Monday, September 30, 2013


Paul Christesen, Sport and Democracy in the Ancient and Modern Worlds. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xvii, 309. ISBN 9781107012691. $99.00.

Reviewed by David Cast, Bryn Mawr College (

Version at BMCR home site

This study, as the author nicely puts it, is built astride two distinct fault lines, one methodological—that between history and sociology—the other chronological—between the story of sports in antiquity and sports in nineteenth-century Britain. But the author, a professor of Classics at Dartmouth College, chose to bridge such gaps in order to untangle a question that interested him about the possible connections between what here is called democratization in sport and the larger facts of democratization in society as a whole. Christesen's earlier work was much concerned with the economic history of the ancient world. And his status here, as an outsider to the history of sports and to the political history of Britain, perhaps conferred a certain breadth of vision, reaching across the centuries. In history, correlation, as Christesen acknowledges, is not causation. But what he picks up here is the idea of what he calls mass sports, seen as a rare social practice that appeared first in classical Greece to be revived in Britain a thousand years later, and the possibility that such activity accompanied a move to democracy in both societies, democracy here taken to be a concept that defines and regulates not only politics but many other dimensions of social existence. Hence his interest in the history of sport—sport, of course, always being distinct from play—and here in mass sport, that is to say a situation in which large numbers of people from a broad socioeconomic spectrum are involved. As such, mass sport encourages what Christesen speaks of as a horizontal rather than a vertical relationship, the horizontal embodying equal relationships among the participants, the vertical embodying the social and political hierarchies in the culture at large.

This then is the story here. And if the author spends the first part of his study thrashing around the protocols of sociology to define his language—here, as he acknowledges, he depends much on Thomas Merton—once the terms are clear he comes to what is for him of primary interest, namely an account of the place of sports in Greek society from the Bronze Age to the sixth century BCE, by which time sports, once merely the practice of a small elite, became, through the development of athletic contests and choral dances, something like a meritocratic competition. Sports in the Early Iron Age, that is to say from about 1100 BCE to 700 BCE, had as their goal the acquisition of honor or respect, and it was these ideals that moved the competitors in Homer and defined the athletic contests in the Iliad and the Odyssey, where all was clearly described in terms of social standing. Thus—to cite a famous instance—when Odysseus, returning home disguised as a beggar, offered to enter an archery contest to win back Penelope, his request was roundly condemned by the other noble suitors. And if at this time there were occasions when other formalized athletic activities took place, most obviously the Olympics, dated by tradition to 776 BCE, these, whether coming, as did the Olympics, from religious festivals or from any of the many forms of initiation rites, were set within rituals that served to confirm the existing social distinctions. It was only later that what can be seen as the democratization of sport emerged, whether as in Sparta as part of the training of citizens as soldiers, or, as in Athens within the athletic contests of the Panathenaea, the festival honoring Athena herself, established by Peisistratus in 566 BCE, and in both cultures participation in sports was expanded to take in a far wider segment of the population. Which is not to say that women or slaves were ever allowed to participate in such activities, though in Sparta it appears that girls, up to the moment of marriage, played sports, occasionally competing against each other, if never against boys.

For Christesen, in his analysis of politics and sports, Aristotle is a useful witness, for he noted that the character of the citizens of a state should be in harmony with the nature of the political system, the state being seen as democratic and encouraged by an education that included sports as an essential way to realize true harmony. In sports it was possible for meritocratic competition to promote egalitarian relationships: a fast runner, as Christesen puts it, if not distinguished by either lineage or wealth, might meet on a footing of relative equality a slower runner coming from a distinguished and wealthy family. Here, interestingly the idea of nakedness, embodied in the words used to describe all athletics—the adjective gymnos, the verb gymnazein, the noun gymnasion—, would also play its part in such democratization (though women in Sparta, bare-thighed as Plutarch put it, were required to wear a short, if revealing tunic). Nakedness, shorn of any other social attributes, allowed those who were tanned from laboring outside to appear without shame besides those, far paler, who worked at nobler tasks inside. And if, when the participants were so stripped, distinctions might still be made, these could reverse the usual social prejudices, the white-rumped figure (leukopygos) being seen as cowardly and unmanly, the dark-bottomed (melampygos) as brave as Herakles.

This was a unique moment, for in the fourth century BCE, the political dimensions of Greek sports changed, as did society at large, and athletic competitions became less an arena for defusing the power of social and political privileges than a way for Greeks, faced by the conquests of Alexander and the spread of their culture through the Middle East, to define their particular identity. And something of such self-definition survived for many years within the culture of the Roman Empire, if finally to be terminated under the mandates of Christianity, when the association of sports with pagan deities made them unacceptable to the newly converted Empire. In 391 CE, the emperor Theodosius issued edicts that explicitly forbade participation in pagan cults; and if the Olympics lingered for a few more years, in 520 CE the Emperor Justin specifically banned all athletic contests, which were to reappear, in the form Christesen considers, only a thousand years later, in Europe in the nineteenth century and most characteristically in Britain.

It is here that we come to the third part of Christesen's account, and, to set this out he turns to an earlier moment and to the idea of the gentleman, noting that this figure, even as early as the sixteenth century, was defined by a life that placed sports within the new context of leisure, of the need not to work. Such a social ideal would not lead to the possibility of mass sports; yet with the emergence two centuries later, in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, of a new middle class, the social and political context for sports was fundamentally redefined to encourage something of the kind. At this point, much in the development of sports seems to be difficult to describe, but the end product is familiar and a new account of the virtues and values of sports was to emerge. Here the reform of the so-called public schools, nine in number, was crucial, as was the figure of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby from 1828-40, and the presence, at that moment, of many other schools founded in emulation of such models to accommodate, after the Industrial Revolution, a new and ever growing middle class. Here, whoever was involved, the idea of sports was taken to be a form of discipline and a way of toughening boys up to turn them into the military officers then needed to serve in the armies Britain sent across the globe. Was this, in the terms of his Christesen's definitions, to be seen as mass sport? At this point he offers statistics showing that in Greece in the sixth century BCE, some 40% or 50% of the families in any community were expected to play sports regularly, whereas in Britain at this time, the late 1870s, merely some 15-20% did the same—and even this figure he notes, is probably too high.

There is much more in the last parts of Christesen's account: the development of sports in Prussia in the late nineteenth century, and an additional section on Britain where he speaks, in particular, of what happened when more members of the lower classes started to play sports. Here it was in clubs, particularly those associated with churches, that people might pick up the habit of playing sports regularly. Such a development, as a matter of political policy, could be welcomed in part, but, not surprisingly, such an opening up of sports led to new distinctions, most notably that between the amateur and the professional athlete, which lingered on even after World War II, serving to mark out an obvious barrier between the rich and the less rich. As did the growth of sports that, like golf, were expensive, as did also the founding of clubs at the sites where sports were played, by which, as a Scottish newspaper nicely put it in 1885, the artisans may be equal in the field, but they are not made to feel equal in the pavilion.

Christesen ends with a brief account of mass sports in the United States—here we have a picture of Jackie Robinson on April 15, 1947, when he became the first African-American to play major league baseball—and a conclusion where he comes back to the idea of a correspondence between democratization in sports and that within society as a whole. He ends with a call for us to spend more on public sports, even in face of the severe distress affecting all parts of the economy, for the cuts that have been introduced in the United States inevitably fall more heavily on the less well-off institutions and families, thereby reducing participation in an activity so vital to the idea of equality and social cohesion. This we all know; this we can deplore.

There is a great deal of material here, on sports itself, on politics, on history. It is perhaps chapters 8 to 10 that will be of most interest to readers of this review, but it is easy for everyone to dip into whichever part of Christesen's account seems most salient, whether the record of ancient history or the sociological and political definitions or, as for the present reviewer, the tradition of sports in Britain that, when young, he had to experience in his school. How far the parts of this account add up to a coherent whole is not clear; indeed, to recall the language of his opening pages, it was indeed risky and foolhardy for the author to attempt to cover all he took on. But then, as he says, it is the reader who will decide if the promise inherent in the subject matter and approach is fully realized. And there is no question that, in all its varied parts, this study is a provocative account, firmly grounded in scholarship and introducing possibilities and problems perhaps not generally familiar to students either of Greece or of modern Britain.

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Filippo Canali De Rossi, La tirannide in Grecia antica. Fare storia, 1. Roma: Scienze e lettere, 2012. Pp. xvi, 160. ISBN 9788866870050. €50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Brian Calabrese (

Version at BMCR home site

In La tirannide in Grecia antica, Filippo Canali de Rossi offers a brief survey of Greek tyranny, with special emphasis on Athens and Corinth, and argues that tyranny emerged as the result of gradual development out of aristocracy.

