Studies of the Greco-Roman world have traditionally focused on the life histories of elite males because it is they who have made the most distinct mark on ancient literature, art, and material culture. Over the past fifteen years, scholarly attention has shifted away from this conventional narrative and focused instead on marginalized and disenfranchised groups.1 Roberto and Tuci’s edited volume, which explores the theme of social assistance, contributes substantially to the growing corpus of literature on marginality in the ancient world. Drawing primarily upon epigraphical and literary evidence, the papers contained in the volume examine diverse topics ranging from legislation regarding orphans in Classical Athens to the social and economic practices of Late Antique Christian heretical sects in Anatolia. As a result, the volume provides a glimpse into the ways in which social assistance varied across time and geographical space in the ancient Mediterranean from the 5th century BCE to the 5th century CE.
The book consists of an introduction and seven essays arranged in chronological order, two concerned with Classical Greece, two on the Hellenistic world, and the remainder on Roman subjects. The Introduction, by Roberto and Tuci, briefly describes the impetus for the volume and summarizes the content of the subsequent chapters. In "La città e gli orfani," Cinzia Bearzot explores the ways in which legislation regarding orphans evolved in Greece during the Classical period, relying primarily on textual evidence from Athens. A critical analysis of extant legislation reveals that the collective concern was not only for the civic rights of Athenian orphans, but also their emotional and physical well-being. Also focusing on Classical Athens, Paolo Tuci examines the forms of public assistance that were provided for widows. Unlike orphans, public support was not legally granted to widows unless they were pregnant and could potentially produce legitimate citizens. Otherwise, most widows were relegated to the care of their respective oikoi.
The Hellenistic section begins with an essay by Franca Landucci Gattinoni on evergetism in Athens during the late 4th century BCE ("Il ruolo sociale del «benefattore» nell'Atene del primo ellenismo"). During this period, the historic personage that best exemplifies evergetism, the practice of public benefaction, is Evenor, an Akarnanian physician upon whom multiple civic honors and privileges were bestowed. Based on extant epigraphic evidence, the author argues that Evenor was an ally of the Macedonians, and that his honors were granted by a pro-Macedonian government. This fresh assertion is in opposition to the widely held opinion that the honors were bestowed by Athens' democratic anti- Macedonian leadership. Again on the subject of evergetism, Lucia Criscuolo in "Aspetti dell'evergetismo scolastico: l'ellenismo, tempo di integrazioni," describes the ways in which educational and social institutions supported by public benefactors (e.g., gymnasia) functioned as disseminators of Greek language and culture. These institutions aided the integration of the many foreign peoples who found themselves under Greek rule after the conquests of Alexander the Great.
In the first of the chapters on the Roman period, John Thornton in, "Marginalità e integrazione dei Liguri Apuani: una deportazione," examines evidence for the forced migration of Apuan Ligurians to Samnium around 180 BCE. The author maintains that this deportation event, instituted as a means of controlling the rebellious group, resulted in the immediate marginalization of the Apuan Ligurians and required their reluctant integration with the Samnites. Next, Umberto Roberto provides a thoughtful appraisal of the political and religious connections between the preamble of Diocletian’s Edict of Prices (Edictum de pretiis, 301 CE) and the Alexandrian grain dole (302 CE) in "Diocleziano e i «poveri» di Alessandria: sulla donazione del panis castrensis (marzo 302)." Finally, Alister Filippini analyzes the social and economic practices of Late Antique Christian heretical sects of Anatolia (ca. 4th to 5th centuries CE) in "Schiavi, poveri, e benefattori nell'Anatolia tardoantica: la vision socio-economica delle communità enkratite attraverso gli atti apocrifi degli apostoli." These sects, belonging to the so-called Enkratite movement, were comprised of ascetics who practiced a radical form of self-restraint and regarded as their most important task their ministrations to the poorest members of society.
This book will be a useful resource to scholars interested in ancient social responses to detrimental circumstances commonly experienced by the disenfranchised. The volume would have benefitted, however, from an expanded introduction that situated the essays more thoroughly within the framework of current scholarship. Nevertheless, the case studies presented here contribute substantially to our understanding of social assistance in the Greco-Roman world and invite future research on the degree to which less fortunate groups were either marginalized or integrated into their respective societies.
1. Recent works include B. Cohen (ed.), Not the Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art. Leiden: Brill, 2000; J. R. Clarke, Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans: Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy, 100 B.C. – A.D. 315. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006; E. S. Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010; and E. E. Mayer, The Ancient Middle Classes: Urban Life and Aesthetics in the Roman Empire, 100 BCE—250 CE. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012.