BMCR 2004.07.39

L’élevage en Grèce (fin Ve-fin Ier s. a.C.). L’apport des sources épigraphiques

Christophe Chandezon, L'élevage en Grèce : fin Ve-fin Ier s. a.C. : l'apport des sources épigraphiques. Scripta antiqua, 5. Bordeaux: Ausonius, 2003. 463 p. : ill., couv. ill. ; 23 cm.. ISBN 2910023346 €48.00.

The study of animal husbandry in the ancient Mediterranean was initiated in the late nineteenth century by Otto Keller and was about the analysis of literary sources and iconography. It remained, however, something of an acquired taste and it was only in the late twentieth century that a broader scholarly interest in pastoralism was sparked by the vigorous debates then raging over the nature of the ancient economy. An important article by Stella Georgoudi published in 1974 on transhumance in ancient Greece catalyzed a series of studies. Although Georgoudi and, later, Stephen Hodkinson, made judicious use of epigraphic evidence, literary sources continued to be prioritized.1 The result was an often scattershot picture, largely blind to regional variations and change in pastoralist practices over time.

Chandezon’s book seeks to find a remedy, by collecting all the epigraphic evidence for stock-rearing in the Mediterranean from the late fifth century BCE to the late first century CE. The first (and longest) part of the book (256pp) is a dossier of 65 inscriptions arranged in the standard geographical order observed in IG and SEG. The texts range from Lucania to Karia and from Makedonia to Krete. Each text is accompanied by a full bibliography of published editions, translation and commentary. Because these are not new editions, descriptions of the stones and plaques themselves are included only occasionally, and C. does not venture any new readings. The edition of each text followed is always clearly indicated. In a synthetic chapter on the grant of epinomia, the right to pasture animals on the public land of another state, he lists an additional 71 texts, of which only two are reproduced and translated to serve as examples of a highly formulaic genre. The value of such a dossier lies in the very fact of its collation and in the nuanced synthesis that only a complete collection of inscriptions pertaining to a particular problem can facilitate. It is to precisely this that the second part of the book is dedicated. C. offers a substantial (122pp) and detailed synthesis of the epigraphic evidence in which he presents numerous new and important arguments. The epigraphic evidence for stock-rearing in antiquity, when collected and studied systematically, yields information about which the carefully trawled literary sources are silent and opens up new and intriguing areas of analysis. In the documents we find much on both civic and monarchic taxation of pastoral revenues, the political impact of the pastoralist’s need for mobility, the scale of speculative stock-rearing, sacred herds and the relationship between pastoralism and agriculture.

In the first chapter of the synthetic part of the book C. focuses his attention on prohibitions against the entry of livestock, typically into sanctuaries and sacred domains, and measures designed to control the movement of animals in other contexts. It has been generally accepted that taboos against animals in sanctuaries and on sacred domains were driven by a desire to maintain the religious purity of sacred spaces. Turning however to the epigraphic evidence, C. suggests that while religious scruple may have motivated certain prohibitions, in most cases the concern was rather to protect the natural resources of the sanctuary (particularly its trees, vegetation, springs and streams) and, more generally, its majesty and good order. (He argues elsewhere, quite effectively, that sanctuaries kept cattle not only for sacrifice, as is often thought, but frequently as a source of revenue for the sanctuary when their offspring and wool, in particular, were sold.) Alongside the prohibitions enacted in sanctuaries and sacred domains C. places other measures taken to exclude livestock from particular areas. Such measures apppear relatively frequently in land leases, but there is also the famous case of Herakleia, where goats were entirely forbidden from the entire island, arguably in an attempt to reclaim it from its previous use as nothing other than pasture in a system of Aegean maritime transhumance.2

C. is, in the best French tradition, commendably sensitive to the impact of geography on his subject, and some of the most original and compelling arguments in the book lie in his analyses of regional patterns in ancient Greek pastoral economies. Many historians would rest content with a series of comparanda that delineate the basic contexts and initial motivations for regulations on the movement of cattle. But C. takes another, very rewarding, step, considering the geographic distribution of such regulations: of 16 attested examples, all but one are in the Aegean. The single exception is Delphi. Applying the same method for another epigraphically attested phenomenon, the grant of epinomia in proxeny decrees, C. shows that this is, by contrast, strictly limited to eastern mainland Greece and the Peloponnese. The sample size is quite considerable — we have 71 proxeny decrees that also grant epinomia — so it is unlikely that this pattern is an artefact of the survival and discovery of the stones. C. offers explanations for both patterns, attributing roles both to geography and to patterns of social organization. In continental Greece and the Peloponnese, pasture was plentiful and generally situated away from agricultural areas, very often in the uplands. In the Aegean, by contrast, pasturage was in shorter supply, a natural situation exacerbated by the need to intensify grain production in the Classical and Hellenistic periods by terracing the hillsides, thus further reducing the land available for pasture.3

