Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.06.13

Robin Osborne (ed.), The Athenian Empire. Fourth edition.   London:  London Association of Classical Teachers, 2000.  Pp. 148.  ISBN 0-903625-17-2.  



Reviewed by John Higgins, The Gilbert School
Word count: 2159 words

The LACTOR series of sources for ancient history has been familiar for quite a few years, and have proven their worth in the classroom on both sides of the Atlantic. The Athenian Empire was the first of them, originally published in 1968. The current edition is the fourth. As Robin Osborne notes in his Preface, it is "the most widely used of the LACTORs", and it will deservedly continue to be so. The book is very well edited and written. No doubt people will have quibbles with inclusions and exclusions (for instance, the inclusion of the entire Melian Dialogue would provide a fuller description of what the Athenians felt about their power vis à vis the subject states, at least according to Thucydides), but the selection will generally command assent. I intend in this review to note some things for the use of the 4th and make suggestions for the 5th edition.

The Athenian Empire is designed for the use of students of ancient history, in the first place those in British schools and universities. It is composed of a collection of ancient sources, literary and epigraphical, in English translation; also included are short essays dealing with the use and nature of the sources and a few short notes on other types of evidence. The literary evidence is naturally dominated by Thucydides. This is as it should be, since quite frankly the history of the Athenian Empire and the Peleponnesian War is essentially a construction of Thucydides. However, his history provides a context for the snippets which are here offered in isolation. The teacher using this book will have to be aware that some of the classroom task is precisely that contextualization.

This fourth edition is the first to be edited by Robin Osborne, who has made some significant changes to the organization of the material, as well as adding some items. The main text presents the material organized into two broad categories: Part I. "The Story of Empire" is a chronological account of the Athenian Empire, while Part II. "An Institutional Survey of the Empire" gives the evidence for how the institution actually worked. Part I is further subdivided into six sections dealing with specific periods: 1.1 "The formation of the Delian League"; 1.2 "The growth, development and changing nature of the Delian League"; 1.3 "The Empire from c. 450 to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War"; 1.4 "The state of the Empire at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War"; 1.5 "Athens and her Empire During the Arkhidamian War"; and 1.6 "From the Peace of Nikias to the end of the Empire." The Institutional Survey in Part II includes the following sub-sections: 2.1 "Tribute"; 2.2 "Other obligations imposed on all allies"; 2.3 "Athenian interference with individual allies", 2.4 'The benefits of Empire for individuals" and 2.5 "Fourth-century retrospectives on the Athenian Empire." The last two sections do not really belong with an account of the institutional life of the Athenian Empire.

In this latest edition, Osborne has shifted some material from one section to another, notably in placing items which were in the section on the institutional organization of the Empire to the chronological section to illustrate conditions during the Peloponnesian War itself. This approach is generally successful. The presentation of the material here shows the student two ways of understanding the historical material, chronological and topical. Cross-references are plentiful and accurate, so there is little difficulty in navigating through the evidence relevant to a particular topic.

There are several notes on various topics throughout the text, and they are all very helpful, concise and judicious discussions of particular problems in the interpretation of the sources. In order, they are: Note A "When did the Athenian Empire begin?"; Note B "Handling Thucydides on the formation and growth of the Athenian Empire"; Note C "Using literary sources other than Thucydides:"; Note D "Chronology"; Note E "The character of the Athenian Empire: the importance and use of inscriptions as evidence"; Note F "The Tribute Quota Lists"; Note G "Religious aspects of Athenian imperialism"; Note H "Archaeology and the Athenian Empire". They are all good, and very helpful; I would like to single out the note on the Tribute Lists (pp.86-97) as a very clear, concise, and full discussion of what the evidence consists of, how it is to be interpreted, and what it tells us. In so doing, the note provides the necessary background to the whole of Part II, on the workings of the Empire.

The Athenian Empire is not an ancient history textbook or a narrative history like, for instance, Donald Kagan's The Archidamian War (missing from the bibliography), but rather a resource. This is a work of reference for students, who will use it only in the context of an ancient history course. As such, the collection implies elements of a curriculum by its choice of selections and its organization of them, but it is quite free of explicit direction in its use. Each student or, more likely, each teacher will have to decide on the use for him or her self. The most likely use for the book in the American context will be as a supplementary text for college and university courses.

Even so, it would be helpful for the editor to give a bit more direction in how to read the inscriptions, a considerable part of the evidence presented. There are a lot of lacunae and brackets, as well as incomplete sentences, to the extent that it is sometimes very difficult to tell what is going on in a particular text. As an example, read the following selection concluding an inscription recording rewards given to the people of Neapolis by the Athenians (selection #179, =ML 89):

"The Secretary of the Council is to correct the former decree, and [change the writing on it] and instead of settlers [from Thasos] write that they fought the war [with the Athenians].
[60].[----] praise the good things they now do and say for Athens and that they are keen to do every good service to the army and the city for the future as before. And summon them to hospitality tomorrow.
[--said, otherwise as proposed by the Council, but [the first-fruits] to be offered to the Parthenos [as before--] the people pray for."

