply the CPC with accurate and updated information from the various regions. The British Academy's Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, which is based on such a network, may serve as a model. With the publication of this stimulating volume and of the first volume of the 'Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre' the CPC has publicized its aims and perspectives. We must hope that it will get the attention and support it deserves.