Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.56 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.56

Edward Dąbrowa (ed.), The Greek World in the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC. Electrum, 19.   Kraków​:  Jagiellonian University Press, 2012.  Pp. 178.  ISBN 9788323334835.  $42.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Johannes Engels, Universität zu Köln​ (


This volume in the "Electrum" series offers a rich collection of 10 papers and one review article on very different topics of late classical Greek and early Hellenistic history. Since the thematic and methodological scope is broad, the volume may be of interest to experts in ancient history, philology, archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics. Due to restrictions of space I focus on selected papers that were of particular interest to me.

Ctesias of Knidos had a quite bad reputation as a historian in earlier modern scholarship, although he found many readers in antiquity as an entertaining author. In recent years, however, one observes a remarkable reappraisal of his qualities as a historian and ethnographer.1 E. Almagor's contribution adds useful observations to these studies. Meanwhile, however, one perhaps should be careful not to exaggerate Ctesias' qualities. Crucial questions concerning Ctesias' biography (e.g. the date and circumstances of his sojourn in Persia or his disputed travels) and the connection between his life as a physician at the Persian court and his writings remain unresolved because of the fragmentary preservation of his works. A much debated topic deals with defining the genre of Ctesias' main work, the Persika. While Ctesias was a founding father of a subgenre of historical works on the vast Persian empire, many modern historians have been puzzled by the "pedestrian lists" (9) which one finds in the Persika (as well as in his other works). Here, Almagor suggests that those lists might be later interpolations to earlier versions of Ctesias' work. More importantly, Almagor then suggests that several minor works of Ctesias, especially the Indika, which circulated in antiquity under Ctesias' name and were transmitted independently, originally might have been sections of this main work. This certainly holds true for Ctesias' Assyriaka which originally made up books 1-6 of the 23 books of the Persika. Given the fragmentary preservation of the Persika, however, in my view it may ultimately be impossible to establish the precise connection between Ctesias' works. I would agree with Almagor on the considerable influence which Ctesias had on later Persika authors, especially on Dinon though I would be cautious to subscribe to Almagor's opinion that the many personal notes in Ctesias' Persika can be judged as "tantamount to a proto-autobiography" (9). Books 19-23 of Ctesias' Persika included the reign of king Artaxerxes II and the revolt of his brother Cyrus (see Almagor 26-27, and his useful appendix 28-36). Hence, literary rivalry between Ctesias and Xenophon, who wrote his Anabasis a few years after Ctesias' Persika, appears to be important and merits further study.

The family monument which Daochus of Pharsalos erected at a most prominent place in the Panhellenic sanctuary of Delphi ranks among the most discussed monuments of late classical Greece.2 Daochus of Pharsalos became tetrarchos of Phthiotis only with the political support of the Macedonian king Philip II. Nevertheless, Aston rightly stresses that the clever political message of this expensive monument should not be reduced to a simple act of showing Daochus as a willing partisan of Philip and Macedon. Aston suggests that Daochus had his own 'Thessalian' agenda and understands the subtle message as a clever gesture towards a shared Macedonian and Thessalian mythology (52). The monument primarily shows the proud self-confidence of Daochus as the leader of an influential Thessalian clan with a long-standing tradition. Delphi was just the right place, where "Thessalians and Macedonians could stage a delicate symbolic interaction founded on shared northern culture, myth and religion" (43).

"There is little about the Pistiros inscription that can be considered certain or uncontroversial" (100), states D. Graninger rightly in his interesting paper.3 As the basis of his discussion of the documentary contexts of this inscription Graninger offers an improved Greek text and a new English translation (101-102). The Pistiros inscription is a key document for the study of the Odrysian kingdom after the death of king Cotys I and before Thrace finally fell under Macedonian hegemony in 340/39 BC. The discussion is still open about the implications of this inscription for the relationship between Greek emporia and poleis and indigenous Thracian kings and their functionaries, on the legal context of trade in the Odrysian kingdom and on specific regulations for Greek resident traders in relation to other Greek traders and to Thracian natives and rulers. Graninger convincingly suggests that the Pistiros inscription should not be understood as a simple re-publication of earlier regulations. He holds that this document substantially adds to earlier regulations and defines them more precisely. One wonders whether we already know of enough ancient sources to venture a comparison with the conditions of trade and co-existence in the Odrysian kingdom and in another border zone of the Greco-Roman world, e.g., in 4th century BC Celtic Gaul.

Both the democratic system and the foreign policy of Athens in the late classical period (403-322 BC) have seen an overdue reassessment over the last decades. Today, only a minority of experts would still defend the earlier general picture of 'failure' or 'decline' of 4th century Athens. P.J. Rhodes has been one of the major participants in these discussions and his overview over Athenian policy after 403 BC4 shows his profound knowledge of the problems and events. Roughly 20 years ago E. Badian coined the lucky term 'ghost of empire', which allegedly haunted the Athenians between 403 and 322 BC with illusory dreams of regaining their 5th century naval empire under dramatically changed circumstances.5 According to Badian, Athenian strategic mistakes would have significantly contributed to an ultimate failure of its military and foreign policy. Rhodes, however, concludes that except for the years after Leuctra and the end of the war against the allies in the Second Athenian League (ca. 371-355 BC), this alleged 'ghost of empire' did not have any malign effects, and that even with substantial more expenditure in the 350s and 340s Athens would not have defeated Philip. One would agree with Rhodes that the crucial first years of Philip's reign probably would have been the best years to fight successfully his expansion. But in the 350s a majority of the Athenians did not regard Philip as a dangerous enemy, or they were occupied with more urgent problems. So what did go wrong with Athenian policy? Rhodes wittily states (quoting the former British prime minister Harold Macmillan): "Athens’ problem was 'events, dear boy, events'." For against their expectations, Philip II "was too clever diplomatically and became too strong militarily for the Athenians." (126)

