BMCR 2004.04.03

A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures; A Comparative Study of Six City-State Cultures

, A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures. An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre. Historisk-filosofiske Skrifter, 21. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2000. 636 pages. ISBN 9788778761774.
, A Comparative Study of Six City-State Cultures. An Investigation Conducted by the Copenhagen Polis Centre. Historisk-filosofiske Skrifter 27. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2002. 144 pages. ISBN 9788778763167.

These two impressive collections of essays were published under the auspices of the so-called “Copenhagen Polis Centre” (ξπξ and this fact as well as the general objectives of this undertaking on the one hand and of the volumes under review here on the other justify a few introductory remarks. The CPC is, by now, a research institution well known (some say: notorious) in the international community of classical scholars for a never-ending flood of edited volumes, many of them with telling titles: the “Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis” (1995) were followed by “More Studies…” (1996), “Yet More Studies…” (1997), “Further Studies…” (2000) and “Even More Studies (2002), and at present, the reviewer, for one, does not know if there is even/yet more to expect. There is a parallel series to the “Studies”, the “CPCActs” — by now six substantial volumes — and this is by no means an exhaustive inventory of CPC publications.1

Talking of “inventories”: the main objective of the CPC is “(t)o produce a comprehensive inventory of all known archaic and classical Greek poleis, including colonies, attested in contemporary sources. The plan is to compare this inventory with all general references in the same sources to the nature of the polis, and then, on the basis of an analysis of both the extension and intension of the concept, to find out what the Greeks thought a polis was, and to compare that with what modern historians think an ancient Greek polis was” — this is the programme that Mogens Hansen (henceforth: H.), who founded, masterminds and runs CPC with admirably singleminded devotion and energy and who has (co-)edited most of its publications, has time and again formulated (without ever adapting or keeping it up to date).2 I do not intend to enter into a general discussion whether or not such a “comparison”3 is feasible from a logical, theoretical and methodological point of view. I would just record my doubts that this sort of approach is promising with respect to concrete results as well as fruitful for a future discussion of what the polis and its specific “political culture” in all its variants was all about. This not to say, however, that these volumes — or rather the several dozens of contributions in them — are unimportant or irrelevant. On the contrary, their authors provide us with a wealth of material, especially detailed discussions of huge amounts of evidence and systematic studies of a broad spectrum of problems and aspects that also includes “political” architecture, topography and “urbanism”, institutions and regional differences; many of them have also made significant contributions to our general understanding of one of the most fascinating phenomena of the ancient world: the specifically Greek variant of a “city-state”.

This brings us to the aim of the two volumes under discussion here. This aim is more than equally ambitious, indeed it goes well beyond the scope of previous publications of the CPC, mentioned above: these two volumes4 represent the result, according to its spiritus rector, of “the second major project undertaken by the Polis Centre” viz. “to search for all occurrences in world history of regions broken up into city-states and to make a comparative study of them all in order to elucidate similarities and differences; on the basis of this investigation, to suggest a re-interpretation of the concept of city-state; and to advocate the introduction of a new concept to be distinguished from the concept of city-state, viz. the concept of city-state culture” (H., Preface, i, 9) — and nothing less. The result is, as H. quite rightly claims (Introduction, i, 25), “the largest comparative study to date of systems of city states.” It is less certain that it is also “the first one in which an attempt has been made to apply the concepts of city-state and city-state culture as consistently as possible”. However, it is rather a lot to ask for sweeping consistency here.

It is not feasible or even possible to characterize all 36 contributions, including H.’s Introduction and Conclusion, to the first, and main volume (i) and the eight articles in the supplementary one (ii), let alone discuss them in detail and do justice to every single one. I therefore propose (a) to give only an outline of the contents of both volumes, (b) to discuss H.’s general premises, conceptual framework and conclusions in some detail, and (c) to inform on a few individual contributions on “classical” mediterranean city-states or “city-state cultures”.

