Monday, March 25, 2019


Philip Matyszak, Sparta: Fall of a Warrior Nation. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018. Pp. 165. ISBN 9781473874725. £19.99.

Reviewed by Philip J. Smith, McGill University (

Version at BMCR home site

Philip Matyszak has published several volumes of ancient history geared primarily toward the general reader, and this volume fits quite well into that category. The book is well organized, his style is clear, vivid, and entertaining, and he ably draws his readers seductively down the path toward his rationale for the fall of the Spartan state.

That being said, it is somewhat discomforting that at the outset of the book, prior to any arguments being presented, he makes sweeping statements which may bias the less knowledgeable reader (e.g. "As we follow Sparta's attempts to maintain the hegemony of Greece after the Peloponnesian War, the intellectual sterility of the state is revealed as never before...", p. ix). This is followed by direct praise of the Athenian state.1

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the Spartan state after the battles of Plataea and Mycale in 479 BC. His first point concerns the "surprising" behaviour of the Spartans when they appeared, at the height of their reputation and military prowess, to reject the leadership of the Hellenic League (and hence of the Greeks). He then states that the Athenians, who were more "enterprising" were happy to accept the mantle of leadership. Matyszak does ask why they acted in this manner – and his answer is that Spartan domestic policy, specifically the resources and attention necessary for the continued subjugation of the Messenians, largely dictated its foreign policy. He goes on to note an interesting rationale for Sparta's creation of the Peloponnesian League: "basically formed to protect Sparta from those states which made up its membership…" (p. 6), rather than a form of Spartan imperialism. I am not convinced, however, that the Spartans lacked an imperialistic vision for the Peloponnesian League. Could it not rather be that Spartan imperialism was more localized – i.e., that the Spartans recognized the limitations of their sphere of influence? Control of the Hellenic League would have required an imperialistic involvement outside of this locale.

Chapter 2 attempts to identify the beginning of the end for the Spartans. One cause, according to Matyszak, concerned the civic structure at Sparta, which was basically a series of checks and balances – two kings from two different families, plus the Ephorate – designed to avoid autocracy. When there was instability among these parties, this contributed to tarnishing Sparta's reputation among Greeks after the Persian War. An example he provides is how the divergent avenues pursued by Pausanias (regent for the Agaid king Pleistarchus during his minority), and Leotychides (the Eurypontid king), together with the lackluster performance of the Ephors, all led to the Athenians being able to rebuild their city walls, despite Spartan opposition and without Spartan retribution.2 Chapter 3, which is a brief overview of the fall of Pausanias, serves as a concrete example: it illustrates that the actions of the two kings and the ephorate resulted in "irritated and confused" allies who had begun to view the Athenians as the better leaders, albeit with misgivings.

Chapters 4 through 7 discuss Spartan leadership before and during the Peloponnesian War. One of the author's first topics is the major earthquake throughout Laconia in 464 BC, which caused not only widespread economic damage, but also an "inevitable" helot revolt. During this period, according to Matyszak, the Spartan king Archidamos had introduced more diplomacy into the Spartan body politic, which resulted in the capture of Mt. Ithome from the helots via negotiation rather than military force. He subsequently spends some time outlining various battles, alliances, etc., which were drawing Spartan attention away from Laconia, employing titles such as "Battle of Tanagra, late 460s", "Congress of the Allies". His main source for this period is Thucydides, who was somewhat contemporary (e.g., he could at least have interviewed people who had participated in some of these activities). Also included in his discussion is the Spartan reaction to the Megarian Decree, which was perhaps more typical of them: "Sparta wants peace. Stop oppressing other Greeks, and peace will happen." (p. 42). Spartan diplomatic patience had expired.

The Archidamian War is described inasmuch as it relates to Spartan missteps, e.g., the unsuccessful siege of Plataea, Sparta's inability to counter the Athenian plan to avoid direct military confrontation and use their navy. The only partially bright spot in this period was Pylos, where Sparta managed to keep Athens to a stalemate. There was, however, one serious negative issue arising from the Pylos campaign – the stranding of some 400 Spartiates on the island of Sphacteria. Matyszak makes a major point that one of the main causes of the fall of the Spartan state was its constantly diminishing numbers of Spartiates – full Spartan citizen hoplites – which eventually reached the point of no return. I must admit to some puzzlement at the statement Matyszak makes concerning these "vanishing Spartiates": "The reasons why this should be so have been hotly disputed by academics in a debate which has lasted considerably longer than the Peloponnesian War itself. There is no space here to examine the various theories and counter-arguments." (p. 57). I would have expected at least a summary these hotly disputed reasons. Moreover, he then says that, since there is no space for that discussion, he will "take Plutarch at his word (while accepting that there are reasons for doubting him" (p. 57). This is an unsatisfactory solution. If Plutarch offers one of his major arguments for the outcome, the reader should have been presented with more detailed discussion.

Chapter 7 outlines the well-known stalemate between the superior Spartan army and the superior Athenian navy, as well as the vagaries of Persian funding for both sides. The War eventually ended, owing in part to the Spartan fort at Decelea preventing Athenian access to their silver mines, as well as the success of the single great Spartan admiral, Lysander (and the Spartans' Persian backers, which included Cyrus).

Chapters 8 through 10 describe in more detail the circumstances which led to the rather abrupt decline in the Spartan state after the end of the Peloponnesian War. Matyszak points out several reasons: decline in the number of Spartiates, 3; Spartan acceptance of Persian funds, which reduced their reputation for "unflinching honesty and integrity"; Spartan armies becoming paid mercenaries outside Laconia and the Peloponnese; their handing over of the Ionian cities to Persia; the unlawful seizing of the Cadmeia in Thebes by Phoibidas; the stunning Theban victory at Leuctra; the dismantling of the Peloponnesian League and the creation of the Arcadian and Achaean Leagues, which further curtailed Spartan influence; the invasion of Laconia in 370 BC; the Theban enforcement of the independence of Messenia; finally, Spartan misreading of the rise of the Macedonian kingdom. The Battle of Megalopolis in 331/30 BC accelerated the severe decline in the number of Spartiate hoplites available to the state. Indeed, he states that after the Lamian War of 323/22 BC, "Sparta was the last remaining fully independent state in Greece, although its people had to face up to the bitter fact that this was mainly because they were not deemed worth the effort of conquering" (p. 130).

