Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.08.16

G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, Athenian Democratic Origins and Other Essays. Edited by David Harvey and Robert Parker. With the assistance of Peter Thonemann.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004.  Pp. vii, 464.  ISBN 0-19-925517-2.  £80.00.  

Reviewed by David Whitehead, Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland (
Word count: 2262 words

Geoffrey de Ste. Croix (1910-2000) is best known for a series of major articles and reviews -- beginning in 1953, the year of his arrival in Oxford -- and especially for his two enormous Duckworth books, The Origins of the Peloponnesian War (1972) and The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981). But in addition, like his colleague David Lewis (1928-1994), he worked on smaller-scale drafts which did not see the published light of day during his lifetime. In such circumstances the academic community at large, not privy to this material but aware of its reputation, hopes for prompt and transparent treatment of the Nachlass. For Lewis this task was carried out in exemplary fashion by a distinguished pupil.1 Now Ste. Croix is the posthumous beneficiary of the same service -- but on a larger scale, since all this material is previously unpublished -- performed by two of the long succession of scholars who experienced his committed and envigorating teaching.2

As tutor to undergraduates of New College and (by exchange with C.E. Stevens) Magdalen College, and as lecturer to any Oxford students who cared to attend, Ste. Croix's3 brief was to guide his charges through the (then-)unchanging intellectual assault-course of cruces and conundrums which made up the Greek history side of Literae Humaniores ("Greats"). For the fifth century -- straying at times into the fourth -- his views found eventual voice as the eight beefy chapters and forty-seven appendices of Origins (above). The present material, which its author himself (we are told) referred to in a rather general way as his 'Essays on Greek History', represents for the most part his views on aspects of the archaic period, and especially on sixth-century Athens; so the more precise title which the editors have given the volume is unexceptionable.

The task confronting Parker and Harvey4 called for delicacy as well as piety. Not only was this material unpublished; most of it was written in the 1960s;5 and polished, lavishly-documented analysis (chs.1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10) rubs shoulders with a working note (ch.6), the scripts of two talks to students (chs.9, 11),6 and even, as ch.3, a topic which survives only in one side of a private correspondence. So within the Ste. Croix material itself a range of deft editorial interventions have been applied (provision of translations; tacit updating of references; substantive additions and/or expansions, in brief; omission of material 'of merely bibliographic character, or which attacked new theories of the '50s and '60s which no one has taken up'). This ensures that Ste. Croix is presented to his readers as authentic and unchanged as could reasonably be and leaves substantive editorial comment -- in a different typeface -- for each chapter's discursive and bibliographical 'Afterword'. (Chs.3, 6, 10 and 11 come, besides, with brief prefaces in the same typeface.)

Chapter 1 'The Solonian Census Classes and the Qualifications for Cavalry and Hoplite Service' (5-72) sets out in nine subsections a 'radical reinterpretation' of the evidence in this area. As so often with Ste. Croix there are numerous side-issues and ramifications (here catered for in ten endnotes and an appendix), but the central thesis is that the four Solonian tele, routinely referred to in modern scholarship as either census-classes or tax-brackets, have nothing to do with either census or taxation. Rather, they -- or more exactly the lower three of them: hippeis, zeugitai, thetes -- are in origin and essence military categories. As someone who has ventured into print on this very question to argue, in a small way, on the same lines7 I fell upon this essay with particular relish and, of course, with a predisposition to be convinced by it; but no serious reader, converted or not, could emerge unimpressed by the sheer command of evidence and calibre of argument on display here. The jewel of the volume.

Chapter 2 'Five Notes on Solon's Constitution' (73-108) are precisely that: 'The Introduction of Majority Voting at Athens' [no later than Solon, but perhaps earlier], 'The Date of Solon's Nomothesia' [the same year as his archonship, i.e. probably 594/3], 'The Eupatrid Monopoly of the "State Machine"' [must not be underestimated], 'The Solonian Council of Four Hundred' [arguments for its historicity are stronger than many suppose], and 'Klerosis ek prokriton' [not Solonic, despite Ath. Pol. 8.1]. An appendix then deals briefy with 'Election to High Office by Lot Elsewhere than in Greece' (viz., since Switzerland is mentioned but left aside, the Italian cities of the later Middle Ages and Renaissance).

