Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.02.21

Balbina Baebler, Fleissige Thrakerinnen und wehrhafte Skythen. Nichtgriechen im klassischen Athen und ihre Archäologische Hinterlassenschaft.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  Teubner, 1998.  Pp. 306, pls. 21.  ISBN 3-519-07657-8.  DM 118.  

Reviewed by Amy C. Smith, Perseus Project, Tufts University (
Word count: 1995 words

"The salience and persistence of ethnicity in the modern world raise the epistemological difficulty: in looking for evidence of ethnic groups in archaeological and historical records, are we too directly imposing the present on the past? If we grant that group identity in antiquity had similarities to modern ethnicity, then we are confronted with methodological problems: how can we recognize ethnic groups using fragmentary material evidence? Only when we have identified useful methods can we be gin to make archaeological and historical contributions to culture histories...."1

I would add to these remarks of Geoff Emberling that we must identify not only useful methods, but also useful sets of evidence to which the methods may be applied. Studies such as E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian (Oxford 1989) and P. Georges, Barbarian Asia and the Greek Experience (Baltimore 1994) have opened our eyes to the conventionality of the Greek response to foreigners in literary sources. M.C. Miller, in her study of the interaction between two ethnic groups -- Athens and Persians in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity (Cambridge 1997) -- has added an enlightening comparison of the literary portraits with the archaeological evidence. But much of the archaeologica l data has yet to be collected and analyzed; at best it is dispersed through a maze of epigraphical and archaeological publications. Balbina Bäbler has now taken a crucial step toward the understanding of ethnic groups in Greek antiquity in focusing on an important category of artifact: the grave monuments of aliens in Classical Attika. Although her work presents no new methodologies, this volume comprises an important resource for the continuing study of ethnicity in ancient Greece.

B.'s study is both more and less ambitious than is suggested by her title: it treats all non-Greeks in Classical Attika (5-4 centuries B.C.) -- not only Thracians and Skythians in Athens -- while its core (part C, pp. 69-198) focuses on the evidence p rovided by Attic grave monuments (mostly stelai) of non-Athenians. It seems that B.'s dissertation, of which this is a shorter and slightly reworked version, initially concentrated on these grave monuments. In her catalog, part E (pp. 207-95) the author c onservatively includes 146 monuments known to have commemorated foreigners: B. claims that only 23 are uncertain, and that 1 (cat. 127, a stele of Ias, Athens EM 9274) is very uncertain.2

The study is divided into five unequal parts. In part A (pp. 1-13), an introduction, B. rightly points out that studies of foreigners in Athens have not sufficiently incorporated the iconographic or epigraphic evidence found on grave stelai; that the scholarship on grave stelai has not properly distinguished stelai of foreigners from those of Athenians; and that epigraphers have not thoroughly related the relevant inscriptions to literary sources on real foreigners in Athens.3 B. argues that, desp ite the plethora of recent works on Athenian grave stelai,4 a book analyzing and contextualizing the grave stelai of non-Athenians needed to be written.5 B.'s present contribution has gone a good part of the way towards answering this need.

Part B (pp. 14-69) serves as an overview of (the study of) barbarians in Classical Attika -- which, given the size of the topic, is unavoidably cursory. This part is itself divided into 3 sections: I. Slaves; II. Free Barbarians; III. Grave Stelai of Barbarians. Because this general topic is so large, B. limits herself (in sections I and II) to particular issues. In section I she investigates the origin of slaves (according to historical sources), (ancient) philosophical theories regarding the nature of barbarians apropos slavery, other representations of slaves in ancient literature and on grave stelai (especially the use of the kandys), and the occupations of slaves in Classical Athens, particularly as nurses and pedagogues. In section II she discus ses metics (briefly) and the difficulties in determining the actual number of slaves and metics in 4th c. Athens. B. allows herself the luxury of straying occasionally into discussions whose relevance is unclear. For instance, in a discussion (p. 27-32) o f the "Myttion Stele" (Getty Mus. I-72, which is illustrated on pl. 1, but not included in the catalog) B. judiciously discredits J. Frel's association of the sculptor of this stele with his "Telemachos Workshop" (perhaps a group of foreign sculptors work ing in Athens) as well as B. Kingsley's association of this stele with the Anthesteria. Yet the piece's relevance to the study's thesis (as the foremost representation of the kandys) is lost in the discussion. In section III, which might have served bette r as an introduction to the catalog (part E), B. discusses the findspots and costs of the stelai, as well as inscriptions (with an important discussion of the use of the metronymic among foreigners), and presents a typology of the grave monuments themselv es. Her typology (pp. 57-59) divides the monuments into four incongruous categories -- 1. stelai with elaborate finials; 2. stelai with flat tops; 3. lekythoi; and 4. other forms. A more extensive typology might have provided some necessary methodological grounding for the catalog: the fourth group, for example, combines free-standing sculptures with miscellaneous stelai to which they bear little relation in form or function.

