Monday, August 31, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
John Buckler, Hans Beck, Central Greece and the Politics of Power in the Fourth Century BC. Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xviii, 309. ISBN 9780521837057. $99.00.
Reviewed by Jeremy McInerney,

[Chapter titles are listed at the end of the review.]

For close to forty years John Buckler has been the most conscientious researcher of all matters related to the political history of central Greece in the 4th century BC, having produced two monographs of fundamental importance for our understanding of Greek politics in the period immediately prior to the advent of the Hellenistic age: The Theban Hegemony, which appeared in 1980, and 2003's Aegean Greece in the Fourth Century BC. The volume reviewed here is of a somewhat different type. Hans Beck, another important scholar of the 4th century with a keen interest in affairs beyond the polis of Athens, has collected eighteen of Buckler's essays, most of which have appeared in print but often in out of the way places. In addition to grouping the essays in three categories--Alliance, Hegemony and Domination--Beck also provides an excellent prologue entitled "Power politics in fourth-century Greece" and is the coauthor, along with Buckler, of the epilogue. Since this volume was not written as a narrative or a diachronic history it would be wrong to judge it in those terms. Rather, this review treats the chapters as separate articles seriatim and attempts to evaluate the broader contribution to our understanding of the 4th century that emerges from Buckler's collected essays.

In the first two essays, on Theban-Athenian relations between 403 and 371 BC, and on an episode of sheep rustling on Mt Parnassos in 395 BC, precipitating the Corinthian War, Buckler's strengths and weaknesses are on display. The second essay in particular demonstrates Buckler's great ability to compare literary accounts (in this case Xenophon and the Oxyrhynchus Historian) and to reach judicious and reliable conclusions. He uses eye-witness familiarity with the topography to situate the discussion in an actual landscape; he exhibits a subtle awareness of contemporary legal practice, neatly distinguishing between arbitration and trial, to establish criteria for choosing between ancient and modern accounts; and he displays a sound grasp of the principles of textual editing, jettisoning unnecessary emendations and forcing the reader to attend to what the sources say rather than what we would like them to say. At the same time, however, there are aspects of this style of history writing that demonstrate the limitations of positivistic historiography. States are presented as actors with emotions that can be inferred ("At the real heart of the matter, however, is that Athens and Sparta had come to fear Thebes more than they did each other.") Pace Thucydides, the historian's task is to do more than infer the State's state of mind. Further, there is in Buckler's approach a temptation to mistake historical explanation for apportioning blame ("The blame for this shortsighted view can reasonably be laid to Athens, for a conflict with Thebes was anything but inevitable.") Despite the care with which Buckler's analysis proceeds, some readers may wonder whether an analysis that locates the key to a quarter century of convoluted political and military manoeuvring in "the myopia of Athenian politicians" has actually explained terribly much at all, especially in a society where the very relationship between politicians and the people they led was so intimate and complex. Would, for example, a catalogue of Neville Chamberlain's miscalculations suffice as an explanation for World War II?

Chapter 3, a reevaluation of the Battle of Coronea suffers from the same strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand Buckler has an authentic familiarity with the battlefield, allowing him to correct such luminaries as Kendrick Pritchett, although proving the axis of the battlefield was northwest by east-southeast rather than east-west seems a modest advance in our knowledge, at best. Buckler's scrupulous attention to Polyainos' testimony presents the reader with another sound discussion of palaeography, but once again the results seem mighty modest. Buckler contends that a correct understanding of the history and historiography of this battle early in the Corinthian War is important because "a small matter may lead to larger results." So far so good. But following some casual analogies to Vietnam and Gettysburg all that the reader gets is the fairly anodyne conclusion that Xenophon was covering for Agesilaus, and presented what was a tactical defeat for Sparta as though it were really a victory. Buckler's unwillingness to push beyond the very limited constraints imposed by his habitual caution is signalled by a prose style that would make a Jesuit proud: "Although modern historians of Classical antiquity should not pretend to be prophets and thus say that Agesilaus' defeat was the single most important factor in Sparta's inability to win the Corinthian War unaided, no one can reasonably deny that at Coronea Agesilaus threw away the best opportunity for the Spartans to win the war at the outset." Litotes aside, is the conclusion much different from the caveat that precedes it?

The fourth and fifth chapters confirm the suspicion that there is less in these essays than meets the eye. The first of these is a reasonably succinct treatment of the Phoibidas affair in 382 BC. This event, possibly the most flagrant abuse by Sparta of the autonomy clause in the King's Peace, was the subject of speculation even in antiquity. Was Phoibidas acting opportunistically and on his own initiative when he seized the Kadmeia while leading an army north to confront the growing power of Olynthos, or was he guided and later protected by his mentor, Agesilaus? Buckler has no doubt that the moving force was the Spartan king, but it is odd that an article littered with citations from the 1990's should fail to mention George Cawkwell's CQ article from 1976 (cited in the volume's bibliography, but not in this chapter), when Cawkwell addressed many of the same questions, such as Xenophon's silence, but actually provided a somewhat fuller discussion of the episode by including an examination of Plutarch's version, which drew on Theopompos. Similarly, reading Buckler on the raid of Sphodrias, another curious episode that took place around the time Athens had begun to forge a series of bilateral alliances which would eventually serve as the basis for the 2nd Athenian Confederacy, one is puzzled to find an essay that employs a close reading of the relevant inscriptions to underpin quite unremarkable inferences about Sphodrias (acting under orders from Kleombrotos, according to Buckler). Anne Pippin Burnett performed a similar analysis of these inscriptions and reconstructed the time-line from December 379 to June 378 in an article published as early as 1962. (Buckler's chapter has bibliography up to 2000. Burnett is not cited.) It is not clear to this reader that Buckler's contribution forty years later adds substantially to our understanding of these events.

More promising results occur in chapter 6, when Buckler argues for the reintroduction of the federal magistracy, the Boiotarchia, in 378, following the liberation of the Kadmeia. This information, given in Plutarch, has been doubted, and the prevailing view in recent years has been that the individuals named by Plutarch were, in fact, only local Theban officials, polemarchoi. A detailed comparison of battle narratives (and topography) in Xenophon, Diodorus Siculus and Polyainos permits Buckler to conclude that Plutarch's version of the critical events in 378 is to be preferred. What emerges is a vigorous and early renaissance of Theban federal aspirations. Whether the federal koinon was quite as progressive as Buckler would have it is perhaps less clear. Buckler refers to Boiotian coins that "[stand] as a public declaration of Theban intentions to defy Sparta" (p. 90 n. 18.), but many of the coins in this series have been defaced. Some non-Theban Boiotians may have objected to using coins minted in Thebes. The seventh and eighth chapters read like a matched pair. Both are concerned with important battles in the 370's, Tegyra and Leuktra that together saw the balance of power shift between Thebes and Sparta. In his treatment of the topography of Tegyra Buckler draws on the expertise of J. Knauss, whose studies in the 1980's of the Kopaic basin have shed a great deal of light on an area whose landscape in the Classical period was dramatically different from today. Yet the result of Buckler's painstaking study is modest: Lauffer's view, first expressed in 1971, was correct, and Tegyra was located at the location known as Polygyra. Plutarch's battle narrative, when read with this identification in mind, is vindicated. A more compelling argument underlies the Leuktra essay. Here, although Buckler's conclusions again seem to concern the reliability of Plutarch's account, the real issue that has emerged since Anderson's 1970 monograph on military tactics has been whether or not Epaminondas' tactics were revolutionary: an oblique attack to the left, a refused right wing and the critical use of cavalry to force the Spartan cavalry back onto, thus fouling, their own lines. Buckler's essay on Leuktra first appeared in 1980 and it is regrettable that Buckler has chosen not to revise it, as he does in the case of the Tegyra piece (first published in 1995 but here with bibliography updated to 2004), in the light of subsequent work by scholars such as Victor Davis Hanson, whose 1988 essay explains explicitly where he agrees and disagrees with Buckler. A revision might have brought a fresh perspective to this well-studied battle.

An essay that will prove to have longer staying power is chapter nine, in which Buckler provides a very thorough analysis of Theban hegemony from Leuktra to Mantineia. The study offers a clear context for the understanding of hegemony in authors such as Xenophon and Isokrates, and does a very nice job of showing that the institutions of the Theban state were poorly adapted to establishing a permanent, or even long-lasting, control of Greek affairs. That said, the essay once again exemplifies Buckler's tendency to meld historical explanation with apportioning blame. The fact that the Theban hegemony did not produce a "corporate body capable of setting new goals for its members" is presented as a flaw and a "defect ... directly attributable to the Thebans." Perhaps the Thebans were defective--certainly one can think of a number of Athenians who would have agreed--but the historian's urge to find fault is not exactly the same as the drive to understand, and, to the extent that fault-finding leads the investigator away from such amoral issues as the tension between centripetality and centrifugality, the twin poles of Greek federalism, the business of identifying the flaws of the Thebans is distracting and finally unilluminating. As a result, when Buckler offers a conclusion, one feels that it too needs an explanation. "In short, the Thebans did not attempt to convert their authority and their many ties with other states into something permanent, something that could change with the times and meet new situations without coming apart." Why not?

In a lengthy chapter on speeches in the Hellenica one is again assailed by the sense of an opportunity lost. A thorough review of the speeches breaks them down according to speaker, ethnic affiliation, purpose and category, but in the section on composition Buckler's conclusion makes a molehill out of a mountain: "If Xenophon fully comprehended Thucydides' conception of the function of speeches he clearly chose not to espouse it himself." Given that the Hellenica is the major composition of the most prolific prose author of the 4th century, Buckler's conclusion is hardly breath taking. We are left with a Xenophon who picks up where Thucydides breaks off, but who chooses to compose speeches differently, a fair but also fairly unremarkable conclusion. When Buckler then turns to the historical setting of the speeches to test their veracity he finds Xenophon somewhat inconsistent. Roughly Thucydidean in outlook, Xenophon nevertheless, "never reduced his attitudes toward speeches to an all-encompassing theory or approach which he consistently applied to all cases." Conclusions couched as negatives should always give the reader pause, not because they claim too much but because they claim too little. In Buckler's analysis Xenophontian composition becomes no more than another stop along the via negative of the 4th century. Did Xenophon reject Thucydides' tortured explanation, at 1.22, of the truth-value of speeches in historiography? Did his avoidance of the typically Thucydidean political aperçu represent a rejection of his predecessor's style of historiography? Do Xenophon's more jejune speeches stand in relation to Thucydides' in the same way as the Socrates of his Memorabilia is but a pale shadow of Plato's? On all these questions Buckler's study is silent. All we get in the end is a Xenophon who wasn't Thucydides, which is pretty much what we had at the start.

If Buckler's strengths do not lie in the area of literary analysis, they produce more tangible results when he returns to the nitty-gritty of political and constitutional affairs. In chapter eleven, for example, he turns his attention to the important question of the federal synedrion of the Boiotian League. This is a fundamental issue, because, as Buckler makes clear, our understanding of how the Boiotian Confederacy functioned depends upon how we reconstruct the most basic institution of federalism: the collective meeting of representatives from the allied states. Many scholars, relying on the Athenian and Spartan examples, have assumed that the Thebans similarly arranged for their allies to meet formally, even though the evidence for this is confusing and contradictory. Buckler's stance, that there was no formally constituted allied synedrion, rests upon a minute sifting of the evidence in Xenophon's account of the trial of the assassins of the Sikyonian tyrant Euphron and epigraphic evidence from the Sacred War. It is hard to resist his conclusion that the Thebans preferred a looser, more ad hoc arrangement. Buckler leaves largely unexplored the broader issues of how and why Theban hegemony played out so differently from the Athenian and Spartan models that preceded it, being content simply to observe that the Thebans had experience of the problems that recalcitrant allies could cause, since they themselves had been in this position in relation to Athens not long earlier, but as the volume's preface makes clear, citing a slightly inapposite line from Blake that concerns doing good, Buckler would rather deal with "minute particulars" than grand theories. So much the better, will say many.