(a) Individual studies — or rather surveys of the present “state of the art” — are organized according to epochs and/or continents (once again, H. himself provides a concise tour d’horizon of what is to follow in the empirical part of the volume in his Introduction to i, 20-2): the first group — the “Ancient World” — contains 12 contributions the bulk of which deal with the “small states” or “city-state cultures” in the ancient Near East (Mesopotamia, Palestine; Assyria, Phoenicia etc., by J.-J. Glassner, I. Thuesen, J. Strange, M.T. Larsen and H.G. Niemeyer); the remaining five include not only the (re-)views, to be discussed below, of the “Hellenic polis” (by H. himself), the city-states in Etruria and Latium (by M. Torelli and T.J. Cornell), but also a survey of ‘celtic’ oppida and, surprisingly, a short paper on Mecca and Medina (J.B. Simonsen). The second chapter is devoted to “Medieval and Early Modern Europe”, with contributions on “Viking Dublin” and Novgorod, Kiev etc. as well as on the “usual suspects”, namely the city-states in Italy, in the Holy Roman Empire, Switzerland and the “Dutch Republic” (by P. Holm, N. Price, St. R. Epstein, P. Johanek, M. Stercken and M. Praak respectively). The surveys in the chapter in Asia cover all major regions in which ancient city-state cultures have left their mark, from early China and India to East and Southeast Asia (by M.E. Lewis, D. Chakrabarti, N. Di Cosmo, P.-Y. Manguin, A. Reid and R.A. O’Connor respectively). Equally interesting, and not only from a comparative point of view, are the surveys of the widespread pre-colonial city-state cultures on the African continent, in the regions of modern Algeria, Niger and Nigeria, on the Gold Coast and also in East Africa (by F. Jaabiri and B. Yahia, P. Sinclair and N. Th. Hakansson, R. Griffeth, J,D.Y. Peel, R.A. Kea, K.I. Princewill and by H. himself). This is also true, as is better known, for the mesoamerican cultures of the Mayas, Mixtecs and Aztecs (described by N. Grube, M.D. Lind and M.E. Smith respectively).

Vol. ii contains the following articles: H.’s Introduction taking up the main topics of the first volume (7-21), two further studies on Near Eastern cultures (Sumerian and Neo Hittite city-states, by A. Westenholz and I. Thuesen), one respectively on “urban structures” in pre-Hellenistic Lykia (Th. Marksteiner), on another Meso-American culture (Zapozec city-states by M.R. Oudijk), on the south-west German city-state culture (B. Forsén) and on another Asian one (“city-kingdoms” in Nepal, by G. Toffin); the last contribution is a systematic inquiry into the function and role of fortification in city-state cultures (A. Gat).

In many cases, but by no means in all, contributors begin with basic information on available evidence, both archaeological and literary, and then move on (more or less) to follow H.’s given framework. The basic catalogue of criteria — size of territory as well as of population, settlement pattern, degree of centralisation and “urbanisation” in a broad sense of the concept, name and other indicators of ethnic identity, structures of social and political institutions and (self-)government — is fundamental enough to provide a unifying pattern. Further concrete comparative work on systematic aspects is greatly facilitated by a general index (again compiled by H. himself) which includes not only lemmata such as “city-state culture”, “government” and “population”, but also key concepts such as “walled cities”, “central place” and “urban centre = political centre”, “territory/hinterland” and “villages and other towns in hinterland” and, last but not least, “simultaneous emergence of urbanisation and state formation” (i, 624-5, ii, 140).

(b) In his clearly structured Introduction to (i) (“The Concepts of City-State and City-State Culture”, 11-34) H. maps out the conceptual pattern of the project, whose cornerstones are the categories of “urbanisation” and “state formation” as fundamental characteristics of the “city-state” and a “city-state culture” (cf. also his Introduction to ii, 12-16). H. closely follows Max Weber when he describes “urbanisation” as the emergence of a nucleated settlement with a population of a certain size, characterized by density and permanence of settlement, division of labour and specialisation of other functions, an important role of trade, and a certain level of institutionalisation of its internal organisation which at the same time constitutes the prerequisite for becoming the social, economic and religious centre of its immediate hinterland (i, 12). This is also the starting-point from which H. argues for “a remarkably close connection between urbanisation and state formation” (i, 14), with the proviso that the concept of the “state” be understood in the, as it were, “minimalist” sense that is common in social anthropology and sociology (as opposed to the “maximalist” definition which seems to be widely accepted in jurisprudence, political science and philosophy and which demands restriction of the term to the post-absolutist sovereign states territorial or nation state in Western Europe). For H., the essential features of a “state” are a centralised government with sufficient authority to enforce rules in a territory and over a population (i, 13).5

