Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.11.29

Jeremy McInerney, The Folds of Parnassos: Land and Ethnicity in Ancient Phokis.   Austin:  University of Texas Press, 1999.  Pp. xvi + 391.  ISBN 0-292-75229-6.  $50.00 (hb).  ISBN 0-292-75230-X.  $24.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by John Buckler, History, University of Illinois, Urbana (
Word count: 3119 words

Phokis with its many sites and sights has long been a relatively unappreciated gem of the Greek countryside.1 J. McInerney (henceforth "M.") has now addressed the problem in a book that considers (Chs. 2-5) the earliest social and political organization of the Phokians, followed by Chs. 6-8 that trace their subsequent history. Three appendices examine the situation of some 27 places, discuss the controversy over the significance of Thermopylai and the Isthmus Corridor route, and attempt to date Phokian fortifications. The text is supported by a bibliography, index and tables, useful photographs, and clear maps.

In the first chapters M. treats the subject of physical geography and its influence on political developments. His interpretation of topography, however, is confused and contradictory. In his excellent description of the region (Ch. 3) he notes the diversity of the landscape, from which he concludes (pp.40-41, 53) that the land encouraged the autonomy of many individual communities while retarding the movement to synoicism. It led (pp.108, 110) rather to separatism. Yet elsewhere (pp.111-112) he admits the remarkable topographical similarities of an area that he, following A. Philippson, considers (p.180) "neither naturally bordered, nor a geographical unity." Still elsewhere (p.54) M., like the poet of the Catalogue of Ships (Iliad 2.522), recognizes the Kephisos as the heartland of ancient Phokis. In fact the Kephisos valley united the land by affording all of its communities an easy means of communication with one another. Furthermore, Mts. Parnassos on the south and Kallidromon on the north encourage greater unity, not division. A proof of it, unappreciated by M., is that throughout its history Phokis suffered from no civil war.

The Iliad 2.517-526 (see also Hdt. 1.146) remembers that the Phokians settled this land as an ethnos, but M. explains the development of this ethnos in a curious way. He defines ethnos (pp.24-25) as a group that identifies itself as a people, but claims (p.148) that "blood ties in Phokis [were] either non-existent or very weak". He insists (pp.133-134) instead that it was a late and artificial creation, but one created before the Archaic period (p.147). He supports his case for artificiality by using models, some drawn from the experiences of African and American Indian tribes, instead of explaining (p.47) why some Phokians asserted their allegiance to their own ethnicity while others preferred Dorian.2 Models are no satisfactory substitute for careful examination of the specific evidence. To his credit M. applies (pp.127, 137-138) local Phokian myth in an effort to achieve that purpose. He sees local myth and heroes as significant in creating the Phokian concept of ethnos that was generated by the need for regional alliance to counter external threat. He candidly admits (pp.146-148) his inability to explain the existence of two mythical figures named Phokos or how the original hero from central Greece could be forgotten and only a later transplanted hero be remembered. A readier explanation of these myths is that groups of Phokians used them to establish their individual identity within a larger body that acknowleged common bonds. The fundamental evidence against M.'s views lies in the Iliad and the fact that Phokians voted in the Delphic Amphiktyony as an ethnos.3 M.'s statement (p.156) that "the existence of a Phokian ethnos in the seventh century ... does not signify the existence of a Phokian koinon" contradicts his conclusion (p.200) that their vote in the Amphiktyony fixed "the Phokians as a separate and distinct political unit". Rather, the ethnic vote preceded or was irrelevant to any political identity. M.'s concept of Phokian ethnicity and political evolution seems unnecessarily contrived, artificial, and contradictory.

A commonly shared concept of ethnicity does not automatically result in political unity, as the Northern Irish today readily prove. M. turns to two concepts, synoicism (pp. 41, 53, 140-141) and federalism (pp. 154-157) in his discussion of political developments. Synoicism was rare in classical Greece, and accordingly his close attention to it is somewhat surprising. Nor apparently has he consulted the standard work of M. Moggi.4 Furthermore, there is no evidence that the Phokians ever seriously considered it. Although M. argues (pp. 40-41) that geography worked against it, the Kephisos valley, owing to its centrality, actually served as a better unifying factor than did the divided topography of Attika for Athens. Synoicism for the Phokians was simply the road not taken. Instead, as so often in early Greece, the Phokians in the early sixth century applied their cultural identity and geographical proximity to the creation of a federal government that ensured local autonomy and mutual defense.

