Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.26
Danielle L. Kellogg, Marathon Fighters and Men of Maple: Ancient Acharnai. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 348. ISBN 9780199645794. $125.00.
Reviewed by Jeremy Trevett, York University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Acharnai was the largest of the demes of Attica, and it is certainly one of the best known, at any rate to readers of classical Greek literature. Its citizens were immortalized as the belligerent chorus of Aristophanes’ earliest surviving play, and Thucydides in a well-known passage (2.20.2-3) writes of the Acharnians’ desire in 431 to overturn Pericles’ defensive strategy by marching out and fighting to protect their land. In this volume, based on her University of Pennsylvania dissertation, Danielle Kellogg seeks both to provide a comprehensive account of the deme, and also to contribute to wider debates about rural Attica, and the place of the demes in the Athenian polity.
In Chapter 1 Kellogg investigates the location of Acharnai and settlement patterns within the deme. Rejecting previous views, she argues convincingly that Acharnai was not a single contiguous settlement; rather, there were at least three separate sites: a main civic centre, to the south-west of the modern town of Menidhi, where the deme theatre has recently been discovered, and a number of outlying villages. She characterizes the overall settlement pattern as mixed and infers from the lack of evidence for domestic architecture in any of the deme’s nuclei that many of its inhabitants were dispersed throughout the deme. This, Kellogg argues, makes sense as a strategy for the exploitation of the large and intensively farmed area that Acharnai covered.
Chapter 2 deals with demographic questions: how many Acharnians there were, and how many people, citizens and others, lived in the deme. Using a variety of techniques, Kellogg concludes that in the classical period there must have been at least 1,600 male Acharnians (of all ages), and that the total population of the deme may have been as high as 10,000. Specific attention is directed to the passage of Thucydides (2.20.4) in which it is claimed that in 431 Acharnai on its own contributed 3,000 hoplites to the Athenian army. Kellogg agrees with the scholarly consensus that this number is impossibly high, and she tentatively accepts Polle’s emendation of ὁπλῖται to πολῖται, on the basis that 3,000 is plausible as a rounded estimate for the number of Acharnians (again of all ages), at a time when the citizen population of Athens was at its highest. In the second half of the chapter Kellogg looks at the evidence for internal migration: Acharnians living elsewhere, and non-Acharnians moving into the deme. Her conclusions are inevitably tentative and impressionistic: Acharnai was a place that people moved to and from, but at the same time many Acharnians retained ties with, i.e. for the most part continued to live in, their ancestral deme.
Chapter 3 deals with the political and, more briefly, economic life of the deme. Kellogg starts with a discussion of deme agorai or assemblies, and she concludes (surely rightly) that these took place in Acharnai itself, probably in the theatre or in the sanctuary of Athena Hippias, rather than in the city. A survey of the deme officials of Acharnai reveals similarities with other demes, but also the existence of a post, that of deme secretary (grammateus), that is unattested elsewhere. This, she suggests, may have been a consequence of Acharnai’s unusual size, and the consequent heavy volume of deme business. Acharnai also contributed a few more councilors to the Athenian Boule than other demes (22 out of 500). This number has proved problematic for those scholars who believe that the 50 councilors of each tribe were organized into three roughly equal groups based on the trittys or Third to which they belonged. Kellogg discusses the matter fully, and concludes that there is no evidence for the formal transfer of any of Acharnai’s councilors to a different trittys. The section on the ‘economic structures’ of the deme is concerned exclusively with public finances: the leasing of deme property, including the theatre, and an interesting series of inscriptions relating to the acquisition from landowners of water rights for the fourth-century aqueduct that passed through the deme. Neither here nor elsewhere in the book is there a systematic discussion of the broader economic life of Acharnai.