On this basis, however, H. develops a rather “maximalist” definition of a (full-blown) “city-state”: It is “a highly institutionalised and highly centralised micro-state consisting of one town (often walled) with its immediate hinterland and settled with a stratified population, of whom some are citizens, some foreigners and, sometimes, slaves. Its territory is mostly so small that the urban centre can be reached in a day’s walk or less, and the politically privileged part of its population is so small that it does in fact constitute a face-to-face society… A significantly large fraction of the population is settled in the town, the others are settled in the hinterland, either dispersed in farmsteads or nucleated in villages or both. The urban economy implies specialisation of function and division of labour to such an extent that the population has to satisfy a significant part of their daily needs by purchase in the city’s market” (i, 19). The final aspect is closely linked to another defining criterion: the city-state is necessarily “centred on a city (= town) which is the central place” in every respect: “it is the economic, the religious, the military, and the political centre of the city-state” (i, 18). With respect to the typical feature of “(self-)government”, H. insists on a necessary differentiation: “A city-state is a self-governing polity, but not necessarily an independent and autonomous state. It suffices that a city-state is a legislative, administrative and judicial unit and (roughly) possesses what in modern terms is called ‘internal sovereignty’, i.e. a government which enforces a legal order within a territory over a population” (ibidem).

This type of “polity” never exists in isolation, but is regularly just one part or “unit” of a “city-state culture”, that is, minimally, “a civilisation which, politically, is organised as a system of city-states” (i, 19) which, once again regularly and by definition, share a number of typical traits (exactly 15, according to H.’s neat and somewhat pedantic ordering, i, 16-17). The most important aspect of such a “cluster of neighbouring city-states” is the structural similarity of the constituent “polities” in terms of development: their populations are “ethnically affiliated” and they share a common language and a common culture — but their “political identity is focused on the city-state itself” and, what is more, it is even “based on differentiation from other city-states”. While (or rather, I dare say, because) they remain “a plurality of self-governing communities”, they interact with each other continually, intensively and in many ways: war between the “polities” of one and the same “cluster” is, according to H., “endemic”, and so is the permanent formation and re-formation of diplomatic relations, alliances, leagues and federations, “often of a hegemonic type”, as well as the omnipresence and local, regional and supraregional contacts, bi- as well as multilateral forms of “economic, religious and cultural interaction, which crosses all frontiers”, including the geographical and “systemic” frontiers of the “city-state culture” itself (i, 19, cf. 17; 18). This entails a high potential of dynamic development or rather change in all directions, including destabilization or even “system collapse”.6

These definitions or (as H. prefers to call them) “Weberian ideal types” — crystal-clear, precise, well formulated and, therefore, worth citing at some length though they are — have two problematic features in common. On the one hand, it is the very precision of these definitions which is bound to turn out a liability rather than an asset, at least in one very important respect. Being what they are, these “ideal types” are prone to set the “standard” of the full-fledged “micro-state”, “highly” developed in terms of centralised institutions and equally “highly” differentiated in terms of social stratification and economic specialisation, as a kind of normative model, and against this sort of backdrop, any empirical case of a “real”, historical city-state is bound to appear deficient in one or another respect. This entails a critical question: do such “ideal types” provide an appropriate conceptual framework when it comes to the vexed question of the origins, emergence and (early) development of city-states and city-state cultures? In other words: arguing with this sort of “ideal types” involves the serious danger of construing a one-way development backwards from a final stage of “perfection” which itself and in turn is a “construct”. How is the spate of accidental factors, contingent influences and their relative importance for this or that turn of what certainly was a “highly” complex and, above all, initially open process, and how are local and regional differences within one and the same “civilisation” to be accommodated in such a pattern?

