In Rural Athens Under the Democracy, Nicholas Jones has given us an ambitious, thoughtful study of Attika outside the
Nevertheless, some of J.’s conclusions will find more acceptance than others. Sometimes the question is one of emphasis. Does the evidence presented suffice to substantiate J.’s claim that “a consistent state of estrangement, alienation, even hostility” (14) characterized rural/urban relations? And was it truly the case that “when the rural resident passed through a gate of the Themistoclean fortifications and came into contact with the dominant cultures of the intramural populations, nothing less than a thoroughgoing inversion of all that was familiar, accepted, and valued was in the offing?” (14) This reader for one would prefer a middle ground: that important differences and tensions between town and country certainly existed but that shared experiences such as military expeditions, service on the
J.’s arguments depend heavily on the geographical location of demes in relation to the city’s walls and not the type of Kleisthenic trittys (coast, plain, city) to which they were assigned. He classifies each of the 139 demes as either intramural (Kollytos, Kydathenaion, Skambonidai, Melite, Koile) or extramural (all the rest). Nevertheless, he is sensitive to nuance: some nominally extramural demes (e.g. Piraeus, Thorikos, Eleusis, Rhamnous) had certain urban characteristics, while some intramural demes supported a limited amount of agriculture.1 In general, though, the farther a deme was from the
Within this analytic framework, Ch. 1 takes up the question of rural settlement patterns. J. scrutinizes a variety of epigraphical records, focusing most fruitfully on security
Ch. 2 argues for the existence in rural Attika of a patronage system along the lines of the patronus/cliens model familiar from ancient Rome. Drawing on Burford’s findings that most farms were 60 plethra or less, and that the largest known was 300, J. claims that landholdings in ancient Attika were (pace Hanson) generally characterized by inequality and that the average smallholders were subsistence farmers working roughly 55 hectares.3 As such, they were susceptible not only to crises such as flood and drought but to regular periodic shortages of labor as well. In the face of such circumstances they resorted to buffering and risk-minimizing strategies (à la Gallant and Cox) and also to “vertical integration.”4 Kimon’s patronage of the Lakiadai is a prominent example of this practice. J.’s primary evidence here comes from honorary deme decrees. The vast majority of these inscriptions are extramural, and fully 75% of the honorands are prosperous men who are praised for their
Ch. 4 examines one of the events central to life in many rural demes, the “Agrarian” (J. prefers the term to “Rural”) Dionysia held during the month of Posideion. He argues for the rural roots of the festival and attempts to reconstruct its early particulars. On his view the original celebration included events like jumping on a greased and inflated goatskin and hopping on one leg. In time the festival made its way within the city walls, where it took on more of an urban flavor, including agonistic competitions. It subsequently was reintroduced to the countryside in its altered form and celebrated in larger rural demes spaced fairly evenly throughout Attika. This rural-urban-rural model of transmission and transformation is intriguing and seems plausible. Si parua licet componere magnis, consider for a moment an ostensibly rural phenomenon dear to the American midwest and west, namely rodeo. Here too we find a festival of local origin that celebrates rural pursuits associated with animals, fertility, and slapstick/buffoonish humor (to say nothing of public consumption of cheap and fatty meats). In time these events move to urban/suburban locales with different audiences and undergo various changes (the addition of advertising, a shift in emphasis among events, alteration in the role of the clowns, the addition of amplified music of a different genre). And it is then the urbanized, retrofitted version of the festival which is brought back into rural locations by troupes of traveling performers.
Ch. 5, entitled “Realities,” seeks to establish “the fundamental ‘otherness’ of extramural Attica.” (159) J. examines differences between rural and urban residents with regard to diet and dress, speech and religion. His findings here are well-supported, if not entirely surprising. Like their urban brethren, country folk subsisted largely on cereals, legumes, olive oil, wine, cheese, vegetables, and fruits, with occasional portions of meat and fish. Although they enjoyed greater access to wild foods, they had less access to imported items. When it came to clothing, agrarian residents again made more use of local products, often employing items made from animal skins (e.g. caps, himatia with sheepskin fringes, leather corselets, goatskin sandals); by contrast, urban residents wore more woolens produced on looms.5 With regard to speech, J. argues that rural residents tended to speak in distinctive ways and that on the whole they were less literate than their urban counterparts. On his view the epigraphical records of rural demes provide support for the view that the terms
One conspicuous omission from J.’s chapter on “Realien” is an account of any differences between the rural and the urban economies. Even if rural folk were primarily subsistence farmers engaged mostly in barter, many of them still had substantive financial dealings. After all, the
Ch. 6 examines literary representations of rural life. The title’s chapter, “Images,” reflects J.’s view that these representations are fundamentally creations of the town: they reflect not so much reality as urbanites’ views (and caricatures) of the Rural presented for the entertainment of other urbanites. For instance, in Aristophanes’ Clouds“the play’s prevailing mood is one of urban hostility to a recognizably real, hardly idealizing, characterization of rural experience and sensibility.” (202) In the Oikonomikos, Xenophon’s choice of Socrates as interlocutor marks the perspective of Iskhomakhos, of the dialogue, and ultimately of the author himself as urban. And Theophrastos’ Rusticity (
Ch. 7, “Philosophy,” examines the approaches taken to the “Rural” by Hippodamos, Phaleas of Kalchedon, Aristotle, and, above all, Plato. J. relies on biographical information to suggest that,”like many of his peers, Plato may have been an urban-dwelling absentee landlord.” (240) The settings of his dialogues are “conspicuously topographic, monumental, public . . . occasionally out of doors . . . Athenian, and above all, urban.” (241) Even the famous outing with Phaidros along the banks of the Ilissos leaves Socrates near the walls of the
In conclusion, Rural Athens Under the Democracy is an exemplary work of scholarship that is well worth reading. Its ability to combine epigraphical and literary evidence is particularly impressive, and its thesis is provocative and important. While individual readers may be less than fully convinced by some of J.’s claims, all will come away from this fine work with a far better understanding of what rural life in ancient Attika really entailed.
1. J. is particularly indebted to David Whitehead, The Demes of Attica, Princeton, 1986.
2. Merle Langdon, “On the Farm in Classical Attica,” Classical Journal 86 (1990-91): 209-213; Robin Osborne, “Buildings and Residence on the Land in Classical and Hellenistic Greece: The Contributions of Epigraphy,” Annals of the British School at Athens 80 (1985): 119-128.
3. Alison Burford, Land and Labor in the Greek World, Baltimore, 1993; Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization, New York, 1995.
4. Thomas Gallant, Risk and Survival in Ancient Greece: Reconstructing the Rural Domestic Economy, Stanford, 1991; Cheryl Cox, Household Interests, Princeton, 1998.
5. Maria Pipili, “Wearing an Other Hat: Workmen in Town and Country,” in Beth Cohen, Not the Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art, Leiden, 2000: 153-179. In some respects this article serves J. as a model for what he hopes to accomplish on a broader scale.
6. Leslie Kurke, Coins, Bodies, Games and Gold: The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece, Princeton, 1999.