Chapter 3 'Solon, the Horoi and the Hektemoroi' (109-128), as indicated above, is a projected paper which was never written, even in draft. Instead we have edited versions of two long letters, half a dozen years apart (1962 and 1968), sent by Ste. Croix to his friend, colleague and exact contemporary Antony8 Andrewes (1910-1990); the then Wykeham Professor was working on the topic and wanted Ste. Croix's reaction to his ideas as they developed. Ste. Croix reacts with polite but urgent protest. Andrewes' view of the Seisachtheia not as an Aristotelian cancellation of debts but as the abolition of Athenian hektemorage, an institutionalised state of dependency,9 has gone on to become the nearest thing to an orthodoxy in this field still so fertile in novel interpretations (see the Afterword); so as the editors justly remark, 'the view against which Ste. Croix is arguing remains a real target'.

Chapter 4 'Cleisthenes I: The Constitution' (129-179) and Chapter 5 'Cleisthenes II: Ostracism, Archons and Strategoi' (180-232) represent an editorial division of a large, one-piece original. In ch.4 the two (unequal) parts are 'Cleisthenes in Herodotus and Aristotle' [Cleisthenes more altruistic than either of these sources suggests] and 'The Constitution of Cleisthenes', with four endnotes. Ch.5 divides into 'The Law of Ostracism: its date and purpose' [Cleisthenic, and designed to remove individuals whose influence might thwart the will of the majority at times of crisis and division] and 'Archons and Strategoi' [the klerosis ek prokriton procedural reform of 487 was not "democratic" but aimed at enhancing the role of the generals].

Chapter 6 'The Athenian Citizenship Laws' (233-253) is presented by the editors as 'an informal working paper, the very provisional character of which Ste. Croix stresses in an accompanying note'. (Editorial asterisks mark eleven places where a topic was earmarked for expansion but never received it.) After bemoaning the 'very poor' quality of the (then-)current treatments of the topic, even those by Gomme and Jacoby, Ste. Croix sets out 'the main facts' (with primary evidence) under nine heads: 'Nothoi and Metroxenoi', 'Citizenship before 451/0 BC', 'The Citizenship Law of Pericles 451/0 BC', 'The late fifth century', 'The Law of Nicomenes 403/2 BC', 'Two fourth-century Laws', 'The Diapsephiseis under the decree of Demophilus 346/5 BC', 'The Qualification for Citizenship in the 320s', and (all-encompassingly) 'The Purpose of the Citizenship Laws'. The editors' Afterword logs subsequent books and articles on these topics, amongst which K.R. Walters, 'Pericles' Citizenship Law', ClAnt 2 (1983) 314-36 comes closest to Ste. Croix's view that the aim of the Periclean law (re-enacted in 403/2) was to prevent the sons of extra-marital unions -- for example, though not exclusively, with slave-women -- from becoming citizens. This would be a way of salvaging the assertion (usually rejected) in Ath. Pol. 26.4 that Pericles' law was framed and passed 'because of the large number of the citizens'; however, it requires that bastards could otherwise be citizens and also that the phratries had no standing on access to citizenship, two propositions which are controversial to say the least.

Chapter 7 'The Athenaion Politeia and Early Athenian History' (254-327) has four sections -- 'The Athenaion Politeia and the Politics', 'The Sources of the Athenaion Politeia', 'Aristotle and the Atthidographers', 'Aristotle and the Documentary Sources' -- and five short endnotes. Perhaps the most traditional piece in the volume, its importance and present value are dispassionately assessed in P.J. Rhodes' Afterword. Source-criticism of this quality has a long shelf-life, and readers need not share all (or indeed any) of Ste. Croix's own positions on the cluster of interconnected questions addressed to recognise that these are valuable perspectives on this key text. 'So important [Ste. Croix writes] is Aristotle's Athenaion Politeia for the political and constitutional history of Athens in the seventh, sixth and fifth centuries that anyone who deals with that subject must at least make clear what his attitude to the Ath. Pol. is'. That this claim does not extend to the fourth century, as nowadays it would, is one of the few tell-tale signs of its decade of origin, too early for the rousing battles there might have been between Ste. Croix and one of the few present-day scholars to match him in command of primary evidence and force of argumentation (M.H. Hansen).