De Rossi traces the discussions of tyranny in Thucydides and Aristotle before proceeding to discussions of tyranny more generally at Athens and Corinth. Subsequently, de Rossi focuses on the tyrannies of Pisistratus and Cypselus, almost as case-studies of tyranny generally, and balances, in his consideration of Athens, discussion of more historical and more theoretical questions, such as the chronology of the Pisistradids and how tyrants remain in power, respectively, with the goal of resolving these more theoretical questions, to the extent possible, through consideration of the historical record.

De Rossi's discussion of tyranny at Corinth is more ample than his discussion of tyranny at Athens. It focuses not just on tyranny proper, but offers a wide-ranging consideration of aspects of economic and political life at Corinth, with exploration of such topics as commerce, sacred prostitution, shipping and navigation, and Corinth's commercial relations with the Near East and Italy. De Rossi devotes considerable attention to the history of Corinth prior to Cypselus. In order to show a degree of continuity between the Corinth of Cypselus and that prior, de Rossi addresses the chronology of the rulers of Corinth prior to Cypselus, Corinth's archaeological record, to the extent that it is useful to this inquiry, and Corinth's place in myth and the Dorian invasion.

Subject to expansion in a contemplated second volume on Greek tyranny (x) and not organized into chapters or precisely defined subdivisions, de Rossi's book is, by his own admission, prone to digression and does not always partake of a systematic, logical organization or structuring ("la trattazione mantiene un filo logico non sistematico, aperto alle digressioni…." [x]). De Rossi's assessment of his work is accurate. The book makes many interesting observations, but is not always as focused as possible. Given the book's emphases, scholars interested in Corinth may find the book more engaging than scholars of tyranny generally. In, approximately, the second half of the book, de Rossi's discussion of the relation between Corinth's history prior to Cypselus and myth becomes the dominant focus of the book, almost, at times, to the exclusion of discussion of tyranny itself.

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Sandra Bingham, The Praetorian Guard: A History of Rome's Elite Special Forces. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 240; 16 p. of plates. ISBN 9781602586499. $29.95.

Reviewed by Conor Whately, University of Winnipeg (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This book is a history of the praetorian guard during the principate; it is divided into five chapters including the introduction and the conclusion. Bingham's thesis is that the guard should be seen as more than simply the emperor's bodyguard: it should also be seen as a symbol of the emperor's power, and the military basis of his rule. There is a detailed appendix, and endnotes rather than footnotes, presumably part of an attempt to increase its appeal to a general audience. On that note, it is the subtitle of this book, including not just "A History of Rome", but "Elite Special Forces", that is most likely to make it attractive to a general audience. For this conjures up images of SAS soldiers, or soldiers of the JTF2, decked in black with night vision goggles, guns cocked, ready to storm a building and free some hostages. In fact, Bingham herself says in the very first note of the book that "'Elite' here is defined not in the sense of a specialized force (as, say, the SAS) so much as an indication of status" (p. 125, n. 1). Although this might disappoint those general readers (and, however slightly, this academic one), a little fortitude will reward, for the book is well written, engaging, and persuasive, even if Bingham's caution can be both satisfying and frustrating.

In the introduction, Bingham sets out the difficulties posed by our literary sources (pp. 4-5). With regard to the second (and early third) century AD, for example, Dio is fragmentary; the Historia Augusta is often unreliable; and Herodian, like many historians before and after, is usually uninterested in the specifics we modern historians like. To make matters worse, the numismatic evidence is limited in quantity, the material evidence is far from conclusive (cf. pp. 69-75), and the epigraphic evidence has less detail about careers and day-to-day activities than we might like (p. 5). For all the problems with the ancient sources there are almost as many problems with the modern accounts, or so Bingham. She sets out, then, to make sense of this complicated evidence and right the wrongs of past and present modern treatments, particularly in English.1

Chapter two provides the historical overview of the guard, from the republic to Diocletian, and there are a number of highlights. Bingham argues that the guard was always "intended for the emperor's personal use" (p. 15). She suggests that their later activities, from fire fighting to policing, may have originated under Augustus (p. 18), though it was during the period from Tiberius to Nero that the guard became the force that we find in most general treatments (p. 21). One of the most famous events of the Julio-Claudian era is the assassination of Caligula and the accession of Claudius. The most entertaining version has it that a member of the guard, post assassination, found Claudius cowering in the palace, saluted him as emperor, and subsequently dragged him along to the camp for acclamation (p. 26). Bingham discounts this and another version (the praetorians met and chose Claudius). Instead, she argues that both the prefect, Clemens, and Claudius himself had a part, with the later appearance of Claudius on coins with imagery of the guard and the 100 sesterces gift per man on the anniversary of his accession as proof of the emperor's role (p. 27). When Trajan came to power in AD 98 the usual assumption is that he had the prefect Aelianus and his men killed (pp. 39-40). As Bingham notes, however, Cassius Dio, at least in the epitome we have, does not specify murder (68.5.4): "He sent for Aelianus and the Praetorians..and…put them out of the way."2 Rather, Aelianus was probably simply dismissed from his post and sent away. This reaction should be connected to the positive relationship, "one of mutual respect" (p. 40) as Bingham calls it, between Trajan and the guard. Finally, one of the most famous historical episodes took place between the assassination of Commodus and the accession of Septimius Severus: the auctioning of the empire to Didius Julianus. She concludes that the story in that guise is a myth, and rather it was the relationship between Sulpicianus and Pertinax that was the deciding factor in Julianus' acclamation and not the amount of money on offer (pp. 44-45).

In the next chapter Bingham turns to the guard's organization. She discusses the number of praetorians, both with respect to the number of cohorts and the number per cohort. As regards the total per cohort, debate has raged between a quingenary (500) effective and a milliary (1,000) one; she settles on 1,000 (p. 55). The details of service and its commanders are covered. She also touches on their career path, noting that most of our epigraphic evidence is second century, which makes it difficult to discern the nature of first century career paths (p. 65). Pay and donatives, the location of their camp (Castra Praetoria in Rome), and their equipment and uniform all receive due attention. One of the problematic points is trying to determine what they wore and when. The images on Trajan's Column are not particularly helpful: is a particular soldier a legionary, an auxiliary, or praetorian (p. 77)? She argues that we can really only identify them as praetorians on the column when their lion-skin headdress-wearing standard bearers accompanied them. Bingham also discounts suggestions that the praetorians wore togas in Rome. As she notes, the comments of Tacitus (Ann. 16.271) usually adduced to make such claims are anything but indicative of their wearing of togas in this context (p. 78).

The penultimate chapter deals with the praetorian guard's duties. The topics include their service as imperial bodyguards, their role in the securing of the state, their policing of events, and their occasional fighting of fires. The protection of the emperor and the securing of the state seem to be one and the same. Nevertheless, in her discussion of the latter Bingham delves into, among other things, the actions of the speculatores (p. 89-92). She also explores the emperors' use of the guard to intimidate potential threats to his person and the state, such as Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso in AD 20; quite often, men like Piso were coerced into suicide (p. 92-95). In other instances, outright executions were in order, at least from the perspective of the emperors themselves: for example, Nero had Rubellius Plautus executed for alerting the emperor to the changes looming as a result of the appearance of a comet (p. 96). With regard to the last section, the fighting of fires, the discussion is wide-ranging, moving as it does from an overview of the vigiles to Sejanus and his removal. We are, then, to assume that these fires are both literal and figurative.

The conclusion provides an excellent summary of the main themes and topics discussed in the book. In a pinch, it could be read with considerable profit for the harried reader looking for a concise overview.

One of the author's great strengths is the caution with which she usually approaches the evidence. She often shies away from fanciful theories, even though the apparent abundance of praetorian conspiracies – Didius Julianus and the auctioning of the empire for example – would seem to warrant some wild and exciting historical reconstructions. For instance, at the end of her discussion of the Castra Praetoria Bingham notes the tendency of some to associate the size of the camp with the total number of soldiers per cohort. The incomplete state of excavations – the northern areas are little known – complicates our picture considerably, and she reminds us, as a result, that the material record is anything but decisive in this matter (p. 75). There are exceptions: in her discussion of praetorian participation in the wars of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius Bingham claims that by the end of the second century the guard had become accustomed to fighting in the field. The evidence adduced (p. 41; p. 152, n. 216) for this claim, however, is a couple of inscriptions (ILS 8846, ILS 9002).