The account of Phokian federalism is basically that of J.A.O. Larsen but unfortunately without reference to H. Beck's more recent and very sound treatment of it.5 All agree, however, that federalism developed as a reaction to Thessalian expansion southwards in the early sixth century, an event ably treated by G.A. Lehmann (unused by M.).6 It was the first external threat that prompted the Phokians to join for mutual defense. Moreover, M. confuses what little is known of these poorly-documented events. Herodotos (8.27-28) provides two anecdotes that M. himself calls (p. 177) "colorful stories." The first tells of a Phokian night attack against the Thessalians in which the Phokians whitened their bodies to appear as ghosts. After their victory they dedicated half of the captured shields at Delphi and the rest at Abai. The second is the victory of the jars at Hyampolis in which the Phokians disabled Thessalian cavalry by planting amphoras in which the horses broke their legs. A weakness of M.'s interpretation of these events begins with his interpretation of the significance of the dedications. He earlier (p. 166) emphasizes Delphi's prosperity as a settlement and a shrine independent of Phokis, but now (p. 178) he sees the dedications to Apollo as a spur to the Phokian sense of self-identification. That will not explain the dedication at Delphi except as a Phokian claim to it. Simpler is the obvious fact that both were dedicated to Apollo's most celebrated sanctuaries in Greece. Otherwise, the Phokians could have made their dedications at Abai alone to emphasize their sense of "self-identification." M.'s interpretation of the second incident is yet more inadequate. Largely following Larsen's account,7 M. agrees (p. 175) with his claim that the primary route of the Thessalians went through Thermopylai inland to the pass of Hyampolis which in M.'s words was "the primary route for armies marching from central to southern Greece." Yet on pp. 55-57 M. agrees with Strabo (9.3.2) that "Elateia holds the passes into Phokis and Boiotia." In fact, travellers from the north can reach Hyampolis by several routes, the most northerly being the Dhema pass, next the Kleisoura pass east of Thermopylai and then the Fontana pass farther east at Thronion. M. consideres the coastal road through eastern Lokris "easy," but W.K. Pritchett's work considers this route longer and difficult.8 In both cases M. falls to the danger of using later and anecdotal evidence to provide a coherent account of sixth-century developments. The Thessalian incursion into Phokis prompted the growth of federalism there, but that is the only sound conclusion that can be drawn.

Although M. notes (pp. 156-157, 178-179) the creation of a federal coinage at this early period and the erection of the Phokikon as a federal capital (pp. 61-62, 179-180), he fails to examine the actual functioning of the federation's institutions, the roles of its magistrates, and other of its components. Instead he interprets (pp. 47, 109-114) the existence of walled cities in the fourth century as signs of Phokian resistance to urban synoicism, of particularism, and local pride. Fourth-century walls can obviously say nothing about the origins of sixth-century federalism. To his credit M. realizes that they were necessary to protect local communities. Walls and pride in them, however, do not make them incompatible with the desire for federalism and its ability to muster the entire forces of the region for its common defense. The walled cities of Phokis, in easy reach of one another, were no different from their Boiotian and Achaian counterparts, which contributed significantly to the strength of the federal government. In short, the similarities working in favor of federalism were far greater than the differences working against it.

The narrative proper begins (Chs. 6-8) with the quasi-historical period, the most important aspect of which is the First Sacred War (pp. 165-172). The problem is whether it ever occurred. The main sources for it are fourth-century Attic orators who wrote when the turbulence of the Third and Fourth Sacred Wars were fresh in Athenian minds.9 M. posits more credence in this material than does J.K. Davies, whom he does not cite.10 According to Aischines (3.107) the Kirrhaians and Kragalidai, who held the plain and port of Kirrha, frequently committed sacrilege against Apollo's sanctuary, which spurred Solon and, according to Pausanias (10.37.6), Kleisthenes of Sikyon and the Amphiktyons to suppress them. M. bases (pp. 168-172) his principal argument on Aischines' mention of the otherwise obscure Kragalidai tribe, known only from the later Harpokration, Hesychios, and Photios. The notion of trouble at Delphi is, as Davies writes, "a plausible hypothesis" but a sacred war as presented in the imperfect sources is not.

