Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.9.21

Carol L. Lawton, Attic Document Reliefs: Art and Politics in Ancient Athens. Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN-0-19-814955-7.

Reviewed by Kevin Clinton, Cornell University,

Reliefs that accompany inscribed Athenian documents (mostly decrees but also other types of documents) constitute a precious resource for art historians and all students of Athenian politics and religion. The reliefs whose documents preserve dates provide us with a body of precisely dated images that reflect the content of their documents, and even the less precisely dated images have great value. Thus this most complete and rigorous treatment of the subject, equipped with excellent photographs, is especially welcome.1

In the Introduction L. defines the genre of document relief, describes previous scholarship, and points out the importance of the reliefs: In addition to providing a body of dated Greek sculpture, "They constitute the only genre of Greek art that explicitly and consistently refers to contemporary events in the political sphere. And they do so in a rich allegorical language that regularly depicts deities and personifications, including the only certain surviving representations of Demos, Boule, and Demokratia, as a means of conveying the complex interactions of political and religious aspects of Athenian society." Taking into account recent historical, art historical, and epigraphical scholarship, her goal is to "re-examine the imagery and meaning of the genre as a whole for the light they shed upon the art and history of ancient Athens."

Chapter 1, "The Stelai," describes the types of documents that received reliefs (mainly decrees, alliances, and other documents concerning foreign affairs), the format of the reliefs, their material, polychromy, location, duplication, history, and function. In Chapter 2, "Iconography," L. discusses three main topics: relationship of reliefs to their documents, types of relief (i.e. according the types of document on which reliefs occur), and dramatis personae (gods, heroes, personifications, animals and other symbols). In Chapter 3, "Style and Chronology," she deals with the sculptors and their workshops, the stylistic development of the reliefs, and their usefulness as comparanda in stylistic analysis. Two catalogs follow: Catalogue A, "The Dated Reliefs," nos. 1-62, and B, "The Undated Reliefs," nos. 63-187. There are four indices (museums, inscriptions, sculpture catalogs, and general). All the reliefs are illustrated (except one, no. 170, whose current location is unknown), with photographs generally of ample size and high quality. (The list of illustrations precedes the "Introduction.") Each photograph is conveniently labeled with the catalog number of the relief, thus enabling the reader to locate any photograph easily.

By document relief L. means "reliefs carved above public records inscribed on free-standing marble stelai" (1). (Though she does not say so, she obviously excludes reliefs that consist only of crowns.) The vast majority of the reliefs depict human and divine figures but occasionally just an animal (e.g., no. 21, a horse) or objects (e.g., no. 177, military equipment: helmet, greaves, shield, etc.). I assume therefore that one document not included, viz. SEG XXVIII 103, meets the criteria for inclusion but was overlooked: between two decrees of the deme of Eleusis of 332/1 B.C. concerning the cult of Heracles there is a relief consisting of a crown surrounding what seems to be a two-handled lebes on a high stand.

The state decrees, the most numerous class of document accompanied by relief, are predominantly concerned in the fifth century with foreign affairs (by my count, fifteen decrees out of twenty-three certainly or probably dated to the fifth century of which the content can be identified), and nine of them honor foreigners, especially proxenoi or benefactors. (L. glosses proxenoi as "ambassadors," incorrectly; the modern "consul" would be a closer, though not completely accurate match: a proxenos was a citizen of a foreign city who helped Athenians visiting that city, and who might look after certain Athenian interests; an ambassador, or presbeus, was usually an Athenian citizen sent by Athens to represent her interests in negotiations with foreign cities.) Foreign affairs and honorands also dominate the fourth-century decrees.

Honorary decrees of demes and phylai form the next most frequent classes, followed by accounts and inventories, decrees concerning cults, and finally a very small number of public dedications and miscellanea. This frequency of document type does not seem to be significantly different from what is found among epigraphic documents in general.

