Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.09.43

Éric Perrin-Saminadayar, Éducation, culture et société à Athènes. Les acteurs de la vie culturelle athénienne (229-88). Un tout petit monde. De l'archéologie à l'histoire.   Paris:  De Boccard, 2007.  Pp. 699.  ISBN 978-2-7018-0231-2.  €30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Nigel M. Kennell, Kennell (
Word count: 3682 words

[Table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

"Monumental" is the description that springs to mind when reading this new book by Éric Perrin-Saminadayar (P.-S.), in which he comprehensively studies all the epigraphical and literary evidence for cultural life in later Hellenistic Athens. Accompanied by a staggering 31 tables, and including prosopographies of the 1212(!) Athenian ephebes known from inscriptions at Athens, Delphi, and Delos (pp. 63-81, 270-460, 489-506), the 180 philosophers and their students attested at Athens, (pp. 109-120, 535-550), as well as lists of numerous royal visitors, P.-S.'s text represents the first effort to unite disparate studies on particular, specialized aspects of Hellenistic Athens and to place them into a coherent historical framework. For this alone, Éducation, culture et société à Athènes will soon serve as a major reference for anyone concerned with the trajectory of Athenian society from the late third century to the early first century B.C.E.

P.-S. has a simple thesis, namely, that following the city's liberation from Macedonian rule in 229, the Athenians -- more specifically, their 'dirigeants' (an unfortunate locution) -- followed a policy first adumbrated by Lycurgus in the fourth century of showcasing cultural achievement, both past and present, as a means of promoting the city as the capital of Hellenism. According to P.-S., this policy embraced all facets of cultural life, from the philosophical schools through the ephebeia (to which a great deal of the book is devoted) and civic festivals to sculpture and architecture. So successful was Athens that it became the model for other cities to imitate and so beguiled the Romans that the city was able to survive its opposition to Rome in the Mithridatic War. Other foreign policy blunders in the first century B.C.E., when Athens invariably chose the losing side to support, were also forgiven serially by the Romans.

P.-S. begins with an introduction (pp. 7-25) in which he assesses the reasons why no one has tackled this question previously. Some answers are familiar: a tendency to regard Hellenistic Athens, through classicizing lenses, as much diminished from its glory days in the fifth century, and the unavoidable fact that the bulk of the evidence is epigraphical, not literary (pp. 10-13). P.-S. also draws attention, acutely, to the tendency to view Athens as unchanging in the course of the Hellenistic period (pp. 18-19), which seriously inhibits our appreciation of historical developments over time. On the other hand, from 167 to 88 B.C.E., Athenians were largely at peace, independent, and establishing a position for themselves within the changing realities of the late Hellenistic age (pp. 19-20), a process that can be traced through the surviving evidence for the ephebeia, philosophical schools, civic festivals, foreign benefactions and the like (pp. 21-22).

The main text of the book is in three long sections, which follow roughly chronological order. In the first (pp. 31-191), divided into five chapters, each divided (as in other main sections) into two or three subsections and several further sub-subsections, P.-S. covers the period up to the reacquisition by Athens of Delos in 167 B.C.E., concentrating on the years after the city's liberation from Macedonian domination in 229 B.C.E. During this period, P.-S. argues, the elements of Athens' cultural policy were put into place. In particular, the ephebeia is shown to have undergone a massive transformation from the fourth century, when, according to P.-S., it functioned as a military training regimen compulsory for all Athenian citizens. Although the ephebeia's change into a voluntary system by the end of the fourth century and the subsequent dramatic plunge in enrollment in the third century are familiar to historians, P.-S. places the changes into a plausible context. He calculates that the fourth-century ephebeia could have cost the state as much as 60T per annum -- an unsupportable sum for a city in straitened financial circumstances. He also stresses that the diminution of the term of service did not necessarily have a detrimental effect on Athens' military effectiveness or civic pride (pp. 32-33), although later he comments on the Athenian army's "remarquable incapacité . . . à assumer ne serait-ce que la défense de son territoire" (pp. 51-52). Most remarkably, he tentatively links variation in numbers of ephebes to the international political climate: at times of war or crisis, more Athenians seem to have enrolled their sons than at times of peace (p. 48). However, by the second century, P.-S. insists, the Athenian ephebes no longer had any military role and the ephebeia had become a training school for the elite, in which prospective leading citizens were acclimatized to their future role and presented to the public in the Assembly, at festivals, and in parades (pp. 51-52). Accordingly, in the prosopographical table of ephebes from the later third century (pp. 63-81) he finds a high proportion of aristocratic youths (pp. 82-83, 86), a trend that continues in the following century (p. 398). Ephebes are also made familiar with receiving honors such as proedria at festivals, first conferred during the Chremonidean War as a recognition of their role in defending the city but later automatically bestowed on each year's ephebic corps (pp. 56-57).

