BMCR 2004.11.18

The Idea of European Community in History Volumes I and II

, , The Idea of European Community in History. Conference Proceedings. Vol. I. . Athens: National and Capodistrian University of Athens, Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, 2003. 289 pages. ISBN 9789605411077
, , The Idea of European Community in History. Conference Proceedings. Vol. II. Athens: National and Capodistrian University of Athens, Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, 2003. 236 pages. ISBN 9789605411077

These two volumes are the proceedings of an international conference, held from 13 to 16 March 2003 in Athens and published with impressive speed in the same year. The conference was organized by the Greek Ministry of Education on the occasion of the presidency of the European Union, which Greece held at this time, and the idea behind it was to look into the roots of the perception that the different nations (and, later, states) in Europe had something in common that enabled or even urged them to combine to form a political community of some sort. As G. Babiniotis, the Rector of the University of Athens, says in his opening address (I 11), this concept can be traced back to antiquity, a claim which does not come as a surprise to an ancient historian; however, what is more important, this conference seems to be one of the too rare examples of the interest of politicians in the ‘uses of the past’, which includes the Graeco-Roman world as well. That this is not something invented by ancient historians to make themselves seem more interesting is shown clearly by the contribution of A. Giovannini about the history of federalism from ancient Greece to the foundation of the USA (II 143-176); federalism is, after all, one of the most promising concepts for combining different communities into one state without depriving each one completely of its independence.

The two volumes are arranged in reverse chronological order in that volume II deals with the ancient world and volume I with medieval and modern history. After the opening addresses by G. Babiniotis (Rector of the University of Athens; pp. 11-13) and P. Efthymiou (Minister of Education and Religious Affairs of Greece; pp. 15-17) and the ‘Introductory Statement’ by C. Svoropoulos (Dean of the Department of History and Archaeology; pp. 19-20), volume I consists of 23 papers (13 in English, 5 in French, 4 in German, and 1 in Spanish) in a rough chronological order: there are two papers on theory (Glykantzi-Ahrweiler and Dunn), and the chronological range of the remaining papers extends from early medieval history via the Byzantine Empire to the most recent problems concerning integration into and in the European Union. Also included among the papers on theory are examinations of the rôle of religion (in this case, Christianity) and of (international) law. Since I do not feel competent in medieval and modern history, I will just give a swift overview of the subjects dealt with in the first volume and consequently concentrate this review on the papers in the second volume.

Volume I starts with two papers on theory: H. Glykantzi-Ahrweiler deals with the ‘European Community as an Idea: The Historical Dimension’ (pp. 21-31) and J. Dunn the rôle of ‘Democracy as a European Inheritance’ (pp. 33-41); the latter shows clearly the similarities and important differences between ancient and modern democracy as well as its changing grade of acceptance through history and its limitations. E. Chrysos examines the political place of the (early) Holy Roman Empire in Europe and the effect it had on the people living in its sphere of influence (‘The Empire and the Peoples of Europe in the Early Middle Ages’, pp. 43-52), and J. Koder, ‘Europa und Euromediterraneum. Zur mittelalterlichen Europa-Vorstellung im kosmographischen und geopolitischen Kontext’ (pp. 53-62), describes how the Mediterranean changed from a sea which connected the countries on its shores to a sea which divided the Christian states to the north from the Muslim states in the south. Another dividing line is discernible between East and West, represented by the languages used (Latin in the West and Greek in the East) and by religion (Catholic and Orthodox Christianity), as R. Schieffer shows, concentrating on the Latin West in political and ecclesiastical matters (‘Die Einheit der lateinischen Welt als politisches und kirchliches Problem (8.-13. Jahrhundert)’, pp. 63-72; cf. also the paper by Prévélakis further on in the volume).

