BMCR 2005.04.59

The Lindian Chronicle and the Greek Creation of Their Past

, The Lindian chronicle and the Greek creation of their past. Lindian chronicle.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. viii, 320 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm. ISBN 0199241910 $99.00.

In 99 BCE, the people of Lindos on the island of Rhodes decided to erect an inscription recording the dedications that had been made in their temple to Athena from its foundation. The temple had a long history: according to Herodotus (2.182) it was the Danaids in their flight from the sons of Aegyptus who established the temple (according to Diodorus 5.58.1 it was Danaus himself), and one of its early donors, the pharaoh Amasis, had given a remarkable linen corselet. In 392/1, however, a fire had destroyed the temple and (presumably) most of its dedications. The temple was rebuilt around 300, at which time the worship of Zeus Polieus was added, and also from that time Athena became identified as Athena Polias. Then in 99 came the decision to make a monumental recording of the gifts that had once been in the original temple: two men were selected and they were instructed to “inscribe from the letters and from the public records and from the other evidence whatever may be fitting about the offerings and the visible presence of the goddess.”

That recording, which survives largely intact, is known as the “Lindian Chronicle.” One of the longest inscriptions to survive from the Hellenistic world, it was first published by Christian Blinkenberg in 1912, with revised editions in 1915 and again in 1941. The first part of the inscription gives the details of the citizens’ resolution by which researches were conducted to find out which dedications had originally been in the temple. The second and by far the largest part of the inscription is a list, in approximately chronological order, of the dedications. The description of the dedications is more-or-less formulaic: there is the name of the dedicator, the objects themselves (and occasionally a description of the material from which they were made), a quotation of the inscription, if any, on the dedication, and finally the “sources” that named and described the no-longer-existing objects, and that served as the evidence for the former existence of the dedications. The sources cited are all literary: most are local histories of Rhodes (authors and titles of the works are given), but reference is also made to priests’ letters to the Council; of well-known writers only Herodotus is mentioned as a source, and only once (for Amasis’ corselet, as it happens). The third and final part of the inscription narrates three epiphanies of Athena that occurred within the temple, the first from the Persian Wars, the second (undateable) concerning the proper steps to be followed after the pollution of a suicide, and the third during the siege of Demetrius Poliorcetes in 305-4.

Despite the importance and interest of this inscription, there has been no full treatment in English until now. Carolyn Higbie has provided for the Chronicle an Introduction, a Greek text with facing English translation, more than one hundred pages of commentary, and three essays on various aspects of the inscription. It is a fine book that will surely serve as the basis for any future studies.

The Introduction sets the scene by giving a short history of the archaeological work done at Lindos especially by Blinkenberg, by surveying Rhodian history from the Persian Wars through Demetrius’ siege, and by describing what a visitor in the early years of the first century BC would have seen. Despite the magnificence of the Lindian acropolis with its grand stoas and multiple levels, the visitor would have lacked any sense of the early history of the famous sanctuary. The Chronicle was intended to remedy that.

The text and translation of the Chronicle are excellently laid out, and Higbie helpfully notes the various supplements made at different times and in different editions by Wilhelm, Blinkenberg and others. The translation is clear and accurate, and the author has rightly risked the danger of monotony in trying to get across something of the formulaic nature of the inscription.

The commentary, which is the major part of the book and the part to which scholars will refer repeatedly, is full and judicious. Higbie discusses linguistic, historical, epigraphic and religious matters. She is generous with parallels which (helpfully) she quotes in the notes, and does a thorough job of treating all of the elements. Where the evidence for a particular interpretation is uncertain, she lays the matter out for the reader in a fair-minded way. My only complaint about the commentary is in the internal arrangement of the notes themselves, which do not follow any predictable pattern; that is, Higbie does not, for example, begin with linguistic matters and then tackle larger questions of history or religion. In addition, the lemmata used are often too long, so that many items, which could usefully have been separated out, are given for each lemma. This means that one needs to read the entire note before coming to the item in which one is interested, a particular problem in those places where the comments go on for several pages.