On the other hand, despite the problematic nature of our evidence in many cases, further discussion would have enriched this important book. A noteworthy example is the aforementioned combat role of the praetorians. On pages 41-42 Bingham describes their participation in Trajan's Dacian wars.3 She says that there are scenes on the column of Trajan where we can spot their involvement in battle. Here she has in mind those places where they are depicted with their standards following the emperor to war. Bingham does not, however, take the discussion further, even though a question springs to mind: is their presence really evidence of Trajan's personal role in the conflict, or is it indicative of his need for additional crack troops? The other conflicts noted in her discussion are the Parthian and Marcomannic of Marcus Aurelius, and he (and Lucius Verus) like Trajan fought at the front, so possibly suggesting that the guard's presence in these wars had more to do with the safety of the emperor rather than their combat utility. Yet, one of the principal thrusts of the book is summed up in the following statement: "The use of the praetorians as a specialized military force was an extension of its role to ensure the safety of the emperor and, in connection with that duty, to provide assistance when required for the security of the state. The assignments were varied, but the guard often was sent only when previous attempts to find other solutions to a serious problem had failed" (p. 119). If this is the case with respect to the Dacians, it has important implications not only for our understanding of the severity of the conflict, 4 but also the bias of the sources towards Domitian: the Dacians were such fearsome opponents that Trajan had to bring along the praetorians to ensure success. Domitian, then, should not be chastised for his apparent struggles in the 80s. In the end, that her discussion has brought to mind these issues is another of the book's strengths.

All in all, Bingham has written what will be the standard book in English on the subject in a style that should endear it to a wider audience. Although at times the author is overly cautious, her caution is usually necessitated by the nature of the evidence, and it quite often pays dividends. Finally, the book poses some questions that will be of interest for those whose own research focuses on areas outside of traditional Roman military history.5

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations 


1. Introduction

2. History

3. Organization 

4. Duties 

5. Conclusion 





1.   We lack recent, full-length treatments in English. Cf. R. Cowan, 2002, Aspects of the Severan Field Army: The Praetorian Guard, Legio II Parthica, and Legionary Vexillations AD 193-238, University of Glasgow, unpublished PhD dissertation; S. Ottley, 2009, The Role Played by the Praetorian Guard in the Events of AD 69 as Described by Tacitus in his Historiae, University of Western Australia, unpublished PhD dissertation; M. Jallet-Huant, 2009, La Garde Prétorienne dans la Rome Antique, Paris.
2.   trans. Cary (LCL).
3.   Despite the problems with the quantity and quality of evidence for Trajan's Dacian wars, more could have been said. Note, for example, A.S. Stefan, 2005, Les guerres daciques de Domitien et de Trajan: Architecture militaire, topographie, images et histoire, Rome, which is missing from the bibliography.
4.   cf. E.L. Wheeler, 2010, "Rome's Dacian Wars: Domitian, Trajan, and Strategy on the Danube, Part 1", JMH 74, 1185-1227; idem, 2011, "Rome's Dacian Wars: Domitian, Trajan, and Strategy on the Danube, Part II", JMH 75, 191-219.
5.   I only noticed two mistakes: on page 24 it should read "in January", not "in the January"; on page 88 a "to" is missing between the words "unwilling tolerate". Additionally, there are a number of instances (three on pp. 16-17) where Bingham simply refers the reader ahead to a chapter rather than specific pages (so, "see Chapter X"). Precise page numbers would have helped.

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David M. Schaps, Handbook for Classical Research. London; New York: Routledge, 2011. Pp. xxii, 466. ISBN 9780415425230. $41.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Mark Thorne, Wheaton College (

Version at BMCR home site


[The author would like to apologize for the lateness of this review.]

The classical world is a really big place. Given that somebody attempting to study it can explore any dimension of life and thought covering roughly two thousand years and multiple cultures between the Bronze Age and the end of the western Roman empire (or beyond), it is inevitable that researchers at some point specialize. Thus we tend to become Hellenists or Latinists, and along the way philologists, epigraphists, historians, archaeologists, etc., finally emerging as specialists in imperial Roman epic poetry, ancient cavalry tactics, social class in Athenian drama, or gender dynamics in rhetorical progymnasmata, just to name a few possibilities. Yet when attempting to branch beyond our own established research boundaries to find productive points of connection with the many other fields and subfields of classics, it can be at times be difficult to know where to begin. It is precisely to help tackle this problem that David M. Schaps has written his new and exceedingly welcome research handbook for the study of the classical world.

This is an important book. The first five chapters address in a clear and meaningful way what the world of classics is about and how we go about learning about the classical past, and then each of the next 25 chapters tackles a different field or subfield of classical studies, briefly explaining the lines of research conducted in it, and offering along the way instructive examples in each topic to illustrate the kinds of issues researchers face. In his introduction Schaps explains that the project originated from a desire to create a book that would meet the needs of a graduate level pro-seminar, and indeed it is this audience that will find the book most immediately useful. Yet there is something in here to benefit anybody, from beginners to seasoned researchers. Schaps begins by being careful to explain what he has not attempted to do, namely write a neat summary of all available knowledge on each of the research areas he covers. This is truly a guidebook, as his desire is to produce "an orientation" (xiv) that will lay out the basics of a given field and then point people to the right resources for further study. Schaps thus fills an valuable niche, for his approach does not directly compete either with reference encyclopedias such as Pauly (old or new) or with the fuller bibliographic coverage of a work like Jenkins (a useful if sometimes overlooked book which Schaps himself urges his readers to consult alongside his own work).1 The author's greatest desire is in fact to encourage researchers at all levels to discover the joy of working in areas outside their own entrenched specialties and thus discover how a basic understanding of, say, numismatics or ancient music might help someone working on a historical text ask more interesting and fruitful questions than they otherwise would have asked. With this in mind, although many will only read individual chapters, the full impact comes from reading the whole book. I certainly benefited greatly from doing so and found myself wishing I had owned such a book during graduate school. Future generations of classics graduate students will likely find this a welcome companion.

Schaps organizes the book according to general themes. After a brief Preface that explains the authors overall goals for the work, Part I: The Basics provides a general orientation to what the field of Classics actually is, why people bother studying classical antiquity, and how researchers go about conducting research in it, giving special attention to the types of sources we have along with the inherent limitations of those sources. Useful chapters on compiling bibliographies and using book reviews flesh out this section. In Part II: Language, chapters on grammar, linguistics, classical dictionaries, and classical texts themselves speak to the fact that interacting with ancient languages (specifically Greek and Latin) in some way lies at the core of what classicists most often do. Those from ancillary disciplines seeking to understand better the core toolset of the classicist can find here a marvelous point of entry. Part III: The Traditional Fields covers the core terrain of literature, rhetoric, philosophy, and history. The chapter "Reading and Understanding Literature" in particular stands out as one of the gems in the entire book, providing one of the best concise summaries of the issues behind literary theory and intertextuality in Classics that I have seen yet. Schaps takes a welcome middle ground, acknowledging the real value of understanding and applying the various theoretical approaches while also keeping in mind their limitations. Part IV: The Physical Remains brings us to ancient material culture, with chapters covering archaeology in general and then the more specialized fields of numismatics and Mycenaean studies; Linear A and B naturally make their appearance here, showing how texts and physical remains can rarely be separated. This very principle continues to shape the contents of Part V: The Written Word which introduces readers to the potentially intimidating fields of epigraphy, papyrology, and paleography and then leaves material culture to close with a well-written whirlwind tour of the process of creating a modern edited text. Next, Part VI: The Classics and Related Disciplines offers a journey out into the arenas of classical art, music and dance, Greco-Roman science and technology, religion and myth, law, and the social sciences in general. This last chapter looks at fruitful ways classics has interacted (and can continue to interact) with the fields of sociology, anthropology, economics, and psychology. I commend Schaps for also including a chapter on music and dance that gives proper due to rhythm and meter, a constant reality of daily life in the classical world that, as Schaps urges, more classicists would benefit from remembering. Part VII: The Classics Since Antiquity closes out the book with four shorter chapters on the classical tradition and reception, the historical development of classical scholarship, various attempts at recreating the classical past (ranging from brief discussions of opera and Latin composition to more recent efforts at computer modeling), and the rich tradition of classical translation. In the absence of a general conclusion this section speaks to the ever-growing appreciation for how successive generations continually interact with our classical heritage.

For many, the greatest ongoing benefit this book offers will be the "Major Resources" section found at the end of each chapter which covers (helpfully in narrative format rather than bland lists) not only the well-known but also many lesser-known resources. Also provided is an selection of core online resources. Furthermore, the summary bibliographies in the back are worth the price of admission alone (397-444), split into current websites (as of time of writing) and print sources; only those works and sites mentioned in the book are listed, but this covers so much ground these sections should be read by every Classics graduate student. All the major languages of scholarship are represented.