Chapters 11 and 12 summarize the attempts made by Spartan kings in the late fourth and third centuries BC to reform the Spartan state, e.g., Agis IV, Cleomenes III, and finally Nabis. None of these efforts proved fruitful. One characteristic remained, however, since even though the Romans under Flamininus eventually defeated Sparta and, at the death of Nabis in 192 BC, the Spartan state ceased to exist in an independent manner, the Spartans still proved that Laconia was the home to "some of the best and most stubborn warriors in Greece".

There follows an Epilogue in which Spartan influence in modern media, including computer games, is noted, as is, Spartan influence on Nazi philosophy. I am unsure of the value of this Epilogue.

Overall, this book is a good introduction to this particular topic for a generalist audience and it is well written (indeed I applaud the fact that the author eschewed the use of endnotes), albeit with some orthographic errors, e.g. "Megaran". It is disappointing, however, that there is only a thin bibliography and that more detailed discussion of pertinent issues is omitted. Even though this book is directed to the general reader, it would have been beneficial for there to have been fuller discussion of some of the most important points, if not in the main text, then at least in explanatory footnotes.


1.   Other gratuitous examples, just from the Introduction, include: "…Sparta offered only a mindless conservatism combined with an amoral militarism…", p. x; and "…study of a downward social spiral and an object lesson in the dangers of short-sited chauvinism", p. x.
2.   "According to Thucydides, the Spartans showed no anger at [Themistocles'] speech. Instead they merely commented mildly that their suggestion had been intended as being in the best interests of Greece as a whole." (p. 17).
3.   He calculates the number of Spartiates after the Battle of Leuctra thusly "It has been estimated that before Leuctra there were around 1,400 Spartiates…Some 400 of these had fallen at Leuctra. If proper Spartan procedure were to be followed the surviving 300 in that army should now lose their citizenship…This would leave the city with a grand total of 700 Spartiates – somewhat less than the 10,000 that Sparta could field in its prime. This was so unacceptable that Agesilaus decreed that 'the laws should sleep for a day'. The 300 survivors kept their Spartiate status and the question of systemic reform to address the underlying problem was ducked yet again." (pp. 111-112).

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Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou (ed.), Aristotle – Contemporary Perspectives on His Thought: On the 2400th Anniversary of Aristotle's Birth. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. 385. ISBN 9783110564174. €129,95.

Reviewed by Robert Mayhew, Seton Hall University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles in this volume are listed at the end of the review]

In May 2016, 250 scholars from 42 countries and five continents traveled to the University of Thessaloniki to celebrate the 2400th anniversary of the year of Aristotle's birth. The event (the World Congress Aristotle 2400 Years) was organized by Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Aristotle Studies. The total number of participants and attendees approached 600. The volume under review contains revised versions of twenty of the invited papers. A selection of the other presentations is being edited by Sfendoni-Mentzou, and will appear as Proceedings of the World Congress Aristotle 2400 Years.

In the space available, I can do little more than give a brief indication of the subject matter of each essay, with occasional elaborations and more specific evaluations.

The volume is divided into five parts. Part I is Philosophy of Nature, subdivided into Physics, Biology, Psychology, and Meteorology. There are two essays under the heading Physics. Heinemann's "Aristotelian Supervenience" seeks to answer the question "What is Aristotelian about Aristotelian Supervenience?" (as modern discussions of Aristotelian supervenience—a counter to Humean supervenience—often have little to say about the content of Aristotle's works). I do not know the contemporary literature on supervenience that well, but in answering this question Heinemann devotes a lot of space to Physics 1-3, and I found that material quite insightful. Sfendoni-Mentzou's "Aristotle's Dynamic Vision of Nature" is a defense of Aristotle's philosophy of nature in response to the common view that, in light of Newtonian physics, the Humean rejection of metaphysics, and later trends, it was a failure. She sketches—in quick succession—her take on (inter alia) continuity, infinity, potentiality, time, and nature. But her most interesting, extended, and (I expect) controversial discussion concerns what she sees as the relevance to contemporary physics of Aristotle's conception of prime matter.

There are two essays under the heading Biology, both of them excellent. In "'For a Human Being Reproduces a Human Being'," Lennox examines this oft-repeated statement of Aristotle, and argues that by considering each instance in context, one encounters "some distinctively Aristotelian theses about biological generation: it is goal-directed, and both the initiator of biological generation and its goal are identified, in distinct ways, with the formal nature." In his brief concluding section (with the terrific subtitle "Aristotle Resurgent"), Lennox sketches the relevance of his subject matter to contemporary philosophy of biology. In "Aristotle's Generation of Animals on the Separation of the Sexes," Lefebvre provides an excellent account of Aristotle's explanation of the usefulness of the male (in GA 2.5) and (at greater length) his explanation of the separation of male and female (in GA 1.23 and 2.1). Lefebvre connects these discussions to Aristotle's hylomorphism and conception of the inequality of the sexes.

There are three essays under the heading Psychology, though the first of these—Calvo's "On the Notions of Ψυχή and Ζωή in the Aristotelian Biology"—could have been placed in the previous section. Calvo argues that there is a tension between, or a difficulty reconciling, Aristotle's conception of the soul in its biological context, and his explanation of it by means of such metaphysical concepts as entity, essence, matter and form, and potentiality and actuality. This shows, he argues, that there is a similar problem reconciling or explaining the relationship between Aristotle's conceptions of ψυχή and ζωή. Bos's "Aristotle on Life-Bearing Pneuma and on God as Begetter of the Cosmos" is a brief but useful introduction—for those who do not know it—to his idiosyncratic take on Aristotle's conception of soul, pneuma, god's nature and role in the universe, etc.1 In DA 2.6, Aristotle writes that "We speak of an accidental object of sense where, e.g., the white object that we see is the son of Diares" (418a20-1). Polansky and Fritz's "Aristotle on Accidental Perception" discusses the kinds of accidental sensibles and the ways in which they are accidental, and the importance of accidental perception, beginning with the account in DA 2.6, but going beyond it to other texts and other important issues (e.g. common sensibles).