In the first essay, “The Structure and Organization of the Chronicle” (155-203), Higbie describes the physical features of the stone,1 and where and how it was discovered. She discusses the dialects of the inscription and the formulaic phrases used throughout. She notes a surprising omission in the inscription, namely the lack of any dedication by the Danaids, who are closely associated with Lindian history. Although she mentions this in several other places (pp. 231, 273, 277), Higbie nowhere offers an explanation. Perhaps the problematic nature of the Danaids as murderers would have suggested to the Lindians an unwholesome taint to their temple. However this may be, it is noteworthy that in the Chronicle the first dedicator is the eponymous Lindos, who must, therefore, in this reconstruction at least, be imagined to be the founder of the temple.2 Also problematic, but less so, is the absence of any dedications by a Roman: here Higbie notes that the final entries in the votive catalogue are obliterated, and this is where, given the inscription’s chronological scheme, dedications by Romans would have appeared. Higbie in this essay examines also the variety of forms used in the dedicatory inscriptions and discusses as well which ones were dedicated to Athena, Zeus, or both together.

She continues with one of the most interesting aspects of the Lindian Chronicle, namely the use of source citations — the local historians and the letters of priests to the Council of Lindos — as proof of the existence of the votives. The stele, she says, “reveals a ‘document mindedness’ which has few, if any parallels this early in the Greek world” (188). If “this early” means 99 BC, the date of the inscription, there is some contradiction with Higbie’s later (and more accurate) remark that from the time of Alexander on, there was an increasing use of documents as historical evidence (she even quotes an inscription from the third century that is similar to the Lindian Chronicle). The rest of this chapter, however, usefully examines what is known of the historians and encomiasts mentioned in the inscription, although Higbie does not explore what this use of historians tells us of the relationship between civic memory and more “literary” narrative histories.

The second essay, “Narrative Patterns and the History in the Chronicle” (204-242), treats not the narrative patterns of the inscription but those that might lie behind the inscription that we have, i.e., the mentality whereby the Lindians could imagine that figures such as Minos or Helen had come to Lindos. Here Higbie discusses the use of physical remains, and imagines how the Lindians might have exploited what she calls “holes in Homer” — the inevitable gaps and contradictions in the epic tradition — to imagine how mythical figures and characters from the Trojan Wars might have been integrated into Lindian history. She points out that stories of colonization also underlie some of the dedications recorded by the Chronicle. Turning to more historical times, Higbie discusses the role of the Persian Wars in the Chronicle and the later period of the fourth century and Hellenistic eras. Much of this chapter is speculative because we do not know, of course, how the Lindians imagined these events (no doubt the local historians of Rhodes, who are often cited in the Chronicle, would have detailed such matters), and readers will, I suspect, find Higbie’s reconstructions of varying value.

The final essay, “The History Behind the Chronicle” (243-88), turns to a variety of topics on physical remains and their impermanence. Although Thucydides warned against making a simplistic equation between the greatness of a city and its monuments (1.10.3), for the “Lindians, as for other Greeks, the preservation of the past was inescapably linked to objects” (249), and when those monuments no longer existed, they turned to documentary evidence to claim a vision of the past. The destructive power of time, fire, and human theft all contributed to attacking the preservation of the past. Temples, by preserving (real or imagined) votives, were often the place where religion and antiquarianism met.

In this final essay Higbie also looks at parallels for the Chronicle and asks to what genre the work belongs. Although Jacoby included it among local histories, it is clearly not that sort of narrative. Higbie looks at temple inventories and the impulses behind such sorts of record-keeping. These inventories have indubitable value for understanding the Chronicle, but some of the comparanda adduced here are dubious, especially the pages spent on the cure narratives from Oropus and Epidaurus; the most that can be said is that both these and the Lindian Chronicle seek to glorify the god in whose honor they are erected, but the differences seem much greater than the similarities. The Parian Marble, also cited by Higbie, bears practically no resemblance to the Chronicle, aside from the fact that both are lists. The final section of this essay looks at the epiphanies of the goddess, and here Higbie does a good job of contextualizing the accounts in the Chronicle by showing the tradition out of which such narratives grew.

