Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.11.24

Michael Jung, Marathon und Plataiai: Zwei Perserschlachten als "lieux de mémoire" im antiken Griechenland.   Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006.  Pp. 427.  ISBN 3-525-25263-3.  €69.90.  

Reviewed by John Dayton, Case Western Reserve University (
Word count: 1361 words

Study of the lasting cultural results of warfare, especially as expressed in monuments and other forms of commemoration, has made headway for some historical periods (Claude Mossé's influential Fallen Soldiers comes to mind for World War One) but is still fairly novel among classicists. Thus Michael Jung's dissertation can claim some status as a groundbreaking work. Jung presents us with the first detailed analysis of the changing cultural memorializations of the Persian War through antiquity, as evinced in its first and final battles.

Jung takes as his theoretical point of departure the French historian Pierre Nora's concept of lieux de mémoire, those places, figures or events around which a collective memory has coalesced, one which tends to foster social unity. The object here is to look beyond the question of historical accuracy and to determine what such memories reveal about the society which has engendered them. Jung's choice of Marathon and Plataia as the exemplary battles is based first upon their chronological significance, as the accepted beginning and end of the Persian Wars, and then upon the fact that they offer a crucial point of contrast: the first battle primarily concerns the memorial tradition of a single polis, while the second involves a pan-Hellenic community with its concurrent or competing traditions. These battles should therefore permit the broadest possible conclusions about the Persian War tradition as a whole.

Having made these points in the first chapter, Jung does not belabor them or call attention to theoretical aims. The major strength of the work is thoroughness in the treatment of the concrete evidence. Jung has attempted to compile all the major trends in memorialization for the battles of Marathon and Plataia, from their immediate aftermath to the Roman period. Such a mission necessitates the analysis of a formidable load of material straddling numerous disciplines; Jung delves into cult and ritual, sculpture and other monuments, and many forms of literary and epigraphical evidence. His willingness to examine "dead ends," such as the tradition of Pheidippides and the marathon run or the fourth "Marathon Epigram" (which he believes to pertain to the battle of Salamis), increases his task but is necessary for the sake of completeness. Indeed, his decision to concentrate on only two battles clearly derives from this predilection for thoroughness.

The book has well-defined halves on Marathon and Plataia respectively, and the treatment of each lieu de mémoire is essentially chronological. For Marathon, Jung first deals with the cult and festival traditions connected with the battle: the Herakleia, the worship of Pan, and various hero-cults, including the evidence of such a cult for the Athenian dead. There follows a chapter on the associated monuments: the dedication of Callimachus, the Marathon epigrams, the Delphic offerings and the Stoa Poikile. Then follow sections on the memory of Marathon in the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

The analysis of Plataia deals first with the earliest memorials of the battle: the "New Simonides," the monuments, and the problematical early evidence for the Eleutheria and for a related pan-Hellenic league. There is a chapter focusing specifically on the memory of Plataia as a rallying point for anti-Macedonian efforts in the third century BC, which deals with the "Glaukon decree." A final chapter treats the late Hellenistic and Roman eras, when Plataia served as a symbol of solidarity in the face of the Eastern enemy. This section continues into late antiquity and ends with a discussion of the Serpent Column's removal to Constantinople.

Jung's conclusions can be briefly stated thus: In the case of Marathon, there are four major stages of memorialization. The first consists of the ritual observances which originated in the first thirty years after the battle, and which generally celebrated the victory of isonomia as well as integrating local Attic traditions into a unified Athenian regime. A transformation in Marathon's perceived significance occurred with the activities of Cimon, who sought to displace the role of the polemarch Callimachus and bestow credit for the victory upon his father Miltiades in a general policy for the advancement of aristocratic interests; to this period belong the dedications at Delphi, the Stoa Poikile, and the addition of Marathon to a series of Athenian victories over mythical foes. The next stage is most characteristic of the late fifth and the fourth centuries, when the Marathonomachoi became the heroes of an ideal early democracy free from internal conflict, and the victory was construed as the opening event of the Persian Wars and as a feat which justified Athenian claims to hegemony. This understanding changed little during the Hellenistic era, as the battle's commemoration became a matter of state policy and appeared as such in the ephebic regimen. Finally, under Roman rule, Marathon lost some of its Athenocentric accent and the deeds of Miltiades again gained prominence vis-a-vis those of the citizen army, as the battle was pressed into service as an example of aristocratic duties and leadership of the masses.

The memorialization of Plataia ran a different course altogether, since it was a pan-Hellenic accomplishment which, however, almost immediately became a point of contention among rival poleis. Plataia herself took over responsibility for commemorating the fallen Greeks as an assertion of independence from Thebes. For much of the fifth century Sparta was generally successful in exploiting Plataia as a claim to the leadership of a united Hellas; in this light Jung interprets the Trojan War references and the prominence of Sparta in Simonides' elegy. The struggle over the memory of Plataia intensified during the Peloponnesian War, during which Sparta sought once more to play the liberator of Greece, with Athens now taking the role of the Persians. Athens for her part attempted to cast Sparta as a traitor to the cause of Hellenic unity which the accomplishment at Plataia exemplified. But in the Hellenistic era the struggle over the memory of Plataia changed diametrically; it now became a model for the possibility of an egalitarian pan-Hellenic league capable of resisting Macedonian domination. As such it became the seat of the koinon synedrion, and the festival of the Eleutheriae won renewed importance. In Roman Greece, the symbolic potential of Plataia was cultivated by such phil-Hellenic emperors as Nero and Hadrian to strengthen the unity of the imperial oikoumene and to serve as a prototype for efforts against Parthians and Sassanid Persians.

Despite Jung's stated purpose of transcending conventional hisotoiography, his own scholarly methods are conservative. He bases his conclusions soundly on the ancient evidence and they are always defensible if not indisputable. He has also mastered the previous literature on his themes, which for the most part he relegates to footnotes; these are uncommonly lengthy and copious, and would exceed the actual text if printed in full size type. But they have been well designed not to detain readers who do not require a summary of the previous literature on the subject at hand.

Jung in the end does not offer any single dominant conclusion on the nature of lieux de mémoire, but his work is valuable for the collation and careful treatment of a great quantity of evidence affecting numerous subjects and periods. Further, there is no question that he succeeds in moving beyond the restrictions of traditional historical truth, in identifying a distinction between 'past' and 'history' (Vergangenheit and Geschichte) and demonstrating that what people believe to have happened in their past can be as important as what actually happened. Additionally, the considerable attention to Hellenistic and Roman Greece in a work devoted to Persian War commemoration should encourage efforts to understand the later periods as part of a continuum rather than as detachable portions of Greek history.

As it covers so much ground, Jung's work will be useful to cultural historians in numerous specialties and periods, including art history, epigraphy, etc. But it should be pointed out that, despite the focus on two great battles, the book is not intended as a work of military history by any criterion.

The book has a thorough bibliography both of sources and secondary literature, but a general index is sorely missed. A recurrent typographical error, in which the final line of one page is repeated on the next, mars an otherwise high-quality edition.

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