According to the publisher’s advertisment this book (published within the series, Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches) concentrates on the following questions:
1) What status is called hegemonia ?
2) What cases of it occupy the historian’s attention?
3) What are its requirements and rewards?
4) What are the means of acquiring or losing it?
5) Most particularly, what is its precise importance for our general and detailed understanding of this author?
Moreover, according to Nagy, the General Editor of the Series, W. also offers “insights into the interplay of Hegemony and Empire in the thinking of the Greek historians” (vii). All of the above W. attempts to answer and explore by discussing four authors: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon ( Hellenika) and Ephorus.
He explains that his book is “not a semantic study of hegemonia and words of the same field,” nor does it “describe changing Greek attitudes toward hegemony,” nor is it “an examination of how hegemony (in the modern sense) actually worked and behaved in Greek history from 481 to 362”; rather, does it consist of “a set of literary studies carried out on historical writers”—i.e., “it asks only what each writer did with hegemony in his work” (ix-x). It is therefore not an integrated study, but consists of essentially four independent essays, each with its own conclusion. Consequently, there is no general conclusion at the end, drawing together the results of the study of each writer.
In W.’s attempt to attain the above objectives, he offers not a few stimulating insights and new ideas. In many instances, however, we are not given the entire story, so that what the reader is presented with is something more akin to half a loaf. In the remarks which follow, I shall concentrate, very selectively (because of space), on this aspect.
In Herodotus, hegemonia is seen as being essentially synonymous with “international command” in the war against Xerxes (i.e., it is limited to 480 BC) and quarrelling amongst the Greeks over who should have it. W., accordingly, discusses “Four Instructive Contests” in “Getting Hegemony”: Argos, Gelon, Athens in connection with command of the sea, and Athens versus Tegea at Plataea (4-15). In these instances, W. argues that the decision among the contestants turns on, not who has the most dunamis, but on dignity: “the Greeks in Herodotus settle hegemony on the basis of honor first; only when that is taken care of do they start to think prudently, in terms of power, strategy, and tactics” (13). For instance, in connection with Gelon’s claim, “the case of the Athenian is especially clear, because he yields the hegemony to Sparta, which has fewer ships than Athens, but not to Gelon, who has the most of all” (8). That this posturing is hardly serious, however, is shown by the fact that Athens could have advanced the same argument vis à vis the Spartans—namely, a) that the Athenians alone are “the oldest of Greek nations, the only ones who are not immigrants,” and 2) that they have it on the authority of Homer that “the best tactician at Troy was an Athenian”.
As for Gelon himself, W.’s is not the only scenario. Apart from the possibility that the Greeks never sent any envoys to Gelon,
Otherwise, hegemony in the sense of ‘international command’ is acquired essentially as a recognition of dunamis—in the case of the Spartans, not as a gesture of honor nor of superior naval power nor of superior generalship; rather, in recognition of her reputation, based on her military exploits in the past, or because of jealousy or enmity towards Athens on the part of some states. On this last point, the Athenians readily understood the ramifications, and promptly gave way—not in recognition of honor for Sparta, but purely out of self-interest: “as long as the Athenians greatly needed the others” (Hdt. 8.3.2). In other words, time does not even enter into the equation.
In his discussion of Herodotus, W. also discusses “A Hegemon Unseated” (15-22). He begins by claiming that “the hegemony considered by Herodotus must lapse when the alliance ceases”. This, however, is not really so. According to Thucydides, it was not until 462, upon Cimon’s return from Sparta, that the Athenians “denounced the original treaty of alliance which had been made against the Persians and allied themselves with Sparta’s enemy, Argos” (1.102.4). But W. believes that Sparta lost the ‘international command’ long before this.
Moreover, in respect of the “Aftermath” it is questionable to claim that “arkhe, or struggle for it, was in this case the next step, but its relationship to hegemonia is not clear” (20). The struggle for arche came with the Peloponnesian War (First and Second), so that ‘the next step’ was Athens’acquisition of arche. Herodotus states this specifically: “they took the hegemony [‘international command’?] away from Sparta” (8.3.2.). This, however, is only part of the story—at least according to Thucydides, who points out that after the Pausanias episode, “Sparta sent out no other commanders … and at the same time they [the Spartans] no longer wanted to be burdened with the war against Persia; they regarded the Athenians as being perfectly capable of exercising the command and as being also at the time friendly to themselves” (1.95.7).
