Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.07.04 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.07.04

Olivier Curty, Gymnasiarchika: recueil et analyse des inscriptions de l'époque hellénistique en l'honneur des gymnasiarques. De l'archéologie à l'histoire, 64.   Paris:  Éditions de Boccard, 2015.  Pp. xiv, 386.  ISBN 9782701803616.  €59.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Nigel M. Kennell, University of British Columbia (


Olivier Curty’s Gymnasiarchika appears in the wake of Andrzej Chankowski’s remarkable study of the Hellenistic ephebate.1 In contrast to Chankowski’s comprehensive approach, Curty confines himself to the gymnasiarchs in Hellenistic Greek cities other than Athens, who administered gymnasia, provided users with vital olive oil, and oversaw the training (and education?) of the main user groups, the ephebes and neoi (on this term, see below), usually for a year. For the purposes of his study, Curty focuses on a collection, which he terms a “corpus,” of forty decrees passed by civic or private bodies in honor of gymnasiarchs.2

The introductory chapter, on the importance of the Hellenistic gymnasium and a tripartite scheme for the development of the gymnasiarchy from the Classical to the Roman periods (1-16), is followed by texts, translations, and commentaries on the forty inscriptions under consideration (19-231). The main part of the book concludes with six chapters on various subjects—gymnasiarchs’ finances (239-47), Hermes and Herakles (249-60), gymnasiarchs’ duties (mainly provision of olive oil) (261-80), reflections on the decrees showing a distinction between private and civic honors that can be used to determine whether the honorand is gymnasiarch of a private institution or a fully-fledged public official (281-91), and the gymnasiarchs’ development from general administrators of the gymnasium to providers of oil (293-99). After a summary section come five “annexes” dealing with (again) the distribution of oil (321-26), the evolution of a distinction between uses of the noun γυμνασίαρχος (administrator of a gymnasium) and the verb γυμνασιαρχεῖν (“to provide oil”) (327-30), a short commentary on an important yet fragmentary decree (“ce misérable bout d’inscription”) from Notion/Colophon ad Mare that mentions an intervention by 153 neoi in the deliberations of the boule (331-33), a set of lemmata for the omitted Pergamene decrees (335-36), and finally a consideration of Delorme’s and Schuler’s theories3 on the nature of the gymnasiarchy (337-49).

Through the commentaries on the inscriptions and five tables in his third chapter (261-80), Curty traces the Hellenistic gymnasiarchy's development. Taking the gymnasiarch’s provision of olive oil as the common denominator, he shows how it changed from a publicly-funded resource in the early years to a charge on the gymnasiarch’s personal wealth in the later Hellenistic period, by then having become his major and (perhaps) only duty. Curty also examines in great detail the exact procedures involved in passing the honorific decrees in his “corpus.” His conclusions about the private or public nature of these honors, mentioned above, are sound but hardly new. More disappointing, is his reluctance to delve more deeply or widely into the manifold other duties of this prominent magistracy.

Thus, readers should not suppose that a book entitled Gymnasiarchical Matters will contain substantive examinations of the administration of a gymnasium and its embellishment, the enforcement of discipline among the ephebes and neoi, the hiring of teachers, or the curricula. Curty does mention some of these subjects in passing, but says nothing about the ideology of the gymnasium, which articulated the qualities and virtues expected of gymnasiarchs and their charges through terms such as εὐκοσμία, εὐταξία, εὐανδρία, σωφροσύνη, and φιλαγαθία. Whether or not the military flavor of several of these terms reflects an active role for the ephebes and neoi in civic defense, a subject of lively debate in modern scholarship,4 also lies outside Curty’s purview, as does the possibility that the gymnasiarch was a quasi-military official. Curty consequently fails to see that the neoi might have performed an important civic role by supplying manpower for a city’s citizen army rather than merely being young men between 20-30 years of age (2 et passim).

On the other hand, Curty devotes many pages to somewhat repetitious discussions of legislative procedures and the gymnasiarch’s role in distributing olive oil. Another preoccupation, more understandable, is with establishing sound texts, but the process can verge on the excessive. An egregious example is the commentary on a decree from Perge (no. 34; 190-203). Discussion of the arrangement of the blocks on which the document was inscribed occupies ten pages of textual commentary with nine figures illustrating hypothetical arrangements of the text. (The validity of all this is questionable at the very least, given Curty's admission that he has not viewed the stones himself (193), nor apparently asked anyone to examine them for him.) The resulting commentary on the inscription’s content is a mere three lines long (203) and omits mention of the honorand’s tenure of the gymnasiarchy. Likewise, his commentary on a decree from Tenos (no. 18; 108-11) passes over completely what was surely the major reason for honoring Diomedes: he held the gymnasiarchy by himself for a whole year in a city where two or more officials usually shared the burden (e.g. IG XII.5 881-83, 911).

Curty admits that he may have overlooked some inscriptions but claims more evidence would not change his conclusions fundamentally. However, a cursory survey of the relevant inscriptions reveals at least two omissions, one of them rather significant. The first is a second-century BCE decree from Chalcis (IG XII.9 904) in which the demos and boule honor Charedamos son of Demetrios, gymnasiarch, thus making Charedamos a public official according to Curty’s criteria. The second introduces an interesting complication into his public-private schema. It is another decree from the second century, from Mylasa (IGSK 34 105), of the tribe Otorkondeis, honoring Amyntas who, though exempt from liturgies, became gymnasiarch at the tribe’s request and presided over the “exercises of the neoi in a manner worthy of the demos,” obeyed the laws, and adorned the palaestra at his own expense with dedications (lines 9-14). The Otorkondeis’ initiative in inviting Amyntas to become gymnasiarch would, according to Curty, make him a private official, but the reference to his performing the office worthily of the demos and in conformity with the laws implies that he was actually a public magistrate. Curty’s distinction between the two sorts of gymnasiarch is probably too tidy; the reality, as so often, was much messier.

