BMCR 2001.03.17

Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des spätklassischen Athen (322 – ca. 230 v.Chr.)

, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des spätklassischen Athen : (322-ca. 230 v. Chr.). Historia. Einzelschriften ; Heft 137. Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999. 487 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3515075313 DM 178.

This doctoral thesis deals with that period in the history of Athens that is commonly known as early Hellenistic. It covers, with varying density, the years from the Athenian defeat in the Lamian War and the loss of her fleet at Amorgos in 322 until her liberation from Macedonian rule in 229 (or 228), with the focus clearly lying on the chronology of the events between the emergence of the tyranny of Lachares in the winter 301/0 and the Athenian defeat suffered in the Chremonidean War in 262 or 261. The book is explicitly directed at Christian Habicht’s sophisticated reconstruction of the history of Hellenistic Athens, which has become most influential during the last two decades.

In the (short) introduction Dreyer outlines the main objective of his book. He aims to establish a new understanding of the Athenian history between 322 and 229 (or 228). His point of reference is the constitution: the democratic institutions. Dreyer’s starting point is what he takes to be the traditional opinion that the Classical Athenian democracy had ended after the Lamian War.1 He admits that the democratic institutions remained unchanged for the following three centuries, and that the changes which actually took place and became finally apparent in the second century B.C. resulted from transformation processes that had already started early in the fourth century. What Dreyer is concerned with is how the Athenian politicians acted within the existing institutional framework. Their attitude to the traditional democracy becomes in his opinion evident from that group of decrees honouring Athenian politicians for their “lifeworks” (after 30 years of political activity). Consequently, Dreyer regards it as necessary to make a sharp distinction between periods in which Athens was independent and her politicians could act freely and reveal their attitude to the traditional democracy and periods of foreign rule and restricted freedom of action. By this approach he justifies the extensive chronological examinations which follow.

Dreyer argues that during the period in question the contrast between foreign rule and freedom (307-304, 287-260, and after 229 or 228) became more and more blurred, the punishment for collaboration less and less severe, and Athens saw herself less and less as an advocate of liberty among the Greek cities. The commitment to the traditional democracy, which had been a constant motif in the decrees honouring Athenian politicians from 322 onwards, ceased after 229 (or 228). After 30 years of douleia the democracy was not the same anymore. For Dreyer the Chremonidean War and the defeat the city suffered by Antigonos Gonatas around 260 turn out to be the decisive date in the history of Athens, a date obviously more important for him than 322 (or 338). He concludes: “Die ‘hellenistische Geschichte’ Athens beginnt nach dieser Zäsur” (p. 16). Therefore, the period before 260 should be characterized as late Classical.

This view is exaggerated and one-sided. It has never been doubted that the defeat the city suffered by the Macedonian king in 262 and the humiliation that followed (e. g. the appointment of an epistates, the garrisoning of the forts and other important places of Attica) had a tremendous impact on her inhabitants and their mentality and that it was indeed a turning point in her history. It was surely not coincidental that the writing of Atthidographies, which had a tradition at Athens since the fifth century, ceased after the war. But, more important, the Athenian politicians finally realized and accepted that their city had a become a second-rate power and consequently renounced any active and leading role in ‘world politics’. This more realistic perception of the city’s reduced political capacity became clearly manifest after 229 or 228 when Athens liberated herself from the Macedonian garrisons in the Peiraeus, on Salamis and at Sounion, and by this was able to pursue a foreign policy of her own again. Under Eurykleides and Mikion of Kephisia Athens adopted an admittedly opportunistic position of general neutrality, and enjoyed nearly thirty years of peace and freedom. (When the city finally gave up this principle in the beginning of the first century and followed Mithridates VI into his war against the Roman republic, the price the Athenians had to pay was high.) Moreover, the restoration program initiated by Eurykleides and Mikion does not show them at all as men who had been shaped by thirty years of douleia, as Dreyer insists.