One of the enjoyable aspects of Schaps's writing is his thoroughly engaging and personal tone. Here is no functional but dry compendium of facts; rather, reading the book feels a bit like listening to your favorite uncle sharing a lifetime's worth of knowledge and experience on a topic he cares about deeply. This personal tone may be off-putting to some who would prefer the more traditional detached scholarly voice, but I for one found it a breath of fresh air. In this spirit he includes the occasional personal anecdote (e.g. the amusingly haphazard beginnings of his doctoral thesis, 26) and frequently infuses the text with some very welcome wit and humor.2

It is perhaps inevitable, however, that in a book like this one can find a few missed opportunities. Breadth of coverage is a predictable target, since in a book that aims at covering as many research avenues as possible, anybody could point to something that Schaps overlooks. I for one noticed the absence of any Latin and Greek composition resources or of any mention at all of the Second Sophistic in the chapter "Oratory and Rhetoric." I was also disappointed to find foreign cults meriting one single paragraph in "Ancient Religion and Mythology" with no mention at all of mystery cults; Judaism and Christianity do get better treatments than expected, however. Furthermore, in the "Mycenaean Studies" chapter, Schaps mentions only the traditional period divisions of Early/Middle/Late Minoan but neglects to introduce the more recent terms Prepalatial, Protopalatial, etc., that are increasingly used in the literature now. A few images are scattered about to support various chapters (mostly in the more technical areas like palaeography or epigraphy as well as art), but more would have been welcome. Inexplicably, neither "Numismatics" nor "Papyrology" contain a single picture of a coin or papyrus fragment. The book is well-edited and bound.3

These quibbles should in no way detract readers from enjoying the book themselves or recommending it to their students. Schaps has written a remarkable book whose sum is actually greater than its individual parts—the greatest benefits here await those who read widely across multiple chapters and actively look for ways to integrate among the disciplines. As Schaps himself puts it, "The undisputed fact that nobody can conquer all of the realms so briefly outlined here should not prevent a person from entering them. I do not think that it is necessary or desirable for classicists to entrench ourselves within the confines of our specialty, fearing to venture beyond them for fear of breaking the illusion of omniscience that we can project in the subjects we have studied closely." (xiv) In short, Schaps wants his reader to discover (or remember) the joys and benefits of building a broader base of competence and thinking more like a generalist. In this reviewer's opinion, Schaps succeeds in making a very persuasive case. This book thus represents a significant achievement, one that will likely find a regular place on researchers' shelves and in graduate seminars for years to come.


1.   Jenkins, Fred W. 2006. Classical Studies: A Guide to The Reference Literature, Second edition. Libraries Unlimited.
2.   In discussing the need for a better theoretical understanding of classical grammars, Schaps writes, "If prolixity is the sign of a person who has not grasped the essential point, there are grounds for uneasiness when Kühner and Stegmann, Ausfürhliche Grammatik der lateinischen Sprache take more than sixty pages to explain the genitive" (83). Elsewhere he wryly notes, "In a scholarly book like this one, of course, rules of grammar can never be violated. To do so would be, well, you know" (92n8).
3.   I only noted three typos: 'Trauptman' for 'Traupman' (80); 'IGNI' for 'IGNIS' (247); 'particularly' for 'particular' (247).

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Maria Serena Funghi, Gabriella Messeri, Cornelia Eva Römer (ed.), Ostraca greci e bilingui del Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (O.Petr.Mus.). (3 vols.) Papyrologica Florentina, 42. Firenze: edizioni Gonnelli, 2012. Pp. lxxx, 849; 1 DVD. ISBN 9788874680375. €250.

Reviewed by Maria Lauretta Moioli, Università degli Studi di Milano (

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Maria Serena Funghi, Gabriella Messeri and Cornelia Eva Roemer, three international authorities in papyrological studies, present this impressive three-volume collection of texts on potsherds and stone flakes.

The work is remarkable for its thoroughness and for the exemplary research method adopted. A word on the edition's thoroughness. The collection publishes all the Greek texts on potsherds housed in the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (University College London). They consist of 796 Greek texts – including some bilingual texts, some Demotic Greek and Coptic Greek texts and two Latin ones – 1 all written on ostraca, a material that often presents difficulties in reading and, even more so, interpretion. The ostraca found in the Flinders Petrie Collection have crossed the history of Papyrological Studies, so to speak: the first 35 ostraca were published by Ulrich Wilcken in 1899, a few Coptic ones were published by Walter Ewing Crum in 1902 (and more in 1939). The majority of them – 476 texts – were then edited by John Gavin Tait in 1930. Every edition reflects the conditions under which it was published and the inevitable limitations each period experiences. Closer to the present time, a few more texts only were published until, early in the last decade, the project of the aforementioned authors and their working group (on this more at the end) began – a ten-year labor leading to the present edition.

The editors have sought out and re-examined all the collection's Greek pieces. Working on the originals has enabled them to improve former readings, join texts from scattered pieces, group similar texts (as written in the same hand or coming from the same milieu), and present more than 200 texts that had remained unpublished because deemed either illegible or too damaged or non-Greek.

In recent years, access to the complete catalogue on the Museum's website has greatly facilitated the cataloguing and deciphering of the texts, but only autopsy and the slow work of deciphering could have led to the present edition. The publication also marks a milestone in regard to the method adopted in the study of the texts. The editors have gathered a team of experts from different disciplines, including demotists and archaeologists, in order to offer a complete study of the artefacts under examination. The three volumes published in the Papyrologica Florentina Series (that has already given many valuable instruments to Papyrology) offer an impeccable and rich edition, supported by texts, translations, apparatus, notes, bibliography, and technical description. Introductions and commentaries expand, where necessary, into brief monographs. The indexes and a DVD providing the photograph of each published ostracon complete the work. This edition proves once again that ostraca, the most challenging of papyrological sources, can yet disclose many useful pieces of information concerning Graeco-Roman history and culture. 2

The present edition allows all scholars interested in Greek sources – whether historians, philologists or literati – to easily access the texts in their entirety, as Stephen Quirke, Curator of the Petrie Museum, writes in the chapter devoted to the history of the collection's Greek ostraca (p. xxxiii). The bibliographies provided for each single text allow an easy and detailed reconstruction of editorial procedures, namely previous editions (if there have been any), amendments, and the most important citations in secondary literature. An analytical reading reveals the monumental nature of the bibliographic research undergone, an achievement that the list in the Introduction (pp. lxxiii ff.) fails to acknowledge since it is limited to the works quoted in short form.

In accordance with the rules of papyrological editions, ostraca are divided into two main sections: literary and paraliterary texts; documentary texts from the Ptolemaic to the Byzantine period, and lastly two Latin fragments. Within these two great chronologically ordered groups the documents are arranged according to category: shipping receipts, taxes, accounts, lists, memoranda.

Ascertaining the texts' geographical origin was another challenging task for the editors. In short, most texts comes from Upper Egypt, from the Theban district – the caravan routes from Koptos towards the harbours of Myos-Hormos and Berenike on the Red Sea are well-known.3 A small group, titled Warehouse Notes, comes from Oxyrhynchus. In some cases the origin may be inferred from internal evidence, while in others it may be found in excavation notes made by Petrie himself, or it may also have been ascertained by former studies. Unfortunately, the provenance of many ostraca is still unknown, and so is the context of their discovery and acquisition, which is to say, whether they were purchased or dug out. As Stephen Quirke writes (pp. xxxiii ff.), the way of proceeding in a pioneering age such as Petrie's 4 radically differs from that of the present-day, especially when the finds were written materials. In those years of major discoveries of Egyptian architecture and art, written materials of seemingly humble and fragmentary nature like ostraca were given little importance and they were catalogued alongside many similar materials simply as Objects of Daily Use.

Now a closer look to the volumes. It must be noted that the republication of previously published ostraca offers in most cases an improved reading and interpretation – the extent of the improvements, however, forbids further treatment here. Part I includes the editors' Introduction, the history of the Petrie Museum collection of Greek ostraca by Stephen Quirke, a technical introduction to pottery and amphorae manufacturing by Lavinia Pesi, which also explains also the research method adopted in each piece's description; tables of concordance and bibliographical abbreviations. These are followed by literary texts, nos. 1-72: fragments of the Old and New Testament, some liturgical pieces, fragments of the Iliad and the Menandri Sententiae, various school exercises and dubia; then documentary texts from the Ptolemaic period, nos. 73-111.

Part II collects various documentary texts from the Roman era, nos. 112-527. The most striking texts are a substantial group from the early Imperial period, nos. 112-206, belonging to the so-called archive of Nikanor – a camel driver and owner of a transport company working from Koptos to Myos-Hormos and Berenike. Back in 1931, while reviewing Tait's edition, Michael Rostovtzeff had already studied these documents' historical context in order to reconstruct the trading activities in Eastern Egyptian Desert area towards the Red Sea, Arabia and India. The work of the editors in collaboration with Dominic Rathbone has made it possible, for the first time, to check all the originals, thus improving their reading, 5 and to better understand the characters involved in the trade, including Nikanor himself, his relatives, his carriers, his customers, as well as the comings and goings of his goods. According to surviving receipts, the goods transported most often were wheat and wine. 6

Texts nos. 207-527 consist of tax receipts of all sorts: temples'balaneutikon, geometria, laographia, chomatikon and still others; receipts from the public granary, grain receipts, letters, accounts, lists. A separate group (nos. 439-465) comprises those ostraca that go under the name of Warehouse Notes, found by B.P. Grenfell and A.S. Hunt in Oxyrhynchus during the 1904-5 diggings. Some unpublished texts are added to the 12 previously published ones, and the notes' function is also investigated – they were of use to the warehouse manager in particular. The subject of these notations were the kyklia identified as either wool balls or bobbins, (according to the definition given by D. Hagerdon accepted by the Editors 7). Part III comprises pieces from nos. 528 to 796, from the Byzantine period (5th-8th centuries). Along with the usual documents – receipts, accounts, lists of names – two other small archives are worth mentioning: that of Theopemptos and Zacharias (nos. 528-552, from Hermonthis, 7th century) and that of Psyros (nos. 569-574, from Dscheme, 7th-8th centuries. 8) Ostracon no. 677, consisting of seven lines of illegible writing, is of particular interest because it is considered a fake.

