Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.04.44

Véronique Chankowski, Athènes et Délos à l'époque classique. Recherches sur l'administration du sanctuaire d'Apollon délien. Bibliothèque des Ecoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome; 331.   Athènes:  EFA - Ecole Française d'Athênes, 2008.  Pp. 590.  ISBN 9782869581975.  €90.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by William Slater, McMaster University (slaterw@mcmaster.ca)
Word count: 2687 words

This is a massive and difficult book on a difficult subject; this reviewer seeks primarily to set out its rich content, which despite the detailed Table de Matières (581-88) is not so easily accessed in the absence of a subject index. Those interested in the epigraphy of Delian finances will know the author from a number of excellent recent studies of banking, in which she has shown a detailed knowledge of the problems posed by these difficult texts, and an even rarer ability to make them comprehensible to the average scholar in a wider context. The large bibliography (539-63) has been digested thoroughly, the inscriptions have been checked and emended, the presentation is masterful; she is not afraid to admit past mistakes. This is a good place to start for anyone seeking a gateway to the mysteries of Delian epigraphy, and not only in the classical period. But it is not an easy read.

The book is a synthesis of the Athenian domination from 478 to independence in 314. After 314 the epigraphic material is far more generous, but not less difficult; and especially in section 4, Chankowski delves deeply into the accounts of independent Delos to illuminate the earlier period, a particularly rewarding exercise. She points out that the inscriptions do not remotely cover the years in question. There are only 55 numbered inscriptions, mostly fragmentary, some new, of the basic material, Actes et Inventaires, collected very usefully in her important epigraphic appendix (399-519), which supersedes previous collections; it was the realization of this inadequacy that led to the failure of J. Coupry to write his often announced synthesis of the history of classical Athens-Delos relations.

There are four Sections, divided in turn into chapters, which are in turn divided into sub-chapters numbered A, B, C etc. All are listed carefully in the table of contents hidden at the back. Inevitably subjects recur in many different places, and the table of contents along with the index of literary and epigraphic references (567-73) have to do imperfect service to track these, so that a hunt for e.g. "aristeion" crowns will come up short. Readers are advised to keep post-its at hand; experto crede.

The sections are clearly organized:

1. The origins of Athenian domination, including the role of Delos and its temple in fifth-century Athenian policy, during which the temple began to acquire its assets. Here the inscriptions provide little or no help, in comparison with the literary evidence in constituting this historical overview.

2. The integration of Delian affairs into Athenian, especially the festivals and their funding and administration. This takes the author into detailed discussions of the calendar, the banishment of 422, the Hyperboreans, the theoria of Theseus, and other related topics. There is much information here on how a theoria worked. One is astonished (119) by the size of the contribution of the Apollo temple to the festivals which Athens essentially controlled, even if no inscription actually tells us the total cost of the Delia (more than 6 talents); we may deduce from this that the temple simply had to be aggressive in its loan portfolio, in order not to be bankrupted, very different from the conservative (and impractical?) ways of independent Delos, where jars of money were left sitting for a century. On this see below. But the religious-social requirement to manufacture gold crowns and other offerings, that could not of course be monetized, was not helpful. One observes again and again how easily the non-expert can misconstrue some of these misleading inscriptional details, just as p.119 n.172 corrects quietly a remark on subsidized liturgy in Peter Wilson's valuable book on choregia (Cambridge 2000). There is really no substitute for long experience with these treacherous inscriptions, for even the accounts of the independence are presented in different ways (323). "The picture given by the financial statements can be deceptive" says Chankowski (315) in a memorable understatement.

3. Examination in detail of the administration of the Delian sanctuary by the amphictyons during fifth and fourth centuries, and the development of its methods. Much space is spent on arguing for a penteteric cycle for the amphictyons, the relation with especially a Panathenaian model, consideration of other sanctuary administrations, and the important arguments from the silver phialai in the inventories. But since the troubled historical events cannot be linked directly to the fragmentary accounts, we have to accept anomalies. A list of amphictyons can be found in the useful index of Athenians in the Delian inscriptions (525-9). The officers on both sides are enumerated, and their relationship discussed, as far as one can now determine it.

