Thursday, January 15, 2009


Timothy Howe, Pastoral Politics: Animals, Agriculture and Society in Ancient Greece. Publications of the Association of Ancient Historians 9. Claremont: Regina Books, 2008. Pp. x, 143. ISBN 9781930053540. $19.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Evrydiki Tasopoulou, Bryn Mawr College (

Timothy Howe's Pastoral Politics: Animals, Agriculture and Society in Ancient Greece is a welcome contribution to the long-neglected study of animals as important constituents of ancient Greek history and culture. The main purpose of the book is to analyze the practice of animal husbandry in relation to sociopolitical and economic causes that informed and shaped this practice in ancient Greece during the Archaic, Classical, and early Hellenistic periods. Howe stresses that the book is meant for "ancient historians who ha[ve] little or no knowledge of the subject" (ix), yet his main intention is to make it appealing to non-specialists, and thus incorporate it into the mainstream of scholarly research on ancient Greek history. Howe approaches the topic of large-scale animal production in ancient Greece by focusing on the use of land for agricultural and pastoral purposes, while addressing three central questions: "(1) why did wealthy (and also non-wealthy) people prioritize the production of animals to such a degree that they removed some of the best land from cereal or other food cultivation; (2) how did these people justify taking much needed land away from subsistence food production in order to raise non-food animals such as horses; and (3) how did these animal production choices affect those individuals directly and not directly involved in animal production?" (ix). It is through these questions that Howe attempts to disentangle the intricate connections among land use, animals, agriculture, and politics in ancient Greece, a challenging task, which he succinctly refers to as "pastoral politics" (2).

The book consists of five chapters. The first chapter, "Understanding Pastoral Politics," outlines the scope of the book and offers a critical review of existing theories regarding agricultural and pastoral practices in ancient Greece. Howe discusses, first, the agricultural systems of Classical Athens as analyzed by Louis Gernet (1909) and Auguste Jardé (1925);1 Moses Finley's model of ancient Mediterranean economy as being centered on agricultural practice that was, in turn, dependent upon subsistence food production and surplus market production (1985);2 and Peter Garnsey's (1988) and Robin Osborne's (1985;1987) unifying model of city and countryside and its emphasis on elite political and personal choices shaping agricultural production in Classical Greece.3 He moves, next, to Robert Sallares's study of ecology and subsistence food production (1991);4 the environmental model of specialized transhumance proposed by Ellen Semple (1922; 1932), embraced by Stella Georgoudi (1974), and revived later by Jens Skydsgaard (1988);5 the agro-pastoralist model favored by Paul Halstead (1987) and Stephen Hodkinson (1988);6 the substantiation of these two competing models by epigraphical evidence regarding livestock rearing in the eastern Mediterranean (fifth century B.C. to first century A.D.) as discussed by Christophe Chandezon (2003);7 and, finally, Hamish Forbes' study of the role of animals as wealth-generating entities for the ruling elite in ancient Greece (1995).8 Howe acknowledges the intellectual debt of his study to Forbes, while underlining the need to take into account variables such as the regional and temporal complexity of animal husbandry in ancient Greece and the specific sociopolitical and economic contexts that sustained this practice.

In the second chapter, "Animals as Gentlemanly Wealth," Howe considers the ancient Greek, specifically elite, conception of animals as sources of wealth, thus suggesting their use as markers of elevated social class and status. On the basis of literary evidence ranging from Homer and Hesiod to Pindar, Aristotle, and Demosthenes, Howe demonstrates that large and impressive animals such as cattle and horses were signifiers of wealth, prestige, and familial identity throughout pre-Classical and Classical Greece. There was a continuum, he argues, to the conception of animals as such that extended from Homeric to fifth- and fourth-century B.C. Greece and remained little affected by societal phenomena such as the development of the polis that occurred within this stretch of time. Furthermore, by placing his argument against a critical review of offered theories concerning the evolution (or not) of Early Iron Age pastoralism (e.g., those of Anthony Snodgrass, John Cherry, Lin Foxhall, and Victor Hanson),9 Howe underscores the importance of surviving literary evidence for gaining a useful insight into the ancient Greek attitude toward animal husbandry as a well-established and thus defining resource of the well-to-do ruling elite.

The third chapter, "Tending the Herds: Animal Management Strategies," considers the geographical diversity of animal production (sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, and horses) in Classical Greece by examining and contrasting the strategies adopted by four different communities, Athens, Sparta, Thessaly, and Arcadia. As manifested in the literary and archaeological records, each of these communities, Howe asserts, had its own unique approach to managing animal production, an approach not fully divorced from local, sociopolitical, economic, and environmental circumstances.

