Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.08.12

Robert Rollinger, Christoph Ulf, Griechische Archaik. Interne Entwicklungen - Externe Impulse.   Innsbruck:  Akademie Verlag, 2004.  Pp. 520.  ISBN 3-05-003681-8.  €69.80.  

Contributors: Alberto Bernabé, Reinhold Bichler, Birgitta Eder, Peter W. Haider, Jonathan M. Hall, Erich Kistler, Günther Lorenz, Astrid Möller, Barbara Patzek, Kurt A. Raaflaub, Robert Rollinger, Walter Scheidel, Winfried Schmitz, Lukas Thommen, Christoph Ulf, Eckhard Wirbelauer

Reviewed by Helen Hatzimavroudi, Aristoteles University of Thessaloniki (
Word count: 2446 words

The book publishes the results of a workshop held in Innsbruck from 8 to 10 November 2001 on "Greek Archaic and the East"; the subtitle, "Internal and external Impulses", indicates the general directions followed by the research group: Greece and the Levant; communication, exchange and conflict among the diverse political, social and religious groups; and especially cross-cultural relationships. These topics continue to attract scholars' attention two decades after the publication of W. Burkert's Die orientalisierende Epoche in der griechischen Religion und Literatur (SHAW, Philos.-hist. Kl. 1984, 1) Heidelberg 1984 (English translation by M. E. Pinder & W. Burkert, Cambridge 1992), considered a milestone in this area of research. Encouraging the strenuous investigation of the boundary between pervasive or indirect influences and the formation of particular institutions, the present volume eventually leaves the reader with no sense of the main issue being settled definitely, the overall impression being stimulating and provocative opportunities for further research in the field. Obviously it cannot be the first reading on the subject; selections can be useful for advanced undergraduates, the entire work being important for graduate students and scholars whose main interest is the Greek Archaic period.

The editorial team of Robert Rollinger and Christoph Ulf, like the list of contributors, raise strong and indeed happily fulfilled expectations. The book is divided into three sections: Part I, "Theoretische Aspekte", consists of four contributions discussing different theoretical approaches to the Greek Archaic Age; Part II, "Entwicklungen in Griechenland", contains nine articles focusing on internal development in Archaic Greece; and Part III, "Externe Impulse", comprises three essays concentrating on Eastern influences upon the Greeks. It is evident, however, that there is no strict methodological and thematic distinction between the sections. Kistler's paper, for instance, which deals with Ian Morris' approach, is strongly connected with the first, more theoretical, part. The last four contributions of the second section (Raaflaub, Bernabé, Schmitz, Lorenz) are not irrelevant to the third. The editors open the volume with a short prologue and a useful introduction where they place each of the contributions into the framework of the project. Essential for the reader is their attempt to stress the necessity of a chronological extension of the examined period. The book is rounded off by a list of the contributors as well as excellent indices (indices nominum, verborum, locorum and a catalogue of ancient sources).

Jonathan Hall ("Culture, Cultures and Acculturation"), examining the concept of "culture" in the work of M. L. West, W. Burkert and J. Boardman, analyses their different theoretical approaches to the term but also their congruent understanding of acculturation or "culture contact". H. proposes that a reconceptualization of culture in the ancient world, informed by the recent anthropological debate, might yield interesting results, especially as far as Greek Archaic is concerned. Culture is defined as "the conscious reification of ideas, beliefs, values, attitudes and practices, selectively extracted from the totality of social existence and endowed with a particular symbolic signification for the purposes of creating exclusionary distinctiveness" (p. 46).

Christopher Ulf's essay ("Die Instrumentalisierung der griechischen Fruehzeit. Interdependenzen zwischen Epochencharakteristik und politischer Ueberzeugung bei Ernst Curtius und Jakob Burckhardt") is devoted to the ideas of Ernst Curtius and Jacob Burckhardt about the origin of culture and state. In a constructively critical and detailed presentation the author attempts to illuminate their perceptive vision of Archaic Greek History, stressing the similarities of their approaches. Many passages of their work are cited.

