Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.05.25 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.25

Nikos Giannakopoulos, Θεσμοί και λειτουργία των πόλεων της Εύβοιας: κατά τους ελληνιστικούς και τους αυτοκρατορικούς χρόνους. Πηγές και Μελέτες Ιστορίας Ελληνικού και Ρωμαϊκού Δικαίου, 7.   Thessaloniki:  University Studio Press, 2012.  Pp. xviii, 430.  ISBN 9789601220772.  €27.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Paraskevi Martzavou, Oxford University (


The volume under review is a study of the four cities of Euboia (Histiaia, Karystos, Chalcis and Eretria), during the Hellenistic period and the Roman empire. It appears as the seventh in the series “Sources and studies in the history of Greek and Roman Law” directed by Georgios Nakos. Hence the emphasis on written sources, notably inscriptions and papyri. The book includes a short introduction, eight chapters dedicated to the institutions of the Euboian cities—each city receiving one for the Hellenistic and one for the Roman period—, a conclusion, an 18-page summary in English, an annex with 21 inscriptions and a series of indices (index locorum, geographical names, divinities and heroes, persons, and a rather short thematic index). The lack of maps is sorely felt in this careful and rigorous study.

In the context of the recent revival in the exploration of the historiography, the history and the nature of the postclassical Greek polis as a complex institution,1 this volume acquires a particularly topical value. Giannakopoulos manages to bring forward the particularities of each one of the four Euboian cities and to analyse its specific features. Each city offers a particularly interesting case-study, and hence an addition to the great variety that characterized the Greek cities in the Hellenistic and Imperial times. However, the four major cities of Euboia present enough common features to justify their integration in a coherent ensemble, with a regional, Euboian, character. The double geographical character of Euboia, its insularity and at the same time its peninsularity, excludes the island from its full integration into geographically neighbouring Central Greece or into the geographical entity of the Aegean island. But geographical, economic and religious features contributed to integrate the cities of Euboia into broader commercial, religious and political networks, which reflect and shape the dynamic relationship between local elements and broader geographical and political systems. Throughout this volume, the four Euboian cities can be positioned, individually and as an ensemble, in different perspectives as part of networks, within the larger context of the world of the Hellenistic kingdoms and of the Roman empire.

The book starts out with a brief but dense general introduction (p. 1-13), offering a general historical framework of the period between roughly the late fourth century BCE and the early third century CE. This summary of political event- driven history provides the chronological background for the study of the institutions and helps to make even clearer2 the significant difference between political history (narrative which focuses on the succession of political regimes or the development of “events”) and history of the institutions (the study of, and a reflection on, institutions as established systems of action). The book is structured to move from less well known material (the cities of Histiaia and Karystos) towards more well-studied areas, notably evidence concerning the great cities of Chalcis and Eretria. The fact that each of the Euboian cities is granted two chapters, one for the Hellenistic and one for the Roman imperial period respectively, helps us to perceive the continuities between the Hellenistic and the Roman periods, more often than not seen as discontinuous.

The first and second chapters focus on the city of Histiaia, situated in the northern part of the island. The dynamics of the relationship between the Boule and the Assembly of the people, the magistrates (eponymous archons, treasurers, strategoi, astynomoi, hierothytes, sitones), the composition of the population, with an emphasis on the new and active elements such as the freedmen and the Romans, are analysed for the Hellenistic period. A special discussion is dedicated to the public contribution (epidosis), related to the restoration of the temple and of the statue of Artemis Proseoa, where a statistical analysis combined with critical remarks on the geo-political context and the sociopolitical local profile gives interesting results. For the Imperial period, the same theme is revisited and the function and role of the Boule and the Assembly of the people is reassessed; the emphasis is on the activity of the local notables and on honorific practices. The members of the civic elite in Roman Imperial period constitute a notable category, characterized by a complex social profile and a common educational and cultural background, combined with a common lifestyle privileging luxury and leisure. The resort town of Aidepsos, closely related to Histiaia, exemplifies this lifestyle. It is not accidental, of course, that Aidepsos serves as a backdrop for some of the Sympotic Questions by Plutarch, constituting thus one of the ideal settings of the Second Sophistic. Local institutions appear under pressure from local elite but it is also obvious that they represent a necessary source of prestige and, probably, a real source of authority and power, since their ratification by these institutions was necessary for the actions of the local members of the elite. Relations with the emperor, of one institutional official form or another, are very well represented in the epigraphical and material landscape of Histiaia. The existence of a logistes, as an intermediary between intervention from above (notably the emperor) and the competition between members of the local elite, suggests the form of negotiations between local and trans-local pressures. Control of the magistrates, attested already in the Hellenistic period, is a usage that seems to continue well into the imperial period.