On the other hand, this pattern of “ideal types”, and the implicit inspiration behind it, is all Greek to this reviewer (in the literal sense of the term); or, to put it the other way round, it is not at all Greek to the informed reader (this time in the metaphorical sense of the colloquial expression — a whimsical way of making an important point which, I hope, will be excused for once). What I want to say is simply that the model of the fully developed, perfect, “classical” Greek city-state — and that means for H., as always, the 4th-century city-state in general and post-403 Athens in particular — lurks behind all of his seemingly general and universally applicable definitions.

(c) Aristotle is not only virtually, but also literally omnipresent. Even H.’s general discussion of the “(lack of) self-sufficiency” as a defining criterion of the city-state in the introduction (18) begins with a reference to the concept of autarkeia in the Aristotelian Politics. This is all the more true for H.’s magisterial study of the “Hellenic Polis” (143-87) — the longest single contribution, and quite rightly so; according to H., for whom his subject naturally takes the pride of place, “(a)ll other city-state cultures are dwarfed by the ancient Greek city-state, which the Hellenes themselves called polis”, not only in terms of sheer numbers (H. gives a figure of “altogether some 1,500 poleis”), but also in terms of space and time: “(t)he Greek poleis stretched from Emporion in Spain to Ai Kanoum in northern Afghanistan; and from Olbia near the mouth of the river Bug to Kyrene in Libya. Almost all poleis emerged or were founded in the period ca. 750-200 B.C., and in the 6th century A.D. many of them still existed not just as towns, but actually as city states. Thus, the Hellenic city-state culture lasted some twelve hundred years…” (141).

H. immediately goes on to discuss the question whether or not it is feasible and meaningful to call this a single culture under a deliberately programmatic title (“The Unity of All Hellenic Poleis”, 141-5) and then turns to its “Lifespan”, “Rise and Fall” (or “emergence” and “disappearance” (145-9, 149-52, cf. also ii, 12-13) — all interesting and well-argued. But this is not the gist of the matter. As has long been his habit, H. puts that in the form of a question: “what was a Polis?” And, as usual, he wants to begin “by asking: what does the word polis mean? And what does it denote?” (152).

At this point, it is once again Aristotle and his Politics (in the specific as well as the general sense of the concept) that immediately come into the picture. It is this book of books that for H. is, and has always been, the “obvious place to look for” — and not only when it comes to looking “for a description of polis” as a concept “in its sense of community”. It is Aristotle’s “profound discussion” and “comprehensive analysis” of “polis, polites and politeia as closely intertwined concepts” which show “that the core of the concept of polis was the citizens in their capacity as members of the political institutions” (165). So, it is all there: a close reading of Aristotle’s Politics (again in both senses) — combined with other, rather “scattered pieces of contemporary sources, Athenian and non-Athenian” (ibidem) and the criteria — on the one hand and a new, as it were positive and optimistic reading of Max Weber’s “model of the ancient city” (156-61) on the other results in a clear “picture”.7 And, rather unsurprisingly, this picture not only corroborates, but is itself the core of “preliminary definition”, which H. gives rather early on (146) and which remains the (not really) hidden agenda of his argument and which finally turns up again in his sweeping “Conclusion” (171- 3): H.’s polis “was a small, highly institutionalised and self-governing community of citizens (called politai or astoi) living with their wives and children in an urban centre (also called polis or, sometimes, asty) and its hinterland (called chora or ge) together with two other types of people: free foreigners (xenoi, often called metoikoi) and slaves.” The affinity, if not partial identity, of this definition with the general one mentioned above is not accidental; for H., undoubtedly one of the leading experts on Greek and, in particular, Athenian history in the 4th century B.C.,8 the fully-fledged “classical” polis is well-nigh identical with the “city-state” as such. After all, it was also the polis that “was both a political, a military, a religious and an economic centre” (171), and, as opposed to “self-government” in the strict sense, “autonomy” and “independence” are not indispensable prerequisites for the polis status of a city (172).

