BMCR 1994.04.07

1994.04.07, L. Kallet-Marx, Money Expense and Naval Power

, Money, expense, and naval power in Thucydides' History 1-5.24. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 1 online resource (xiii, 229 pages). ISBN 9780585160375. $45.00.

At the risk of sounding old…. It is a pleasure to find oneself in the presence of a new addition to the business who shows the ability to question, to re-evaluate long entrenched assumptions and force us to think afresh. Lisa Kallet-Marx, who has already shown her qualities in two important articles, now brings us a book version of what began as a 1987 Berkeley dissertation. She takes on two areas where new views are bound to be provocative: interpretation of Thucydides and the finances of the Athenian Empire. The work is, then, as she says, both historiographical and historical, untangling the nexus between Thucydides’ evidence and tendencies and the realia of the Archidamian War. As the book is announced as the first part of a wholesale examination of Thucydides centering on financial elements, it deserves more than usually careful attention from reviewers and readers. I offer what I can within a limited compass.

The introduction emphasizes the prevailing tendency to criticize Thucydides for his failure to treat of financial matters. This is to distort his text. The problem is a common one of anachronistic expectations: we cannot use the terms “economy” and “finance” in a modern sense. In fact, Thucydides is keenly aware of the link between empire and finances and is at pains to highlight it as an interpretative focus. The book’s first chapter, on the so-called “Archaeology,” will demonstrate that the crucial connections are revealed by Thucydides from the beginning: true, unified power—empire—can only come from possession of naval authority, and that requires financial resources. The early sections of the history show how that point was reached. So the Trojan War cannot have been a big deal because the essential ingredients were lacking. For Thucydides, financial resources which enable naval power lead to arche, which involves great expense. This is not (p. 7) economic imperialism, but power does lead to enrichment: control is necessary to ensure revenue which is necessary to ensure control. There must logically be surplus funds. What is more, there are profits for individuals, and this encourages support for empire. Subjects too may be willing to enter that condition for the sake of potential profit, another point which is made early (1.8.3; p. 26).

Both Thucydides and K.-M. impress with these observations. It is for the latter to bring out their continuing relevance in subsequent chapters, which, after a necessary look at the pentekontaetia, take us through the Archidamian War sequentially (there was no need to defend the periodization: p. 5).