BMCR 2013.01.19

Cyrene to Chaeronea: Selected Essays on Ancient Greek History

, Cyrene to Chaeronea: Selected Essays on Ancient Greek History. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. xi, 485. ISBN 9780199593286 $150.00.

[The Table of Contents appears at the end of the review.]

It is intimidating to review a book written by George Cawkwell, the University College, Oxford professor whose work has been essential over many decades for understanding Classical-era Greek history and institutions. Even non- specialists read his finely annotated Penguin edition of Xenophon’s Hellenika, entitled A History of My Times, a volume which has been superseded in usefulness only very recently by the 2009 Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenica. The item here under review is a new Oxford University Press collection of Cawkwell’s previously published articles, whose publication dates range from 1962 to 1997.

In a too brief, four-page Preface, Cawkwell explains why he agreed to publish the collection, gently criticizes the School of Extreme Historical Skepticism, and discusses his deep affinity for Xenophon. There follows an expert ten- page Introduction by Simon Hornblower. Then come 19 articles arranged chronologically – not in order of publication, but in order of actual historical events. All have aged very well, an epideixis of rigorous logic and deep familiarity with the ancient sources. In the following paragraphs I comment mainly on essays I find particularly interesting, or with which I disagree.

“Early Colonisation” (1992) questions whether a population explosion, which many scholars thought was evident from the increase in eighth-century Greek burials, caused early colonization. Cawkwell argues instead that “the increased number of burials discovered may reflect no more than a change in fashion”1 since infanticide (particularly sex-selective female infanticide), rather than colonization, would probably have more effectively countered overpopulation, and offers some ideas about the social effects of selective infanticide.2 He convincingly argues that drought, not overpopulation, spurred eighth-century colonization, and that colonization died down when improvements in trade networks reduced the damage from local droughts.

“Early Greek Tyranny and the People” from 1995 argues that fourth-century writers presented Archaic tyrants as popular primarily on a retrojected example of Dionysius of Syracuse, and that in fact seventh and sixth century tyrannies did not generally enjoy popular hoplite support, but rather resulted from mushrooming wealth inequalities.

“Sparta and Her Allies in the Sixth Century” (1993) rehabilitates the notion, doubted by Paul Cartledge in Sparta and Lakonia as a “myth,”3 that the Spartiates had been active in suppressing Archaic tyrannies, and argues that the original treaties between Sparta and other Peloponnesian states were merely epimachiai. Moreover, he arguesthat a full symmachia -clause in such treaties was not typical before the First Peloponnesian War, since such stipulations began to be viable only after the Persian invasion. Anyone reading this essay should now consult the fine 2005 articles of Sarah Bolmarcich and David Yates.4

Also from 1993 is the paper “Cleomenes,” in which Cawkwell analyzes the titular king as a misunderstood individual slandered posthumously and caught between currents of Spartan isolationism and a pan-Hellenist, anti-Persian ethos. Cawkwell radically and cleverly reinterprets the tradition found in Herodotus 3.148.2 as meaning (contra Herodotus) that Cleomenes desired, rather than opposed, an anti-Persian expedition (p. 90, footnote).

“Thucydides’ Judgment of Periclean Strategy” from 1975 defends Thucydides’ accuracy in agreeing with Pericles’ defensive strategy and his optimistic estimate (1.144.1 and 2.65.5f) of Athens’ power and sustainability vis-à-vis the war against the Peloponnesians. Cawkwell divides Spartan strategy against Athens into two categories: “conventional,” (for instance, ravaging Attic land), and “adventurous,” (for instance, seeking Persian aid).5

In “The King’s Peace” from 1981, Cawkwell argues that Sparta was indeed the King’s enforcer, a fact Xenophon suppressed because of the “loathing and contempt Xenophon felt for trafficking with the hated Persian” (187). Plausible – but this compels a conjoined historical question, namely, what of the well-attested other Spartans who felt as Xenophon did, such as Likhas (Thuc. 8.43.3) and Kallikratidas (Xenophon, Hellenika 1.6.7)? Where was their perspective or input in the negotiations of 387? This is one of the greatest unanswered questions in Spartan history.

