Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.12.16

Angelos Chaniotis, Die Verträge zwischen kretischen Poleis in der hellenistischen Zeit. Heidelberger althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien 24.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996.  Pp. xiv, 523,  7 figs.  ISBN 3-515-06827-9.  DM 148.  

Reviewed by Kostas Buraselis, History and Archaeology, University of Athens
Word count: 3214 words

Post-classical ancient Crete, for a long time the poorly frequented backhouse at the opposite end of the splendid Minoan facade, seems nowadays to come more and more into its rights. Apart from various, dispersed smaller studies, the bibliography had been already enriched in the nineties by no less than three books exclusively or largely dealing with such questions: Sylvia Kreuter's Aussenbeziehungen kretischer Gemeinden zu den hellenistischen Staaten im 3. und 2. Jh. v. Chr. (1992); Stylianos Spyridakis' collection of articles Cretica: Studies on Ancient Crete (1992); more recently, G.W.M. Harrison's The Romans and Crete (1994). Chaniotis (Ch.) ably and wisely chose to invest his labour on another section of this later period: he undertook the collection, new edition and historical commentary on all treaties between Cretan poleis (and quasi-poleis) of the Hellenistic period, mostly known in the form of contemporary inscriptions and far outnumbering the related records of any other Greek area. Ch. rightly assumed that the main traits of Cretan city history in that period should be reflected in and interpretatively recoverable from this array of evidence (seventy-four cases of treaties between individual cities or cities and dependent communities, eight cases of wider alliances of important cities). Moreover, he has actually conceived and meticulously executed his analytical plan as the necessary groundwork for what constituted his primary goal: the systematic presentation of the contents of these treaties as regards the internal organization of Hellenistic Crete and their proper integration into the general political and socio-economic history of the island in the same period.

Ch. has chosen to place his synthesis first and let the detailed analysis of each treaty follow. So the first part of the book (pp. 11-56) offers a clear-cut, concise presentation of the main features of Hellenistic Crete and its political history; a second, longer one (pp. 59-175) is devoted to a sort of systematic categorization and synthesis of the information included in the texts of the treaties; in the last one (pp. 179-451, something more than half the book) he edits the Greek texts themselves with full apparatus criticus, a German translation and the specialized comments that did not find an appropriate place in the preceding syntheses. In all, we have here a genuine historical work resting on an extensive and solid epigraphical foundation. There are also a very useful appendix on the development of letter-forms in the epigraphic texts (the dating of Hellenistic inscriptions still greatly and unavoidably relying in part on such criteria), an extensive bibliography and detailed indices of names, places (ancient and modern), Greek terms and sources.

After some methodological explanations Ch. prefaces his first part with an interesting notice (pp. 6-7) on the Greeks' evaluation of relations among Cretan cities and the meaning of the term συγκρητισμός: Cretans seem to have been more Greek than the average ancient Greeks in being notorious for continual inter-city strife, but the origin of the latter term should be connected1 with historical situations when they proved able to set such dissent aside to face in common an external aggressor. As we know of no such specific incident Ch. is even sceptical about the etymological connection of the term with Κρήτη.2 He goes on to trace that dominant line of Cretan interstate reality (one could say: the negative of the treaties) against what may appear as the basic historical factors/aspects (historische Voraussetzungen) of the development in the Hellenistic age. He attributes a fundamental role to geographical and economic considerations, in particular the traditionally great number of Cretan poleis (in itself a result of geography but also a telling inclination to local independence), the concomitant density of settlements and the variously insufficient Lebensraum each city possessed. Characteristic is the example of animal husbandry, an outstanding form of productive activity on Crete, which in connection with the problems of transhumance naturally led to transgressing individual city territories and caused confrontations. On the other side, indications are collected and evaluated that Hellenistic Crete experienced a population increase that made the problems more acute. This accords well not only with the proliferation of land disputes and the efforts to settle these in many of the treaties studied but also with the otherwise well-documented extensive emigration of Cretans as mercenaries, especially to the various royal employers of the Hellenistic world.