Concerning the chronological range of these documents, from either the mid fifth century or 427/6 to very early in the third century, when they die out (but for a small resurgence in the second half of the second century), L. has important contributions to make, especially concerning the beginning of the series. Dating fifth-century documents in the absence of certain evidence (e.g., an archon's name) has occasioned long and at times heated debate. Some scholars have relied heavily on epigraphic criteria, such as the three-barred sigma, for dating documents before 446; others have tended to discount such criteria. The first securely dated document relief in this series (no. 1) occurs above a decree of 427/6. But the document "Regulations for Miletos" (no. 63) has been dated as early as 450/49, "Honors for the Sons of Iphiades" (no. 64) as early as the 440's, and the decree concerning Messenians or Sicilian Messana (no. 66) to the mid-fifth century. What help do the reliefs provide for determining the dates of these documents? On stylistic grounds, according to L., the relief of no. 66 belongs in the 420's, in line with Mattingly's association of it with an alliance between Athens and Messana in 426. Although there is nothing left of the sculpture of no. 64, the anta border suggests to L. a date late in the century. Too little is left of the relief on no. 63, but its isolation now at the middle of the century arouses suspicion. L. offers an eminently reasonable prediction about the manner of the solution: "After twenty-five years of inconclusive debate, it seems probable that the epigraphical and historical controversy concerning the dates of the decrees in question will be resolved only with the introduction of new evidence" (20). As chance would have it, this was in large part fulfilled while her manuscript was in press. In this case the main epigraphical criterion that seemed to call for an earlier date was the three-barred sigma, which apparently went out of existence around 446. M.H. Chambers, R. Gallucci, and P. Spanos, "Athens' Alliance with Egesta in the Year of Antiphon," ZPE 83 (1990) 38-63 (see also M.H. Chambers, ZPE 98 [1993] 171-174), presented a strong case that such a sigma occurred in 418/7 but did not quite convince David Lewis, the editor of IG I3. But now H. Mattingly, "New Light on the Athenian Standards Decree (ATL II, D 14)," Klio 75 (1993) 99-102, discussing a fragment of the Standards Decree from Hamaxitos, has proved conclusively that the date of the Standards Decree was the year 425/4. A copy of the Standards Decree found on Cos happens to be written in Attic script and contains three-barred sigmas. This David Lewis found convincing (per epist.). (Of course, three-barred sigma continues well into the fourth century as the sign for the stater [e.g., IG II2 1401.27, 1400.43], with the latest example [known to me] occuring in the late 330's [IG II2 1496.54, 57, 61, 206]; but proponents of its use as a dating criterion would presumably argue that this is a different domain and therefore irrelevant.) It is hardly possible now to take the mere presence of a three-barred sigma as a certain or probable indication of a date before ca. 446. Therefore, given the high degree of reliability in dating fifth-century reliefs by their style (see below, "On the Accuracy of Dating by Style"), L.'s inclination to date nos. 63, 64, and 66 to the 420's and to see the start of document reliefs in that decade should be accepted.