Theopompus' Philippika were the main contemporary historiographical work on the ascendance of Philip II to his final hegemonic position. Unfortunately, the voluminous Philippika have been preserved only very fragmentarily (FGrHist / BNJ 115). Likewise on the royal court and the king's companions (hetairoi); one of the most crucial and notorious fragments is F 225b (preserved in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistai 260d-261a). According to the manuscripts Athenaeus briefly stated that Theopompus mentioned a total number of 800 hetairoi. J. Rzepka discusses thoroughly whether we should understand those 800 men as an inner circle of court hetairoi, or in a more general sense as Philip's cavalry men. Since 800 court companions is an incredibly high number, Rzepka understands simple cavalry men, but then 800 men is clearly too few, and Rzepka convincingly suspects that in the original manuscript a correct number of 1000 and 800 was mentioned (shortly before 338 BC), and then the Greek character sign for the number 1000 was omitted in the process of the manuscript tradition. 1800 cavalry men perfectly fit to the number of Macedonian cavalry which Alexander took with him on the invasion of Asia in 334 BC.

S. Sprawski discusses in his paper the few preserved fragments on the Aristotelian Thettalon Politeia (Fr. 495-500 Rose). According to Sprawski we should be very cautious in drawing far-reaching conclusions on early Thessalian political and military history on the basis of these problematic fragments. The earliest ancient sources which mention an Aristotelian 'Thessalian constitution' stem from the 2nd century AD. Sprawski rightly remarks that the ancient scholar Heraclides Lembus, who made Epitomai of the Aristotelian constitutions in the 2nd century BC, did not hint to an Aristotelian Thettalon Politeia. Sprawski holds that it is impossible to base any reconstruction of the alleged political reforms of the tetrads in Thessalia by Aleuas in the 6th century BC on these fragments. It is also unsafe to draw any conclusions on the military organisation of archaic Thessaly from these texts. Some fragments probably reflect military reforms of Jason of Pherai in the 4th century BC, and were later assigned to the archaic period.

E.L. Wheeler deals with a stratagem in Polyaenus (3.9.38) on naval war. The preserved Greek text is problematic because of a lacuna, and hence different scholarly explanations of the stratagem have been offered. Wheeler suggests that we may understand this difficult passage in Polyaenus better if we combine it with a parallel later text in the collection of the Byzantine author Leo (Taktika 20.196). This suggestion seems attractive, and perhaps other passages in Polyaenus may also profit from a similar method of investigation.

In sum, this is an interesting collection of studies on late classical and early Hellenistic history. I would recommend all contributions (see below for the complete table of contents) as useful and rewarding reading mainly to specialists of the particular topics.


1.   On the reappraisal of Ctesias' work, see recently J. Wiesehöfer, G. Lanfranchi and R. Rollinger, Die Welt des Ktesias von Knidos, Stuttgart 2011, on the Indika A. Nichols, Ctesias on India, London 2011, and on the Persika L. Llewellyn-Jones and J. Robson, Ctesias' History of Persia. Tales of the Orient, London 2010 and J. Stronk, Ctesias of Cnidus' Persica. Editio Minor with Introduction, Text, Translation and Historical Commentary, vol. 1, Düsseldorf 2010.
2.   E. Ashton subscribes to a dating of ca. 337-332 BC, while in my opinion the minority view of W. Geomini of a substantially later date (ca. 288-278 BC) has not yet been convincingly refuted, see W. Geominy, "The Daochos Monument at Delphi. The Style and Setting of a Family Portrait in Historic Dress", in: P. Schultz and R. von den Hoff (eds.), Early Hellenistic Portraiture. Image, Style, Context, Cambridge 2007, 84-98.
3.   On the so-called Pistiros inscription, see esp. V. Chankowski and I. Domaradzka, "Réédition de l'inscription de Pistiros et problèmes d'interprétation", BCH 123, 1999, 247-258, and SEG XLIX, 911.
4.   See also on Athenian policy especially in relation to Philip II and Alexander several recent studies in J. Roisman and I. Worthington (eds.), Blackwell's Companion to Ancient Macedonia, Oxford - Malden MA 2010, and in R. Lane Fox (ed.), Brill's Companion to Ancient Macedon. Studies in the archaeology and history of Macedon, 650 BC -300 AD, Leiden 2011.
5.   E. Badian, "The Ghost of Empire. Reflections on Athenian Foreign Policy in the Fourth Century B.C.", in: Eder, W. (ed.), Die athenische Demokratie im 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr.: Vollendung oder Verfall einer Verfassungsform?, Stuttgart 1995, 79-106. ​

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