In Athens, for example, social and environmental factors had a profound effect on limiting the types of animals that Athenians could normally raise to smaller species such as sheep and goats; the local system of land ownership represented a patchwork of small individually owned plots, each of which could only sustain a restricted number of grazing animals, and the distinct lack of wetland pastures precluded raising cattle and horses. Additionally, the Athenian demand for animals to be used in state-sponsored sacrifices during the Classical period created a market from which the individuals involved benefited greatly as their raising and selling of sacrificial animals enabled them to engage in and compete for public services such as liturgies. Despite the apparent prominence of sheep, goats, and also pigs among the species of animals produced and managed in Classical Athens, animals such as cattle and horses were also present, albeit in smaller numbers, Howe notes. Oxen, for example, are mentioned in the Attic sacrificial calendars and the homonymous stelai, and, in the literary sources, men of the Athenian cavalry keep horses on their own land and have expenses related to the maintenance of these animals paid to them by the state. In this way, the management of animal production in Classical Athens emerges as the direct outcome, Howe says, of local contemporary social and environmental conditions.

In Sparta, strategies regarding the management of animal production differed greatly from those implemented in Athens mostly because of a marked divergence in the sociopolitical organization and environmental and climatic conditions. As Howe remarks, in Classical Sparta, all property and resources were controlled by a small elite body of citizens, whereas the well-watered plains and mild climate of Laconia and Messenia allowed this relatively small land-owning class to maintain animals such as horses, cattle, pigs, and goats in large herds and within large estates--a situation far removed from that in contemporary Athens. To substantiate further his analysis of the regional and temporal components of animal production in ancient Sparta, Howe presents literary evidence that attests to the fame of the Spartans in antiquity as continuous winners of Olympic horse races (e.g., seven out of eight times between 448 and 420 B.C.) and also as skillful connoisseurs of raising, maintaining, and also supplying fine horses to foreign kingdoms such as that of Ptolemaic Egypt. In addition to horses, the texts also mention Sparta as famous for cattle raising. At the same time, the Spartan institution of public mess, Howe notes, provided the opportunity for wealthy individuals to display their means and status through significant contributions of meat and dairy products to such a public venue. On the basis of this evidence, the specific sociopolitical and environmental characteristics of Sparta were instrumental, Howe argues, in dictating its equally specific approach to managing animal production -- a situation not dissimilar in essence from that in Athens. Like the poleis of Athens and Sparta, the ethne of Thessaly, Arcadia and Central Greece developed, according to Howe, their own methods of managing animal production; and like those of Athens and Sparta, these methods were closely connected to both the environment and social reality that shaped each of these ethne. In Thessaly, for example, the existence of a ruling elite that controlled large parts of well-watered lowlands suitable for grazing enabled the raising of animals (e.g., cattle, horses, and sheep) on a grand scale, and to such a degree that the inhabitants of Thessaly could not have been renowned simply for their possession of large herds of cattle and horses, as attested by textual evidence, but rather for their specialization in the practice of pastoralism. Similarly, the highland communities of Arcadia and Central Greece (Phocis, Locris) were engaged in a specialized form of pastoralism that was directly dependent upon local environmental conditions. More specifically, the system of animal production followed by these communities involved -- as attested in both ancient literature and modern archaeological survey -- the breeding of sheep and goats that was, in turn, sustained by the availability of mountain pastures, usually a source of contention among competing communities. Since such a terrain could not support the production of arable crops, the shepherding clans of Arcadia and Central Greece, Howe suggests, used both their animals and resulting products as a medium of exchange for acquiring agricultural goods produced by their lowland neighbors.

In the fourth chapter, "The Pressure for Pasture: Animal Husbandry and War," Howe explores the idea that acquiring grazing lands was the pretext for many noted conflicts, both secular and sacred, in Archaic and Classical Greece. Drawing primarily from literary and epigraphical evidence, Howe suggests that the need of wealthy pastoralists, communities, and even states to ensure access to and control over scarce pasturelands can be seen as the primary motivation behind conflicts such as the Lelantine War, the Corinthian War, the four Sacred Wars, and even the Peloponnesian War. While involvement in the aggressive acquisition of grazing lands and resources provided the opportunity for pastoralists to express and affirm their distinguished social identity, the disrupting effects of such a behavior on the lives of ordinary citizens is an aspect of ancient Greek animal husbandry to which current scholarship, Howe argues, has not given thoughtful consideration.

The fifth chapter, "The Politics of Display: Animals, Identity and Power," examines the role of animals in the creation and promotion of elite sociopolitical status and identity in ancient Greek society. Howe traces from Homer to classical Greek literature the centrality and development of the concept of conspicuous display and consumption of animals in the expression of personal excellence and, therefore, of public honor, prestige, and political power of the wealthy elite in ancient Greece. By identifying this behavior as part of the wider ancient Greek concept of conspicuous consumption (megaloprepeia) within a community, Howe argues that possession and maintenance of animals, as exemplified by their use in pan-Hellenic athletic competitions, sacrificial dedications, or as pure symbols of wealth (e.g., horses), enabled privileged individuals to participate into a system of public competitive expenditure that not only advertised their prominence in Greek society but also accentuated their links to their communities and gods and therefore bestowed upon them long-lasting public honor and prestige.