The section on "Function" takes up the question why only a small fraction of Athenian documents have reliefs, i.e. what determined that some documents received reliefs while most did not. L. argues persuasively against the old view that the document reliefs were privately commissioned, but less successfully, in my view, that the reliefs were sometimes privately financed additions, at least in part, to officially commissioned publications. One strong positive argument she brings to bear against the theory of private commission is that at least four and probably as many as six documents were found at the location where the text prescribed that the secretary set them up. They ought therefore to be the official copies, for it would not make sense to set up both an official and a private copy in the same place. With regard to the cost, the formulae in the documents, she notes, tell us that while stelai with reliefs are often among the most expensive, there is no clear correspondence between stelai with reliefs and higher costs. She is surely on the right track in urging that the secretary or other such official was primarily responsible for the presence of the reliefs, through his negotiations with the workshop.2 But we should bear in mind that the contracts for inscribing documents were most likely put out to bid, like so many other jobs offered by the state, and if a secretary desired a relief and could get it within the authorized price, he did so (or perhaps sometimes a workshop made a bid that included a relief, within the authorized price, even though none was requested, and that "extra" was instrumental in their gaining the contract). So I suspect that the small number of reliefs has less to do with subject matter (L., p. 27, seems to imply that it played a significant role) -- the same subjects occur in a very large number of documents without reliefs -- but much more to do with the fact that it was often difficult to procure a relief and keep the price within the amount authorized for the document. Furthermore, I doubt we can completely rule out private donations to the cost of the job, that is, supplements to what the authorizing body paid. The documents themselves tell us only what an official body authorized as payment, not what was actually paid. Indeed, in some instances payment of the "inscription," i.e. the stele including the relief (see note 1), is either demanded of interested parties (nos. 7 and 29) or invited (nos. 54 and 127).3 No. 54 (IG II2 448) is particularly instructive. The treasurer is required to provide 50 drachmas for the "inscription" of two stelai (lines 85-87), but "friends and relatives" of the honorand are invited to "join in supervising the inscription," SUNEPIMELHQH=NAI TH=S A)NAGRAFH=S, which certainly suggests negotiations with the secretary and the opportunity to contribute to the cost. We may also consider the cost specified in relief documents in which interested parties are not required or invited to contribute to the inscription. According to my count, eleven of these documents mention a maximum cost,4 twelve do not,5 and in four cases it is unclear whether a cost was specified.6 It is interesting that seven of the twelve that do not list a specific expense come from demes or private corporations7 (in the case of state decrees not listing expense, presumably the law governing maximum expense applied). Only one deme document with a very modest relief (SEG XXVIII 103, not included in this collection), specifies cost, and this is consistent with the rare appearance of publication cost in deme documents in general. In fact, in one case (no. 43 = SEG XXVIII 102), the treasurer of Eitea is ordered to pay "whatever [the cost amounts to]." Thus one gets the impression that the demes were rather relaxed about the cost of stelai, and in these circumstances it was probably easier for an official to procure a relief even without an honorand's contribution. At any rate, it seems safe to conclude that an official in charge of publication sometimes procured a relief on his own through negotiation with workshops, sometimes with the help of contributions from interested parties. It is probably no accident, therefore, that the reliefs disappear in the very difficult economic environment of the third century but reappear in the relatively prosperous second half of the second century, although, as L. points out (22), the sumptuary law of Demetrios of Phaleron must have affected the workshops and probably also played a role in this decline.

The location of the document reliefs roughly follows, so far as I can see, the same pattern as documents without reliefs (L. does not address the question whether the pattern for placement of document reliefs differs markedly from the placement of documents without reliefs). The Acropolis, the site of most document reliefs, was the usual place for documents that concerned foreign affairs, foreigners, all sorts of honors, and certain treasuries and sanctuaries. The Agora contained relatively few document reliefs. In the category of "Other [i.e. non-Acropolis] Athenian sanctuaries" there is, L. points out, a significant number of reliefs, as also in the category "The demes of the countryside." (Curiously, the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis -- Athens great contribution to the Greek world in the sphere of religion -- is not included among "Athenian" sanctuaries but appears in "The demes of the countryside." Sanctuaries like those at Eleusis and Brauron, however, were very much Athenian sanctuaries -- they were administered by the polis -- whereas others, administered only by the demes, can correctly be called sanctuaries of the demes.)

The survey in Chapter 2, "Iconography," abundantly demonstrates that "the primary concern of the sculptors was to convey in symbolic pictorial terms the specific content of their inscriptions" (63). This chapter is especially rich in observations on the qualities of the reliefs and the compositional patterns that accompany the various document types. L. always tries to define relief types for the figures represented and to identify, where possible, statues from which the types were derived, though the relief usually shows considerable independence of its original model. Among her more interesting observations: She sees the frequent use, in the second half of the fourth century, of the figures of Demos (which first appears just before the middle of the century) and Boule as a sign of the increased professionalism and self-consciousness of the democracy; Athena was now becoming an inadequate symbol. In the fourth century reliefs representing foreign states tend to focus not on Athena, as earlier, but "on the honorands or the states they represent, depicting their symbols or patron deities, flattering them with references to their achievements, or characterizing them as sovereign and majestic" (32). In reliefs of alliances dexiosis becomes less common. There is also more reference in the reliefs to the specific activities for which subjects were honored, probably "an indication of the wide range of activities for which honours were now being awarded" (33). The artists showed considerable invention and originality in the ways they represented these activities and honors.

