Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.01.32 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.01.32

Samuel D. Gartland (ed.), Boiotia in the Fourth Century B.C.   Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.  Pp. vii, 240.  ISBN 9780812248807.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Trevor Van Damme, UCLA (

[The Table of contents appears at the end of the review.]

Boiotia in the fourth century,1 much like Proteus, had a constantly shifting form that makes it difficult to pin down. The contributors in this volume have chosen to wrestle with this monster nonetheless and their endeavors have produced an invigorating collection of essays united around the central theme. This is accomplished through the introduction of new data and critical reassessment of the admittedly meager historical sources for the period. Since the caliber of scholarship exhibited throughout is exemplary, I have chosen to focus on a few articles that are sure to stimulate further debate or which are likely to be of interest to a broad readership and might otherwise be masked by the title of this volume.

It is fitting to begin a volume on Boiotia with an article on survey archaeology, since Boiotian studies owe much in recent decades to the extensive and intensive survey projects that have shed light on the history of settlement not captured in historical texts.2 Anthony Snodgrass focuses on the site of Thespiai, contrasting the archaeological evidence for a thriving city with the Athenian orators’ characterization of the city as the ruined victim of Theban aggression (pp. 11-14). In fact, Snodgrass demonstrates (at least from sherd scatter) that the fourth century was actually the urban core’s peak period of population density (pp. 19-21). The simplistic equation that more pots equal more people is problematic even without the problems of taphonomy inherent in interpreting survey data, but the abundant sherd material does counter the Athenian orators’ claim that the city was laid waste. In the final section, Snodgrass focuses on new evidence for the city walls. In an interesting contrast to the ceramic evidence, the phases of fortification appear to support the historical sources assertion that the Classical walls were torn down and only rebuilt in the Hellenistic period, suggesting that the orators equated walls with the polis itself (pp. 25-31).3 Overall, the chapter provides a critical reassessment of the biases inherent in Athenian historical sources and urges similar reassessments of other Boiotian sites.

John Ma’s contribution challenges the reader to examine the paradox of Boiotian autonomy in the fourth century (pp. 37-40). By asserting their autonomy from Thebes, Boiotian poleis were made more susceptible not only to foreign influence, but also domination. Only by ceding power to Thebes could Boiotia be autonomous from foreign powers. The chapter is an interesting thought exercise, but the author seems to avoid addressing the historical circumstances that led to this unique tension in Boiotia in contrast to its neighbor Athens, where such a paradox never seems to have dominated the politics of the historical period.

Scholarly attention must be drawn to Albert Schachter’s contribution, “Towards a Revised Chronology of the Theban Magistrates’ Coins,” since it represents a needed update to Robert Hepworth’s seminal work on the subject.4 Applying rigorous standards to the reading of magistrates’ names, Schachter is able to show that some of Hepworth’s associations with known historical figures need to be re- evaluated. Furthermore, Schachter, still working within the framework of the die series carefully established by Hepworth, is able to provide a compelling new chronological framework anchored on a few secure magistrates’ names. While the consequences of this revision may not be immediately felt, the article will be important to both historians and numismatists going forward.

Samuel Gartland does triple-duty in the volume, contributing two of its chapters, in addition to the introduction. I focus here on his first contribution, “Enchanting History: Pausanias in Fourth Century Boiotia,” because it is a masterful critical assessment of Pausanias’ use of fourth century Boiotia, sure to be of great interest to any scholar tackling Pausanias as a literary work. Gartland emphasizes Pausanias’ focus on sensory experience over description, a point nicely brought out with reference to the famous passage where Pausanias refuses to give dimensions for the cult statue of Zeus at Olympia (pp. 89). This sensory aspect to Pausanias’ writing lends the whole account a theatrical element that is deserving of further exploration. Gartland goes on to say “Epameinondas’ clemency is a consistent feature throughout the Periegesis, and here he is also presented as breaking patterns that, in Pausanias’ portrait, have plagued Thebes and Boeotia from its earliest mythical past (pp. 95).” Yet Gartland’s attribution of this narrative to Pausanias alone is misleading and surely Pausanias is drawing on the well-established trope of Thebes as a tragic city incapable of breaking its cyclical fate described as early as Steisichorus (P. Lille 76) and popularized in numerous Athenian tragedies. Rather than a criticism, however, I think Gartland’s contribution has the potential to stimulate further work on the topic of Pausanias’ literary culture.

Michael Scott is the only author who attempts to address the relationship between Boiotia in the fourth century and its past in any detail. While understandably outside the scope of a volume entitled Boiotia in the Fourth Century B.C., the historical developments of the sixth century clearly played a formative role in Boiotian identity.5 Scott highlights the unusual choice of the Thebans to erect a treasury at Delphi in the fourth century (pp. 106-107), a form of dedication that had ceased with the Athenian treasury at the beginning of the fifth century. This should be viewed as a conscious choice, perhaps predicated by the position of the former Boiotian treasury in the same area. Scott also nicely captures how until the Third Sacred War, Delphi became a venue for the display of Theban hegemony (pp. 111-113). Finally he ties the re-emergence of Boiotian identity and poleis outside Thebes in the epigraphic record of the late fourth century to the post-Chaironean Hellenistic Boiotian Confederacy (pp. 118). As Scott succinctly puts it, “their subtle, layered, and changing sense of identity required an equally subtle, layered, and evolving international landscape in which to be satisfactorily represented and articulated” (pp. 120).

