Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.07.20

Marietta Horster, Landbesitz griechischer Heiligtümer in archaischer und klassischer Zeit. Rostock Univ. Habil.-Sch. 2003. Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten, 53.   Berlin:  de Gruyter, 2004.  Pp. ix, 260.  ISBN 3-11-018219-X.  €84.00.  



Reviewed by Signe Isager, University of Southern Denmark (signe.isager@hist.sdu.dk)
Word count: 1081 words

This book is the slightly revised version of the author's Habilitationsschrift. The theme, landed property of the Greek sanctuaries in archaic and Classical times, is important to scholars interested in the Ancient World. It covers the period from the beginning of the 8th century to the end of the 4th. The author tries to avoid arguing from material produced later than that due to her belief that much changed in the Hellenistic period, also as regards the landed property of the sanctuaries.

There are five main chapters, the first of which concerns the status of sacred land. The main question is whether the Greeks had a separate category of land considered as belonging to the gods or whether the so-called sacred land was rather, as Moses Finley would have it, no different from other public land. MH draws a parallel to the working methods of the Copenhagen Polis Centre, arguing that if the Greeks operated with a given term, sacred land, then we must take it seriously and try -- in modern language but without keeping rigorously to modern concepts -- to describe and analyse what characterized this land. Therefore, concordant with Greek terminology, MH operates with three categories of land -- private (idion), public (demosion or koinon) and sacred (hieron) -- pointing out inalienability as a major characteristic of sacred land as compared with public land. The special problems concerning ownership of land in Sparta and Crete are deliberately passed over (note 17).

Archaeology furnished the evidence for MH's arguments against continuity from Mycenaean times being the norm in the placement of archaic and Classical sanctuaries. She stresses that the founding and development of sanctuaries were far from always concomitant with the development of a polis, but when that was the case -- e.g., in connection with the founding of a colony -- the pattern followed in placing the sanctuaries and forming the pantheon of the new city was much less fixed than usually thought. MH finds evidence of change in the way the Greeks handled their sacred land from archaic to late Classical times. For instance, the leasing of land was probably not common before the end of the period in question. The land belonging to the sanctuaries was, MH suggests, at least in the beginning, not there to help in financing the cult.

The second chapter discusses in more detail the various ways in which land might become sacred. When laying out a new town, e.g., in connection with colonizing, some land was reserved for the gods, but MH warns against believing in a too schematic way of handling this. The gods might, of course, also acquire land as a consequence of, e.g., conquest, confiscation, purchase, or donation, and MH presents many, geographically spread, cases.

Especially interesting is MH's treatment of the sacred grove (alsos) in chapter three, which also includes discussions on restrictions concerning other sacred land, all dictated by the needs and pleasure of the gods. Some gods were more likely to have a grove than were others. In principle the grove was to be considered a sanctuary and should not be disturbed. But the rules, which a given community set up for the grove of a particular god, were not necessarily identical with that of a neighbouring community, even if some of the rules were clearly common. The cutting of the local prescriptions in stone will more often than not have been caused by abuse or a threat of some kind. Not only sacred groves, but other sacred land as well was sometimes totally forbidden ground for human beings. More often there were restrictions on use of the land, its resources of water etc.

Chapter four deals with the leasing of sacred land. Outside Attika only a few examples are known in the 5th century, wherefore MH suggests that leasing of sacred land was rare at that time outside Attika and its sphere of influence. From the 4th century, however, the evidence for leasing is rich. MH discusses the characteristics of the leasing contracts and concludes that income from leasing would normally not be sufficient for maintaining the cult.

A sanctuary might have many sorts of income apart from leases, and that is the subject of chapter five. Oldest among them is extraordinary income like penalties and also the fee paid for permission to sacrifice. Later -- and perhaps contemporary with the income from leasing -- interests from loans appear. MH points out that leases provide the steadiest income of all, as they are independent of the number of visitors to the sanctuary and of other resources available for the sanctuary.

The book ends with a clearly written chapter, summarizing its conclusions. The text is accompanied by an extensive bibliography, indices locorum and also a very useful index of places.

MH's footnotes are voluminous. Three successive pages have only one line each of text, the rest is notes (26-28), but in that particular case it is a question of layout and not really disturbing. Most notes abound with discussions. One, at least, might have been left out, since it concerns a non-existing problem. MH misrepresents and therefore must have misunderstood what I wrote about Nikias buying land for Apollo (p. 88 note 86 referring to Isager and Skydsgaard 1992, 183 with note 282). In fact, we seem to agree on the case, as a careful reading of my text would show.

The citations in Greek are useful, but have created some (familiar) problems, mostly for technical reasons, as when space between lines varies, e.g. p. 94. A note citing a central passage from Xenophon's Anabasis has epsilon for eta several times and also omicron for omega (p. 178 note 130). That same note is the only one, which really surprised the present reviewer: "Die bei Xenophon wiedergegebene Inschrift ist aufgenommen in IG IX2 4, 1700." No comments. No problem? An explanatory extension of the note would for once have been very welcome.

Terminology is carefully discussed especially in the first chapter. Running the risk of seeming to plead my own case unduly, I think it would have been an advantage if MH had been even more consistent in her respecting the terminology of the Greeks, by writing e.g. "property dedicated to Apollo" instead of "property dedicated to the sanctuary (of Apollo)" (p. 83).

These few critical remarks should not overshadow the overall impression of an informative and important book, which scholars, the reviewer included, will be happy to have access to and to learn from.

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