There are, of course, times when teasing out the solution to a single problem produces unexpectedly rich results. In chapter twelve Buckler tackles a question of no great intrinsic importance, the location and identity of the harbour used to house the fleet of one hundred triremes built by the Thebans in 366 BC. Yet in the process of reviewing the scant literary and archaeological evidence he manages not only to create a vivid picture of the coastal conditions in northern and southern Boiotia, but also to reconstruct very convincingly the strategic thinking that lay behind the locating of Greek naval bases. The essay demonstrates a powerful command of evidence relating both to Boiotia but also to many of the major naval campaigns of the 5th century. Military historians will find it rewarding.

The final chapter in the section entitled Hegemony concerns a proxeny inscription from Knidos honouring Epaminondas and conferring upon the Theban commander the right to sail in and out of Knidos. Those who customarily dismiss the honorific language of such inscriptions as little more than diplomatic bloviation should read Buckler's precise analysis of this and other 4th century examples to see how, for a time at least, such negotiations actually meant something. In this case, the Knidians acknowledged the presence of a new power in the region without jeopardizing their independence. One quibble: there has been a good deal of discussion of Diodorus Siculus' description, at 15.79.1, of Epaminondas' voyage around the eastern Aegean, in particular the meaning of idias in the phrase idias tas poleis Thebaiois epoiesen. After a lengthy discussion Buckler concludes, "Epaminondas won the favorable opinion of some states that Diodorus considered to be inclined towards Thebes." Yet his actual translation goes considerably further: "and he made the cities Thebes' own," a choice of words that creates the (incorrect) impression that Buckler thinks Thebes took possession of the cities in question. The confusion here, stemming from the difference between his translation and his interpretation, is only exacerbated by his treatment of other scholar's approaches. Buckler cites Bresson's translation "il gagne (sic) ces cités à la cause de Thèbes", which is very close to the interpretation Buckler himself offers, but then criticizes Bresson and remarks that ""independent" in this context renders idias most closely", a conclusion utterly at odds with his own translation.

Chapter fourteen, an essay on the outbreak of the Sacred War, opens the section entitled Domination. Buckler offers a close reading of our principal source, Diodorus Siculus and exonerates the Thebans of responsibility for having manipulated the Amphiktyony into imposing punishing fines on Phokis, thereby provoking the Phokians into reasserting their claim to Delphi and resulting in the Phokian occupation of the site. Buckler suggests, though no ancient source says it, that it was the Delphians who brought charges against the Phokians. The argument rests on probabilities, which are not the most secure foundations. When Buckler asserts that "[t]hey (sc. the Delphians) stood to gain the most from denouncing the Phocians", one is tempted to ask, what, exactly, did they stand to gain? Antagonizing an already hostile neighbour? Isolating the Phocians? But this is a slippery slope. One can then speculate that Delphi, vulnerable, would only contemplate such provocation if the Delphians could rely on a powerful protector. And so the path of speculation leads once more back to Thebes, awarded promanteia by Delphi in 360/59. Speculation is not necessarily bad, in fact, it may be the very quality most lacking from Buckler's approach. Indeed, one is struck by the fact that in his final paragraph Buckler yet again reaches a negative conclusion: "In conclusion, despite the existence of Boeotian enmity towards the Phocians, nothing immediately connects it with the pressing events at Delphi."

In chapter fifteen Buckler continues his treatment of the Sacred War from the perspective of the Boiotians. A strength of the essay is its ability to weave a narrative of events on the mainland with Theban actions in the western satrapies of the Persian Empire, thereby providing a broader perspective on events in the 350s than one commonly encounters. The focus of Buckler's attention is Pammenes, the Boiotarch who came to prominence with his defeat of the Phokian Philomelos, instigator of the seizure of Delphi, in 355 BC. Trying to find a consistent policy among any of the leaders of the Greek states during this tumultuous period is a fraught endeavour, and Buckler is not the first to toy with the idea that the polis was an evolutionary deadend. Towards the end of this article he takes to ruminating on the difference between the Greeks, addicted to their particularism, and the Romans, with their broader notion of "a community of shared laws, literature, and culture." The observation is an interesting one, but characteristically it leads Buckler back to his preferred mode of historical explanation: failure of character. Thus, in the final paragraph, we read that "[t]he Thebans... proved incapable of maintaining their ascendancy in Greece. The reason for it lay in the nature of Theban leadership with its inability to remedy a fatal flaw in Greek political thinking." Myopia, flaws, and shortcomings of character are certainly part of the tapestry of human experience that is history, but they are rarely the full or even partial explanation for historical change. It may well be that the Theban leadership deserves to be castigated, but it would be interesting if Buckler were to contrast the narrowness of vision exhibited by the Thebans, newly come to power, with the glimmerings of a broader, more expansive definition of Greekness exhibited by Isokrates, who at this very time could proclaim, "We call Greek all who share our paideia." Was it in the shadow of an empire's passing that the Athenians began to grope towards a more inclusive understanding of what it was to be Greek, precisely as the Thebans, parochial ever, were revelling in their one moment centre-stage. Less myopia and more dazzled by the footlights, perhaps?

The longest essay in the collection is typically detailed reading of Philip's relations with the Greeks and the Great King between 346 and 336 BC. Here Buckler is exploring at least two distinct questions: in what ways did the concept of common peace undergo transformation as Philip's power increased and to what degree can one infer a masterplan behind the record of Philip's actions in the years before and after Chaeroneia. The two issues are not entirely brought into alignment, in part because the former is a question of institutional changes while the second concerns personal motivations. In pulling the two threads together Buckler adopts a by-now familiar position: the negative formulation, with an emphasis on what is not in evidence, and what cannot be demonstrated: "Nothing of the extant evidence suggests that he (sc. Philip) had had any ambitions in Asia until the King interfered with his Thracian operations..." Buckler's Philip is an opportunist, "pursuing a traditional Greek policy, one limited to the Aegean basin." But, not for the first time, conclusions couched as cautious negatives actually contain a kind of assertion. "There is absolutely no reason to think that he seriously looked beyond the Ionian coast... There is nothing to suggest that he, like his son, ever seriously planned to conquer the entire Persian Empire." In other words, the lengthy and detailed analysis of Philip's actions in the last decade of his life is really employed to draw conclusions about his future intentions, as if Buckler is answering the question, what would Philip have done had he lived. That Philip had no clearly formulated plan of world domination is a fair guess, yet it took only a single victory, at the Granikos River, to deliver all of Asia Minor into Alexander's hands. Had Philip enjoyed the same success, who knows what ideas might have taken shape in the head of a man whose statue was carried alongside those of the gods that fateful day in 334 BC.

A much more modest essay is chapter seventeen, in which Buckler argues against the confusing and myth-laden reconstructions of Chaironeia that have Philip performing a flanking manoeuvre while Alexander led a mounted attack on the Sacred Band. Instead, after a careful consideration of the sources and the terrain, Buckler concludes, "Philip introduced no new strategy at Chaeronea." Striking, then, that Buckler should find two earlier occasions when Philip did employ novel tactics. Buckler' Chaeronea, however, was a traditional confrontation of infantry forces, nothing more.

The careful business of threading a path through negative space continues in the final essay, on Philip's designs on Greece. Referring to Philip's ambitions in relation to both Greece and Persia, Buckler offers an observation that sums up his approach in general: "The very silence surrounding these matters is significant for it makes an incontestable explanation of them impossible." Quite true, but are there any matters in Ancient History for which an incontestable explanation is possible? And doesn't silence outweigh 99.99% of the data from antiquity? The chapter develops a theme running through Buckler's work, that Philip did not have a masterplan, and that his career unfolded essentially as a result of his opportunistic exploitation of the weaknesses of his enemies, especially the Athenians. If the only alternative is a Macchiavellian Philip, scheming from the moment of his accession in 359 BC, most people will have no difficulty in accepting this version of Philip. Still, in pursuit of proof for this less dastardly Philip, Buckler often places a good deal more weight on some testimonia than they probably warrant. For example, Buckler maintains that Ps.-Dem 12. 23 is conclusive proof that Philip declared war against the Athenians after Diopeithes, the Athenian commander, raided the Thracian territories of Philip. In other words, he was responding justifiably to an Athenian provocation. Others have generally put the declaration of war later, after Philip had seized Perinthos, Byzantion, and an Athenian grain fleet. In other words, Philip shares the blame for the war and was himself a provocateur. Buckler's case turns on a phrase in Ps.-Dem 12. 23: "kai martyras tous theous poiesamenos dialepsomai peri ton kath' hymas", which he glosses as follows: "the author of the letter plainly says that he (sc. Philip) has already made the gods his witnesses and that he will deal with the Athenians later at his pleasure." But, despite Buckler's dismissal of other translations by Griffith and Errington, his own reading is seriously flawed. The aorist participle poiesamenos cannot carry the weight Buckler assigns it since a participle's tense is not relative to any situation external to the sentence but only to the main verb, in this case the future tense dialeipsomai. Hence, it cannot be taken to mean that Philip is claiming to have already invoked the gods, which Buckler takes as a signifying a declaration of war. Rather, when at some unstated future time Philip addresses the Athenians' actions he will do so after calling on the gods. The entire line is a general threat, not a specific declaration. It may seem that the point is a minor one, but Buckler himself maintains that the timing of formal hostilities between Philip and the Athenians is important, and so one is entitled to ask whether the evidence is sufficient to support this view of Phillip. Buckler's tendency to concentrate on these minor points ultimately hides a more serious weakness, and that is that his vision of Philip is neither fish nor fowl. He is neither a megalomaniac bent on conquering the Greeks, nor a defender of Macedonian independence, locked in a cat and mouse game with the perfidious Athenians, either of which would be preferable to the rather bloodless figure of Buckler's interpretation, whose genius resided in the realization that "he could turn Greek, especially Athenian, factiousness to his own ends," a remark that surely fits Artaxerxes Memnon at least as well.

Throughout the volume the reader looks for a more systematic interpretive statement, some attempt to bring the 4th century into focus, and this is provided in the epilogue, jointly written by Buckler and his collaborator, Hans Beck. Here at last one encounters a broader reading of the power politics of the 4th century, but the chapter's tone is somewhat confused. On the one hand the authors see the century as a period maligned by historians who have failed to recognize it as a time of experiment. "It must be observed that during this period the Greek city-state staunchly confronted the challenges before it in various original and productive ways," they assert. But what follows is a litany of failures: federalism offered a way out of the impasse of Athenian or Spartan hegemony, only to fail because the Thebans were wedded to the same old mechanisms of "symmachial hegemony." Common Peace treaties offered another way of structuring interstate relations, but ironically ensconced autonomy as a key concept of the age, thereby allowing powerful states to expand under the guise of upholding the treaties signed by the Greek states. The Amphiktyony was another example of a potential alternative to unregulated interstate rivalry, but Delphi lacked the authority to regulate interstate relations and after the Sacred War was content to serve as the haven of Apollo. This somewhat schizophrenic view of the age--novel, vibrant, experimental, yet at every turn a failure--is best summed up by the opening sentences of the volume's final paragraph: "Greek history of the fourth century bears no traces of decadence, decrepitude, or decline. Rather, the Greek world went through a deep power-transformation crisis that was triggered by its inability to adapt changing circumstances. The Greeks were unable to replace a multipolar state system with anything more embracing." The first sentence is a rejection of the decline and fall view of history. The second and third sentences are a confirmation of it.

