BMCR 2005.04.11

Federalismo e autonomia nelle Elleniche di Senofonte

, Federalismo e autonomia nelle Elleniche di Senofonte. Storia. Ricerche. Milano: Vita e pensiero Università, 2004. 180 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8834311132 €14.00.

1 Responses

The city (or city-state), its freedom and autonomia are the principal problems of Greek history and as such have generated an immense literature. The Greek federal states were, in comparison with city-states at least, rather unpopular. In the twentieth century the study of ancient Greek federalism was, for a few mid-century decades, almost monopolised by one scholar, Jakob Larsen, whose general works remain standard even today.1 Thereafter much work has been done on Greek federal states, but, since according to the prevalent opinion the Greeks were unaware of the existence of federalism, far less has been done to uncover Greek federalist thought. A notable exception was Gustav Adolf Lehmann’s study in theory of the Greek federal state in Aristotle and Polybius.2 There is also a widespread assertion that the author of Hellenica Oxyrhyncha was well acquainted with the working and theoretical background of the Boeotian Confederacy. The Oxyrhynchus historian’s luckier contemporary and rival Xenophon did not gain for himself the reputation of an expert in the constitutional history. Cinzia Bearzot challenged this widely accepted belief, and decided to read Xenophon’s Hellenica by combining study of the ‘autonomia’ slogan with research on the growth of federalism in fourth-century Greece. Thus, in her analysis of the federalist thought in Xenophon’s histories, Bearzot shifts the stress from the political reality to the theoretical reflection accompanying the rise of Greek leagues.

There may be some confusion over the addressee of the book. For the most part, it is full of terminological considerations. However, portions of Xenophon are quoted in Italian translation as in a book for undergraduates or more general readers (only principal terms and sentences are given in Greek). Yet Bearzot discusses plenty of studies on her topic, almost all the more important ones (her bibliography is sixteen pages, more than one tenth of the whole book). The intensive treatment of the earlier scholarship suggests that she wrote for colleagues — historians and philologists. The book under review should be heard as an important voice both on Xenophon as a historian and on the controversy between federalism and autonomy in ancient Greece.

The material is ordered chronologically (according to the sequence of events as reported by Xenophon). Since Bearzot analyses the material she has chosen from Xenophon with expertise, it would probably be more interesting to indicate a few problems (very few in fact) she has omitted or explained in an unsatisfactory way. However, to carry out the reviewer’s duty I will start from the contents.

The thorough introduction (pp. 9-20) combining an account of previous research with a presentation of Bearzot’s aims and method is followed by twelve chapters dealing with episodes documenting the growth of federalism in the Hellenica. It is worth noting that no event dating from the last stage of the Peloponnesian War was included. The chapters center on:

I. The speech of the Theban ambassadors to Athens in 395 [all the dates in this review are BC] (Hell. III 5, 8-15)

II. A union of Argos and Corinth in the 390s (Hell. IV 4, 1-14)

III. Dioikismos of Mantinea in 385 (Hell. V 2, 33-34)

IV. The speech of Cleigenes of Acanthus in 382 (Hell. V 2, 12-19)

V. The speech of Leontiades in 382 (Hell. V 2, 33-34)

VI. The speech of Polydamas of Pharsalus in 375/4 (Hell. VI 1, 4-16)

VII. The Theban assault on Plataea and Thespiae in 373 (Hell. VI 3, 1)

VIII. The speech of Autocles, an Athenian ambassador of the Peace of Sparta in 371 (Hell. VI 3, 7-9)

IX. The peace of Sparta in 371 (Hell. VI 3, 18-20)

X. The proposal of Spartan Protoos to redefine the Spartan politics in 371 (Hell. VI 4, 2)

XI. Civil strife in Tegea in 370 (Hell. VI 5, 6-9)

XII. Crisis of the Arcadian Confederacy in the 360s (Hell. VII 4, 33-35)

One should note that speeches, discussions and negotiations are especially valuable proofs of the federalist reflection — six of the twelve chapters discuss speeches in Hellenica (Chapters I, IV, V, VI, VIII, and X). A distinct part of the book are Chapters VIII-X, all three concentrating on the peace of Sparta concluded by the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians in 371.

Bearzot’s definition of federalist controversies over autonomia is wide. Thus, there is a chapter on a union of Argos and Corinth in the 390s, though it is doubtful whether this sympoliteia, definitely of synoikistic nature, contributes anything to the solution of the historical questions that the Greek federal states posed. Similarly, Bearzot can talk about the splitting of Mantinea into villages ( dioikismos) as an example of the clash between the federalism and the principle of city autonomia (Ch. III). However, this event says more about how the Lacedaemonians applied the principle of autonomy to the poleis than about federalist controversies of the age. On the other hand, one can exculpate Bearzot since the chapter on dioikismos is a convenient introduction to her discussion of the Arcadian Confederacy. The Arcadian question referred to occasionally throughout the book arises as the central point of investigation in the last two chapters.

