Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.04.12

David M. Lewis, Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History. Ed. P.J. Rhodes.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1997.  Pp. xii, 418; 4 pls.  ISBN 0-521-46564-8.  

Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein, History, California State University, Los Angeles (
Word count: 1031 words

Reviewing posthumous books is a sad task, particularly when it is clear that the best was yet to come. David M. Lewis was one of the giants of twentieth century epigraphy. His revision of IG I3 was a monumental achievement, while Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century BC, which he edited with Russell Meiggs, remains one of the Greek historian's most indispensable tools. His epigraphical interests were catholic, however, and late in his career he mastered the intricacies of Achemenid epigraphy and began to unpack the historical implications of the Persepolis treasury tablets. "Sparta and Persia", his masterful Bradeen lectures, gave a hint of the potential riches that might flow from this new direction in his scholarship, one that was cut off by his premature death.

The thirty-eight pieces collected in Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History were selected by the author before his death and fairly represent the breadth and scope of his scholarly achievement. David Lewis was a master of the academic paper in all its forms, and the volume includes a rich selection of his conference papers, contributions to Festschriften, journal articles and reviews. The hallmark of his scholarship was his exceptional ability to tease out unexpected historically significant information from the most seemingly mundane epigraphical and literary texts and to present lucidly and succinctly. Those qualities are abundantly on display in the papers collected in this volume. The papers themselves are divided into three unequal groups: those dealing with topics in general Greek history, Athenian history, and Near Eastern history. Amidst such riches only the highlights can be noted in a brief review.

The General section is the briefest, but it begins with a gem of a paper, Lewis' illuminating evaluation of August Boeckh's Staatshaushaltung der Athener delivered to the Fifth Epigraphical Congress 1967, in which he shows how Boeckh's youthful dream of writing a comprehensive account of the life of the ancient Greeks made him the founder of both modern Greek historiography and Greek epigraphy. Two other papers in this group also stand out. "Temple inventories in ancient Greece" combines a lucid introduction to the study of inventory inscriptions with a penetrating discussion of the evidence these forbidding texts can provide for Greek economic and art history. "Democratic institutions and their diffusion," on the other hand, is a refreshingly skeptical analysis of efforts to draw far-reaching conclusions about the spread of Athenian-style democracy from the use of Athenian-style epigraphical styles and prescript formulae by other states.

Athens was the center of David Lewis' scholarly activity, and, not surprisingly, the section on Athenian papers dominates the book with twenty-one papers. Although best known for his work in fifth century Athenian epigraphy, David Lewis was at home in all periods of Athenian history. The scope of the papers in this section is correspondingly broad, ranging chronologically from the sixth century to the first century BC and topically from Aristophanic politics to Athenian New Style Coinage. Unifying them all, however, is Lewis' fascination with the Athenian democracy and its institutions. One, the classic "Cleisthenes and Attica" with its brilliant use of anomalies in the distribution of trittyes to uncover the local politics of the Cleisthenic tribal reform, remains as fresh today as at its first publication over three decades ago. Four other papers also are noteworthy for their insights into democratic practice and thought. "Public Property in the City" summarizes the evidence for Athenian state property, highlighting both the role of confiscation in the acquisition of state property and Athens' reluctance to retain ownership of landed property. "After the Profanation of the Mysteries" gives a practical demonstration of the potential significance of confiscation to democratic finances by showing that the sale of the property of the Hermokopai may have yielded between 500 and 1,000 talents, very nearly the total of the annual tribute of the empire and a telling commentary on the wealth of the late fifth century BC Athenian aristocracy. "Entrenchment-clauses in Attic Decrees," on the other hand, is an elegant example of Lewis' remarkable ability to exploit epigraphical technicalities for historical purposes, in this instance to explore fifth century Athenian efforts to limit the exercise of popular sovereignty in legislation. Finally, "Who was Lysistrata?" is a delightful epigraphical detective story in which Lewis persuasively argues that behind the masks of Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Myrrhine lurked the priestesses of Athena Polias and Athena Nike.

The eight papers dealing with Near Eastern History represent the final phase of David Lewis' scholarly career and bear witness to the originality of his approach to the problems of the Achemenid Empire. "The Persepolis Fortification Texts" is an elegant introduction to Achaemenid administrative documents and to the formidable difficulties they present to scholars wishing to exploit them. The most remarkable of these papers is "Persians in Herodotus." In this fine paper Lewis made a fundamental and still not fully appreciated contribution to the controversy surrounding Herodotus' sources provoked by Detlef Fehling's Die Quellenangaben bei Herodot by demonstrating on the basis of the Persepolis Fortification Texts that Herodotus' Persian prosopography is essentially true to the period of the Persian Wars, far more so, in fact, than that of his principal ancient critic, Ctesias. Finally, in "Persian gold in Greek international relations" Lewis successfully deconstructed one of the hoariest myths of Greek historiography, namely, that the Persians practiced wholesale bribery in order to influence Greek politics. At the same time Lewis illuminated the important role played by gift giving in Persian imperial society with the Great King simultaneously being the primary recipient and giver of gifts.

Opening this volume of David Lewis' selected papers with his salute to August Boeckh was a wise editorial decision. David Lewis exemplified in his scholarship the integration of epigraphy and historiography that Boeckh pioneered. As a result his papers are professional in the best sense of that much abused word, combining precise and meticulous attention to the most technical details of Greek and Persian governmental institutions with a clear sense of the historical context to which they belong. As a consequence Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History will join David Lewis' other works on Ancient historians' short list of indispensable works.

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