Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.11.25

Thomas Heine Nielsen (ed.), Yet More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre 4. Historia Einzelschriften 117.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner, 1997.  Pp. 258.  ISBN 3-515-07222-5 (pb).  DM 88.  

Reviewed by Jeffrey A. Rydberg-Cox, The Perseus Project, Tufts University
Word count: 1713 words

This volume is the fourth in a series of collected essays from the Copenhagen Polis Center.1 All four of these volumes contain preliminary studies for a large scale inventory of the communities that classical sources describe as poleis that will be published by Oxford University Press in 2001. These essays provide both a portrait of the current research at the CPC and the foundations for this forthcoming study. This volume contains nine essays; four address the terminology associated with the study of the polis and the remaining five survey the archaeological evidence relating to the poleis in a particular geographical area. The volume concludes with an index of sources and a general index for all four volumes of CPC papers. While a few of these essays lack focus, most of them are concise and informative studies that will be of interest primarily to professional historians and archaeologists.

In "Polis as the Generic Term for State," Mogens Hansen asks what word the ancient Greeks would have used as a generic term to describe the entity that moderns would call a state, nation, or country. For this article, H. assumes that there is a strict sense of the word polis that denotes an autonomous community with an urban center and its surrounding countryside (p. 14). H. then examines classical texts that contain a list of heterogeneous communities. He claims that these texts use the term polis to describe all of the communities on the list even when some of them are not poleis according to this strict definition. From these lists, H. concludes that, with a few exceptions, the term polis was the dominant generic term for a state, nation, or country. Finally, H. argues that the dominance of the word polis as a generic term in this sort of list allowed a more general sense of the word polis to emerge; the word polis could be used to describe communities that were not poleis in the strict sense even when they were not mentioned on this sort of list.

In the second essay, Hansen studies the semantic range of the word polis in Hekataios' Periegesis. The Periegesis poses a unique set of problems because Hekataios' use of the word polis is known, with two exceptions, only from the lexicon of Stephanus of Byzantium. Drawing upon an earlier CPC study,2 H. argues that Stephanus is a reliable guide to Hekataios' language only when he quotes Hekataios directly or paraphrases his work in such a way that it is obvious that Hekataios himself used the term polis. By taking the citations of Hekataios that meet one of these criteria, H. provides a list of seventeen Greek localities that Hekataios classifies as poleis. H. undertakes a detailed study of each of these seventeen locations and examines to what extent other sources suggest that they were poleis in the strict sense of an autonomous community of citizens living in an urban center or the surrounding countryside. H. concludes that Hekataios' use of the term polis is generally congruent with that of other Greek authors, denoting communities that can be considered poleis according to this strict definition.

Hansen's third essay, "A Typology of Dependent Poleis", synthesizes much of the CPC's earlier research into the concept of the dependent polis. Previous papers in this series have attempted "to dissociate the concept of polis from the concepts of independence and autonomia and to introduce the concept of the dependent polis" (p. 29). H. describes fourteen different types of dependent poleis identified by the CPC. He then offers one extensively documented example for each type with references to both primary sources and the previous CPC studies of the location.

In the fourth essay, Gocha Tsetskhladze surveys the settlements in the region of the Kimmerian Bosporos and briefly discusses their status in relation to other poleis in the area. T. adopts the CPC's distinction between dependent and autonomous poleis as the framework for this discussion. T. first describes the six major poleis in the region -- Pantikapaion, Nymphaion, Theodosia, Phanagoria, Hermonassa, and Kepoi -- and argues that all of them were initially established as colonies during the archaic period and subsequently emerged as independent poleis in the middle of the sixth century. T. then surveys twenty other smaller known settlements in the Kimmerian Bosporos and argues that many of them should be considered dependent poleis. These settlements were established as dependent entities either by one of the original Greek colonies or by the Bosporan kings either as secondary colonies or as emporia to facilitate trade between the Bosporan kingdom and the Scythians, Sarmatians, and Maeotians. Finally, T. traces the political changes during the fifth and fourth centuries that resulted in all of the settlements in this region becoming dependencies of Pantikapaion within the Bosporan Kingdom.

In the fifth essay, Hansen discusses the use and meaning of the term emporion in the archaic and classical periods. H. focuses on the distinction in modern scholarship between emporia and poleis. He argues that these two terms are not mutually exclusive but rather that most of the communities described by ancient sources as emporia are also referred to as poleis. H. points out that of the nineteen settlements that classical sources describe as emporia, eleven are also described as poleis either in the same or another classical source and four are described as poleis in a later source that quotes a classical source. The evidence for three of the remaining four named emporia is ambiguous, leaving only one named emporion that is not also described as a polis. H. continues to argue, however, that the distinction between emporia and poleis is not meaningless. Classical authors draw two distinctions between these terms: to suggest the relative importance of the emporion within the community and to describe the status of a community in relation to the other poleis in the area.

