BMCR 2004.03.14

Even More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre, 6. Historia Einzelschriften, 162

, Even more studies in the ancient Greek Polis. Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre ; 6. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2002. 294 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm.. ISBN 351508102X. EUR 64.00 (pb).

Even More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis ? Is this possible? Can there be even more articles to read about the polis? Is there anything left to say? After all, this is the sixth volume in the Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre series, five of which now, including the present volume, bear a title along the lines of Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Readers may be familiar with previous volumes, but to refresh their memories here is a list:

M.H. Hansen & K. Raaflaub (eds.) Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis (1995); M.H. Hansen & K. Raaflaub (eds.) More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis (1996); T.H. Nielsen (ed.) Yet More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis (1997), P. Flensted-Jensen (ed.) Further Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis (2000). (Hereafter, I will refer to these five volumes as Polis Studies.) So that’s, to shorten the titles, Studies …, More Studies …, Yet More Studies…, Further Studies … and to complete the suite, the volume under review, Even More Studies … (The first of the six Papers from the Copenhagen Polis Centre volumes was D. Whitehead (ed.) From Political Architecture to Stephanus Byzantius. Sources for the Ancient Greek Polis, 1994.) All six volumes are published as Historia Einzelschriften, Stuttgart, and perhaps a digressive word of thanks to Historia may be excused, as these Einzelschriften volumes are pretty useful contributions to scholarship on a wide variety of fronts.

In addition, most readers will be aware that this is just one leg of the work of The Copenhagen Polis Centre : there are also the various Acts — six volumes — published since 1993 by The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Between the Acts and the various Papers, twelve volumes have been produced on the polis, under the aegis of The Copenhagen Polis Centre. This is certainly a tribute to the Centre and the stewardship of the indefatigable and personable Mogens Herman Hansen.

But there is a distinction to be drawn between the Acts and the five Polis Studies volumes. The Acts all centre on a particular theme (eg, vol. 4: The Polis as an Urban Centre; vol. 5: Defining Ancient Arkadia). However, the five Polis Studies volumes have no specific theme for each individual volume. While volumes of essays always find a readership and are useful, this reviewer wonders whether some forward planning might have been possible concerning the five volumes of Polis Studies. That is, the current volume under review is a miscellaneous bag of essays held together by the fact that the papers relate in an undefined way to the polis. A couple of papers deal with the nature of the polis; then there’s a paper on phrourion; then it’s on to theatres; next native-Greek population interactions; another paper continues an article from a previous volume on the laws from the temple of Apollo Pythios at Gortyn; then there’s the settlement patterns in Pisatis; and finally the synoikismos of Elis (titles of articles and details follow).

It should be immediately apparent from this quick guide to the contents that readers do not have before them a systematic treatment or thematic approach towards the polis. There is no introduction to the volume, so readers have no guide as to what to expect or why the volume was produced. The rationale is presumably that work on the polis is ongoing; some papers have been produced; and here is another volume. Nothing holds the papers together except the polis theme. I would have preferred five volumes which approached the polis in a systematic way: religion in the polis, its social structure, the laws of the polis, interaction between the polis and non-Greek cultures, are just a few suggestions for themes for possible volume titles.

Given this grumbling dissatisfaction with the lack of a coherent theme, readers are no doubt anxious for the reviewer to move on, and to speak about the individual papers themselves.

Hansen’s ‘The game called polis‘ concentrates on Sokrates’ reference to ‘the game’ at ( Rep. 422e). In speaking to Adeimantos, Sokrates chides him for referring to any one polis as a polis: each polis is rather many poleis, owing to the socio-economic divisions within it, and so no polis is united: ‘You ought to speak of the other poleis in the plural number; not one of them is a polis, but many poleis, as they say in the game.’ The ‘game’, translating τὸ τῶν παιζόντων, is the subject of the article. Hansen argues that there was, as the scholiast on the passage states and other ancient evidence concurs, an actual board game called polis. It was a ‘war-game’ involving capturing the pieces of one’s opponent (there were two players, making moves by throwing dice), with each piece representing a polis. This is an interesting opening to the volume.

On to Hansen’s second contribution, ‘Was the polis a state or a stateless society?’, which takes up an issue he has dealt with before but which has attracted criticism: his belief that ‘the polis was a type of city-state, and that the city-state was a type of state’ (p. 18); against his detractors, Berent and Cartledge (see p. 18 for details), the polis for Hansen was not a stateless society. Defining first ‘stateless society’ and modern concepts of state (Hobbes and Weber) (pp. 18-21), he then considers the polis as an abstract concept and as an institution (pp. 22-26). As noted as early as Aristotle Politics 1276a8-16, the polis does have an existence as a state whether it is ruled by an oligarchy or tyranny, i.e., whether its rulers are or are not representative of the polis as a whole. Hansen lists inscriptions in which the polis as an entity is recorded as taking action (passing laws, declaring war, etc.): the polis is an abstract entity, and over the following pages (pp. 26-39) he discusses the administration of justice and the organisation of the military as ways in which the polis operated as a state. Hansen is surely correct here: the Greeks viewed the polis as an abstract concept; the polis existed in the sense that the modern state has an existence.