The philosophical schools, attendance at which was later part of the ephebic training, became another tool of Athens' cultural policy, since, unlike the ephebeia prior to the mid-second century, non-Athenians could participate fully in them and even rise to prominent positions as scholarchs (pp. 103-106). Relying heavily on Diogenes Laertius' pocket biographies, P.-S. finds that the philosophers active in Athens, as well as their pupils, came from families of the same high status as many of the ephebes (pp. 126-133). He follows this with a look at the evidence for royal benefactions that impacted the cultural and artistic life of Athens from 229-167 (pp. 137-169) and rounds off the first part of the study by showing how the city played an active role in developing a cultural policy in the later third century (pp. 171-195).

Foreign intellectuals like Zeno of Citium were honored, even in bad times (174), although well attested grants of citizenship are relatively rare and only bestowed on persons of great renown or influence. Among these were several intellectuals -- the Stoic Chrysippus, Polemon the Periegete, the poet Euphorion, and the historian Phylarchus (pp. 175-176). Other poets and playwrights were also honored with statues, so many indeed that the names of most were lost on Pausanias three centuries later (pp. 179-180). For P.-S., the years following Philip V's ravaging of Attica in the Second Macedonian War (200 B.C.E.), which he argues was not as devastating as the sources would have us believe, saw the flowering of Athens as the cultural capital of Hellenism.

Part Two (pp. 199-521) comprises a detailed examination of certain aspects of the ephebeia from 167 to 88 B.C.E. Opening with about 50 pages devoted to ephebic decrees (pp. 199-248), P.-S. presents their texts variously in full or partial translation, and with or without a (full or partial) Greek text (e.g. pp. 202-206, translation of decree with ephebic list; pp. 206-217, 222-229, full Greek text of decree and list with translation of decree only). In assessing the ephebeia in this period, P.-S. points to the marked success of the reformed system: ephebic numbers rose, while the city gradually disengaged itself from the costs of administration, now requiring the kosmetai and even the ephebes themselves to pay for essential supplies like olive oil and fund their own sacrifices (pp. 257-258) and imposing new duties such as supplying the library with 100 books at the end of their year (p. 259). But the most visible change was the admittance of foreigners, first attested in 123/2 B.C.E., which for P.-S. signals the absolute death knell for any military purpose behind the ephebeia, since it would be surprising in a system designed to produce future citizens (pp. 250-251). He traces the steady increase in the foreign ephebes, from 11.29% in 123/2 to 28.37% in 102/1 B.C.E., and points to the single intact list from the first century B.C.E., in which over half of the ephebes are non-Athenian (p. 253).

In the ephebic program P.-S. again sees a move away from earlier concerns with the military and physical training of citizens towards more specialized education in philosophy and rhetoric, whose lectures the ephebes were now praised for attending (pp. 259-266). In contrast to Marrou's dismissal of this education as superficial, P.-S. points to the high caliber of their instructors and the ephebes' assiduity in attending lectures (pp. 263-264).

Then follow 128 pages of prosopographical analysis of the 900-odd known Athenians in the ephebeia from 167 to 88 B.C.E. (pp. 269-396). Of these, three-quarters are from known families, of which over half can be traced over several centuries, lending support to P.-S.'s contention that the ephebate was an institution for the Athenian elite (pp. 396-398). He concurs with Reinmuth in explaining the simultaneous enrollment of brothers -- a phenomenon that begins in Athens and elsewhere in this period -- as the result of parents enrolling all their sons of about the same age at the same time. This is a strong indication that the age limit for enrollment was no longer observed (pp. 398-400).