Ch. gives this the preponderance in steering the course of development to natural factors. He explains in other sections why he regards internal political and constitutional-ideological aspects as well as the ramifications of Hellenistic Crete with the wider stage of Hellenistic policies as almost negligible parameters: as regards the first point, he correctly demonstrates that the Cretan poleis do not seem to have lost their basically aristocratic character in this age, so that such an ideological level in inter-city tensions is very unlikely, while the influence of the Hellenistic "Great Powers" and their interests on Crete in the relations between the Cretan cities themselves (a point once highly valued by H. Van Effenterre) seems to have worked primarily through the collaboration of these foreign powers with preexisting alliances among Cretan cities. Ch. is certainly right to stress the importance of those "objective", in a narrow sense apolitical, factors behind the treaties among Cretan cities and the problems of land use and population the latter also reflect. However, one cannot escape the impression of a possible undervaluation of the certainly more difficult to detect, yet probably no less important constituents of internal and external politics of the Cretan cities. It is perhaps simply our ignorance about how often the willingness of a polis to enter some sort of alliance with another polis was interlinked with a common orientation of their policy towards extra-Cretan powers or eventual polarisations inside the cities themselves that hides the whole truth. In the war of Lyttos e.g.(one of the few cases where we have something more than a skeletal knowledge of internal Cretan problems from an ancient historian3) the radical division of the Gortynians into the neoteroi and their opposed presbyteroi (both of unknown exact political connotation) as well as the ready alignment of the two directly corresponding, opposite groups of Cretan cities with the Hellenic League of Philip V and Aetolia respectively may illustrate the point. Also the demographic boom in Hellenistic Crete that Ch.'s reconstruction itself presupposes needs some explanation: it does not seem improbable to seek an important part of it in the wealth due to the distinguished activities of Cretans as pirates and mercenaries during the period in question.4 However, both these external Cretan occupations cannot be reasonably separated from the international network of the period, leaving much room for connections with the policies of Hellenistic states outside Crete. So the exact historical background of all these treaties may be after all more subtly stratified than Ch. is inclined to conclude.

Next comes a precious epitome of Cretan political history in the Hellenistic period, where some of Ch.'s most interesting conclusions from the whole study of the treaties offer a fresh, plausible viewpoint. One of the main, and most controversial, problems has always been where we should place the birth of that Cretan variant of Greek federalism, the "League of the Kretaieis" (κοινὸν τῶν Κρηταίων) or simply "the Kretaieis". Ch. bases his reexamination of the relevant data on a very sensible remark: the term Κρηταιεῖς itself must be a terminological invention to avoid the standard form Κρῆται (Cretans), and so be specifically connected not with Crete and its inhabitants in general but especially with their form of federal organization, the Koinon. No other case of a Greek League seems to be known where another term would have been substituted for the original name of the ethnos. So it seems sound to postulate the existence of the Koinon at least as early as the first mention of the Kretaieis: as this happens in the decree of Chremonides (Syll.3 434, 267 B.C.), we win a new terminus ante quem for the beginnings of the League. Now, already at that eve of the Chremonidean War, the Kretaieis were no longer united, being obviously split into two groups, one pro-Spartan (and so pro-Ptolemaic) and one apparently pro-Macedonian (all attempts to specify the members of the two groups remain hypothetical). Ch.'s second fundamental observation should be right: the Koinon does not need to have been at any time an organization of all Cretan cities. The present evidence strongly suggests that it was rather the result of political collaboration between the two protagonists (and habitual rivals) of Cretan city life, Knosos and Gortyn, followed by their respective allies on the island. When these two primary "alliance systems" were able to join in a common course, the Koinon was allowed to exist. When their interests went apart, the life of the League must have been suspended or at least crippled.5 Ch. reconstructs on this basis the political development of the island from the beginnings of the third century B.C. to the end of the last wars in eastern Crete (ca. 110 B.C.), concluded through Roman arbitration and so gently presaging the provincialisation from the next century on. He is especially right in discerning a phase of leadership of Gortyn over the Koinon in the first half of the second century B.C., succeeded in this post again by Knosos, which seems to retain it (despite further local wars) down into the final resistance against Rome. Conciseness is here combined with an excellent synthesis of all main facts and problems, bibliographically (as everywhere in the book) fully up-to-date, while we often get a better arrangement and/or interpretation of data as e.g. in the case of the intricate evolution of the conflict between Lato and Olus (51ff., contra M.W.B. Bowsky).