Curty’s intense focus on the few texts in his “corpus” also leads him into an insupportable conclusion, that gymnasiarchs were not concerned chiefly with the discipline and training of the ephebes in their charge for a year or two; on the contrary, their main charge was the neoi, who according to him (345-49) constituted the most privileged group in the gymnasium. That the forty texts in his collection might by themselves give the impression of a particularly close tie between the gymnasiarch and neoi at the expense of the ephebes must be conceded, were it not for the fact that we have dozens of lists of graduating ephebes dated by gymnasiarch but not a single extant list of neoi from any Greek city. Moreover, although he acknowledges Chankowski’s recognition5 that the term neoi can designate either the specific age grade succeeding the ephebes or the entire community of gymnasium users, in practice he fails to appreciate the implications this finding has for our understanding of each occurrence of neoi in the texts. In particular, he employs the Sestian decree for Menas (IGSK 19 1) to prove his point (250, 367; cf. 172), citing the gymnasiarch’s sacrifices for the health of the people and neoi and monthly sacrifices for the neoi as evidence that gymnasiarchs were mainly concerned with the neoi age-grade (“rien n’est dit sur les éphèbes”). But these lines actually support the opposite conclusion—here the ephebes were subsumed under the term neoi.6

Errors are scattered throughout the Greek texts: e.g. no. 2, line 2, ἐπειδὴ‧; no. 3, line 2, γυμνασίαρχῳ, line 4, ἐπαινῆαι; no. 10, line 49, ἰερεὺς; no. 18, line 14, τ[η]ῖ; no. 24, line 34, δἂπάνας (cf. lines 35, 40), line 128 ὃπως; no. 37, lines 14-15 παρεσχη|μένω. In the commentary for the first decree honoring Zosimus of Priene (no. 24), Curty misrepresents Rufilanchas’ restoration of lines 93-4 as χρυσοῦν τα[ι]|[νίον τὰ τ]ῆς πόλεως (142) but Rufilanchas actually suggested χρυσοῦν τα[ι]|[νίδιον τὰ τ]ῆς πόλεως.7 In fact, τα[ι]|[νίον] is the reading in I. Priene 112 (and is missing its rough breathing).Something went seriously awry here. Finally, in a book concerned with the magistrate in charge of the gymnasium, it is strange, to say the least, that the index contains no entries for “éphèbes,” or “neoi.” Tackling a subject like Hellenistic gymnasiarchs is a daunting task, made no easier by their ubiquity and the often fragmentary evidence. Selecting a limited set of texts from which to draw wider conclusions about the nature and evolution of the gymnasiarchy is understandable, even commendable. But to confine one's attention only to those texts, to the exclusion of any other relevant inscription, renders the resulting conclusions partial at best and most likely distorted. Here the focus is even tighter, not on elucidating all the terminology and institutions in the honorific decrees, but only on discussing a small number of them. In consequence, Gymnasiarchika is a disappointment.


1.   A. Chankowski, L'Éphébie hellénistique: Étude d'une institution civique dans les cités grecques des îles de la Mer Égée et de l'Asie Mineure. (Culture et cité 4) (Paris 2010) (BMCR 2012.07.06)
2.   He omits important decrees from Pergamum on the dubious grounds that their intrinsic importance requires a separate study, while still making use of the information they provide (20-21).
3.   J. Delorme, Gymnasium: Étude sur les monuments consacrés à l’éducation en Grèce (des origines à l’Empire romain). BEFAR 196 (Rome 1960); C. Schuler, “Die Gymnasiarchie in hellenistischer Zeit,” in D. Kah and P. Scholz, eds., Das hellenistische Gymnasion. (Berlin 2004), 163-92.
4.   E.g., J. Ma, “Fighting Poleis of the Hellenistic World,” in H. van Wees, ed., War and Violence in Ancient Greece (London 2000), 337-76; A. Chaniotis, “Policing the Hellenistic Countryside: Realities and Ideologies,” in C. Brélaz and P. Ducrey, eds., Sécurité collective et ordre public dans les sociétés anciennes. Entretiens Hardt 54. (Vandoeuvres and Geneva 2007), 103-53; L. D’Amore, “Ginnasio e difesa civica nelle poleis d’ Asie Minore (IV – I sec A.C.),” REA 109 (2007), 147-74.
5.   Chankowski, L'Éphébie hellénistique, 259-63.
6.   Chankowski, L'Éphébie hellénistique, 261 n.122, notes that the two connotations of neoi both appear in this particular decree. See also N. Kennell, “Who were the Neoi?” in P. Martzavou and N. Papazarkadas, eds., Epigraphical Approaches to the Post-Classical Polis (Oxford 2012), 228-229.
7.   D. Rufilanchas, “Zwei Agone in I. Priene 112.91–95,” ZPE 129 (2000) 89–96. Curty also makes no use of this article to explain what the “squill fight” (skillomachia) in line 95 might have been; Rufilanchas (95-6) suggests that it was a contest with boxing gloves instead of the usual himantes.

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