Turning, after 27 pages of stemmata and tables (pp. 411-438), to non-Athenian ephebes again, P.-S. shows that a preponderance (59.22%) came from large cities -- Rome, Miletus, Laodicea, Heraclea, Antioch, and Beirut (p. 462). Alexandria, which supplied no Athenian ephebes, is the exception among the major centers of the eastern Mediterranean (p. 462). P.-S. later notes a similar absence from the known students at philosophical schools in the first half of the second century, which he attributes to possible competition between Alexandrian and Athenian schools (p. 551). His discussion of the ephebes called "Milesian" is disappointingly cursory; rightly rejecting Reinmuth's suggestions that the Milesians appear in the lists because the ephebate at Miletus disappeared around 130/29 or because of close ties between the two cities, P.-S. attempts no solution beyond citing Pélékides' study from 1962 (pp. 462-463). As individuals, though, all the foreign ephebes whose status can be determined came, not surprisingly, from the same high echelons of society as their Athenian counterparts (pp. 465-468). On the question of the possible relationship the ephebate may have had with citizenship, P.-S. effectively demolishes Osborne's contention that service in the ephebeia automatically gave foreigners the right of naturalization. He points to the weaknesses in his argument: all of the four cases Osborne cites can be explained away, and there is no trace of any ephebe classed among the xenoi appearing later as an office-holder or in a catalog of Athenians (pp. 470-472).

The last chapter of this section is devoted to Athens' adjunct ephebeia on the island of Delos (pp. 479-521). Instituted immediately after Athens regained control of the island in 167, the Delian ephebate was always, by necessity, open to foreigners. But it was always the poor relation -- no full ephebic lists, no permanent teaching staff, and only a gymnasiarch at its head. P.-S. repeatedly stresses what he sees as Athenian lack of interest in articulating the Delian institution in the proper (Athenian) way (pp. 482, 485-486, 488). The ephebic population, as we might expect, was made of youths from a large number of different cities, with one-quarter coming from the cities of Antioch and Rome alone (pp. 510-511), a probable reflection of the island's commercial ties.

In the book's final section, P.-S. widens his focus to examine how Athenian cultural policy functioned from 167 to 88. He turns first to the philosophical schools, whose clientele were somewhat older than the ephebeia's but which, like that institution, attracted students, as well as scholars, from all over the Mediterranean. Athenians now made systematic their incorporation of scholarchs into the community through honors and grants of citizenship (pp. 526-527). The identification of such intellectuals with their adopted city was so complete that Athens utilized them as ambassadors to the Senate at Rome, in an appeal against a fine of 500T for illegally annexing Oropos after the Second Macedonian War. This famous embassy, led by the luminaries Carneades, Critolaus, and Diogenes, was famous throughout antiquity for kick-starting the serious study of philosophy at Rome and, in P.-S.'s view, acted as the catalyst for young Romans to visit Athens to enroll in the schools and even the ephebate (pp. 529-530). The final prosographical section (pp. 535-550) shows that, as in the earlier period, persons associated with the schools continued to come from a wide variety of cities, though some new cities appear. The most dramatic appearance is that of Alexandria, the birthplace of nine students, compared with none in the previous decades. P.-S. deftly associates this phenomenon with Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, who exiled intellectuals from Alexandria as part of his anti-Hellenic policy (pp. 551-552). P.-S. also concerns himself with the practicalities of being a foreign student in Athens. Long-term residency in the city could be expensive: Cicero's son Marcus racked up expenses of 80,000 sesterces per annum. While most other students may not have shared Marcus' expensive predilections or felt so great a need to live up to their status, a life of virtue was evidently a costly business (pp. 558-560). For Athens, philosophy served as an effective means of increasing its cultural influence, as all of the known ancient philosophers spent some part of their lives in Athens and must have acted almost as unpaid ambassadors upon their return home (p. 563).

Rome's increasing influence was felt at Athens through the disappearance of the city's major benefactors among the Hellenistic dynasties. Less powerful royals stepped in, but could not match the magnificence of their predecessors (pp. 569-578). On the other hand, Romans became frequent visitors, although their attitude sometimes revealed either naiveté or insensitivity to Athenian realities (pp. 592-597). Roman fascination with Athenian culture led to the establishment of a thriving sculptural industry, which had the side benefit of beginning Roman portrait sculpture, all of which served to strengthen the hold Athens had on the Roman imagination (pp. 614-620).

As an instance of the importance of culture to the Athenians, P.-S. points to their extremely close relationship with the association of Dionysiac artists, whose interests the city championed before the Senate and who themselves supported the city at Delphi (pp. 605-609). Festivals commemorating the days of Athens' glory were instituted or revived. Classic plays were revived and performed along with new compositions in newly built or renovated venues; public buildings on the acropolis and in the agora were rebuilt. P.-S. inserts the Tower of the Winds, surely correctly, into this late Hellenistic building program, which proclaimed Athens' primacy in intellectual and cultural endeavor (pp. 627-632).

