Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.04.21

Brigitte Le Guen (ed.), L'argent dans les concours du monde grec. Théâtres du monde.   Saint-Denis:  Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 2010.  Pp. 376.  ISBN 9782842922566.  €26.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Alexis D’Hautcourt, Kansai Gaidai University (adhautco @

Because of modern Olympic Games and because of the recent surge in popularity of televised singing contests, it is tempting to assume familiarity with ancient contests, athletic or theatrical.1 Nothing could be further from the truth, as the book edited by B. Le Guen constantly reminds us. The religious nature of Greek contests is naturally the main reason for this difference, but organization and day-to-day management are other distinctive features of theater and athletics in ancient Greek society. Ancient Olympic Games were radically different from Beijing Games, Dionysia from American Idol.

The volume under review is the result of an international conference held in Saint-Denis and in Paris in December 2008. Because of its editor’s involvement, it forms a very coherent collection of articles, which will be of interest not only to all advanced students of Greek religion, theatre, and athletic games, but also to people interested in euergetism, in economic history and, because of an article by Csapo and Wilson, in ancient politics. All articles, except Decker’s, are fairly technical and require previous knowledge of the Greek language and epigraphy. B. Le Guen has also been an altruistic editor: she has written a dynamic and sympathetic introduction, and she has translated two articles into French, from respectively English and German.

P. Wilson, “How did the Athenian Demes Fund their Theatre?,” p. 37-82, offers a long review of all the techniques used by demes to fund their theatres and Dionysia. He shows that demes were no mere imitators of city administration but invented a variety of devices to finance local festivals. Wilson’s main thesis seems sound but, to my eyes, he sometimes stretches the meager available epigraphic evidence too far (for instance, p. 66-67, interpreting IG II2 2767: “there may be a trace of an as yet unidentified theatre-lease in operation i[n] Hagnous, though here it is scarcely even a hint”, or p. 53 a reasoning based on a very hypothetical restoration of IG II2 1173, l. 11). Wilson’s article can now be read together with the recent article by J. Paga, “Deme Theaters in Attica and the Trittys System,” Hesperia 79, 2010, p. 351-384, where the reader will find up-to-date archaeological information and thoughts about the nontheatrical roles of theater buildings in Athenian demes. Both scholars agree that several demes could collaborate in the organization of rural Dionysia and the building of theaters.

E. Csapo, P. Wilson, “Le passage de la chorégie à l’agonothésie à Athènes à la fin du IVe s.,” p. 83-105, offer a detailed analysis of several inscriptions relating to the transition from choregy to agonothetia. It leads them to propose a refined chronology and a democratic interpretation for the change. As they confront epigraphic evidence with passages by Aristotle and Theophrastus, they provide what might be a rare documented example of the influence of ancient philosophy on politics through the actions of Demetrius of Phalerum.

D. Summa, “Ricerche sulla vita teatrale e il suo finanziamento in Locride,” p. 107-125, presents, with good photos, a corpus of inscriptions relating to theater in both Western and Eastern Locris. Maps would have helped the reader. The article is interesting because it shows the presence and dynamism of theater in a different context than the familiar Athenian one.

L. Migeotte, “Le financement des concours dans les cités hellénistiques: essai de typologie,” p. 127-143, drawing from different case studies, lists seven kinds of financing for games and contests: sacred funds, revenues from foundations, city funds, liturgies, other cities’ contributions, individual payments (theater fees for instance), individual gifts or interest free loans.

J.-C. Moretti, “Le coût et le financement des théâtres grecs, ” p. 147-187, and V. Mathé, “Coût et financement des stades et des hippodromes, ” p. 189-223, are similarly structured. Detailed lists of the evidence (21 pages for Moretti and 20 pages for Mathé) are preceded by a synthesis. Moretti stresses that theater buildings served as venues for spectacles but had other functions as well (for instance, they hosted civic assemblies), and Mathé shows that stadiums, unlike theaters, were generally not used all year round. Both authors point out that construction works on these structures could last for years and years without impeding their use. This allowed for a variety of funding systems, euergetism being only one solution among others. The size of these buildings and the lapse of time between construction phases made it possible to target expenditure precisely, be it public or private. Potential benefactors and their communities had plenty to discuss and negotiate about private contributions, their use and display and their integration into a wider construction program. Both articles also shed light on mundane expenditures and works preceding games and festivals like the expenses occasioned by the need to brush the dust away from the hippodrome course. It is also worth noting that foreigners were not much involved in financing the building of theaters or stadiums, whereas they frequently contributed to rural Dionysia according to Wilson’s first article.