The Crusades are the subject of the paper by A. Kolia-Dermitzaki (‘Iter Hierosolymitanum – ES PALAISTINHN POREIA. The Crusader Movement as a European Movement’, pp. 73-90); they brought about, at least to a certain extent and for a limited time, unification of the western powers and furthered trade between East and West. W. Brandmüller, ‘Integration Europas und katholische Kirche. Die Institutionen’, pp. 91-98) examines the rôle of and the relationship between three ‘institutions’ which were the constitutive elements and the basis for a culturally unified Europe: the pope, the empire and the university. It is interesting, but certainly not astonishing, that L. Maksimovic in his paper on European integration and unification at the opposite end of Europe, the Byzantine Empire (‘The Byzantine “Commonwealth”: An Early Attempt at European Integration?’, pp. 99-109), finds analogous elements in ‘the Roman State and legal system, Hellenic civilization and Christian religion in its Orthodox form’ (p. 100). B. H. Stolte in his paper ‘Historical Notes on Ius Commune: The Western and Eastern Mediterranean’ (pp. 111-121) draws attention to the similarities among the legal systems of the different states of Western Europe before the French Revolution; these similarities and those with the legal system of the Byzantine Empire have come about because the so-called ‘ius commune’ was shaped in the West on the basis of Roman Law, rediscovered in the late Middle Ages but in use in the East without interruption.

Another paper dealing with law comes later in the collection, since it concerns a different aspect of law which came about only later in time: ‘Europe as a Concept of International Law in the Age of Hugo Grotius’ (pp. 162-177) by K.-H. Ziegler, who shows not only the binding force of the common religion in (western) Europe at this time, but also how much this idea is indebted to ancient Greek international law. The essay is preceded by two that mark the end of medieval history: P. Schreiner (‘Byzanz in Europa – Byzanz und Europa: Modelle der politischen und kulturellen Integration zwischen dem 6. und 15. Jahrhundert’, pp. 123-132) undertakes a survey of the reasons for the long duration of the Byzantine Empire, and L. G. Benakis (‘Latin Literature in Byzantium: The Meeting Point of two Cultures’, pp. 133-140) gives a brief overview of Byzantine translations of Latin works of philosophy and theology and their modern editions, though he mentions the effect which these had on the theological discussion at this time only in the case of the works of Thomas Aquinas (pp. 137/138).

J. M. Carretero Zamora marks the step into modern history, pointing out the importance in political and financial terms of Charles V’s huge Empire (‘El emperador Carlos V y Europa: un espacio politico, un primer espacio financiero’, pp. 141-162). The paper ‘Eastern Europe in the early Plans for European Unification (15th-17th centuries)’ by I. K. Hassiotis (pp. 179-189) addresses the problem of re-integrating the Christian peoples of southeastern Europe, at this time under Ottoman rule, into the western world. The next three papers prepare the theoretical ground for the attempts at a real unification of Europe in the 20th century. They deal with the modifications of the concept of European unity, European identity and the European idea brought about by the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and, consequently, by the policies followed during the 19th and 20th centuries (P. M. Kitromilides, ‘The Enlightenment and European Identity’, pp. 191-198; M. Vovelle, ‘Anticipation de l’idée européenne sous la révolution’, pp. 199-211; R. Frank, ‘Évolution de l’idée d’Europe et des identités européennes, XIXe-XXe siècles’, pp. 213-221). A. Fleury, then, describes the unsuccessful attempts to unite the states of Europe (within a wider framework of international unification) in the time between the two World Wars and tries to find the reasons for their failure (‘Tentatives d’union européenne durant l’entre-deux-guerre: les raisons de l’échec’, pp. 223-234).

The next two papers concentrate on the opposite, the (overall) successful unification of Europe after WWII, and so proceed from ideas to facts, by recapitulating ‘The Origins and Character of the European Integration Process’ (A. Varsori, pp. 235-253) and by describing ‘Politics and Purpose of Fifty Years of European Integration’ (A. S. Milward, pp. 255-261). G. Prévélakis (‘Les limites de l’Europe du point de vue de la géographie historique’, pp. 263-276, with 5 maps) discusses the meaning and justification of concepts by which Europe was and/or is divided into different blocks of states and/or nations, and which changed in the course of time with the fate of the dominant powers and cultures (e. g. the Roman limes, the line of the schisma, the Iron Curtain; cf. the papers by Koder and Schieffer, mentioned above). In the penultimate paper, C. Svolopoulos examines the place of Greece in the European unification process (‘Le regard de la Grèce sur l’Europe, XIXe-XXe siècle’, pp. 277-282). L. Tsoukalis, finally, draws a rather optimistic résumée of what the European Union has achieved so far (not, however, without pointing to some deficencies) and in the end urges the European leaders to try more democracy (‘European Integration: Where have we got?’, pp. 282-289).