This reviewer is convinced that this picture — and the general methodological approach (see above) — is flawed in two respects. H. does acknowledge, it is true, the importance of “urbanisation” and gives a survey of the typical “monumental architecture” of a “highly” developed polis in the shape of sanctuaries and temples, theatres, bouleuteria and other typical public buildings (164-5); it is also true that he pays particular attention to the “polis and its walls” (160) and to the dichotomy “polis versus chora” (154-6) and even mentions, if only in passing, the differentiation of public and private space (162). But the (pseudo-)Aristotelian idea that the polis was rather a citizen state than city-state (and had always been a community of “citizens” in the first place) privileges what I would call the “personal-communal” dimension of the polis as a characteristic of this (and any other) type of city-state to the disadvantage of the “spatial-communal” dimension (cf. 19 and 172); and this is much more a preconceived axiom than the final result of an initially open(-minded) empirical analysis. In other words, the specific “territoriality” or internal spatial order of the polis is notoriously underestimated; the fundamental importance of places and spaces, of spatial differentiation and spatial hierarchies (not only between “private” and “public”), of the dense and complex sacral and political ‘landscape’ of a (Greek) city for its ‘constitution’ and collective identity is completely left out of the picture.9 To put it in a nutshell, there is no room for the “politics of space” or the “spatiality of politics” in H.’s model polis.10

The other point is closely related to the first one. H. does not really deal with “urbanisation” and “monumentalisation” as complex processes that began (at least) as early as the archaic “Age of Experiment”, as A. Snodgrass once called it, possibly even earlier. His “ideal-type” model is strangely synchronic in that it construes, as it were, a normative “standard” polis in its final stage of perfection. Such a model does not easily accommodate the fussy and unruly realities of less than perfect or less than finished previous stages or even unsuccessful experiments of the trial-and-error sort. In other words, H.’s approach does not leave much room for the diachronic or ‘historical’ dimension of depth in time.

In spite of some lip-service (145-9), H. has no time for the early, unfinished or “primitive” polis. Although he mentions, at least in his notes and bibliography, quite a few important contributions to the history and archaeology of the early polis, he does not pay much attention to their topic and results as such, but uses them only here and there to underpin his own definitions and abstractions. Moreover, a differentiated “political” reading of the early tradition, i.e. the Iliad and the Odyssey, confront him with “a very difficult task which I prefer to avoid”. Certainly, “we cannot expect the Homeric poems to present us with a coherent picture of the political organisation of the societies described” there, but nobody would have such an expectation. However, a closer look at what the polis and (proto-)political life look like in Homer could have taught H. to be a little less confident and more cautious when it comes to generalizations. A telling example is H.’s idea about the character and functions of the agora. Once again, H. lays down the law to the rest of us and simply states that as “an economic association the centre of the polis was the market place (agora)” (164). That was the norm even if “(i)n the Homeric poems and in some Archaic poets the agora is described as the place where the people had the sessions of the assembly” (164) — a very simplistic interpretation of the evidence (see below). Horribile dictu, most “towns” around 600 B.C. “probably had an agora, but it seems to have been used for political meetings only (!) and there is no evidence for the agora as a market place” (160-1). But fortunately, things changed for the better and became more orderly, as “(i)n the Classical period all traces of the agora as an assembly place have vanished”, and “the agora was no longer seen as the institutionalised political centre of the polis”, but generally and exclusively “as the social and economic centre of the town” (164). A very neat and clear picture and that makes it already rather suspicious. With respect to the ‘Homeric agora’, H. has completely missed the point: in the epic poems, the concept denotes both assembly place and assembly. In this little word we grasp a very important feature of the (early) polis — namely, as it were, the double-sided, communal and spatial identity of the central institution of a ‘proto-political’ community.11

Let me quote just one other example. “In the Archaic and Classical periods the public political buildings were small and undistinguished and monumental political architecture began to appear only in the fourth century” (164), and “(t)here are no traces of securely identifiable political architecture antedating ca. 550 B.C.” (147). In view of recent archaeological research — e.g. by D. Mertens and others in the cities of Western Greece12 — this statement appears to be problematic, if not patently wrong.

