Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.02.29

Mogens Herman Hansen, Thomas Heine Nielsen, An Inventory of Archaic and Greek Poleis. An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004.  Pp. xvi, 1396.  ISBN 0-19-814099-1.  £135.00.  

Reviewed by Frederick Naerebout, Leiden University (
Word count: 3479 words

This is a very impressive book, in all possible senses: a single bulky volume weighing 2.25 kilograms (almost 5 lbs). Its over 1400 pages are printed on thin paper to keep it manageable, but still it is 6 centimeters (almost 2.5 inches) thick, and two or three other books will have to go from your bookshelf to make room for this one. The thin paper has some text shining through from the other side of the page, but without causing much inconvenience -- in some instances, however, the printer did not have the lines on either side of a leaf in sync, which is a bad job for a printer and slightly diminishes readability. The book is printed in small but very clear fonts. The footnotes, however, are really tiny and may cause some problems for the farsighted. The volume is well-bound: when open it lies flat, and it does not look like it will come apart too soon. Still, it is a pity that even with a book in this price range (£135) we cannot nowadays have a bit of sturdy cloth, but have to make do with a paper hardcover, which will not stand up to the heavy use which this volume may expect to see, certainly so in libraries, and most probably in the private study as well.

As to what is on all those pages between the covers, that is impressive as well: there are 300 columns of introduction, 2200 columns of the inventory proper, and 280 columns of indices. This huge amount of text, I estimate some one and a quarter million of words, is the work of 49 contributors, hailing from Britain (13), France (9), Germany (6), Denmark (5), the United States (5), Switzerland (4), Greece (3), Canada (1), Italy (1), Poland (1) and Spain (1) -- not necessarily where they all were when work was in progress but showing the international make-up of this team (and its biases). It might be noted here that all contributions either have been written in or have been translated into English -- but nobody gets credit for that job; in fact, most details of the textual history of this volume remain obscure. The number of entries in the inventory proper is 1035: that is to say that 1035 individual poleis are discussed in depth (as much depth as possible). Hundreds of other settlements which are not poleis or the status of which has to remain in doubt are listed as well, in addition to the 1035 which are enumerated.

I have bombarded you with all these figures not to indulge in some private number fetishism (although there is nothing wrong with numbers, is there?), but in order to stress that this Inventory is truly something out of the ordinary. It is big.

The Inventory is the akme (but not, at least not in a literal sense, the endpoint1) of the work of the Copenhagen Polis Centre (CPC). The CPC was in operation between 1993 and 2003, a ten-year program funded by the Danish National Research Foundation. I suppose the Foundation will consider its money to have been well spent, not only because a group of international referees has told it as much, but because it must be aware of the fact that the CPC's activities and the extraordinary stream of publications issuing from this source cannot have escaped the attention of anybody professionally occupied with the Greek world of the archaic and classical periods. Now that is something, to make one's mark, and an incisive and indelible mark at that, on a whole discipline, for a relatively minor outlay. And now after a staggering six volumes of Acta, seven volumes of papers, two volumes of comparative work and some satellite publications, the whole project has been crowned with this book.2 The Inventory is emphatically not a summary of all previous publications coming out of the CPC, which still have to be read as independent contributions to the study of the Greek polis -- although the introductory matter in the Inventory goes some way in that direction. This book, from a very early stage announced as one of the goals3 towards which the CPC was working, certainly builds on the past results of the CPC, but what it does is to apply those results. Cutting several corners and disregarding many useful things that were brought up in the process, the results of the CPC might be summarized as a set of criteria by which to judge which settlements in archaic and classical Greece were considered by contemporaries to be poleis.4 The application of these criteria to all available information on archaic and classical settlements has led to an inventory of all attested, identifiable Hellenic poleis of the period. In the context of the CPC the Greek polis was studied as an abstraction, but attention has also been focussed on its concrete manifestations: all of them, not merely the well-known, and atypical, examples of Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Argos, Thebes, but the hundreds upon hundreds, over a thousand we can say now, of poleis -- known only to those with a specialist knowledge of the sites, the relevant sources and the widely scattered literature. But those CPC-studies presented subsets where the emerging criteria were tested -- now the criteria have been finalized and have been systematically applied.