The passage gets progressively less coherent until it ends in what appear to be random, unconnected, phrases. The student will, of course, have recourse to a teacher in trying to discover the meaning of this, but the book would benefit from an explicit discussion of the basic facts about inscriptions and their physical state. As it stands, it is difficult to see how a student studying on his or her own could interpret this passage. Even with a recognition of the fragmentary nature of the evidence, he or she would scarcely be able to begin assessing the degree of trust to give to the bracketed restorations. This sort of more basic information could be added in a note like the ones already in here and would increase the usefulness of the book. Note "E" already discusses the inscriptions as evidence; adding a discussion of the actual state of preservation and the way that epigraphers read them would help.

I have some quibbles about specific elements of the presentation. Innocent of the conventions used by ancient historians, will the students who are this book's audience know what the brackets around the sources' names means? We find, for instance, in the "Alphabetical List of Authors" (xi) that there are two authors--one called "Andokides" and the other "[Andokides]". Teachers will, of course, know that the brackets around the second name indicate that the work is wrongly attributed to Andokides, but some indication of this might be helpful to students. It would also be helpful if the List of Authors and the following "Table of Concordance for Inscriptions" (xvi-xvii) were to include the page number of the passage, as well as the number of the text's entry in this book. The abbreviation of Meiggs' The Athenian Empire, AE, is ambiguous: we might think of L'Anné Épigraphique. In the Table of Concordance, two of the sources are listed as "Hill" and "Fornara", neither of which is immediately obvious. Similarly, the simple reference to "Figueira" in the note on page 106, is needlessly opaque. The works cited do appear in the Bibliography at the end, but it would be clearer and more user-friendly to repeat the reference at the point where they are mentioned. For the student who wishes to go further, it might cause delay. The glossary (xviii-xxii) misses the Archon Basileus. There is a word left out ("and") at the end of selection #8 on page 14.

The maps can be improved. Not one of them shows where to find the Persian Empire. The maps also could show more. The first one, "The Central and Eastern Mediterranean", shows nothing in Greece proper but Athens. Admittedly, the following maps show the Aegean and Mainland Greece in some more detail, but Sparta, at least, should be here. The maps should be cross-referenced within the text. The maps show some inconsistency with the text--Lykia on p. 22, appears as Lycia on the map, xxiv; this is not the only example of differing transliterations. Some places prominently mentioned in some of the selections do not appear on the maps--for instance, the places mentioned in selection #33 (p. 23), namely Pamphylia, Ionia(!), and the Khelidonian Islands, are not there and Khios appears as Chios.

The book contains several photographs and other illustrations. Unfortunately, they do not add as much as they should. The photographs of the Kleonymos decree (p. 64) and the relief of the decree granting citizenship to the Samians (p. 84) are not terribly legible and do not have a scale attached. The captions to the photographs do provide information about the size of the letters, but do not go on to say why that is important. The pictures of the Tribute List for 440/39 and Kleinias' decree (pp. 88 and 103) are better, but all the same add little to the understanding of the texts. On the other hand, a chance for a real contribution to understanding has been overlooked: there really should be a picture of a three-bar sigma, so that students can know what on earth it looks like and why it is so important as a diagnostic tool for dating. The problem is well discussed on page 8: here is the place for a picture if there ever was one. In general, while the discussion of inscriptional evidence is very good (especially Note F on pages 34-38), the book does not provide enough of a visual context for this large body of evidence which was, of course, meant to be seen in order to be understood.

Some issues involve the Bibliography. The Bibliography is divided into sections corresponding to each of the sections of the text. There are some obvious advantages to this procedure, but some drawbacks too, since a reader can get lost if she or he is looking for a particular book that may be found in more than one section. Another addition that would increase the usefulness of the book would be a list of translations of the major literary sources, since this book is clearly aimed at students without Greek.

Finally, I would like to make a few suggestions about enhancing the utility of this book in a Fifth edition. The on-line readers of this review will perhaps be sympathetic to a plea that a resource like this book should be linked in some way to a web-based collection of sources. The next generation of The Athenian Empire, as indeed of any collection of ancient evidence, should be produced in tandem with a web site which should include the complete texts of the literary sources used, in English as well as in Greek; the complete Greek text of translated inscriptions, and photographs of the original stones (or whatever medium they appear on) and their find spots. Much of this work has already been done and certainly in the case of literary texts a link to Perseus will be sufficient. Archaeological and inscriptional evidence may demand more work, but the approach would be practicable. Such a collection of links would considerably expand the usefulness of this collection and add features unavailable now. The higher quality of photographs on a web site will enhance the usefulness of the inscriptions, while links to the full text of literary works will make context a mouse click away. Additionally, the art and archaeology of the Athenian Empire could receive fuller treatment with links to high quality pictures, site reports, maps, and the like. As it stands, the archaeological information is merely hearsay. A book of sources should present them as little mediated as possible.

The Athenian Empire, the first of the LACTORs, is a very fine collection, which can become even better as the first of the electronic LACTORs.

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