The other contributions on “classical” Mediterranean city-state cultures lay emphasis on their emergence and development over time, and they try to identify the specific geographical, demographical, social, economic and last, but not least, (pre-)political conditions as well as the contingent factors that determined that development. In my view, this kind of approach is more appropriate to the general objectives laid down by the editor than the abstract, “ideal-type” sort of method. There is also, however, the possibility of combining both approaches, as does, for example, H.G. Niemeyer (henceforth: N.) in his masterly survey of the development of the “urban character” of cities like Carthage (“The Early Phoenician City-States on the Mediterranean”, 89-115). N.’s “Outlook” on what he calls “the Mediterranean Context” (108-9) not only highlights the comparability of the Phoenician type of the city-state and the early polis, but also the “complementary” relation of the “tangible aspect — the form, structure and outward appearance of the polis as city” — and its character as a community. The reviewer wholeheartedly agrees and asks himself why N. (as well as H., especially 161) can be so sure that “these two aspects of the Greek city-state, i.e. the formation of urban centres on the one hand and the emergence of a body of citizens on the other, in no way developed contemporaneously”. And I do not buy the old diffusionist idea either that “the Greeks took over the idea of the city-state, and perhaps even the idea of the polis, from the Phoenicians” (109).

Let us move on to another region of the Mediterranean. M. Torelli (henceforth: T.) has contributed a survey of the development of the “Etruscan City-State” (189-208) as a widespread type from its “cradle” in the Protovillanovan village about 1000 B.C. (189-91) until it finally lost its specific identity in Roman Italy centuries later, after the wars of conquest in the third and the civil wars of the first century B.C. The long history of the Etruscan city-state culture, though closely interconnected with that of early Latium, shows some very special features. Before trying to disentangle them, however, T. emphasizes the complex interplay of “socio-economic, ideological and political factors” which determined the “genesis of cities in Etruria” (189), and in this context he lays down a few basic and sober principles which also hold good in other cases: “it is meaningless to look for a precise moment in the Archaic period when, e.g., Tarquinia or Caere moved from the pre-urban into the urban phase”. This is certainly also true for, say, Athens, Syracuse and Carthage. Moreover, “we must resist the temptation to deduce the beginning of urban life from a single fact, either material, such as the existence of a city-wall or an assembly place, or ideological, such as a particular organisation of power. It is the manifold nature of the causes and the hierarchy of their importance and meanings that concur to characterize urban growth at any given moment” (ibidem). This principle should be taken seriously, and it is difficult to accommodate in an “ideal-type” sort of model of the polis. In the concrete case of the Etruscan city-state culture, however, T. is able to pinpoint at least “the final stage in the long process of urbanization of the chief cities”, which covered areas “from 60 to 180 hectares” — namely “the emergence of the dodecapolis of the so-called Etruscan League” by about 500 B.C., when the “conquest of the smaller centres” had come to an end; in this process the victorious major centres had taken “great advantage of such gradual expansion, from which they acquired land and population” that in turn furthered “their economic and demographic growth” and ultimately resulted in “the formation of vast territories around the major towns”, i.e. territories “ranging between 500 and 1500 km 2” (195-6). T. then highlights the following specific factors that determined the internal development of individual cities: social stratification and the emergence of a particularly powerful and rich aristocracy that had taken control not only of “a considerable part of the arable land” but also of “the labour of substantial masses of subject men” by the middle of the 7th century and even used their famous “luxury as a powerful ideological instrument to maintain social control” over these servi (197 viz. 196); the gentilicial (as opposed to the Greek communal) character of cults and their “political ambiguity” (198); the “birth” of republican systems and the “subsequent establishment of an oligarchical constitutional order” from the 6th century onwards; and the social problems and the crisis of this “peculiar class system” which “had deeply influenced the political and civil life of the Etruscan cities” and brought about its destabilization (202-3).

