Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.02.21

Oliver Dany, Akarnanien im Hellenismus. Geschichte und Völkerrecht in Nordwestgriechenland. Münchener Beiträge zur Papyrusforschung und antiken Rechtsgeschichte, Heft 89.   Munich:  C. H. Beck, 1999.  Pp. xi + 363.  ISBN 3-406-44880-1 (ISSN 0936-3718).  

Reviewed by Jim Roy, University of Nottingham
Word count: 2050 words

D. devotes this lightly revised version of his dissertation to the political history of Akarnania, deliberately seeking to complement the growing body of recent work on the archaeology and topography of the area by a different approach to the region's past. The last previous monograph devoted to Akarnanian political history, as D. points out, was by Oberhummer in 1887. While the years since Oberhummer have brought to light much fresh data, especially in the form of inscriptions, evidence is still sparse even for the Hellenistic period, on which D. concentrates as being better attested. Literary references are principally to major interactions, mostly conflicts, between Greek states which somehow affected Akarnania, and consequently they illuminate only sporadically and indirectly developments within Akarnania itself; and the reconstruction of Akarnanian history is further complicated by the fact that the major events themselves, particularly in the third century, are often imperfectly recorded. While fully aware of the limitations of the evidence, D. believes (p. vii) that such a study of Akarnania is worth attempting not only for its own sake but also because in the Hellenistic period northwest Greece was much more significant than in classical times, and, he suggests, there developed in the Aitolian, Epirote, and Akarnanian confederacies complex state-forms which contributed to a reshaping of the previously polis-based Greek world.

An introductory chapter offers a brief review of the sources, and surveys the geography, population, settlement, economy, and cultural development of the area, and finishes with a brief consideration of Akarnanian mercenaries (concerning whom D. follows Launey in suggesting that the Akarnanian confederacy was anxious not to lose manpower and that relatively few men left Hellenistic Akarnania as mercenaries). D. argues persuasively that urbanisation in Akarnania was already well advanced in the classical period, but his brief treatment does not allow him to explore in any detail the nature of the various communities which made up Akarnania. In particular, though D. argues (pp. 13-14) for a settlement pattern in which towns and villages were both important, the relationship he sees between them remains unclear.

The main section of the book (pp. 21-230) is made up of twelve detailed studies of episodes of Akarnanian history for which evidence happens to survive, from the time of Philip II and Alexander to the Third Macedonian War, which D. sees as the end of successful federalism in Akarnania. This part of the book then closes with a brief survey of subsequent developments, including the decline of the Akarnanian confederacy, down to the foundation of Nikopolis by Augustus. The treaty of alliance between Akarnania and Aitolia (Staatsverträge 480) is the one extensive documentary source, while other episodes show Akarnania caught up in wider events. D.'s persistent concern is to extract as much information as he reasonably can from often difficult material, and he is well aware that his conclusions are often offered not as certainties but simply as the most plausible in the light of the current evidence. While anything approaching a coherent narrative is impossible, D. consistently tries to date events, and so frequently is led to examine at length the chronology of events outside Akarnania (e.g. pp. 126-130 on the fall of the Aiakid dynasty, dated to 232). D. is willing to recognise that such narrative as can be reconstructed is sometimes of modest significance: after a long analysis (pp. 98-119) of the diplomatic appeal by Akarnanians to Rome reported by Justin 28.1-2 D. concludes, against Holleaux, that there was such an appeal in 239/8, but that it had little significance save as a indicator that Rome might later develop a more active policy east of the Adriatic. In that particular case, Justin's account as it stands contains obvious chronological impossibilities and can be regarded as containing a kernel of truth only if one supposes (as D. does) serious confusion by Justin or Trogus; but D. nonetheless argues that the burden of proof is on those who wish to reject the historicity of Justin's report rather than on those who, like him, accept it. D.'s views in this case are less persuasive than elsewhere. In general for each episode he sets out carefully and lucidly, and at considerable length, the evidence and its problems, the views of other scholars, and his own preferred interpretation: the result is that D.'s presentation is now the indispensable point of reference for anyone studying Hellenistic Akarnanian history.

There follows a discussion of the internal development of the Akarnanian confederacy (pp. 240-275). D. first argues that the Akarnanian confederacy of the later fifth century was already an explicitly federal state (Bundesstaat) rather than a looser ethnic association (Stammesverband), though recently Beck (Polis und Koinon [1997] 31-43) was more reluctant to see fully-fledged federalism in fifth-century Akarnania. D. suggests that the most important criterion for making the distinction is that a truly federal state should be made up of autonomous member-states each having a defined territory and legal authority. In applying this criterion to Akarnania D. (pp. 250-252) stresses more strongly than he had done earlier (pp. 13-14) the role of poleis (as opposed to villages) in fifth-century Akarnania, pointing out that previously independent city-states like Anaktorion, Astakos, and Oiniadai were incorporated in Akarnania. D. notes that down to the division of Akarnania in 250 the confederacy roughly doubled its territory and suspects that the structure of the confederacy evolved because of growth, while admitting that evidence for such evolution is lacking. In discussing the later structure of the confederacy D. argues reasonably that, after the partition of Akarnania between Aitolia and Epeiros, the recreation of the confederacy in 232 (as dated by D.) may well have seen constitutional changes but that in the absence of evidence there is no need to date all known changes to 232. There were certainly some changes in the federal officials, notably the replacement of the earlier college of strategoi by a single strategos. D. notes briefly (pp. 264-5) that there is occasional evidence of particular poleis' interests that might conflict with the interests of the confederacy as a whole. D. goes on to analyse Livy's report (33.16.3-11) of an Akarnanian federal assembly in 197 at which a "privatum decretum" concerning Rome was adopted: D. offers a possible reconstruction while admitting that Livy's text does not allow a clear understanding. Finally D. reviews the prosopography of the known federal officials and comes to the interesting conclusion that the confederacy did not develop a political elite based predominantly either in certain cities or on leading families, though some politically important families are known.

