BMCR 2019.11.11

Ethnos and Koinon. Studies in Ancient Greek Ethnicity and Federalism. Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und Epigraphische Studien 61

, , , Ethnos and Koinon. Studies in Ancient Greek Ethnicity and Federalism. Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und Epigraphische Studien 61. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2019. 415. ISBN 9783515122177. €64.00.

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume is the product of a conference held at Delphi in May 2015. And just as Apollo’s sanctuary must have been an inspiring setting to discuss and deliberate how the bounds of ethnicity could stretch beyond the immediate scope of political boundaries and the expansion thereof, so too is this collection of articles a rewarding read that challenges our way of looking at the interconnection between the internal mechanics of the koinon and its external foreign policy.

Some of the papers treat the usual suspects when it comes to koina. Boiotia receives attention in three papers, just as Aitolia does, while the Arkadians get two. The Achaians stake a claim as the most discussed koinon, with four authors deciding to dedicate time and space to them.

The Boiotian triptych starts with Albert Schachter, who uses his incomparable knowledge of Boiotia to detail the friction between the Boiotian ethnos and its political exponent, the koinon. He argues that the creation of this political union was the result of the Thebans’ will, rather than the natural expression of a shared sense of belonging. The next piece, by Angela Ganter, is an exquisite attempt to integrate the study of emotions in ancient Greece—a movement spearheaded by Angelos Chaniotis 1—into the history of the Hellenistic Boiotian koinon and its pan-Boiotian festivals, such as the Pamboiotia, Ptoia and Basileia . She masterfully shows the potential of investigating emotions in a federal context, especially for the reinforcement of communality in times of fading glory in comparison with the koinon ’s more grandiose past. Finally, Ruben Post tackles the question of the integration of non-Boiotian poleis in the Hellenistic koinon. He argues that the political context in which the koinon expanded—a department in which rival koina were more successful—prevented a permanent expansion of the koinon. Additionally, the history of the Boiotians, marred with internal discord and military interference, created an unstable foundation on which to build a true powerhouse in Central Greece.

Achaia is the topic of two comparative papers. One by Kostas Buraselis sets the Achaians against the Aitolians, whereas Athanassios Rizakis draws similarities and distinctions between the Achaians and Lykians. Buraselis reveals some strong dissimilarities between the koina in his piece, with the Achaians more flexible and ready to compromise in their foreign policy, while the inner workings of the Aitolians were more integrative and democratic. Rizakis convincingly argues that we should view the Achaians as the blueprint for the later Lykian koinon and more generally, sees a gradual appreciation during the Hellenistic period of the institutions a koinon comprised and of what it could achieve in a changing world.

The Achaians are also the focus of two other investigations. Catherine Grandjean demonstrates how Achaian silver coinage in the Peloponnese can reveal the inner workings of the koinon, with some emissions clearly the work of the higher institutions of power. At the same time, her numismatic acumen also allows her to draw the convincing conclusion that one of the Achaians’ keys to successfully integrating the Peloponnesian communities, as compared with earlier attempts by the Spartans, was indeed the distribution and regulation of coinage. The other paper on the Achaians stems from the pen of Sheila Ager. In an eye-opening piece she explores the limits of ethnicity and institutionalism through the example of Sparta’s membership of the Achaian League between 192 and 148 BCE. By employing the theory of enduring international rivalries, which originates in international relations, Ager shows how the Spartans clung to the memory of their domination over the Messenians and other Peloponnesians—and with it their rivalries with their neighbours—and how this emotional attachment prevented the Achaians from ever fully quelling the Spartans into submission, or subduing them into a friendly co-existence with their neighbours.

The Aitolians receive special attention in the articles by Jacek Rzepka and Claudia Antonetti. Rzepka tackles the question of expansion and concludes, after tracing Aitolian attempts to expand in the late 4 th and 3 rd centuries BCE, that negotiation was a more successful tool for expansion than the exercise of sheer power. Antonetti, in a wonderful exhibition of scholarly acumen, demonstrates how the Aitolians employed their cult network and connection to the Kalydonian Hunt as a force majeure for the strengthening of ties with new members of the koinon, who wished to partake in the mythological glory, a willingness the Aitolians were eager to exploit.