The sole work placed under the heading Meteorology2 is Tassio's "Mechanical Properties of Solids in Aristotle's Meteorologica." This is not so much an essay as a highly useful enumeration and description of the material properties discussed in Meteorology 4: πηκτόν (apt to solidification), τηκτόν (apt to softening by heat or dissolution by water), μαλακτόν (malleable by heat), τεγκτόν (apt to softening by water), etc.

Part II is Philosophy of Human Action, subdivided into Ethics, Politics, Rhetoric, and Poetics. There are two essays under the heading Ethics. In the brief but excellent "Extended and Embodied Values and Ideas," Scaltsas provides answer the questions: "to what are the 'external goods' external"? and "where is the goodness of 'external goods' seated"? Dragona-Monachou's "The Relevance of Aristotle's Views of Ethics and Medicine to Bioethics" is a brief survey of previous literature on the subject—over a dozen essays, chapters, and papers are mentioned—aiming to show that "Aristotle is present today not only in ethical or moral debates, but also in bioethical ones." I didn't find this the most convincing way of establishing Aristotle's contemporary relevance in this field.

Both essays in the section of Politics deal with democracy. Reading the first half of Pellegrin's "Aristotle and Democracy," one might conclude that it is mistitled, as he discusses oligarchy as much as democracy, and comes to conclusions that are not specifically about democracy. But after discussing the ways in which democracy and oligarchies have both good and bad elements, and pointing out that they are in a sense two sides of the same coin, he goes on to argue that democracy is both better according to Aristotle and more central to his political philosophy. In "Aristotle and the Democracy of the City-state," Contogeorgis wants to correct the longstanding errors of a number of thinkers concerning the relationship between the deviant democracy and the corresponding proper πολιτεία (i.e. the polity) in Aristotle's political philosophy.3 On his view, "in order to understand Aristotle's view on democracy, one must start from his fundamental views on the correct πολιτεία, as he calls it, and from the anthropocentric phase that people of the city-states of that time experienced." I do not quite get the last phrase of this line (and a number of others besides), but I think the gist of his approach—which may be worth taking—is in effect to view πολιτεία as the correct version of democracy, rather than democracy as the deviant version of πολιτεία.

There is one essay each under the headings Rhetoric and Poetics. In "Aristotle and the Dialectic Turn of Rhetoric" (one of my favorites in the volume), Rapp makes clear the close affinity between rhetoric and dialectic, which he claims represents a turn away from earlier conceptions of rhetoric and toward a new approach to the subject, which makes rhetorical argumentation central to the τέχνη of rhetoric (a fact not fully appreciated by scholars of rhetoric and the Rhetoric). In a brief (four-and-a-half-page) piece entitled "Aesthetic Judgment according to Aristotle's Politics, Moutsopoulos presents "three irrelevances in Aristotle's Politics" the "unimportance" of which "reveals the everlasting brilliance of his mind." They are related to Aristotle's claim that οἱ πολλοί together are better (aesthetic) judges than a single person.

Part III is First Philosophy, subdivided (unnecessarily, I think) into Ontology (the first two essays) and Theology (the third). In "What is Aristotle's Metaphysics?", Berti argues that the standard interpretation of the Metaphysics—namely, that it is concerned with ontology and theology—goes back to Alexander of Aphrodisias, and is in fact wrong. After sketching the history of this interpretation, he argues for an alternative: the main concern of the Metaphysics is neither ontology nor theology, but the science of first causes. Couloubaritsis, in "The Complex Organization of Aristotle's Thought," similarly offers a new interpretation, one that rejects "reducing Aristotle's work to an ontology," instead focusing on the neglected themes, as he puts it, of henology and agathology. In "Interpretation Problems in Aristotle's Metaphysics Λ," Pentzopoulou-Valalas claims that Metaphysics Λ "is by no means a theological treatise."4 She surveys previous interpretations of the infamously cryptic sentence καὶ ἔστιν ἡ νόησις νοήσεως νόησις, and then presents her own interpretation. The entire essay is 6½ pages long, with roughly two pages devoted to her own interpretation, so it should come as no surprise that I found it in need of expansion.

Part IV (Theory of Thinking, with a single subsection, Epistemology) is one of the highlights of the volume. It consists of two essays. Aristotle in the Sophistici Elenchi claims: "There is a certain kind of τέχνη which is not of the same sort as are those τέχναι which are able to prove things" (11, 172a39-b1). Bolton's "Two Conceptions of Practical Skill (Τέχνη) in Aristotle" is an illuminating discussion of these different kinds of τέχνη. In 1992, McKirahan translated Posterior Analytics 2.19, 100a12-14 (οἷον ἐν μάχῃ τροπῆς γενομένης ἑνὸς στάντος ἕτερος ἔστη, εἶθ' ἕτερος, ἕως ἐπὶ ἀρχὴν ἦλθεν), a passage which has long troubled scholars, thus: "As happens when a rout has occurred in a battle and one man has stopped, another stops and another until it reaches the original position."5 In "'As in a Battle When a Rout has Occurred'," McKirahan argues that his translation and understanding of the line—and at least fourteen other renderings of it, included in an appendix—are implausible. He argues at length and persuasively that it should be rendered (I am including more context here): "So the states come from perception (as happens when a rout has occurred in a battle and one man has stopped, another stops and another) until one reaches a principle."6

The volume ends with one essay in Part V (Aristotle in History of Philosophy): Moran's "Aristotle's Conception of οὐσία in the Medieval Christian Tradition." It is a pity that this is the sole essay on the reception of Aristotle, as (its quality aside) it is not a good fit with the rest of the collection and with the idea that this volume contains contemporary perspectives on Aristotle's thought. I believe there were a number papers on Aristotle in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance presented at the conference; Moran's contribution would likely have been a better fit in the other volume Sfendoni-Mentzou is editing (mentioned above).