The concentrated discussion of the various sorts, forms, clauses and other usual elements of the treaties in the next part shows Ch. at his best. Many major and minor questions are elucidated while the discussions are often of relevance for similar phenomena of the whole Greek world. After a first categorization of their formal parts (63-86), produces typically "arid" material, many penetrating conclusions as e.g. on the gods to which the oaths foreseen in the treaties were sworn (68ff.): the importance of purely local divinities increases during the period because of accentuated local patriotism but also their frequent worship at, and so close connection with, the limits of each city territory. Another chapter treats systematically the categories of alliances (bilateral, under a hegemonial leadership, finally the Koinon itself) concluded through or implied in the treaties (87-100). Special attention is given to the institutions of isopoliteia (with good remarks i.a. on the conditions of its securing an actual citizenship in the "partner city") and sympoliteia, some Cretan variant of which (communities, as e.g. Lato by Kamara, conceived and organized as off-shoots of a certain polis, distinct from the main settlement and partly independent, is lucidly brought out (101-108). The treaties of isopoliteia usually include economic clauses on enktesis etc. that are next dealt with in detail (109-122). One of the best points in this chapter is the demonstration of transhumance as a central problem of many Cretan cities the citizens of which gained through isopoliteia an outlet of alternative pasture on the territory of their treaty partners according to the season. Ch. ingeniously interprets the term εὐνομία of relevant passages as the special care for policing such migrations of herds and herdsmen, further as the team of city magistrates responsible for it. However, he generally assumes a possible inequality in some of these economic privileges between the cities entering an isopoliteia: this position is less convincing, as e.g. when he tries (116, cf. 187f., 259f.) to show that the term ἐπινομία/ἐπινομή does not refer to the equal liberation from pasture taxes for both citizens and isopolitai but means only a privilege of the latter. Although there must have always remained room for practical inequality in such agreements, resulting e.g. from an eventual demographic difference between the treaty partners, it seems difficult to accept such a conventional acceptance of the isopolitai as super-privileged citizens. The fact that such a relation of isopoliteia finally might not suffice to satisfy the needs of the stronger partner and be succeeded by his outright conquest of the weaker one (as in the case of Kydonia and Apollonia6) also suggests a basic equality in isopoliteia.

Another purely Cretan characteristic in these latter treaties was the regular care for fostering a climate of friendship and familiarity between the citizens of both sides. Ch. explains (123-133) in lucid detail how this worked and was, quite appropriately, linked with the education of the ephebes by their polis: an oath to preserve such treaties was yearly sworn by the respective group of ephebes absolving their education; the text of the treaty was officially read out by the kosmoi of each city at annual festivals also connected with the institution of ephebeia; and the participation in common festivals and games at interregional sanctuaries (as e.g. that of Hermes Kedrites in Syme Biannou) and a sort of exchange of official visits of the partners' magistrates (in their habitual attire, symbolizing a retention of authority in the partner city) were organized.

