Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.05.22

Hartmut Leppin, Einführung in die Alte Geschichte.   München:  C.H. Beck, 2005.  Pp. 198.  ISBN 3-406-53527-5.  €19.90.  

Reviewed by Bjorn Paarmann, Université de Fribourg (
Word count: 1733 words

In how many countries except Germany, Switzerland and Austria can teachers still ask their undergraduate students to read a book in German? Not many, I suppose, which is a pity because it is a German speciality to do introductions, Einführungen, to just about anything, and they tend to be worth consulting. Leppin's Einführung in die Alte Geschichte is no exception to this rule. It is a handsome little book, logically structured, with few but good illustrations, maps and other insets. Each chapter begins with introductory remarks and explanations. Key words appear in the margins throughout the book. All sections end with a brief overview of relevant references. A 30-page index and an index of illustrations end the volume.

Professor Leppin is not exactly filling a lacuna with this book, a fact he is naturally well aware of (7); he even gives an overview of the already existing German titles, with an appreciation of each (16-17). Rosemarie Günther's Einführung in das Studium der Alten Geschichte (Paderborn 2001) is included, with the information that it is mainly on research tools and techniques. Leppin proposes that their books be used together. A sensible proposal.

After a short introduction, "I. Einleitung" (7-8), Leppin begins Chapter "II. Gegenstand und Entwicklung der Alten Geschichte" (9-17) with a discussion on the conventional division of the subjects and periods. He advocates prolonging our conception of Antiquity to at least the eighth century, although, as he says, this is not yet widely accepted. The subsequent discussion on the reception of Antiquity from the Middle Ages onwards explicitly concentrates on the German side of this process. Scholars from Winkelmann (1717-68) to Ehrenberg and beyond are mentioned with their individual contributions, and both Nazi and East Germany and their reception of Antiquity are discussed. This part is very interesting, although, given its focus, it cannot embark on the different uses of Greek and Roman Antiquity by the UK, France and North America also. For this see e.g. David Gress, From Plato to Nato: The Idea of the West and its Opponents (New York 1998).

Chapter "III. Grundwissenschaften 1. Die Quellen" (18-34) gives an overview of the different sources. For the epigraphic section the bibliography omits J. Bodel, Epigraphic Evidence: Ancient History from Inscriptions (London/New York 2001); and also the website, which is now an alternative to the CD-rom PHI, although for certain types of searching only. There would still be space left on the page to include P. J. Rhodes and R. Osborne, Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 BC (Oxford 2003).

Chapter "III. Grundwissenschaften 2. Orientierung in Zeit und Raum" (34-40) introduces all the necessary termini technici: terminus ante and post quem etc. Dating criteria, absolute and relative chronology and synchronicities are explained in a very comprehensive way. All that a first year student wants and needs to know is to be found here.

The chapters II and III bear witness that the author desires to present the subject material scrupulously and thoroughly for the reader and it is indeed done in a highly successful way. It looks like Leppin has assembled and compiled all his notes into this part to make it exhaustive. It is however very short, and references to other works are restricted to a minimum, e.g., for chronology a reference is given to Der Neue Pauly Suppl. I, 2004, only. In that volume, whose full title is Der Neue Pauly Supplemente Band 1, W. Eder und J. Renger (Hrsg.), Herrschaftschronologien der antiken Welt: Namen, Daten, Dynastien (Stuttgart 2004), the reader will find 70 titles concerning chronology in the ancient world (pp. 143-44).

The book is a hybrid in the sense that it now passes from the presentation of the auxiliary disciplines to an account of political, social, and economic history. The following three chapters are devoted to Greek, Roman and late Antiquity, respectively.

In chapter "IV. Griechische Geschichte. 1. Anfänge und Archaisches Griechenland" (41-66), the different eras and their names are explained. The origins of Greece are not seen in isolation but in the sphere of events in the Near East (Persia, Egypt and Israel). Eight recent monographs in German and English are given for these areas alone, whereby due credit is given to the Greek adoption of foreign cultural goods.

The practice of putting a key word in the margin of every paragraph is continued throughout the book. So for the Dark Ages the term "Primitivismus" faces a short description of the "primitive" economy at that time. The bibliography at the end of the chapter refers to K. Polanyi, the father of this theory.

Leppin introduces chapter "IV.2. Klassiches Griechenland" (67-84) by stating that Plato, Aristotle and the dramatic authors are important for the ancient historian. This is perhaps obvious to most of us, but how often are introductory literary testimonia restricted to Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon? Thus, it is a good idea to be perfectly clear about this.