This explains in the broadest terms why the poleis of eastern mainland Greece and the Peloponnese were generous with their pasture land, while in the Aegean strict measures were frequently taken to control the movements of livestock. But pastoralism remained an important part of the Aegean economy, and several interstate treaties from the region grant collective, reciprocal rights of pasture, e.g. the treaty between Hierapytna and Praisos and that between the Lykian koinon and Termessos.4 The measures taken to exclude cattle from particular areas were intended to keep the animals away from crops in a region where agricultural land and pasturage were closer to one another than in mainland Greece, where the mountains provided an obvious pasture that presented few agricultural opportunities. As for bestowals of epinomia, C. argues that this eastern continental and Peloponnesian phenomenon was necessitated by the exclusive manner in which most poleis organized their territories, suggesting that in northwestern mainland Greece and Makedonia, the ethne and monarchies, which generally retained much larger boundaries than those of a polis, were better adapted to the pastoralists’ need for mobility.5 Although a superficially attractive argument, this paints the extraordinarily complex relationship between economic activity, socio-political organization and cooperation in strokes much too broad to be convincing. That is not to dismiss the entire argument; the geographic distribution of these patterns is striking and important, and C. has offered perhaps the best explanation available on current evidence.

A related question is that of the impact of pastoralism on interstate relations, a problem that has previously received little attention but for which the epigraphic sources are particularly valuable. C. duly notes (Part II Chapter III) that border disputes, and indeed outright war, were often sparked by the need of most communities to exploit the eschatiai of their territories as pasture, perhaps the most famous example being the outbreak of the Third Sacred War after a dispute between Phokis and Lokris over pasturage on Mt. Parnassos. And while he collects the evidence for the bestowal of pasturage rights in grants of isopoliteia and sympoliteia, he stops short of situating the pastoralists’ need for mobility as part of an arguably much larger phenomenon of political cooperation that facilitates the exchange of and access to complementary resources. It is here that a more careful examination of the economic structures of cooperative political entities like the koinon and indeed the ethnos would have been valuable.

In a lengthy chapter on taxation, C. contributes to recent work arguing against the orthodox notion that Greek poleis rarely engaged in the direct taxation of their citizens, relying for their revenues instead on exceptional levies, mines, war booty and, increasingly in the Hellenistic period, euergetism.6 Eleven documents are cited as evidence for direct taxation on cattle and their revenues, but of these only three demonstrate the imposition of taxes to be paid directly to a polis, and all of these are in Asia Minor (Teos, Priene and Miletos); the other taxes are imposed by Seleukid royal authorities and, in one case, by a local dynast (Ptolemy the son of Lysimakhos at Telmessos). There is in other words no preponderance of evidence that the orthodoxy on polis taxation systems is wrong; where the old view does err is in making a blanket statement intended to apply to the entire Greek Mediterranean. We need rather to attend to local variation and complexity. The fact that all three examples come from Asia Minor is surely more than a coincidence, and C. argues quite compellingly that this practice probably had its origin not in the Ptolemaic fiscal system but in the Achaemenid.7 C. also assembles a list of civic taxes on cattle, charges for the use of public pasturage ( ennomion) and other fees that are clearly related to pastoralism but difficult to define (e.g. emphorbion and probatikon). These are frequently imposed by a city under the control of a Hellenistic king, but they undoubtedly went not to the royal but to the civic treasury. This evidence contributes significantly to the ongoing reassessment of the earlier view that the Hellenistic cities were in dire straits, strapped by royal taxes, with few revenues of their own and therefore largely reliant upon benefactions and public subscriptions.

In the final chapter of his synthesis, C. wades into the turgid waters of the debate on transhumance in the ancient Mediterranean.8 The question may be put succinctly: was there or wasn’t there transhumance? The answer of course depends on one’s definition of transhumance. It seems generally to be felt that the movement of a single shepherd with his herd into upland pastures for even as long as a summer does not constitute a system of transhumance. C. cites both distance traversed and the size of herds involved as defining characteristics. He refuses to give numbers for either but cites the transhumance system of the Iberian peninsula in the 16th century, made famous to ancient historians by Braudel, as an example of what we should expect: some 3 million head of cattle traversed the peninsula, a distance of some 800km, each year. In the first part of the twentieth century the same pattern still held, albeit on a much reduced scale, involving only 300,000 animals.9 We have of course no indication of the movement of herds on anything like this scale, and the natural conclusion is that, if this is the definition of transhumance, the simple answer is, no, it was not practiced in the ancient Greek Mediterrranean.10 C. gains no real ground by entering this debate without challenging its terms. The established parameters of the problem remain. The fragmentation of the Mediterranean landscape and the scarcity of good agricultural land required pastoralists to move, but the mosaic of independent poleis fiercely defending the integrity of their territories and the resources they contained created an obstacle to long-distance mobility. If the polis was the real obstacle, as C. suggests, I wonder why he did not consider how other, contemporary political structures like the koinon, ethnos and numerous monarchies, might have responded to the need for pastoral mobility.