W. Decker, “Les prix des vainqueurs aux épreuves sportive avant l’invention de la monnaie,” p. 227-247, is a comparative study of athletic games and their prizes in Egypt, Sumer, among the Hittites, in Crete and Mycenae and in Homer’s and Hesiod’s works.

W. Slater, “Paying the Pipers,” p. 249-281, is the article in this volume concerned the most with the literary aspect of theatrical and musical contests. The author analyses the cost induced by Dionysia in Euboean cities, the number of professional artists required per festival, the contracts and agreements between cities and artists organizations, the programs of the festivals and the nature of the prizes, be they money or honors. Slater argues that complexity was the rule and that there was no strict division between contests for money and contests for honors. A single event could mix both kinds of contests, and we should also allow for changes over time at all festivals.

S. Perrot, “Récompenses et rémunérations des musiciens à Delphes,” p. 283-299, follows Slater’s nuanced approach about money and theatrical or musical contests in studying the corpus of inscriptions from Delphi. He presents (unfortunately without any photographs) inscriptions where the mention of prize money was erased, and concerts organized alongside the great Delphian contests for which artists received a fee. He also offers some insight on the professional costs incurred by musicians: education, food, assistants, musical instruments and stage garb. The money earned at minor festivals could be invested in expensive instruments and clothes that were necessary to make an impression at the most prestigious contests.

K.M. Dunbabin, “The Prize Table: Crown, Wreaths and Moneybags in Roman Art,” p. 301-345, is a richly illustrated article. Dunbabin presents the dossier of the mosaics, reliefs and coins with representations of moneybags and crowns. The study of civic coinage under the Roman Empire shows that prizes played an important part in the reputation of the games: 90 % of the coins relating to games display a prize on their reverse. Like many contributors in this volume Dunbabin argues for a nuanced view and stops short of drawing wide conclusions. Her article draws attention to the display and the monumentalization of the actual crowns and prizes. They had to be visible in the wide setting of a theater or stadium for instance.

Olivier Picard brings the book to a close with a good summary of the articles. Detailed indexes and an extensive bibliography make the volume a useful tool for further study (but beware of the trilingual index, with, for instance, three different entries for one emperor: “Adriano”, “Hadrian” and “Hadrien”).

The book is also a pleasure to read because it is full of glimpses of daily life that literary evidence tends to omit and which only the study of inscriptions and papyrus offers: contests with only one contestant, stadiums rented for grazing during the offseason, artists’ broken promises, local politics, the role of women professional artists ... It is possible that Roman legal texts (what are exactly the fundi agonothetici in the Codex Justinianus 11, 62, 14 or the agonotheticas possessiones ibid. 11. 70, 5 ?) and ancient Greek lexica (for instance the Onomasticon by Pollux) could also be exploited for more studies on money and contests in Greece.

Table of contents

B. Le Guen, Comment parler de l’argent des concours grecs ou « à la grecque » ?, p. 21-34

I. L’organisation des concours : aspects financiers et institutionnels
P. Wilson, How did the Athenian Demes Fund their Theatre ?, p. 37-82
E. Csapo, P. Wilson, Le passage de la chorégie à l’agonothésie à Athènes à la fin du IVe s., p. 83-105
D. Summa, Ricerche sulla vita teatrale e il suo finanziamento in Locride, p. 107-125
L. Migeotte, Le financement des concours dans les cités hellénistiques: essai de typologie, p. 127-143

II. Le coût des édifices de concours
J.-C. Moretti, Le coût et le financement des théâtres grecs, p. 147-187
V. Mathé, Coût et financement des stades et des hippodromes, p. 189-223

III. L’argent des prix
W. Decker, Les prix des vainqueurs aux épreuves sportive avant l’invention de la monnaie, p. 227-247
W. Slater, Paying the Pipers, p. 249-281
S. Perrot, Récompenses et rémunérations des musiciens à Delphes, p. 283-299
K.M. Dunbabin, The Prize Table: Crown, Wreaths and Moneybags in Roman Art, p. 301-345

O. Picard, Quelques remarques en guise de conclusion, p. 347-355

Bibliographie, p. 357-385
Index des sources, p. 387-402
Index des mots latins et des mots grecs translittérés, p. 403-406
Index des noms de personnes, de peuples et de divinités, p. 407-411
Index des lieux, p. 413-417
Index des fêtes, p. 419-420


1.   Many thanks to Natacha Massar, Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, for helping me to polish my English; all mistakes are mine.

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