The most extensive -- and potentially the most valuable -- part of the book is part C (pp. 69-198), "Non-Greek Strangers in Athens and their Grave Stelai," where B. discusses each group of foreigners in light of the evidence from literary sources and monuments.6 The ethnic groups are treated in roughly alphabetical order (as in the catalog): 1. Egyptians and Ethiopians; 2. Jews; 3. Karians; 4. Lydians and Mysians; 5. Paphlagonians; 6. Persians; 7. Phoenicians; 8. Phrygians; 9. Skythians; 10. Syria ns; and 11. Thracians. Despite the alphabetical hierarchy, the Bithynians are treated here in the section on Thracians but inexplicably retain their own alphabetically ordered section in the catalog (pp. 214-16). A more thorough organization of the groups along regional or ethnic lines (for example, a united discussion of the Semitic groups -- Jews, Phoenicians, and Syrians -- who were commonly confused by the Athenians) might have eliminated some tedious cross-referencing, and provided for some interesti ng comparisons. With the exceptions of Jews (pp. 77-79) (who are absent from Classical Attic grave stelai) and Syrians (p. 183) (for whom literary sources are lacking) -- the monuments are discussed after the literary sources. One regrets at first that th ese two realms of evidence are treated separately. But for each ethnic group the literary sources and grave monuments paint entirely different pictures. B. is inclined to interpret this divergence as a difference in bias, viz. the Athenians intentionally exaggerate the exotic elements of the barbarians from the East whereas in portrayals of themselves easterners adopt Greek ways. It seems to me more likely that the medium is to blame. The literary sources for the Lydians (and Mysians), for instance, go to extremes: they focus either on tragic tales of powerful and wealthy kings (e.g. Herodotos bk. 1 on Kroisos) and heroes (e.g. Euripides on Telephos) or on the lowliness of Lydian and Mysian slaves (e.g. Euripides' Alcestis 675). It is unsurprising that the simple grave stelai of 5 Lydian women and 4 Mysian men in B.'s catalog (7 of these monuments are now lost) -- which at most attest their jobs (e.g., Herakleidas the artillery man, on a stele formerly in the Piraeus Museum [cat. 29]) -- encourage the picture of servile rather than lordly existences. A more extensive treatment of the archaeological evidence, with consideration of other reliefs as well as the vase paintings, might have produced a more balanced picture. I see no referen ce, for example, to contemporary document reliefs, many of the fourth-century examples of which depict foreigners.7

Section D, an epilogue (pp. 199-206), provides some general remarks on the degree to which grave monuments of barbarians in Classical Attika indicate the assimilation and adaptation of these groups to their new home. These monuments normally take the s ame forms as those of their citizen neighbors. Inscriptions are mostly in Greek and B. plausibly suggests that poetic (predominantly Greek) epitaphs were intended to demonstrate the acquaintance with Greek culture that aliens had acquired. It comes as no surprise that the inscriptions differ from those on monuments of indigenous Athenians in the use of ethnics rather than demotics, metronymics rather than patronymics, and a greater tendency toward self-representation: the foreigners commonly mention their professions, and frequently employ the adjective χρηστός (which B. takes to indicate slave status). The Phoenician monuments, which are the most sumptuous, represent prominent exceptions: half of the Phoenician stelai (9/18 ) include bilingual inscriptions, and the Antipatros Stele (Athens NM 1488, cat. 51) is the only monument that refers to foreign religious beliefs.

Section E, the catalog (pp. 207-95), contains individual entries on each of the grave stelai that may be identified as those of foreigners, ordered alphabetically by ethnic group. The last 19 catalog entries, on grave stelai belonging to nurses and tu tors (pp. 282-95), however, are said to comprise an appendix to "Kap. I.4.a," which is in fact section I.4.a of part B, a section devoted to individuals in this special line of work. The catalog is followed by a useful concordance of references to importa nt secondary works on epigraphy and grave stelai (pp. 296-97), and an index of names and subjects (pp. 298-306). As mentioned above, B. has conservatively and appropriately limited herself to those stelai that most certainly (or likely) commemorated forei gners. Basic information -- findspot, present location, material, dimensions (including letter height), and dates -- precedes description (in most cases) and bibliography. The author has not indicated which stelai she personally examined, so it is unclear whether she is reporting her own observations or those that may be gleaned from photographs and/or previous reports (under the category of "Material," for example, the marbles are sometimes described according to their color, but far more often are categ orized as "Pentelic" or "Hymettian," the likely but unsubstantiated categories into which all Athenian marbles have been presumed to fall). The descriptions (which usually include condition reports that would have served better in a separate category) are not uniformly thorough. Yet descriptions are crucial, as only 20 of the monuments are illustrated in the plates. Descriptions of the more important monuments, moreover, instead of appearing in the catalog, are relegated to other sections of the text. A g ood example is B.'s discussion of the Stele of Atotas [cat. 35, p. 230], which is described in the section on Paphlagonians in part C (pp. 94-97), and takes up at least a third of the total discussion there. As a result the text is overburdened with descr iptive details that add little to the discussion at hand and detract from the self-sufficiency of the catalog, where the reader must cope with frequent cross-references. As with the rest of the text, the catalog contains some helpful line drawings that ar e not mentioned in the list of illustrations. These and the scant other images are not consistently cross-referenced between text and catalog; e.g. a photograph of the front of cat. 42 is shown on pl. 7, while the back is illustrated in a line drawing on p. 112, but the line drawing is neither mentioned in the discussion on p. 111 nor in the catalog entry on p. 233.