In the conclusion, P.-S. compares and contrasts the cultural policy of late Hellenistic Athens with that of Peisistratus and Pericles, whose projects he maintains were carried out in the face of considerable opposition, unlike the later period, when the majority of citizens were convinced of the policy's worth. (p. 636). So successful was the policy that other cities followed suit, proclaiming themselves to be "the new Athens" (p. 637). It also inoculated the city against Roman wrath for siding with Mithridates of Pontus in 88. After Sulla sacked the city, which again P.-S. argues had much less serious long-term effects than has been supposed, cultural life quickly bounced back, as attested by an ephebic list from 80/79, which contains over 100 names (p. 643).

Éducation, culture et société à Athènes is a major achievement. Never before has anyone treated this evidence in such depth and breadth. P.-S.'s careful study of each element enables him to draw an impressive amount of information from relatively neglected and uncommunicative texts. His linking of aspects of Athenian cultural fabric in the late Hellenistic period -- material, institutional, and intellectual -- with broader historical trends and events will put the study of Athens in the period on a new level. The judicious use of imagination in reconstructing the circumstances of the actors (as P.-S. calls them), either as individuals or groups, is refreshing and should be exemplary. Certain weaknesses remain, however.

To me, they were most visible in his treatment of the ephebates in the city and on Delos. P.-S.'s picture of the changes the Athenian ephebeia underwent in the Hellenistic period is old-fashioned, to say the least, rooted in concepts derived from Marrou and Pélékides, though not so colored by their ideas of decline. P.-S. appears unmoved by recent re-evaluations of the role of military instruction in Greek ephebates during the Hellenistic period.1 The reason appears to be his view of the diminished importance of the Athenian citizen-soldier. Early on, he refers to "l' écrasante prépondérance des troupes mercenaires sur les troupes civiques dans l'armée athénienne tout au long de l'époque hellénistique" (p. 51) as a fact needing no evidentiary support. Again, scholarship over the last two decades has called such statements into serious question, now that the active role of citizen militias in defending their cities throughout the Hellenistic period has come to be appreciated.2 Mercenaries were hired for specific duties in specific situations, usually times of crisis.3 Aeneas Tacticus (1.1-9) advised cities to choose the most level-headed and unsubversive of their own citizens as commanders of the defense forces, which were comprised mostly of citizen-soldiers; in fact, he cautioned against hiring too many mercenaries because of the danger of insurrection they might pose. Free Athens is unlikely to have been the sole exception in handing over the majority of its defensive needs to hired foreign soldiers. Citizens, together with mercenaries, certainly manned the garrison at Rhamnous down into the early years of the first century.4 That a situation arose in Athens such that parents might not have wanted their sons enrolled in a military training system because, "ils savaient parfaitement qu'ils risqueraient à la guerre soit de perdre la vie, soit de se couvrir de ridicule, si ce n'était les deux à la fois," flies in the face what is known about Greek civic ideology and reveals a modern liberal, western European bias. A more nuanced view can be seen in Chaniotis' treatment of the Athenian ephebate.5

P.-S.'s assessment of the Delian ephebate suffers from a similar Athenocentric myopia. The appointment of a gymnasiarch as head of the training does not necessarily indicate Athenian lack of concern (p. 485). On the contrary, as the vast majority of Greek ephebates were administered by gymnasiarchs, it is more likely to have been a concession to the large number of non-Athenian ephebes on the island. Likewise, Delos was unexceptional in lacking a permanent teaching staff (p. 485); most Greek cities simply hired itinerant teachers for many subjects.