In conclusion, one cannot say this is a bad book, or that its arguments are unsound, but whether it is a necessary book is an altogether different question.

Contents: Prologue: power politics in fourth-century Greece; Part I. Alliance: 1. A survey of Theban and Athenian relations between 403 and 371 BC; 2. The incident at Mt. Parnassus, 395 BC; 3. The Battle of Coronea and its historiographical legacy; 4. The King's Peace, alliance, and Phoebidas' strike (382 BC); 5. Sphodrias' raid and the evolution of the Athenian League; Part II. Hegemony: 6. The re-establishment of the boeotarchia (378 BC); 7. The Battle of Tegyra, 375 BC; 8. Plutarch on Leuctra; 9. Alliance and hegemony in fourth-century Greece: the case of the Theban hegemony; 10. Xenophon's speeches and the Theban hegemony; 11. The phantom synedrion of the Boeotian Confederacy, 378-335 BC; 12. Boeotian Aulis and Greek naval bases; 13. Epaminondas and the new Inscription from Cnidus; Part III. Domination: 14. Thebes, Delphi, and the outbreak of the Sacred War; 15. Pammenes, the Persians, and the Sacred War; 16. Philip II, the Greeks, and the King, 346-336 BC; 17. A note on the Battle of Chaeronea; 18. Philip's designs on Greece; 19. Epilogue.

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Version at BMCR home site
Stephen Mitchell, Constantina Katsari (ed.), Patterns in the Economy of Roman Asia Minor. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2005. Pp. xxxii, 335. ISBN 1-905125-02-X. $79.50.
Reviewed by David B. Hollander, Iowa State University

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

Published back in 2005, Patterns in the Economy of Roman Asia Minor has thus far received little critical attention.1 This is a shame as the book makes important contributions to the study of the ancient economy and should be a model for future efforts in the field.2 The book began as a conference on the economy of Roman Asia Minor at the University of Exeter in 2002. It consists of an introduction and 13 chapters grouped into five sections. The introduction, by Mitchell and Katsari, provides a good overview of prior work on the region, brief remarks about the various contributions, and the inevitable (though well-done) discussion of Finley's views on the ancient economy. The editors emphasize that, despite the tremendous amount of evidence, the study of the economy of Roman Asia Minor "is still in its infancy" (xvii). Because of this, their purpose in this volume "is not the detailed and exhaustive analysis of the economy of Roman Asia Minor" but "rather to detect and highlight patterns of activity that help to explain features of the economy, and to point the way towards future research" (xxvi).

The first section, "Roman Agriculture: The Systematic Exploitation of the Land," consists of three chapters. Thomas Corsten's essay discusses two large estates, owned by Roman families in the second and third centuries CE, in the territory of Kibyra, a city in southwest Asia Minor. Analysis of epigraphic evidence allows Corsten to conclude that indigenous free tenants, rather than slaves, farmed the land, and speculate about the estates' relationship to the city of Kibyra and the nearby village of Alassos. An epigraphic appendix includes the texts of 14 of the inscriptions he discusses in the essay. The second chapter (and the one with by far the best title in the entire volume) is Johannes Nollé's "Boars, bears, and bugs: farming in Asia Minor and the protection of men, animals, and crops." Nollé notes at the outset that the battle between farmer and pest in Asia Minor "has so far hardly been investigated or located in the broader context of economic activity" (54). The same could be said for the rest of the ancient Mediterranean. Given the considerable interest in estimating yield rates for ancient agriculture, it is salutary to consider the many ways that things could go wrong even when crops received ample water. Boars, Nollé reports, "were and still are one of the greatest enemies of agriculture in Asia Minor... A pack of boars can strip whole fields bare to the soil in a single night" (61). There is more here than just boars, bears and bugs as the author also discusses red deer, rabbits, birds and the "swarms of mice" which threatened vineyards. In the absence of modern pesticides, farmers resorted to religion and magic, so we also learn about Apollo Smintheus, whose oracle at Chryse "gave advice in the event of mouse plagues" (66); about gems and talismans to ward off pests; and about the belief that menstruating women walking barefoot through one's fields could protect crops from insects. Nollé concludes that insect swarms and mice caused "heavy damage to crops... fairly regularly" but concedes that "[t]he ancient sources do not allow any exact measure of the extent of damage" (68). The final chapter in this section is Stephen Mitchell's "Olive cultivation in the economy of Roman Asia Minor." Mitchell presents "an introduction to the evidence and a preliminary exploration of its implications," focusing on three issues: where olives grew, their role in the local economy, and olive oil as a commodity produced for export (84). He argues that markets rather than climate or culture "dictated the spread of the olive" (93). Locally, Greek urban demand promoted olive cultivation but Roman demand, for Constantinople and the frontier armies, was especially important and benefited southern coastal areas in particular.

Section Two looks at "Trade and Commodity Exchange." David Braund's chapter brings literary, numismatic and archaeological evidence to bear on imports and exports "across the Black Sea." The focus is on the Roman period but, as in many of these chapters, the author sometimes strays into earlier and later periods -- though with good reason, since there were some long-term continuities. Agricultural commodities receive much attention but so do goods such as slaves, wood, and ruddle, a red pigment used as paint. Braund emphasizes the need for caution in using the literary sources, noting, for example, that "though the point is often lost in the billowing fog of Demosthenic rhetoric: the fact that the Bosporan kingdom could from time to time generate a large surplus in grain does not mean that it could do so every year" (121). The archaeological evidence, of course, can be just as difficult to interpret. Braund tentatively concludes that the coastal area west of Amisus was most active in trade with the north while Trapezus, despite "its location at the head of a significant route to the south into the interior," appears to have been "remarkably inactive" (131). Veli Köse's chapter addresses the economic importance of market-buildings for cities such as Pergamum, Priene and Assos in both the Roman and Hellenistic periods. The nature and quality of the evidence, however, necessarily limits the precision of his conclusions. It may not be especially surprising to learn that market buildings remained important to urban economies during the Roman period but it is certainly helpful to have the available information clearly laid out.

The third section of Patterns, entitled "The Economy of Cities and Sanctuaries," turns to the issue of public and private intervention in the economy of Asia Minor. Arjan Zuiderhoek's chapter, which looks at the relationship between benefactors and the urban economy, provides a nice complement to Köse's essay. Zuiderhoek reevaluates the importance of public benefaction in the city economy and suggests that scholars have overestimated it. Combining rough calculations of urban population, élite wealth, and the cost of public amenities with attested examples of public benefaction, he argues that "élite munificence was hardly a dominant force in the urban economies of the Roman east" (177). He sees local government as playing a much bigger, though "persistently underestimated" (176), role in the financing of public building. Two brief but useful appendices list, respectively, over forty donations for public building in Asia Minor dating to the second and third centuries CE and a "comparison of costs for similar building projects from cities in Roman Lycia" (180). In the next chapter, Giovanni Salmeri examines the role of imperial intervention in the economy of Pontus and Bithynia. The correspondence of Pliny with Trajan obviously plays a prominent part in this discussion. Salmeri argues that Roman authorities did not have economic ends principally in mind when they intervened in local affairs though their "essentially political decisions" did have "embedded economic implications" (197). Far more significant, he suggests, was the economic impact of Roman armies traveling through or stationed in the region. The third and final chapter in this section is Beate Dignas' examination of the relationship between Roman authorities and Greek sanctuaries in Asia Minor. She notes that Rome frequently intervened to protect the sanctuaries from "greedy individuals, short-sighted politicians... war and natural catastrophes" (217) and attributes Roman aid to a combination of respect and self-interest. While the Romans had a genuine reverence for these sanctuaries and saw themselves as "religious benefactors" (218), they also recognized that temples, like the Artemision at Ephesus, were important institutions which, when financially sound, could contribute to the economic health of their respective cities or regions.

Section Four considers "The Monetary Economy." Margherita Facella examines the coinage of Commagene in the first century BCE and first century CE, while Stanley Ireland looks at Pontus and Paphlagonia over a lengthier period. Though the numismatic evidence for these regions poses some major difficulties, there are indications of increased monetization in the first and second centuries CE. Both authors link this development at least in part to Rome's increased attention to the eastern frontier. Constantina Katsari's essay, the last in this section, examines Roman Asia Minor as a whole during the third century CE. Working primarily from hoard and excavation evidence, she suggests that "the accepted view of an increasing mint output in the Roman world [between 193 and 275 CE] may be an illusion" (278) and argues that the economy became "partly demonetized" in the late third century as, with the quantity of aurei in circulation decreasing, many resorted to bullion or barter for large transactions.

The final section, entitled "Population Movements and Their Impact on Local Economies" consists of two essays. In the first, Hugh Elton addresses the role of the Roman military, an issue to which many other contributors have called attention at least in passing. He focuses on "the process of supply for campaigns, as opposed to standard provisioning of garrisons" (289), and how it affected cities along the south coast of Anatolia. Elton compares the "minting profiles of cities on and off the military route" (297) and detects no differences attributable to the regular passage of Roman armies. Though he concedes that "there were indirect benefits from the requisitioning process" (296), he argues that "the military presence and involvement in the supply process were probably not beneficial to local economies" (300). Turhan Kaçar looks at somewhat smaller population movements, those of Christian clergy attending church councils in the fourth and fifth centuries. He considers the clergy's use of the cursus publicus as well as their impact on local markets. The relationship between early Christianity and the ancient economy has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves,3 so this contribution is especially welcome. Kaçar argues that "the regular gatherings of bishops and clergy in provincial centres... surely contributed to the economic health of provincial capitals" (313) and suggests they may have even stimulated the building of churches in such locales.

So what economic patterns have Mitchell and Katsari and their contributors uncovered? On the broadest level, the pattern is clearly one of the gradual integration of Asia Minor into the wider Roman economy. A variety of agents brought about (more often than not unintentionally) this integration, including most conspicuously the army, the tax collectors, and provincial governors but also private individuals who sought to exploit the region's people, resources and markets. Clearer than the patterns, however, are the challenges that will hinder any attempt to write a comprehensive economic history of Roman Asia Minor. Not only must one assimilate, as the editors put it, "an enormous abundance of evidence" (xvii), but there is also plenty of fundamental work yet to be done on prices, population, and the rural economy to name only a few topics. Nevertheless, this well-produced volume4 is an important step in the right direction and, it should be emphasized, contains much that will be of use to scholars interested in the economy of other regions and periods in antiquity.