Clearly, the essays in this collection cover much of the vast range of Aristotle's philosophy and science, and many of them do deal with the contemporary relevance of his thought (as one would expect from the volume's subtitle). Although I liked some essays more than others (in some cases because of how persuasive I thought they were, in others owing to my own scholarly interests), I would say the overall quality is quite high for a conference proceedings, though I thought a few were too brief for the subject they were covering and needed to be developed further. I encountered a few typos, most of them part quite minor.7

Authors and titles

Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou: Preface
Gottfried Heinemann: Aristotelian Supervenience: Potentialities and Powers in Aristotle's Definition of Change
Demetra Sfendoni-Mentzou: Aristotle's Dynamic Vision of Nature: A Neo-Aristotelian Perspective on Contemporary Science
James G. Lennox: 'For a Human Being Reproduces a Human Being': A Mundane, Profound, Aristotelian Truth
David Lefebvre: Aristotle's Generation of Animals on the Separation of the Sexes
Tomás Calvo: On the Notions of Ψυχή and Ζωή in the Aristotelian Biology
Abraham P. Bos: Aristotle on Life-Bearing Pneuma and on God as Begetter of the Cosmos
Ron Polansky and John Fritz: Aristotle on Accidental Perception
Theodossios P. Tassio: Mechanical Properties of Solids in Aristotle's Meteorologica
Theodore Scaltsas: Extended and Embodied Values and Ideas
Myrto Dragona-Monachou: The Relevance of Aristotle's Views of Ethics and Medicine to Bioethics
Pierre Pellegrin: Aristotle and Democracy
George Contogeorgis: Aristotle and the Democracy of the City-state
Christof Rapp: Aristotle and the Dialectic Turn of Rhetoric
Evanghelos Moutsopoulos: Aesthetic Judgment according to Aristotle's Politics
Enrico Berti: What is Aristotle's Metaphysics?
Lambros Couloubaritsis: The Complex Organization of Aristotle's Thought
Teresa Pentzopoulou-Valalas: Interpretation Problems in Aristotle's Metaphysics Λ. The Case of the Sentence: καὶ ἔστιν ἡ νόησις νοήσεως νόησις
Robert Bolton: Two Conceptions of Practical Skill (Τέχνη) in Aristotle
Richard McKirahan: "As in a Battle When a Rout has Occurred"
Dermot Moran: Aristotle's Conception of οὐσία in the Medieval Christian Tradition: Some Neoplatonic Reflections


1.   See e.g. his The Soul and Its Instrumental Body. A Reinterpretation of Aristotle's Philosophy of Living Nature (Leiden 2003). Of course, idiosyncratic does not mean incorrect.
2.   This subject-heading is misleading, as Chemistry would arguably be a better description of what Aristotle is doing in Meteorology 4.
3.   In a footnote, he names over 25 of these thinkers, including Hannah Arendt, Carl Schmitt, John Rawls, and Jürgen Habermas.
4.   I was thrown by this remark, as the opening line of her essay (on the previous page) is: "Book XII (Λ) presents Aristotle's theology."
5.   McKirahan, Principles and Proofs (Princeton 1992).
6.   I think it is worth considering whether later Peripatetic uses of this analogy tend to support or count against McKirahan's interpretation. See Theophrastus, De vertigine 9.75-76 and [Aristotle], Problemata 18.7.917a31-32 and 26.8.941a11-13.
7.   A half dozen examples: Devine → Divine (ix), tyran → tyrant (199), commented it → commented on it (245), alining → aligning (258), Charmidis → Charmides (p. 273), in few → in my view (?) (280).

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Sunday, March 24, 2019


Alex Imrie, The Antonine Constitution: An Edict for the Caracallan Empire. Impact of Empire, 29. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. xv, 175. ISBN 9789004368224. €94,00.

Reviewed by Lydia Schriemer, University of Ottawa (

Version at BMCR home site


Precious little is known about the motivation behind the promulgation of the Constitutio Antoniniana (abbreviated here as CA), and as a result this topic has already been the subject of considerable study. Based on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Edinburgh, Alex Imrie's monograph examines the CA and seeks to offer a comprehensive assessment of the motivations for extending the franchise to all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. He justifies his work by saying that the many previous studies have taken the CA outside of its cultural and historical context and have only assessed it against individual motivating factors. He argues that this has resulted in an exaggeration of the importance of such individual factors and maintains that his study will, for the first time, bring together all potential factors in order to make sense of the CA itself, within its proper context.

The book contains an introduction, five body chapters, an epilogue, and an appendix. The introduction begins by discussing the research goals and moves on to provide a brief literature review that notes that research on the CA can be divided into roughly three areas: the Giessen papyrus, the effects of the edict, and the rationale behind the edict. He concludes that the area of study that remains the most controversial is that of Caracalla's motivations in promulgating the edict. He divides the possible motivations into two groups: practical and propagandistic.

Chapter 1 provides both the historical and the literary context for the CA. The first half of the chapter sketches the major historical events that happened in the Empire between the death of Commodus at the end of 192 and the promulgation of the edict in 212. This time span is appropriate because the author discusses the Severans' rise to power throughout the volume. The second half of the chapter discusses the literary evidence for the period in question and for the CA itself. The CA does not feature prominently in extant contemporary sources, and those that do mention it do so often erroneously and only in passing. Of these, Cassius Dio bears particular scrutiny since he was an eyewitness. Here too, the CA is mentioned only briefly and only as part of Dio's critique of Caracalla's financial circumstances. Despite Dio's bias, Imrie advocates for a judicious use of his Roman History. He emphasizes that the relative lack and unreliability of contemporary works on the edict and its effects ought not to deter modern scholarship on the subject.

