Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.04.21

Stephen V. Tracy, Athenian Democracy in Transition. Attic Letter-Cutters of 340 to 290 B.C. Hellenistic Culture and Society. Vol. 20. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Pp. xiv + 206, Fgs. 21. $50.00. ISBN 0-520-20018-7.

Reviewed by Gary Reger, Trinity College.

Since the 1960s, as a graduate student of Sterling Dow's at Harvard University, Stephen V. Tracy has been studying hands in Greek inscriptions, mainly but not exclusively from Athens. Tracy's latest book, Athenian Democracy in Transition. Attic Letter-Cutters of 340 to 290 B.C., now takes its place among the monographs and articles he has devoted to this much-neglected and occasionally -- but wrongly -- underappreciated work.1

The new book is a kind of "prequel" to Attic Letter-Cutters of 229 to 86 B.C. (henceforth ALC), which appeared in 1990. Like that book, the bulk of Athenian Democracy in Transition (Part II, pp. 53-175) reports the results of Tracy's study of the hands. Within the half-century covered,2 Tracy has identified fourteen cutters, among whom he has been able to distribute 334 inscriptions. The assignments are conveniently listed by publication title and number in a table (pp. 55-65), so that the reader can quickly determine whether a particular inscription has been included. For each cutter, Tracy describes the general character of the lettering, sets out the particularities of individual letters, offers a list of inscriptions, and appends brief adnotatiunculae on particular inscriptions. Good photographs, usually of squeezes, offer samples of the lettering for comparison with Tracy's verbal descriptions. The attributions have been complicated somewhat by the appearance of a common style, called by Tracy litterae volgares, which predominates during the Lykourgan period (c. 345-320 BC). Tracy has isolated three cutters working in this style, but many texts that clearly belong within this tradition are stylistically so close that Tracy has not been able to distinguish them. It is especially interesting that the Lykourgan period, which stands out in so many ways in Athenian history, should now also be seen to have cultivated its own highly uniform style of lettering, practiced by a number of cutters.

Tracy publishes (in preliminary fashion, although he does not explain what he means by that) only a few new inscriptions; all are small fragments. At pp. 101-102 he gives the tiny fragment Agora Inv. no. I 5093, found in 1937, as part of the dossier of the Cutter of IG II2 244; only a few letters are preserved. Although there is hardly more to Agora Inv. no. I 4355 (pp. 108-110, dossier of Cutter of IG II2 354), it offers tempting puzzles for the restorer at ll. 8-9 and 11. Two fragments are published as part of the dossier of the Cutter of IG II2 1262 (pp. 141-143 no. 1, pp. 143-144 no. 2); the second may include the first mention in Attic epigraphy of the city of Kios in Bithynia. Tracy has also discovered some new associations. IG II2 272 and 274 are respectively left and right non-joining fragments of the same stele, yielding much better restorations at ll. 5-8; Tracy dates the ensemble to c. 345 (as opposed to Kirchner's "ante 336/5"). Following a suggestion of Christian Habicht, Tracy argues that IG II2 2406 is part of the list of Thessalians who were granted citizenship and other privileges in IG II2 545. The texts must date to 321/0 or 320/19 (pp. 87-90). Tracy has also been able to prove that IG II2 752a and 684 are two fragments of the same inscription, an honorary decree for the demos of Tenedos passed in 276/5 (pp. 167-168). Finally, it is no surprise that Tracy redates a number of inscriptions on the basis of the hands and offers many new readings and restorations. Two appendices, a full set of indices, and a comparatio numerorum round out this handsomely produced, succinct, and extraordinarily useful book.

Part I of Athenian Democracy in Transition has no analogy in ALC. In 45 pages divided into four chapters, Tracy gives a useful, though brief, overview of the history of the period under study and three chapters that treat the Lamian War, the grain supply of Athens, and the activities of Demetrios of Phaleron. "The major findings during the course of this study," Tracy writes, "have dictated these last three subjects ... This first part, then, provides an essential framework for the second, detailed studies" of the cutters themselves (p. 1).

The chapter on the Lamian War argues two main points. First, Tracy defends the widely held view, recently attacked, that the Leosthenes of the Lamian War should be identified with Leosthenes son of Leosthenes of Kephale.3 Tracy's main contribution is to redate O.W. Reinmuth, The Ephebic Inscriptions of the Fourth Century B.C. (Leiden 1971) 58-82 no. 15 from 324/3 to 329/8 BC, thus removing the objection that Leosthenes could not have been Athenian general over the countryside and working with mercenaries at Tainaron both in 324/3.4 While I concur in the standard view of this issue, I must point out that Tracy's redating of Reinmuth no. 15 is not absolutely conclusive, but rather a possible solution to a vexing problem. Independent evidence for the date of the ephebic inscription is still wanted. Second, Tracy shows the importance for the Athenians in the Lamian War of the support received from Thessalian cavalry; part of the evidence for this is the association of IG II2 2406 and 545 mentioned above. This adds new nuance to our understanding of the political situation in these dire years in Athens.

In the chapter on the grain supply, Tracy conveniently lists all the inscriptions and many of the literary texts that may refer to difficulties from 335 to the 280s BC.5 He identifies three "crises," one in 335 known only from Demosthenes 34.38, one in 330-326 (combining here into a single crisis two episodes dissociated by Peter Garnsey6), and one in 323-320. Further inscriptions from the end of the fourth century and first quarter of the third century are adduced as "evidence [for] concern for the food supply" (p. 34). Hesperia 49 (1980) 251-255, which its editor argued honors some Rhodians for help with the sitonia, is redated by Tracy on the basis of the hand from 330-326 to the 280s, suggesting that it should probably be associated with the years after Athens' revolt in 287 from Demetrios Poliorketes. Tracy's collection, dating (again often on the basis of the identification of the hands), and sorting of material are extremely useful, but a word of caution is in order. In the absence of explicit mention of sitodeia or spanositia it is hazardous to conclude that texts honoring people for having provided grain at a reduced price necessarily reflect shortages or crop failures. Not only were there plenty of other causes for temporary interruptions of supply (as Tracy himself catalogues at p. 32), but the supplying of grain at reduced prices may also belong in the larger sphere of euergetiai offered to Greek cities for a variety of reasons. In this matter Athens was peculiarly dependent "on the kindness of strangers."