The third and fourth chapters are dedicated to Hellenistic and Roman Karystos, the harbour city of southern Euboia, with its famous quarries. As with Histiaia, the same emphasis is given here to the study to the function of the Boule and the Assembly of the people, to magistrates and to the activities of various families of notables and benefactors. One of the highlights of the book is the long development on a source that has not received so far the attention it notably deserves, the palimpsest De eligendis magistratibus by Theophrastos. Giannakopoulos in his exploration of the nature of the constitution of Karystos in the Hellenistic period discusses the voting procedures concerning the constituent elements of the institution of strategoi and, moreover, the importance of that information for our understanding of the tensions in the political and, in general, public life in Karystos. Specifically, the discussion on the voting procedures and the composition of the body of strategoi betrays an effort by the political community to secure the appropriate training and education of the highest military officers of the city; whoever undertook the office of strategos for the first time had the obligation to serve under a more experienced strategos and there was even a fixed proportion between new and old strategoi (40%/60%). The determination to maintain a fixed relation between experienced and non-experienced strategoi reflects the more general debate on the relationship of generations in the political arena. Giannakopoulos further examines the functions of a limenophylax and of a sitones, both characteristic institutions of the Hellenistic times and operating in the shared environment of the harbor of Geraistos. For imperial Karystos, the Boule and the Assembly continue to function, at least till the reign of Hadrian. The functions of strategos, sitones, elaiones, agoranomos are analysed for this period too. The phenomenon of euergetism, in relation to the emergence of big families as networks, is discussed on the basis of painstaking prosopographical work and sociological analysis. One of the particularities of southern Euboia in imperial times is the important development of a system for the extraction and trade of the local green marble of the region of Karystos; the realities related with this activity are discussed in relation to Dio Chrysostom (Or. 7). The tension between Dio's rhetorically coloured account and a possible narrative of selective prosperity, based on the archaeology, is gestured at by Giannakopoulos; the theme deserves further exploration.

The fifth and sixth chapters are dedicated to Chalcis, where again a number of recurrent themes are discussed and revisited throughout the Hellenistic and Imperial times, notably the institutions of the Boule and the Assembly of the people. Interestingly, in imperial times, a synedrion appears in the place previously occupied by the Boule. The public life of Chalcis in the late Hellenistic period seems characterized by tension and competition between different political groups. Giannakopoulos devotes particular care to the analysis of judicial institutions. As in the case of the two previous cities, the phenomenon of euergetism is studied within the local context and its institutional aspects, especially in relation to the presence of the families of the local civic elite. Of special interest is the section dedicated to the gymnasion, full of interesting details and very well contextualized.

The seventh and eighth chapters are dedicated to Eretria, where (unsurprisingly) the institutions of the Boule and the Assembly of the people are examined in detail. Giannakopoulos devotes particular attention to the institutional procedures of decree enactment, but also to local political competitions, the latter on the basis of the information provided by the life of the philosopher Menedemos, known from Diogenes Laertius. The system of civic honours is precisely evaluated, as are judicial institutions, the gymnasion and the ephebate. Though the epigraphical sources falter during the imperial period, it seems that civic life continued, since the workings of the gymnasion are attested. The imperial cult was clearly present; dekaprotoi appear in the Roman Imperial period; their relationship with the probouloi of the Hellenistic period is not clear however.

Judicial institutions, throughout this book, are examined in relation to social changes, especially concerning the relations of foreigners with justice. In all of these contexts, the vigour of civic institutions is a constant theme: it is the local institutions that, throughout the Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods, provide the structures for the functioning of the local societies. This study clearly shows that institutions are not a block of century-old systems but dynamic structures that evolve and adapt to changes, sometimes during very brief periods of time and within particular circumstances. They are negotiated at the level of the local community, they serve as mechanisms of integration of new societal forces, and are established forms of authority and power that regenerate authority and help with the negotiations with sources of power from above and from abroad.

Giannakopoulos offers a new and absorbing regional case-study. But further, this book renews the range of themes for the study of ancient political philosophy, and its importance cannot be overstated. The themes that are treated present an impressive variety and it is a pity that the rather short general index does not fully do justice to the thematic richness of the volume. The volume offers a regional model, and also gives us a glimpse of a dynamic: the north and south part of the island, with the spa town of Aidepsos, a place of leisure and pleasure, in the north, and the quarries of Karystos, in the south, offering material for a study between northern and southern dynamics. Giannakopoulos offers a regional study which facilitates enormously the integration of Euboia within a general larger and wider picture of the Hellenistic and Roman world. The field now lies wide open.


1.   See recently P. Fröhlich, Chr. Müller (ed.), Citoyenneté et participation à la basse époque hellénistique Genève, 2005, see BMCR 2006.10.06; Albrecht Matthaei, Martin Zimmermann (ed.), Stadtbilder im Hellenismus. Die hellenistische Polis als Lebensform Bd.1.Berlin, 2008, see BMCR 2010.02.30; Onno van Nijf, Richard Alston, Political culture in the Greek city after the Classical Age, Leuven, 2011, see BMCR 2010.02.30; D. Rousset (ed.), Philippe Gauthier, Études d’histoire et d’institutions grecques: choix d’écrits, Genève 2011, see BMCR 2012.09.31.
2.   This point is brought out by Gauthier. See D. Rousset, op.cit., p. 32-33.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010