Table of Contents

List of figures (vii-viii)

Preface and acknowledgements (ix)

Abbreviations (xi-xii)

Introduction: the economy of Roman Asia Minor Stephen Mitchell and Constantina Katsari (xiii-xxxii)

Roman Agriculture: The Systematic Exploitation of the Land

1. Estates in Roman Asia Minor: the case of Kibyratis Thomas Corsten (1-51)

2. Boars, bears, and bugs: farming in Asia Minor and the protection of men, animals, and crops Johannes Nollé (53-82)

3. Olive cultivation in the economy of Roman Asia Minor Stephen Mitchell (83-113) Trade and Commodity Exchange

4. Across the Black Sea: patterns of maritime exchange on the periphery of Roman Asia Minor David Braund (115-138)

5. The origin and development of market-buildings in hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor Veli Köse (139-166)

The Economy of Cities and Sanctuaries

6. The icing on the cake: benefactors, economics and public buildings in Roman Asia Minor Arjan Zuiderhoek (167-186)

7. Central power intervention and the economy of the provinces in the Roman Empire: the case of Pontus and Bithynia Giovanni Salmeri (187-206)

8. Sacred revenues in Roman hands: the economic dimension of sanctuaries in Western Asia Minor Beate Dignas (207-224)

The Monetary Economy

9. Coinage and the economy of Commagene (first century BC - first century AD) Margherita Facella (225-250)

10. Coinage in Roman Pontus and Paphlagonia: problems of evidence and interpretation Stanley Ireland (251-260)

11. The monetization of Roman Asia Minor in the third century AD Constantina Katsari (261-288)

Population Movements and Their Impact on Local Economies

12. Military supply and the south coast of Anatolia in the third century AD Hugh Elton (289-304)

13. Church councils and their impact on the economy of the cities in Roman Asia Minor Turhan Kaçar (305-318)

Index (319-335)


1.   This reviewer would like to emphasize, however, that he only bears responsibility for the last six months of the delay in the BMCR review. It is also worth mentioning that BMCR apparently only received the volume in September of 2007.
2.   Ancient economic history seems to favor topically themed edited volumes (on, for example, land, markets and money) rather than ones with a regional focus. More of the latter would nicely complement the former.
3.   The Society of Biblical Literature launched a 'consultation' on "Early Christianity and the Ancient Economy" in 2007. I serve on its steering committee.
4.   The book is amply illustrated with maps, plans, photos and graphs. I detected few typographical errors aside from the repeated misspelling of Sitta Von Reden's last name.

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Stanley Ireland, Roman Britain: A Sourcebook. Third edition. Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World. London/New York: Routledge, 2008. Pp. xvi, 284; 3 maps. ISBN 978-0-415-47178-7. $42.95; £22.99 (pb).
Reviewed by Duncan B. Campbell, Glasgow

This is a collection of 643 individual extracts from the literary, epigraphic and numismatic sources that relate to Roman Britain from Julius Caesar's visit in 55 BC (no. 23) to the rescript of Honorius in AD 410 (no. 289), all translated into English. The items themselves are linked by the author's concise commentary (though, despite a change of typeface, it is not always easy to see where one ends and another begins), and thirteen pages of end-notes are intended to provide further elucidation of complex items. The bibliography, running to five pages, seems somewhat outdated,1 but the book is firmly aimed at "the growing number of students who approach the history of Roman Britain through the medium of English" (vii) and is not intended to be at the cutting edge of research. As such, it perhaps demands the presence of a teacher to explain the significance of many of the items (and to translate the laconic "Abbreviations" into useable book references). Inevitably, such a compendium will attract accusations of "dumbing down", but the author does not claim its suitability for specialist readers. It may, in any case, prompt students to dig deeper into the original sources.

As the new edition of a book originally published in 1986,2 and updated in 1996,3 it may be most useful to focus on changes, but the author does not signal where new material has been added (except in the case of Tacitus' Agricola, mentioned below). There may, in any case, be readers who, like this reviewer, have never encountered the book in its previous versions, so a summary of the contents with occasional reviewer comment is probably the most sensible approach.

The book is divided into three parts, in which the extracts are further subdivided into fifteen chapters. Part I ("The geography and people of Britain"), comprising chapters 1 ("The earliest contacts") and 2 ("The Roman period"), presents 17 items of geographical interest drawn from a variety of sources, both well known (Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, Caesar) and obscure (Eustathius' Commentary on Dionysius Periegetes). It has been the author's primary aim, from the start, "to assemble as many as possible of those sources that would otherwise be obtainable by readers only with difficulty" (vii); he has certainly succeeded with Eustathius of Thessalonica, who was previously unknown to me. But it is unfortunate that, here and throughout the book, the historian Cassius Dio is called "Dio Cassius", a peculiar reversal found in the older literature, perhaps from confusion with Dio Chrysostom, but definitely to be discouraged.

Part II ("The political and military history") makes up the bulk of the book, with eleven chapters. Chapter 3 ("The invasions of Caesar") presents 19 items, including extensive extracts from the De bello Gallico 4.20-38 and 5.1-23, along with the parallel extracts from Cassius Dio's Roman History (39.51-53 and 40.1-4), with some snippets of Cicero thrown in. Caesar's reports (and Tacitus' Agricola, mentioned below) had been omitted from previous editions, on the grounds that they were "already well served by Penguin translations" (vii), but are now included, perhaps prompted by the carping of a previous reviewer.4

Chapter 4 ("Caesar to Claudius") presents 19 items, including four examples of British coinage illustrated as crisp monochrome line drawings. (All 21 numismatic items in the book are similarly illustrated.) Chapter 5 ("The Claudian invasion") presents 9 items, including lengthy extracts from Cassius Dio (60.19-23) and two Roman coins advertising Claudius' triumph. This chapter presents the first epigraphic text (item 56), the inscription from Claudius' triumphal arch at Rome, here cited as "Britannia 22 (1991), p. 12". Epigraphic convention demands a more accurate citation, ideally utilising the universally recognised L'Année Epigraphique for any inscriptions omitted from the standard collections (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Roman Inscriptions of Britain or Dessau's Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae); this one should be AE 2004, 38. (Incidentally, the translation given here, specifying "11 British kings" is technically incorrect, as the 1991 publication cited here gives the restoration reges Britannorum XI, "eleven kings of the Britons"; previous editors had preferred Britanniae, "of Britain", on analogy with ILS 217, but it is worth noting that only the final I of XI can be read with certainty, making XXI or even XVI possible.)

Chapter 6 ("Expansion of the province and rebellion") presents 16 items, including lengthy extracts of Tacitus (Annals 12.31-40; 14.29-39) and Cassius Dio (62.1-12), to illustrate events down to AD 62. Five inscriptions from RIB are included (in one of which the dedicatee is described as an "auxiliaryman", a word that the author appears to have invented). Item 66 (RIB 200) is labelled "The XX Valeria" (a term used elsewhere in chapters 6 and 7), although the legion at this stage appears to have had no name (and is, in any case, never found simply as Valeria without the accompanying Victrix); and item 80 (RIB 12), the tombstone of Julius Classicianus, gives his wife's name as "Julia Pacata I" (which seems to imply "the first", rather than "Julia Pacata I[nduta?]", as has been suggested in Britannia 33, 2002, pp. 43-75).

Chapter 7 ("Tumult and expansion") presents 29 items carrying events down to the recall of Agricola in AD 84. It includes the abridged, but still very lengthy, extract from Tacitus' Agricola (item 103), already alluded to. Here, the author's explanation, that "AD 78 as the traditional date for the arrival of Agricola in Britain has been revised in recent years as a result of studies into the coinage of the period" (250 n. 5), is overly cryptic for his intended readership, who would be better served by a reference to A.R. Birley's recent translation. Again, the literary extracts (mostly from Tacitus' Histories, but including Plutarch, On the Disuse of Oracles) are supplemented by a selection of inscriptions. However, in the well-known Verulamium forum inscription (item 106; here, "JRS, 46 [1956] pp. 146-7, cf. Burn p. 40", but better simply as AE 1957, 169 = AE 1959, 7; the cross-reference to Burn's long out-of-print anthology is pointless), the author's attempt to indicate the few extant letters by using italic script is less successful than his earlier strategy (valiantly accomplished for item 56 in chapter 5) of indicating missing words by using square brackets. Also, it should be explained that the date of AD 79, given here, depends on the emperors' titulature, which is entirely restored and could equally belong to AD 81. For items 108 (RIB 662-3) and 109 (ILS 1015), the author (quite understandably) eschews any attempt to indicate extant and missing portions of the inscriptions!

Chapter 8 ("Withdrawal and consolidation") presents nine items, mostly inscriptions, to be slotted into the pre-Hadrianic history of Britain. But item 113 (CIL 13, 6679) demonstrates some of the shortcomings of the book's format: the inscribed object is not described, so it is not immediately apparent whether we are reading the text of a tombstone or a dedication; the author has elected to change the original ordering of the text (which begins FORTVNAM SVPERAM) in the interests (one supposes) of readability; extant and missing portions are again not indicated; and part of the text (a small part, admittedly, that presumably gave the dedicator's rank) is omitted. The inscription, a dedication to Highest Fortuna by a serving soldier (possibly a centurion) in the army of Upper Germany, is interesting because the man was born at Lincoln, but surely much later than its inclusion in this chapter would imply. Elsewhere in this chapter, a peculiar end-note is provided (250-251 n. 2) listing six personnel from the Twentieth Legion, a service not provided for any of the other legions in Britain.

Chapter 9 ("The Hadrianic and Antonine frontiers") presents 39 items, including seven coins, covering most of the second century, from Hadrian to Commodus. Notoriously, there is little in the way of literary source material, but the extracts from the Historia Augusta mentioning Britain during the reigns of Hadrian (item 119), Antoninus Pius (item 133), Marcus Aurelius (items 148 and 150), and Commodus (items 155 and 157), curiously omit Life of Commodus 8.4 ("Commodus was also called Britannicus by his flatterers, although the Britons actually wanted to choose an emperor to oppose him"). Along with the extracts from Cassius Dio, the author has supplied the problematic passage from Pausanias' Description of Greece which mentions the "Genounian district" (item 144). This, and the equally problematic Newcastle inscription (RIB 1322), probably require more explanation to guide the intended readers.

This chapter includes several epigraphic items, but the author omits any indication of dating (which he provides for inscriptions elsewhere). In fact, he has missed an opportunity to string together a whole series of items that provide a picture of the Antonine invasion of Scotland. Lollius Urbicus' rebuilding at Corbridge (item 134 = RIB 1147), in preparation for the invasion, may be dated precisely to AD 139 by the mention of Pius' second consulship. Sadly, the author does not include its companion (RIB 1148), which attests that rebuilding continued there during the period of Pius' third consulship (AD 140-144, earlier rather than later). Lollius Urbicus' work on the Antonine Wall at Balmuildy (item 140 = RIB 2191) can then be dated broadly to the period AD 140-142 (later, rather than earlier), to keep Urbicus within the governor's standard term of office. The book's treatment of epigraphy again falls down with the Ingliston milestone (item 141, mis-spelled "Ingilston"). Readers will not realise, from the bare translation here, that a governor's name has been deliberately erased; it would be unthinkable for Lollius Urbicus' name to be removed, so it must be his unknown successor; thus, there is no need to agonise over Pius as "2/3 times Consul", as it must date from his third consulship (AD 140-144, later rather than earlier).

Chapter 10 ("Albinus and the Severan dynasty") presents 47 items, including four coins, but sadly not the well-known Profectio Augustorum ("Departure of the emperors") issues that celebrated the opening of Severus' Caledonian campaign, nor Caracalla's Traiectus issue of AD 208, which ties in with Herodian's report of river crossings in Britain (3.14.10; item 177, here). A poor substitute, but an interesting one, is provided by an altar at Rome (item 161 = ILS 414); the translation of (centurio) coh(ortis) II vig(ilum) as "centurion of the 2nd Cohort of the Watch" should perhaps have an authorial note explaining the role of the Vigiles; and the rather loose translation of pro salute et reditu as "for the safe return" may be acceptable (though it sits awkwardly with the author's promise "to represent accurately the contents of the originals without the addition of stylistic flourishes" [vii]). Oddly, the text naming the altar's co-dedicator, a fellow centurion of cohors IIII Vigilium (sic), has been omitted; and readers may have been interested to know that the name of Clodius Albinus was later erased (rather than simply missing, as the square brackets here imply). Another inscription, naming the numerus exploratorum Bremeniensium at High Rochester (item 203 = RIB 1270), is misleadingly annotated with the statement that "in this same period units of barbarian troops, cunei and numeri, ranking lower than auxiliaries, begin to make their appearance" (123); so-called irregular numeri are known as early as the reign of Antoninus Pius.