Chapter 8 'The metra in Aristotle, Eth. Nic. V vii 5 1134b35-1135a3' (328-348) is at first sight a technical piece but, as argued, has a broader impact.10 In this obiter dictum Aristotle remarks that 'wine and corn measures are not everywhere equal, but are larger where they buy and smaller where they sell'. Rejecting (under four heads) interpretations of this which differentiate between wholesale markets with large measures and retail markets with smaller ones, Ste. Croix argues that Aristotle is referring to official measuring-containers, in one city or another, which are somewhat larger (when one's own people are buyers) or smaller (when they are sellers) than they theoretically ought to be. Not deliberate deception, this; rather, simple human nature; and the resulting picture 'common knowledge to the educated and travelled Greek, to whom variation in weights and measures may have been about as familiar as the goodness or badness of the wine or the coffee in this or that country to the experienced tourist of today'. (I am unconvinced on first reading but will try again.)

Chapter 9 'How Far was Trade a Cause of Early Greek Colonisation?' (349-370) posed that very question to a student audience in 1959 (making this the earliest paper in the volume). The burden of the argument is twofold: that the fundamental cause of colonisation was land-hunger resulting from the pressures of overpopulation and that to bring 'trade' into the analysis calls for differentiation between three aspects of it (imports, exports, and 'commercial exchange', i.e. proft-making); only the first of these truly bears upon the topic, if one leaves aside dedicated trading foundations such as Naucratis. C.M. Reed's Afterword surveys subsequent work in a field where the Ste. Croix view has remained very much in the mainstream.

Chapter 10 'But what about Aegina?' (371-420) is a draft essay -- divided by the editors into an introduction and fourteen sections of unequal length -- designed to challenge on all possible fronts the standard view of Aegina as a community ruled by a mercantile aristocracy. The interrogative title is explained in the opening paragraph,11, after which Ste. Croix launches into a vehemently "primitivist" picture of Aegina and the Aeginetans before the mid-fifth century; it 'had a small, wealthy, landed ruling class, which retained [...] an outlook characteristic of the aristocracies of the archaic age, and a much greater number of politically unprivileged citizens, many of whom went in for trade -- and, presumably, small-scale manufacture' (409-410). The Afterword notes, inter alia, that the orthodoxy attacked here is still entrenched, thanks in particular to the leading Aeginista of the modern era, T.J. Figueira.

Chapter 11 'Herodotus and King Cleomenes I of Sparta' (421-440) assesses Spartan foreign policy during the reign of Cleomenes; it aimed to convince student audiences in the 1970s that the primary source for the topic, Herodotus, fails to bring out coherent aims (anti-Persian in particular) which should be attributed to a personally unattractive but politically dominant figure. The Afterword brings out the fact that, at the time of writing, such a portrait was strikingly different from W.G. Forrest's weak and inconsistent Cleomenes (in A History of Sparta 950-192 BC (London 1968) 80-94), whereas subsequent studies by Carlier, Cartledge and Cawkwell have more in common with Ste. Croix.

