Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.38

Sviatoslav Dmitriev, The Greek Slogan of Freedom and Early Roman Politics in Greece.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011.  Pp. xv, 524.  ISBN 9780195375183.  $99.00.  

Reviewed by Dylan Bloy, Tulane University (


[I offer my sincere apologies to BMCR's readers and editors for the lateness of this review.]

Dmitriev’s study, his second monograph, exhaustively presents the evidence for freedom propaganda both before and during the Roman conquest of Greece in the late third and second centuries BCE. What Dmitriev calls the “slogan of freedom” was mainly a tool the great powers wielded to justify aggressive interference in the relations between cities and rival powers that controlled them. The Roman adoption of Greek freedom propaganda has of course long been recognized, and the specific debt the Romans may have owed to various Macedonian monarchs in touting “the freedom of the Greeks” has been much discussed. Dmitriev goes well beyond prior scholarship in arguing that this practice, like so many prominent elements of Hellenistic culture, had its roots in the Classical period. He spends a full third of the book (Part One) presenting the pre-Roman use of freedom propaganda before bringing the Romans on stage in chapter 4. Part Two focuses on Roman policy in Greece between their first Illyrian intervention in 229 BCE and their extensive use of freedom propaganda in the years between the Second Macedonian War and the war with Antiochos III (197-189 BCE), with particular attention to the origins of Roman use of the slogan of freedom. Finally Part Three investigates how the Roman use of freedom propaganda changed after their defeat of the Antigonid and Seleucid kingdoms, especially in their dealings with Rhodes and the Achaean League, until the destruction of Corinth in 146 BCE. One of the great perils of this kind of thematic study is the risk of undervaluing historical context in the interest of showing the development of the practice over the course of several centuries. No doubt readers will have many quibbles with Dmitriev’s interpretations of specific episodes, and I will present some of mine in due course.

Dmitriev makes the case that the Athenian and Spartan posturing during the Peloponnesian War used slogans of freedom, with both sides claiming to champion the freedom (eleutheria) of their opponent’s subject cities and guarantee the autonomy (autonomia) of their own. This distinction he draws between eleutheria and autonomia is far from consistent in the sources, and autonomia seems a far more common and elastic term in this period than his interpretation allows. Indeed, one might ask whether fifth century slogans of autonomy are indeed proper precursors to the Hellenistic slogans guaranteeing eleutheria among other freedoms. He rightly highlights the importance of the King’s Peace in expanding autonomy from a right connected with individual poleis or regions to a general guarantee: “now the ‘autonomy clause’ had been extended to all of Greece” (p. 28). One could argue that it is the very extension of that term from the specific to the general (and unenforceable) that makes it a “slogan” rather than an ideological concept actually germane to political negotiation. Dmitriev argues against the view that the King’s Peace represented the first “common peace” in the sense promulgated by the term “koine eirene” in treaties from the 360s and after. His objection stems from the fact that not all regions were signatories to the peace. This is however the first document to extend vague promises of freedom and autonomy to (nearly) all Greek cities, a universality which becomes the hallmark of the common peace. Dmitriev argues that the rationale underlying the many treaties between the King’s Peace and the Macedonian settlement of 338/7 BCE “was always the same: by using the slogans of ‘autonomy’ and, later, ‘freedom,’ and thus formally protecting Greek states from each other, such Peace treaties undermined existing military alliances” (p.78). He even interprets the destruction of Thebes as principally a continuation of Philip’s policy of undermining regional alliances: “the destruction of Thebes by Alexander was not so much a result of his outrage, or his desire to give an example to all other Greeks, or his wish to placate his Boeotian allies… but, first and foremost, a continuation of his father’s policy” (p.92). I suspect even the most sycophantic of Alexander’s allies would have had a hard time justifying the destruction of Thebes as an act done “in the name of freedom for the Greeks” (p. 92) as Dmitriev would have it. More important in setting the tone for the Hellenistic period is that “during the reign of Alexander, the slogan of freedom started to be used for defining the status of individual Greek cities” (p. 96). This gave freedom propaganda the form it would most often find under both Diadochoi and the Romans, claiming a general “freedom” as the motive for tinkering with the military alliances of individual cities. It is worth pointing out the essential difference between the unilateral promises and awards of freedom in the era of the Diadochoi and the appearance of the slogan in bilateral or even universal peace treaties in the previous century. Now the slogan was being specifically applied as justification for actions in particular poleis and regions.

