BMCR 1995.04.13

1995.04.13, Lambert, Phratries of Attica

, The phratries of Attica. Michigan monographs in classical antiquity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. xi, 424 pages : maps (some color) ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9780472103881. $69.50.

The intention of this lengthy work, based on Lambert’s (L.) Oxford D.Phil. thesis, though clearly in a considerably different form (the original thesis was entitled The Ionian Phyle and Phratry in Archaic and Classical Athens), seems to be to provide a definitive source of reference on the Attic phratries, one to sit next to such volumes as David Whitehead’s work on demes and F. Bourriot’s on gene. 1 That there is a requirement for such a volume does not need to be argued; the phratry was in danger of becoming neglected in the study of the Athenian state. 2 The question is how close to his objective does L. get.

The volume is certainly comprehensive in its approach. If nothing else, L. has done Athenian scholarship a service by collecting in one place all the epigraphic material relating to phratries (Appendix I, pp. 279-370), together with translations and notes. In addition, the majority of the relevant literary texts are to be found in the footnotes (and an index locorum is sensibly included), together with translations in the body of the text (even if—as with his translation of Isaios 7.15-17 at p. 66—L. is sometimes a little freer with the Greek than this reviewer for one would prefer). If one should want to attack L.’s views, then he has provided the basic material with which to build a case.

Somewhat curiously, L. has chosen to divide his work into two parts, “After Cleisthenes” and “Cleisthenes and Before.” This is curious because part one consists of seven chapters of a total length of two hundred and eighteen pages, whereas part two has only the single chapter of thirty-one pages.

L.’s ideas are presented in a clear, sensible fashion, devoid of hectoring and chest-beating. This enables L. to slip past the reader as unexceptional interpretations ideas that are sometimes really quite controversial. So, for instance, his case that Drakon’s law of homicide implies that all Athenians were members of phratries (pp. 25-27, 3 249), though persuasive in this reviewer’s eyes, is not universally accepted. On the other hand, his argument that Athenian gene were not fundamentally aristocratic, but geographical in origin (pp. 59-64), where he develops a line initially proposed by Roussel ( Tribu et Cité [Paris, 1976]) and Bourriot, is perhaps presented as more radical than it actually is (the proposition has already been readily accepted by, e.g., Mogens Hansen, The Athenian Democracy [Oxford, 1991], p. 46).

One cannot agree with all of L.’s ideas, and sometimes one feels that he goes beyond the evidence. So for instance, the theory that Perikles’ citizenship law of 451/0 had specific provisions directly relating to phratries, and encloses the provisions described in Krateros fr. 4 and Philochoros fr. 35a, though attractive (and partially anticipated by, e.g., J.K. Davies, “Athenian Citizenship”, Classical Journal 73 [1977-78], p. 109 n. 27, and C. Patterson, Pericles’ Citizenship Law of 451/0 B.C. [Salem, 1981], p. 109, though L. is a little lax about acknowledging his predecessors at this point), is something of a house of cards, built of inference piled upon speculation. His treatment of the decree of the Demotionidai/Dekeleis ( IG II 2 1237), which in a way forms the centrepiece of the work (pp. 95-141), is also flawed. Previous hypotheses have suggested either that the Dekeleis were a privileged subgroup of the Demotionidai, or vice versa. L. declares neither hypothesis to be satisfactory (pp. 98-106), but ultimately he concludes (p. 141) that the Dekeleis were a subgroup of the Demotionidai, albeit one that had developed a great deal of independence and was on the verge of becoming a phratry in its own right. One wonders whether L. is not trying to have his cake and eat it at this point.

Besides his main themes, L. includes a great many footnotes of considerable length dealing with many of the problems produced by the material. This is actually something of a problem of style; one feels that a point necessitating a half-page footnote (e.g., n. 42 on p. 106) is perhaps important enough to deserve incorporation into the main text. At times (e.g., p. 165), L.’s work resembles that of an earlier generation of scholars, where a page would have only a few lines of main text, followed by a whole series of meaty footnotes. One also feels that footnotes that simply refer the reader to another part of the text might profitably have been included in the body of the text. Finally, the footnotes’ occasional tendency to repeat what is said elsewhere in the main text is also a source of some dissatisfaction.

On a technical note, the internal page references should be treated with care; there are usually correct, but sometimes they are mistaken (e.g., p. 34 n. 40, where “p. 7” should be “p. 5”), and the error can be as much as ten pages (e.g., p. 13 n. 46, where “p. 359” should be “pp. 369-370”). Also, the Greek text in the footnotes needed to have been more carefully checked (e.g., the slight garbling of Krateros fr. 4 at p. 45 n. 85, or of Philochoros fr. 35b at p. 46 n. 91); fortunately the texts in Appendix I are largely clear of such blemishes, though the obol-sign in T 3 (p. 285) l. 8 should be a drachma-sign, as L. correctly translates. The bibliography has few omissions, and most of those are recent works (so for instance, to the references on the nomothetai at p. 87 n. 127 should be added N. Robertson, “The Laws of Athens”, JHS 110 [1990], pp. 43-75, and P.J. Rhodes, “The Athenian Code of Laws”, JHS 111 [1991], pp. 87-100); the only major work from before 1991 that is omitted where one might expect its inclusion is Ober’s Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens, and in point of fact that has very little about the phratry.

Does L. succeed in being definitive? Well, debates on the phratries will certainly continue, but then one hardly thinks L. expected to put a stop to them. Indeed, this work will fuel such discussions (I know of two fellow historians who have taken diametrically opposite views of L.’s interpretation of Athenaion Politeia fr. 3). So the answer is no, this is not the absolutely definitive last word on the Athenian phratry; but then no sensible scholar, though he might aim to produce such a work, can seriously expect to attain this aim. What this valuable piece of scholarship is, however, is the undoubted first point of reference for any future study of the phratry, and a useful addition to the bibliography on ancient Athens.

  • [1] D. Whitehead, The Demes of Attica (Princeton, 1986); F. Bourriot, Recherches sur la nature du genos (Lille, 1976). [2] Note for instance the minor place given to the phratry in the discussion of the Athenian constitution in J. Ober, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens (Princeton, 1989), pp. 53-103; phratries are only mentioned at p. 56 & n. 9. [3] Annoyingly, this passage is not referenced in the index.