In “Epigraphic Habit(s) in Fourth-Century Boiotia,” Nikolaos Papazarkadas examines the epigraphic record for a non-democratic tradition of public inscriptions. His choice to focus on three poleis, Thespiai, Levadeia, and Oropos, is partly dictated by the available evidence and partly by the aim of the volume to look outside of Thebes. He emphasizes a Theban program to promote the use of the Ionic script not born of political ideology (i.e. the desire to record democratic decrees), but rather to promote Theban hegemony. This seems more plausible as a historical explanation than previous scholarship. Most important, however, is Papazarkadas’ down-dating of IG VII 2462, the monument for Leuktra (pp. 142-146) from 371 to the end of the fourth/early in the third century. His argumentation is surely correct and this has important implications for a seemingly fixed point in Boeotian epigraphy, including the date of adoption of the Ionic script for official documents.

The volume is commendable for its interdisciplinary approach to the period: survey archaeology, numismatics, architectural studies, reception studies, and epigraphy are all addressed. This makes for a balanced volume, and scholars in any of these fields will find something of interest to them. Two omissions stand out amidst this buffet: cult and its involvement in Boiotian identity politics of the fourth century and, perhaps illustrative of wider trends in classical studies, the complete omission of the artistic legacy of fourth century Boiotia, whether in terms of ceramics, sculpture, or choroplasty. These lacunae surely represent fruitful fields for future inquiries.

The book is nicely produced and generally free of obvious typographic errors, although the present reviewer found the images in Snodgrass’ contribution to be reproduced at too small a scale to be generally useful. This seemed amiss given the use of full-page spreads for maps in other contributions.

Without question this volume is an important contribution to the field of Boiotian studies. The last decade has seen renewed interest in the archaeology of this region and no less than five systematic excavations are currently ongoing, many in collaboration with the Boiotian Ephorate.6 In addition, recent years have seen the publication of increasing amounts of legacy data from previous excavations and salvage operations with the same Ephoreia’s enthusiastic support.7 In this regard, the present volume finds welcome company and offers a number of contributions sure to stimulate further work in the area.

Table of Contents

Map of Boiotia in the Classical and Hellenistic Periods vii
Chapter 1: Thespiai and the Fourth-Century Climax in Boiotia, Anthony Snodgrass 9
Chapter 2: Autonomy of the Boiotian Poleis, John Ma 32
Chapter 3: Toward a Revised Chronology of the Theban Magistrates' Coins, Albert Schachter 42
Chapter 4: Boiotian Democracy? P. J. Rhodes 59
Chapter 5: Diodorus 15.78.4-79.1 and Theban Relations with the Bosporus in the Fourth Century, Thom Russell 65
Chapter 6: Enchanting History: Pausanias in Fourth-Century Boiotia, Samuel D. Gartland 80
Chapter 7: Performance of Boiotian Identity at Delphi, Michael Scott 99
Chapter 8: Epigraphic Habit(s) in Fourth-Century Boiotia, Nikolaos Papazarkadas 121
Chapter 9: New Boiotia? Exiles, Landscapes, and Kings, Samuel D. Gartland 147
Chapter 10: What If They Jumped? Rethinking Fourth-Century Boiotia, Robin Osborne 165
Notes 173
References 209
Contributors 225
General Index 227
Index of Sources 231
Acknowledgements 239


1.   All dates B.C.E.
2.   Key publications include: D. Roller (1987) "The Tanagra Survey Project 1985: The Site of Grimadha", BSA 82: 213-232; J. Fossey (1988) Topography and Population of Ancient Boiotia. Chicago; J. Bintliff, P. Howard, and A. Snodgrass. (2007) Testing the Hinterland: The Work of the Boeotian Survey (1989-1991) in the Southern Approaches to the City of Thespiai. Cambridge; A. Konecny, V. Aravantinos, and R. Marchese. (2013) Plataiai: Archäologie und Geschichte einer boiotischen Polis. Vienna.
3.   For the strong connection between walls and polis-identity, see J. Camp (2000) "Walls and the Polis", in P. Flensted-Jensen, T. Heine Nielsen and L. Rubinstein, eds., Polis & Politics: Studies in Ancient Greek History. Copenhagen. 41-57.
4.   R. Hepworth (1998) "The 4th Century BC. Magistrate Coinage of the Boiotian Confederacy", Νομισματικά Χρονικά 17: 61-96.
5.   S. Larson (2007) Tales of Epic Ancestry: Boiotian Collective Identity in the Late Archaic and Early Classical Periods. Stuttgart.
6.   Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (2011-present), Ismenion Excavation Project (2011-2016, now in study), The Kadmeia Excavation Project (2012-present), Onchestos Excavation Project (2014-present), and Prosilio Excavation Project (2017-present).
7.   e.g., N. Papazarkadas, ed. (2014) The Epigraphy and History of Boeotia: New Finds, New Prospects. Leiden; A. Andeiomenou (2015) Το κεραμεικό εργαστήριο της Ακραιφίας: τα ανασκαφικά δεδομένα και τα αγγεία της κατηγορίας των Βοιωτικών κυλίκων μετά πτηνών. Athens.

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