W. also maintains that “arkhe… is as a whole limited to non-Greek situations”. This requires one to take account of Polycrates, since Herodotus notes that he was “the first Greek we know of who made an attempt at thalassokratia” (3.1 22.2). W. notes, however, that Polycrates’ attempt was “nipped in the bud,” and also that “such things were not normal in Greek affairs”. To claim that such things were not normal in Greek affairs appears most unusual. According to Thucydides, “Minos … was the first person to organise a navy. He controlled the greater part of what is now called the Hellenic Sea. He ruled over the Cyclades, in most of which he founded the first colonies” (1.4). Moreover, “Agamemnon … must have been the most powerful of the rulers of his day…. It was to this empire [of Mycenae] that Agamemnon succeeded, and at the same time he had a stronger navy than any other ruler” (1.9.1,3). Even if Herodotus may for once have been “more really critical than Thucydides” in appearing to reject Minos and Agamemnon
In turning to Thucydides, it is pertinent to recall W.’s early statement that his book does not “describe changing Greek attitudes toward hegemony, using the historians as evidence” (x). It does not, however, turn out quite like this, for now we are told that “the line of thinking begun by Herodotus comes to completion in Thucydides” (43), with considerable discussion on how this came about.
Specifically, in Thucydides “hegemonia is leadership in a symmachy” (31). W. then cites
1) The Spartan hegemony in the War against Xerxes.
2) The Athenian hegemony in its continuation.
3) The hegemony of Sparta in her own system of alliances.
4) The position of Corinth in her alliance with Epidamnus against Corcyra.
5) The position that Corinth thinks she ought to have over Corcyra.
6) The position which Argos hopes to recover in the Peloponnesus after the Peace of Nicias.
7) The field-command as assigned by the terms of the Four-Power Coalition of 420.
8) The hegemony of all Greece, which Sparta hopes to get in the second part of the War.
Of this list, five (nos. 4-8) do not, however, involve a symmachy.
When we reach Xenophon, a problem is posed by which of his works one should consult, for he refers to hegemonia in a number of different writings. W. surveys these very briefly (81-87), from which he chooses to concentrate solely on the Hellenika, but not with (it seems to me) wholly compelling reasons. A writer is scarcely likely to have restricted his views on such an (ostensibly) important subject to one work.
According to W., “the Hellenica is not a failure, but the story of a failure: it is about how Greece searched for an answer to the problem of hegemony, nearly found one, but lost it, tried to get it back, and lost it for good” (87). In what follows it is difficult to see just what answer is meant. Presumably, it should be indicated in “The Organization of the Hellenica,” which follows immediately. In this, W. refers to three ‘benchmarks’: total Spartan domination of Greece, Leuctra and Mantineia (87-90). It is difficult, however, to see how a) in any of these Greece as a whole was searching for an answer to the problem of hegemony, or b) these three developments represent nearly finding an answer, then losing it, trying to get it back and finally losing it for good. Otherwise, the answer to the problem of hegemony should be found in “The Hegemony Sea-saw” and in “the Hegemony Carousel”—i.e., in the more detailed discussion (90-117). In the former of these, however, the problem turns out to be, not hegemony as such, but a clash between the exercise of power ( arche) and the desire for autonomy. Key is part of a speech by Autocles:
You [Spartans] always say, ‘the cities must be autonomous,’ but you are the ones who are most in the way of autonomy. First you make alliances on terms that require your allies to follow wherever you might lead them; but what has this to do with autonomy? (6.3.7).
According to W., in contrast to Euphemus in Thucydides, “Xenophon [not Autocles] shows the Greeks treating it [hegemony] as a real problem and working towards a solution” (101). From W.’s discussion, however, here too it is difficult to see how the Greeks nearly found autonomy, lost it, tried to get it back, and then lost it for good.
Otherwise, Xenophon has “Greece return three times to the Peace of Antalcidas”. In discussing the various Peaces, however, W. adopts a most idiosyncratic view of the King’s Peace—allowing Xenophon to abandon the Greeks of Asia Minor even more happily than did the Spartans, and permitting him to concentrate exclusively on the Greek mainland. Even here, however, it is difficult to see how the King’s Peace can be construed as a Greek solution to the problem of hegemony, at least since the Spartans assumed the role of guarantor of the Peace—doubtless by arrangement with the Great King.
The real answer to the problem of hegemony, it turns out, was ostensibly “dual-hegemony“—that Sparta and Athens together should govern Greece, as proposed in the Peace of Callistratus-Callias in 371 (104). This, however, turned out to be a non-starter, as it was designed by both of them (but chiefly by Athens) against Thebes. Nor was it “immediately wrecked by the Theban victory at Leuctra”—rather, by the Spartan and Athenian refusal to regard Thebes-Boeotia as an entity similar to Laconia and Attica, which brought on the battle of Leuctra. It is interesting that W. seeks to make much of this alleged dual hegemony, that really had nothing going for it, but never so much as mentions the dual hegemony of Sparta and Athens from 479 to 462 as championed by Cimon—a dual hegemony that was actually viable.