The inventory proper is arranged according to region. Within every region the poleis are in an alphabetical sequence. If one is looking for information on a particular polis and one does not know in what region it is located, it can be traced by way of the indices 2 and 3. The arrangement by region, instead of putting all poleis in a single alphabetical sequence, has the added value of showing the poleis in context. Every region is discussed by one to three authors (never more than three, which ensures a unified text5), who have looked as much at the whole as at the constituent communities. This is not only apparent from the entries for individual poleis, but also from the general discussion with which every major subdivision of the inventory opens. These major subdivisions are 45 regions, some of them modern constructs, with or more or less basis in geography, others existing ethnic or political entities. There is a 46th chapter, a single page listing the mere six poleis that could not with certainty be located in one of the 45 regions.

As to the location of the 1029 poleis which could be located either exactly or approximately, the makers of the Inventory closely cooperated with the makers of the Barrington Atlas6 -- which is also the reason why there are no maps in the Inventory, but references to the Barrington Atlas with every polis discussed (including the latitude and longitude -- alas not given with the non-polis settlements mentioned, which, if located, do carry a reference to a map in Barrington and to Barrington's dating of the settlement in question). The Inventory and the Barrington Atlas should be used together. However, the Inventory should not be considered an extended commentary on the Barrington maps, even if it could be used as such: it lists settlements inadvertently or expressly overlooked in Barrington, or denies the status of settlement to some sites accepted as such in Barrington. Also, there may be disagreement about the location of a settlement known by name. It goes without saying that neither the Barrington Atlas, nor the Inventory, nor the two together, can be considered to provide a complete overview of all Greek settlements. Only very few regions have been surveyed thoroughly enough to give us something of a continuous series of comprehensive settlement patterns.

The Inventory is strictly limited to the archaic and classical periods. Of course, the polis did not end with the classical period; indeed it flourished until Late Antiquity -- as the editors of the Inventory do not conceal. But the CPC has come to an end now, and others will have to undertake the mammoth task of providing this Inventory with a companion volume -- or rather volumes -- dealing with later periods. It is to be hoped that resources can be found for such an undertaking, and that if it comes about it will be led by people who are energetic enough to produce results within their own, and our, lifetime. One needs one or more people with the drive of Mogens Hansen to get such a work done within a limited amount of time. Although I have in the past critized the CPC for bombarding readers with new material -- and I still think the drawback of this enormous publication programme is the inability of the intended audience to take it all in -- I do not want to extend this criticism to the Inventory at all. When swamped by several volumes of papers, none of which has a central theme, one can be forgiven for thinking that the editors might have sacrificed speed for coherence.7 A work of reference, however, is something utterly different, and had best be produced as quickly as possible, even if this implies certain restrictions or imperfections. The provision of current knowledge surely must be the raison-d'être of any work of reference. The sight of generation after generation adding new volumes to outdated ones is a bit sad. The speed -- which is not necessarily the same thing as hastiness -- with which this Inventory has been produced is to me one of the main reasons for its importance (provided there is a basic quality). It is important because it is there. To come back to the time limits set on this volume: these are, as I said, strictly adhered to, and, as can be expected from Hansen, this volume avoids the anachronisms which would arise (and have so often arisen in the past) from the (mis)use of sources which deal with periods later than the classical. It is only those post-classical sources that are clearly retrospective which are allowed to play their part here.

The introduction is largely by Mogens Hansen, and, despite the (minor) contributions by some others (see the note at the bottom of p.1), this part of the book is quintessentially Hansen. That is to say: it is a full overview of anything to do with the polis -- which of course refers to the existing literature (with bibliographies given at the end of every section), but which, as the footnotes testify, seeks above all to peruse the relevant sources, judge them and decide what could possibly be concluded on that basis: "[this] ought ... to be substantiated" are Hansen's words in the second line of the very first section of the introduction (after the purely technical matter) (p.12). It is substantiation that is on offer here, substantiation that results of course from the labours of the CPC as laid down in its many publications -- of which a staggering 27 percent was written by Hansen himself.8 Even though it makes for what may be a tediously long list, it might be useful to enumerate the subjects dealt with in the introduction: the importance of the polis; the lifespan of the polis; meaning and reference of the words polis, astu and polisma; the concept of patris; the number of poleis; toponymy and ethnics as evidence for polis identity; territory and size of territory; polis, chora and settlement patterns; types of constitution; dependent poleis; civic subdivisions; proxenoi, theorodokoi and victors in panhellenic games as evidence for polis identity; the Delian League; synoikismos; the destruction and disappearance of poleis; stasis; the polis as a religious organisation; city walls as evidence of polis identity; the polis as an urban centre; coins as evidence of polis identity; colonies and indigenous hellenised communities. As you will see below, these subjects together more or less provide an outline of the entries in the inventory proper. All of this is written up in Hansen's crisp style. But however clear every individual item may be, what I find lacking in the introduction as a whole is clarity: there is considerable overlap between sections and it is difficult to keep track of the overall argument if you are not familiar with the previous work of the CPC. A more structured approach would have been helpful, for instance by taking a previous publication by Hansen, where he presents 95 theses on the Greek polis, and arranging the introduction around these theses.9