L.'s interpretation of Demos in two reliefs, one found in Acharnae (no. 147), the other around Aixone or Euonymon (no. 176), as representing "the deme's version of Demos" strikes me as less likely than that these documents are simply not decrees of the demes but of the Athenian state, and Demos is, as usual, the Athenian people. Copies of state decrees were regularly set up in demes when they concerned local affairs (e.g., no. 3 [IG I3 79] and IG I3 78 at Eleusis, Hesperia 34 [1965] 124-130 in the area of Teithras). L. mentions that in honorary deme decrees Athena is absent, and the crowning is done usually by the deity of the deme's major cult. We should probably add that the crowning was also sometimes done by the deity relevant to the honor. At Eleusis the deme's major cult (i.e. the cult controlled by the deme) was that of Dionysus. As mentioned above, the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore was controlled by the Athenian state, but what an honorand did for the deme would often also benefit the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, hence their presence in some reliefs. The fact that the children of the deme were benefited by the honorand of no. 127 (IG II2 1187) may have been a principal motive (in addition to his other benefactions) for setting up the decree next to the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and having the relief depict these children-loving goddesses8 crowning the honorand. The honorand of no. 152 (= IG II2 1193), a peripolarch, ensured that the garrison of Eleusis was adequately manned, thus benefiting both deme and sanctuary. On the other hand, had IG II2 1186, honoring a man who had done much to maintain the Eleusinian Dionysia, been equipped with a relief, it would be a great surprise if Dionysus were not included in it.

The author committed a rare iconographical lapse in connection with no. 3 (IG I3 79), the relief on a decree of 422/1 concerning construction of a bridge over one of the Rheitoi.9 In the relief the pair Demeter and Kore stand on the left, a male figure and Athena on the right. The latter face each other; the male, dressed in a himation, holds something (originally painted, probably a scepter) in his left hand, while his right hand, lowered, barely touches Athena's (her left hand held a painted spear). L. takes him to be Triptolemos, resembling "in age and gesture" the youth in the Great Eleusinian Relief. This is hardly possible, since the iconography is strikingly different. The male figure in the document relief, fully dressed, is practically as tall as Athena, whereas the naked boy in the Great Relief does not even reach the level of the goddesses' shoulders. The boy's iconography is that of Ploutos.10 Triptolemos appears extremely rarely without his famous wagon, and so is unlikely to be the figure in the decree relief. As the cult of the Mysteries was served by the city's construction of the bridge, represented symbolically by Athena, we should probably expect to see in the male figure a representative of the Mysteries (as L. correctly observes). Eumolpos, the progenitor of the Eumolpidai, the priestly clan which had primary control over the cult, suits both the role and the iconography far better than Triptolemos, whose task was more limited, namely to distribute the grainseed and to announce the Mysteries to the Greek world (not to the Athenians).11 We might also think of Hippothon, the eponymous hero of Hippothontis, the phyle to which Eleusis and other demes in the vicinity belonged (he had a shrine at Eleusis), thus symbolizing the territory of Eleusis and environs; but a representative of the Mysteries seems slightly preferable.

Chapter 3, "Style and Chronology," is not a subject that I am competent to judge, but the results are in significant ways consistent with new information that now provides dates for some of the "undated" decrees (see below, "On the Accuracy of Dating by Style"). None of the sculptors of the reliefs can be identified with a known Athenian sculptor, and only a few of the better fifth-century reliefs might have emanated from the better workshops. In the fourth century the quality of the reliefs progressively declines, and the genre adopts its own stylistic features, distinct from architectural sculpture and sculpture in the round. "Accompanying the decline in quality in the fourth century is an increasing degree of generalization, making it more difficult to characterize stylistic change over short periods of time, with the result that while reliefs of the fifth and early fourth century can be dated to the decade with some assurance, the dates of reliefs of the later fourth century are often less precise and more controversial" (67). In contrast to the originality that the sculptors displayed in iconography (especially in the fourth century), in matters of style they were conservative, not trend-setters or innovators, though the fifth-century artists tended to respond more quickly and consistently to changes in style than those of later periods. In using document reliefs as comparanda in stylistic analysis, therefore, this needs to be taken into account, and one must proceed with due caution (more below, "On the Accuracy of Dating by Style").