Volume II contains, after the foreword by the editor (K. Buraselis, p. 9), 14 papers (8 in English, 4 in French, 2 in German), some of which deal with single states or communities, and others with different forms and concepts of interstate relations and treaty organizations. They are again arranged in a more or less chronological order, starting with one of the first Greek leagues (the Delian League in the 5th century B.C.) and ending with an examination of the Greek world under Roman rule (the only Roman subject). Their aim is not to put forward new theories but to give a reliable and easily understandable overview of our knowledge (it goes without saying that — even so — each article betrays clearly the preferences of its author).

A. Ramou-Hapsiadi (‘The Delian League Fighting on Behalf of the Hellenes’, pp. 11-18), describes, in a rather loosely knit paper, the foundation and development of the Delian League and its eventual dramatic change to an Athenian hegemony. The turning point is the Peace of Kallias in 449 B.C. Before it, the Athenians justified their leading rôle by referring to the Trojan War, in which the largest naval power (Mycenae) also had the command against the barbarians. After the peace, however, when the threat posed by the Persians seemed over, Athens had to invent other justifications for her supremacy over Greece. In this context, the reference to the model of the Trojan War changed to the Athenians constantly reminding the other Greeks of their decisive rôle in the liberation from Persia on the one hand, and, on the other, making them believe that the danger was not yet past. Therefore, they never ceased to point out that their only interest lay in the defence of Panhellenic interests, a concept which they tried to convey also by the means of the arts (e.g. depictions of, first, the Trojan War, and, then, the Athenians fighting the Persians).

The other great alliance is the subject of the paper by N. Birgalis, ‘The Peloponnesian League as a Political Organization’, pp. 19-26. Overall he paints a positive picture of the League in that he sees political rather than military collaboration as its basis. B. argues against the communis opinio that the reasons for founding the League were the fear of the Helots and the rivalry with Argos, and he prefers to explain it by Sparta’s wish to expand its hegemony through diplomatic and peaceful means. On the other hand, he adheres to the other traditional view that Sparta’s policy was aimed at overthrowing tyrants. Only after the Peloponnesian War and with the subsequent extent of its power, did the League change to a more oppressive regime.

The next two papers deal with symmachy and sympolity: M. Dreher, ‘Symmachia und Sympoliteia in der griechischen Welt bis 323 v. Chr.’ (pp. 27-38) and K. Buraselis, ‘Considerations on Symmachia and Sympoliteia in the Hellenistic Period’ (pp. 39-50). Dreher examines the two main views brought forward so far, on how and why sympoliteiai (= federal states) were founded: the older opinion, i. e. that sympoliteiai were a reaction to the failure of the polis-concept, and Giovannini’s view that federal states came into being where no poleis existed. Dreher himself, however, argues that smaller states introduced federal structures as a reaction to the threat posed by powerful symmachies. This hypothesis might be true for some federations (and Dreher himself restricts it to ‘at least certain significant cases’, p. 29), but its general applicability seems doubtful to me in that federal organization can also be a means of expansion, not only of defence.1 In the Hellenistic period, things seem to have changed, as K. Buraselis in his paper—meant as a chronological sequel to Dreher’s—shows. By examining the Aitolian and the Achaian Leagues as the most important ones in this final period of Greek liberty, he points to the influence on and the use of the federations by the Macedonian dominated symmachies of the time.

M. Hatzopoulos, ‘Polis, Ethnos and Kingship in Northern Greece’ (pp. 51-64) deals with the political structures in the northern part of the country, which originally lay outside Greece proper. These lands, different from the south in terms of nature and climate, developed their own economic and social systems; this in turn led to particular political institutions which sometimes seem to have a federal flair. After a concise description of the main features of Macedonia, Thessaly and Molossia/Epirus, Hatzopoulos stresses the differences between the ‘real’ federal states of southern Greece and the northern states mentioned.