I would agree with B. that "the grave-stelai of 'barbarians' in Attica ... could modify the picture that is drawn up ... concerning the various nationalities"8 but in this volume B. has not gone as far as one would have hoped in making the needed revision. She fails to reach definitive conclusions on provocative works such as the Kerameikos torso of a Persian (Athens NM 2728, cat. 44) and, like many earlier sources, her work seems to suffer from an overly narrow focus. But both B.'s catalog and he r comparisons are important steps in the right direction, and her extensive and thorough bibliography and footnotes will serve as a useful reference for subsequent inquiries as well as for anyone with an interest in foreigners in Classical Athens.


1.   G. Emberling, rev. of J.M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity, and S. Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present. AJA 103 (1999) 126.
2.   Not all of the "certain" grave monuments of Barbarians are clearly identifiable as such. One might dispute, for example, B.'s inclusion of Athens NM 823-824 (cat. 85a-b) as grave statues of Skythians, for which, on B.'s own admission, there is no de finitive proof (pp. 175-80). Although these statues depict Skythian archers, they are commonly taken as guardians of a family grave plot: see B.S. Ridgway, "Aristonautes' Stele, Athens Nat. Mus. 738," in H. Froning, T. Hölscher, and H. Mielsch, Kotinos. Festschrift für E. Simon (Mainz 1992) 270-75.
3.   The pace of research in this field will inevitably accelerate as a result of the recent publication of M.J. Osborne and S.G. Byrne, The Foreign Residents of Athens. An Annex to the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names: Attica. Studia Hell enistica 33 (Leuven 1996).
4.   Extensive works on Classical Athenian grave stelai published in the last decade alone include J. Bergemann, Demos und Thanatos. Untersuchungen zum Wertsystem der Polis im Spiegel der attischen Grabreliefs des 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. und zur Funktion der gleichzeitigen Grabbauten (Munich 1997); A. Scholl, Die attischen Bildfeldstelen des 4. Jhs. v. Chr. Untersuchungen zu den kleinformatigen Grabreliefs im spätklassischen Athen. AM-BH 17 (Berlin 1996); C. Breuer, Reliefs und Epigramme griechischen Privatgrabmäler (Cologne 1995); C.W. Clairmont, Classical Attic Tombstones I-VI (Kilchberg 1993); and M. Salta, Attische Grabstelen mit Inschriften. Beiträge zur Topographie und Prosopograhie der Nekropolen von Athen, Attika und Salamis vom Peloponnesische Krieg bis zur Mitte des 4. Jhs. v. Chr. (Diss. Tübingen 1991).
5.   As B. mentions, L.B. Urdahl, Foreigners in Athens. A Study of the Grave Monuments (Diss. Chicago 1959) covers a broader period (the fifth through third centuries B.C.) but does not give due attention to the status of slaves.
6.   Only the relevant groups of foreigners -- i.e. those represented in the grave monuments -- are treated here. A separate section on Jews (pp. 77-79) is included, however, seemingly as a corrective to Urdahl (cited in n. 5), who optimistically determi ned that Jews were named on the grave stelai, although B. has identified no such examples in her own catalog.
7.   E.g. Athens NM 1471 shows Spartakos II and Pairisades I of the Crimean Bosporos (IG II2 212). For the representation of foreigners on these document reliefs see C.L. Lawton, Attic Document Relie fs. Art and Politics in Ancient Athens (Oxford 1995) 60-62. Another source for Attic document reliefs, M. Meyer, Die griechischen Urkundenreliefs. AM-BH 13 (Berlin 1989), is mentioned by B. once, however, in a discussion of anti- sumptuary legislation (p. 205 n. 936).
8.   B. Bäbler, rev. of Margaret C. Miller, Athens and Persians in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity, BMCR 98.1.04.

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