A wider problem, explicit or implicit in all these treaties among Cretan cities was, of course, jurisdiction in cases involving state and/or private interests in the contracting cities. Ch. devotes to this particularly intricate aspect of the treaties a careful synthesis (134-152). A main and disputed issue is here the role the Cretan Koinon played in such matters. Ch.'s research concentrates first on some central terms connected in the scanty sources7 with the relevant activity of the Kretaieis: diagramma, prodikos, koinodikion. None of these terms has an older Cretan background but Ch. manages to approach their exact significance with the additional help of extra-Cretan evidence. So the Cretan diagramma was a list of delicts with the corresponding penalties, a term and, partly, notion probably borrowed from the practice of some royal (Ptolemaic?) administration. Prodikos was a judge of first instance or arbitrator (Ch. accepts only the second possibility but the difference is perhaps too fine). Koinodikion he interprets not as "federal court" (the usual interpretation) but, more restrictively, as "common court" composed of judges from two or more cities, whether parties to the case or not. One of his main contentions (against the view held by Ph. Gauthier) is that all these cases tried in a way regulated by the Koinon concerned private affairs. Nevertheless, as he notes himself (150), there is a curious silence in all the relevant evidence on the settlement of inter-city controversies during this period, apart from (usually foreign) arbitration after a war. Further, private suits could easily develop into inter-city problems (so again Ch., 134), so that it would be difficult to imagine the judicial competences of the League strictly limited to settling individual citizens' affairs. Perhaps a crucial piece of evidence for such a higher, and certainly much more delicate, role of the Koinon has not been properly recognized so far in Pol. 22.15.1 (184 B.C., cf. Ch. no. 40): ὅτι κατὰ τὴν Κρήτην, κοσμοῦντος ἐν Γορτύνῃ Κύδα τοῦ Ἀντάλκους, κατὰ πάντα τρόπον ἐλαττούμενοι Γορτύνιοι τοὺς Κνωσίους, ἀποτεμόμενοι τῆς χώρας αὐτῶν τὸ μὲν καλούμενον Λυκάστιον προσένειμαν Ῥαυκίοις, τὸ <δὲ> Διατόνιον Λυττίοις. Ch., ib. (also pp. 42, 98) understands this passage as meaning the result of a common war of Gortyn, Rhaukos and Lyttos against Knosos, followed by a renunciation of the hegemon's (Gortyn's) territorial gains to the benefit of its allies. The usual meaning of ἀποτέμνεσθαι in Cretan treaties8 would seem to support this view at first sight. However, the whole context, especially the introductory notice that the Gortynians tried to "humble the Knosians in every possible way", and the use of προσένειμαν ("attributed")9 are far more compatible with a Gortynian policy abusing its hegemonial role in the League to humiliate the Knosians, among other ways through a partial, nominally "federal" decision on the two other cities' claims. It is telling, I think, that the Roman commission entrusted directly afterwards by the Kretaieis with restoring inter-city order on Crete, as Polybios reports in the continuation of the passage above, not only gave those districts back to the Knosians but also allowed another troublesome city, Kydonia, the option to participate or not "in the koinodikion". Despite Ch.'s (142) reservations it is difficult to recognize in this term10 something different from the koinodikion of the other sources concerning private affairs, so that the whole picture should probably be that the inter-city justice of the League under Gortynian influence was already so suspect that none of the latter's possible opponents11 accepted being subject to it any more. Such a more comprehensive sphere of jurisdictional responsibilities for the League would also better explain the parallel or later influence of it as a model for similar inter-city agreements, a tendency already noticed by Ch. (144) himself.

Two final, splendid chapters of this part deal respectively with descriptions of frontiers between cities (153-159) and the special place of dependent communities (Abhängige Gemeinden) on Hellenistic Crete (160-168). One of Ch.'s most interesting conclusions in the first of these is that there seems to be a distinct continuity in the territorial border of cities on (especially eastern) Crete since those times. As regards the dependent communities, he also offers much of substance, beginning from their careful categorization and continuing notably with the demonstration that the relevant texts, although they appear in the form of a unilateral act (decree) of the polis are nevertheless conceived, and should be executed, as bilateral agreements (Ch. improves here on F. Gschnitzer's views). One might add the point that these Cretan relations of real poleis and quasi-poleis dependent on them, and the concept of hegemony of city over city as well as of civic eleutheria and autonomia they reflect, are strongly reminiscent of Roman standards, perhaps a discrete irony of history for the Greek area that came last under Rome's rule.