Up next are the Arkadians. The doyen of Arkadian studies, James Roy, adds an insightful piece that delimitates the difficulties of speaking of a pan-Arkadian feeling, since these ethnic claims were only promoted by cities when they served their own purposes. More commonly, it was local identity, and interests, that dominated the political landscape of Arkadia. Cinzia Bearzot follows up on this line of investigation by elaborating on the foreign policy of the Arkadians. She stresses that their policy was mostly dictated by old dividing lines such as between oligarchs and democrats, rather than any overarching dedication to other koina.

Other areas under the microscope include both eastern and western Lokris. The latter especially enjoys the spotlight through the treatment of archaeological material by Nikolaos Petrochilos, as he explores the interaction between the Lokrians through the prism of grave goods and other goods exchanged through the “Doric corridor”. Giovanna Daverio Rocchi argues that the difference between local and federal proxenies reflects regional and local attitudes, instead of a homogenised foreign policy. She makes a compelling case, but a striking omission from the bibliography is William Mack’s book on proxenia, from which Daverio Rocchi’s investigation might have profited 2.

In a similar vein, the friction between local and regional identities is treated by Nikos Giannakopoulos, who deals with the Euboians in the 2 nd century BCE. His insightful treatment of Euboian unity shows how local identities—and the politics attached to them—were the dominant force on the island and that even Roman intervention could not promote the ethnic cohesion the Romans may have found desirable to establish.

Further north, Selene Psoma traces the history of the Chalkidike. The collaboration between smaller poleis against the Athenian threat that kickstarted the development of this koinon into an eventual powerhouse was founded on federalist principles aimed at enticing new members to join and subsequently be integrated. Its short-lived history, however, was mostly due to the rise of a new force in the north, Philip II of Macedon and his interventions. Katerina Panagopoulou, in her article on Macedonia, tackles the question whether Philip was indeed responsible for forming the koinon Makedonōn that continued to exist until Roman times, to which the answer is a probable no, as responsibility for its formation should be assigned to Antigonos Gonatas. She furthermore shows how the Macedonians developed federalist institutions under the guise of their ethnos, which eventually transformed the region from strict adherers to monarchy into federal champions under the last Macedonian kings.

Remaining in the north, Adolfo Domínguez investigates the Thesprotians and their relationship with Dodona. This panhellenic sanctuary plays an important part in the formation of a Thesprotian identity, through the contacts with the outside world that triggered a desire among the elites to coagulate into a more coherent ethnos. The centrality of the sanctuary can be seen in the subsequent history of Thesprotia, which as a region declined after control of Dodona was lost to the Molossians.

Other northern regions examined are Thessaly and Achaia Phthiotis. In a wonderful exploration of Thessaly’s federal and statehood credentials, Maria Mili demonstrates how previous scholarship has always tended towards a Manichean interpretation of Thessaly. Either it was a full-fledged federation or it was a loose ethnic affiliation. Whatever the outcome, its foreign policy was a failure. Contrariwise, Mili finds a common identity for the Thessalians in the ancient sources and argues that the Thessalians, far from being a failed state, were incredibly flexible. The constant competition between various dominant groups, each with its diverging policies, was actually at the core of Thessalian foreign policy and remarkably enabled it to persevere until Philip II put an end to the region’s independence. Similarly, Margriet Haagsma, Laura Surtees and C. Myles Chykerda offer a stimulating reading of the history of Achaia Phthiotis, which was equally marred by divided political loyalties. These were the main stimulus in the early Hellenistic period for the creation of a common identity, in combination with the interventions by Hellenistic successor kings, whose alterations of the landscape ultimately created the political and urban shape of the region that lasted for centuries. These changes were also a conscious effort by the inhabitants to differentiate themselves from their more powerful and famous neighbours such as Thessaly. The conclusions reached by the authors are convincing, and more importantly the article is a perfect example of the proper integration of archaeological material into a historical narrative and demonstrates how these varying sources can complement each other.

I end this review with what perhaps can be termed two odd commodities in a volume about koina.