Since brief contemporary mention of the CA can also be found in the works of Ulpian, it is in this context that Imrie brings up the crucial question of the emperor's role in the formulation of edicts such as the CA. He shows that Caracalla was unorthodox in his judicial role, moving beyond legal precedent, and acting more independently than his predecessors. He concludes that Caracalla himself was thus likely the driving force behind the CA and not his jurists. The argument is not convincing, however, both because of the lack of available evidence (a perennial problem) and because it is only possible to establish that Caracalla would have at least approved of the edict. There is, however, no reliable method of demonstrating Caracalla's personal influence on any of his legislation or iconography. Although Imrie does accept that the edict was likely conceived by Caracalla, the appropriate support for this hypothesis is thus simply not available. The weakness of this argument is unfortunate, because the remainder of the book rests on the assumption of Caracalla's personal involvement in, and therefore his personal motivations behind, the CA. Chapter 1 concludes with an examination of the one major contemporary source for our knowledge of the CA: the Giessen papyrus (P.Giss. 40).1 Imrie proposes that its style and contents are also indicative of Caracalla's personal influence in its creation. He further suggests that, since the edict was promulgated at a critical point in Caracalla's reign, directly following the assassination of Geta, the CA can be seen to address short-term legitimacy issues as well as more long-term financial and military goals. He develops these suggestions in the following four chapters.

In chapters 2 and 3, Imrie examines the two practical rationales for the CA that are most commonly discussed. Beginning with the fiscal rational, he scrutinizes Dio's accusation that the franchise was extended simply to extend the taxable population. A more long-term perspective is necessary here, however. Severus' building program, his military reforms, and his manipulation of the coinage are salient predecessors to Caracalla's tax reforms, numismatic debasement, and creation of the antoninianus. In this context, Dio's suggestion, in concert with the references to taxation in the Giessen papyrus, seems convincing. Nevertheless, Imrie insightfully notes that since the imperial coffers were apparently not terribly strained at this point, the CA must have had a further motivation. Turning to the "military rationale," Imrie prioritizes the continuity between Caracalla's military policy and that of his father. He proceeds to discuss the influence that the CA would have had on the army in terms of legionary recruitment. Since the basic requirement to be a legionary was citizenship, the CA would necessarily have opened up the pool of eligible candidates for military service. With increased enlistment and increased pay, Caracalla would have needed increased cash. He suggests that, as with Severus, Caracalla's financial issue of was one of liquidity, linked to the need to pay soldiers. Thus, the two practical rationales, the fiscal and the military, are inextricably linked.

Following his examination of the practical rationales, Imrie proceeds to discuss in chapters 4 and 5 what Caracalla's propagandistic reasons might have been for issuing the CA. He focuses primarily on two topics: imitating Alexander and securing the Empire. The first point uses literary comparison to discuss Alexander the Great's influence on the CA. He concludes that this association is impossible to prove, although certain Alexander-inspired literary tropes do indeed seem to be present in the CA. He keenly notes, however, that the desire for a "brotherhood of man" is a problematic topos that cannot be securely attributed to Alexander at all and is thus not a valid point of comparison here. In the same vein, the sources that mention Caracalla's obsession with Alexander are challenging, particularly because of the paucity of media, such as coinage, epigraphy, portraiture, and sculpture, that support these claims. Instead, Imrie concludes that Caracalla's interest was part of a tradition of Roman emperors seeking inspiration, a militaristic image, and even legitimacy from association with Alexander.

Beyond the mild Alexandrian tropes, the CA also seems to serve a further propagandistic purpose. Imrie's argument that the CA served to bolster Caracalla's public image and legitimacy in a politically fragile time is convincing, because of its indirect relationship to Geta's murder. He argues that Caracalla's legitimacy was strengthened in three distinct ways. First, the religious ideology in the CA portrays the enfranchisement as an act of piety, while re-inventing the events surrounding Geta's death. Caracalla frames the CA as an act of thanksgiving worthy of the consensus of the entire Roman world. Second, Imrie suggests that the generosity of the entire edict serves to establish Caracalla's character in a positive light, which would certainly have been necessary after the brutal murder of his own brother. He then neatly draws on numismatic evidence to support these first two strands of ideology. Third, he proposes that the extension of citizenship made all new citizens beholden to Caracalla personally in a type of reciprocal exchange relationship. Undoubtedly, Caracalla could have expected an increase in tax revenue as a result of increased enfranchisement, but Imrie argues that such a show of imperial beneficia would also have traditionally been associated with goodwill and loyalty on the part of the recipients. While the evidence here is slim for such a patron-client relationship, it is clear that Caracalla promulgated the CA because of what he stood to gain from it, whether that be tax revenue, an increase in military enrolment, or increased loyalty.

A brief, four-page epilogue summarizes the conclusions and ends with a call for further, more nuanced work on the contexts of the CA, particularly on the life and reign of Caracalla. Following this, the appendix contains a reconstructed text and translation of the Giessen papyrus with notes. Since this papyrus is at the root of much of the scholarly debate surrounding the CA, Imrie provides his own version of the text. From the accompanying apparatus criticus, it is apparent that this version is heavily based on the ten previous editions and offers no new readings. Nevertheless, the decision to accept one reading over another is well defended in the notes on the basis of Imrie's own reading of the papyrus.

In conclusion, this book is a good introduction both to the CA and to related scholarship. Chapter 1, on historical and literary contexts, makes the topic accessible and interesting to a broad audience of specialist and non-specialist readers alike. The discussion of the practical rationales in chapters 2 and 3 is comprehensive and summarizes, with added nuance, the general state of scholarship on the matter. These chapters approach Imrie's broad question of intention by looking at two of the practical effects of the edict and suggesting that they in turn were likely motivations for its creation. The discussion of the propagandistic rationales in chapters 4 and 5 is slightly more challenging, with chapter 4 being a literary comparison and chapter 5 a discussion of Caracallan ideology. Since the effects of propaganda are hard to quantify, these two chapters rely solely on a discussion of intention. Imrie seems to recognize this challenge, at least in practice, with the result that chapter 4 compares the CA to common Alexandian tropes in literature and chapter 5 discusses the role that the CA might have played in Caracallan ideology and propaganda. Imrie's portrayal of all these potential rationales suggests that Caracalla would have had all these factors in mind when he subscribed the edict, which does seem unlikely. Rather, based on a nuanced discussion of intention and effect, Imrie might have been better served to discuss the propagandistic intentions alongside the likely fiscal and militaristic effects of the edict. These chapters would also have benefited from a brief discussion of propaganda and its place in the Roman world. That being said, the addition of numismatic evidence to this volume is a welcome inclusion that adds considerable depth. As Imrie concludes on the basis of his foray into the Caracallan world, much work remains to be done on this deep and complex topic.