The following three papers study the two most important federal states of the Hellenistic period. J. B. Scholten, ‘The Internal Structure of the Aitolian Union: A Case Study in Ancient Greek Sympoliteia’ (pp. 65-80), follows the development of Aitolian institutions from their first appearance in 367 B.C. (371 B.C. in Scholten). What this first mention of a κοινόν means for the form of the Aitolian community at that time (already a federal state?) is cautiously left unanswered, but around 300 the state seems to have achieved a strong cohesion, partly on the basis of a proportional system for the representation of the member cities in the federal council. Connected to this is the vexed question of the attested subdivisions and their rôle in the functioning of the entire state.

J. Roy surveys the institutional history of ‘The Achaian League’ from 281/0 to 146 B.C. (pp. 81-95). Here too the principle of proportional representation of the member cities in federal committees is of utmost importance, although it seems, in practice, to have been applied only unevenly in that the highest posts were taken from citizens of a rather restricted number of cities. Roy also shows the importance of a common cult for the identity and the solidarity of a federal state.

A. D. Rizakis, ‘Le collège des nomographes et le système de représentation dans le koinon achéen’ (pp. 97-109) gives an overview of the history of research on the proportional principle in the Achaian League. The existence of this principle is still controversial; those who believe in its existence, find support in the list of nomographoi from Epidauros (IG IV 1, 2nd ed., no. 73). Rizakis points to a recently discovered second nomographoi list2 which corroborates the hypothesis, without, however, solving all problems concerning the exact number of representatives each city was allocated.

One of the most difficult subjects is dealt with in the paper by S. Psoma and D. Tsangari (‘Monnaie commune et états fédéraux’, pp. 111-141). The authors warn first against interpreting coins minted by entities other than cities as federal coinage. In what follows, they examine the coins of most federal states with respect to the dates of minting, the standards used, the radius of their circulation etc.; all this is supported by clear and ample charts and photographs of coins.

The longest article surveys the concept of federalism through more than 2000 years of history: A. Giovannini, ‘Genèse et accomplissement de l’état fédéral de la Grèce antique à la constitution américanine de 1787-1789’, pp. 143-176. Choosing as starting point the constitutions of the USA, Switzerland and Germany, he explains clearly the differences between ‘unitary’ and federal states. From there, he proceeds to the American constitution, the creation and development of which he describes in detail, always pointing to the ancient models as they were understood and/or misunderstood in the 18th century (beginning with Montesquieu). It is interesting to note, firstly, that in the debate about the right constitution (i. e. federal or unitary), the ‘founding fathers’ of the USA used examples not only from the more recent past but also and especially from antiquity — if only to show that these ancient models would not work for modern purposes — and, secondly, that ancient federal states were considered as a model rather late in the discussion since they were believed to be too unstable. The decision for a federation was finally based on a compromise suggested by B. Franklin. When it comes to comparing the creation of Greek federal states to that of the USA, Giovannini sees, rightly, no similarities. But he advances even further by stating that there are no similarities at all between the constitutions of modern federal states and what we call federal states in ancient Greece. In this part of his essay, he stops short of saying that there were no ancient federal states at all, as he did in his dissertation3 and as he does in his useful appendix (pp. 160-176). His main criterion is that existence of the second chamber in modern federal states is crucial, because through this the member states participated in the government of the entire state; the councils of ancient states, however, played a completely different rôle. On the other hand, whereas it is certainly right that there are considerable differences between ancient and modern federal states, it might be just a question of definition: one should, I think, rather compare ancient states to each other, and if one finds differences between them, one can then try to find federal elements in one type. Unfortunately, Giovannini does not discuss the part of my thesis where I try to do just this; in my view, the difference between an ancient unitary state and a federal state is that in the latter the member cities were somehow mentioned in international treaties whereas the subdivisions of a unitary state were not.4

