BMCR 2014.01.24

Ruthenia Classica Aetatis Novae: A Collection of Works by Russian Scholars in Ancient Greek and Roman History

, , , Ruthenia Classica Aetatis Novae: A Collection of Works by Russian Scholars in Ancient Greek and Roman History. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2013. 235. ISBN 9783515103442 €46.00 (pb).


The collection of articles under review offers an introduction to the work of post-Soviet Russian scholars in Greek and Roman history. The ultimate goal of the editors and contributors is to foster communication between Russian researchers and their Western counterparts. This is a most commendable objective, and the current collection certainly provides an excellent stimulant to the conversation.

The first article in the volume provides an introductory survey of the history of classical studies in Russia and the state of Russian classical scholarship today. It is a fascinating read. Alexander Makhlayuk and Oleg Gabelko begin with the introduction of classical studies into Russia as part of the tsars’ effort to Europeanize the country. The remarkable flourishing of the discipline in these early years was almost entirely cut short in the turmoil of the Revolution and the Civil War. The new Soviet government turned away from humanities in general, and when classics did gradually begin to come back it was with a firmly Marxist and Stalinist research orientation. For this reason, and also because Russian scholars of this period had virtually no contact with classicists in the west, Russian classics developed quite apart from western scholarship. As the authors show, however, classics in Soviet Russia nevertheless managed to reach a very high level of attainment, especially in the study of the ancient economy, slavery, and the archaeology of the Black Sea region. This growth was once again cut drastically short in the turmoil of the 90s; financial cuts continue to seriously affect Russian classics. The current health of the discipline in Russia, according to the authors, appears to be mixed. Makhlayuk and Gabelko critique contemporary Russian scholarship for its insularity (though this is largely due, as they explain, to its abysmal financial situation) and for some research trajectories which, as they put it, “share little with genuine scholarship” (p. 24). That said, their survey is also a testament to the resilience of Russian classics. The authors hope that renewed contact between Russian and western researchers will furnish both sides with fresh perspectives on the ancient world.

The rest of the volume is devoted to articles on specific topics in classical history. These are arranged in chronological order and span a wide period, from archaic Greece to imperial Rome. Three overarching sections, however, emerge: one on archaic and classical Greece, another on Hellenistic Greece, and a third on the Roman world. The following are brief summaries of each contribution.

Mikhail Vysokii examines the life and impact of the sixth-century Sicilian lawgiver Charondas. He places Charondas within the context of the colonizing experience in Sicily, especially focusing on how ethnic divisions among the colonies affected the use of law. Charondas and his code emerge as a “distinctive phenomenon of Greek legal culture” (p. 43), rooted in a Chalcidian understanding of eunomia that subsequently spread to the Dorian colonies on Sicily and beyond. Next Igor Surikov argues for the importance of the Philaids (the family of Miltiades and Cimon) in Herodotus’ narrative of late archaic Athens. Surikov shows that the members of the Philaid family are portrayed in a uniformly positive fashion by Herodotus. He therefore posits that Herodotus’ most important source for this period was a Philaid and not an Alcmaeonid. The next contribution also focuses on the Persian War period, as Eduard Rung considers the language of medism in Herodotus. Rung begins by defining medism as a “political movement” (p. 71) and asks whether Herodotus’ portrayal of medism reflected contemporary Greek ideas or those of the Persian War period. He also distinguishes between medism and treachery, arguing that Herodotus – unlike later historians – associated medism with treachery only where treachery to the whole of Greece was implied.