1.   The most recent edition is P.Giss.Lit. 6, published in 1994.

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David Alan Parnell, Justinian's Men: Careers and Relationships of Byzantine Army Officers, 518-610. New approaches to Byzantine history and culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Pp. xi, 228. ISBN 9781137562036. €85,59.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Buchanan, University of Findlay (

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David Alan Parnell's book builds on both his PhD. dissertation, Justinian's Men: The Ethnic and Regional Origins of Byzantine Officers and Officials, ca. 518-610, submitted to Saint Louis University in 2010, and his subsequent research on the ethnicity and military and social careers of army members during the age of Justinian I, defined as the period of the reigns of Justin I through Phocas. The thesis of the book is that an officer's social relationships with other officers, the men assigned to him, and the emperor were as least as important as the officer's rank or position. To develop this thesis, Parnell has divided the book into nine chapters, including an introduction and conclusion.

Chapter One, the Introduction, establishes the methodology for the book. Parnell uses the principal contemporary historians and chroniclers of the period, including Procopius of Caesarea, Agathias of Myrina, Menander Protector, Theophylact Simocatta, Marcellinus Comes with his anonymous continuator, and John Malalas (p. 7). He then employs social network theory to evaluate the social issues and relationships that affected the operation of the army, in a matrix of different relationships ranging from professional to family contacts.

Chapter Two addresses the structure of the Byzantine army in the sixth century. Parnell's principal source is the Notitia Dignitatum, supplemented by material from his primary sources. He divides the Byzantine army into two divisions, the field armies (comitatenses) and the frontier armies (limitanei), supplemented in many areas of the frontier by non-Roman soldiers serving under their own officers under treaty to the Empire (foederati). He then uses the Strategikon of Maurice, supplemented with Justinian's legal code and other primary sources, to describe the ranks and positions within the army. After discussing the various scholarly positions on the nature of recruitment, Parnell concludes that it was largely voluntary. He also argues that soldiers generally advanced through the ranks based primarily on length of service, while officers advanced partly on merit and partly on personal interest and recommendations from their superiors, including the emperor.

Chapter Three discusses the ethnic identity of Roman army officers, and how that identity affected the careers of the officers. Parnell begins this chapter with a careful discussion of recent scholarship on the meaning of identity, and in particular, ethnic identity, in the sixth century CE. He then seeks to develop rough statistics for the percentage of Roman and non-Roman men who served in the military during this time. To do this, he has created a database of 772 men documented as having served in the army, using his primary sources plus a few additional literary sources and material derived from The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (PLRE). This database itself is not included in the book, but he uses it to assess the ethnicity of these men, primarily using their names and any descriptions given in the sources, augmented by information on their family if available. Using his criteria, he finds that roughly seventy-six percent were likely Roman and twenty-four percent were likely non-Roman. He also concludes that while the Byzantine army was roughly thirty percent non-Roman from 518-540, the percentage increased slightly to thirty-six percent from 541-565, and then fell to roughly eighteen percent from 566-610, perhaps as a result of decreased recruitment from non-Roman areas and an increasing identification of former non-Romans as Roman. Romans were slightly more likely to hold the highest ranks, while non-Romans held many of the command ranks below that level. Parnell's conclusion is that the Roman army was still uneasy about non-Roman general officers, although it accepted many senior non-Romans into the army, and indeed into general officer positions. However, cultural identity was not a significant restraint on career advancement or relationship building for non-Romans.

In the fourth chapter, Parnell discusses the effect of any relationship between officers and the emperor. He gives several examples to demonstrate that Justinian I at least tended to appoint people with whom he was familiar and whom he regarded as loyal and competent to hold the position of general. Thus, family members and members of Justinian I's personal guards were more often selected for senior positions. Furthermore, Justinian I was inclined to forgive his generals for abuse of their authority or incompetence if they were personally loyal to him. He was even willing to forgive some indications of disloyalty if he thought that he could trust them in another position. Parnell reminds us that officers were often competitors and sometimes usurpers of emperors. The conclusion of this chapter is that emperors were most concerned about their own longevity in their position and had to balance the general competence and popularity of officers against the possible threat that they posed. This balance explains much of the interaction between officers and emperors.

The fifth chapter addresses the social networks of officers. Parnell starts from two related arguments; the first is that, although an officer's relationship, if any, with the emperor was most important, his secondmost important relationships were with other officers because they provided support in an often unclear bureaucracy; the second is that the social networks of officers were critical to the functioning of the army because they encouraged cooperative behavior and sometimes supplanted the official hierarchy. In support of these arguments, Parnell cites discussions of army factions in Agathias and Procopius. For example, he dissects the social networks of Belisarius and Narses in Italy in 538-539 as reported by Procopius, and concludes that the mutual suspicions of these factions was a factor in the losses that occurred. He also concludes that the networks permitted generals to exert control over the army through the cooperation of junior officers. As a result, the generals carefully explained the reasons for their decisions to their subordinates to maintain cooperation. Parnell acknowledges that factions within armies were also common in antiquity but argues that the problem was more serious in Justinian's time because generals were operating in western areas outside of the military bureaucracy of the eastern Mediterranean, and so the factions substituted for an unclear hierarchy in an army far from the imperial government.