H. Beck in his paper ‘New Approaches to Federalism in Ancient Greece. Perceptions and Perspectives’ (pp. 177-190), gives an overview of the ways in which modern scholarship has tried, over the last 10-15 years, to come to grips with ancient federalism. He identifies as one of three fields of research the recent debate on Greek ethnicity since it plays an important rôle in the self-definition of a people and a state; it has, in this respect, taken the place of the old ‘genetic’ model which supposed a direct line from tribe to federation. The second field is the complex question of how cities were integrated into federal systems, i. e. how ‘federalism and polis -autonomy were compatible’ (p. 184). Finally, he addresses the problem that no ancient theory of federalism is known. On the other hand, hints in Aristotle and Polybius of what must have been an ongoing debate on federalism, have recently been discovered by G. A. Lehmann.5

A different means for integration is explored by A. Mehl, ‘Die antiken Griechen: Integration durch Kultur’ (pp. 191-204). The Greeks realized, at the latest during the confrontation with the Persians, that, despite their political fragmentation, they had many cultural features in common (e. g. language, script, music, religion, sports) which they regarded as their own, although they had taken several of them over from Near Eastern cultures (as they themselves knew in some cases). In the Hellenistic age, the Greek way of life, especially membership in the gymnasium, was a sign of being Greek which indeed many non-Greeks also found worth striving for. But there was also another result of acculturation, evoked by the dispersion of Greeks thoughout the East: the influence which Eastern cultures, especially in terms of religion, exercised on the Greeks who were open to foreign influence without giving up their Greek identity.

A. Erskine, ‘Distant Cousins and International Relations: Syngeneia in the Hellenistic World’ (pp. 205-216) shows on the basis of several inscriptions the importance of real or imagined kinship ( συγγένεια) for diplomacy in the Hellenistic period starting with the famous embassy from Dorian Kytenion to Lycian Xanthos.6 However, the Xanthian inscription shows another (and for the city itself crucial) aspect of this relationship, i. e. the affirmation that the Xanthians in Lycia were Greeks, and this was the reason why they inscribed this text with its long narration of kinship with the Greek motherland in the Lycian federal sanctuary. The many cases of this kind of relationship between Greek and non-Greek cities blurs the dividing line between Greeks and barbarians, which is all too often seen as nearly impossible to cross.

The volume ends with the only paper on the Roman period: M. Sartre, ‘L’empire romain et ses communautés: le cas du monde grec’ (pp. 217-225). Sartre raises the question of how it was possible that a huge empire like the Roman could not only survive so long without suppressing the many different peoples it encompassed but even make those peoples interested in its survival. By concentrating on the Greek East, he explains the Roman success through the fact that they based their power on the cities and their élites, and, at the same time, created competition between them. Another important reason he sees in the respect the Romans showed towards local diversity; even the grant of Roman citizenship to all free men, for example, did not diminish the importance of local laws. This all was, of course, valid only as long as it did not encroach upon the right of the Romans to have the last word.

I am certain that medieval and modern historians will learn as much about ancient history from this collection as I have learned about medieval and modern history; much more, however, is it to be hoped that the ‘general reader’ and even our most ignorant politicians will understand how important it is for the planning of our future to know the past. This book will provide them with a sound basis for enhancing their knowledge — which they should, then, put to good use to the benefit of Europe. Therefore, I agree whole-heartedly with the desire expressed by G. Babiniotis in his opening address (p. 12) that this kind of history be taught in schools and with P. Efthymiou, who would like to have the proceedings distributed to the European Parliament (p. 17). Ideally, the subject should be brought to the attention of the ‘general reader’, of everybody interested.


1. Cf., e. g. for the Aitolian League, my Vom Stamm zum Bund (Munich 1999) 158-9.

2. He announces its publication in an issue of ZPE 2003, but this seems not to have materialized (nor in the first issue of 2004).

3. A. Giovannini, Untersuchungen über die Natur und die Anfänge der bundesstaatlichen Sympolitie in Griechenland (Göttingen 1971).

4. Cf. my attempt in Vom Stamm zum Bund 223-240.

5. G. A. Lehmann, Ansätze zu einer Theorie des griechischen Bundesstaates bei Aristoteles und Polybios (Göttingen 2001).

6. SEG 38 (1988) 1476.