M. covers (pp. 186-204) the period from the Persian Wars to the triumph of Philip, in which the Phokians were buffeted by the greater powers of Sparta, Athens, Thebes, and Macedonia. His treatment of these matters, especially in connection with the Second Sacred War, would have greatly benefitted from S. Hornblower's detailed examination of them.11 Phokis could seldom pursue an independent policy, with the notable exception of the Third Sacred War. M.'s narrative of the entire period is riddled by numerous factual errors and improbable interpretations, of which only some of the more serious require attention. M. avers (p.186) that although during the fifth century there arose "a cadre of powerful families," "a narrow elite," there is no evidence (p. 187) of a "dominant aristocracy or of a politically active demos." He sees (p. 197) the increasing use of peltasts as a sign of the development of a lower social group but admits that the Phokians "never put large numbers of hoplites in the field," preferring to deploy peltasts instead. He posits (p. 191) reliance upon cavalry and hoplites as indicative of "an increasing stratification of Phokian society," in which the cavalry became the more important by 431. He asserts (p. 192) that friction existed between the wealthy cavalry and the farmers below them. Nowhere does M. prove and delineate the social or political status of the "elite," the cavalry, the hoplites, the peltasts, or the farmers. Aristocracy and demos (p. 187) simply do not functionally exist, but somehow an elite, cavalry, and hoplites on the one hand and peltasts and farmers on the other do. Kleombrotos did not invade Boiotia in 371 by way of the rocky track from Boulis.12 M.'s approach to state formation (pp. 198-204) is marked by repetition of earlier material, questionable use of apparently irrelevant theoretical models, and inconsistencies.

M. devotes special attention to the Third Sacred War (pp. 203-230), which was indeed the Phokian aristeia. Yet his analysis of its outbreak cannot go unchallenged. The crux is Diodoros 16.23.2-3 where in the men-clause he records that the Thebans indicted (active voice) the Spartans (accusative) before the Amphiktyons for having seized the Kadmeia in 362, and in the de-clause the Phokians were indicted (passive voice) for having cultivated much sacred land called Kirrhaian, for which they were heavily fined. The Reviewer (henceforth "R.") concludes that the Thebans levelled charges only against the Spartans and that another unnamed party, but really the Delphians, indicted the Phokians.13 M. disagrees (pp. 206-207) on the grounds that the "two clauses are stylistically if not grammatically paired" and that the grammar "actually intended to pair the Thebans and the Phokians more closely." R. submits that Diodoros could more easily and elegantly have achieved that goal -- and without damage to the men-de construction -- by writing that the Thebans in the active voice pressed charges against the Spartans, and by using the simple kai with the same active verb added that they also indicted the Phokians for their sacrilege. When M. concludes that the sentence as it stands pairs "the Thebans and Phokians more closely," he has assumed what he has not proven. Pausanias (10.2.1, 15.1), whom M. does not cite, supports R.'s position, as does the newly-found inscription that M. does cite.14 The document proves that the Amphiktyons at this time took serious measures to protect the sanctuary. Neither Thebes nor Sparta had any reason to disturb Apollo, nor had either a strong grievance against Phokis, but the Phokians cultivated sacred land, as even Philomelos admitted (Diod. 16.23.4-5).

The end of the Sacred War causes M. as much trouble as its beginning. He misunderstands (pp. 215-225) R.'s explanation that in 346 Athens and Philip were engaged in two separate wars, the Sacred in which Athens was allied with Phokis and that for Amphipolis in which Phokis was not involved. Philip ended the Sacred War by receiving the surrender of Phalaikos and the Phokian home government.15 He vulpinely ended the War for Amphipolis by excluding it from the Peace of Philokrates. He correctly insisted that the treaty be concluded only between him and his allies and Athens and its League. That simple fact is proven by the Macedonian demand that only Aglaokreon of Tenedos, the official ambassador of the League, be permitted to exchange oaths. Phokis was never a member of that League. Even Demosthenes (5.10 cf. also 19.50; Aischin. 2.117, 140-141), whom M. does not cite, warned the Athenians to abide by the Peace of Philokrates and not oppose Philip's settlement of the Sacred War.16 Thus M. has made two serious blunders about the most famous event in Phokian history.

