BMCR 2005.08.12

The Athenian Citizen: Democracy in the Athenian Agora. 2nd edition. Revised by John McK. Camp II. Excavations of the Athenian Agora, Picture Book 4

Mabel L. Lang, John McK. Camp, The Athenian citizen : democracy in the Athenian Agora. Excavations of the Athenian Agora. Picture book ; no. 4. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2004. 32 pages : illustrations (some color), maps (some color) ; 21 cm.. ISBN 0876616422 $4.95 (pb).

Camp’s new edition of this little gem improves on Mabel Lang’s simple but superb 1987 original. One hopes that future updates to other Agora Picture Books are as successful.

The illustrations, now mostly in color, with crisp resolution and almost no glare, are a most welcome improvement. Camp offers appropriate new additions, substitutions, and in some cases, a reordering or recasting of Lang’s original images. These changes make the text more memorable and the illustrations more vital to the book as a whole. For example, Camp includes a color photograph of a late archaic boundary stone from the Agora as he discusses the Agora proper (p. 5); in Lang’s original, a photograph of a boundary stone appeared only on the final page. Camp also inserts a photo of the model of the Agora c. 400 BCE near the beginning of the book (p. 4); this is a simple change but one which adds life to the adjacent traditional drawing of the site of the same period, formerly placed by Lang amid her discussion of Athenian decrees. John S. Traill’s famous map of the demes and tribes now augments Lang’s formerly unillustrated comments on the Attic demes (p. 8). Camp has likewise greatly expanded the visual evidence for Athenian military service, including a photo of lead tokens for military issue of armor (pp. 10-11). He adds drawings and plans of the law-court and mint (p. 22; p. 28). New photos of the ostraka included by Lang add more information to the pamphlet, since without the original glare, the inscriptions are much easier to read (pp. 20-21). Additionally, Lang’s original attempt at showing where the Tholos and other buildings sat on the west side of the agora was clear only to a reader already familiar with these structures; Camp has now color-coded the model for these buildings and thus has made newly intelligible an entire page of the book (p. 14; p. 6 in Lang’s edition). Such astute alterations are typical of this new edition.

Camp has updated and expanded Lang’s text where appropriate. He adds a short commentary together with a photograph, for example, on the oath stone from the Royal Stoa (p. 7) and includes a new section on counterfeit money in his discussion of Athenian coinage (p. 29). Many sections of Lang’s original text could be improved no further, however; these Camp has respectfully left intact, such as the description of the workings of the kleroterion and klepsydra in the law-courts (pp. 22-26).

Camp has transferred the sections on the monument to the Eponymous Heroes, Athenian war casualties, the law against tyranny of 337/6 BCE, and ostracism to more central locations in the text (pp. 9-10; p. 13; p. 19; pp. 20-21 respectively). He leaves the issues of Athenian currency and weights and measures to the end. Such reorganization seems suitable for such a small work which seeks to introduce the audience to Athenian political incorporation and participation at the outset.

One would like to see more quotations from ancient sources, as with almost every introductory work on ancient life, but the genre of the Picture Book ultimately requires brevity. The volume ends with a bang, however, as Lang intended, by quoting the section from Thucydides’ funeral oration where Perikles’ marks Athens as the “school of Hellas.” For those interested, Camp appends a new list of suggestions for further introductory reading inside the back cover.

The volume is inexpensive as a bound, color pamphlet and is also available for download (PDF) along with 23 other handsome, useful and free picturebooks, through the agora’s excellent website. This slim volume is thus well-worth including as required reading for almost any introductory undergraduate course to Greek civilization, as this reviewer intends to do at Bucknell University. The book will likewise be attractive to the interested layperson as a brief and general introduction to some of the most important issues of Athenian political life. In short, this little volume is everything an Agora Picture Book should be: concise but informative, easy to read (and to carry), and, now, pretty.