BMCR 2008.01.61

The Greek City States: A Source Book. Second edition

, The Greek city states : a source book. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xiii, 339 pages : map ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780521615563 $29.99 (pb).

One of the greatest challenges for the instructor of Greek social history courses is to distill and present the disparate primary sources to the novice undergraduate student. And so a new edition of The Greek City States: A Source Book is welcome indeed. An eminent scholar of Greek social history, Rhodes has culled and organized the most pertinent sources from Greek literature and various corpora of inscriptions. The texts are accompanied with Rhodes’ own useful and lucid commentary.

The book begins with a historical overview and an introduction to the nature of the primary sources. The main part of the book is divided into eleven chapters. The first two chapters survey the Homeric and Archaic states. These are followed by a third chapter on economic and political development during the Archaic period. Appropriately, there are chapters devoted to political and social organization at Sparta and Athens.

Rhodes has added three new sections to The Greek City States. The first is a brief chapter on “Women and Children.” An interesting collection of new sources is gathered together in a chapter on “Economic Life,” which surveys agriculture, crafts, trade and banking. The third new chapter is concerned with religion in the Greek city. This final chapter suffers from being almost entirely Athenocentric, but it does achieve its goal of showing the scope of religious activity in the Greek city. These new chapters are all very short and provide only an introductory sampling of three very large topics in Greek history.

A chapter entitled “Other Cities” is disappointing both for its brevity and for focusing too much on the interference of Sparta and Athens on other states. Nonetheless, this is immediately followed by a superbly well-organized chapter entitled “Beyond the Single City,” which surveys sources on federal states, religious unions such as the Amphictyony, hegemonic leagues such as the Peloponnesian and Delian Leagues, peace treaties and other inter-state affairs.

The final chapter, covering the Hellenistic and Roman periods, is perhaps the weakest section of the book. Rhodes provides sources for various topics, including the interaction between the Greek city-states and the Hellenistic monarchs, the Aetolian and Achaean Leagues, and the rise of Rome. These sections provide a useful perspective on the evolution of topics introduced in the preceding chapter “Beyond the Single City.” Nonetheless, the individual Greek city becomes lost. Rhodes attempts to rectify this by adding a new section entitled “Variations on a Theme.” The documents included in this new section survey constitutional changes and new procedures instituted in the Greek city-states during the Hellenistic period. This is clearly too large a topic to be dealt with briefly and the collection fails to convey anything more than some random facts. While this chapter gives some detail on the Hellenistic period, it is far too cursory and students would be better served by a different sourcebook, such as Austin.1

This second edition of The Greek City States is superior to its predecessor. Each source is now numbered individually and Rhodes’ editorial commentary has been made clearly distinct at the beginning of each passage. These changes only serve to highlight Rhodes’ excellent choice of texts. Sources are presented in a clear and logical order. Indeed, the presentation is so effective that sources naturally segue into the next and the student can easily read through an entire section on a given topic (e.g. tyranny, nos. 48-62).

Rhodes has been careful to update the entirety of his text. New documents such as Draco’s homicide law (no. 45) have been added. Further texts on the status of foreigners can be found in the chapter on Athens (nos. 172-174). It is perplexing that a new text on xenelasiai at Sparta (no. 171) appears in the same context, but it immediately precedes Athenian documents pertinent to foreigners. Two extra documents have also been added pertinent to the later history of the Delphic Amphictyony (nos. 403-404). Some sections have been reorganized for greater clarity (e.g. nos 155-158 on the mothakes at Sparta). Other documents have benefited from an updated commentary. I note, in particular, that Rhodes now lists the more commonly accepted date in the 420s for the Athenian decrees concerning tribute collection and coinage (nos. 426-427).

Rhodes’ translations are both reliable and readable. He has chosen to present relevant sections of longer inscriptions rather than the full text. In doing so, he has not only made epigraphic material more approachable to the novice, but he has been able to include both extra commentary and other relevant sources.

Despite my reservations about the Hellenistic content, The Greek City States remains an excellent resource for the Greek history instructor. Indeed, it is superior in content, form and design to the comparable sourcebooks by Crawford and Whitehead,2 and the volumes by Fornara and Harding in the Translated Documents of Greece & Rome series.3 It is a welcome addition to any class concerning Greek social history of the Archaic and Classical periods.


1. M.M. Austin, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

2. Michael Crawford and David Whitehead, Archaic and Classical Greece: A Selection of Ancient Sources in Translation. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

3. Charles W. Fornara, Archaic Times to the End of the Peloponnesian War. 2nd ed. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. and Philip Harding, From the End of the Peloponnesian War to the Battle of Ipsus. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.