Turning to the Hellenistic period, Maxim Kholod’s chapter questions the financial obligations of the Greek cities of Asia Minor to Alexander. Kholod argues that the majority of these cities did have to make regular payments to the Macedonian treasury, but that these payments were considered syntaxeis (taxes) levied for the Panhellenic war against Persia rather than phoros (tribute) of the sort exacted previously by the Persian king. Ivan Ladynin’s article examines a fragment of an Egyptian clepsydra from the early Hellenistic period housed at the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg. While a king of Egypt was requisite for the maintenance of ritual and world order, the clepsydra shows the duties of the king (in this case, probably Alexander the Great himself) being performed instead by the sun-god Re. Ladynin argues that the replacement of the king by Re shows the Egyptian priests’ doubts concerning Alexander’s ability to function as pharaoh. His conclusion suggests that Alexander’s well-known attempts to cast himself as a legitimate ruler in the eyes of the Egyptians may not have been wholly successful. Svyatoslav Smirnov next considers the use of elephant chariots in Seleucid ideology. He uses literary and numismatic evidence to trace the importance of elephants and elephant chariots in Seleucid propaganda. The following article by Yuri Kuzmin studies the family of Harpaloi-Polemaioi of Beroea. Drawing on the rich epigraphic remains from the area, Yuri Kuzmin identifies several new members of the family in the late Republican and Julio-Claudian eras and situates them within the local and national aristocracy.

Turning to the Roman world, Roman Lapyrionok considers the early Roman census. Lapyrionok argues that in the 3 rd rd and 2 nd nd centuries BCE the Romans excluded property-less individuals and cives sine suffragio from the census. Lapyrionok then examines the evidence for census-taking among the Roman allies. He concludes that most of these communities had independent census lists not included in the Roman totals. Occasionally, however, the Romans took away the right to an independent census from recalcitrant communities; these were then counted as part of the Roman census. The ideological war between Sulla and Mithridates is the subject of Yevgenij Smykov’s contribution. Smykov analyzes Sulla’s use of propaganda during his Eastern campaign and suggests that it was largely successful in generating approval for Rome among the eastern Greeks. The focus on Roman relations with the East continues in the next article, in which Anton Korolenkov reconsiders the chronology and rationale for Mithridates’ alliance with the Marian rebel Sertorius. Korolenkov argues that the alliance was concluded in 75 BCE. He views the alliance as a success for both parties, pointing out that Mithridates bought himself valuable time before the Romans turned their attention eastward and Sertorius received money to pay his men. Mithridates and the Greek East are also the subject of Oleg Gabelko’s contribution. Gabelko focuses on a monument recently discovered at Phanagoreia which bears an epitaph to Mithridates’ wife, Hypsicrateia. Gabelko reanalyzes the inscription, whose most intriguing features are an address to Hypsicrateia in the masculine (as “Hypsicrates”) and an erasure in the first line. Study of the erasure, in particular, leads Gabelko to make several suggestions concerning the identity of the stone-cutter and the circumstances under which the monument was set up. Alexander Makhlayuk examines the way the Republican ideology of the citizen-soldier was implicated in the organization and role of the imperial military. This broad-ranging article looks not just at the way citizen status was tied to military service but also at how the social and moral superiority of the idealized citizen-solider remained bound to the ethical standards of the army well into the imperial period. In the last article in this collection, Konstantin Markov examines Cassius Dio’s narrative of the agon between Agrippa and Maecenas over the constitution of Octavian’s empire. Markov avoids tying Cassius Dio’s sympathies too firmly to either Agrippa’s advocacy of democracy or Maecenas’ arguments for tyranny. Instead, he argues that the speeches work in tandem to present a complex reflection on the benefits and pitfalls of both systems of government.

The text itself is clean. A list of the contributors, with addresses and emails, is helpfully included at the back. Names and titles in Russian are all transliterated, though the transliterations are not altogether uniform (there are, for example, entries for “Nevskaya, V. P.” and “Newskaja, W.” in the same bibliography (pg. 29), and a footnote to V. S. Golenischev (p. 99) leads to an entry on W. S. Golénischeff).

The variety of subjects and approaches represented in this collection is formidable. Although the contributions dealing with material evidence are especially stimulating, Ruthenia Classica should finally lay to rest the idea that Russian classics focuses exclusively, or even mostly, on the Black Sea region. Yet perhaps because in other respects this volume is so strong, I found it unfortunate that the scholars represented were all male. This circumstance seems especially infelicitous for a collection which seeks to present the contemporary Russian scholarly community to an unfamiliar Western audience. It is assuredly not a true reflection of Russian classics itself, which has and continues to produce many excellent female historians.