Birgitta Eder ("Antike und moderne Mythenbildung: Der Troianische Krieg und die historische Überlieferung") investigates the boundary between myth and historical reality in the Homeric presentation of the Trojan War. According to the author the discrepancy between the Mycenaean and the Homeric world can be bridged through the recognition of features of the Dark Ages.

In a well-articulated essay ("Der Spartanische Kosmos und sein 'Feldlager' der Homoioi. Begriffs- und forschungsgeschichtliche Überlegungen zum Sparta-Mythos") Lukas Thommen1 revises systematically the stereotyped image of archaic Sparta, claiming that it was created gradually after the great earthquake of the 460s in order to increase the cohesion of its citizens. This hypothesis reinforces new perspectives in the study of the archaic Spartan world. Advancing confidently through the scarcely surviving evidence the author demonstrates clearly his belief through analyzing the homoioi-ideology, cosmos, stratopedon, the syskenian and blood-soup. Paying special attention to the proximity of the sources to the information they provide2 he concludes that these typical features of the Spartan world, traditionally considered as archaic, rather correspond to a later time. The connection of the change with the Peloponnesian War needs nevertheless stronger argumentation.3

Erich Kistler (" 'Kampf der Mentalitäten': Ian Morris' 'Elitist-' versus 'Middling-Ideology'?") explains and critically comments on Morris' theory of cultural anthropology. Morris detects two rival traditions, an "elitist" and a "middling", arguing that by the end of the sixth century the former was in disarray and the Greeks were prepared to adopt democracy when prompted by suitable circumstances. Taking into consideration the evidence connected with the Heroon of Lefkandi and with inhumation in post-geometrical Athens, K. questions the perspectives of Morris' theory, mainly suggesting that in Morris' vision the argumentation seems to predetermine the interpretation of the events. K. uses abundant evidence, especially in part II.2 of his article. Perhaps his third argument (about the assumed juxtaposition of the middling ideology and Dahl' s "strong principle of Equality") needs to be reexamined, since it is not convincing on the role of the Assembly of the People.

Walter Scheidel elsewhere has concluded that "as far as quantitative analysis is concerned, the end of ancient demography is already in sight".4 His article in the present volume ("Gräberstatistik und Bevölkerungsgeschichte: Attika im achten Jahrhundert") follows the same "prescription" in reference to grave statistics. The author rejects laconically and explicitly the attempts of scholars to extract from this specific kind of evidence demographical conclusions, which thus seem to be built on shaky foundations. The sample is extremely small and not necessarily representative and few statistically-derived conclusions concerning it deserve much confidence. In his opinion the percentage of the yearly population increase in Attica during the eighth century B.C. cannot surpass 0.3-0.4% and in any case cannot reach the assumed hitherto 3-4%.

Eckhard Wirbelauer ("Eine Frage von Telekommunikation? Die Griechen und ihre Schrift im 9.-7. Jahrhundert v. Chr.") emphasizes the necessity to investigate methodologically not how, when and where the alphabet was adopted in Greece but rather the purpose it served. Summarizing the two theories about the adoption of the alphabet (either through trade or through poetry), W. suggests that the script helps men who travel keep in contact with relatives and friends in their homeland; consequently he argues, not without raising questions, that in this stage local expansion was more important to the Greeks than preservation of records.

Concentrating on Herodotus and Thucydides, Reinhold Bichler ("Das chronologische Bild der 'Archaik' ") deals with the chronological organization of the events narrated in their work. He distinguishes between recent and remote past, observing their reluctance to provide precise chronology and their preference for synchronistic presentation of heterogeneous events. B.'s essay is enriched with abundant evidence.

Astrid Möller, in an article more restricted in scope ("Elis, Olympia und das Jahr 580 v. Chr. Zur Frage der Eroberung der Pisatis"), concludes that the conflict between Elis and Pisa is not archaic and can be attributed to the fourth century B.C.