I like the first sentence of the chapter: "Athen ist Inbegriff des klassischen Griechenland, Athenozentrik eine besondere grosse Gefahr bei der Betrachtung des Zeitalters." Of course Leppin is conscious that Athenocentrism is inescapable and he devotes eight pages to Athens (including a good map of the Athenian demes) and two to Sparta. The rest of Greece gets a page only, which, as is explained, is due to the "Quellenlage." The remaining part of the chapter is on the events of the fifth (key word "Bipolares Mächtesystem") and fourth century ("Multipolares Mächtesystem"), with, rather unusually perhaps, two paragraphs on Persia and the Jews respectively. In the bibliography Thommen and Powell are mentioned for their books on Sparta, but Cartledge's Sparta and Lakonia (London-Boston 1979) has been omitted. In the bibliography of "Das dritte Griechenland", the German term for the Greek World outside Athens and Sparta, Leppin gives An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis by M. H. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen (the latter forgotten by Leppin). This encyclopedia is certainly the most important single contribution for "Das dritte Griechenland," but it was H.-J. Gehrke who coined the term, as far as I know, with Jenseits von Athen und Sparta. Das dritte Griechenland und seine Staatenwelt (München 1986), and that book is not mentioned by Leppin.

In sub-chapter "3. Hellenismus" (84-92), the importance of inscriptions and papyri is stated. A good map accompanies the account of Alexander's voyage from Pella to India. After an ultra-short account of the Diadochs the Roman intervention in Greece gets a brief but sufficient discussion. In a paragraph on the Kings' cults, Leppin gives an explanation for euergetism also, showing that it is possible to integrate even the most important phenomena into a shortish book. The bibliography gives, unsurprisingly, just the titles one would expect for the Hellenistic Era, but also offers some novelties for the informed but not specialized reader.

Chapter "V. Römische Geschichte I. Anfänge und Republik" (93-112) begins not with the legendary origins of Rome nor with the Etruscan Kingdom but with the traditional dating of the Roman Republic. It is not until Leppin embarks on the account of events that we hear of the Etruscan domination and the difficulty of studying it due to the unreliability of the sources, exemplified by an excerpt from the second book of Livy.

The structure of the Roman Republic is explained at length. In the discussion of the Roman expansion the important question of the possible reasons behind the conquest of Greece is mentioned, but there are no references in the bibliography, as one might have hoped for. And yet H.-J. Gehrke, Geschichte der Römischen Republik (München 1999), pp. 165-66, would suffice. Roman history to the end of the Republic is then discussed.

The chapter "V.2. Der Prinzipat" (112-131) begins with an explanation of what exactly that means. The "Varus-Schlacht" (only located geographically in 1987) where Augustus lost Northern Germany constitutes a case study for the importance of numismatics. Alföldy's pyramid of the Roman Society with the slaves as a transversal and not a horizontal category is illustrated on p. 121.

In 19 pages all important events, personalities, social structures and religions are considered. The new cults from the East, the particular situation of the Jews, and Christinanity get particular attention.

Chapter "V.3. Der Spätantike" (131-51) is slightly more important with an account of everything from Constantine's foundation of Constantinople, to the foundation of the Church, the division of the Roman Empire, "Völkerwanderungen", and other external troubling elements down to 641. Leppin is a specialist in Greek History and early Christianity, and his interest in Late Antiquity shines through here. Leppin is the author of Die Kirchenväter und ihre Zeit.

The last chapter, "VI. Praxis" (152-64), is very surprising. Leppin describes the curriculum of the study of Antiquity and here perhaps shows most clearly that this book is intended for a German public only. His remarks on the "Automotivation" as necessary for the successful accomplishment of the discipline of Ancient History are however universal, with the possible exception of a handful of elite universities in the Anglo-Saxon world and two "Grandes Écoles" in France, where pressure on the students is inherent in the system. Leppin's warning that it is by no means always possible to find a job even for highly skilled candidates is also useful reading for any young student.

To conclude: some would say that it is impossible to write such a short history of Antiquity and that the "critical mass" is several times the size at hand. Leppin has shown that this is not true. Exactly because of the shortness of the Einführung broad lines can be presented and, most importantly, the cultural interaction between the Near East and Greece, The Hellenistic Period and Rome and finally Rome and Christianity can be outlined without obscuring the bigger picture within a multitude of details. The book is short and other critical eyes may find important titles missing from the bibliographies, but the author has had to choose, and as far as I can judge, he seems in most cases to have made sensible choices.

The beginner reading this book attentively will certainly have a firm basis to build further knowledge on. I therefore highly recommend it to German reading students. As a teacher one might introduce this book to the class in combination with Günther's Einführung, M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classics, and P. Bahn, Archaeology, translated into German as one book under the title Wege in die Antike. That would make an excellent triad.

Read Latest
Index for 2006
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:30:59, Friday, 03 April 2009