The final section of the book is particularly useful, for D. here catalogues and discusses the silver coinage of the Akarnanian confederacy. Though there have been valuable studies of aspects of Akarnanian coinage, for instance by Schwabacher and, recently, Liampi, a complete catalogue has not been undertaken since the monograph of Imhoof-Blumer in 1878. D. has included in his catalogue all coins listed in numismatic corpora available to him in Munich and, with typical modesty, notes (p. 311) that his catalogue may not be complete, though it roughly triples the material known to Imhoof-Blumer (p. 5). Even so the number of known types is still limited, and interpretation consequently difficult, as D. recognises. His main findings are these. In the late sixth century the Corinthian colonies Leukas and Ambrakia inaugurated the minting in northwestern Greece of Pegasos-staters of Corinthian type, and in the fourth century Akarnanian poleis followed their example. By the later fourth century almost all Akarnanian cities were minting such coins, though Stratos also minted its own type. As a result these locally-produced Pegasoi constituted a more or less uniform Akarnanian silver coinage. D. argues that in this period there were probably no federal coins, rejecting earlier attributions of a few types to the confederacy. Federal currency began in the early third century, and, after initial variations in type and standard, there emerged a long-lived type with the image of Acheloos, the legend "Akarnanon", and the name Lykourgos. D. dates the beginning of this type to 272 (his date for the recovery of Akarnanian independence from Epeiros) and argues that it continued until 167, after which the type was continued by similar coins struck by Thyrreion in its own name. Other federal types, of which far fewer examples survive, were also struck by the confederacy in small quantities.

As noted above, D. argues in his introduction that a reason for studying the political history of Hellenistic Akarnania is the greater importance of northwestern Greece in the Hellenistic period and the development of new state-forms in the Aitolian, Epirote, and Akarnanian leagues. The greater political importance of northwestern Greece is clear, and D. shows well how the Akarnanian confederacy strove to protect itself, or even to survive, against its powerful neighbours in Aitolia and Epeiros, and also to face the interventions of Macedon and Rome. Despite the partition of Akarnania between Epeiros and Aitolia in the mid-third century, which seems to have led to the temporary disappearance of the confederacy (as D. supposes), and other major setbacks, Akarnania, limited though its resources were, seems on the whole to have maintained itself tolerably well. Whether it contributed to the development of new state-forms is, however, another matter. While the Akarnanian confederacy certainly changed over the centuries, as one would expect, D.'s argument that the confederacy was already a clearly federal state in the later fifth century would make it difficult to claim that it eventually evolved to something significantly different in kind. A central difficulty for any attempt to assess how much the confederacy did in fact evolve is the scarcity of information about political relations between the confederacy and the communities which made it up, as D. notes. The sources which sporadically report Akarnania's involvement in wider Greek affairs tend naturally to give pride of place to the confederacy rather than to the individual Akarnanian cities, and D., in pursuing the political history of the region, follows the bias of the sources. Others building on his work may be able to glean a little more about Akarnania's internal cohesion, or tensions. D. notes early in the book (p. 7) that the confederacy admitted originally non-Akarnanian communities to membership, and so evidently did not see itself as ethnically defined, but believes that the Akarnanians showed a strong sense of common identity (Zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl): he does not however analyse this sentiment in detail. The reader can readily see from D.'s work that that sense of identity was not only strong and enduring but also highly adaptable since it survived on the one hand the incorporation into Akarnania of outsiders, among them most notably Leukas (which was intermittently lost again), and on the other the loss in the middle of the third century of eastern Akarnania to Aitolia, a loss which was only partly made good in later years. Indeed in the years from 250 to 232 (on D.'s dating) Akarnania existed only as two blocks of territory dominated respectively by Epeiros and Aitolia. D. notes possible expressions of Akarnanian identity, such as the appearance of Acheloos on coinage but does not pursue the admittedly difficult question of defining that identity. His Akarnania is thus the Akarnanian confederacy in whatever form it existed at any particular time, and his great merit (apart from drawing up the numismatic catalogue) is to have set out clearly what can currently be known of the admittedly patchy history of that confederate Akarnania.

There is a full bibliography (pp. 340-352), although curiously no page numbers are given for articles in journals or chapters in books: those who want to order items from D.'s bibliography through inter-library loan will have to check complete bibliographical details elsewhere. There is one map of Akarnania, very clear but with only limited information.

The text of the review copy (and presumably of all copies) has suffered from a serious fault in printing. In several cases (pp. 36-7, 38-9, 42-3, 44-5, 46-7, and 50-1) text already printed on one page is repeated on the next, and, apparently as a result, other text has disappeared between pp. 37-8, 39-40, 43-4, 45-6, and 47-8. The losses are great enough to make it impossible to make a reasonable guess at what was originally written, though the main lines of the argument remain clear. The book is otherwise well produced.

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