In Part Two, Dmitriev argues for the Roman adoption of the slogan of freedom in the aftermath of the Second Macedonian War. He soundly rejects the (outdated) notion that “philhellenism” played any role in Roman policy. Probably the most controversial argument in this section is his insistence that “the idea of using the slogan of freedom came from the senate and was then appropriated by Flamininus” (p. 181). This stems from the fact that the senatus consultum sent with the decem legati to Greece anticipates the content of the famous proclamation of Flamininus at the Isthmian Games of 196 BCE. There is good reason to think, however, that the Nikaia negotiations before Cynoscephalae actually provided the context in which both Flamininus and the senate were first exposed to Greek freedom propaganda. Flamininus choreographed the embassy to the senate, which after the prorogation of his command unanimously complained about Philip V’s garrisons at the “fetters of Greece.” This hyperbolic term, ironically coined by Philip himself, is clearly an item of freedom propaganda, implying as it does the enslavement of mainland Greece to the Antigonid monarch. It is a surprise neither that this diplomatic barrage sabotaged the peace negotiations in the senate nor that it influenced the language of the later senatus consultum that specifically mentioned Philip’s garrisons. Because Flamininus manipulated the timing of the embassy through his friends, it is reasonable to suppose that he also tailored their message. Moreover, not only was Flamininus’ proclamation the most celebrated instance of Roman freedom propaganda in the Greek world, it was also one that he took pains to remind the Greeks of in his dedicatory epigraphs on silver shields at Delphi and through an epigram by Alkaios of Messene published, then apparently emended through Flamininus’ influence, in the aftermath of the war. If he was not the originator of Roman freedom propaganda, he certainly became its master. Dmitriev emphasizes that the freedom propaganda employed in the aftermath of the war typifies the dual uses possible for the slogan, “both to secure the status quo and a casus belli in case of an enemy’s advance” (p. 212). Thus guaranteeing the freedom of cities in Asia Minor was a cynical step with an eye towards Antiochos III’s attempts to gain influence in the region. Why this should mean, however, that “[t]he Romans clearly did not have as firm a foothold in Greek politics as Antiochos” (p. 216) is unclear, since they were following well established Hellenistic precedent. This quotation typifies a distinct tendency for the author to accuse the Romans of cynicism or political naiveté even when their diplomatic actions have numerous Hellenistic precedents.

Part Three focuses on Roman policy in the east, mainly after the defeat of Antiochos. In a long digression on the nature of deditio (pp. 237-279), Dmitriev argues that deditio and deditio in fidem are two distinct categories: deditio was surrender with prearranged terms, while deditio in fidem was unconditional surrender. He argues that the latter carried no moral responsibility to be merciful to the vanquished, indeed that “[a]lthough the Romans had always had an option to treat those who had surrendered to Roman fides with mercy, the idea of a reciprocal commitment had only recently been borrowed from the Greeks by the Romans” (p. 278). I doubt that the patriotic proverb that Romans “spare the defeated and vanquish the proud” so famously articulated in the Aeneid (6.851-853) was of such recent vintage; it was precisely this imperial strategy that allowed Rome to attain control of peninsular Italy in the Middle Republic. Much of Dmitriev’s argument about deditio is both sober and persuasive, but ultimately I disagree with his assertion that “in the field of international politics, Roman fides… played the same role as the Greek slogan of freedom” (p. 262), and thought the argument would have been better published as a separate article.

The final two chapters consider Roman interaction with two prominent allies, Rhodes and the Achaean League. Dmitriev argues that Rhodes angered Rome during the course of the Third Macedonian War not merely by the existence of a pro-Perseus faction in the city, for the city never adopted an anti-Roman policy, but rather for their arrogance in offering themselves as mediator in the dispute between Rome and Perseus. Rhodes was essentially presenting itself as champion of Greek freedom, a role the Romans felt was reserved for them and which played a significant role in the propaganda leading up to the war. Dmitriev interprets Rome’s punitive measures in the aftermath of the war, the liberation of Rhodian controlled sections of Lycia and Caria, as a diplomatic riposte to Rhodian claims as defenders of freedom during the war. He sees Rome in the second quarter of the second century as increasingly likely to intervene to prevent powerful alliances from being formed among the powers of the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus “the Achaean war made up only one part of a consistent Roman policy that was aimed at undermining the unity and strength of the Achaean League” (p. 348). The manner of this interference was the protection of the “freedom” of individual poleis within the League, which Rome often asserted in mediating between the League and its members. That this was Roman meddling and that it was justified by freedom propaganda seems indisputable; Dmitriev’s thesis that this was a “consistent Roman policy” is harder to prove. In the case of Sparta, the usual cause of trouble, Roman policy is probably complicated by the admiration the Romans developed for Sparta as archetype for the rustic austerity underpinning their own (retrospective) elite values. A curious notion that occurs in this argument is that “the slogan of Greek freedom left no place for the Romans in Greek affairs” (p. 328). Why protecting Greek freedom should be reserved for Greeks, especially after fifty years of Romans claiming this role, is unclear. Ultimately “the Romans followed in the footsteps of their predecessors” (p. 350) by using the slogan of freedom to neutralize rival political alliances.

Dmitriev’s study is a well-produced and often persuasive addition to the scholarship on the Roman conquest of Greece. The text has few errata, citations are both thorough and current, and he includes nine appendices on various matters and excellent indices. I often find his prose difficult to follow on first reading. The somewhat narrow lens the author has chosen for his study will probably limit its readership; this is a pity because he details an important period with many original arguments. For those of us who are specialists, there is much here to stimulate further discussion.

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