Nielsen’s ‘ Phrourion. A note on the term in classical sources and in Diodorus Siculus’ which follows deals with the term phrourion and whether it is ‘an antonym to polis‘ (p. 50). Usually rendered as ‘fort’ or ‘military base’, it is therefore contrasted with the more established, permanent nature of the polis. Nielsen surveys the occurrence of the term in classical sources, mainly Thucydides and Xenophon (pp. 50-54), then catalogues and discusses its use in Diodorus (pp. 54-62), concluding (p.62) that phrourion can mean polis, which has implications for the definition of a polis. The argument is a little tendentious, however, and the evidence uncompelling. This is one of those bloodless cataloguing surveys which shows the power of the word-search, but most of us will continue to accept that a polis is a polis and a phrourion is a garrison town or fort.

Frederiksen’s ‘The Greek theatre. A typical building in the urban centre of the polis?’ deals with the theatre as a crucial element of Greek civilisation, being, along with buildings such as gymnasia, agoras, temples and stadia one of the architectural features defining the Greek polis. Frederiksen defines the features which enable a surviving theatre to be recognised (pp. 67-69), and turns to the definition of the word θέατρον (pp. 69-76). These issues are important as Frederiksen identifies 306 certain theatres (see esp. p. 93) in a Greek world of some 1500 poleis, and poses the question: why did some poleis but not others have theatres (pp. 80-90)? Theatres were used for drama but also for political assemblies; some poleis such as Athens had separate assembly places for political meetings (at Athens, the Pnyx), though the assembly even at Athens could still meet in the theatre. The theatre, then, in many poleis was not primarily a building for dramatic purposes but served more as a public venue when a place was required to hold large numbers of people. In addition, the evidence allows Frederiksen to argue that there were also regional variations in the presence of theatres. There were absolutely none on Crete before the Roman period; the southern Peloponnese has no theatres in the classical period; Thessaly had few. This allows Frederiksen to make the interesting point that theatres tend to be absent from places where there were political systems which did not have (and did not encourage) political assemblies. The theatre with its capacity to hold crowds was obviously an unwelcome element in such places.

Theatres are found in large poleis with democratic or oligarchic constitutions; they are not found in large areas of the Greek world, leading Frederiksen to argue that the theatre was not a typical feature of the Greek polis after all: ‘Rather than being a monument of the ‘typical polis‘, the monumental theatre seems to be a monument of the large democratic or oligarchic polis in regions in which dramatic performances were an integrated part of the political and religious culture.’ (p. 92) These arguments about the prevalence of theatres are supported by lists (pp. 95-120): inscriptions mentioning theatres, literary references to them, and theatres attested in the archaeological record. One cannot argue with these lists, but one wonders where this is a case where the statistics don’t reveal the full story. It seems from the lists that both modest and large cities do have theatres, that at least some of the 1200 poleis that are not attested as having theatres may well have had them, and the vast majority of the 1200 may simply have been too small to have one. Even Athenian demes of largish size had them. There is surely some room for making allowance for the economic factor. Syracuse in the west with its theatre, Pergamon in the east, to give two examples, suggest that when one thinks of Greek cities one thinks of temples and theatres. Many readers will prefer to adhere to orthodoxy: the theatre was an intrinsic component of Greek culture.

Fischer-Hansen’s ‘Reflections on native settlements in the dominions of Gela and Akragas — as seen from the perspective of the Copenhagen Centre’ deals with hellenised Sikel settlements and the way in which Sikel communities to a great degree became ‘indistinguishable from the Greek colonies on the coast’ (p. 125). Much of the paper is taken up with case studies (‘Catalogue of Settlements’ pp. 134-73), in which the evidence for hellenisation in some twenty-two sites is dealt with. The conclusion drawn from this survey (pp. 173, 175-79) is that some of this hellenisation is voluntary (as distinct from being imposed when Greeks conquered Sikel communities). Sikel elites adopted Greek culture, as seen particularly in the Greek goods buried in tombs, and there was as well a more ‘diffused and partial’ process (p. 176), represented by the presence of Greek artefacts in houses. In addition, when Greek communities asserted political dominance over Sikel communities, the result could clearly be seen in hellenised sanctuaries, but it is also clear that the Sikels were influenced by Greek models even when this was not the case. But, as Fischer-Hansen notes, this hellenisation does not extend to the typical Greek public buildings associated with the polis. The hellenisation then, Fischer-Hansen should perhaps have stressed, was more of a material than of a cultural nature.