Two further points on method in W.’s discussion of Xenophon call for comment. One has to do with the role of speeches. He, for instance, gives at some length the speech of the Thebans in which they comment on Spartan rule ( Hell. 3.5.11-15). To this, he comments as follows: “in this speech Xenophon shows an ability to express in detail a swing of events” (96). Since Xenophon is here ostensibly reporting a speech made by a Theban, it seems strange that its contents should at the same time be attributed to Xenophon. This happens frequently. The comment continues: “what the Theban speaker omits, and what Xenophon himself does not express, is the question, What is to keep this same sequence, in which the victorious hegemon of the last war becomes the target of the next, the defeated aggressor becomes the champion, and allies vibrate between Athens and Sparta, from repeating?” This comes close to reading modern ideas into the ancient text—i.e., to extrapolate the questions which the Theban speaker and Xenophon should have asked, but did not. This is not an isolated instance.
W. also maintains that “the Hellenica is understandable as a whole if it is conceived as an historical answer to the questions, Why are there no grand hegemons anymore? What happened to hegemony?” (90). Why are there no grand hegemons anymore? For one thing, Xenophon himself does not compare Spartan hegemony with Athenian hegemony. Nor does he ever state that Athens was a ‘grand hegemon’.
In his discussion of Ephorus, W., to begin with, eschews Diodorus and chooses to concentrate on the fragments of Ephorus, especially Fragments 118 and 119.
On the other hand, F 119 provides more specific information on Theban hegemony—consisting of the two basic components of geography and national character: the former very favourable, the latter much less so, because the Boeotians neglected education, which consigned Theban hegemony to a very brief history. According to W., this is the most ‘modern’ approach to hegemony in Greek historians: concise but comprehensive. He finds this approach attractive. Indeed, “in a sense, this passage of Ephorus is what I have been working toward all along: beyond the narrative itself, the idea of hegemony as a topos for the historian” (127).
In W.’s detailed discussion, numerous questions arise. At the outset, for instance, he dismisses Gomme’s theory that “access to foreign lands gives educational opportunities”. Indeed, he claims, “Ephorus comes nowhere near to implying that the ‘education’ was supposed to be a result of the geography”. Evidence for this he finds in particular in the countries or places Ephorus mentions: “surely one did not expect to get education from Macedon or Libya; and Propontis is not even a ‘foreign country’ in any real sense”. On the contrary, “agoge and paideia come from Sparta and Athens, not from Sicily and Cyprus” (129). W. may, however, be somewhat too hasty in dismissing Gomme. Speaking of the Western Greeks, tradition had it that the lawgivers Zaleucus and Charondas came from Locri and Catana, respectively. Gorgias, one of the founders of rhetoric, came from Leontini. Protagoras, one of the chief architects of the Sophistic Movement, came from Abdera, which, if not directly in Macedonia, was very close to it. The people of Samos probably learned a great deal about sculpture and architecture in Egypt, which was next door to Libya. Ephorus also points out that Euboea was so close that it was “almost part of Boeotia”. After the end of the Bronze Age, Euboea seems to have been first and foremost in establishing crucial connections with both the Eastern and the Western Mediterranean. In other words, Boeotia could have tapped into almost innumerable opportunities for culture and education at the time, had she chosen to do so. What the consequences of this might have been, is tantalizing to speculate—as Ephorus seems to have done. This affects W.’s thesis, of attempting to restrict the places mentioned by Ephorus (Italy, Sicily, Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, the islands, Macedonia, the Propontis and the Hellespont) to places connected with the “import of strategic materials,” and that Ephorus has mistaken the model of Boeotia for that of Athens (129-30). Since Ephorus, however, makes the point of Boeotia’s proximity to Euboea, he is scarcely likely to have confused Boeotia with Athens.
Otherwise, W. examines the detailed statements of Isocrates (136-42), from which he concludes that “Isocrates’ views on hegemony would fit perfectly onto the general argument suggested by Ephorus F 119” (142)—easy enough, since Ephorus’ statement on the subject is so general. He also notes that “the political thought of the time stresses the ethical acceptability of any hegemon or influential state,” that “moralizing of hegemony is in the air,” and that “it is likely that Ephorus has this view of hegemon”—and if so, “it is very important because of his standpoint and the scope of his historical project”—namely, a “moralizing account of hegemony as a unifying theme” (144).
He then proceeds, however, to investigate the question of just what represents Ephorus’ views as compared with those of Diodorus, and notes that modern research on Diodorus has “seriously weakened” Ephorean identification, to which he adds some instances of his own (150-76). Despite this serious weakening, he finally concludes that “there is great likelihood that Ephorus made hegemony into an explicit and systematic theme of his Histories, and that his explanation for the rise and fall of hegemonies was in accord with ideas found in other writers of the Fourth century, particularly Isocrates,” but at the same time, that Diodorus “has probably submerged the Ephorean material under his own ideas and interests too deeply to enable us to recover Ephorus, even though other scholars have attempted to do so” (176-77). On this ambiguous note the book ends. If W. is correct, we now know somewhat more about hegemonia in ancient Greece—but at the same time, also somewhat less.