Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.27
Panagiotis M. Paraskevas, Υπό την σκιάν της Χρυσής Πλατάνου: Μελέτες για τις σχέσεις της Θήβας με την Περσία και τις άλλες ελληνικές πόλεις από την μάχη των Λεύκτρων έως την μάχη της Μαντινείας 371- 362 π.Χ. Βιβλιοθήκη Σοφίας Ν. Παρασκευάς, 110. Athens: National and Kapodestrian University of Athens, 2009. Pp. 244. ISBN 9789605260163.
Reviewed by Aurian Delli Pizzi, Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique – FNRS (Belgium) – Université de Liège (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In this book, which is the publication of his Ph.D. thesis, Panagiotis M. Paraskevas addresses the diplomatic relations between Greeks and Persians during the period 371-362 B.C., i.e. between the battle of Leuctra and the battle of Mantineia, through literary and – to a lesser extent – epigraphic evidence.1 The topic of the book therefore falls under political history, whose protagonists are the cities and their networks, as well as generals and envoys. More precisely, its focus is on the city of Thebes and on how other Greek cities positioned themselves towards each other and towards the Persians on the basis of Theban policy. Paraskevas’ theory is that Thebes was the central point through which the Persians progressively influenced the disintegration of the relations between Greek cities in the fourth century (see p. 15).
The book begins with a state of the question and is divided into three chapters.
Chapter 1 (“Η προϊστορία των ελληνοπερσικών σχέσεων 412-371 π.Χ. με αξόνα Θήβα”, i.e. “The prehistory of Greek-Persian relations with axis Thebes, 412-371 Β.C.”), explores the forty years preceding the period mainly studied in the book, i.e., the last years of the Peloponnesian war and its aftermath throughout the Greek world. This chapter sets the background of the subsequent evolutions discussed in chapters 2 and 3. Paraskevas writes that during this period the Persians wished to recover the Ionian territories they had conceded to the Greeks in 449 B.C. in accordance with the peace of Callias: this is the “Ionian issue”, a recurrent topic in the book. More realistically, however, what they could actually accomplish was to let Greeks fight each other in order to assert their own supremacy. The Persians still preferred to deal with Athens and Sparta in the years after the Peloponnesian war, leaving Thebes aside. On the other hand, Sparta, which aimed at dissolving the alliance of Greek cities against herself, proposed in 392 B.C. that a common peace between all the Greek cities be concluded and a principle of autonomy be adopted. Such measures were enforced through the King's Peace (or Peace of Antalcidas), in 387/6 B.C., which would be an important reference point for the parties involved in the subsequent years.
Chapter 2 (“Οι σχέσεις των ελληνικών πόλεων με την Περσία 371-368 π.Χ.”, i.e. “The relations of the Greek cities with Persia, 371-368 B.C.”) deals mostly with the meeting which took place in Sparta in 371 B.C. on the initiative of Athens, which perceived the Theban hegemony through the Boeotian koinon as a threat to her own power and wanted to make clear the terms of the Peace of Antalcidas – and thereby appear as its guarantor. Three Athenian orators (Callias, Autocles and Callistratos) spoke at this meeting, in a cunning way: while speaking on behalf of all their allies, including Thebes, they were clearly aiming at sharing the Greek world with Sparta, leaving no space for any other power. On the other hand, the Thebans had radical claims. While still being formally allies of Athens, they were willing to dissolve the Boeotian koinon, in accordance with the Athenian request, but wanted in compensation the Perioikoi to be granted autonomy from the Spartan domination. Besides, the Thebans were reluctant to subscribe to the peace precisely because they were seeking leadership in Boeotia, as shown by their wish to swear the oath for the Peace of Antalcidas on behalf of all the Boeotians and not only as Thebans. According to Paraskevas, the Persians were also involved in this meeting: he relies on a passage of Diodorus of Sicily (15.50.4) to suggest that Persians sent an embassy on this occasion, an embassy whose existence is disbelieved by many scholars.
After the battle of Leuctra, which led Sparta to lose some of its power and Thebes to break its alliance with Athens, the Eleans supported a Theban invasion into the Peloponnese. A direct consequence of this invasion was the alliance concluded between Athens and Sparta, to protect against an ever more threatening Thebes which was now acting against the members of the second Athenian league. The satrap Ariobarzanes intervened in this chaos by organizing a meeting at Delphi in 368 B.C. According to the author, Ariobarzanes was acting both on the King’s behalf and to serve his own interests. The place of the meeting was chosen by the Persians themselves, who officially still supported Sparta and, indirectly, her ally Athens. Yet this meeting was a turning point which would subsequently lead the Persians to support Thebes.