The second half of the work consists of two catalogues, "The Dated Reliefs" (nos. 1-62) and "The Undated Reliefs" (nos. 63-187). In the first category the reliefs can be dated precisely to the year (except in a couple of cases), usually by means of the archon's name. The second category is not so hopelessly "undated" as its title might suggest; the content of the text sometimes yields a reasonably accurate date. Each lemma of the catalog starts with the subject of the document, corpus number or main publication (a very helpful feature), current location, inventory number, and date; then comes a physical description of the stone with measurements; this is followed by a description of the text and the representation and by interpretation; appended to each entry is a full bibliography (epigraphical bibliography is included only if it bears on the main subject and the relief). This arrangement is extremely helpful. It would have been nice to have, in addition, references to the author's significant discussions of each relief in the preceding Chapters 1-3.

Since the second fascicule of IG I3 appeared in 1994, containing addenda, the reader will need to add the bibliographic and other information given there to what is given here in the catalogs. In the bibliographies L. gives plain references to the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum without indicating which works are cited in these bibliographical entries of SEG ; it would have been more helpful to give the references to the works themselves (with a cross reference in parentheses to SEG) and so spare the reader the necessity of always having to consult SEG in order to obtain this information. "On the Accuracy of Dating by Style"

While this book was in press (or slightly before), new information came to light that allows some of the reliefs in the "undated" category to be given precise dates or at least more accurate dates than previously. Thus we are in a position to test to some extent the author's use of stylistic analysis in dating.

In the heading of no. 68 (IG I3 91) L. gives its date as "ca. 420." In IG I3 91 David Lewis, with the concurrence of B.D. Meritt and M. F. McGregor, gave the date as "c. a. 416/5." In his commentary Lewis notes: "Titulum a. 426-1 (1961), a. 422/1 (1968), a. 425/4 (1974) vix recte tribuit Mattingly." In her commentary, L., after noting that in this relief the figure of Athena "so closely resembles the Athena of the Rheitos bridge relief of 422/1 (no. 3) that they could be by the same hand, but the drapery of the other figures in [this] relief is less viscous ...," concludes: "A date of 420 or shortly afterward is most probable." That is quite good. The actual date is 422/1, viz. Mattingly's attribution in 1968.12 The sculptor, perhaps the same sculptor that did no. 3 early in 422/1, was adopting stylistic change a bit faster than L. reckoned. This relief should now be numbered 3a.

S.V. Tracy, Athenian Democracy in Transition: Attic Letter-Cutters of 340 to 290 B.C., Berkeley 1995, has identified the letter cutters of some of the relief documents. The hand of no. 127 (IG II2 1187) Tracy has dubbed "Cutter of IG II2 1187" (Tracy, 132-135), whose known dates are 326/5-318. F.W. Mitchel, "Derkylos of Hagnous and the Date of IG II2 1187," Hesperia 33 (1964) 337-351, showed that the honorand, the general Derkylos son of Antikles of Hagnous, ought to be the same person as the homonymous general of 319/8. L. rejects this date: "The figure types, ... their proportions, and heavy, sober drapery ..., as well as the most reliable evidence for the floruit of Derkylos, favour a date in the middle to third quarter of the fourth century ..." (137). She does not say why Derkylos could not have been general in 319/8 at an approximate age of seventy-two years, a date later than her range by only six years. The new information about the hand reaffirms Mitchel's date. This relief should now be numbered 53a.