The work ends with a series of texts similar to but not quite the same as ostraca, including dipinti, graffiti, and a group of Descripta, texts that present writings that can no longer be read. Likewise, the two Latin texts that close the collection are so fragmentary that their content cannot be ascertained.

The editing project has been funded by Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and supported by the Petrie Museum, which hosts the collection. Given the difficulties that research in ancient studies is facing nowadays, the scale of the present project and the involvement of several young scholars are especially noteworthy. Alongside the three main editors – Maria Serena Funghi, Gabriella Messeri, Cornelia Eva Römer – collaborators in the research project include: Giuseppina Azzarello, Valentina Capuozzo, Cristina Carusi, Gianluca Casa, Teresa De Robertis, Donatella Erdas, Laura Giuliano, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Herwig Maehler, Francesca Maltomini, Carlo Pernigotti, Lavinia Pesi, Stefano Zamponi.


1.   The four Greek-Coptic ostraca are literary texts (testamentary texts, a school exercise), whereas the eight Greek-Demotic fragments are documentary texts. Coptic words have not been indexed. Four texts (nos. 153, 161, 164, 185) have a Latin subscription.
2.   The importance of ostraca in revealing new details about daily life in Egypt and the Graeco-Roman Near East is confirmed by the increasing number of diggings currently taking place in Egypt and elsewhere: the number of newly discovered inscribed postherds is very high (higher than that of papyri) and they are likely to offer a precious source of study material. On this aspect of papyrology and on new perspectives opened up by it see Roger S. Bagnall, Everyday Writing in the Graeco-Roman East (University of California 2011), especially chap. 6.
3.   Koptos is now known as Qift, Myos-Hormos is now known as Quseir al Qadim, Berenike corresponds to modern Medinet el-Haras.
4.   Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie worked in Egypt from 1880 to 1924 and has been rightly identified as the father of modern Egyptology. The Museum dedicated to him, where his entire collection of ostraca has been placed, was established as a teaching resource back in 1892. See the Petrie Museum.
5.   Ostraca suffer from the passing of time: after being removed from the archaeological context that enabled their conservation for millennia, they undergo a process of decay and the writing begins to fail. It often happens that photographs of ostraca taken immediately after their discovery offer a clearer reading than the postherds as they appear now. Therefore, as Gabriella Messeri and Dominic Rathbone observe (II, p. 146), it is sometimes difficult to decipher now what Tait could read with certainty. On the decay of ostraca in British museums see two notes of historical nature: Marcel Hombert, "La détérioration des ostraca," Chronique d'Egypte 8 (1933), 298; Harold Idris Bell, "Note on the treatment and preservation of ostraca from Egypt," Chronique d'Egypte 10 (1935), 133-137.
6.   Among the transported goods worth mentioning are an unspecified pharmakon and purple. Unfortunately the documents do not reveal the nature of the pharmakon (whether a medicine or a dye). As for the purple, a new reading reveals that there is no mention of it in O.Petr.Mus. 172.4, while a purple trader is mentioned in no. 529. Another unidentified object appears in the no. 196, among various goods, there is a salousion brasimon.
7.   In the no. 458 the kyklia are mentioned together with the oktasoupha and the trisoupha: it is impossible to determine if the soupha (another rare and obscure word) is a measure unit or a type of the ball.
8.   Hermonthis is now Armant, Dscheme or Djeme is known as Memnonia in Greek sources. They were other centres of the Theban urban agglomeration.

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Stefanie Märtin, Die politische Führungsschicht der römischen Republik im 2. Jh. v. Chr. zwischen Konformitätsstreben und struktureller Differenzierung. Bochumer Altertumswissenschaftliches Colloquium 87. Trier: WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2012. Pp. 585. ISBN 9783868213966. €59.50.

Reviewed by Karl-J. Hölkeskamp, Universität zu Köln (

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Ever since Sir Fergus Millar's iconoclastic reading of the "political character" of mid-republican Rome as a kind of Greek-style 'democracy' in a series of influential articles,1 the debate on the political culture of the middle (and late) republic in general and the character of the senatorial 'nobility' as ruling class in particular has gained considerable momentum: the complex interplay of the roles and functions of magistracy, senate and assemblies; the different military, political, social and religious roles of senators as magistrates and commanders, patrons and priests; the patterns of recruitment of this class and its internal stratification as well as its particular code of behaviour and concomitant ritual languages of collective 'self-fashioning' as a meritocracy and especially the discursive forms, contents and media of its communication and interaction with the populus Romanus at large have been explored and analyzed in detail in a series of publications.2

This peculiarly conservative book and its author seem to be unmoved and indeed untouched by this debate – only very few of these contributions are mentioned at all (e.g. en passant p. 53 n. 60; p. 282 n. 226; p. 331-2 nn. 130 and 133), and there is no systematic discussion of the different positions, models, concepts and categories that have been proposed in recent research. In lengthy notes, the author does indeed cite hundreds of titles (cf. the bibliography, pp. 554-85), but all too often just in uncommented accumulative lists – as, e.g., in the excursus on republican "memorial culture" (Erinnerungskultur), the emergence of senatorial historiography and its ambivalent roles in the process of the "conceptualization" and "fixing the mos maiorum", when it was already losing its traditional binding force (pp. 26 with n.24 and 210-43). Much of what the author has to say about 'collective'/'cultural memory' on the one hand and the role of Fabius Pictor, Cato and other second-century historians in this context on the other is neither differentiated enough nor really original.3 Other discussions of details – e.g., of the concept ofnobilitas in the sources and as a category in modern research (p. 24-5 with n. 16) and of modern interpretations of the lex Genucia ne quis eundem magistratum intra decem annos caperet (p. 43 with n. 25) – are marred by oversimplifications or misunderstandings in details or both.

Moreover, much of the literature Märtin adduces in other contexts is definitely outmoded – it may still be feasible to quote Th. Mommsens Römische Geschichte (if only for the elegance of his language and the witty sharpness of his magisterial judgments and characterizations), but H. Bengtson's handbook of Roman history does certainly not represent the communis opinio about the 'outbreak' of the 'crisis' of the Republic and its causes (p. 19 n. 7, cf. also p. 400-1 nn. 2, 8 and 9).4 What is more, she simply states programmatically that the theme of her book precludes an approach centered on a "history of events" (ereignisgeschichtliche Untersuchung) from 210 to 133 BCE and that there are, after all, "comprehensive" surveys – and then she refers the reader to not more than three textbooks of very varied quality, all of which treat the complex history of these decades on less than a dozen pages (p. 30 with n. 29).

The conceptual framework of the whole book consists of a strangely unreflected, indeed partly outmoded terminology. The title (which by the way can be read as an implicit petitio principii) construes a dichotomy between "striving for conformity" (Konformitätsstreben) and "structural differentiation" of the "ruling class" – whereas the former concept suggests that political actors actively pursued a sort of long-term strategy and intentional objective to secure "conformity" (whatever that means), the latter seems to circumscribe a sort of process beyond the control and indeed the perception of these actors – and indeed the adjective 'strukturell' does re-appear frequently. In Chapters II, III and IV on 'structural' political and social developments of the senatorial aristocracy and its central institution (pp. 35-81; 82-134; 135-209), this dichotomy resurfaces in a variety of similar or related concepts: "integrative power", (problems of) "integration" (Integrationskraft/-probleme) of the ruling class as a "homogeneous" collective versus "individual interests", nobiles disregarding norms and conventions, "differentiation" through "hierarchization", "heterogeneity" and "disintegration", which gradually but necessarily resulted in a loss of auctoritas of the central institution, the Senate, and its capacity to generate and guarantee consensus (cf. the general conclusions, chapter VIII, pp.484-91).5