Chapter Six deals with the officers and their families. Parnell looks at the incidence of nepotism in the army and concludes that while many families had several generations of members in the military, there was little evidence that senior officers procured official military positions for their sons or younger relatives. Emperors used members of their own family in official positions, and Justinian in particular employed cousins, nephews, and in-laws as generals. However, although multiple family members might serve in the military, they rarely shared the same position, and the emperors maintained personal control over the appointment of officers to senior positions, thus preserving authority over the military. Parnell then considers the impact of wives and children on members of the military, largely using Procopius' description of the impact of Antonina on Belisarius and the desertion of Illyrian soldiers to protect their families from a Hunnic invasion. He concludes that soldiers with families placed a high degree of importance of them and would balance their needs against imperial needs, notwithstanding the disapproval of historians such as Procopius.

In Chapter Seven, Parnell discusses the relationships between officers and their soldiers. He begins this chapter by noting that there is limited evidence in this area because while historians would identify principal generals, they rarely identified lower-ranking soldiers except as part of a larger homogenous group. While acknowledging that speeches in classical histories may have little to do with what was actually said, he discusses speeches to soldiers to convince them not to sack the local population and speeches to soldiers dividing booty as examples of the interaction between officers and their soldiers. Then he addresses reports of individual soldiers who were praised for good conduct, reports of individual soldiers given specific missions and reports of soldiers who were criticized for misconduct. Finally, he addresses reports of soldiers who had grievances against their officers, for example, for failure to pay them regularly. He concludes that officers rarely had personal relationships with soldiers, although there were mutual expectations of good leadership and good execution, and of regular payment and fair division of booty.

The eighth chapter discusses public perceptions of the army. The record is scant, so Parnell uses his sources' discussion of various desertions and mutinies to support his conclusion that desertions were often caused by monetary concerns, especially when pay was late, or survival in the face of an enemy of greater numbers. He further argues that the public, while appreciating the physical security that local soldiers brought, was probably also wary of them because of enforced billeting, extortion of more food supplies than authorized and other abuses. Parnell concludes this chapter by noting that the sixth-century army was generally successful and professional, even in the face of periodic delays in pay, and that Justinian's loyalty to his senior officers generally resulted in continuity and opportunities for professional growth. He also states that civilian government and society remained vibrant without demanding major changes to the military or rebelling against it, evidence of a general acceptance of the military by the public.

The ninth and last chapter is a short conclusion that sums up the conclusions of the previous chapters and reinforces Parnell's argument that the sixth century was a diverse vibrant world in which friendships, alliances, and various collective strategies were used to encourage social and financial success.

In summary, the strength of this book is that it uses social network theory plus an in-depth analysis of the literary sources to assess the impact of social relationships behind military operations and the often-fraught relationship between general officers and emperors. In this regard, this book adds significantly to the scholarship in this area. In addition, there are very few typographical errors.1 A weakness of this book is that, with a handful of exceptions, it relies largely on Anglophone scholarship. European scholars such as Jean-Michel Carrié, Fritz Mitthof, Bernhard Palme, Giorgio Ravegnani (except for his 1998 book on Byzantine soldiers in the years of Justinian), and Constantin Zuckerman are not cited, nor is Giovanni Ruffini, who wrote in English about social networks in Byzantine Egypt, a comparable period.2 Another weakness is that the book relies almost entirely on literary sources, except for the epigraphic, archaeological and numismatic evidence incorporated into the PLRE. I also found the chapter on ethnic identity to be problematic because of the relatively small number of people identified in the sources, the bias of the sources towards senior generals and notorious incidents, the difficulty with using names as an indicator of ethnic identity, and differences in how the various sources described their subjects. That said, this book is easy to read and is useful not only for understanding the relationships between the military and the imperial government in late antiquity but also for a source for military history in general.


1.   As a rare exception, the speech of Pharas the Herul, is shown in Chapter 3, footnote 45, as from Procopius, Wars book 4, chapter 4, section 15, whereas it is at book 4, chapter 6, section 15.
2.   Giovanni Ruffini, Social Networks in Byzantine Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

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Friday, March 22, 2019


C. T. Hadavas, Ancient Greek Epigrams: A Selection. Lexington, KY: C. T. Hadavas, 2018. Pp. xxxiv, 144. ISBN 9781727440225. $12.95.

Reviewed by Floris Overduin, Radboud University Nijmegen (

Version at BMCR home site

This reader contains 85 epigrams, selected by the author as reading material for students at the intermediate level of their study of ancient Greek literature. The author's concern for useful study material has already been exemplified by similar readers on Lucian, Aesop, Euripides' Cyclops, and less common texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas, or the Pinax of Cebes. A collection of Greek epigrams is a sensible addition. Earlier anthologies of Hellenistic and Imperial Greek poetry, such as those by Hopkinson1 (not mentioned in the introduction or in the bibliography) offer excellent sections on epigram, but they are both aimed at more advanced students, and their epigram sections are of limited scope within their larger respective projects. A dedicated and inexpensive reader is therefore to be welcomed.

The setup of Hadavas' reader is diachronic, starting with Simonides and ending with Diodorus in the first century CE, and divided over four chapters: (i) Late Archaic and Early Classical Epigrams, (ii) Early Hellenistic Epigrams, (iii) Later Hellenistic Epigrams, and (iv) Epigrams of the Early Empire. This division gives the impression of a clearly delineated, yet fairly evenly spread choice of material. Within the chapters, however, the balance is very much towards the core Hellenistic material. The first chapter only contains eight epigrams, whereas the second chapter contains thirty nine poems, the bulk of which is formed by Callimachus (twenty three epigrams). The third chapter, although labelled 'later Hellenistic' (twenty eight poems), only consists of Meleager and Philodemus, augmented only by a single epigram of Archias. The final chapter, although divided over six poets, only contains ten poems. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this selection — all poems selected are valuable in their own right, and one need not be surprised by the predominance of, e.g., Callimachus — it is not overly ambitious either. Considering the limited attention paid to later epigram, the volume could have been called 'Hellenistic epigram', as Hellenistic poets make up eighty percent of this reader. Not only is their no room for relevant later poets such as Lucillius, Nicarchus, Strato or Leonides of Alexandria (not to mention Palladas), the selection of Hellenistic material itself is also somewhat surprising: Anyte is present with six epigrams, but Nossis is absent. Against twelve epigrams by Meleager, there is only one by Posidippus (and none from the Milan papyrus). Leonidas of Tarentum — not a minor poet — is included only three times; Asclepiades five. Without stressing the point too much, and conceding that it seems unfair to judge a book by what it is not, one can conclude that the selection was not essentially designed to be representative or to offer a broad palette of Greek epigram through the ages. The author does, however, point out that, although his selection is a personal one, he has made sure all of the four main epigrammatical domains (sepulchral, dedicatory, erotic, epideictic) are represented in this reader (p. vii).