The study of the "polis"-microcosm provides a useful subject for historical analysis, which is still in the stage of establishing definitions and general principles and open to comparative methods. Kurt A. Raaflaub ("Zwischen Ost und West: Phönizische Einflüsse auf die griechische Polisbildung?"), after defining Greek "polis" as "citizen-state" rather than "city-state", investigates the possible Phoenician influence on its formation. In his opinion the structure of the Phoenician "polis" is essentially different from the Greek microcosm. Its features, the predominant role of trade, the power of the king, the main trade-families and the temple, the shadowy character of the Assembly of the People, are juxtaposed to those of the Greek equivalent, namely the gradually increasing importance of the peasants in the Assembly of the People and the different association between center and periphery, which create a completely different image. Can it be that in spite of this there is a kind of influence? The author is negative, because, when the relationship became denser, the Greek "polis" had already been formed. His observations are remarkable not only as far as "polis" is concerned, but also in a wider prospect; he admits for instance that "Termini wie "Übernahme" oder "Einfluss" nur ein Teil eines viel komplizierteren Vorganges abzudecken vermögen" (p. 274) and more specifically that "Im sozio-politischen Bereich scheint es also von vornherein geraten, nicht mit unverändertem Import, sondern mit komplizierten Prozessen von Anpassung und Umwandlung zu rechnen" (p. 274).

Alberto Bernabé ("Hittites and Greeks. Mythical Influences and Methodological Considerations") analyzes two examples of the way in which Hittite myths are adopted in Greek mythology: the disappearance of God and the divine succession. Methodological issues concern him in the beginning of his presentation, where he recognizes that "it is a useful method to analyze the analogies and, above all, the differences among those similar motifs in order to see in which way the same theme is inserted in a different cultural and mythical background, restructuring its elements in the most different ways. And, it is precisely this adaptation that reveals different ways of thinking" (p. 292).

Winfried Schmitz ("Griechische und nahöstliche Spruchweisheit. Die Erga kai hemerai Hesiods und nahöstliche Weisheitsliteratur") juxtaposes the gnomic poem of Hesiod to oriental parallels. He discusses methodological problems stressing the interpretation not of individual motives but rather of the context and observing that the texts are usually compared on the grounds of literature, the social-economical background being thus ignored. So while he acknowledges an agricultural community in the background of Hesiodic poetry, in the Orient the situation is completely different: the community is more complex and organized in a specifically more hierarchical order. The "teacher to pupil" relationship, which is traced in gnomic poetry of the East, differs essentially from the style in which Hesiod addresses his advice to his brother.

Guenther Lorenz ("Asklepios, der Heiler mit dem Hund, und der Orient") develops an interesting theory on the association of Asklepios with dogs, proposing an etymology of his name ("the doctor with the dog") related to the emergence of his cult through the deification of a hero named Askalafos. L.'s remarkable observations on the cult of Apollo's son as well as his strongly supported argumentation satisfy the most demanding reader. In a lengthy essay ("Die Verschriftlichung von Normen: Einflüsse und Elemente orientalischer Kulturtechnik in den homerischen Epen, dargestellt am Beispiel des Vertragswesens"), Robert Rollinger approaches the topic of contact between Greeks and the Orient by comparing the 23 cases of contract met in the Homeric poems with 13 analogous texts derived from the Orient. Based on the premise that the Homeric epics belong to the context of the 8th-7th cent. B.C., the author compares them with parallel texts from the New-Assyrian Age (825-625 B.C.). The components of the contract-procedure, the ritual way of behavior and the symbolism of the ceremony are carefully examined and interesting conclusions are drawn as far as the zone of contact is concerned. The argumentation cannot be even partly accepted, the author rightly notes, without acknowledging the disputed function of the Homeric poems as historical sources.

Greek philosophy has been understood as an excellent standard sprung out of the Greek genius; only recently have scholars reconsidered the issue and suggested another approach. In this frame Barbara Patzek ("Griechischer Logos und das Intellektuelle Handwerk des Vorderen Orients") investigates the influence of oriental traditions on Greek thought. She concentrates on methodological problems, which, once solved, can facilitate the examination and the evaluation of the evidence. This paper, too short and lacking a variety of examples that could have illuminated and supported the author's arguments, is more useful in respect of the methodological practices discussed and can serve as a starting point for further exploration.

