Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.04.03

Walter Eder, Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp (ed.), Volk und Verfassung im vorhellenistischen Griechenland, Beiträge auf dem Symposium zu Ehren von Karl-Wilhelm Welwei in Bochum, 1.-2. März 1996.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 1997.  Pp. xx, 245.  ISBN 3-515-07088-5.  EUR 49,00.  

Contributors: Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, Elke Stein-Hölkeskamp, Christoph Ulf, Hans Lohmann, Dieter Lotze, Hellmut Flashar, Heinrich-Theodor Gruetter, Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto, Michael Zahrnt, Wolfgang Orth, Gerhard Wirth and Michael Stahl

Reviewed by Adolfo J. Dominguez, Ancient History, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (
Word count: 1969 words

This book contains the Proceedings of a Symposium held in Bochum in March 1996 to commemorate Karl-Wilhem Welwei with a series of papers dealing with the subject "People and Constitution in pre-Hellenistic Greece". Usually in meetings of this kind, representing a wide range of different scholars and interests, the results are only loosely connected with the subject proposed. However, in this case there is a high degree of coherence and we find important contributions to the subject of the shaping of political consciousness in Archaic and Classical Greece.

The book begins with a short introduction by the editors (ix-x) in which they trace Welwei's main fields of research on the role of the demos in the formative process of the polis, as well as on the importance of pre-political structures (tribe, genos) in the genesis of the polis, and other research, focused mainly on the role of the demos in the classical city.

A consolidated bibliography of Welwei's works (xi-xx) precedes the contributions, which are arranged in chronological order.

K.J. Hölkeskamp, "Agorai bei Homer" (1-19), studies the meaning of the agora in Homer. He accepts, as is usual today, that the Homeric world represents the world of the rising polis and, consequently, agora is its main representative organ; agora represents the identity of the community and the institutionalization of the assembly of free people. Publicity and the search for a consensus would have been two of the main features of the agora, which in its Homeric form already hinted at the powers that the gathering of the demos would assume in the classical city.

E. Stein-Hölkeskamp, "Adel und Volk bei Theognis" (21-35), explores how we can use Theognis to analyze political conflicts in the archaic polis. After several general remarks supporting the authenticity of just one third of Theognis' work, the author makes a detailed analysis of three poems, in her opinion truly Theognidean. Lines 39-52 are, a poem dealing with the conflict between the leading groups, in which demos is no more than a passive element within a complex social situation, and the author establishes an acceptable relationship between this poem and Solon's Eunomie (frag. 4, 26-29 W). The second poem (lines 53-60) refers to the changes in the system of values in the city, where terms such as ἀγαθοί and ἐσθλοί begin to lose their earlier meaning. In the third poem (lines 183-192) Theognis tries to show the new criteria for belonging to the leading groups; wealth (χρήματα) may convert a κακός into an ἐσθλός while εὐγένεια loses importance. For Theognis, this would mean the end of the old aristocracies, which would survive only through culture, morality and εὐγένεια.

C. Ulf, "Überlegungen zur Funktion überregionaler Feste im archaischen Griechenland" (37-61), presents a broad overview of the development of regional festivals from the Dark Ages to the 6th century Panhellenic festivals. The author makes an important contribution to the study of the festivals during the Dark Ages through the study of archaeological evidence. He observes that these festivals served to reinforce the role of the leading groups in a pre-political period. During the early Archaic age many sanctuaries began to build permanent structures, temples and so on, to show their importance as centers where peoples of different origins could gather; the poleis would invest a substantial part of their surplus in them. During the 6th century the four main sanctuaries were used for athletic events. They were true survivors of a long process, and their success was related to their Panhellenic character. One of the reasons suggested by the author to explain the decline of nearly all the regional sanctuaries in favor of the four Panhellenic sanctuaries is the rise of powerful poleis that acted as a deterrent to their further development.

H. Lohmann, "Antike Hirten in Westkleinasien und der Megaris: Zur Archäologie der mediterranen Weidewirtschaft" (63-88). Although a very interesting paper in itself, I do not understand why it is included in a collection of papers dealing with political aspects. Lohmann makes a survey of shepherds' precincts in the Bodrum peninsula and in Megaris, and makes some interesting remarks about transhumance in ancient and modern Greece. He ends by establishing differences in the models of use of the pasture and agricultural land in Miletus, Megara and Attica. This paper is out of place in this book and, despite its interest, risks being overlooked by those interested in land use in ancient Greece.

D. Lotze's "Zwischen Kleisthenes und Ephialtes" (89-98) deals with the development of the democratic system in the first fifty years of its history, stressing the gradual assumption of their rights by the demos. Thus, L. discusses the weight of the thetes in the first years of Athenian "democracy" and observes that in these years neither their number (he accepts a ratio of one to three between hoplites and thetes) nor their political attitude would be comparable to those reported in later times. Consequently, L. thinks there was a gradual process of "activating" democracy rather than rapid change within Athenian society just after Cleisthenes' reforms but, at the same time, he does not accept that "true democracy" arises only after Ephialtes' reforms.1

H. Flashar, in "Orest vor Gericht" (99-111), studies the relationship between Aeschylus' Eumenides and the reforms carried out by Ephialtes in the Areopagos. As is well known, the main problem for knowing in detail what kind of reform Ephialtes would have encouraged that we know very little about the functions of this Council before the reforms. Thus, Aeschylus' Eumenides, performed only four years after Ephialtes' work and, according to F., perhaps already in Aeschylus' mind in 461 B.C., would be the oldest reference to the new Areopagos. However, and contrary to another line of scholarly thought,2 F. argues in favor of a Solonian flavor in the Areopagos created by Athena in the tragedy. Orestes' trial, reserved to the Areopagos in the Eumenides is, however, left to Apollo himself in Euripides' Orestes, performed 50 years later. As F. puts it, this reflects the changing political climate in Athens, when the Areopagos was no longer politically relevant. The emphasis has shifted from an Orestes being judged by gods and men (Aeschylus) to an Orestes being acquitted by Apollo acting as a deus ex machina.

H.T. Gruetter in "Die athenische Demokratie als Denkmal und Monument: Überlegungen zur politischen Ikonographie im 5. Jahrhundert v. Chr." (113-132) explores the always interesting subject of the relationship between monuments and history. After analyzing three monuments dating to three key moments in the fifth century (the Tyrannicides monument, the Stoa Poikile and the buildings in the Akropolis), G. concludes that each monument represents a stage in the development of the democratic system: the consensus between nobility and the new order, the integration of nobility into the new ethics and the demonstration of the power of democracy. In addition, G. observes three different uses of the past, from the self-appraisal of the new order to representing and giving legitimacy to the new powers of democracy. Of special interest is the discussion of the Parthenon frieze in relation to the re-organization of the Delian League in the 440s.

E. Herrmann-Otto, "Das andere Athen: Theorie und politische Realisation eines 'antidemokratischen' Oligarchenstaaten" (133-152), studies the theory of oligarchy in Athens, the (supposed) attempts to create an oligarchic state before Pericles and the success of the oligarchs in creating an oligarchic state, even if for a very short time. A study of the Old Oligarch allows the author to introduce the main ideas of those groups, based on rejecting the main features of democracy (the important role of the thetes, equal rights, judicial system), linked to a support for pro-Spartan ideas. In the second part of this work, the author reviews the main politicians of the late 6th-early 5th century (Isagoras, Miltiades, Cimon) and concludes that there was no attempt to overthrow democracy before Pericles' rise to power. In the last part, H.-O. analyzes the creation of an oligarchic system for a short period, which converted some of the dreams of the Old Oligarch into reality. However, the constitution of the Four Hundred, the constitution of the Five Thousand, the Thirty Tyrants and the oligarchic state at Eleusis did not last more than two years in total.