T.J. Cornell (henceforth: C.) provides an equally well-informed and well-balanced bird’s eye view of the “City-States in Latium” (209-28), taking the concept of city-state culture seriously. In this case, this necessarily means that “the most distinctive features of Rome as a city-state were in fact characteristic of a broader city-state culture in central Italy — a koine of which Rome was only one representative” (224), and a representative which, judged by the classic criteria such as size of territory and population, had already by the early 3rd century B.C. “surely forfeited any chance of membership in Mogens Hansen’s city-state club” (211).13 C. looks at the history of Rome’s ascendancy, which after all began with establishing her hegemony over the Latins (211-4), and he stresses the role of “federal institutions” such as the Latin League with its religious centre in this process (219-21). He surveys basic social structures and the institutional set-up that the Latin cities had in common with each other on the one hand and with Rome on the other, highlighting the “uniformity” of particular institutions and hierarchies in these ‘polities’: they were all, “it seems, governed by a republican system and dominated by an aristocratic oligarchy. The standard features were annual magistracies, elected by a popular assembly, and a senate or council of former office-holders” (221); they also seem to have shared the unusual principle (unknown in the Greek world, as far as we know) of the “subdivision of the citizen body into groups for voting and for other (e.g. military) purposes” (223). Furthermore, as opposed to Greek poleis, Rome as well as the Latin cities were “open cities” with a particularly “high degree of interaction and mobility” between them; they were “open” in more than one respect as “new citizens could be admitted from below, through manumission of slaves, and from outside, by voluntary immigration or compulsory incorporation through conquest” (224, cf. 220). To sum up, C. gives us a coherent picture of this particular city-state culture, showing convincingly why it was indeed unique in some ways.

Let me conclude this unduly long and somewhat rambling review with some short remarks on H.’s conclusion (“The Impact of City-State Cultures on World History” 597-623) and a quotation. H. restates and reaffirms his initial claims, once again in his idiosyncratic way of schematic systematization; in his view, his catalogue of categories and criteria (see above) has proven its explanatory potential and his concepts and definitions of “city-state” and “city-state culture” have splendidly stood the test of empirical application in dozens of cases — and not only in the “classic(al)” case of the polis (597-611). Moreover, H. has also some interesting things to say about the relevance of his project for contemporary political theory and conceptualisation of politics, especially about the crucial importance of participation of an intensive and interactive kind as a valuable asset of a modern democratic political culture (611-2)— and in this case, for a change, the reviewer is happy to record his deep sympathy with H.’s views. One of the great figures of the Annales school wrote about “cette grande dame chère à Pirenne, chère à Marc Bloch, chère à nous tous ici, qui s’appelle l’histoire comparée”14 and also implied that this famous lady is somewhat elusive. It is, in a way, a message of sceptical caution which, however, should not be taken as a pessimistic argument against any attempt at “histoire comparée” — it is what it is, a warning.


1. Cf. M. H. Hansen, “95 Theses about the Greek Polis in the Archaic and Classical Periods”, Historia 52, 2003, 257-82, for a survey of activities and a full bibliography (to date) of the spate of edited volumes.

2. The quotation is from his Preface to the first volume under review here (9). Cf. also idem, “Pollachos polis legetai (Aristot. Pol. 1276a23). The Copenhagen Inventory of Poleis and the Lex Hafniensis de Civitate”, in idem (ed.), Introduction to an Inventory of Poleis (Acts f the CPC, vol. 3), Copenhagen 1996, 7-72, esp. 7-14; idem, “Poleis and City-States, 600-323 B.C. A Comprehensive Research Programme”, in David Whitehead (ed.), From Political Architecture to Stephanus Byzantius (CPC Papers, vol. 1), Stuttgart 1994, 9-17; idem, “The Copenhagen Inventory of Poleis and the Lex Hafniensis de Civitate”, in Lynette G. Mitchell and P.J. Rhodes (eds.), The Development of the Polis in Archaic Greece, London etc. 1997, 9-23.

3. Cf. also M.H. Hansen, Polis and City-State. An Ancient Concept and its Modern Equivalent (CPC Acts, vol. 5), Copenhagen 1998.

4. H. promised another volume, to be published before the end of 2000, “devoted to the theoretical aspects of the key concepts” (Preface, 10, n. 3). To the knowledge of the reviewer, this volume is still unpublished.