What does this reader offer? The 34 pages of introduction cover the very basics of the development of the genre, a 'how to read an ancient Greek epigram section', a 'very short history of the texts', a very short section on influences, overviews of the poets treated in this volume, a three page list of 'rhetorical/literary figures and grammatical terms', a short bibliography of texts and translations, six pages on meter, and the obligatory list of abbreviations (with the interesting 'C-to-F' for 'Contrary to Fact'); some abbreviations are, however, missing from the list, such as 'intran.' on p. 13. It is odd that Nisetich's translation of Callimachus is listed in the main 'bibliography' and not in its 'translations' section. It also would have been useful to list all books mentioned in the introduction in the bibliography, many of which are absent. The rhetorical/literary figures list is elementary, but helpful. I very much doubt, however, that the inclusion of pluralis maiestatis (p. xxii) is appropriate for the epigrams treated here; 'poetic plural' may be as far as we can go. All in all, what we get is a bit of everything: the three short paragraphs on influences are too short to really be helpful (but serve as a place to park the useful references in the notes), but the six pages on meter are not to be complained about. It is also convenient that each poem is given a brief descriptive title in the table of contents, which makes it much easier to find what one is looking for. For an intermediate reader, the student could do worse.

After the introduction, it is time for business. The author's choice to present one epigram per page is attractive; for longer epigrams two facing pages are reserved. Ease of use and legibility have been given attention. The author did not refrain from listing multiple references, so that Callimachus' epigrams can instantly be traced by both their AP number and their place in Gow & Page, in addition to their number in Pfeiffer's edition, which is much more user-friendly than an appendix with comparative numeration. Slightly less convenient is the fact that the epigrams are numbered per author, rather than continuously: "1. Posidippus" is followed by "1. Callimachus".

The Greek text is followed by all of the poem's vocabulary beyond the very basics (presented alphabetically), and then the commentary per line, which mainly deals with grammatical or syntactical issues, or hints at possible translations, although points of style or context are sometimes included too. Often the author quotes solutions from earlier commentators (Sider on Philodemus is frequent) or editors (Fain). For points of grammar the student is often referred to Smyth. Sometimes (as on p. 88–89 or 94–95) vocabulary and commentary are swapped, presumably to avoid sections going over the page.

After that, further additions vary per poem. Sometimes a fourth delineated text block is added with a brief running commentary pointing out issues of style or aesthetics. These blocks may contain points of interest as explained by the author, but sometimes they contain large citations from dedicated scholarly publications, such as Alexander Sens' commentary on Asclepiades, Livingstone & Nisbet's introductory volume to Greek epigram, or simply an entry from the OCD (as in the case of ἡταῖραι on p. 89). Alternatively the fourth text block prints a literary translation, ranging from 1793 to 2005. One gets the impression that the choice of translation is rather arbitrary: is it included (if it is given at all) simply because it was available, whether old (1911, 1889) or more recent, or did it happen to be on the author's shelf? Or are they meant to be playful examples of what a literary translation may look like? If translations are deemed useful, then why not include one for each single epigram? Conversely, why are some epigrams given a purposeful stylistic treatment and a translation (or even two), whereas others are given a translation only, and yet others no further treatment at all, lacking the fourth text block with either translation or additional stylistic commentary? The leading principle here, as the author makes clear, is that translations and the like are only included if they do not inhibit the epigram's treatment to stay on one page, or on two facing pages, fitting besides or below the Greek text. Additional translations are compiled in the appendix, 'on account of spatial constraints' (p. 133).

The line-by-line notes to the epigrams, primarily intended for basic reading, are overall very useful, short when then can be, long if this is what the text requires. The indebtedness to Gow and Page is obvious, as the author often picks out one or two useful remarks from their commentaries. As observed above: to have all you need on one page (or two facing pages) is very convenient, and attention has been paid to a pleasant page layout. The author is also to be praised for not glossing over difficulties of interpretation, always trying to make the best of it, even when the Greek is particularly elliptical or elusive. This is particularly welcome at the intermediate level, when a student still often lacks the experience or the confidence to decide what may be meant. The author's approach ensures that the student's doubts will be based on the difficulties of the Greek, not on his own lack of knowledge.

Overall, this is quite a nice volume. For students of intermediate Greek, it offers lots of basic instruments for reading, for a very modest price. The brief introduction touches on many relevant aspects and references are up-to-date and to the point. The somewhat conservative choice of poems, despite my reservations, ties in with general idea about the canon of Greek epigram, and the author is to be credited for not leaving out the more difficult poems.

Typesetting and printing is overall decent, apart from a glitch on p. 24, where the top half of a complete line has been erased; a blank line is missing in the bibliography on p. xxiv. There are a few minor mistakes in proofing, although the Greek itself appears to be correct: 'stong' (p. 3) for 'strong'. 'Geoghagen' (p. 12) should be 'Geoghegan', as printed correctly on p. 14. Aithiops (p. 49, cited from Nisetich, where it is printed correctly) should be Aithiopis. 'beingthat' (p. 114) lacks a space. Somewhat unconventionally, words lemmatized are taken from the Greek text complete with their gravis accent, rather then taking the acutus accent, as is common practice for oxytone words in isolation.


1.   N. Hopkinson, A Hellenistic Anthology, Cambridge 1988. N; Hopkinson, Greek Poetry of the Imperial Period, Cambridge 1994.

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