BMCR 2007.04.59

Studies in the Population of Aigina, Athens and Eretria. Historisk-filosofiske Meddelelser 94

, Studies in the Population of Aigina, Athens and Eretria. Historisk-filosofiske Meddelelser 94. Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2006. 99. DKK 80.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

In this slim volume, Mogens Herman Hansen (hereafter H.) continues his work on ancient demography and the polis. The work contains three separate studies, unconnected except for their shared focus on questions of ancient population figures in Greece. Each contribution is followed by its own notes and bibliography; there are also two indices for the volume as a whole, one of sources and one of names, following the final paper. The volume is carefully produced, with a minimum of typographical or grammatical errors, which do not detract from the overall quality of the work.1 While the conclusions reached may not be convincing to all readers, as with H.’s other work, this is a compelling contribution to the investigation of ancient populations certain to provoke much discussion.

The first study in the volume, “The Population of Aigina in 480 B.C.,” deals with the vexed question of Aigina’s total population at the time of Xerxes’ invasion. The basis for estimating the size of Aigina’s population in this period has long rested upon the information given in Herodotos, Thucydides, Aristotle (or one of his students), and Pausanias as to the size of the Aiginetan army and navy during the fifth century and its slave population. As H. himself notes, these figures have varied from a low of 13,000, first suggested by Kirsten in 1964, to a high of 80,000, given by Beloch.2 The most influential view of the size of Aigina’s population has been that of Figueira, who puts the figure somewhere between 35,000 and 45,000 people.3 However, H. argues that a population of this size makes Aigina’s population density untenably high, equaling between 410 and 530 people per square kilometer, some ten times the average number estimated for population density in the plains areas of ancient Greece. As the basis for this number rests largely upon the numbers of triremes assigned to the Aiginetans by Herodotos, Thucydides, and Pausanias, H. reexamines the question of the method used by the Aiginetans to man their fleets. He reaches the conclusion that, as is attested in later periods, the relatively wealthy Aiginetan polis hired a significant portion of the rowers needed to man their fleet of triremes. By this method he reduces the estimated population of Aigina from 35,000 – 45,000 to 20,000 people, resulting in a still high but more reasonable population density of around 235 people per square kilometer.

The second study, “The Size of the Athenian Citizen Population in the Fourth Century B.C.”, is by far the longest in the volume, occupying some 42 pages total. In this work, as with the others in the volume, H. uses the so-called “shotgun method” of estimating ancient populations as he revisits the debate between those scholars who prefer a minimum of ca. 30,000 adult male citizens to those supporting a figure of ca. 20,000 in Athens in the fourth century.4 H. argues here in favor of the higher figure, basing his argument on the consideration of four main points: the total number of citizens required to operate the Council of Five Hundred; the number of Athenian ephebes; the number of citizens between 322 and 307 B.C.; and the Athenian importation of grain and carrying capacity of Attica.

For the first point, that of the number of citizens required to man the Council of Five Hundred, H. argues in support of four “rules” which have not always been unanimously supported by scholars, namely, that a minimum age of 30 was required for service on the boule; that there was no compulsory enrollment of citizens to serve on the Council; that no one could serve on the boule more than twice; and finally, that no citizen could be epistates ton prytaneon more than once. On the assumption that these rules were in place and enforced, and arguing that the boule did not represent a uniform cross-section of the entire population, H. contends that ca. 21,000 citizens was not enough for the Council of Five Hundred to operate.

For the second point, the number of Athenian ephebes in the fourth century, H. argues, contra Ruschenbusch, for example, that the cohorts of ephebes recorded in the ephebic rosters from the late fourth century do not represent the entire year-class of citizens, but rather a percentage of the total.5 H. demonstrates that the commonly accepted figure of around 500 ephebes in a year-class is neither sufficient to reach even the lower estimate of 21,000 Athenian citizens but is also too low to allow the Athenians to man the boule. Therefore, the ephebic inscriptions cannot be used as evidence for the total number of citizens in the fourth century.

On the third point, the number of citizens between 322 and 307, H. takes on the question of the differing numbers of citizens disenfranchised in the reform of 322 and the number of citizens after Demetrios of Phaleron’s census, conducted between 317 and 307. Diodoros XVIII.18.5 gives a figure of nine thousand full citizens remaining and over 22,000 disenfranchised in the reform; Plutarch Phok. 28.7 claims that the number of disenfranchised Athenians totaled over 12,000. The number of citizens reached by Demetrios of Phaleron’s census, preserved in Athenaios 272C, was 21,000. On the numbers given in Diodoros and Plutarch, H. references arguments in favor of Plutarch’s numbers made by Gallo, who argues that neither source is precise and that Plutarch’s figure of 21,000 citizens before the reform (achieved by adding the 12,000 disenfranchised citizens to the 9,000 full citizens that Diodoros says remained) is identical with the number reached by Demetrios of Phaleron’s census some years later. As a result, Gallo argues that whatever source Diodoros and Plutarch used only reported the number of citizens under the oligarchical constitution but did not know the number of citizens disenfranchised in the reform; instead, that source used the numbers available to him from Demetrios’ census, thereby arriving at the figures reported by Plutarch. H. says that “[a]s the evidence stands, I find Gallo’s explanation convincing” but also notes, with Gallo, that this does not help us to reconstruct how many citizens there were before the oligarchic reforms of 322.6 H. then goes on to restate his position that Demetrios of Phaleron’s census was not a review of all citizens but rather those of military age and fit for service.7 This would bring the total population of Athenians in Demetrios’ time to around 29,000 rather than 21,000. However, H. also argues that regardless of the census and the final figure one prefers, we still know nothing certain regarding the number of Athenian citizens before the reform of 322, since the overthrow of the democracy caused many Athenians to migrate elsewhere.