Chapter 3 (“Οι εξελίξεις στις Ελληνοπερσικές σχέσεις μετά τη διάσκεψη των Δελφών 367-362 π.Χ.”, i.e., “The evolutions in Greek-Persian relations after the meeting at Delphi, 367-362 B.C.”), first investigates the Greek embassies sent from different cities to Susa. Right after the ἄδακρυς μάχη where they had won over the Arcadians, the Spartans sent Euthycles to the Persian king in order to tip the balance of power between the cities to their advantage. Other cities (more precisely, Thebes and her allies, and Athens) subsequently alleged this as a reason to send embassies as well in order to serve their own interests. In this meeting, the Theban Pelopidas, who thought that the Persians could help Thebes establish her supremacy through the Peloponnese, sought to show the Persians that Thebes had always been on their side, already during the Persian wars, and that it had remained so since the Peloponnesian war. Surprisingly enough, one of the Athenian envoys, Timagoras, spoke in favor of Thebes. The result of these dealings was that the Persians now saw a better ally in Thebes than in Sparta. According to the decisions taken by the Persians in this meeting, Sparta had to recognize the autonomy of the Messenian territory and Athens had to get rid of her naval forces.
The Thebans then tried, in another meeting organized in their own city in 366/5, to have their leadership recognized by the other Greek cities, with the support of a Persian letter. This attempt turned out to be unsuccessful, according to Xenophon. Persian internal affairs are also discussed by Paraskevas. The revolt of the satrap Ariobarzanes had consequences for the relations between Greeks and Persians: while the Spartan king, Agesilas, supported the defector, diplomatically at least, the Persian king invaded Samos in order to slow down the mission sent from Athens to support Ariobarzanes. According to Paraskevas, however, as far as the issue of the inclusion of Amphipolis into her league is concerned, Athens was supported by the Persians. The author also addresses the question of the Theban project, initiated by Epameinondas, to build a fleet, and endorses – maybe too optimistically – the hypothesis of Carthaginian support. This plan, however, was never realized. Finally, Paraskevas examines the consequences of the big Persian apostasia. He also discusses the issue of Chabrias’ and Agesilas’ interventions in Egypt in support of the Persian rebels.
Although this book does not drastically change the perception of the events of this period, it offers some interesting insights. Paraskevas shows how the relations between Thebes and Persia, or between other cities for that matter, were tinged with opportunism, ambivalence and versatility. Moreover, the reader is made aware that the Persian involvement in Greek affairs also depended on the internal political issues of the kingdom, as is the case with Ariobarzanes’ intervention, who thereby opposed himself to the satrap Autophradates. In addition to providing thoughtful reasoning, Paraskevas is usually careful when assessing and comparing the value of his literary sources. In different cases he wisely insists on the role of specific individuals in the policy of a city. Mild criticisms, however, could be formulated. Firstly, the method is not really original, as the author focuses on well-known pieces of literary evidence. Some inscriptions are adduced and compared to literary sources, but they could probably have played a more prominent role. Also, any attempt to give an account of the subtlety of these international relations is risky and has a price: the succession of alliance and enmity between cities on the basis of either Realpolitik (this somewhat anachronistic use of the term is my own) or ideological matters is sometimes quite hard to follow and the unfamiliar reader may occasionally get lost.
It is unfortunate that not a few formal errors or inaccuracies of different kinds detract from the overall merit of Paraskevas’ explanations. Inconsistencies and typological mistakes are not uncommon. The most serious of these is probably the discrepancy between the dates in the title of chapter 2, as found in the table of contents at the beginning of the book (371-362 B.C.), and those indicated in the actual title on p. 51, where it becomes clear that the chapter actually deals only with the period of 371-368 B.C. A bibliographical inconsistency is also to be noted in p. 107 (see n. 228: J.B. Salmon and P. Salmon). See also the typographical mistakes on p. 9, 28, 31, 37, 44, 59, 63, 67, 99 and 100. Accents in ancient Greek texts are often wrong (grave accents are almost systematically replaced with acute accents). The English summary at the end of the book, though useful, contains more than one misspelling or grammatical error (e.g., p. 209: “It was not happened”, p. 210: “The Greeks was proud”). Bibliographical references, and especially French ones, are – too often – fraught with mistakes. Finally, an index of literary sources can be found at the end of the book, but unfortunately it does not contain any page numbers, which makes it quite useless.
This book is an encouraging sign for the vitality of recent scholarship in contemporary Greece. As a synthesis of the period 371-362 B.C., it deserves to be known among the scholars working on the topic or, more generally, among people interested – and sufficiently informed – in international relations and diplomatic dealings in the ancient world. Knowledge of both ancient and modern Greek is required, as no passage in ancient Greek is translated and the English summary is very brief.
1. The title of the book clearly refers to a passage in Xenophon’s Hellenica, where Antiochos, the Arcadian envoy, complains when coming back from Persia that nothing there is as magnificent as usually described, so that the golden plane tree, though praised by everyone, cannot even provide shadow to a cicada (7.1.38).