Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.1.19


Hans Beck, Polis und Koinon. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Struktur der griechischen Bundesstaaten im 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1997. Historia Einzelschrift 114. Pp. 316. DM 128. ISBN 3-515-07117-2.


Reviewed by Jim Roy, Dept. of Classics, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK, James.Roy@nottingham.ac.uk.

Beck's book is a lightly revised version of his dissertation submitted at Erlangen-Nürnberg in the winter semester of 1996/7, and has the virtues of a dissertation in its thoroughness and careful structure. While much work has been done on Greek federal states, both in general and on particular cases, since the appearance of Larsen's Greek Federal States in 1968, no comprehensive study of the known instances of ancient Greek federalism has appeared to replace Larsen's book, even though already at the time of its publication it was flawed by a tendency to let narrative outweigh analysis in its treatment of the period from 386 onwards. Beck now offers individual studies of the major attested fourth-century federations, and then draws on the results of these studies to develop a synthetic analysis of the working of fourth-century federalism.

The book is divided into three main parts: an introduction (pp.9-29), nine studies of individual federations (pp.31-162), and a "typological" section (pp.165-249). There are also four pages of final discussion; a table listing the organs of the federations studied; indices of historical and mythical persons, of places and topics, of literary sources, and of epigraphical sources; and an extensive bibliography.

In the early part of the introduction B. notes that the ancient Greeks failed to produce either a consistent and rigorous vocabulary for federal institutions or a theory of the federal state. B. himself adopts, more or less arbitrarily, "Koinon" as his term for the Greek federal state, and "Ethnos" as the term for "die ethnische Gemeinschaft eines Stammes." He also notes, though he obviously does not agree, that some modern scholars have questioned whether such a thing as a federal state ever existed among the ancient Greeks. He also suggests that some differences of opinion between scholars have arisen because the German language, with its concepts of Bundesstaat and Staatenbund, is better equipped than English to express different forms of groupings of states: it is difficult to dispute such German sophistication when B. cites as evidence a decision in October 1993 of the German Bundesverfassungsgericht that the European Union is a Staatenverbund, i.e. a "Staatenbund mit bundesstaatlichen Grundzügen". This early section in effect sets aside any inherited framework for enquiry, and leaves B. free to pursue an empirical examination of the known cases of federalism.

B. then sets out his aims and methods. He seeks to justify his choice of 404 and 338 as chronological limits on the grounds that both are turning-points in Greek history, arguing that, with the disappearance in the Peloponnesian War of the bi-polarity which had marked fifth-century inter-state relations, some federations were able to become regional or hegemonial powers, and also that Greek inter-state relations changed profoundly in the Hellenistic period. These arguments are more relevant to B.'s desire to assess what role federations played in international politics than to the development of federalism itself, and in his later studies of individual federations B. in fact includes much fifth-century material, though the limitations of a dissertation no doubt prevented him from analysing fifth-century federalism in the same depth as fourth-century. A brief review of previous research concentrates on general studies of Greek federalism to the exclusion of studies of individual federations, though these are considered in the second section of the book: the most important points raised are Giovannini's demonstration that Greek terminology does not differentiate between a more primitive Stammstaat and a more advanced Bundesstaat, and Walbank's refutation of Giovannini's attempt to argue that supposed Greek federal states were in fact unitary states whose constituent parts did not themselves exercise any state functions. B.'s own aims are, firstly, to examine the history and main political features of Greek federal states, and, secondly, to see whether federalism promoted peace at a regional level and so a wider stability in inter-state affairs; and in such concerns he sees as a central issue the relation between polis-autonomy and federalism, from which comes his book's title Polis und Koinon. After a perfunctory review of the nature of available evidence B. sets out his approach: an empirical survey of known cases of federalism, followed by a synthesis of the results. Certain federations are not covered, for sound reasons: the Lokrian because we lack fourth-century evidence, the Euboian because it not set up till 340, the Italiote and Karian Leagues because they were special, local, developments, and the union of Kean poleis because it was not a federal state. B. might however have considered the Triphylian state created around 400: evidence for it is admittedly limited, but includes two significant inscriptions (see below).

There follows the largest single section of the book, devoted to nine individual federations, examined in turn. Those considered are the Akarnanian (pp.31-43), the Aitolian (pp.43-54), the Achaian (pp.55-66), the Arkadian (pp.67-83), the Boiotian (pp.83-106), the Phokian (pp.106-118), the Thessalian (pp.119-134), the Epirote/Molossian (pp.135-145), and the Chalkidian (pp.146-162). For each in turn B. sets out what is known of the political geography (with a map, not generally very helpful, derived from Kiepert's atlas of 1910/11), the early history and constitutional development, and the history and structure of the federation in the fourth century. The state of the surviving evidence obviously varies from one case to another, and it is not surprising that the Boiotian state gets most attention, while the Arkadian, for instance, is discussed primarily in terms of what happened in the 360s. B. is well-informed and up-to-date, and sets out the material carefully in considerable detail. Inevitably, however, given the amount of material to be covered, not every problem can be explored exhaustively. For example, on the treatment of the Arkadian federation (the example best known to the reviewer) the following comments can be made. At pp.75-77 B. argues that Megalopolis was intended as the political centre of the Arkadian federation, and on pp.80-81 that the federal assembly (the "Myrioi") met in the building in Megalopolis called the Thersilion. (See also pp.202-3 on Megalopolis' role in the federation.) B. does not however note that a federal meeting was held at Tegea as late as 363/2 (Xen. Hell. 7.4.36), and in fact we do not know whether the Thersilion was completed soon enough to accommodate federal assemblies in the 360s. At p.81 B. draws valid conclusions from the distribution among Arkadian poleis of the fifty damiorgoi listed at the end of IG V2.1, but does not consider the problem that northern Arkadia is very poorly represented among the damiorgoi (although B. evidently dates the inscription to the period in the 360s before the break-up of the federation, a time at which it is generally accepted that all Arkadian communities, including those of northern Arkadia, belonged to the federation). At p.82 B. follows Trampedach in accepting Diodorus' figure of 5,000 for the membership of the Eparitoi, the federal standing army: B. is aware that the figure has been questioned, but does not explore the reasons for questioning it, such as the difficulty of paying for such a large permanent force. (See also pp.202-3 on the Eparitoi.) While the considerable range of material surveyed by B. necessarily exposes his account to such comments, it should be emphasised that his treatment is cautious and prudent, and his treatment of the various federations will be a convenient point of reference to recent research on them.