The archon of no. 155 (IG II2 1202), Theophrastos, could belong to 340/39 or 313/2, for the name occurs for either year. T.B.L. Webster chose the earlier year largely on the basis of style and types of masks depicted. L. opted for the later date as more likely on account of the drapery and "the emphatic swing in the satyr's stance" (149). Tracy, 96-100, has identified the mason as the "Cutter of IG II2 244," whose other known dates are 338/7-ca. 320. Thus the earlier date is the more likely.

This date for no. 155 demands that the same date, viz. 340/39, be assigned to no. 154 (SEG XXXVI 186), which is also from the year of this Theophrastos (it has the same proposer and demarch as no. 155). L., however, chooses "313/2 (?)," because of "the stiff drapery and poorly articulated anatomy," though noting that "its frame with flattened anta capitals" resembles those of earlier reliefs.

Tracy, 100, identified the cutter of no. 102 (IG II2 1238) also with the "Cutter of IG II2 244" and dates this document ca. 330. L.'s date is rather earlier, viz. second quarter of the century. On the other hand, her date for no. 143 (SEG XXI 519), third quarter of the fourth century, coincides reasonably well with the known dates for its cutter, 334/3-314/3 (Tracy, 120-126, "The Cutter of EM 12807").

This, of course, represents only a small sample, but it confirms the difficulties that L. described in Chapter 3 concerning stylistic dating of the later fourth-century reliefs and tends to suggest, in addition, that the difficulties are somewhat greater than she imagined.

The difficulties of stylistic dating for the later fourth-century reliefs do not affect the fact that this is an outstanding work of scholarship, very handsomely produced, which everyone interested in Greek sculpture and Athenian history and culture will want to own.


  • [1] This category of relief has recently been treated also by M. Meyer, Die griechischen Urkundenreliefs (AM-BH 13), Berlin, 1989, but Meyer's collection, while encompassing a much larger field, is not as complete for Attica, includes some votive reliefs among the document reliefs, and its exposition, commentary, and photographs are less adequate.
  • [2] It has sometimes been argued that reliefs were privately financed because they are not mentioned in publication formulae. Although L. does not specifically counter this argument, it is refuted by no. 156 (IG II2 2496), a private rental contract, in which the renter is required to pay the cost of "inscription," A)NAGRA/YAI. Since this resulted in a stele with a relief, obviously "inscription," anagraphein/anagraphe in decrees, indicates the entire cost of producing the stele including the relief. The secretary in state decrees was responsible for the "inscription," therefore also for the relief.
  • [3] Note that in no. 127 (IG II2 1187) the cost of the stele is not given, but it is to be shared by the demarch and the fathers of the honorands (E)PIMELHQH=NAI TH=S A)NAGRAFH=S) while the demarch is responsible for the "inscription" (A)NAGRA/YAI); in this case the fathers' donation surely played a role in procuring the relief.
  • [4] Nos. 18, 20, 25, 30, 35, 38, 39, 45, 86, 122, and SEG XXVIII 103.
  • [5] Nos. 10, 12, 43, 47, 61, 70, 95, 152, 154, 155; two more, nos. 23 and 177, omit the publication formula altogether.
  • [6] Nos. 11, 59, 84, 128.
  • [7] Nos. 43, 47, 61, 152, 154, 155, 177.
  • [8] On Demeter and Kore and children cf. K. Clinton, The Sacred Officials of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Philadelphia 1974, 98-114; Myth and Cult: the Iconography of the Eleusinian Mysteries, Stockholm 1992, 49-51, 91-94.
  • [9] Although L. states these lakes were at the border of Athens and Eleusis, this is impossible. Athens included Eleusis; the polis extended in this direction to its border with Megara. Paus. 1.38.1, who mentions a border here "of old" between the Eleusinians and "the other Athenians" does not refer to the historical period and does not say "the Athenians."
  • [10] K. Clinton, op. cit., 39-55.
  • [11] Ibid., 75-76.
  • [12] A unpublished decree of 422/1, reported by A. Matthaiou, reveals that the secretary is identical to that of IG I3 91; see bibliography cited at IG I3 91 Add.