4. The economic activity of the Delian sanctuary and the management of its funds, in many ways the most important and difficult aspect of this study (279-371). We are introduced to the sources of temple income, the well-known and relatively easily calculated rents of sacred land, but also harbour taxes, ferry fees, rents for fishing in the Sacred Lake and all the other oddments like the capstan tax, which recur regularly; some of these flow into the temple funds as annual payment against loans by the temple to the city. These are all examined in exhaustive detail, because most of them are actually known from the period after 314, and Chankowski carefully (305) points out the differences, e.g. taxes were farmed out annually in the independence, probably only partly so under Athenian domination, when the overall fiscal basis for the temple was first organized, naturally with the interests of Athens in mind. We remain largely ignorant of the city's finances, even later, and even of the percentage of territory under its direct control (save, of course, for the religious nationalization of 426-22); yet the valuable purple-fishing rights were totally in the hands of the temple. This underlying economic tension in the administration of the "sacred island" would be fundamental to its future history.

It is the overall comprehension of the annual balance sheet that justifiably frightens most scholars. Readers should remember that we ought to know more about temple finance from Delos than from anywhere else in the ancient world, despite bronze tablets from other sanctuaries, but the difficulties in exploiting the material have hindered a synthesis. Recently Jean-Charles Moretti has splendidly utilized the financial accounts in his archaeological history of the Delian theatre, now known in a detail not attainable anywhere else (Dêlos: Le Thêâtre, Paris/Athens 2007). Likewise, the accounts of the Delia festival, which are scattered through the sections, e.g. 70-71, 79-86 110-114 etc., supersede any discussion known to me elsewhere, and provide the clearest financial picture of how a temple supported a festival, incidentally showing how seriously expensive such a festival could be. But an overall explanation of the totals and balances requires a more profound grasp of the financial operations. Section 4 is therefore for most readers a particularly valuable mine of information, not easily accessible elsewhere. This reviewer is happy to be told at last that the treasurers of independent Delos were often incompetent; certainly their accounts do not and cannot balance without considerable fudging, (e.g. 327 n.48) and perhaps we should not waste our time trying to do it for them, even if could trust the texts. But we do need to see what they thought they were doing, and imagine the reasons for the considerable alterations in their methods. Section 4 does exactly this, and therefore is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to make sense of the accounts, not just of the classical period but of the following centuries. The author ventures the best estimate known to me of the total assets of the Delian sanctuary, and of the income it produced or failed to produce. It is a figure that needs to be deduced by a series of sophisticated calculations from inscriptions, some of them new, some of them re-read and emended. They give us until almost the end of independence no such totals, but are income and expense statements, (i.e. opening balance ["encaisse"] plus income less expense = closing balance ["solde"]) a mechanism which fails miserably to take account of longterm investments and underlying assets. In addition, because we do not have a full series of successive annual statements, we cannot determine the important income from taxes because they were not all annual. But this was not always so, and we do find attempts by the Athenian amphictyons to operate over a four year period, including the expense of the Delia, something Chankowski calls cheerfully (315) a "rê êcriture a posteriori, qui justifie le bilan de l'exercice"; this is superior, if it works, to the "linear" accounting of the independence, which stumbled annually onwards with its "tâtonnements". Likewise the relation between the city of Delos and the temple is not transparent, and certainly underwent gradual and radical modifications in the period of independence, clearly because the treasurers found the procedures inadequate to their needs. Chankowski shows how our data illustrate a work in progress, as the Delians took over ineptly the relatively superior mechanisms of the Athenian state, for which of course our evidence in the period of domination is so fragmentary.

The classical temple had a verifiable regular income annually of ca. 8000 dr. (310), well above its regular annual expenses, but, -- a big but, -- without counting the new Delia festival @ ca. six talents! This penteteric splurging involves such fun items as a gold crown @ 1500 dr., luxury choral transports, hekatombs of beef, victory prizes and more, or conservatively an expense of 15,000 dr. per annum. (All the other festivals for four years together cost about the same as this crown.) Mr Micawber would not be pleased. The Delian treasurers are theoretically underwater by 7-8,000 per annum. There is logically only one other source of income available, interest from loans by the temple from its liquid assets. (A cynic will note that the temple is loaning money back to the very islands that originally deposited their funds with the temple in 454.) So one can calculate that the classical temple had to have a minimum of 12.5 talents permanently out at interest of 10% just to cover its annual deficit, - in reality more, of course, since only in the perfect Platonic world of economists do people pay off their debts. The calculable bad debt allowance (50%, 75%!! 313) seems frighteningly generous for a tight budget, and here I think, a modern accountant would worry about deferred interest and renegotiated terms, not visible on a profit and loss statement.