Chapter 11 ("Usurpation and recovery") presents 29 items, including six coins, to illustrate the period of Carausius, while chapter 12 ("Reorganisation and the dynasty of Constantine") presents 23 items, including two coins, bringing events down to AD 360. Amongst the literary sources are seven extracts from the Notitia Dignitatum (although the author often cannot decide which words merit translation and which should be left in Latin) and several of the so-called Panegyrics (though the omission of references to the standard edition of the Panegyrici Latini Veteres is unfortunate). Also, the inclusion of RIB 1553 would have illustrated the interesting phenomenon of an inscription precisely dated by consular year (AD 237).

Chapter 13 ("Danger, decline and collapse") presents 34 items, beginning with the so-called conspiratio barbarica ("barbarian conspiracy") of AD 367, and ending with a lengthy extract from Gildas' On the Destruction of Britain (here, uniquely, given its Latin title in parallel). By this stage, few inscriptions are known, an exception being RIB 721 (item 263), which advertises the building of the turr[e]m (et) castrum on the coast at Ravenscar. The author has attempted to give a flavour of the rudimentary lettering on the stone by noting "(masbier = magister?)" in the midst of his translation, but his readers surely require some supplementary explanation; the (probably illiterate) stonecutter has obviously attempted MASBTER where the middle "SB" is clearly a botched "G" (with a tail) and a peculiarly ligatured "IS". This again highlights the problem of attempting to represent an inscription solely as a translated text.

Finally, Part III ("Religion, government, commerce and society") comprises chapters 14 ("Religion") and 15 ("Government, commerce and society"), which together account for 353 miscellaneous items. These are mostly inscriptions, but there is a lengthy section on "Correspondence" (items 528-563), largely from the Vindolanda tablets but including one of the Carlisle tablets (Tab. Luguval. 16), which unfortunately repeats the mistranslation of subarmalis as "smaller spear", when it should clearly be the padded undergarment worn beneath armour.

This book held an obvious advantage in 1988. It is perhaps less useful in this internet age, although students may still welcome a portable compendium of translated source material.


1.   A glaring omission, amongst others, is the splendid translation of the Agricola by A.R. Birley, in the Oxford World's Classics series (1999).
2.   Reviewed, for example, at: Brit. 20 (1989), 355-6; Class. Rev. 38.1 (1988), 104-7; Class. W 82.1 (1988), 56.
3.   Reviewed here: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.3.33.
4.   Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 20.3 (1988), 445-7.

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Friday, August 28, 2009


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Claude Eilers (ed.), Diplomats and Diplomacy in the Roman World. Mnemosyne, Supplements 304. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2009. Pp. xi, 254. ISBN 9789004170988. $157.00.
Reviewed by Filippo Canali De Rossi, Centro di Studi sulle Relazioni Diplomatiche nell'Antichità, Roma

Il libro contiene gli atti del V convegno intitolato alla memoria di E. Togo Salmon, che si è svolto ad Hamilton in Ontario (Canada), nel settembre del 2004. Per l'occasione Claude Eilers ha raccolto presso l'Università McMaster un gruppo di studiosi provenienti da varie parti del mondo.1

Il volume si apre con una introduzione di Eilers,2 tesa ad evidenziare alcune peculiarità della diplomazia antica, quali l'assenza di rappresentanze diplomatiche permanenti ed il frequente e necessario invio di delegazioni ad hoc. L'importanza di tale forma di comunicazione è dimostrata dal fatto che, in alcune occasioni anche personalità letterarie di spicco, quali Polibio, Filone, Giuseppe Flavio e Plutarco si fecero carico, a dispetto dei rischi, dell'espletamento delle missioni. Numerosi pericoli provenivano infatti dalla natura e dalle insidie degli uomini,3 e non è pertanto da meravigliarsi, come sottolinea Eilers, che le città riconoscenti tributassero onori straordinari ai loro rappresentanti, come evidenziato dalla crescente documentazione epigrafica. L'editore passa quindi ad illustrare, e noi con lui, i nuclei tematici trattati nei singoli contributi.

Ager rileva la pregiudiale ostilità di Roma all'interferenza di terze parti neutrali nella risoluzione dei suoi conflitti,4 e suppone che solo il contatto con il mondo greco le fece conoscere l'istituto della mediazione internazionale.5 Per l'autrice l'avversione di Roma alla mediazione sarebbe strettamente legata all'elaborazione del concetto di bellum iustum ac pium: è in base a questo che i Romani, nutrendo la convinzione di trovarsi sempre nel giusto diritto, rifiutavano di sottoporsi ad arbitrati, pur accettando forme minori di mediazione diplomatica, per le quali Ager suggerisce le denominazioni convenzionali di "good offices" e di "apologetic deprecation".

Yakobson smentisce con abbondanza di esempi la diffusa convinzione che la politica estera romana fosse competenza esclusiva del senato,6 e convincentemente dimostra che la nozione di iustum bellum era profondamente radicata nel dibattito politico interno di Roma, come si può fra l'altro evincere sia dall'orazione di Catone il Vecchio in difesa dei Rodii, che dall'orazione pro lege Manilia di Cicerone: tale principio pertanto non può rispondere, come suggerito da alcuni studiosi,7 ad un semplice motivo di propaganda sbandierato nei confronti del mondo greco.

Battistoni,8 esplorando l'utilizzo a fini diplomatici del mito delle origini troiane condivise con Roma, inizia mostrando la persistenza di tale motivo (in un passo di Nicephorus Gregoras relativo ad Eraclea Pontica) sino in avanzata età bizantina. Benché già Demetrio Poliorcete si fosse rivolto ai Romani, probabilmente in relazione al culto dei Dioscuri, come a συγγενεῖς, lo sfruttamento del mito troiano dovrebbe risalire, secondo Battistoni, almeno all'inizio della prima guerra punica: allora Segesta, volgendosi all'alleanza con Roma,9 si dichiarò sua cognata, in quanto fondata da Enea di passaggio in Sicilia. L'autore, discostandosi da un recente studio di Erskine,10 individua un segno incontrovertibile dell'appropriazione del mito troiano da parte dei Romani nella traslazione sul Campidoglio, nel 217 a.C., del culto di Venere Erycina, pure legato al passaggio di Enea per la Sicilia. In seguito il mito troiano venne sfruttato per allacciare rapporti con Roma soprattutto da città e popolazioni dell'Asia minore (in particolare da Ilio, Lampsaco e i Licii), ma anche dalla popolazione greca degli Acarnani e da quella gallica degli Aedui.

Il contributo di Rives prende spunto dal titolo dell'apologia di Atenagora, πρεσβεία, che individua la tipologia di un discorso rivolto all'imperatore dall'ambasciatore di una comunità, in genere per sollecitare qualche favore.11 L'autore passa ad esaminare lo sviluppo delle forme diplomatiche della comunicazione fra la nascente chiesa cristiana e l'autorità imperiale: secondo Rives, che forse sottovaluta il fatto che tutto l'apostolato cristiano si configura in genere come una πρεσβεία indirizzata alle genti,12 i Cristiani si potevano qualificare collettivamente alla stessa stregua della 'comunità mondiale degli atleti' o della 'gilda dei tecniti di Dioniso', associazioni che pure inviavano delegati al cospetto dell'imperatore.13 Un altro termine di confronto è costituito dall' ethnos giudaico che spesso, ma solo fino alla distruzione di Gerusalemme nel 70 d.C., agì in maniera corporativa per la concessione di privilegi da parte delle autorità romane.

Il contributo di Ferrary,14 riprendendo e portando avanti una trattazione svolta in altri studi recenti,15 si occupa delle concrete modalità di svolgimento del traffico diplomatico fra il mondo greco e Roma, soffermandosi in questa occasione sulle procedure di esecuzione ("implementation") delle decisioni prese a Roma dal senato. La notifica dei provvedimenti, a quanto risulta dall'analisi comparata di una serie di documenti, era per lo più affidata dal senato agli stessi ambasciatori che li avevano sollecitati, lasciandoli però in tal modo esposti alla indifferenza, resistenza ed ostilità della controparte,16 salvo poi intervenire per sanare i casi più gravi.

Il contributo di Jehne è dedicato ai rapporti diplomatici fra Roma e le città dell'Italia.17 Benché gli storici e in particolare Tito Livio registrino l'arrivo al senato di un certo numero di ambascerie di popoli e di città della penisola, spesso in relazione ai problemi nella fornitura del prescritto contingente militare, nel II secolo a.C. andò progressivamente maturando, secondo Jehne, una incomprensione fra Roma e gli alleati italici, che avrà come esito lo scoppio della guerra sociale. In maniera originale ma anche piuttosto speculativa, l'argomentazione ha come Leitmotiv il caso dei Prenestini, i quali nel 173 a.C. avevano subito, apparentemente senza poter reagire, una vessazione ad opera del console L. Postumio Albino. È mia opinione che il racconto di Livio e l'indignazione per il comportamento del console potrebbero in ultima istanza risalire ad una orazione di Catone il Vecchio, come in altri casi poi confluita nelle Origines: quindi è possibile che i Prenestini, grazie al patrocinio di Catone, avessero infine la loro rivalsa sull'arroganza del console.

Il saggio di Corey Brennan è arditamente costruito sulla testimonianza di una sola iscrizione,18 il decreto di Pergamo in onore di Diodoro Pasparo,19 opposto alla massiccia tradizione storica rappresentata dagli excerpta de legationibus, opera compilata nel X secolo per iniziativa dell'imperatore Costantino VII Porfirogenito. Se dalla iscrizione Corey Brennan, forse eccessivamente generalizzando, deduce che nelle epigrafi gli ambasciatori vengano invariabilmente ricordati per i loro successi,20 dall'indagine sugli autori a cui gli excerpta attingono egli può constatare il fallimento di una buona percentuale delle missioni diplomatiche descritte.

Il saggio di Eck concerne l'utilizzo della diplomazia in funzione burocratico-amministrativa:21 questo avviene in età imperiale quando le città, per ottenere la concessione di privilegi, o il permesso di introdurre innovazioni sul territorio,22 si rivolgono direttamente all'imperatore oppure ai suoi rappresentanti, proconsoli, legati imperiali o procuratori che siano. Una differenza fra Oriente e Occidente è da riscontrare nella documentazione, in quanto la diversa cultura epigrafica prevalente ha fatto sì che i documenti iscritti su pietra si siano salvati in considerevole misura nella parte orientale dell'impero, mentre quelli della parte occidentale, perlopiù iscritti su bronzo, siano andati perduti.

Il capitolo finale, di Haensch,23 è dedicato alla illustrazione di alcune realtà marginali dell'impero romano, non per questo meno interessanti e significative: la trattazione prende le mosse da un decreto con il quale la città di Chersonesus Taurica onora T. Aurelius Calpurnianus Apollonides, un procuratore imperiale il cui cursus, già noto da altre iscrizioni, sembra arricchirsi dell'esercizio di una funzione militare sino ad ora sconosciuta. Haensch passa quindi a considerare il fortuito incontro dello scrittore Luciano con ambasciatori del Regno del Bosforo: non è chiaro se il tributo che essi portavano con loro fosse destinato all'imperatore (così Haensch), oppure fosse un sussidio da essi ricevuto, secondo una consuetudine attestata da Zosimo. Nella parte finale Haensch confronta il dato letterario e quello archeologico-epigrafico per evidenziare come dei semplici liberti imperiali, nella fattispecie tali Lykormas ed Aurelius Hypsaeus (Hapsay), esercitassero una notevole autorità rispettivamente presso il regno del Bosforo e presso le tribù arabe del deserto: trova così piena attuazione quel modello di sovranità a due livelli teorizzato dal Millar.