The first is the article by Alex McAuley, who bravely dives into the complex case that is the Argolid and offers a hesitant yes to the question of whether there was an Argolic ethnos and whether it had a political dimension akin to other koina. Following a brief survey of Argolic history, McAuley makes a convincing case for discarding notions of archaic continuity in cult and other practices in the region, and instead advocates a later development of Argive ethnicity and identity that started in the 5 th century BCE. Based on epigraphic evidence from the Heraion, it seems plausible that the inhabitants of Argos stimulated the creation of an Argive ethnicity both financially and politically. McAuley then follows that up with a comparison between the Nemean theoric lists from Argos and those of the Asklepieia in Epidauros. The similarities between the lists are striking and his argument that these lists were deeply connected is convincing. Despite political differences, the utilisation of Argive contacts by the Epidaurians to expand their theoric network is unsurprising. One note of criticism I would wish to provide here relates to his treatment of Epidaurian coinage. McAuley remarks, “it comes as little surprise that Epidaurian coin types from this period bear portraits of Asklepios and Apollo—the latter being the chief deity of Argos itself” (p. 139), as a possible indication of Argive financial support for the expansion of the Asklepios sanctuary in Epidauros. Yet that overlooks the fact that Apollo had been regarded as Epidauros’ father, supposedly since Hesiod’s time and the connection between the two deities is attested from the early 5 th century BCE.3 Another would be that an engagement with the new editions of the Epidaurian Building Inscriptions by Sebastian Prignitz concerning the date of the refurbishment of the Epidaurian sanctuary would have thrown a different light on McAuley’s tentatively proposed Argive sponsorship for this Epidaurian project and the chronological gap between this building project and the new Argive Heraion that is normally assumed to have existed.4 Nevertheless, these are only minor footnotes to an otherwise provocative but masterfully crafted thesis.

Hans Beck closes off the volume with an article on the Aiolians. Beck meanders through the long-standing history of this intriguing group, who, as it appears, have always been lodged together with the Dorians and Ionians but have never truly found their political exponent to the same extent as their brethren did. He analyses the archaeological and linguistic evidence normally put forward for assuming the existence of the Aiolians, and in the process deconstructs the assumption that the Aiolians migrated from the Greek mainland to Asia Minor. Instead, Beck demonstrates it was precisely the other way around, with the Greeks of later times wishing to tie them into the migration myth of other areas and thereby creating a homeland called Aiolis. The repercussions of this proposal are far-reaching, as it allows us to understand better why the Aiolians, unlike the Dorians and Ionians, seem to have been more loosely associated in the first place. In most cases, Aiolian sungeneia was the result of personal ties among the aristocracy and there seems to be little or no evidence for the existence of a political affiliation revolving around the Aiolians, despite Thucydidean and Pindaric descriptions of genealogical legacies on a par with other groups of Greeks. This leads to Beck’s conclusion that the Aiolians were indeed a phantom ethnos. He therefore shows how the notion of ethnic togetherness does not necessarily translate to a political expression, whether in the form of a koinon or otherwise.

All my positive comments notwithstanding, they do not mean that this is is an easy book to tackle for the uninitiated. The lack of an overall introduction—although one could plausibly argue that Emily Mackil’s insightful initial chapter serves as a basis for the later papers—and the absence of a general conclusion could make it difficult to trace the fil rouge of this volume. The lack of maps for most papers could make it less accessible for scholars and students less acquainted with the material or the regions in question. The same goes for some used abbreviations in the articles, such as IPArk on page 245. An overview of these abbreviations would have been helpful. Ideally, the book would therefore be read in conjunction with earlier work on the koina. 5 Finally, there are various typos throughout the book. 6 More worrying are the references to books that are then not mentioned in the bibliography or vice versa. 7 Nevertheless, these minor errors form no impediment to the overall quality of the contributions.

In sum, this is a collection of rewarding articles that merit detailed attention and study and will bring fresh insights into the interaction between ethnicity and foreign policy.