M. treats (pp. 231-246) the period from Philip to the triumph of Rome, yet largely ignores the Fourth Sacred War and P. Londey's work on it.17 M. readily admits that contemporary literary sources and Delphic inscriptions shed little light on the administration of the confederacy, but he has previously paid scant attention to administrative details anyway. Instead he emphasizes (pp. 237-239) use of equal citizenship (isopoliteia) to explain the revival of the koinon. This practice became common in the Hellenistic world, as W. Gawantka has demonstrated,18 but again M. does not describe how it actually influenced the development of the confederacy. He nonetheless rightly maintains that Phokis was in step with broader political developments at a time when it could resist neither stronger leagues, powerful monarchies, nor ultimately Roman legions. The local result was the resort to a Phokian tagos, resembling the Pherian tyrants of the fourth century. M. concludes (p. 251) by claiming that the events of the second century reveal "structural changes that reflect the vulnerability of federalism." Since no systematic discussion of Phokian federalism is found here, the conclusion is fustian.

In Appendix 1 M. provides a very valuable gazetteer of 27 sites, of which R. has visited 22. Here M. makes a superb contribution to topography and history that deserves the highest praise. In all cases checked, he accurately describes the sites, and his observations, supported by his own photographs, become all the more valuable because of his careful autopsy. His identifications of even obscure sites are supported by the available evidence, which he never exceeds. Both here and in Ch. 3 he paints an excellent and unparalleled picture of the region. He carefully describes each site and its environs and establishes patterns of inhabitation. Even when he emphasizes differences among the sites rather than their similarities, he never misleads. In Appendix 3 M. discusses the dating of fortifications, in which he makes a good case for attributing them to the Third Sacred War. Though not quite uniform, as is proven by comparing those of Drymaia and Panopeus, they all share numerous features. Another valuable contribution is his demonstration of sight-lines among sites, a feature that also appears in contemporary Boiotia and Attika. The system contributes another proof of Phokian political unity.

Appendix 2 addresses the controversy over the significance of Thermopylai and the various routes in its region. Simply put, W.K. Pritchett and M. (pp. 333-339) defend Herodotos' testimony about the battle of 480, while G.J. Szemler and his colleagues deny the existence of a pass there at the time.19 The latter instead assert the importance of the Corridor route leading west of Herakleia Trachis into central Greece. From autopsy R. offers the following observations. At Thermopylai Szemler sank borings some 300 meters north of the bedrock of the foothills, which is too far distant to determine the shoreline in 480. Observations of 12 and 18 August 2000 revealed that the travertine alluvium advances southward for very roughly 2100 meters from the line of the modern National Highway before reaching the sedimentary rock. No reliable geological date for this deposit is yet available. Herodotos (7.228), however, saw the inscribed epigrams erected at Thermopylai when he visited the site. His notice of them in place proves that no appreciable geological changes had occurred in the meantime. Yet both Pritchett and M. misunderstand the strategic and tactical significance of the area. Thermopylai was a bottleneck no more than some 15 meters wide at its broadest point (Hdt. 7.176). Leonidas could hold it defensively against superior odds, while the other Greeks delivered the decisive blow at sea off Artemision.20 Greek retention of Thermopylai also denied Xerxes any good harbor between Pagasai and Aulis. The pass, however, was too narrow to serve the Persians as a supply route for a huge army. The size of Xerxes' army is usually estimated as 200,000 strong, and if one takes as a measure H. Delbrück's notice that a German army corps in marching order stretched for some 22.26 kms even without its wagons, then Xerxes' force through Thermopylai would have extended more than 133.56 kms.21 Only the Corridor route, as Herodotos (8.31) proves and Szemler aptly recognizes, permitted logistics on this scale. Moreover, Philip II used this same route in 339 under similar circumstances (Philochoros, FGrH 328 F56, which M. does not cite). Brennos, like Xerxes, withdrew from Thermopylai to the west to strike at Delphi (Paus. 10.20.9, 22.2-3). Pritchett and M. are correct that Herodotos' battle took place at Thermopylai, and Szemler rightly concludes that Xerxes' invasion of central Greece came by way of the Corridor route. The problem for these scholars is not so much topographical as historical.

This book unfortunately exceeds its ambitions. It contributes little of substance to the understanding of Phokian political and social developments. Theory and speculation too often prevail over judicious evaluation of the evidence. Only when M. deals with the land itself is he on firm ground.