Now for the inventory proper. The first part of every entry consists of toponym, city-ethnic, map reference, size of territory, type of polis,10 degree of Hellenicity,11 and the (main) attestations of toponym, polis status, city-ethnic and of the use of polis etc. to indicate this community. The second part of each entry provides discussions of territory, population, history, constitution and political institutions, proxenoi, theorodokoi, panhellenic victors, local divinities and cults, urban centre with its walls and other architectural features, mint, degree of Hellenisation, presence of colonies. Everything is provided with attestations from either archaic or classical sources, or from later sources which are clearly retrospective, as was already said above. The first few items in every entry were written according to a blueprint that enforced uniformity -- alas, authors were given more leeway (other than the obvious discrepancies arising from the material itself) with the second part of their entries, and thus the uniformity there is only partial. This is of course nothing serious: one can read every entry for its own sake without necessarily comparing it to other entries and one will be glad for what there is. Still, I cannot help thinking that the Inventory would have been easier to use if a more strict uniformity had been enforced, preferably with paragraph headings or even a numerical structure as in LIMC or the new ThesCRA.12

There are a surprising 27 indices. The first index is a mere list of the 1035 poleis in their numerical sequence (one wonders what could be its use -- it is in fact a contents page and not an index). The second and third index give the toponyms and ethnics in an alphabetical sequence, first in the Latin and then in the Greek alphabet, and the fourth index gives the non-polis settlements. All three are essential for tracing poleis and other settlements of which one does not know the location (the second and third index refer to the serial numbers, the fourth refers to region, but not to page, which is a bit of a nuisance). The remaining 23 indices return to the same subjects as discussed in the introduction and which also provide the backbone of the inventory proper. Index 5 is an overview of the status and attestation of the poleis; 6 of the use of astu and politisma; 7 of patris; 8 of ethnics; 9 of size; 10 of poleis existing in 400 B.C. versus those not yet or no longer existing in 400; 11 of constitution; 12 of decision-making institutions (ekklesia, boule, etc; 13 of civic subdivisions; 14 of proxenoi; 15 of theorodokoi; 16 of panhellenic victors; 17 of major divinities; 18 of members of the Delian League; 19 of stasis; 20 of the destruction and disappearance of poleis; 21 of synoikismos; 22 of grid-planned poleis; 23 of city walls; 24 of political architecture (ekklesiasterion, bouleuterion, etc.); 25 of temples, theatres, stoas, gymnasia, stadia and hippodromes; 26 of coins and coin-legends; 27 of colonisation and hellenisation. One may ask, are these in fact indices? Certainly indices 5-27 are more like summaries than like indices, giving a quick view of what is in the individual entries. All consist of lists of poleis arranged in the sequence in which they are listed in the Inventory. In order to function as true indices they would have to be the other way round. That would enable the reader to establish at a glance, for instance, where bouleuteria are archaeologically attested, or where city walls of 5th-century date are to be encountered. Of course, that information can be extracted from the lists, but that is a somewhat cumbersome procedure. By the way, the obvious difficulties in providing easy access to this huge collection of material add up to a plea for putting this kind of reference work on CD-ROMS, DVDs and/or websites, with a proper search interface, which would also enable one to combine several items that now laboriously have to be brought together from several different lists. This should be in addition to a paper edition which you can take with you on a trip without worrying about the batteries going down (and which should be produced for many other good reasons besides). But to have a work such as the Inventory on paper only is surely outdated, however inevitable this may seem from the publisher's economic perspective.