In sum, C. has written an important and valuable book. The epigraphic dossier is meticulously compiled and up-to-date, and the synthesis offers a fresh and nuanced evaluation of every aspect of ancient pastoralism for which we have evidence. The epigraphy has never been comprehensively integrated into the study of the subject, and C. has accomplished that both admirably and effectively. His book will be indispensable to scholars of the ancient economy, the countryside, and interstate relations in the Classical and Hellenistic Mediterranean.


1. O. Keller. 1887. Thiere des classischen Alterthums in Culturgeschichtlicher Beziehung (Innsbruck); —-. 1909-1913. Die antike Tierwelt (Leipzig). S. Georgoudi. 1974. ‘Quelques problèmes de la transhumance dans la Grèce ancienne’, REG 87, 153-85. J.F. Cherry, ‘Pastoralism and the role of animals in the pre- and protohistoric economies of the Aegean’; S. Hodkinson, ‘Animal Husbandry in the Greek polis’; and J.E. Skydsgaard, ‘Transhumance in ancient Greece’ — all in C.R. Whittaker, ed. 1988. Pastoral Economies in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge).

2. IG XII.7.509 = C. 35 with L. Robert, Hellenica VII.161-70. Compare the late fourth-century Argive arbitration of a dispute between Melos and Kimolos over three islets, (the wonderfully named) Polyaiga, Etereia and Libeia, probably claimed by both Melos and Kimolos for use as pasturage ( Syll. (3) 621), and the fifth- or fourth-century decree of Ios (Sokolowski LSCG 104 = C. 33) granting foreigners who come by sea the right to pasture their flocks on the island for only five days.

3. This development has been studied in depth by M. Brunet. 1990. ‘Terrasses de culture antiques: l’exemple de Délos, Cyclades’, Méditerranée 71, 5-11; L. Foxhall, ‘Feeling the Earth Move: Cultivation Techniques on Steep Slopes in Classical Antiquity’, in G. Shipley & J. Salmon, edd. 1996. Human Landscapes in Classical Antiquity. Environment and Culture (London), 44-67; P. Brun. 1996. Les archipels égéens dans l’Antiquité grecque (Ve-IIe siècles av. notre ère) (Besançon).

4. Hierapytna-Praisos: A. Chaniotis. 1996. Die Verträge zwischen kretischen Poleis in der hellenistischen Zeit (Stuttgart) no. 5 = C.44. The treaty between the Lykian koinon and Termessos is (I believe) still unpublished, but its content has been described by Chr. LeRoy. 1996. ‘Une convention entre cités en Lycie du Nord’, CRAI, 961-980. Cf. the treaty between Aigai and the Olympenoi granting tax-free export of young animals, Staatsv. III.456 = C.51.

5. C. Morgan. 2003. Early Greek States Beyond the Polis (London), who at pp. 168-9 discusses the issue, appeared too late to be considered by C.

6. The orthodox view goes back ultimately to A. Böckh. 1817. Die Staatshaushaltung der Athener (Berlin). More recent statements: H. Francotte. 1909. Les finances des cités grecques (Paris); L. Moretti, ‘Finanze della polis’, in R. Bianchi-Bandinelli, ed. 1977. La società ellenistica. Economia, diritto e religione (Milan), 337-353; and M.I. Finley. 1985. The Ancient Economy, Second edition (London). Recent work that has begun to reject this view: Ph. Gauthier. 1976-7. ‘Epigraphie et institutions grecques’, AEHE 4e sect., 307-11; L. Gallo. 2000. ‘L’imposte dirette nelle poleis greche: un istituto tirannico?’, Minima Epigraphica et Papyrologica 3.4, 17-36.

7. Cf. P. Briant. 1996. Histoire de l’Empire perse de Cyrus à Alexandre (Paris), 399-434.

8. Georgoudi 1974; Hodkinson 1988; Skydsgaard 1988.

9. F. Braudel. 1972. The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, trans. Siân Reynolds. 2nd ed. (Berkeley) I.85-95. For the twentieth-century situation see P. Veyret. 1951. Géographie de l’élevage, 4th edn (Paris).

10. The two inscriptions that indicate herd size both relate to private holdings and are on a scale that is comparatively Lilliputian: Zenon of Kaunos, the agent of Apollonius, dioiketes of Ptolemy II, owned 1,863 sheep and 122 goats ( PCZ 59394); Eubolos of Elateia was authorized to pasture 1000 sheep and goats and 220 cows and horses on public land at Boiotian Orkhomenos (L. Migeotte. 1984. L’emprunt public dans les cités grecques. Recueil des documents et analyse critique (Paris & Québec) 12 = C.7).