Authors and titles

1. Emily Mackil: “Ethnic Arguments”
2. Giovanna Daverio Rocchi: “Lokrian Federal and Local Proxenies in Interstate Relations: A Case Study”
3. Nikolaos Petrochilos: “The Archaeological and Epigraphic Testimonies for the ethnos of the Western Lokrians”
4. Albert Schachter: “The Boiotians: Between ethnos and koina
5. Angela Ganter: “Federal Based on Emotions? Pamboiotian Festivals in Hellenistic and Roman Times”
6. Ruben Post: “Integration and Coercion: Non-Boiotians in the Hellenistic Boiotian League”
7. Nikos Giannakopoulos: “Euboian Unity in the 2 nd Century BCE and the Chalkidian Embassy at Amarynthos: The Limits of Roman-Sponsored Greek Federalism”
8. Alex McAuley: “ Sans la lettre : Ethnicity, Politics, and Religion in the Argive theōria”
9. Claudia Antonetti: “Spearhead and Boar Jawbone—An Invitation to Hunt in Aitolia: ‘Foreign Policy’ within the Aitolian League”
10. Jacek Rzepka: “Federal Imperialism: Aitolian Expansion between Protectorate, Merger, and Partition”
11. Sheila Ager: “The Limits of Ethnicity: Sparta and the Achaian League”
12. Catherine Grandjean: “Internal Mechanisms, External Relationships of the Achaians: A Numismatic Approach”
13. Kostas Buraselis: “Dissimilar Brothers: Similarities versus Differences of the Achaian and Aitolian Leagues”
14. Athanassios Rizakis: “Achaians and Lykians: A Comparison of Federal Institutions”
15. James Roy: “The Dynamics of the Arkadian ethnos, or poleis versus koinon
16. Cinzia Bearzot: “The Foreign Policy of the Arkadian League: From Lykomedes of Mantinea to staseis among homoethneis
17. Maria Mili: “Ἄπιστα τὰ τῶν Θετταλῶν: The Dubious Thessalian State”
18. Margriet Haagsma, Laura Surtees and C. Myles Chykerda: “Ethnic Constructs from Inside and Out: External Policy and the ethnos of Achaia Phthiotis”
19. Selene E. Psoma: “The League of the Chalkideis : Development of its External and Internal Relations and Organization”
20. Adolfo J. Domínguez: “The ethnos of the Thesprotians: Internal Organization and External Relations”
21. Katerina Panagopoulou: “Between Federal and Ethnic: The koinon Makedonōn and the Makedones Revisited”
22. Hans Beck: “The Aiolians—A Phantom ethnos ?”


1. For its application in Ancient History, see A. Chaniotis (ed.) Unveiling Emotions. Sources and Methods for the Study of Emotions in the Greek World (HABES 52). Stuttgart 2012; A. Chaniotis and P. Ducrey (eds.) Unveiling Emotions II. Emotions in Greece and Rome: Texts, Images, Material Culture (HABES 55). Stuttgart 2013.

2. W. Mack, Proxeny and Polis. Oxford 2015.

3. Hesiod, Catalogue of Women, fr. 90. For this early attestation of a common cult, see V. Lambrinoudakis 1990 ,‘Un réfugé argien à Épidaure au V e siècle avant J-C.’ CRAI 134-1, 174-185.

4. S. Prignitz, Bauurkunden und Bauprogramm von Epidauros (400-350): Asklepiostempel, Tholos, Kultbild, Brunnenhaus. Vestigia Bd. 67. Munich 2014.

5. H. Beck and P. Funke (eds.) Federalism in Antiquity. Cambridge 2015; E. Mackil, Creating a Common Polity: Religion, Economy, and Politics in the Making of the Greek Koinon. Berkeley 2013, among others.

6. For instance, in the preface: “The editors of this volume along with many of its contributors were involved in the recent project Federalism in Greek Antiquity published by Cambridge University Press in 2015, whose various systematic and case studies demonstrated in striking detail…”

7. This is not a conclusive list, but I will offer several examples here. 1. Schachter’s bibliography mentions Rousset, Camp and Minon (2015) but this is not mentioned in the footnotes; 2. Haagsma, Surtees and Chykerda mention Batziou- Efstathiou 2002 at p. 292 n. 58, but this is not in the bibliography; 3. Bearzot refers to Beck 2000 at p. 268 n. 26, but this cannot be found in the bibliography. If these omissions were the result of bibliographical overlap between articles, a general bibliography would have prevented confusion.