In fact the amount available for investment was always larger than needed. By 410 BC, one can safely estimate the loan portfolio at nearly 50 talents, mostly in loans to cities, so that the capital had continued to accumulate swiftly, though I confess that the mechanisms that brought about this satisfactory result are less than transparent to me; but we only have partial snapshots of the development. By the second half of the fourth century, not all the available capital, sometimes only half, is being invested, but, even so, 12 talents can be allocated for new loans in one year. Naturally the sanctuary used its funds also for its building programme, about which we know little at the early stage. Chankowski argues for a two-speed management. There was the current account with the annual income from rentals etc to which was added the loan interest as it came in; this paid for the annual expenditures and produced a profit also. The loan portfolio she guesses was kept at 50 talents, and belonged with the depository of money in jars and precious metal, remnants of the original deposits by the islands, the aparche, which was not actively managed beyond the 50 talents. This total is not given us.

In 323-341 Chankowski comes to the most difficult part of her calculations, arguing from the accounts of the independence towards a synthesis of the total of Apollo's wealth. Only someone who has actually tried to add up these accounts can have an idea of the labour undertaken in order ultimately to demolish the figures of Giovannini and Tréheux and produce the neat totals on these pages, often achieved by detailed corrections and complex explanations of false figures whether ancient or modern (e.g. 331 n.68, or 334, where 63,993,1 of the corpus is read correctly from the stone as 243,993,1! ). "Il faut donc refaire des calculs" (331). Indeed; and so a clear picture emerges that from 192 BC, when the Delians got a grip on their accounting techniques and a major inclusive reorganization took place, to 168 BC, the end of independence, the new totals of public and sacred accounts went from 200 to 350 thousand dr. Some of this came from money (ten jars) that had remained off-balance sheet since 314, unnoticed since the start of independence and now integrated in 192, including the notorious "Money that appeared from Minoe" -- which was elegantly explicated by Chankowski in 2002, criticized unjustly by Gauthier in BullEp, and is here (337) reasserted, we hope finally. This then is the total of the money entrusted to Apollo. In the 2nd century the city and temple accounts had been combined, and by 192 the figure called "to perion" (332) is ca. 5000. Chankowski shows that this was the annual profit on their funds which the Delians used to balance their year-end books, as they adjusted their "balance intermediaire" to "balance veritable" by a somewhat baffling accounting procedure. This amount is by itself sufficient to explain the considerable increase in their funds in this period. On the other hand, the employment of third party banks is justified by the fact that the temple treasury was seldom opened; for the regular movement in current accounts banks acted as necessary but temporary intermediaries. We need not see them as places to hide assets in the long term.

Much of this has nothing directly to do with Athenian domination but acts as a splendid illustration of how temple finances developed constantly to try to take account of increasing complexities. There was no great break between Athenian domination and Delian independence in that regard, whereas in the globalized world after 166 the temple funds were simply kept on deposit. Athenian Delos was uniquely innovative in that it put the money in its treasury to use, producing income to support its great festival and more, without diminishing its assets, and this technique was followed successfully by the Delians in their building programme. Probably this was Athenian financial expertise at work, even if it built on earlier ideas.

The final chapters are devoted to studying the creditors and debtors of the temple in geographical and prosopographical detail, with useful charts and tables. But the material for the classical period is less than for independent Delos, and the strength of this book will repose in its magisterial command of finances rather than the picture of its society. Even the failure to foreclose on local debts (365) cannot, as she says, at this period immediately demonstrate corruption and "affairisme". The greatest debtors are the islands, who fail to pay off debts but take on new ones; as Chankowski argues, they could only do so because their credit rating was sound. A connection of Delian loans with Athenian tribute demands is not demonstrable, and the finances of Delos are in any case miniscule by comparison with those of Athens. In her conclusion, Chankowski argues for Athenian expertise in financial administration, and for Delos as an example of the application of its pragmatic and innovative approach to temple financing.

There are pages in this book that will defeat all but the most dedicated scholars, even those who may know the difference between "bilan" and "balance". That is only to be expected, because the bountiful epigraphic material of Delos is possibly the most intransigent that the ancient world has left us. Chankowski has given us a synthesis which will be the benchmark for all future studies not just of classical Delos, but of temple administration and financial management. No one can who is interested in these matters afford to bypass her methods and conclusions.

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