Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Version at BMCR home site

Katerina S. Meidani, Αρχαική Ελλάδα και πόλεμος (Archaike Ellada kai polemos). Athena: Institouto tou Bibliou - A. Kardamitsa, 2010. Pp. 310. ISBN 9789603542186. (pb).

Reviewed by Zinon Papakonstantinou, University of Athens

The subject of warfare in the ancient world has recently eaxperienced a vigorous comeback among professional historians – perhaps a corroboration of the truism that historical interests are largely determined by contemporary concerns.1 Archaic Greece and War, the latest addition to the growing scholarly debate, is the revised version of the author's doctoral dissertation. The book has a specific focus: the causes of select offensive wars, their outcome and their impact in the formation of foreign policy of the communities involved. The book is divided into four thematic chapters, focusing on select case-studies, and a concluding chapter. It also contains summaries of the Introduction and Conclusions in English and French, a general index, an index locorum, a chronological table and several maps.

Chapter I ("Wars for Boundary Delimitation and Land Acquisition") examines three case-studies: the territorial expansion of Sparta, including the Messenian Wars; the territorial expansion of Corinth, especially at the expense of Megara; and the Lelantine War between Chalkis and Eretria. The common denominator in these wars was that they were largely motivated by economic and demographic considerations. Regarding Sparta, the author plausibly argues that the frustrated efforts to expand north of Laconia ignited Spartan territorial claims in Messenia. Moreover, Meidani accepts a lower date (late eighth/first quarter of seventh-century BC) for the First Messenian war and argues that Spartans exploited Messenia after the end of the war in question but reduced the local inhabitants to an inferior social status (helotage) only after their unsuccessful rebellion a few decades later (the so-called Second Messenian War). Moving on to Corinth, the author maintains that through the annexation of the Megarian settlements of Heraea and Piraea as well as a systematic colonization policy Corinthians coped effectively with their overpopulation problems and gained significant commercial advantages. Finally, regarding the Lelantine War, it is argued that both Chalkis and Eretria were originally outposts of Lefkandi which outgrew the mother-city and eventually fought each other over the fertile Lelantine plane.

In Chapter II ("Conquest and Occupation Wars") the author examines the Second Messenian War, the Argolid, and the wars conducted by Cleisthenes, the tyrant of Sicyon. Here the focus is primarily on policies and strategies of territorial consolidation. The initial segment on Sparta and the Second Messenian War dissects the chronology and alliances formed during the latter as well as the Spartan endeavors to manufacture historical claims over Messenia on the basis of religion and mythology. In the second segment the author looks primarily into the establishment of religious sanctuaries (e.g. Heraion, shrine of Agamemnon in Mycenae) by Argos as part of their policy of consolidating their hegemony of the Argolid. She also reviews the evidence regarding the chronology and policies of the notorious but historically hazy archaic Argive tyrant Pheidon. The chapter concludes with an assessment of the wars and policies of Cleisthenes of Sicyon.

Chapter III ("Wars Aimed at Safeguarding Commercial Interests") is divided into three segments dealing with Corinth, Megara and Aegina. Regarding Corinth, the author explains the alliances concluded with various states and the military operations undertaken against others in the light of what she considers to have been the guiding principle of Corinthian foreign policy during the archaic period, i.e. the development of an extensive and flourishing Corinthian commercial network. A case in point is the alliance between Corinth, Eretria, Athens and Miletus that, the author maintains, was in existence during the reign of Periander. Moving on to Megara, the author outlines the conflict between Athens and Megara over Salamis. Megara controlled the island for a good part of the sixth century BC, a fact that frustrated the commercial interests of both Athens and Corinth. During the seventh and the sixth centuries Aegina developed closed commercial ties with the East and Egypt. The chapter concludes with an examination of the evidence for the war between Aegina and Athens at the end of the sixth/early fifth century BC.

Chapter IV ("Wars and Alliances of Boeotian Cities and Sparta from the Sixth Century BC Until the Battle of Marathon") begins with a section which examines the relationships of Boeotian cities (especially Thebes and Plataea) during the sixth century BC and continues with a detailed account of the problems related to sixth century BC Spartan alliances as well as the attested Spartan campaigns to overthrow tyrannies in Corinth, Ambracia, Samos, Naxos, Sicyon and last but not least Athens. The final segment of Chapter IV dissects the causes of the Spartan campaign against Argos in 494 BC. It is followed by a short Chapter V ("General Conclusions") where the main points raised in the book are summarized.

In short, this is a well-focused book that deserves the attention of scholars working on issues related to war in archaic Greece. Meidani deals well with the challenging task of discussing particular events while keeping an eye on aspects of the big picture. To be sure, many topics tackled by the author are, and no doubt will continue to be, controversial,as acknowledged by Meidani in her selective but scrupulous discussion of modern scholarship. Nonetheless, and regardless of which arguments advanced by the author one might take issue with, readers of this book will benefit from the author's systematic discussion of ancient sources and her straightforward style of presentation of her arguments and conclusions.


1.   See e.g. Hans van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, London: Duckworth, 2004; Kurt A. Raaflaub (ed.), War and Peace in the Ancient World, Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell, 2007; Garrett G. Fagan and Matthew Trundle (edd.), New Perspectives on Ancient Warfare, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010.

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