In order to analyze the complex process, which she conceptualizes in terms and concepts with obviously negative connotations, the author proposes to discard the seemingly all too crude dichotomy of nobilis versus homo novus and to introduce a differentiated set of intermediate or sub-categories: homo cognominis novi, homo paene novus, filius hominis novi, homo novus filius praetoris (cf. also the appendices, chapter IX, pp. 492-548). Apart from the embarrassing fact that in many cases individuals cannot really be categorized in one or another group with certainty or at least probability, I do not see that this differentiation and categories such as homines paene novi offer a substantial explanatory potential. Moreover, the author does not even consider the possibility that the complex relationship of keen, even fierce competition between ambitious individuals for (higher) magistracies, above all the consulship, on the one hand and a basically unchallenged consensus among the senatorial class as collective about the general rules of this competition and the criteria of excellence and of legitimate claims to rank and reputation on the other could take the form of a sort of precarious balance or complementarity.6

The following chapter (V, pp. 210-287) is focused on what the author interprets as countermeasures to "change" through "differentiation" in the shape of legislation intended to "educate" these new strata within the more and more 'differentiated' senatorial class which she sees as "social climbers" from the ranks of the equites – she subsumes not only the well- known lex Claudia de nave senatorum and the sumptuary legislation under the category of "education(al) laws" (Erziehungsgesetze), but also a spate of different measures such as the lex Villia annalis and the rather obscure leges de ambitu of 181 and 159, the leges tabellariae and even the pre-Gracchan attempts at agrarian legislation. I for one do not find this sweeping and summary inclusion of laws on very heterogeneous topics and moved in very diverse concrete circumstances very convincing. By the way, the vexed problem of conflicts over norms and between norms with comparable binding force has recently been analyzed in detail on a much more refined theoretical and methodological basis.7

The final, rather lengthy chapters on the "reform plan" or "reform programme" of the Gracchi and their supporters in 133 and 125-121 BCE (Chapters VI, pp. 288-397, and VII, pp. 398-483) continue the author's basic argument in a similar vein. After the failure of previous "educational laws", Ti. Gracchus – according to the author, a "traditionalist" with a "conservative" project – introduced his famous lex Sempronia agraria not so much in order to deal with an 'agrarian crisis', but as a sort of modified sumptuary law, i.e. a new strategy to strengthen the dominance and "control" of the nobiles over the "social climbers" in the political élite from the ranks of the equites and their economic resources (pp. 297; 311; 317). It is typical of the author's style of argument that she offers the interesting idea that Gracchus and his supporters as well as his adversaries both appealed to mos maiorum, only to embark on a lengthy digression on plebiscites introduced (ex) auctoritate senatus or contra senatum from 218 to 133 BCE on the one hand and the conventions ruling tribunician intercessio on the other, which ends with the by no means new conclusion that Tiberius acted "according to established practice" when submitting his rogatio to the concilium plebis without prior consultation of the Senate, whereas Octavius' veto was indeed "in several respects a breach of rules of mos maiorum" and triggered off an irreversible escalation of the conflict (p. 354, cf. pp. 321-67).8 I am inclined to quote the late Keith Hopkins: So what?

The following chapter on the "large-scale and comprehensive programme of reforms" launched by C. Gracchus, M. Fulvius Flaccus and their associates is focused on the thesis that they also pursued "conservative aims", in particular to provide a new basis of "legitimacy" for the "claim to leadership" of the nobilitas and thus to re-stabilize the "aristocratic res publica (pp. 398, 417, 477) – the author insists on her interpretive pattern with a kind of stubborn consequence: even the lex frumentaria is categorized among the "measures to educate the political class" (p. 458). The senate, as a body no longer able "to keep its own members under control" and incapable to take the lead itself, as well as "the reformers themselves", when confronted with the combined opposition of different groups and resorting to violence, brought about the failure (pp. 477- 80).

At the end of the day – much ado about nothing? Not quite. Even if the book is definitely too long (almost 500 pages of text and notes) and all too often covers well-known ground and moves on beaten paths; even if the style of language and argument is time and again boringly repetitious and long-winded; even if the prosopographical-statistical approach as such, though highly refined, cannot provide the source basis for an analysis of (a change of) the 'collective mentality' of a group; even if the basic idea of a kind of linear process of, as it were, differentiation cum disintegration is not really convincing, as it fails to do justice to the complexity and contradictory character of the development – the book does contain quite a few interesting observations on details, which are unfortunately drowned in expansive expositions of sufficiently well-known facts. And, at least, the interesting idea that former praetors became a kind of 'sub-consular' stratum of their own in the internal 'hierarchy' of the senatorial aristocracy, in particular after the increase of posts of this rank after 200 BCE, certainly deserves attention – though it will remain difficult, for lack of data and a meagre source base,9 empirically to identify the concrete effects and assess the consequences of this sort of differentiation.


1.   These articles are reprinted in F.G.B. Millar,The Roman Republic and the Augustan Revolution, ed. by H.M. Cotton and G.M. Rogers (Chapel Hill and London 2002). Cf. also idem,The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic (Ann Arbor 1998).
2.   Cf., e.g., J. North, "Democratic Politics in Republican Rome," Past and Present 126 (1990) 3-21 (= Studies in Ancient Greek and Roman Society, ed. by R. Osborne, Cambridge 2004, 140-58, with 'Postscript 2003'); W.V. Harris, "On Defining the Political Culture of the Roman Republic,"ClPh 85 (1990) 288-94; M. Jehne, "Methods, Models, and Historiography," in: A Companion to the Roman Republic, ed. by N. Rosenstein and R. Morstein-Marx (Malden, MA 2006) 3-28; K.-J. Hölkeskamp,Rekonstruktionen einer Republik. Die politische Kultur des antiken Rom und die Forschung der letzten Jahrzehnte (Munich 2004) (updated and augmented American edition: Reconstructing the Roman Republic. An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research, Princeton 2010), with full bibliography, and just recently the comprehensive survey of the debate by F. Hurlet, "Démocratie à Rome? Quelle démocratie? En relisant Millar (et Hölkeskamp)," in Rome, a City and Its Empire in Perspective. The Impact of the Roman World through Fergus Millar's Research/Rome, une cité impérial en jeu. L'impact du monde romain selon Fergus Millar, ed. by S. Benoist (Leiden and Boston 2012) 19-43.
3.   The author obviously ignores the most important, comprehensive and penetrating analysis of Republican 'memorial culture' by U. Walter, Memoria und res publica: Zur Geschichtskultur im republikanischen Rom (Frankfurt am Main 2004). Cf. also the contributions in Formen römischer Geschichtsschreibung von den Anfängen bis Livius. Gattungen – Autoren – Kontexte, ed. by U. Eigler et alii (Darmstadt 2003).
4.   Cf. for recent surveys of theories and explanations R. Morstein-Marx, N. Rosenstein, "The Transformation of the Republic," in: Companion (n. 2) 625-37; K.-J. Hölkeskamp, "Eine politische Kultur (in) der Krise? Gemäßigt radikale Vorbemerkungen zum kategorischen Imperativ der Konzepte," in Eine politische Kultur (in) der Krise? Die "letzte Generation" der römischen Republik, ed. by idem, E. Müller-Luckner (Munich 2009) 1-25.
5.   Cf. the important study by J. von Ungern-Sternberg, "Die Legitimitätskrise der römischen Republik," in Historische Zeitschrift 266 (1998) 607-24 (= idem, Römische Studien (Leipzig 2006) 390-404).
6.   Cf. K.-J. Hölkeskamp, "Konsens und Konkurrenz. Die politische Kultur der römischen Republik in neuer Sicht," Klio 88 (2006) 360-96, and also H. Beck, Karriere und Hierarchie. Die römische Aristokratie und die Anfänge des cursus honorum in der mittleren Republik (Berlin 2005), which the author does frequently cite, if only for details.
7.   Cf. now Ch. Lundgreen, Regelkonflikte in der römischen Republik. Geltung und Gewichtung von Normen in politischen Entscheidungsprozessen (Stuttgart 2011).
8.   Cf. the fundamental contributions by E. Badian, "Tiberius Gracchus and the Beginning of the Roman Revolution," in ANRW I 1 (1972) 668-731, and Ch. Meier, "Die loca intercessionis bei Rogationen. Zugleich ein Beitrag zum Problem der Bedingungen der tribunizischen Intercession," in MusHelv 25 (1968) 86-100.
9.   The Fasti Praetorii are far from complete for the decades after 165 BCE: T. Corey Brennan, The Praetorship in the Roman Republic, vol. II Appendix B.5 and 6, pp.736-48, cf. also vol. I, 222-46; vol. II, 357-87; cf. also the author's appendices, chapters IX.9 and 11.