The essay of Peter W. Haider ("Kontakte zwischen Griechen und Ägyptern und ihre Auswirkungen auf die archaisch-griechische Welt") focuses on the cultural relationship between Greeks and Egyptians during the Archaic Age. The presence of Greek soldiers, traders and craftsmen in Egypt from the middle of the 7th century B.C. led to an acculturation-process through marriage with local women, Egyptian names of their children and adoption of local funerary practices. In H.'s opinion this intense and fertile cultural contact has its impact on the Greek world; diverse examples are provided from the regions of art, religion and the intellectual world. The assumption that Egyptian ideas can be traced in the Presocratics' philosophy can serve as a starting point for further exploration of the field. In a volume where many critical issues are simply alluded to, the evolution of images, practices and ideas incorporated into the Greek society from the Orient is only touched upon and thus calls for further investigation. In this frame the following phrase remains cryptic: "Neu an seinem Bild (sc. Thales') war auf jeden Fall die Säkularisierung der Idee vom Urelement" (p. 470).

From this brief outline of the articles it becomes evident that the present volume treats a variety of interesting topics about Archaic Greece and its relationship with the Levant. The essays refer directly or allude to a wide range of issues related to economy, social organization, politics, literature, education, religion and ideology; only lyric poetry is scarcely touched upon. Apart from the diverse approaches, a constant feature of the articles is the abundant use of ancient sources and modern theories and ideas are concerned. The avowed intention of introducing a more theoretical approach to Archaic Greece is happily fulfilled. The argumentation presented is usually strong; the fact that some proposals mark the beginning of an exploration target and not the end of the investigation increases the importance of the volume. It is clear, on the other hand, that in a set of essays so much concerned with theoretical approaches to Archaic Greece one must pay attention to the risk of comparing and thus confusing ancient features with respective current institutions. Furthermore it is not always easy to avoid a preoccupied vision, when the theory or even the ideas presented predetermine a specific hermeneutical approach of the evidence; Raaflaub's article is most essential in this respect highlighting some of the obscure aspects of the subject.

Most of the sixteen essays are well-articulated and obvious care has been taken with the structuring of the whole book. Each contribution is rounded off with a useful bibliography. One wonders whether a general bibliography, including at least some key-works could have aided the reader. The printed text is almost perfect.5


1.   See also his Lakedaimonion Politeia. Die Entstehung der spartanischen Verfassung. Historia (Einzelschriften 103), Stuttgart 1996.
2.   The lack of reliable sources is one of the major problems in Spartan history (see for instance the detailed discussion in S. B. Pomeroy, S. M. Burstein, W. Donlan, J. Tolbert: Ancient Greece. A Political, Social, and Cultural History, Oxford University Press 1999, pp. 131-134).
3.   One wonders to what extent the mythical image of Sparta, which lasted throughout the centuries, was already laid in the last part of the sixth-century. Mait Koiv for instance in his Ancient Tradition and Early Greek History: The Origins of States in Early-Archaic Sparta, Argos and Corinth, Tallinn 2003, retrojects the existence of the basics of the Spartan agoge back at least to the first half of the seventh century, if not the second half of the eighth.
4.   "Measuring Sex, Age and Death in the Roman Empire. Explorations in Ancient Demography", Journal of Roman Archaeology, 1996, p. 165.
5.   I noticed only four errors: (a) In the title of Schmitz' article the name of Hesiod is printed in italics, probably because it is preceded by the title of his work (p. 311). (b) The footnote 247 on p. 411 includes an imprecise quotation. (c) The enumeration in the second paragraph on p. 434 is unnecessary ("1." is not followed by "2."). (d) "Geece" is printed instead of "Greece" in the title of Austin's book on p. 474.

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