In conclusion, Howe's book raises many interesting points regarding animal husbandry and its multifaceted connections with agriculture and society in ancient Greece. Although one may argue that this is a topic that deserves a more extensive treatment, the strength of the book lies in removing animals from the margins of scholarly discussions of ancient Greek social and cultural history. Unfortunately, the text is not free of typographical errors: "agriculure" (spine), "Husbantry" (Contents), "Bibliograpy" (Contents), "Berekeley" (5, n. 2, 130), "arborial" (31, 34, 39), "Agrariansim" (38, n. 22, 132), "agues" (38, n. 24), "an individuals public reputation" (47, n. 47), "argo-pastoralism" (51), "Ancient Greek Agriculture. And Introduction" (59, n. 33), "collateral damaged caused" (88), "vicitims" (91), "explains nature of this talismanic power" (110). In addition, inconsistencies, such as "eighth-century elite" (29, n. 7), but "8th century prototype" (28), "well-pastured mountains" (61), but "well established social evolutionary model" (25), "Oxyrhynchos" (17, 85), but "Oxyrhynkhos" (72), L. Foxhall (36, n. 20), but F. Foxhall (132), as well as the lack of a consistent format for documenting primary and secondary sources (e.g., Xenophon Athenaion Politeia 1.10 (108, n. 25), but Xen.Hell. 2.4.8-10 (116, n. 55), and Kurke, Traffic in Praise, 180 (112, n. 41), but Kurke, Traffic in Praise, 1991: 177ff (115, n. 53), and for crediting (or not) translations of ancient authors (e.g., Homer, Odyssey 14.99-104 (27, n. 1), but not for Plato, Republic, 373d-e (77)) weaken the quality of presentation. Lastly, the correct title of the volume edited by C. R. Whittaker is Pastoral Economies in Classical Antiquity, and not Pastoral Economies of Ancient Greece and Rome (16, n. 32; 22, n. 48; 34-35, n. 17). Notwithstanding these points, the book is a valuable contribution to the study of animal husbandry in ancient Greece that goes well beyond the old debate on pastoralism and transhumance.


1. L. Gernet, L' approvisionnement d' Athènes en blé au V et au VI siècle (Université de Paris, bibliothèque de la faculté des letters 25. Mélanges d' histoire ancienne; Paris, 1909); A. Jardé, Les céreales dans l'antiquité greque (Paris, 1925).

2. M. I. Finley, The Ancient Economy (second ed.; Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985).

3. P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World: Responses to Risk and Crisis (Cambridge and New York, 1988); R. Osborne, Demos: The Discovery of Classical Attika (Cambridge and New York, 1985) and Classical Landscape with Figures: The Ancient Greek City and Its Countryside (London, 1987).

4. R. Sallares, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (Ithaca, 1991).

5. E. C. Semple, "The Influence of Geographic Conditions upon Ancient Mediterranean Stock-Raising," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 12 (1922) 3-38 and The Geography of the Mediterranean Region and Its Relation to Ancient History (New York, 1932); S. Georgoudi, "Quelque problèmes de la transhumance dans la Grèce ancienne," REG 87 (1974) 155-185; J. E. Skydsgaard, "Transhumance in Ancient Greece," in C. R. Whittaker, ed., Pastoral Economies in Classical Antiquity, (Cambridge Philological Society, Supplementary Volume no. 41; Cambridge, 1988) 75-86.

6. P. Halstead, "Traditional and Ancient Rural Economy in Mediterranean Europe: Plus ça Change?" JHS 107 (1987) 77-87; S. Hodkinson, "Animal Husbandry in the Greek Polis," in C. R. Whittaker, ed., Pastoral Economies in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge Philological Society, Supplementary Volume no. 41; Cambridge, 1988) 35-74.

7. C. Chandezon, L' élevage en Grèce (fin V-fin I s. a.C.). L' apport des sources épigraphiques (Bordeaux, 2003).

8. H. A. Forbes, "The Identification of Pastoralist Sites within the Context of Estate-Based Agriculture in Ancient Greece: Beyond the Transhumance versus Agro-Pastoralism Debate," ABSA 90 (1995) 325-338.

9. A. M. Snodgrass, An Archaeology of Greece: The Present State and Future Scope of a Discipline (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987) 207, The Dark Age of Greece: An Archaeological Survey of the Eleventh to the Eighth Centuries B.C. (Edinburgh, 1971) 180-181, and Archaic Greece: The Age of Experiment (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1980); J. F. Cherry, "Pastoralism and the Role of Animals in the Pre- and Protohistoric Economies of the Aegean," in C. R. Whittaker, ed., Pastoral Economies in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge Philological Society, Supplementary Volume no. 41; Cambridge, 1988) 196-209; L. Foxhall, "Bronze to Iron: Agricultural Systems and Political Structures in Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Greece," ABSA 90 (1995) 239-250; V. D. Hanson, The Other Greeks. The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1999).

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