The most important confederacy of the period, the Boeotian one, finds its place, too. Other states, like the Achaeans, the Acarnanians or the Aetolians, although present in the pages of Hellenica, are absent from the book. The reason is, I think, Bearzot’s tendency to see the confederacies in the context of the pan-Hellenic power struggle only. Not so clear is why she so rarely compares evidence of Xenophon with other sources on the same events and processes (in the whole book there are only six references to the Hellenica Oxyrhyncha). Thus in the chapter on the Theban attack on Plataea and Thespiae in 373 (pp. 73-84) one finds no reference to the famous description of the federal organisation of Boeotia by the Oxyrhynchus historian. Bearzot discusses nuances of the verbs συντελεῖν and συμπολιτεύειν in Xenophon, with Isocrates’ Plataicus and Diodorus as support. But she overlooks the fact that it was the Oxyrhynchus historian who plainly differentiated between the two terms in contrasting the earlier co-citizenship of Scolus, Erythrai and Scaphae with Platea ( συμπολιτεύειν) with their later subjection to Thebes ( συντελεῖν).3

For the already specified reasons, the book sometimes becomes just one more study of how the Spartans applied the principle of autonomia in various political conditions, or of Spartan policies towards emerging powers of fourth-century Greece. Yet, as Bearzot states, federal states replaced the fifth-century Athenian Empire as a more or less real threat to Sparta (p. 19, similarly 67 and 147). In this interpretation she follows Diodorus, who ascribes Sparta’s enmity towards federal states to the fear of the growth ( αὔξησις) of any potential rival (D.S. XV 5, 3; XV 50, 5). However, as Bearzot underscores, traces of Spartan fear of auxesis are present in Xenophon’s narrative. A Spartan guest-friend, Polydamas of Pharsalus used this word, famous due to Thucydides’ evaluation of the Great (Peloponnesian) War’s origins, in his alarming speech before the Spartan assembly.

Lack of attention paid to the Achaean, Aetolian, and Acarnanian Confederacies may surprise, since by this Bearzot omits from her dossier the first known extension of a federal state beyond its traditional tribal borders. It is true that Xenophon sketches an Achaean take-over of Calydon surprisingly briefly (Hell. IV 6. 1ff), but the very combination of making the Calydonians Achaean citizens and introducing a garrison to the city must have meant a clash between the needs of federal government and the principle of autonomia.

In his description of the Achaean rule over Calydon, Xenophon uses neutral, technical language. This probably makes this episode uninteresting for Bearzot, who devoted much of the book to an analysis of the language Xenophon used to portray a city’s submission to a league or another city (esp. p. 32-24; 73-81). As the author shows, it is a characteristic of Xenophon to equate a city’s subjugation to a league or another city with its destruction by using the verb ἀφανίζειν (literally: to make unseen).

Bearzot claims to have made the central theme of her investigation the contrast between “the laws of the league” and co-citizenship ( sympoliteia) on the one hand and “the laws of the polis” and separate citizenship on the other hand. Therefore, she devoted one of her longest chapters to the famous speech delivered by Cleigenes of Acanthus to the Spartans and the Allies in 382 (V 2, 12-19). A result of the chapter is that Xenophon was fully conscious of federalism and could apply federalist language. Bearzot therefore concludes that, to describe federal reality, Xenophon used compounds with the prefix συν‐ like συμπολιτεύειν, συστρατεύειν, or συντελεῖν. One might ask, on the one hand, what other words Xenophon could use to talk about states or cities made of many units. On the other hand, the importance of the speech of Cleigenes and his contrast between “being co-citizens” ( συμποιτεύειν) and “being citizens of one’s own state” ( αὐτοπολῖται εἶναι) cannot be easily exaggerated. Therefore, Bearzot exploits this contrast thoroughout the book by coming back to the hapax“being citizens of one’s own state” about twelve times, and, by frequent repetition, uses this as the organizing element of her narrative.

In conclusion, Bearzot suggests that there existed linkage between synoikismos (representing the federalist movement in general) and the growth of democracy (or the growth of the unified state in general) in the Greek political reflection. That sounds rather unconvincing, and is only loosely connected with the considerations earlier in the book.

As has already been stated, Bearzot had not found any event worth rethinking in the first two books of Hellenica. In her conclusion she stresses that Xenophon’s interest in federalism was greater than Thucydides’ devotion to the same theme. Yet, the lack of federal questions in Hellenica I 1-II 3.10 is striking; here, Xenophon could have adopted the Thucydidean perspective of the Peloponnesian War as a conflict of great poleis and alliances behind them. Instead, until 403 the function of Greek federal states in the pan-Hellenic politics was in the shadow of the role played by Athens and Sparta with their allies.

“Federalismo e autonomia” will attract the attention of students of the Greek federal states. The author knows her profession very well; thus, in spite of some omissions, the book is an important voice in the study of Greek federalism.

The book is carefully edited, and supplied with indices of persons, places and peoples, sources and Greek terms. The moderate price should make the book available to many libraries.

[[For a response to this review by Cinzia Bearzot, please see BMCR 2005.04.51 ]]


1. J.A.O. Larsen, Representative government in Greek and Roman History, Sather Classical Lectures, Berkeley 1955 and Greek Federal States, Oxford 1968.

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

3. Hell. Oxy. 19. 3 [Chambers].