Considerando il libro nel suo assieme si può dire che, in relazione alla genericità del titolo, siano stati lasciati del tutto in secondo piano i rapporti diplomatici relativamente ai primi cinque secoli dalla fondazione di Roma (753-264 a.C.). Si tratta di circa quattrocento atti, ambascerie di popoli stranieri e legazioni inviate dal senato,24 che in alcuni casi possono risultare illuminanti anche sulle successive vicende. Ad esempio, quando Ager nel primo saggio afferma (p. 13) che 'i Romani non avevano alcuna familiarità con l'affidamento della risoluzione di un conflitto internazionale ad una terza parte neutrale prima di conoscere tale istituto presso i Greci', non tiene conto di una serie di episodi della storia arcaica di Roma,25 e in particolare di una vicenda che giustifica la successiva diffidenza dei Romani per l'arbitrato.26 Anche il saggio di Yakobson rimane privo dell'apporto di una serie di episodi che esaltano le dinamiche di relazione fra popolo e senato in questioni di politica estera anche per l'età più antica.27 Critiche si possono muovere nel dettaglio ad altri singoli contributi: ad esempio Battistoni, affermando che l'iscrizione di Alabanda "had defied any attempt to date it with certainty" (p. 91), mostra di ignorare le argomentazioni addotte nel recente dibattito;28 analogamente Corey Brennan, quando conclude affermando che: "it would take some effort to make a comprehensive collection of the evidence on all embassies of the Republic and high Empire", sembra del tutto ignaro degli sforzi compiuti per colmare tale vuoto.29 In questo, come in altri casi, sembra deficitare l'opera del curatore, il quale sarebbe dovuto intervenire per adeguare il livello dei contributi allo stato della ricerca, o anche solo per coordinare e mettere in relazione fra loro i vari saggi.30 Ad Eilers, che con zelo si è prodigato per far tradurre in inglese un certo numero di contributi,31 si può anche rimproverare una certa timidezza nel presentare e far valere in questa sede le proprie specifiche competenze, che pure hanno stretta attinenza con il tema dibattuto.32 Nella redazione finale del libro, elegantemente confezionato, si poteva utilmente aggiungere un indice delle fonti.33

Per concludere, il volume, pur con le riserve espresse, rappresenta una utile messa a punto su numerosi aspetti relativi alla diplomazia nel mondo romano. Bisogna essere grati all'editore per aver scelto questo tema ed averlo condiviso con un gruppo tanto qualificato di studiosi.


1.   Dedico questa recensione alla memoria di mio padre Carlo, venuto a mancare il 9 luglio 2009.
2.   C. Eilers, Introduction, 1-13.
3.   Una significativa elencazione di tali pericoli in Paolo, 2 Cor. 11, 26: "Viaggi innumerevoli, pericoli di fiumi, pericoli di briganti, pericoli dai miei connazionali, pericoli dai pagani, pericoli nella città, pericoli nel deserto, pericoli sul mare, pericoli da parte di falsi fratelli".
4.   Paradigmatica in questo senso fu la reazione del senato alla proposta dei Rodii nel 167 a.C., contrapposta alla cordiale accoglienza di Prusia, re della Bitinia, che pure aveva tentato di intercedere in favore del giovane Perseo.
5.   S.L. Ager, Roman Perspectives on Greek Diplomacy, 15-43.
6.   A. Yakobson, Public Opinion, Foreign Policy and 'Just War' in the Late Republic, 45-72.
7.   Ad esempio W.V. Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 BC, Oxford 1979, alle cui posizioni è invece piuttosto vicino il contributo di Ager.
8.   F. Battistoni, Rome, Kinship and Diplomacy, 73-97.
9.   F. Canali De Rossi, Le Relazioni Diplomatiche di Roma, vol. II, Roma 2007, nr. 405.
10.   A. Erskine, Troy between Greece and Rome, Oxford 2001.
11.   J.B. Rives, Diplomacy and Identity among Jews and Christians, 99-126.
12.   Per tale interpretazione cfr. A. Bash, Ambassadors for Christ, Tübingen 1997.
13.   Ad un simile genere di ambasceria fanno riferimento le lettere di Adriano recentemente pubblicate da G. Petzl ed E. Schwertheim, Hadrian und die dionysischen Künstler, Bonn 2006, con le osservazioni di C.P. Jones, Three New Letters of the Emperor Hadrian, "ZPE" 161, 2007, 145-156, e la mia recensione in "Sehepunkte" 8, 2008, nr. 3.
14.   J.-L. Ferrary, After the Embassy to Rome: Publication and Implementation, 127-142.
15.   Mi riferisco in particolare agli articoli di M. Bonnefond-Coudry, Contrôle et traitement des ambassadeurs étrangers sous la république romaine, in C. Moatti (ed.), La Mobilité des personnes en Mediterranée de l'Antiquité à l'époque moderne, Roma 2004, pp. 529-565 e dello stesso J.-L. Ferrary, Les ambassadeurs grecs au Sénat romain, in J.P. Caillet - M. Sot (edd.), L'Audience: Rituels et cadres spatiaux, Parigi 2007, pp. 113-122.
16.   Le reazioni ostili alla notifica, come ho tentato di mostrare nell'articolo Morte di un ambasciatore di Alabanda, in "Scienze dell'Antichità" 6-7, 1992 [ma 1996], pp. 35-40, si potevano spingere sino all'omicidio. Sono dispiaciuto che questa mia proposta, che implica una datazione del documento di Alabanda di poco successiva alla caduta in disgrazia di Eumene (166 a.C.), non sia stata adeguatamente considerata da Ferrary. La datazione da lui accolta (80 ca. a.C.) comporta l'insostenibile conseguenza di una notifica al cospetto di Mitridate, il quale -- a differenza di Eumene -- non era certamente interessato alla immunità concessa dal senato ad Alabanda.
17.   M. Jehne, Diplomacy in Italy in the Second Century BC, 143-170. Cfr. ora anche il volume edito dallo stesso e da R. Pfeilschifter, Herrschaft ohne Integration? Rom und Italien in republikanischer Zeit, Frankfurt a.M. 2006.
18.   T. Corey Brennan, Embassies Gone Wrong: Roman Diplomacy in the Constantinian Excerpta De Legationibus, 171-191.
19.   Alla bibliografia addotta a p. 171, note 1-2 aggiungi F. Canali De Rossi, Attalo III e la fine della dinastia pergamena, "EA" 31, 1999, 83-93 (spec. 83-86), ove si dimostra che IGR IV 294 = OGIS 764 non è pertinente al dossier di Diodoro Pasparo. I testi rilevanti per l'ambasceria di Diodoro a Roma sono riprodotti in F. Canali De Rossi, Iscrizioni Storiche Ellenistiche [d'ora in poi ISE] III, nr. 190 e 191.
20.   Tale convinzione sembra limitata da una serie di esempi che non sono stati presi in considerazione (l'esito del caso di Abdera, ISE III 183, è notoriamente incerto; gli inviati di Centuripe che ottennero una sanzione della 'parentela' da Lanuvium, ISE III 163, tornavano da Roma a mani vuote; e in molti altri casi, quand'anche non letale, cfr. ad es. ISE III 153, 185, l'esito sembra tutt'altro che trionfale); lo stesso Corey Brennan del resto è consapevole del fatto che the most basic physical hardships of performing diplomacy are ... fully attested ... in the epigraphic evidence (p. 183).
21.   W. Eck, Diplomacy as Part of the Administrative Process in the Roman Empire, 193-207.
22.   Quali ad esempio la creazione e la denominazione di un nuovo centro urbano (Sabora in Spagna) o l'istituzione di un mercato (gli Harillenoi in Asia minore), o l'indizione di giochi sportivi (Thyateira pure in Asia minore).
23.   R. Haensch, Not Official, but Permanent: Roman Presence in Allied States--The Examples of Chersonesus Taurica, the Bosporan Kingdom and Sumatar Harabesi, 209-225.
24.   Ho raccolto le fonti relative a tali atti, introducendole con una succinta narrazione, in Le Relazioni Diplomatiche di Roma [d'ora in poi RDR], vol. I, Roma 2005 (ristampa 2009). In occasione del convegno, per gentile concessione di Eilers, che ringrazio, ho potuto fare una breve presentazione di una versione preliminare del volume.
25.   I Romani invitano Porsenna a farsi giudice della contesa fra loro e Tarquinio, e si sottopongono al suo arbitrato: dopo aver rischiato di compromettere il giudizio a causa della fuga di Clelia, riescono vincitori in virtù di una scorrettezza commessa da Tarquinio, RDR I 60-61; i Rutuli invitano i Romani a sottoporsi alla loro mediazione nel conflitto che li oppone ai Latini, RDR I 76; Roma invita i Napoletani a risolvere le loro contese con Capua per mezzo di un arbitrato, RDR I 269; le fazioni in Sagunto richiedono l'arbitrato dei Romani, RDR II 468.
26.   L'episodio è quello della richiesta ai Romani di un arbitrato da parte delle città di Aricia ed Ardea, RDR I 140 e 141: dopo che gli ambasciatori delle due parti ebbero parlato dinanzi al popolo romano riunito per giudicare la questione, un anziano plebeo, P. Scaptius, che molti anni prima aveva contribuito alla conquista di Corioli, asserì che il territorio conteso era appartenuto a quella città, e che pertanto era stato acquisito al dominio romano. I senatori, pur vergognandosi, dovettero accettare il giudizio del popolo, e solo con un escamotage furono poi in grado di restituire agli Ardeati il maltolto nell'arbitrato. Da qui la fondata convinzione, ritengo, che sotto la nobile veste di un arbitrato si potessero compiere infami abusi.
27.   Al popolo romano è rimessa la decisione di restituire o meno i beni al re Tarquinio, RDR I 53; il popolo esercita l'arbitrato fra Aricia e Ardea, RDR I 140-141 (nota precedente); il popolo eleggendo i Fabii alla carica di tribuni militum consulari potestate ne impedisce la consegna ai Galli, già decisa dal senato, RDR I 184; l'udienza dei legati di Caere, che si discolpavano dell'aiuto fornito ai Tarquiniesi, viene delegata al popolo dal senato, RDR I 213; ambasciatori Sanniti in merito al rinnovo del trattato di alleanza convincono il senato, ma non il popolo e, dopo avere supplicato i singoli senatori, ottengono solo una tregua biennale, RDR I 282; la legge per la guerra contro i Lucani è fatta votare al popolo dal tribuno C. Aelius, RDR I 346, etc.
28.   Cfr. supra, nota 16.
29.   L'esigenza di a full collection of all references to foreign embassies to Rome era già stata espressa come un "burning desideratum" da J. Linderski, Ambassadors Go to Rome, in Éd. Frézouls - A. Jacquemin, Les Relations Internationales, Parigi 1995, 453-478, p. 454, n. 5. Lo stesso, nel ripubblicare l'articolo in Roman Questions II. Selected Papers, Stuttgart 2007, 40-60, ha aggiunto (p. 41): "this call has now been amply answered: a full collection of sources on Greek embassies to Rome has been offered by F. Canali De Rossi, Le ambascerie dal mondo greco a Roma in età repubblicana, Roma 1997": è pertanto un peccato che Corey Brennan, senza utilizzare il mio lavoro, abbia preferito ricorrere a citazioni dirette dal De legationibus gentium.
30.   Ad esempio le posizioni espresse da Ager e di Yakobson in relazione al concetto di iustum bellum appaiono fra di loro inconciliabili: questo può capitare, ma il convegno sarebbe dovuto anche servire ad appianarle.
31.   Per tale motivo Eilers viene ringraziato da Battistoni, Ferrary, Eck ed Haensch; il testo inglese di Jehne è stato invece rivisto da Frank X. Ryan. Avendo personalmente assistito al convegno ho il ricordo della presenza di alcuni relatori (C. Ando, C.P. Jones, J. Bodel) i cui contributi non figurano nel presente volume, mentre non ricordo di avere ascoltato il paper di Battistoni: ma non ho potuto verificare il programma originario della conferenza che non è incluso nel volume né è più disponibile on line.
32.   Il tema del patronato, su cui Eilers ha prodotto la monografia Roman Patrons of Greek Cities, Oxford 2002, è praticamente assente dal libro, benché l'apporto dei patroni fosse fondamentale nell'assicurare udienza e appoggio agli ambasciatori presso il senato: cfr. F. Canali De Rossi, Il ruolo dei patroni nelle relazioni politiche fra Roma e il mondo greco, Lipsia / Monaco 2001. Rispetto ai lavori citati la lista dei patroni si è ora arricchita di un congruo numero di attestazioni dalla città di Cauno: cfr. Chr. Marek, Die Inschriften von Kaunos, Monaco 2006, nrr. 106, 109, 110, 114, 129. Una ulteriore attestazione, da Tralles, è stata pubblicata da M. Aydas, in "EA" 37, 2004, 121-122, nr. 2 (SEG 54, 1171).
33.   Segue un elenco di errori riscontrati nella lettura del volume: p. 57, ottava riga dal basso: "to be [to be] a matter"; p. 67, dodicesima riga dal basso: "from [the] their alleged display"; decima riga dal basso: "let as grant" per "let us grant"; p. 82, nota 32, linea 4: l'autore di Ein Vertrag zwischen Rom und den Lykiern non è S. Mitchell ma Chr. Schuler; pp. 84-86, passim: "Lampsacans" deve essere inteso come "Lampsacenes"; p. 89, l'episodio di Sulpicius Rufus non avviene "later on", ma è anteriore di alcuni anni a quello dei Lici; p. 172, linea 15: non si tratta della Terza Guerra Macedonica, bensì Mitridatica; p. 175, linea 13: non si tratta di "managers of the Isthmian games" ma di "managers of the Isthmian guild"; p. 211: "Constantinus Porphyrogentes" mi sembra una grafia scorretta; infine la collocazione nella raccolta del contributo del Rives, pertinente all'età imperiale, sembra anacronistica.