Entwined with these issues is the topic of “Agesilaus and Sparta” (1976) wherein Cawkwell famously calls pan- Hellenism Xenophon’s (and others’) “sentimental folly” (246 and 247), sees Agesilaus as truly pan-Hellenist against all imaginable counterarguments, and argues that aggression against Persia which protected the Anatolian Greeks had reasonable support, rather than strong opposition, from the Spartan government, a highly plausible stance. Cawkwell’s precise handling of every conceivable shred of evidence for or against this argument is characteristically masterful, obliterating simplistic Realpolitik type explanations of Agesilaus as mere opportunist. But here and in the 1972 article “Epaminondas and Thebes,” also reprinted here, Cawkwell too readily accepts, in my opinion, that Sparta’s Leuktra debacle resulted from Theban brilliance rather than the Lakedaimonian problems that Xenophon attests and that Victor Davis Hanson convincingly defends.6

Unhappily, “Agesilaus and Sparta” omits to mention Spartiate oliganthropia (depopulation), surely crucial for understanding Leuktra, but Cawkwell examines this phenomenon in his 1983 “The Decline of Sparta.” Cawkwell accepts Aristotle’s (and Stephen Hodkinson’s) economic explanation for oliganthropia 7 and traces a sequence of enfranchisements of the neodamodeis, mothakes, hypomeiones, and trophimoi in the Spartan army in response to the lack of Spartiates. This is highly plausible, but I am doubtful about Cawkwell’s contention that Xenophon did not write the Lakedaimonian Constitution : its thought seems to me too Xenophontic, and its discussion of hardening Spartiate boys’ feet is so similar to the discussion of hardening horses’ feet in Hipparkhikos 1.16, for example, as to indicate identical authors. Cawkwell also downplays the account of the recent change in Spartan mores in Chapter 14 of the Lakedaimonian Constitution rather than connecting these with the demographic crisis, although the immense number of non-Spartiates staffing the Spartan army in the fourth century surely possessed priorities, beliefs, and behaviors differing radically from individuals raised with the unique privileges, ideology, lifelong training, and identity of the Spartiates.8 Similar attestations appear in other fourth-century authors, not only Xenophon: Isocrates in the Busiris, Panathenaikos 209, and On the Peace 95-100, as well as Aristotle Politics 1333b12-26. To dismiss these as hollow tropes about “moral decline” (p. 298) risks missing what seems to be an important connection.

Aside from these matters – and I may be the only person who objects to them – the essays in this book are essential for fourth-century studies and indeed for anyone interested in Classical Greek history. The editing, as well as the paper quality, binding, and covers, are very well done, as typical for Oxford University Press.9 References have been updated to include Rhodes’s and Osborne’s Greek Historical Inscriptions 404 – 323 BC from 2003, Fornara’s Translated Documents of Greece and Rome 1: Archaic Times to the End of the Peloponnesian War second edition from 1983, and Harding’s Translated Documents of Greece and Rome 2: From the End of the Peloponnesian War to the Battle of Ipsus from 1985. More biographical information about Cawkwell, as well as a comprehensive bibliography, might have better justified the $150.00 price tag: each institution will need to consider purchase carefully. Moreover, the marvelous painting of Cawkwell on the back cover would have adorned the front cover better than the Rafael Heraclitus, which through overuse has become banal. Nevertheless, it is a great pleasure to (re)read, in a well-bound book, the arguments of one of the twentieth century’s most thorough, precise, and perceptive scholars of Classical Greece.

Table of Contents

Preface (George Cawkwell) vii
Note on Updating xi
Introduction by Simon Hornblower 1
I. Early Colonisation ( Classical Quarterly 42 (1992), 289 – 303) 11
II. Early Greek Tyranny and the People ( Classical Quarterly 45 (1995), 73-86) 33
III. Sparta and her Allies in the Sixth Century ( Classical Quarterly 43 (1993), 364-76) 54
IV. Cleomenes ( Mnemosyne 46 (1993), 506-27) 74
V. The Fall of Themistocles ( Auckland Classical Essays presented to E. M. Blaiklock, ed. B. F. Harris (1970), 39-58) 95
VI. ΝΟΜΟΦΥΛΑΚΙΑ and the Areopagus ( Journal of Hellenic Studies 101 (1981), 40-55) 114
VII. Thucydides’ Judgment of Periclean Strategy ( Yale Classical Studies 24 (1975), 53-70) 134
VIII. The Peace Between Athens and Persia ( Phoenix 51 (1997), 115-30) 151
IX. The King’s Peace ( Classical Quarterly 31 (1981), 69-83) 170
X. The Foundation of the Second Athenian Confederacy ( Classical Quarterly 23 (1973), 47-60) 192
XI. Notes on the Failure of the Second Athenian Confederacy ( Journal of Hellenic Studies 101 (1981), 40- 55) 212
XII. Agesilaus and Sparta ( Classical Quarterly 26 (1976), 62-84) 241
XIII. The Decline of Sparta ( Classical Quarterly 33 (1983), 385-400) 275
XIV. Epaminondas and Thebes ( Classical Quarterly 22 (1972), 254-78) 299
XV. Eubulus ( Journal of Hellenic Studies 83 (1963), 47-67) 334
XVI. The Defence of Olynthus ( Classical Quarterly 12 (1962), 122-40) 369
XVII. Athenian Naval Power in the Fourth Century ( Classical Quarterly 34 (1984), 334-45) 397
XVIII. Orthodoxy and Hoplites ( Classical Quarterly 39 (1989), 375-89) 416
XIX. The Crowning of Demosthenes ( Classical Quarterly 19 (1969), 163-80 438
Index 465