Scholars will particularly value the book for the edition, translation and commentary on the Chronicle itself. The book makes accessible for the first time to an English-speaking audience this important and interesting document. As to the essays, I, at least, found them disappointing. To begin with, the author makes several questionable statements about the Greeks’ relationship to their history.3 Second, although she occasionally mentions Herodotus, Thucydides and other historians, Higbie focuses too much on Pausanias, as if he were somehow a more important witness to Greek views of their past than practicing historians. This gives an odd tilt to the work.4 Third, as mentioned above, her very speculative discussion of what may have lain behind the construction of the Chronicle can serve only as one possibility, rather than an actual advance in our knowledge of the monument. Finally, I cannot help but think that some consideration of the much-better documented relationship between the Romans and the monuments of their past5 would have given additional depth and nuance to Higbie’s treatment of how physical remains link up with literary and narrative treatments of events.

But I do not wish to conclude with criticism. Higbie deserves our thanks for producing this book, with which scholars now can, and surely will, debate the meaning and importance of this most valuable inscription.


1. It is singularly unfortunate that the sole photograph of the stone in the book (Fig. 6, p. 157) gives no sense of the physical layout which is described in the essay. One cannot even see the Greek letters clearly.

2. On p. 247 Higbie remarks: “Kleoboulous, identified as the founder of the temple of Athena Lindia,” but according to Diodorus (1.6.89), Kleoboulos restored the temple after a fire (as correctly noted by Higbie on p. 103).

3. Her remark that the Greeks did not distinguish between myth and history (p. 207) is not quite accurate, as her discussion in the following pages hints (see also my Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge 1997) 117-127 for the ways in which Greek historians dealt with early periods). Nor can I understand her statement (p. 209) that “[h]istorians did not turn to literary sources apart from Homer very frequently” unless by “literary” she means “poetic” since non-contemporary historians throughout antiquity based themselves on literary sources, i.e., their predecessors (see Authority and Tradition 95-117).

4. There is a similar tilt towards Homer. The commentary, and the book in general, often makes reference to Homer, not surprisingly given that the author has told us that she became interested in the Chronicle while pursuing research on Homer in classical and Hellenistic Greece. She thus often refers to Homeric forms of some words used or not used in the inscription, but it’s not made clear why such an inscription would employ or avoid (if it even were a conscious avoidance) such forms. At times the supposed dedicatory inscriptions use epic forms, but it is not certain that a failure to use them means something important. Elsewhere, Higbie seems surprised that the compilers of the Chronicle never cite Homer or any other epic poet as evidence for the Lindian votives (193), but she leaves unclear how they could have done that: as she explains later in the essays, neither Homer nor the poets presumably recorded such dedications, and the poets would hardly be needed to testify to the existence or travels of such widely-known figures as Menelaus and Helen. And I cannot reconcile the earlier remarks on the avoidance of Homer with the conclusion which states (p. 290) that the people of Lindos “show themselves to be knowledgable Homerists, able to manipulate both epic language and narrative structures…to acquire the authority which epic tradition conferred.”

5. See, e.g., C. Ampolo, “La storiografia su Roma arcaica e i documenti,” in E. Gabba, ed., Tria Corda: scritti in onore di Arnaldo Momigliano (Como 1986) 9-26; E. Rawson, Intellectual Life in the Late Roman Republic (London and Baltimore 1985) 233-49; T. P. Wiseman, “Monuments and the Roman Annalists,” in I. S. Moxon, J. D. Smart and A. J. Woodman, edd., Past Perspectives. Studies in Greek and Roman Historical Writing (Cambridge 1986) 87-100, to name but a few.