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Version at BMCR home site
Derek Collins, Magic in the Ancient Greek World. Blackwell Ancient Religions. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008. Pp. xiv, 207. ISBN 9781405132398. $28.00 (pb).
Reviewed by D. Felton, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Table of Contents

Collins' book joins the ever-burgeoning number of works produced in the last two decades on magic in ancient Greece and Rome. The immediate question that springs to mind then is, what does this new study add to the discussion? Collins' five main chapters cover, respectively, anthropological theories of magical behavior, the development of Greek concepts of magic, binding magic, Homeric verses as incantations, and Greek and Roman legislation against magic. His work thus appears to overlap to a large extent with others'--notably Ogden's sourcebook Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds,1 Dickie's Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World,2 Johnston's Restless Dead,3 Gager's Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World,4 Graf's Magic in the Ancient World,5 and any number of works by Faraone,6 all of which Collins includes in his bibliography. Unlike these detailed studies, however, Collins' aims to introduce non-specialists to several main areas of Greek magic, and he thus uses a somewhat less complex style than most other studies to draw his readers in and guide them through his arguments. He also indicates early on that he does not intend to cover every category of Greek magical practice; the use of amulets, and protracted discussion of literary depictions of magic, for example, are purposely not included (p. xi). But Collins' most important contribution is his methodological approach, through which he seeks to offer a new interpretive framework for understanding certain Greek magical practices: What cultural constructs in ancient Greece allowed magic to exist, that is, allowed people to believe in the efficacy of magic? To this end, Collins' approach focuses more on anthropological concerns and delves more into psychological explanations than other scholarly studies to date.

Collins somewhat deceptively titles his first chapter, "Magic: What Is It and How Does It Work?" But rather than joining the ongoing debate about how to define "magic," particularly when the surviving ancient Greek texts have not left any clear definition, Collins instead reviews the major 19th and 20th century anthropological theorists of magic with the intent of examining performative and ritual contexts for the practice of magic. He presents, for example, Frazer's theory that magic is a type of false science: that the practitioner reasons wrongly from cause to effect (p. 3). Collins also notes Frazer's most significant contribution to the study of magic, the concept of cosmic "sympathy" (p. 14). Also included in this chapter are Malinowski's observations about the role of individual memory in the perceived success of magic (p. 5); Lévy-Bruhl's "law of participation," which in the case of Greece (and other societies) posits that the living interact with the dead as if they were living presences (p. 9); and the work of several other anthropological theorists such as Evans-Pritchard and Tambiah, all of which addresses the fundamental question of agency, that is, what makes magic effective (p. 24).

In his second chapter, "A Framework for Greek Magic," Collins attempts to provide an intellectual framework for Greek magic in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. that will provide "a theological and causal basis for understanding how it was perceived to work" (p. 27). Here his examples are perhaps too limited--the Hippocratic treatise On the Sacred Disease (pp. 33-42), which is not necessarily easily generalized to common magical practices, comes to mind--and much of his discussion, such as the comparisons among terms for magical practitioners (magoi, kathartai, agurtai, manteis, alazones) covers material already admirably investigated by others, such as Dickie (as Collins himself acknowledges, p. 43). Overall, however, this chapter provides a reasonable introduction to the subject, if one keeps in mind one of Collins' main goals. For example, Collins' observation that the Greeks were inconsistent in their use of terms such as mageia will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read Ogden or Johnston, but will be a useful point for anyone who has not. Additionally, Collins places more emphasis on Plato's psychological theory concerning the efficacy of magic than most other works on the subject (p. 42 ff.).

The third chapter, "Binding Magic and Erotic Figurines," does not break much new ground, but rather presents a lot of the same material as Gager and Faraone, to whom he frequently refers, explaining that binding magic was among the most widely employed types of magic, and that it usually consisted of both a binding spell and a bound figurine (p. 64). He does on several occasions take his discussion in different directions from previous scholars, however. His speculation as to whether there was a magical dimension to ostracism proves interesting (and comes with the necessary caveat, pp. 65-66); his extended discussion of kharakteres provides much more information than, say, Ogden; and his argument that we must contextualize the use of figurines in binding spells with the broader Greek attitudes toward statuary more generally is quite engaging and convincing (pp. 92-102).

Collins' fourth chapter, "Homeric Incantations," discusses how Homeric verses were excised from their poems and used as incantations to solve practical problems such as diseases. It is not entirely clear why Collins chooses to focus on incantations from Homeric verses to the exclusion of other types of incantation; it may be because the earliest examples of magic in Greek literature occur in Homeric epic. In any case, Collins notes that "the majority of Homeric verses used in magic were employed either to protect or to heal," though the origin of their usage is not known (pp. 105-6). Collins discusses Homeric incantations in more detail than previous studies, and he does a particularly good job of exploring possible relationships between their original Homeric contexts and their use as magic spells. Although some verses seem to have been selected indifferently to their narrative contexts (p. 109), more of them can, in fact, be shown to have taken their narrative contexts into consideration. For example, Iamblichus tells a story about the seer Empedocles, who was said to have quelled the anger of a youth with a Homeric incantation:

the youth had drawn a sword against Empedocles' host. . . and in a rage the youth rushed forward with a sword to strike him. According to the account, Empedocles was already engaged in playing the lyre for Anchitus when he saw that the youth was about to attack him, so he suddenly changed the musical mode to one that was sedate and soothing, and straightaway recited Odyssey 4.221: "soothing sorrow and angerless, causing forgetfulness of all ills." Once he recited this line the youth calmed down and Anchitus was saved from death" (p. 107).
As Collins points out, the line comes from the scene where Helen slips a pharmakon into the wine to make Telemachus, Melelaus, and company forget their sorrows. This verse, then, was clearly chosen because it occurs in a narrative context in which "soothing" effects are at work (p. 107). In general, Collins finds, Homeric verses were applied with metaphorical interpretations.

In the fifth chapter, "Magic in Greek and Roman Law," Collins again presents material already covered in detail by others such as Ogden, Dickie, and, to a certain extent, Luck (strangely not cited anywhere by Collins).7 That Greek law showed little concern about the practice of magic (p. 133); that the Teians had a law against manufacturing harmful drugs (p. 134); that Theoris, a "witch" from Lemnos was executed along with her entire family for her involvement with incantations and drugs (pp. 136-138); that the ambiguity of the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneficiis allowed the law to be applied to magical activity (pp. 145-148)--all of these appear in detail in Ogden, as does the observation that Roman law showed an increasingly sustained interest in the regulation of magical activities (p. 141). At the same time, Collins also explains more clearly than Ogden and others that the legal basis for the prosecution of medieval and early modern witchcraft had its origin in Roman law, which itself tended to draw on Greek magical practices (p. 132). Collins ends with an extended discussion about the trial of the author Apuleius, who was charged--almost certainly under the Lex Cornelia--with being a magus who had used erotic magic to make an older woman, the wealthy widow Pudentilla, fall in love and marry him. Collins' explains that in his Apologia Apuleius did not actually deny the charges, but rather offered non-magical explanations for the alleged magical acts he was accused of (p. 151), and that these explanations, although they won him acquittal, were not particularly convincing to later authors, Augustine among them, who believed that Apuleius indeed practiced magicae artes (p. 159). Overall, although this last chapter delves more into Roman law and Roman examples than one might expect in a book on magic in the ancient Greek world, Collins is careful to show the ongoing connection between Greek magical practices, Roman law, and their importance to and influence on early and medieval Christian definitions of magical practices and legislation to protect the integrity of citizens and states from what was eventually defined as "demonic magic" (p. 165).

Given that Collins' material overlaps in many instances with the work of several other scholars I, personally, would have liked to see a literature review as part of his introduction (pp. xi-xiv). This might have been helpful to his target audience of non-specialists as well. As it is, references to Dickie, Johnston, et al. instead appear sporadically within the text itself as well as frequently in the footnotes. Collins' writing style does make the book accessible to non-specialists, though one wishes he would temper his very earnest tone with occasional bits of humor. These quibbles aside, overall, as Collins explains in his conclusion, in his book he has tried to answer the questions of what the practitioners of magic thought it was and how people in ancient Greece (and other places and times) could believe magic to be true (p. 166). He emphasizes, among other things, the importance of focusing on specific ritual practices rather than on terminology, and is consistent in trying to apply anthropological observations to ancient magical performative contexts. Collins' observation that "the particulars of a given cultural context will always be definitive in any interpretation of magic" may seem obvious (p. 26), but by the end of his book he has shown the importance of his methodological approach, which tries to appreciate magic's connection to basic cultural metaphors and how such a context changes with time and circumstances.


1.   Daniel Ogden, Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford University Press, 2002; 2nd edition 2009.
2.   Matthew W. Dickie, Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World. Routledge, 2001.
3.   Sarah Iles Johnston, Restless Dead: Encounters between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece. University of California Press, 1999.
4.   John G. Gager, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World. Oxford University Press, 1992.
5.   Fritz Graf, Magic in the Ancient World. Translated by Franklin Philip. Harvard University Press, 1997.
6.   E.g., Christopher A. Farone, "Binding and burying the forces of evil: The defensive use of 'voodoo' dolls in ancient Greece." Classical Antiquity 10 (1991): 165-205.
7.   Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985; 2nd edition 2006.