1. cf. e.g. Walter Scheidel’s 2003 article in Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 123, p. 130: “any interpretation of the burial data as an index of demographic realities that does not allow for substantial cultural refractions yields untenable results.”

2. Additional hypotheses on the plausible social effects of sex-specific female infanticide in ancient Greece are given in Jonathan Gottschall’s The Rape of Troy: Evolution, Violence, and the World of Homer, Cambridge University Press, 2008, a most illuminating and unfairly neglected view of Iliadic society.

3. Cartledge, Paul, Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History 1300 to 362 BC, Second Edition. London and New York: Routledge, 2002, p. 127.

4. Bolmarcich, Sarah, “Thucydides 1.19.1 and the Peloponnesian League,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 45 (2005), 5-34. Yates, David C., “The Archaic Treaties between the Spartans and Their Allies,” Classical Quarterly, New Series. Vol 55, no. 1 (May, 2005), 65-76.

5. Cawkwell sees Thucydides 4.50.2 as indicating that the Spartans sent embassies “repeatedly” to Persia (136), an “adventurous” strategy. Gomme and company ( ad loc.) argue that the lack of clarity in the embassy specified in Thucydides means that the Spartans “did not wish to say openly that they were liberating the Greeks of Asia from the tyranny of Athens only to surrender them to Persia.” However, it is hard to see the Spartans as quite so bereft of genuine pan-Hellenic sentiment as this, and the lack of clarity perhaps more reasonably implies an ambivalent and/or poorly-supported Spartan decision to seek Persian aid. With the exception of Lysander, who was not a Spartiate but a mothax, the Spartans seem generally unfriendly toward the Persians. Nor were they (again, aside from Lysander) really inclined toward imperialism outside the Peloponnese (unless it be pan-Hellenistic, anti-Persian imperialism: see the campaign of Agesilaos in Asia Minor): the miserable failure of the colony at Herakleia in Trakhis in 426 suggests poor Spartan support for this imperialist colonization venture.

6. Hanson, Victor. “Epameinondas, the Battle of Leuktra (371 B.C.), and the ‘Revolution’ in Greek Battle Tactics.” Classical Antiquity Vol. 7, No. 2 (October 1988), 190-207.

7. Indeed only in 2009 has a challenge been offered (but no competing theory articulated) to this hypothesis, by Mogens Herman Hansen in his “Was Sparta a Normal or an Exceptional Polis?” (in Stephen Hodkinson (ed.) Sparta: Comparative Approaches, Classical Press of Wales 2009, 385-416). Hansen casts doubt on Hodkinson’s presently canonical view that disenfranchisement from the Spartiate caste for economic reasons was the cause of oliganthropia by pointing out that each disenfranchised Spartiate would have become a hypomeion yet we have no evidence for such an immense pool of hypomeiones in the sources. But Hansen proffers no alternative causation (“There must have been other factors in play, but they must be discussed in a future study,” p. 395).

8. That observation that human populations often measurably differ from each other in their aggregate behaviors (and that reports of such difference should not be readily dismissed as mere tropes or stereotypes) is effectively argued in Thomas Sowell’s provocative and well-researched Race and Culture, Basic Books, 1994, particularly in Chapters 1 and 8.

9. I did find an error on p. 65 (wherein a passage in Meiggs’ and Lewis’ Greek Historical Inscriptions is quoted as being on p. 213 whereas it is actually on p. 312) and a smooth instead of rough breathing on the Greek feminine accusative relative pronoun in a Pausanias quote on page 183.