The edition, translation and commentary of the treaties is excellent (so especially e.g. the interpretation of κόσμοι ἐπίδαμοι in no. 28, p. 260f., or τριακατίων παριόντων in no. 43, p. 292). One might offer only few comments here and there: so e.g. in no. 74 (the isopoliteia between Hierapytna and an external settlement of it, second cent. B.C.), p. 434, it seems difficult to accept the formula ἐπίπαντες Ἱεραπύτνιοι as analogous to the older example ἔδοκαν ... Γόρτυνς ἐπίπανσα κὀι ἐν ἈFλο̂νι Fοικίοντες ἀτέλειαν κτλ. in IC IV. 64 (of the archaic period), and conclude that in the first case only the "mother city" (Muttergemeinde) was meant. In the second case we have rather a geographical distinction between Gortyn as (the main) settlement and "those dwelling at Aulon", while the first case should refer to the political entirety of the Hierapytnians, that is including their external settlement. In no. 76 (the re-organization of the Cretan League under the auspices of Philip V, ca. 216 B.C.) Ch. understands the king's prostasia over the League12 as "leadership" (Führung) rather than as "protection" (Schutz), and so openly contradicts himself at another point (p.38). The distinction is again too fine: Philip's prostasia (quite traditionally) comprised both qualities.

To sum up: with this work the exciting labyrinth of Hellenistic Cretan inter-state relations has been fully mapped and provided with an indispensable vade-mecum with many crucial working-secrets of that confusing construction.


1.   Plut., Mor. 490 B and lexicographical sources cited by Ch., ib.
2.   This goes rather too far: such a compound is fully understandable on the basis of the attested verb κρητίζω ("behave like a Cretan") and the frequency of similar compounds inspired by forms of warfare like συνασπισμός, συλλοχισμός (cf. also συμψηφισμός, "voting in common"). The fact that there is no relevant historical situation known so far is, of course, no decisive counter-proof: one could think of the theory that should have accompanied the birth of the Cretan League somewhere in the early Hellenistic age, although theory and practice often collided here, too (see below).
3.   Pol., 4.53ff.
4.   Cf. some of the conclusions already reached by An. Petropoulou, Beiträge zur Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftsgeschichte Kretas in hellenistischer Zeit, Frankfurt/M. 1985, esp. 135-7.
5.   This last nuance allows for the possible assumption of the role of the whole League by one of the two leading cities under certain circumstances, as e.g. Ch. himself suggests (31) on Knosos when the "treaty of legal assistance" (Rechtshilfevertrag) between Miletos and various Cretan cities (Staatsverträges III.482) was signed about the middle of the third cent. B.C. (on the date: Ch., 33ff.): here both Knosos and Gortyn (also the minor Phaistos) appear as the models of different editions of the relevant stipulations for a number of other Cretan cities, apparently their satellites, but Knosos alone refers to "the rest of the Kretaieis". On another possible example with Gortyn in such a solitary hegemonial role see below.
6.   Pol. 28.14 = Ch. no. 41 (pp.285ff.).
7.   The treaty of isopoliteia between Hierapytna and Priansos (Ch. no. 28), some other inscriptions and Pol. 22.15.4 (cf. below).
8.   Cf. e.g. Ch. no. 37.15; 59.6, 8.
9.   Cf. e.g. the parallel significance of προσκρίνειν in Syll.3 679.55.
10.   Actually κοινδίκαιον in Polybios' mss.
11.   On the relations of Gortyn and Kydonia at that time cf. Ch. 284 with ns.
12.   Pol. 7.11.9.

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