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Version at BMCR home site
Louise Revell, Roman Imperialism and Local Identities. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xiii, 221. ISBN 9780521887304. $80.00.
Reviewed by Emma-Jayne Graham, University of St. Andrews

Table of Contents

In the Preface to this excellent volume, Revell states that it is not a book about 'becoming Roman' but 'being Roman' (ix). She stresses that we should consider 'Roman-ness' a discourse rather than a static and unchanging label of identity, and explore the complexities of what it meant to participate in a Roman way of life. Drawing upon evidence of urban public buildings from the provinces of Hispania and Britannia, Revell argues that experiences of public spaces not only established a shared Roman ethnic identity and reproduced Roman power structures, but also played a crucial role in the formation of myriad local identities. An understanding of how to be Roman was linked to shared ideals, but this always remained locally specific. By drawing attention to what she describes as the 'elasticity' of this discourse of Roman-ness, Revell offers a refreshing and theoretically informed perspective on what it meant to be 'Roman' in the conquered provinces which represents an important step forward for studies of Romanisation.

Having set out briefly in the Preface (ix-xii) the questions at the heart of the book, and commented upon the use of certain key terms ('Roman-ness' instead of Romanitas, 'pre-Roman' or 'non-Roman' in place of 'native'), in Chapter 1 'The context of the argument' (1-39) Revell presents the theoretical, methodological and evidential basis of the study. She argues that the study of Roman identity and processes of Romanisation have been beset by the problem of labels and inflexible ideas about bounded cultural identities. In fact, she suggests, we should not expect to find any degree of homogeneity but should consider Roman-ness a discourse in which people engaged actively, producing subtly different experiences of what it meant to be Roman. Drawing upon case studies from the provinces of Baetica, Tarraconensis and Britannia, Revell explores how variable experiences of public architecture might have enabled 'different kinds of identity without undermining an overall empire-wide identity' (10). This approach draws heavily upon Gidden's (1984)1 ideas of structure and agency, with experiences of public spaces being seen to play an instrumental role in the negotiation of a multiplicity of identities grounded in an ideology of how to be Roman.

Chapter 2 'Living the urban ideal' (40-79) begins with a discussion of the links between urbanisation and imperialism, and the need to find a new angle from which to approach this relationship. Revell's approach is to consider experiences of living and moving within a town, in particular the ways in which urban architecture subsequently became 'embedded in the negotiation and expression of political power' (43). Such an approach makes it possible to incorporate the experiences of both the elite and the wider community. Noting that urbanism was an ideology concerning the 'correct' way of living that operated on two levels, as both the conditions which framed life and a lived experience which reproduced this ideology, Revell uses four case studies (Italica, Clunia, London and Caerwent) to explore how this might have occurred in practice. By examining the way in which the town was placed at the centre of political and sometimes, but not always, religious activities, Revell demonstrates that the town was located within an understanding of daily life, becoming 'part of the mental landscape of the local population' (76). What emerges most clearly from an examination of evidence from different provinces is that, whilst urbanism was a structure which reinforced Roman ideals and imperial authority, its effect was dependent on active participation by townspeople. Consequently, given the different circumstances prevalent in each provincial town (for example, the separation of politics and religion in Britannia), different urban experiences were produced, meaning that there were 'shared ideals within town life but not a fixed paradigm' (78).

A second ideology, imperial authority, forms the focus of Chapter 3 'The Roman emperor' (80-109). Attention is drawn to the way in which various mechanisms (including sculpture, inscriptions, patronage and imperial cult) represented the authority of the emperor within the town and permeated the everyday lives of its inhabitants. Revell suggests that this relationship was unstable, depending not only upon the emperor's might, but also upon his subjects' recognising and reproducing that authority through their own activities. Iconography associated with the imperial family, it is argued, pervaded daily lives and affirmed the emperor's political power, so that, as with inscriptions, 'to be confronted by such an image and to acknowledge its significance was to replicate and to legitimate his power' (89). Equally, the imperial cult formed part of localised encounters between communities and imperial authority, with participation, most notably in festivals and processions, recreating imperial power and enabling participants to assert their place in the community. Statues and inscriptions were used to create a shared historical narrative in which all of this was understood. Revell concludes that power was 'written into the physical fabric of provincial towns' (107), and that the performance of repeated activities within this context reproduced the emperor's power and gave it legitimacy. However, the examples that she presents emphasise that this was not necessarily a uniform phenomenon across the empire, given the differing extent to which the emperor might be directly involved with individual towns (Italica being a prime example). As with urbanism, overarching structures were present across the empire, but there were also discrepancies between the ways in which people experienced the power of the emperor and constructed their own identities in relation to it.

Chapter 4 'Addressing the divine' (110-149) turns its attention to a third ideology. Noting the range of problems facing anyone wishing to approach Roman religion, Revell rejects a focus on belief in favour of ritual, as an activity which was capable of reproducing the structures of the empire whilst still providing scope for local variability. To this end she examines the evidence for religious activities at Bath (where the tradition of 'Roman' and 'native' religion is convincingly broken down), Minigua, Italica, Bilbilis and Caerwent. She draws out the extent to which these encounters with religion shared certain practices but were manifested in diverse ways within the urban fabric, therefore producing subtly different experiences. Communal acts of ritual are revealed to be of particular significance, allowing the community to come together in order to reproduce wider structures but also providing occasions upon which the local social hierarchy might be affirmed. The role of the built environment was key to ensuring that these experiences resonated within the town, even once the performance had ended. The elite were at the heart of these activities but, Revell argues, non-elite members of the community also made sense of their place in the world through responses to and participation in religious events. The presence of variability beneath an umbrella of common practice is again stressed, as Revell highlights how the physical differences between provincial towns offered an opportunity for local interpretations of ritual: 'there is no such thing as a "typical" religious site. Each has a distinctive local character: a form of religio which we might think of as broadly "Roman", but within which remained the possibility of diversity and individuality' (146).

Having examined how these three ideologies created a framework of imperial power within which there remained scope for local variability, Revell turns her attention in Chapter 5 'A question of status' (150-190) to these different experiences of being Roman, particularly the role of public space in negotiations for status. Revell comments on how the adult, wealthy male has become a paradigm for Roman behaviour, with women, children and other groups essentially being written out (both now and by contemporaries) in spite of their importance in negotiations for social identity. Beginning with political activity, and referring back to the themes of previous chapters, Revell argues that this played an important role in negotiations of social identity. In particular, whilst eligibility for political office was drawn into a definition of elite status, it also determined how those excluded from office expressed and internalised their own identities. Once more the urban fabric of the town is shown to be central to the playing out of these inequalities, and experiences of the basilica, curia and tribunal are pinpointed as significant examples. Discussion of how an office-holder might experience the tribunal provides an especially effective illustration of the multiplicity of possible experiences within a town and their links with negotiations for identity and status within the local community. It is suggested that those 'written out of these privileged areas, [used] the reasons for their absence (gender or age for example) as a way to make sense of their own place within the urban community' (161). Revell then examines the importance of other public spaces (baths and entertainment venues), religious rituals, and inscriptions for the negotiating these identities, and the ways in which they allowed other groups such as wealthy women and successful former slaves to participate in the same processes but in different physical settings. Focusing on a number of different categories of individual (wealthy elite male, elite woman and former slave), Revell then explores how different elements of their identity resulted in particular experiences of the urban landscape, before concluding that 'the same material which was used to create an elite Roman experience was also used to construct the experience of a Roman woman, a Roman child or a Roman slave. Their understanding of being Roman was different from that of the local magistrate, but it was not necessarily less Roman' (189).

The final chapter 'Being Roman' (191-193) brings together the conclusions from each of the preceding chapters in order to stress the multiplicity of meanings for 'Roman-ness' prevalent within the provinces of the empire. Revell concludes that a common understanding of what it meant to be Roman was reproduced by overarching structures such as urbanism, religious ritual, political activities and the authority of the emperor, but that there was a certain amount of give within this discourse. This 'elasticity' provides the means by which varied experiences and localised understandings of Roman-ness came into being, leading to a 'paradox of similarity and diversity, both within individual communities and throughout the empire as a whole' (191). Public spaces provided both the medium through which this was expressed and brought about this multiplicity of understandings by providing the setting for localised experiences. Imperialism was thus a dialectic, even if it always remained unequal. Consequently, the approach advocated here enables us to move away from traditional interpretations of Romanisation as the elite-driven promotion of a bounded cultural identity, towards a more nuanced understanding of Roman-ness as something that was experienced in subtly different ways by people across the empire who considered themselves to be 'Roman'.

This is a refreshing book that moves away from traditional 'art historical' approaches to the public spaces of the Roman world to take a theoretically informed look at the multiplicity of meanings that they might have held for the people who experienced them. The methodology advocated by Revell for exploring the mechanisms of imperialism, power and identity should be praised and offers much potential for future explorations of space and place in the Roman world. In particular, the way in which the variability present in the archaeological record is handled highlights the fact that ancient identities and power relations were constructed on a number of complex levels, and that the sharp distinction between 'native' and 'Roman' is no longer particularly relevant. The book is not entirely without limitations.2 The focus on power relations, political activities and the structures associated with them means that the non-elite are sometimes relegated to a more passive position than that of the political elite. For example, despite noting on several occasions the need to consider how the non-elite constructed their own sense of identity in response to public spaces, the identities attributed to them are often framed only in opposition to those of the elite. The impression given is that whilst the elite used their experiences of the forum, basilica or temple to construct, negotiate and affirm their social identities, the non-elite defined themselves simply by the fact that they did not have these same experiences. They thus defined themselves by what they were not, rather than what they were. This can, in large part, be explained by the emphasis placed here on public spaces and public activities, as well as authority and power, which focuses on the 'Roman' elements of identity, not on other experiences that gave people a sense of who they were. It is a shame that Revell does not point towards the fact that other spaces within the town may have acted in a similar manner for different members of the community. Experiences of the domestic, economic or funerary sphere for example, presumably acted in a similar manner. This is, however, one way in which the ideas and methodology presented here offer a new perspective that might lead to more nuanced interpretations of space in the Roman world.

Furthermore, the book contains few competing identities, little dissonance or opposition to the ideologies in which people engaged, nor is there a sense of the extent to which the non-elite actively engaged in incorporating experiences of these into their sense of identity. For example, portraits of the emperor may indeed have served to assert his authority, but to what extent did the inhabitants of a town actively engage with these images? For how long did they hold meaning? The forum was filled with imperial iconography, but does that mean that people were constantly incorporating them into their sense of identity, or did they eventually become another feature of the urban landscape that went almost unnoticed on a daily basis? Did the non-elite really choose to 'contemplate' an image of the emperor whilst going about their daily business? These, however, are perhaps questions that do not fall within the remit of this study and in fact highlight the value of the book for provoking new questions about the potential of exploring lived experiences of Roman towns.


1.   Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society. Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge, Polity.
2.   There are a number of missing words and errors throughout the text, although these do not detract from the quality of the argument:

p.14 '... were an integral part [of] these daily activities...'
p.112 '...religion [at] Rome ...'
p.117 '... little work on the reconstructing [of] ritual practice ..'
p.122 '... been used [for] libations ...'
p.126 '... [h]as it written out ...'
p.134 '...out [of] the nine ...'
p.136 '... the banque[s]t was ...'
p.138 '(See Fig. 4.6)'
p.150 '...duality was that [it] made possible ...'
p.184 ' ... local communities also formed of the expression of ...'
p.192 '... community in [a] wider sense could participate ...'
p.202 Gardner J, 2003 is listed twice in the bibliography.
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