John Hind, in the sixth essay, attempts to locate the four communities that Herodotus describes as emporia in the Pontic section of book four. Herodotus provides names for two of these emporia while he mentions the other two anonymously. He first argues that the Borystheneiteôn emporion described at 4.17 and the Borysthenes emporion described at 4.24 must be the same location in Olbia. Second, H. claims that the emporion Kremnoi described at 4.20 may be located at the mouth of Lake Maeotis on the site of the later Pantikapaion. Hind finally treats the two unnamed emporia in Herodotus, suggesting that one must also be Kremnoi and proposing several possible locations and identities for the other. Hind concludes with the assertion that Herodotus does not consider the word emporion to be synonymous with the word polis nor does he consider emporia to be proto-colonies. Rather, emporia were either communities of a distinct type established for the purpose of inter-regional trade or poleis oriented towards trade to such an extent that they could be described as emporia.

In "Some Problems in Polis Identification in the Chalkidic Peninsula," Pernille Flensted-Jensen attempts to answer three separate questions about the poleis in the Chalkidic Peninsula; whether there were one, two, or three poleis called Apollonia on the peninsula, were the Skapsaians of the Athenian tribute lists the inhabitants of Kampsa, and are archaic coins inscribed skith(aio)n from the town of Kithas. This essay, little more than a collection of brief notes, adequately draws on both philological and archaeological evidence in its attempt to answer these questions.

In the eighth essay, Thomas Nielsen examines the political, ethnic, and geographic concept of Triphylia. N. begins by examining Polybios' description of Triphylia as a geographic location on the Peloponnesian coast between Elis and Messenia. He then considers when and how this concept came into existence. He argues that in the fifth century, there was no political or ethnic unity among the poleis in this area because they were dependents of the Eleians who, presumably, tried to suppress any independent identity. After the Spartans freed these cities from Eleian hegemony, these communities formed an alliance that lasted for at least thirty years, perhaps until they joined the Arkadian Confederacy. During this period, these communities developed an ethnic identity for themselves based on their descent from the mythic figure Triphylos. These poleis also formed a political identity based on a federation of the different cities while also maintaining, to some extent, their own distinct political identities. This combination of ethnic and political identity produced a geographic identity that survived until Polybios' day even after the political and ethnic conceptions of Triphylia had disappeared.

In the final essay, Jeannette Forsén and Björn Forsén examine the archaeology of the polis of Asea and discuss how archaeological investigation can contribute to our understanding of the history of a polis. The discussions of Asea in written sources are rare, appearing only in Xenophon and Pausanias. Fortunately, sections of this polis and the surrounding area have been excavated and the area has been the subject of a surface survey. F & F draw upon this information to try and determine when Asea emerged as a polis, where its inhabitants lived, and its probable size and population. By examining the boundaries of the community and the date when sanctuaries began to emerge outside the borders of the polis, F & F suggest that Asea may have emerged as a polis sometime during the seventh or sixth century. Relying more heavily on surface survey data, F & F suggest that many of the inhabitants of this polis lived in the city proper but that there were also a few (at least two) small settlements in the countryside that were inhabited throughout the year. Finally, F & F examine the topography and surface survey data from the region to determine that Asea must have occupied a territory of about sixty square kilometers with a total urban population of 2,000 to 3,000 and a rural population of approximately 500.

The an index of sources cited and a general index to all four volumes of papers from the CPC in this series are particularly valuable. Many subjects, such as the concept of the dependent polis, are treated in several essays located in different volumes. These master indices will, thus, be extremely useful to scholars wishing to consult the work of the CPC about a particular topic or geographic region.


1.   Whitehead, D., ed. From Political Architecture to Stephanus Byzantius. Vol. 87. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre 1. Historia Einzelschriften. Stuttgart: 1994. (Reviewed in BMCR 95.12.2) Hansen, M.H. and K. Raaflaub, eds. Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Vol. 95. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre 2. Historia Einzelschriften. Stuttgart: 1995. (Reviewed in BMCR 96.10.11) Hansen, M.H. and K. Raaflaub, eds. More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Vol. 108. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre 3. Historia Einzelschriften. Stuttgart: 1996.
2.   Whitehead, D. "Site Classification and Reliability in Stephanus of Byzantium" in Whitehead, D., ed. From Political Architecture to Stephanus Byzantius. Vol. 87. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre 1. Historia Einzelschriften. Stuttgart: (1994) 99-124.

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