The third section of the book deals first with formal structures of the Greek federation, then with informal factors leading to political integration, and finally with the role of the federal state in inter-state politics. In looking at formal structures B. first notes that the federations are generally referred to either by the appropriate ethnic (e.g. "the Boiotians") or by the term koinon with the ethnic (e.g. "the koinon of the Akarnanians"). B. observes that this usage persists even when the federation does not include the whole ethnos designated by the ethnic, and equally when the federation has incorporated a community outside the ethnos (e.g. the Achaian federation incorporating Kalydon), and draws the interesting conclusion that in such cases the ethnic has a primarily political value. He also notes that these forms of appellation were used without regard for the degree of urbanisation or supposed sophistication of the federated communities. He observes that, while democracy was the commonest constitutional form, oligarchy, kingship, and tyranny are also found, and that, while oligarchy allowed for the transfer of power to a limited number of people, federal democracy was regularly primary democracy with power remaining theoretically in the hands of all citizens, though in practice distance would limit the number of citizens able to attend a federal assembly.

B. goes on to set out and analyse the institutional structure of Greek federations, producing a synthesis of the earlier findings on individual federal states (and offering a summary restatement of his conclusions in a table at pp. 257-9). This is a particularly useful piece of work, which many will refer to. B. discusses (pp. 174-185) the double citizenship, of the federal state and of a member-state, which existed in fourth-century federations, showing how the balance of importance between the two could vary from cases where federal citizenship greatly outweighed local citizenship (e.g. Aitolia and Phokis) to cases where local citizenship continued to be significantly projected (e.g. Achaia). B. may be right to argue (p. 178) that in the fourth century, as opposed to the Hellenistic period, federal citizenship could be awarded only by the federal state and not by a member community, but the question merits fuller consideration than a single footnote. It would have helped here to consider two decrees of the Triphylian federation (not considered by B.): in one (SEG 40.329) the Triphylians grant presumably Triphylian federal citizenship, but in another (SEG 35.389) the Triphylians -- very curiously -- grant citizenship of Makiston (which is earlier attested as a community, and therefore presumably at the time of the inscription a member-community of the Triphylian federation rather than a sub-group of the federal citizen body). B. closes the institutional analysis by considering relations with other states, handled essentially by the federation. Among other points B. takes the view that a federal state, when a member of a symmachy, acted as a unit with a single vote, even in the League of Corinth (following Cawkwell): this practice, while highlighting the authority of the federal state, would obviously diminish the voting power of the federation's members, a point not considered by B.

In the section on informal factors leading to political integration, B. looks at myth and cult, membership of the Delphic Amphictyony, economic and social factors, and finally the relation between constitutional forms and political reality. In looking at religious questions B. does not look for evidence of theorodokoi nor consider how far they may have allowed member-states of a federation to maintain standing in inter-state religious affairs. Among cases illustrating how constitutional forms actually functioned, B. again discusses the Eparitoi (the standing military force of the Arkadian federation), and, while rightly stressing their political importance, argues (p. 203) that the decisions of the Arkadian federal were de facto dictated by the Eparitoi: but his argument depends on assuming (see above) that the federal assembly normally met in Megalopolis and that the Eparitoi were numerous enough to dominate the assembly, and both assumptions are questionable. B. does not consider the appeal which federalism may have had for leading citizens of small communities who, at least in some federations, could through federal office play a much more important role in international politics than their home community would ever have allowed them.

The last part of B.'s analysis concerns the contribution made by federations to the interplay of political interests among Greek states. His conclusions are bleak. Federations showed no common interest in promoting federalism as such, and the pursuit of particular interests predominated. The respect for the autonomy of the polis, as expressed in attempts at a "common peace", was shallow, but served as a weapon against federal union. Conflict between the interests of the polis and the interests of the federation often enough escalated regional conflict into wider clashes.

In his brief conclusion B. underlines that the fourth-century Greeks did not -- contrary to the views of such later thinkers as Montesquieu -- pursue federalism as a means to political integration and made no contribution to the theory of federalism, but insists nonetheless on the importance of federalism in Greek political history.

This is in general a careful and well-informed book, whose greatest merit is to collect and analyse the institutional forms of federalism among fourth century Greeks, and to explore how these functioned. Its competence will make it the standard work of reference on fourth-century federations.