In a work of this size mistakes should be fairly common. I have not been hunting for misprints and have merely done some spot checking. This gave the impression that proof reading has been very thorough. But not every mistake is a misprint. For this review, however, I have not considered it my task to go through almost 3000 columns and check them for any mistakes, infelicities or omissions: such will come out in use and will get corrected. In the numerous references there are of course endless opportunities for slip-ups and mix-ups, but random checks showed that contributors and editors have been careful. Here are a few mistakes I noticed in passing: the headings of the individual entries do not carry the city-ethnic in bold type as is stated on p.6; on p.389 P.K. Dorn should be P.K. Doorn; on p.729 there is a particularly bad case of maltreating a Dutch title: "Groniger Bijdrage Aagrickse Monumen Tenzord" should be "Groninger bijdrage aan Griekse monumentenzorg". By the way, the author's name is spelled Zoï Malakasioti, not Malakassioti, and the name of the journal is Paleo-aktueel, not Paleoactuel (not a case to inspire trust, I have to admit); on pages 1265 and the next five odd pages, the header 'toponyms and ethnics in numerical order' should read 'toponyms and ethnics in alphabetical order'.

It cannot be doubted that this work is of enormous importance: there is no other work which brings together so much information on the Greek poleis of the archaic and classical period, or any other period for that matter, and certainly there is no other publication where so much energy has been expended not merely on bringing the factual information together, but also on ensuring that a single critical stance pervades every entry. It is comprehensive, which means that there is quite a good chance that you will find what you are looking for; it is critical, which means that you will be able to avoid the problems inherent in many other works of reference, especially anachronisms, and that you will be told where things are uncertain; it is to a large extent unified, which means that you can put the information about different poleis together without too much worries that incompatibilities will interfere.

My criticism is minor: it is mainly about the arrangement of the material in the introduction and in the inventory proper and of the indices. All might have been more user-friendly. The introduction could have been more clearly structured, so could the individual entries, which also might have been more uniform, and the indices should have been real indices. There will be other criticisms, and some of them will probably be fairly severe. There are endless possibilities for quibbling: both in the myriad details of fact and interpretation, and in some of the overall theses, where at least certain nuances may be called for, or where the charge of circularity ("the sources are selected and their contents described from a certain perspective, which then finds itself confirmed by those very sources") will be brought. But these are not my doubts or charges. I do not consider it useful at this stage, even if I would be inclined that way, to cast doubt on the CPC's central outcomes. Some will stand up, others are likely to be revised in due course and this will affect the Inventory -- but this does not diminish the value of this volume in any way because this is true of any publication. It is only because this Inventory makes so explicit where it departs from, that raising doubts about its premises could be considered a criticism that would regard this work of reference in particular. Even if one rejects some of the premises on which the Inventory rests, the good news is that here we have a wealth of material that allows one to reach one's own conclusions. As things stand, no serious scholar of the Greek world will be able to do without this volume: stop drinking, stop smoking, postpone the new flatscreen, and instead, spend on this book. You will not be disappointed.