In general, it seems dubious to link the beginning of the Hellenistic Age in a particular polis to modifications of its constitution, or rather to a changed attitude of its inhabitants towards the traditional constitution (and to this alone). The Hellenistic Age began at Athens when it began in the rest of the Greek world. The city experienced the transformation of the Greek world, which was triggered by Philip II’s victory at Chaeronea, right from the beginning. For Athens, the defeat in the Lamian War only a few years later clearly was a turning point: she lost her status as a world power, and from then on was under foreign control again and again. Without doubt, a new era in her history had begun. How the poleis reacted to the challenges generated by the rise of the monarchies is a different matter. It took decades for the poleis to adapt to the new situation, primarily through the formation of leagues. Athens, through the adoption of a position of neutrality, chose another way. It should be clear that from 338 or 322 on, Athens like other Greek cities underwent far-reaching changes in nearly all aspects of her life. A changed attitude towards the traditional constitution is only one aspect of this phenomenon, and it is the result and not the generator of the dawn of a new age.

The introduction is followed by four chapters. The first chapter (“Athen unter der Herrschaft des Tyrannen Lachares”, pp. 17-110) contains an analysis of the tyranny of Lachares, principally a modified chronology of the years between 301 and 294. The results lead Dreyer to a reassessment of the character of Lachares’ rule. The second chapter (“Athen unter der Herrschaft des Kassandros und der Antigoniden”, pp. 111-195) deals with the second phase of Demetrios Poliorketes’ rule over Athens (294-287). After discussing the chronology Dreyer attempts to determine the character of his regime through a comparison with other ‘restrictive regimes’: with that of Antipatros (322-318), Cassander (317-307), Antigonos Monophthalmos and Demetrios Poliorketes (304-301), and Antigonos Gonatas (ca. 260-230?). This chapter would have profited greatly if Dreyer had treated this subject as part of the wider problem of the relationship between the Hellenistic kings and the Greek cities and if he had taken into account the books by A. Heuss and E. Bikerman on this topic. The third chapter (“Die Freiheitsphase 286-ca.270”, pp. 197-281) analyses the chronology of the break with Demetrios Poliorketes (in opposition to L. Shear and Ch. Habicht), the events until ca. 270 and the question of an eventual recovery of the Peiraeus. Contrary to Habicht, Dreyer assumes that the Athenians won back the port around 280. The fourth chapter (“Der Kampf um die Erhaltung der Freiheit”, pp. 283-376) treats the Chremonidean War. Dreyer discusses in great detail the chronology of the war and of the events leading to its outbreak on Attic soil. He urges that the war in Attica was only an episode in a conflict between Antigonos Gonatas and the Ptolemies, which started after the death of Pyrrhos in 272 and ended with Antigonos’ victory at Cos, which he dates to 255. Dreyer concludes, again contrary to Habicht, that Athens did not play a decisive role in this conflict, that Athens was not the champion of Greek liberty.

The book closes abruptly with the course of the military operations in Attica after the death of king Areus of Sparta. It lacks any summary or conclusion. Instead, the end of the book falls into appendices on Delphic, Euboean and Ptolemaic chronology (pp. 377-415), the date of the battle of Cos (pp. 416-419), a chronological table of the events from 355/4 to 229, genealogical tables of the ruling dynasties, B. D. Meritt’s list of the Athenian archons from 323/2 to 261/02 and M. J. Osborne’s (and J. D. Morgan’s) list from 261/0 to 229/8 (pp. 421-434).3 The abrupt end of the book gives the impression that its author was lost in what is indeed an impressive amount of details.

To finish, his approach to his subject, as we have seen, is problematic, the book’s structure confusing, the wording often awkward and imprecise. Consequently, Dreyer’s Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des spätklassischen Athen cannot become the reference book on early Hellenistic Athens. The reader should not however get the impression that the book should be judged negatively in every way. It is a complete collection of both the (often difficult) literary and epigraphic records and the (often controversial) scholarly literature concerning early Hellenistic Athens. The events are described in great detail. In this respect Dreyer’s book is unrivaled. But its particular value lies in the exploitation and presentation of material, both inscriptions and the results of the research of other scholars, that had been unknown to the public before.


1. Habicht, Ch., Athen. Die Geschichte der Stadt in hellenistischer Zeit, Munich 1995, p. 14-16.

2. Meritt, B. D., Athenian Archons 347/6 – 48/7, Historia 26, 1977, pp. 163-191.

3. Osborne, M. J., “Philinos and the Athenian Archons of the 250s B. C.”, in Polis & Politics. Studies in Ancient Greek History presented to Mogens Herman Hansen on his Sixtieth Birthday, August 20, 2000, edited by P. Flensted-Jensen, Th. Heine Nielsen, L. Rubinstein, Copenhagen 2000, pp. 507-520.