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Giovanni Turelli, Audi Iuppiter: il collegio dei feziali nell'esperienza giuridica romana. Collana del Dipartimento di scienze giuridiche dell'Università degli studi di Brescia. Milano: Giuffrè Editore, 2011. Pp. viii, 274. ISBN 9788814157660. €28.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ghislaine Stouder, Université de Poitiers (

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L'ouvrage de Giovanni Turelli constitue une contribution supplémentaire à l'étude des fétiaux que l'on pourrait penser redondante, surtout si l'on tient compte du fait que, sur cette question, la documentation – essentiellement littéraire – n'a pas connu de renouvellement majeur.1 Diverses approches, politiques, diplomatiques, juridiques, religieuses, ont été tentées et il faut admettre que l'étude des fétiaux peut difficilement connaître, en l'état actuel de la documentation, de grands progrès. L'ouvrage de Giovanni Turelli mérite, cependant, qu'on y prête attention, ne serait-ce que pour la synthèse utile et actualisée qu'il offre sur les fétiaux. Surtout, il propose, à propos de ce collège de prêtres, une réflexion stimulante pour les juristes, les historiens du droit, mais aussi pour les spécialistes de la diplomatie romaine.

L'auteur s'inscrit en faux contre une idée répandue depuis Mommsen, et fréquemment adoptée de nos jours, selon laquelle, au tournant des IVe et IIIe siècles, les Romains, alors qu'ils affichaient des ambitions concernant les territoires extra-péninsulaires, auraient, dans le même temps, abandonné le recours aux fétiaux ; ces derniers constituaient, en effet, un personnel diplomatique inadapté aux nouvelles contingences pratiques et aux usages des nouvelles populations avec lesquelles ils étaient en contact, notamment grecques. L'effacement des fétiaux aurait induit le développement d'une figure neuve, celle de l'ambassadeur laïque, le legatus, dont le fonctionnement plus souple, permettait de s'adapter aux différents interlocuteurs et de mieux défendre la politique expansionniste de Rome.

Giovanni Turelli remet en cause cette position, en affirmant que les fétiaux n'ont jamais été des agents diplomatiques et que leur activité ne relève pas de ce domaine. Ils étaient au contraire chargés de traiter des aspects juridiques des relations internationales, ou du moins de faire valoir une expertise sur ces questions. Ce sont donc avant tout des juristes. De ce fait, G. Turelli récuse la coupure chronologique du début du IIIe siècle, considérant d'une part que les ambassadeurs laïques ne sont pas encore attestés à cette date, quoique déjà en activité bien avant, avançant d'autre part que les fétiaux ont poursuivi leur action au-delà de cette date, au prix de quelques évolutions cependant.

Pour argumenter son propos, l'auteur procède tout d'abord à un intéressant et nécessaire retour sur les différentes conceptions des fétiaux dans l'historiographie moderne, du XVIIIe siècle à nos jours (chapitre 1). En revenant ensuite aux sources antiques, il étudie les divers formulaires attribués aux fétiaux : celui du foedus, de la déclaration de guerre et de la deditio (chapitre 2). Il aborde , dans le chapitre 3 et dans une perspective diachronique, la déclaration de guerre à travers cinq cas situés entre 466 et 327, puis à travers d'autres cas datant de la période transmarine, plus précisément entre 218 et 172, afin de souligner la continuité des fonctions juridiques assumées par les fétiaux en dépit des évolutions dans la procédure. À travers trois exemples (le traité romano-carthaginois de 201, la déclaration de guerre à Philippe V de Macédoine en 200 et celle qui est adressée à Antiochos III en 191), il confirme la continuité de l'activité jurisprudentielle des fétiaux, placée au cœur de leur activité (chapitre 4). Enfin, le cinquième chapitre restitue la perception des fétiaux à l'époque antique à travers le regard de trois auteurs : Varron, Cicéron et Plutarque. Il quitte ainsi la perspective des historiens, Denys d'Halicarnasse et surtout Tite-Live, abondamment utilisés, pour tenir compte de la tradition antiquaire.

Le lecteur est convaincu au terme d'une démonstration qui ne néglige aucun détail, aucun aspect. L'ouvrage aurait gagné encore en pertinence s'il s'était appuyé sur un relevé exhaustif de l'activité fétiale, plutôt que sur quelques exemples, notamment dans l'approche diachronique adoptée au chapitre 3. C'est un travail qui reste à faire. Giovanni Turelli a préféré insisté longuement (on en vient à souhaiter par moments que la démonstration fût écourtée, notamment au chapitre 2) sur quelques textes pour lesquels, et c'est là une des qualités majeures de l'ouvrage, il procède à des analyses dont l'acuité est remarquable.

On appréciera, par exemple, la manière dont il décortique la déclaration de guerre selon les trois étapes habituellement reconnues : la rerum repetitio, la testatio deorum et l'indictio belli qui comprend également l'hastae emissio, pour distinguer toutefois les deux premiers temps des deux derniers, parce qu'entre-temps, intervient la procédure décisionnelle qui se tient au Sénat, la consultatio patrum. L'acuité des analyses est par ailleurs nécessaire à la démonstration d'un autre aspect primordial du livre, à savoir que l'historien ou le juriste moderne peut se fier aux sources antiques, car elles sont certainement en grande partie, du moins chez Tite-Live, et à propos des formulaires, authentiques.

Parce qu'il valorise l'approche juridique et le témoignage livien dans la perspective susmentionnée, Giovanni Turelli en arrive toutefois à négliger les autres sources ou, ce qui est plus gênant, à modifier l'orientation de son propos pour l'adapter à Tite-Live au détriment de la logique de l'argumentation. Ainsi, en ce qui concerne l'étude des formulaires, 27 pages sont consacrées au foedus, 35 à la déclaration de guerre, contre seulement 5 à la deditio. 2 La justification en est que Tite-Live, ni aucun autre historien d'ailleurs, n'a conservé le formulaire prononcé à cette occasion. Pour pallier ce vide, Giovanni Turelli consacre 5 pages à un autre type de deditio, la reddition d'un État vaincu au vainqueur. Cette pratique n'a pourtant rien à voir avec l'activité fétiale, comme le reconnaît l'auteur lui- même, mais du moins dispose-t-on, à son propos, d'un formulaire livien. On pardonnera facilement ce petit excursus, qui contient par ailleurs une analyse fort intéressante des éléments juridiques liés à ce type de deditio.

On regrettera, en revanche, qu'en se cantonnant au témoignage livien, Giovanni Turelli reste prisonnier, comme tant d'autres avant lui, d'une lecture tripartite, et donc fragmentée, de l'activité fétiale, quand l'auteur revendique, notamment au chapitre 5, une approche globale des fétiaux qui me semble de fait la meilleure. Cette division tripartite (traités, déclaration de guerre et deditio) découle certes d'une lecture de Tite-Live, mais elle n'est pas formellement exprimée par celui-ci, puisqu'il ne recèle en fait aucune présentation générale des fétiaux, à la différence de Denys (2.72). Or, ce dernier énonce six fonctions reconnues aux fétiaux parmi une multitude d'autres charges qu'il tente de résumer. Prendre en compte le témoignage dionysien, et pas seulement pour sa description de la déclaration de guerre, comme le fait Giovanni Turelli, offrirait en outre le moyen de s'extirper du rapport des fétiaux à la paix ou à la guerre, pour considérer leur position dans le fonctionnement général des relations internationales. Si les fétiaux peuvent être pressentis comme des juristes avant tout, c'est qu'ils maîtrisent les formules juridiques qui permettent d'engager entièrement et irrévocablement la cité dans des actions interétatiques, quelles qu'elles soient. Par conséquent, leur parole rend caduque toute voix discordante et consolide la cité comme corps politique.

C'est ici que se placerait le désaccord majeur avec Giovanni Turelli quant à l'objet de sa démonstration. Les arguments qu'il apporte sur la persistance de l'activité fétiale après le IIIe siècle, ainsi que sur l'ancienneté du recours aux légats me paraissent tout à fait probants. Il faut admettre avec l'auteur que fétiaux et légats ont mené de manière concomitante leurs activités. Afin de justifier alors la distinction entre ces deux types d'agents, Giovanni Turelli limite les fétiaux aux aspects juridiques et les légats aux aspects diplomatiques, la diplomatie se comprenant comme un espace dédié à la négociation. Cette définition restrictive de la diplomatie, héritée d'une conception née à l'époque moderne, est problématique pour la période antique:3 certains légats ne disposaient d'aucune marge de négociation, mais étaient simplement mandés par les Romains pour transmettre un message, quel que soit l'apparat rhétorique dont pouvaient être ornés leurs discours. Faut-il les exclure pour autant du domaine diplomatique ? Il vaut mieux reconnaître, me semble-t-il, que la négociation n'est qu'un aspect du diplomatique et qu'un fétial envoyé officiellement par les Romains à un État étranger, accomplit lui aussi, à sa manière empreinte de formules juridiques, un acte diplomatique.