As will by now be self-evident, this is an unusual book on every level. Writing in 2001, one of the editors looked forward to the publication of these essays, 'dated though they must inevitably appear'.12 Well, dated some of them do (inevitably) appear; but others -- above all the splendid ch.1 -- do not; and in any case Parker and Harvey will have asked themselves whether the alternative, suppression, was to be preferred, and rightly judged that it was not. If this part of the Ste. Croix Nachlass13 is (or appears) dated, the reason is simply that it was never completed and published when it should have been; when, from the mid-1950s onwards, this extraordinary scholar, arriving late amongst a group of ancient historians in Oxford whose individual and collective reputation would have cowed a lesser man, determined instead, and in the best possible way, to show himself their equal. Here then are missing pieces of two interconnected jigsaws: one, that of the intellectual biography of one of the most striking figures in classical scholarship in the second half of the twentieth century; the other, that of his contributions to 'Athenian Democratic Origins' and other problems in Greek history -- some of them problems of long standing; others identified as such thanks, precisely, to his ability to realise that they were problematic. So anyone with a serious interest in either or both of these fields will rejoice in this volume and be grateful to its editors for allowing us to hear again the inimitable scholarly voice of Geoffrey Ernest Maurice de Ste. Croix.14


1.   D.M. Lewis, Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History, edited by P.J. Rhodes (Cambridge 1997). (Reviewed by Stanley Burstein in BMCR 99.4.12.) Four of its papers were previously unpublished.
2.   Not an Oxonian, I myself was never taught by Ste. Croix; we did, though, exchange letters on matters of mutual interest in the 1970s and '80s, and met on several occasions. For a first-hand account of Ste. Croix as teacher, with a wealth of other delightful information and insight, see Robert Parker's contribution to Proceedings of the British Academy 111, 2000 Lectures and Memoirs (2001) 447-478.
3.   'Those citing his works are asked to note that the full point after Ste. in Ste. Croix was defended with great vigour against editors by the name's owner' (1 n.2).
4.   The role of the graduate student Thonemann is described on p.4; besides his systematic support-function he made substantive addenda flagged by the initials PJT. (See pp. 15 n.42, 60 n.221, 64.) Note also the contributions by Peter Rhodes and Charles Reed, in the form of the Afterwords to Chapters 7 and 9 respectively.
5.   In 1966 another Oxford colleague described these essays as 'to be published shortly': W.G. Forrest, The Emergence of Greek Democracy (London 1966) 245. Nineteen years later they were still 'forthcoming': P.A. Cartledge and F.D. Harvey, CRUX: essays presented to G.E.M. de Ste. Croix on his 75th birthday (Exeter 1985) xii.
6.   A lecture entitled 'Some Greek views on the origin of man and civilisation' has been excluded.
7.   'The archaic Athenian zeugitai', CQ 31 (1981) 282-286.
8.   A rare editorial slip gives the name (108) as 'Anthony'.
9.   For its first, vicarious airing see Forrest, Emergence (n.5 above) 147-150; Andrewes's own presentations came in The Greeks (London 1967) [= Greek Society (1971)] 115-119 and, somewhat modified, in The Cambridge Ancient History 3.3 (edn.2, Cambridge 1982) 377-382.
10.   A technical piece, it seems, would have been no more congenial to Ste. Croix himself than to most of his readers; three pages in, they are reassured that 'this investigation can be pursued without venturing too far into the marshlands of metrology'.
11.   'One of the leading Manichees of St. Augustine's day felt that he was scoring a useful point off the Catholics when he asked, in effect, how they could accommodate the scorpion in their scheme of things. I have often been reminded of this when those who belong to what I have called the 'modernising' school say to me, 'Ah, but what about Aegina?' Augustine found no difficulty with the scorpion, and Aegina will fit very nicely into my picture'.
12.   Parker at p.467 of the British Academy Memoir (n.2 above).
13.   We are told (3 n.7) that a volume of his writings on early Christianity, including some unpublished material, is planned.
14.   Given that the unhelpful running heads (on recto, volume title thoughout; on verso, sub-sections of chapters rather than the chapter-titles themselves, for which one must constantly refer back to pp.v-vii) are presumably not the fault of the editors, I can lay only one deficiency at their door, but it is a serious one: the absence of an index locorum. Very few worthwhile books in classics and ancient history are not significantly enhanced in value and utility by an index of the primary sources deployed therein, and the lack of one here, for investigations where (as was his custom) Ste. Croix himself presented the ancient evidence so fully and freely, is lamentable.

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