5. Cf. also H., “Was the Polis a State or a Stateless Society?”, in Th. H. Nielsen (ed.), Even more Studies … (CPC Papers, vol. 6), Stuttgart 2002, 17-47. H. does not mention the seminal article by W.G. Runciman, “Origins of States: the Case of Archaic Greece”, CSSH 24, 1982, 351-77.

6. H.’s argument obviously owes a lot to C. Renfrew, “Introduction: peer polity interaction and socio-political change”, in idem and J. Cherry (eds.), Peer polity interaction and sociopolitical change, Cambridge 1986, 1-18. H. duly acknowledges this debt (29 n. 60). However, a misunderstanding needs to be noted: H. wants to “question the ‘peer’ aspect of many of these polities” and “to stress the hierarchical organisation of the city-states” (cf. 17, no. 10). In my understanding, Renfrew’s concept of “peer polity” is meant to highlight the (internal) structural similarity of these “units” as a prequisite for an intensive interaction. Cf. also K.-J. Hölkeskamp, “City and Territory, War and Trade in the Ancient Mediterranean”, MHR 5, 1990, 72-81.

7. H. ignores much of the recent literature on Weber’s concept of the (ancient) city, e.g. W. Nippel, “Introductory Remarks: Max Weber’s ‘The City’ Revisited”, in A. Molho, K. Raaflaub, and J. Emlen (eds.), City-States in Classical Antiquity and Medieval Italy, Stuttgart 1991, 19-30.

8. Cf. P. Flensted-Jensen, Th. Heine Nielsen, and L. Rubinstein (eds.), Polis and Politics. Studies in Ancient Greek History. Presented to Mogens Herman Hansen on his Sixtieth Birthday…, Copenhagen 2000, with the impressive “Bibliographia Hanseniana” (617-30).

9. The fundamental study is T. Hölscher, Öffentliche Raeume in frühen griechischen Städten, Heidelberg 1998; cf. idem, “The City of Athens: Space, Symbol, Structure”, in Molho et al. (eds.), City-States in Classical Antiquity, 355-80; idem, “Öffentliche Räume in frühen griechischen Städten”, Ktema 23, 1998, 159-170.

10. Cf. K.-J. Hölkeskamp, “The Polis and its Spaces — the Politics of Spatiality. Tendencies in Recent Research”, Ordia Prima 3, 2004 (forthcoming).

11. C. Morgan and J.J. Coulton, “The Polis as a Physical Entity”, in H. (ed.), The Polis as an Urban Centre and as a Political Community (CPC Acts, vol. 4), Copenhagen 1997, 87-144, esp. 107-12; K.-J. Hölkeskamp, “Agorai bei Homer”, in W. Eder and idem (eds.), Volk und Verfassung im vorhellenistischen Griechenland, Stuttgart 1997, 1-19, and now idem, “Ptolis and agore. Homer and the Archaeology of the City-State”, in F. Montanari (ed.), Omero tremila anni dopo. Atti del Congresso Genova…, Rome 2002, 297-342; idem, “Institutionalisierung durch Verortung. Die Entstehung der Öffentlichkeit im frühen Griechenland”, in idem, J. Ruesen, E. Stein-Hoelkeskamp, and H. Th. Gruetter (eds.), Sinn (in) der Antike. Orientierungssysteme, Leitbilder und Wertkonzepte im Altertum, Mainz 2003, 81-104. Cf. also idem, Schiedsrichter, Gesetzgeber und Gesetzgebung im archaischen Griechenland, Stuttgart 1999, 270-85, and now U. Kenzler, Studien zur Entwicklung und Struktur der griechischen Agora in archaischer und klassischer Zeit, Frankfurt 1999.

12. Cf. the contributions by D. Mertens, E. Greco and A. Di Vita in G. Pugliese Carratelli (ed.), The Western Greeks, Rome 1996, and D. Mertens, Staedte und Bauten der Westgriechen. Von der Kolonisation bis zur Krise am Ende des 5. Jahrhunderts (forthcoming).

13. Cf. T.J. Cornell, “Rome: The History of an Anachronism”, in Molho et al. (eds.), City-States in Classical Antiquity, 53-69.

14. Lucien Febvre, Combats pour l’Histoire, 1953, 115.