On the subject of the ephebic teaching program, P.-S. again shows himself in thrall to old ideas. It is characteristic of the Athenian evidence that the staff charged with teaching military subjects remained constant from the fourth to the end of the second century B.C.E. In the Constitution of the Athenians, they appear as "teachers who teach hoplomachia, archery, the javelin, and to fire a catapult" (42.3). The last complete catalog of teachers (IG II 2 1028 +2181 = P.-S. T32) lists a hoplomachus, javelin teacher, archery teacher, and catapult specialist - exactly the same personnel as in the fourth century. These instructors, who were indisputably responsible for military training in the fourth century, are described by P.-S. as "professeurs tous spécialisés dans une discipline sportive" (p. 485) in the second, while the four subjects they taught (the only ones attested in the fourth century) become "un certaine nombre de disciplines traditionelles" (p. 259). P.-S. indulges in a similar feat of rhetorical sleight of hand in the case of the cosmete and ephebes for 123/2 (IG II 2 1006 + 1031 =P.-S. T26), who are famously praised for rebuilding an old catapult and renewing training in its use "after very many years" (lines 84-86, 34-37). Taking his cue from Marrou, P.-S. looks with disdain on this act, since he sees neglect of catapult training as a sure sign military training was no longer taken seriously. But only five years before the Athenians had praised their catapult trainer for 128/7 (SEG 15 104 = P.-S. T25), so by no means had training in those weapons lapsed for a long period. In fact, the ephebes and cosmete rebuilt at their own expense one of the old-style stone-throwing catapults (lithobolos, T 26, line 35). Almost sixty years ago, Launey interpreted this, certainly correctly, to mean that catapult instructors had for many years directed their attentions exclusively to the bolt-shooting type.6

Despite his narrowness of vision on these points, P.-S. deserves our thanks for presenting such a rich and varied study of a relatively neglected period in Athens' history. This is a book that all researchers on Hellenistic Athens will have to take into account in the future. At such a reasonable price (actually, unbelievable for a French publication), there is no reason why this book should not be on their shelves too.

Table of Contents:

Première Partie: La mise en place d'un modèle athénien, de la libération d'Athènes à l'acquisition de Délos
Chapitre 1: L'ephébie attique: transformation ou déclin?
Chapitre 2: L'ephébie attique: une institution au service des élites athéniennes
Chapitre 3: L'empreinte des non-Athéniens dans la vie culturelle. La philosophie, monopole de non Athéniens?
Chapitre 4: Les souverains hellénistiques dans la vie culturelle et artistique athénienne de 229 à 167
Chapitre 5: La cité athénienne, acteur de la vie culturelle et artistique. La naissance d'une véritable politique culturelle à Athènes

Deuxième Partie: La place de l'éphébie dans la vie culturelle athénienne, de l'acquisition de Délos à la guerre mithridatique
Chapitre 1: L'éphébie attique: le triomphe de la réforme
Chapitre 2: Les Athéniens dans l'éphébie attique (167-88)
Chapitre 3: Les étrangers dans l'éphébie attique (167-88)
Chapitre 4: L'éphébie attique ... à Délos

Troisième Partie: Athéniens et non-Athéniens dans la vie culturelle: permanences et renouvellement
Chapitre 1: Les écoles philosophiques athéniennes de Carnéade à Athénion
Chapitre 2: Le déclin de l'evergétisme royal et l'arrivée des Romains à Athènes
Chapitre 3: Gloria Atheneniensium: le succès de la propagande culturelle athénienne



1.   E.g. J. Ma, "Fighting Poleis of the Hellenistic World," in War and Violence in Ancient Greece, H. van der Wees ed. (London, 2000), 336-376.; A. Chankowski, "L' entraînement militaire des éphèbes," in Les cités greques et la guerre, J.-C. Couvenhes and H.-L. Fernoux eds. (Paris, 2004), 55-76, who shows an appreciation of such instruction's cultural value; D. Kah, "Militärische Ausbildung," in Das hellenistische Gymnasion, D. Kah and P. Scholz, eds. (Berlin, 2004) 47-90; S. Tracy's response to Burkhardt [cited by P.-S.] in Kah and Scholz, Das hellenistische Gymnasion,, 207-210.
2.   E.g. P. Baker, "Participation civique à la défense des cités," CÉA 29 (1995), 109-116; Ma, "Fighting Poleis;" A. Chaniotis, War in the Hellenistic World (Oxford, 2005), 8-44.
3.   J.-C. Couvenhes, "Les cités grecques d' Asie Mineure," in Les cités grecques et la guerre, 86-87.
4.   E.g. B. Petrakos, O Dêmos tou Ramnoûntos, II (Athens, 1999), nos. 22, 26, 148, 151.
5.   Chaniotis, War in the Hellenistic World, 48-50.
6.   M. Launey, Recherches sur les armées hellénistiques, 2 vols. (Paris, 1949-1950), 832; on the types of catapult, see E. Marsden, Greek and Roman Artillery, (Oxford, 1969), 48-64.

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