1.   There is a volume of CPC Acts (vol. 7) forthcoming, and there has been announced a book, in Danish and in English, in which the work of the CPC will be summarized for a non-specialist audience.
2.   To freshen your memory (and give the abbreviations advised by the CPC): CPCActs 1 = M.H. Hansen (ed.), The Ancient Greek City-State, Copenhagen 1993; CPCActs 2 = M.H. Hansen (ed.), Sources for The Ancient Greek City-State, Copenhagen 1995; CPCActs 3 = M.H. Hansen (ed.), Introduction to an Inventory of Poleis, Copenhagen 1996; CPCActs 4 = M.H. Hansen, The Polis as an Urban Centre and as a Political Community, Copenhagen 1997; CPCActs 5 = M.H. Hansen (ed.), Polis and City-State. An Ancient Concept and its Modern Equivalent, Copenhagen 1998; CPCActs 6 = T.H. Nielsen & J. Roy (eds.), Defining Ancient Arkadia, Copenhagen 1999; CPCPapers 1 = D. Whitehead (ed.), From Political Architecture to Stephanus Byzantius, Stuttgart 1994; CPCPapers 2 = M.H. Hansen and K. Raaflaub (eds.), Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis, Stuttgart 1995; CPCPapers 3 = M.H. Hansen and K. Raaflaub (eds.), More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis, Stuttgart 1996; CPCPapers 4 = T.H. Nielsen (ed.), Yet More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis, Stuttgart 1997; CPCPapers 5 = P. Flensted-Jensen (ed.), Further Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis, Stuttgart 1999; CPCPapers 6 = T.H. Nielsen (ed.), Even More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis, Stuttgart 2002; CPCPapers 7 = T.H. Nielsen (ed.), Once Again: Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis, Stuttgart 2004; 30 CSC = M.H. Hansen (ed.), A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures, Copenhagen 2000; 6 CSC = M.H. Hansen (ed.), A Comparative Study of Six City-State Culture, Copenhagen 2002. And some of the satellites: P. Flensted-Jensen, T.H. Nielsen & L. Rubinstein (eds.), Polis and Politics. Studies in Ancient Greek History Presented to Mogen Herman Hansen on his Sixtieth Birthday, August 20, 2000, Copenhagen 2000; T.H. Nielsen, Arkadia and its Poleis in the Archaic and Classical Periods, Göttingen 2002; M.H. Hansen, 'Aristotle's Two Complementary Views of the Greek Polis', in: R. Wallace & E. Harris (eds.), Transitions to Empire (Norman 1996) 195-210; D. Whitehead, 'Polis-Toponyms as Personal Entities (in Thucydides and Elsewhere)', MH 53 (1996) 1-11; M.H. Hansen, '95 theses about the Greek polis in the archaic and classical periods. A report on the results obtained by the Copenhagen Polis Centre in the period 1993-2003', Historia 52 (2003) 257-282.
3.   The production of an inventory of poleis -- as understood by the Greek themselves -- and the location of these poleis within the comparative framework of the city-state -- urbanized micro-states as understood in modern scholarship -- were the two goals which the CPC set itself. The comparative exercise was published four years ago (see the reference to 30 CSC and 6 CSC in note 2 above), and it involved another 48 scholars from seventeen different countries.
4.   There has been quite some criticism of this emic approach, but it is obvious that in order to pronounce on ancient Greek settlements and their relative status, we need both an etic and an emic approach, as indeed the CPC has sought to provide (cf. note 3 above). A rewriting of the Inventory on the basis of an etic approach departing from another (but overlapping) set of criteria, is possible, but then of course we should not speak about poleis, but introduce some appropriate etic term.
5.   In a single instance with four named assistants (see p. 676); one wonders how many other 'assistants' have gone unnamed.
6.   R.J.A. Talbert (ed), Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman world, Princeton 2000 Princeton University Press.
7.   See my review of CPCPapers 1, Mnemosyne 49 (1996) 612-615. The charge has been repeated several times since. Hansen's rebuttal that the volumes of CPC Papers were never meant to be coherent, is elucidating, but does not solve the problem: readers should be tempted, but the nature of the CPC Papers and their titles (cf. note 2 above) -- of which, predictably, not everyone would see the joke -- did not do enough to raise their curiosity. This is a pity and one hopes that the Inventory will cause people to (re)turn to the other CPC publications.
8.   30 out of 109 contributions in 6 volumes of Acta and 7 of Papers (and no small fry: as to the number of pages, Hansen's tour de force is hardly less impressive: 23 percent). To the Inventory Hansen contributed the sections on Boiotia, Attika, Euboia (with Karl Reber and Pierre Ducrey), Lesbos (with Nigel Spencer and Hector Williams), and Lykia (with Anthony Keen).
9.   Cf. note 2 above.
10.   Four types are distinguished: A, [A], B, C. A means that a polis is called polis in archaic or classical sources; [A] that it is so called in the sources, but as one of a number of communities treated collectively; B and C mean that a polis is not called polis in any archaic or classical source, but is nevertheless considered a polis on the basis of other criteria. B means that the identification as a polis is fairly certain, C that it is less certain.
11.   Three levels are distinguished: alpha, beta, gamma, from high to low Hellenicity (alternatively: from small or no presence of non-Greek elements to a strong or dominant presence of such elements). The distinction between these three levels is applied only to Greek communities outside the Greek homeland -- in the homeland (mainland Greece and the islands) all poleis are supposed to be at the alpha-level. The subjective nature of many of these distinctions is recognized by the editors.
12.   ThesCRA = Thesaurus cultus et ritum antiquorum; 2 volumes out of a projected 5 (plus index and abbreviations volumes) have just been published by the J. Paul Getty Museum. Its format is based on LIMC.

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