1.   F. Schober, Phokis (Crossen a.d. Oder 1924); A. Philippson, Die griechischen Landschaften I.2 (Frankfurt 1951); J. Fossey, The Ancient Topography of Eastern Phokis (Amsterdam 1986).
2.   See also P.W. Wallace, "The Motherland of the Dorians", in E.N. Davis, ed., Symposium on the Dark Age in Greece (New York: 1977) 51-59, unnoticed by M.
3.   G. Roux, L'Amphictionie, Delphes et le temple d'Apollon au IVe siècle (Lyon 1979) 3-19; F. Lefèvre, L'Amphictionie pyléo-delphique (Paris 1998) 30-33, although the latter may have appeared too late for M.'s use.
4.   I sinecismi interstatali greci (Pisa 1976).
5.   Larsen, Greek Federal States (Oxford 1967) 40-44; Beck, Polis und Koinon (Stuttgart 1997) 106-110.
6.   "Thessaliens Hegemonie über Mittelgriechenland im 6. Jhdt. v. Chr." Boreas 6 (1983) 35-43.
7.   Op. cit. 110.
8.   Pritchett, Studies in Ancient Greek Topography IV (Berkeley 1982) 174; See also J. Buckler, Philip II and the Sacred War (Leiden 1989) 30-36.
9.   Isok. 14.31; Aisch. 3.107; see also Diod. 9.16; Plut. Mor. 244B-D; Paus. 10.1.5; Polyain. 6.18.2.
10.   "The Tradition about the First Sacred War", in S. Hornblower, ed., Greek Historiography (Oxford 1994) 193-212. Nor is K. Brodersen, "Heiliger Krieg und heiliger Frieden in der frühen griechischen Geschichte", Gymnasium 98 (1991) 1-4 mentioned.
11.   "The Religious Dimensions of the Peloponnesian War", HSCP 94 (1992) 169-197. It is also remarkable that for all of his dependence upon Thucydides, M. never once uses A.W. Gomme's monumental commentary.
12.   See J. Buckler, "Helikon and Klio", in A. Hurst and A. Schachter, eds. La Montagne des Muses (Geneva 1996) 127-139, and now K. Freitag, Der Golf von Korinth (Munich 2000), 152, a work unavailable to M. but useful to anyone interested in the subject.
13.   Op. cit. 15-17.
14.   F. Lefèvre, "Un document amphictionique inédit du IVe siècle", BCH 118 (1994) 99-122; see also F. Salviat, "Document amphictionique CID IV 2: restitution", BCH 119 (1995) 565-571.
15.   Buckler, Sacred War, 114-119.
16.   Although unavailable to M., R. has discussed these matters in fuller detail in "Demosthenes and Aeschines", in I Worthington, ed., Demosthenes, Statesman and Orator (London 2000) 119-132.
17.   "The Outbreak of the 4th Sacred War", Chiron 20 (1990) 239-260.
18.   Isopoliteia (Munich 1975), another work not cited.
19.   Pritchett, Studies in Ancient Greek Topography VII (Amsterdam 1991) 190-205; E.W. Kase et al., The Great Isthmus Corridor Route I (Dubuque 1991) 111-113; Szemler et al., Thermopylai (Chicago 1996); Szemler and W.J. Cherf, "Nochmals Thermopylai", in R. Mellor and L. Tritle, eds., Text and Tradition (Claremont 1999) 346-347.
20.   A.R. Burn, Persia and the Greeks (London 1962) 352-354, 362-363; C. Hignett, Xerxes' Invasion of Greece (Oxford 1963) 377-378.
21.   Xerxes' numbers: A. Ferrill, The Origins of War (London 1985) 112, 223 n. 161; Delbrück, Geschichte der Kriegskunst I (Berlin 1908) 10; cf also P.H. Sheridan, Personal Memoirs II (New York 1888) 393, who observes that the Germans marched in columns of fours, which would clearly have been impossible in the confines of Thermopylai; A.R. Burn, "Thermopylai and Callidromos", in G.W. Mylonas, ed., Studies Presented to D.M. Robinson I (St. Louis 1951), 480-481, a sentiment found as early as Thutmose III's attack on Megiddo: Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands I (New York 1963) 101-102.

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