The next chapter deals with the construction of deme identity—not by the Acharnians themselves, but by others. Unsurprisingly the prime witness here is Aristophanes, who in Acharnians depicts the men of the deme as tough and belligerent, and identifies their main economic interests as charcoal-burning and viticulture. On the basis of the word δρυαχαρνεύς (‘oaken Acharnian’) coined by an unknown fifth-century comic playwright, Kellogg argues that this image was not original to Aristophanes. But since we do not know the date of the play in which this word appeared, her argument is not decisive. Kellogg suggests that in both Aristophanes and Thucydides the Acharnians are depicted as being aggressive and quick to anger by nature. This may indeed have been a stereotype that was already current by the start of the Peloponnesian War, but our evidence is so closely associated with the devastating situation in which the Acharnians found themselves in the early years of the war that I am inclined to doubt it. Moreover, leaving the war to one side, one might wonder how much of the picture of the Acharnians as crabby and belligerent should be seen as a version of a more general stereotype of the countryman: one thinks for example of Knemon in Menander’s (admittedly later) Dyskolos, or more broadly of Victor Davis Hansen’s characterization of Greek farmers as tough no-nonsense individualists. Interestingly, as Kellogg shows, the picture of Acharnai in Hellenistic and Roman sources is different: in these periods its associations were with rustic tranquility, and with the god Dionysus and the ivy that was his emblem. This is well observed, though it is odd that she quotes without comment the reference to durus Acharneus in Seneca’s Hippolytus: does this suggest that the earlier stereotype of Acharnian toughness had not wholly disappeared?
The final substantive chapter deals with religion, both within the deme and as engaged in by Acharnians outside it. Here a combination of the testimony of Pausanias and inscriptions allows us to piece together something of the busy religious life of Acharnai, though it proves difficult to identify the location of many of the cults that we know to have existed. Attention is also paid to the epigraphic evidence for the participation of Acharnians in cults elsewhere in Attica.
A short conclusion is followed by three appendices. The first and second contain respectively a useful gazetteer of archaeological sites in the deme, and a selection of deme inscriptions. The third is a massive prosopography, more than a hundred pages long, of all known Acharnians down to c. 86 BCE. It includes a critique of the 2004 prosopography of the deme compiled by Maria Platonos-Yiota, and seems, on the basis of selective checking, to be both complete and accurate. That being said, its usefulness to readers of the book is likely to be limited, I fear. Part of the problem is that it is poorly integrated with the rest of the book: Kellogg only rarely refers to the prosopography when writing about individual Acharnians. The frequent cross-references within the prosopography would have been helped by a system of numeration. There is also an oddity that may correspond to some prosopographical principle, but baffles me: in quite a few places the same individual has two separate entries, both a substantive one and another (apparently) noting his relationship to another member of the deme. Thus the celebrated fourth-century banker appears as both Πασίων and Πασίων—Ἀπολλόδωρος (the em-dash denoting ‘father of’). More generally, I question the point of devoting so much space in a print book to a database of names that can be neither searched nor updated. Surely nowadays such scholarly resources belong in an electronic format, as Kent Rigsby argued in this journal as far back as 1995, in a review of two works of Athenian prosopography (BMCR 95.05.02).
The volume is generally cleanly produced, though there are a number of errors in the Greek (and on p. 46 all the iota subscripts are missing from an eight-line passage of Thucydides). There are nine rather indistinct figures, including a sketch map of the area of Acharnai which makes more sense when read alongside (say) Google Maps. John Traill’s map of the Kleisthenic demes from his The Political Organization of Attica is reproduced in colour at the end of the book, but I did not notice it being referred to in the text.
To conclude, this is a solid and reliable guide to the ancient deme of Acharnai. Kellogg writes clearly and shows a secure knowledge of the relevant literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence. On many contentious points I am persuaded by her arguments. The prosopography itself is an impressive, if arguably misplaced, piece of scholarship. Scholars working on any aspect of Acharnai, or on rural Attica more generally, will find it a profitable read. That said, the evidence is, with the exception of Aristophanes, quite scrappy, and it is not intended as any real criticism of the book to say that the deme, substantially buried as it now is beneath the sprawling northern suburbs of Athens, does not quite come to life. One still gets a more vivid sense of life in an Athenian deme from Demosthenes’ speech Against Euboulides or, differently, the sacrificial calendar of the deme Erchia. Nor am I entirely persuaded that the study of any individual deme, even a large and important one such as Acharnai, is likely to lead to any but modest advances in our general understanding of the local communities of Attica.