The last chapter offers the most exciting and most important of the results of Tracy's study. By the identification of hands he has been able to assign a few inscriptions to the years of the government of Demetrios of Phaleron, and, more importantly, to set the beginning of the careers of three cutters in this period (pp. 39-40). The standard view that inscribing virtually ceased under Demetrios thus requires modification; Tracy points to Demetrios' apparent "scruple with regard to the appearance, if not the reality, of democracy" (p. 38). But Tracy's most important contribution by far to our understanding of Demetrios' career is a negative one. Despite the explicit testimony of Diodoros, who says that Demetrios was epimeletes of Athens (18.74.3), many scholars have restored the office of strategos at line 11 of IG II2 1201 (p. 43 n. 45), the honorary decree for Demetrios. Support for this restoration is drawn from IG II2 2971, where the mention of the "general Demetrios son of Phanostratos, Phalereus," has always been supposed to refer to the famous Demetrios of Phaleron. Tracy proves conclusively, by independent arguments from the lettering and the institutional history of Athens, that this inscription cannot be dated earlier than 270 BC (pp. 43-44 with Appendix One, pp. 171-174, which provides photographs and lays out the argument for assigning IG II2 2971 to the Cutter of IG II2 788, "one of the most prolific workmen of the third century B.C." whose "dated work is now known to span the period ca. 262-235/4" [p. 171]).7 Without this text, all support for a military career for the famous Demetrios collapses. We can now take Diodoros at his word and again, with Adolf Wilhelm and Kirchner, restore epimeletes in IG II2 1201.11; Tracy sketches out the implications of this discovery on our understanding of Demetrios' career.

In his review of ALC, the late David Lewis remarked those inclined to disparage Tracy's work on hands "should take note that Tracy has lowered by two hundred years the date at which the hierophant [at Athens] took to concealing his real name."8 The redating of IG II2 2971 certainly ranks with that earlier discovery. Moreover, Tracy's decision in Athenian Democracy in Transition to highlight the more important results of his work in these prefatory chapters will certainly make his book more accessible to the non-specialist and help to disseminate his results more widely and more quickly; this interest, it seems to me, justifies the publication of these chapters in the book instead of as separate articles (for which, on first glance, they may seem better suited). But as I have tried to indicate above, there are wonderful little gems hidden throughout. This book is a fully worthy successor to ALC, which has already become a standard implement in the armamentarium of the epigrapher -- and indeed historian -- of Athens. Make room on your shelf.


  • [1] Attic Letter-Cutters of 229 to 86 BC (Berkeley 1990), reviewed in BMCRev by M.L. Lang (91.02.18); The Lettering of an Athenian Mason, Hesperia Supplement 15 (Princeton 1975). Among the most interesting of Tracy's many articles is "Hands in Samian Inscriptions," Chiron 20 (1990) 59-96, which shows that his methods of identifying hands works outside of Athens, or Athenian dominated regions like Delos after 166. On two inscriptions from Delos, redated and reinterpreted, see now Stephen V. Tracy, Ath.Mitt. 107 (1992) 303-314, with some reservations by Philippe Gauthier, "Bulletin épigraphique," REG 108 (1995) no. 441. In a review of Attic Letter-Cutters, the late D.M. Lewis quoted a literary colleague who called Tracy's title the most rebarbative he had ever seen; Lewis' review went on of course to vindicate both Tracy's methods and his results (JHS 93 [1993] 215).
  • [2] There is in fact a slight overlap into the first third of the third century in the career of the Cutter of Agora I 4266, whose work runs from c. 304 to c. 271 BC.
  • [3] To the list of supporters of the identification given by Tracy at p. 25 n. 19, add now M.J. Osborne and S.G. Byrne, A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names. Volume II. Attica (Oxford 1994) s.v. *LEWSQE/NHS (6), and Angelos P. Matthaiou, "Two New Attic Inscriptions," in Ritual, Finance, Politics. Athenian Democratic Accounts Presented to David Lewis, eds. Robin Osborne and Simon Hornblower (Oxford 1994) 178-181, publishing (at pp. 175-182) a dedication evidently made by Leosthenes' sister Philoumene. The name Leosthenes is, however, less rare than Tracy supposes (p. 25 n. 18), for LGPN II cites eighteen individuals.
  • [4] Such is the argument of S. Jaschinski, Alexander und Griechenland unter dem Eindruck der Flucht des Harpalos (Bonn 1981) 51-54, and A.B. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire. The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1988) 293-294.
  • [5] I write "may" because one of the texts Tracy cites, IG II2 369+ (M.J. Osborne, Naturalization in Athens 4 [Brussels 1983] D25), says nothing explicitly about the shipment of grain (p. 32).
  • [6] Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World (Cambridge 1988) 154-158.
  • [7] Tracy offers essentially the same argument in "Hands in Greek Epigraphy -- Demetrios of Phaleron," in Boiotia Antiqua IV. Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on Boiotian Antiquities, Boiotian (and Other) Epigraphy, ed. John M. Fossey (Gieben 1994) 151-161.
  • [8] D.M. Lewis, JHS 113 (1993) 215.