Perlman’s ‘Gortyn. The First Seven Hundred Years. Part II. The Laws from the temple of Apollo Pythios’ deals with the inscribed laws from Apollo’s temple at Gortyn. These laws are of particular interest because they are amongst the earliest of the inscribed Greek laws, perhaps later only than those from Dreros (p. 186). Perlman is primarily interested not in why the laws were written down in the first place (a problem that has long exercised historians) but in ‘what the laws contribute to our understanding of Gortynian society in the sixth century’ (p. 188). An initial section deals with how the laws are set out, with individual inscriptions inscribed on a single horizontal course, and punctuation, scribal hands and literacy (pp. 188-97). A second section raises questions (with understandably no answers) about who actually formulated these laws, as well as the extent to which Apollo was seen almost as a patron of the laws (pp. 197-200). Thirdly, the laws concern matters of judicial procedure, property and family law (pp. 201-6). A fourth section seeks to discern Gortyn’s social and political structure from the laws (pp. 206-12). Politically, Gortyn described itself as a polis, with the citizens divided into tribes. There were various officials, including one dealing with matters concerning outsiders, as well as the official well-known from Classical and Hellenistic Crete, the kosmos, and there seems to have been a board of kosmoi (perhaps annual) at Gortyn. The kosmoi, and two other officials, the gnomon and the ksenios kosmos, were subject to rules concerning iteration of office, and comparisons with the restriction on office of the kosmos at Dreros are inevitable. There is no evidence for a council or assembly. This is an informative and interesting piece, and it emerges that the laws, despite their fragmentary nature, include a great deal of useful information. But what is missing here is some attempt — however limited — to reconstruct social and political organisation. The gist of what Perlman sets out to do is to see what the laws ‘contribute to our understanding of Gortynian society’, but unfortunately the article does not get beyond the first stage in this process, which is to identify officials and some information about the society. Tables at the end of the piece (pp. 214-25) provide information about the size of the inscriptions, and there is also a list of private inscriptions (why, I’m not sure). Roy’s ‘The Pattern of Settlement in Pisatis. The ‘Eight Poleis’, looks at Strabo’s comment (8.3.31-2) that there were eight poleis in Pisatis. Accepting the common view that this statement is taken from Apollodoros (second century), Roy asks whether there were indeed eight towns in Pisatis before the Hellenistic period and whether they were poleis. He marshals the evidence for the known communities in Pisatis (pp. 233-40) and then moves on to discuss their religious and myth traditions as a source of information about these communities (pp. 241-43). Having established that there were several Pisitan communities, Roy moves on to look at their possible status as poleis but is unable to clarify if they do in fact meet the criteria for poleis, as laid down by the Copenhagen polis centre (p. 245).

Roy (again) in ‘The synoikism of Elis’ aims to ‘review what is known or can be deduced about the synoikism’ of Elis of c. 471 BC (p. 249). For this purpose, the evidence for the synoikism (surely and preferably, synoikismos) is marshalled (Diod. 11.54.1, Strabo 8.3.2; pp. 249-51), followed by discussions of the status of periokoi in the region (pp. 251-3), any evidence for a previous settlement on the site of Elis (pp. 253-4), and the settlements elsewhere in Eleian territory (pp. 254-5); an interpretation of Diodorus and Strabo is then offered (pp. 256-61). The conclusion is that the archaeological and epigraphic record indicates there was a nucleated settlement at Elis already before c. 471 BC which acted as poleis do, and that the evidence of Diodorus and Strabo cannot be interpreted at face value. Roy argues that, out of the possible interpretations of the evidence, some form of re-inforcement of the polis at Elis is to be imagined. I couldn’t discern anything that was original in this piece.

Some miscellanea before concluding. Quotations in Greek are accurate but not always translated (swaths of Greek in the notes to Nielsen’s article stand untranslated; it’s only Thucydides and Diodorus but the article will be inaccessible to students unless they have translations at hand). The bibliographies for each chapter are full. There is one plate (an inscription), and some poorly reproduced site plans drawn from other publications. I found the use of the title Republic but the abbreviation Resp. (p. 9 etc) somewhat odd; most names are given strict transliterations (Sokrates, Adeimantos, but understandably Plato and Plutarch). There is an index of sources (compiled by A. Schwartz), something which is always useful (pp. 265-80), and a general index (pp. 281-94). The text as a whole is clean, tidy, and nicely proofread.

In conclusion. All of these papers are solid. There is a tendency to present a great deal of information with perhaps less emphasis on conclusions, and the reader is left asking questions as well as wondering whether the potential for coming to grips with a lot of material has been lost in the sheer (impressive) hard work of putting it all together. Despite my grumbles about a lack of a coherent theme, scholars working in the areas covered by this volume will find all of the papers useful. Perhaps the title of the next volume can be anticipated: Yet Even More Further Additional Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis ?