Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.11.13

Stephen V. Tracy, Athens and Macedon: Attic Letter-Cutters of 300 to 229 B.C. Hellenistic Culture and Society 38.   Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2003.  Pp. xxi, 205.  ISBN 0-520-23333-6.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Julia L. Shear, King's College, Cambridge (
Word count: 1478 words

Stephen V. Tracy's new book on the Attic masons or letter-cutters who inscribed documents on stone between 300 and 229 B.C. is very much a continuation of his earlier work, and it bridges the gap between two of his earlier monographs, Attic Letter-Cutters of 229 to 86 B.C. (Berkeley, 1990) and Athenian Democracy in Transition: Attic Letter-Cutters of 340 to 290 B.C. (Berkeley, 1995). Within this span of 254 years, Tracy (henceforth T.) has identified 60 cutters, and he has very much dictated the development of this aspect of Greek epigraphy. It is not for the faint of heart: as T. states, 'complete study of any given cutter requires literally years of work' (xix), both months to learn the particular hand and then much time to find further examples of the individual's work. It also requires access to as many inscriptions as possible. Not all of us are in a position in which we can do this kind of study, and we must thank T. for doing it for us. As with his two previous volumes, the results of the current study have implications beyond merely assigning a particular inscription to a specific cutter. T.'s work also provides a chronological framework which is independent of prosopography and gives order to the very uncertain chronology of the third century. Since the history of this period is heavily dependent on epigraphical sources, his results have important implications not only for epigraphists, but also for historians both of Athens and of the Hellenistic world more broadly.

T. has divided his book into three parts: a general introduction, Part I 'Athenian Government and the Macedonian Kings', and Part II 'Attic Letter-Cutters of 300 to 229 B.C.'. The volume is rounded out by two appendices (on Athenian archons between 261/0 and 234/3 and on the inscriptions Agora I 5392 + 3855), four indices (Greek texts, passages cited, persons, and general) and two comparationes numerorum (one to Agora XV and XVI and the other to SEG). In the introduction, T. first presents the reader with two important issues which recur throughout the volume: the problems of third-century chronology and inscribing habits of particular cutters (e.g. syllabification, the 'perfect design' and its use, layout).

Part I consists of two sections. The first, 'Oligarchy versus Democracy: 338 to 262 B.C.', considers to what extent we can say that Athenian democracy was curtailed during this period. T. identifies four cornerstones of popular rule: sortition of offices, annual terms for office holders with no iteration permitted, the existence of citizen bodies with meaningful powers (the ekklesia and the boule), and the court system. He then argues that there are two certain periods of oligarchic rule: from 321 to 319 after the Lamian War and from 294/3 to 292/1 when the city was under the close control of Demetrios Poliorketes. The second section is entitled 'Macedonian Domination: 262 to 229 B.C.' and considers the relationship between the city and Antigonos Gonatas. T.'s focus is on the extent to which Antigonos intervened directly in the internal workings of the city. He argues that there is evidence for such interference and that Antigonos' rule was exceptional; the general tendency was to leave the democratic machinery alone. The removal of the Macedonian garrison from the city in 255 does not mark a return to the traditional constitution. Far more significant is the apparent decision to abandon tribal rotation in the secretary cycle in 262 and to relax the two-term limit on service in the boule, actions which reflect the strong Macedonian control of the city.

Part II, 'Attic Letter-Cutters of 300 to 229 B.C.', forms the bulk of the volume and contains the entries for the 11 individual cutters identified. The entries are preceded by a list of the 268 inscriptions assigned. This listing is indispensable and makes it possible to discover to which cutter T. has assigned a particular inscription. The individual catalogues for the cutters vary somewhat. For the three individuals first presented in Athenian Democracy in Transition (the cutters of IG II2 1262, of IG II2 650, and of Agora I 4266), the entries are addenda to T.'s previous publication. The catalogues for the other eight cutters follow the form used by T. in his earlier treatments. Each entry gives the dates for the cutter, a description of the general characteristics of the lettering and the peculiarities of individual letters, a list of inscriptions, publication of unpublished fragments from the Agora, adnotatiunculae on individual inscriptions, and finally a more general discussion of each cutter, his habits, and his idiosyncrasies; this last section is a new and welcome addition to the entries of each cutter. In some cases, T. is able to suggest how the cutter's career developed and what implications these observations have for texts that are otherwise not closely datable. The entries are well-illustrated with detailed photographs of the inscriptions and squeezes so that T.'s discussion of the characteristics of each cutter is easy to follow. The layout can not have been easy: some pages include photographs, main text, and footnotes, and the editor and the press are to be commended for making the text easy to read. The cutter entries are followed by a brief section listing small groups of inscriptions cut by one man. The groups consist of two or three texts, none of which is dated by an archon.

Part II is rounded out by a section of conclusions. The period is dominated by two men, the Agora I 3238 Cutter and the IG II2 788 Cutter, who are known to have inscribed 81 and 65 separate inscriptions respectively. The former was active between 286/5 and ca. 239 and so politics do not seem to have dictated his success. In the case of both men, T. suggests that their dominance of the market was the result of producing a superior product. Decisions about layout and presentation made their texts easy to read, as did their careful workmanship. Their work is closely related to that of the Cutter of IG II2 1706 (discussed in Attic Letter-Cutters), and all three men seem to have belonged to the same workshop which was active between 285 and ca. 203.

This brief summary includes only some of T.'s contributions and their implications, which also point out directions for further research. For example, the three cutters just mentioned have consequences for our understanding of how workshops functioned and how long they may have existed. T. notes that the Agora I 3238 Cutter cut both the first and the second decrees on IG II2 780 even though the work was separated by two years. This example of the same man making further additions to his earlier work has implications for workshop practises that extend beyond the limits of Attic epigraphy. Some of these cutters have long careers. T. comments on the Agora I 3238 Cutter who was active for 47 years or more (2-3), but we should also note that the Agora I 6664 Cutter was active for about 41 years, that the careers of five other men lasted for 30-35 years, and that of a sixth was about 25 years long. Again, this information has implications beyond the confines of Attic inscriptions. T. also provides interesting discussions of second copies of inscriptions and who was allowed to erect them and iteration in membership of the boule. Other contributions are more narrowly epigraphical: by my count, 10 inscriptions, all small, are published for the first time; there are additions to the texts of 20 inscriptions; 12 inscriptions have been given new dates; and one archon, Aristion, has been redated (most likely to 291/0) (38-45). This last category represents the only disappointment of T.'s book: that he has not been able to contribute more information towards resolving the difficulties of the third-century archons. It is the intractability of the evidence which is preventing further progress and it in no way reflects on T.'s abilities or achievements. Very simply, when cutters have working lifespans of 25 or more years, they do not provide the precision necessary to date archons to a specific year.

In sum, T.'s book is an important one and it reflects very well on his hard work. It will certainly be of interest to epigraphists, but its audience should not be limited to them. This study also has important implications for understanding the relationship between Athens and the Macedonians. It makes contributions to a wide range of other issues, political, military, economic, cultural, in third-century Athens and in the wider Hellenistic world. Since this book has so much to contribute to our understanding of the period, readers are well advised to read the text as well as to consult it for particular inscriptions. Scholars interested in the third century should add this volume to their list of books to be read, and it should appear on the shelves of any respectable library.

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