Finally, H. adduces a new line of argumentation to his well-known position on the population of Athens at this time, concerning the carrying capacity of Attica and the Athenian grain imports. Here H. takes the position that the carrying capacity of Attica was close to 100,000 people. A figure of 21,000 citizens in the fourth century would result in a total population of Attica of ca. 150,000. If so, the figure of 21,000 citizens has little support, given what we know about the importation of grain; the Athenians would have needed to import grain to feed only about 50,000 people (150,000 minus the carrying capacity of Attica). However, sources such as Demosthenes and Theopompos tell us that Athens was importing much larger quantities than that. Through inference, H. argues that the total population of Attica must have been significantly higher than the ca. 150,000 persons reached by having 21,000 citizens, and concludes that therefore the number of citizens must have been 30,000 or more.

Turning now to the final study in the volume, “An Eretrian List of Citizens Inscribed ca. 290 B.C.,” H. turns his attention to the stelai recording Eretria’s citizen population in the early third century, in particular the largest and best preserved inscription (IG XII.9 245) which records almost all the citizens belonging to the first phyle in an unspecified year shortly after 300 B.C. On this stele, we have preserved 869 lines out of an original 922 lines, each line recording the name, patronymic, and abbreviated demotic of one citizen; of these 869 names, 39 are only partially preserved. There are several difficulties in dealing with these inscriptions, such as the problem of homonymity or the question as to exactly when and why the names of these citizens were recorded — was it when they came of age, or do they only include those of age and fit for military service? H. attempts to deal with these problems through a series of rather complicated calculations based upon the premises of the shotgun method, which it is not possible to summarize here in an adequate way. As a result of these calculations, however, he reaches several conclusions: the rosters are lists of full citizens, not military lists; the lists reflect a declining population in which a significant number of Eretrians had to resort to adoption to continue their family line; the number of citizens recorded does not equate with the size and prosperity of the Eretrian polis during this period, and that therefore the number of full citizens was restricted; and finally, the rosters support the contention that Eretria had an oligarchic constitution in the early part of the third century with a minimum property qualification for full citizenship.

Overall, the essays in this volume are thoroughly and carefully researched and those interested in questions of ancient demography will find the points raised here intriguing and will certainly profit from reading these three studies. However, there is likely to be continued debate on a few crucial points. For example, although H.’s point regarding the abnormally high population density of Aigina under traditional population estimates is well taken, his contention that the Aiginetans would have hired significant proportions of the rowers for their fleet may raise some eyebrows. One might wonder, as indeed others have, exactly how many men there would have been available for hire in a time of crisis such as the Persian invasions when so many poleis were involved in the war effort. It also seems unlikely that H.’s conclusions regarding the population of Athens in the fourth century will win wide enough acceptance to end the long-standing debate on this point. As an additional point, H. relies on a demographic model from Coale and Demeny for his calculations; for readers unfamiliar with those tables, it would be helpful either to reproduce the relevant table in this book or to summarize the information contained in it in one place, as it is difficult to assess the accuracy of H.’s calculations without reference to the original table.8 This, however, is a relatively minor quibble, and, like the issues addressed above, should not discourage the target audience from consulting this valuable study.


1. For example, “Ruschenbush” for “Ruschenbusch” on page 34, or “Luigi Gallos” for “Luigi Gallo’s” on page 39.

2. E. Kirsten, “Aigina”. Der Kleine Pauly (Stuttgart, 1964) 1, p. 160; K. J. Beloch, Die Bevölkerung der griechisch-roemischen Welt (Leipzig, 1886), p. 123, where the figure of 80,000 is arrived at through addition.

3. T. J. Figueira, Aegina: Society and politics (Salem 1981), pp. 22-64.

4. For further examples of this method, see Hansen’s The Shotgun Method: the Demography of the ancient Greek city-state culture. (Columbia 2006).

5. E. Ruschenbusch, “La démographie d’Athènes au IV e av. J.C.”, in La démographie historique antique, M. Bellancourt-Valdher and J.-N. Corvisier, eds. (Arras 1999), pp. 91-95. The quotation is from page 40.

6. See L. Gallo, “Appunti per un lessico demografico greco”, in Atti del I Seminario di studi sui lessici tecnici greci e latini, P.R. Colace and M.C. Caltabiano, eds. (Messina 1991), pp. 365-81.

7. See Hansen, Demography and Democracy: The Number of Athenian Citizens in the Fourth Century B.C. (Herning 1985) and also “The Number of Athenian Citizens Secundum Sekunda”, EchCl 13 (1994), pp. 299-310.

8. Specifically, he uses Coale and Demeny Model West, mortality level 4, life expectancy 25 years. See A. Coale and P. Demeny, Regional Model Life Tables and Stable Populations (Princeton 1966).