With M. Zahrnt, "Der Demos von Syrakus im Zeitalter der Dionysioi" (153-175), we move from Athens to Syracuse and Sicily. After a brief review of the sources for the period (mainly Ephorus and Theopompus, but also Timaeus and Plato's seventh and eighth letters), Z. analyzes the role of the demos in Dionysius' rule and concludes that the tyrant filled Syracuse with new groups loyal to him that had closer links to him personally than to the city; he could thus hand power on to his son Dionysius II. Dion would also use some of the tactics previously used by the two Dionysii when he armed his followers and camped in the agora. However, during his short rule, he assembled the demos more times than his predecessors. But, during the long rule of the tyrants, the Syracusan demos lost its independence and when Timoleon seized power he re-wrote the old Syracusan constitution of 413 BC in oligarchic terms.

W. Orth, "'Gleichheit' der Bürger im Urteil des Isokrates" (177-189), begins by describing Isocrates' political position and claims that, despite current opinion, Isocrates shows sympathy with democratic regimes and rejects oligarchies and monarchic rule. O. observes that Isocrates does not support every kind of democracy, but only a well-governed democracy in which equality is truly implemented. Isocrates' idea of good government is related, as O. suggests, to the government by the best citizens: the καλοὶ κἀγαθοί would become the best rulers for democratic Athens, whose citizens were characterised by their εὐγένεια. In short, Isocrates developed the concept of equality by distinguishing between arithmetic and geometric equality and attached great importance to ἀρετή in his theory on democracy.

G. Wirth, "Lykurg und Athens im Schatten Philipps II" (191-225), begins by reviewing the relationship between Athens and Macedon before Chaeronea and concludes that Philip II had no intention of exerting strong pressure over Athens. After Chaeronea, Lycurgus would represent a new kind of politician for Athens, characterized by rigorous politics, based largely on the concept of the πάτριος πολιτεία, and an evident ethical compromise. An increase in religious manifestations, the introduction of new cults, the construction of new temples, etc., and civic consolidation characterize this period, with special regard to ὁμόνοια. However, as W. suggests, Lycurgus' regime seems to have been, as Pericles' was previously, the rule of the first man.3

M. Stahl, "Antike und moderne Demokratie: Probleme und Zukunftsperspektiven der westliches Demokratien im Spiegel des griechischen Bürgerstaates" (227-245), presents some thoughts on the differences and similarities between ancient Greek (Athenian) democracy and modern democratic experiences in the Western world. S. concludes his paper by stressing the three points developed by the Greeks with respect to politics: the definition of politics itself, the organization of political participation and the democratic ethic.

The book presents a wide selection of thoughts current in German scholarship about the origins of politics, the development of the polis and the origins and development of Athenian democracy. The papers, for the most part, complement each other, which is a difficult task in a collection of this kind. Taken together, they allow the reader to obtain an excellent insight of the main issues related with the rise and maturity of the polis and politics in ancient Greece. The book is primarily aimed at specialist scholars and, in this respect, all the papers show a very high level of scholarship.

The book is well edited and I have detected only minor faults and typographical errors. For example, on p. 21, footnote 1, Murray 1982, does not appear in the bibliography of the paper (p. 35); on p. 37 Cathrine (Morgan), must be Catherine.


1.   In relation to the gradual configuration of democratic institutions, the issue of the mechanism of ostracism should be remembered. See N.A. Doenges, "Ostracism and the Boulai of Kleisthenes", Historia, 45, 1996, pp. 387-404.
2.   See, for instance, L.A. Jones, "The Role of Ephialtes in the Rise of Athenian Democracy", ClAnt, 6, 1987, esp. pp. 69-75.
3.   It is curious, however, that Lycurgus has been made (it seems in a definite way) responsible for rebuilding the meeting-place of the Athenian assembly, the Pnyx; see lastly S.I. Rotroff, Pnyx III: Pottery and Stratigraphy. B. Forsén, G. Stanton (eds). The Pnyx in the History of Athens. Helsinki. 1996. pp. 35-40.

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:27:50, Friday, 03 April 2009