Ce point n'invalide en rien la distinction entre les deux catégories de personnel diplomatique, et Giovanni Turelli a raison d'insister sur la dominante juridique de l'action diplomatique du fétial par rapport à celle du légat. Pour traiter d'une autre différence entre fétiaux et légats, peut-être eût-il fallu alors insister davantage que ne l'a fait l'auteur sur le processus de prise de décision dans lequel les fétiaux pouvaient être impliqués. Les remarques de l'auteur sont, à ce sujet, diffuses dans le livre et auraient gagné à être traitées ensemble. Les liens avec le Sénat sont ainsi davantage affirmés que démontrés, alors que la relation entre le vote de comices et l'action fétiale n'est pas éclaircie. Giovanni Turelli s'intéresse peu à ces questions car il part du présupposé que les fétiaux ne prenaient pas de décision et se trouvaient donc écartés du processus décisionnel. Il reconnaît ainsi un rôle consultatif aux fétiaux, ce qu'il nomme «l'attività giurisprudenziale» des fétiaux, mais nie que ce rôle consultatif participe de la décision finale. Il affaiblit de la sorte sa démonstration regardant le fait que le ius fetiale aurait encore été en vigueur à la fin de la République. Ne tenir compte que de la décision, au lieu d'envisager le processus de décision auquel les fétiaux participaient en tant que juristes, les réduit, effectivement, à n'être que de simples fantômes. Or les fétiaux, pas plus que les légats, ne prennent de décisions diplomatiques : leurs actions sont contenues dans les limites du mandat qui leur est assigné par le Sénat ou le peuple. Le fétial disposait cependant des moyens juridiques pour contraindre en amont les décisions politiques, à la différence du légat qui n'avait de marge de manœuvre qu'en aval de la décision, ce qui revient à dire qu'il ne peut avoir d'impact sur cette dernière.

Ces quelques éléments de discussion n'enlèvent rien à la qualité d'ensemble de l'ouvrage, comme cela a été dit plus haut. Malgré le détail des analyses, on suit facilement la pensée de l'auteur qui construit solidement et progressivement son raisonnement. Le texte donne parfois le sentiment d'une relecture approximative en raison du nombre de coquilles repérées, mais celles-ci sont concentrées sur certaines pages et ne nuisent pas à la lecture d'ensemble. Encore une fois, l'ampleur de l'enquête, la finesse des analyses, la contestation systématique de l'hypothèse d'une succession chronologique fétiaux/légats, constituent autant de progrès notables sur un terrain qui n'en compte pas souvent. La frustration sur quelques aspects qu'éprouve le spécialiste de la diplomatie romaine est largement compensée par les heureuses réflexions que suscite l'ouvrage.


1.   Parmi les publications les plus récentes, on peut citer l'article de Federico Santangelo, « The Fetials and their Ius », BICS 2008 51 : 63-93, d'ailleurs peu cité et utilisé par Giovanni Turelli.
2.   Certes, l'auteur renvoie à l'étude de Giovanni Pugliese sur cette dernière pratique (« Appunti sulla deditio dell'accusato di illeciti internazionali », Studi in onore di Pietro Agostino d'Avack, Milano : Giuffrè, 1976. IV : 451-498), mais le moins que l'on puisse dire est que le foedus et la déclaration de guerre ont été eux aussi l'objet de nombreuses études auxquelles l'auteur aurait pu se contenter de renvoyer.
3.   Cette vision de la diplomatie romaine s'appuie notamment sur un article de Guido Clemente, (« 'Esperti', ambasciatori e la politica estera di Roma nel III e II secolo », Athenaeum 1976 LIV : 319-352) qui a fait date, mais dont le propos se focalisait sur le cas de quelques légats.

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Roger S. Bagnall (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Ancient History (13 vols.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Pp. cxliv, 7492. ISBN 9781405179355 (print edition); 9781444338386 (online edition). $2,495.00 (hb). Contributors: Additional editors: Kai Brodersen, Craige B. Champion, Andrew Erskine, Sabine R. Huebner.

Reviewed by John Vanderspoel, University of Calgary (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Page

Without question, the project under discussion here was a large undertaking. It comprises thirteen volumes of articles covering a wide coverage of ancient history, defined not so much as the history of the classical world as the history of the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea between prehistory and, approximately, the 8th century CE. The project is cross-disciplinary in that the ancient Near East, the classical world and Pharaonic Egypt are elsewhere often regarded as separate disciplines, with ancient history typically defined as the history of the Greek and Roman worlds. The thirteen volumes include 7188 pages containing more than 5000 articles written by nearly 2000 scholars; 23 area editors assisted the general editors of this massive project. Most articles offer internal cross references (in small caps), are followed by a list of other relevant articles, and include suggestions for further reading; many include one or more illustrations. The project offers a large series of maps, available online in the preliminary material and a second time via a link in the alphabetical sequence of the online edition at 'Maps of the Ancient World'. These maps are under-utilized, since few articles steer readers to them; some entries include their own maps, which naturally serve these articles well enough. The preliminary material also offers lists of editors, area editors, advisory editors, contributors and entries, all available in the online edition as well as the printed edition.

In the 'Introduction', the editors claim (2) that they are comfortable with the idea that not every general topic required treatment in every geographic or temporal area, partly because the project can be expanded online as desired (though presumably the printed edition cannot be updated regularly). Nevertheless, readers will naturally look for treatments in a range of times and places, because the articles themselves create that expectation. And, one may add, the highly laudable goal of addressing a broad geographic and temporal scope is partially diminished when readers cannot pursue topics across the full geographic range or across time. To give only a few of the possible examples, there are discussions of 'Roads, Byzantine' and 'Roads, Roman, Empire', 'Roads, Roman Republic', but not of 'Roads, Greece' or of any other roads. Despite sixteen specified articles, including 'Religion, Celtic', 'Religion, Dacian' and 'Religion, Roman', there is no entry on 'Religion, Greek'. Similarly, among the many articles on coinage, none treats the coinage of pre- Roman Europe. How Rome conquered Italy, Carthage and the west, and also the East without an 'Army, Roman Republic' remains a mystery, as does the diet of Egyptians, in the absence of an article on 'Agriculture, Ptolemaic Egypt' among the several articles devoted to agriculture in other times and places. At times, of course, a topic is not relevant to certain times and/or places, but many are, and their absence will be noticed. Surely, Greece, Egypt and the Near East were not as free of murder as a single entry on homicide ('Homicide, Roman') might suggest; assault ('Assault, Greek and Roman') was apparently a little more widespread, but still limited. Obviously, articles limited to a period or locale cannot be regarded as general entries, but on occasion a single limited article is paired with a general one; for example, 'Pigs, ancient Near East' and 'Pigs', where the latter includes all other pigs and, indeed, offers a few additional words about ancient Near Eastern pigs. Neither article explains why some pigs are more important than others. A related issue is the appearance of an apparently general article that, however, treats only a subset of a full range of times and places; thus, 'Altar' includes only Greek, Etruscan and Roman altars.

On another point, articles specified as treating Late Antiquity will often include the 6th century of the Roman East, while articles on the Byzantine period will treat the East from the early fourth century onwards. That creates overlaps between such articles as 'Persia and Byzantium' and 'Persia and Rome' (which also repeats part of 'Parthians, rulers'); similarly, 'Navies, Late Antique' and 'Navies, Byzantine' cover some of the same material, as do 'Armenians' and 'Armenia'. In short, the project often follows the principle outlined in 'Hellenism, Byzantine': "There is no clear distinction between Late Antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine Empire, although both are now independent subjects of historical research." True enough, but the articles might have been assigned in a manner that avoided some of the overlap. Possibly, this double coverage of the Late Roman East creates the impression that the Latin West from the 5th century onwards is less thoroughly treated than the Greek East in the same period (though it too is weaker than it could be). Among articles devoted to writers, the easterners John Lydus and Corippus appear, but not Sidonius Apollinaris or Rutilius Namatianus, and not even the historical writers Gildas, Fredegar or Nennius. No western emperor after Valentinian III, except Romulus Augustulus, has an article; neither do several of the significant post-Roman kings. Naturally, every reader or reviewer will find 'missing' entries, and this is not the place to offer a large list of them; the examples above are intended to illustrate a point about coverage. On a related point, Mommsen ('Mommsen, Theodor (1817–1903)') is said to be the second greatest Roman historian after Niebuhr; odd, then, that Niebuhr is not given an article of his own. In fact, the small selection of scholars with articles devoted to them is excruciatingly random.

Several areas of coverage might be regarded as somewhat unusual for an encyclopedia of ancient history. One area that is treated very thoroughly is the legal phraseology of both the Greek (in fact, Athenian) and the Roman worlds. Dozens of legal phrases and terms have individual articles, which are relevant to ancient history, but many of them are highly detailed and abstract, and they will be read, or at least understood, by at most a few specialists. This project includes numerous articles on religious documents, especially Jewish and Christian apocryphal and pseudepigraphic material. Often, these documents, which may be only a few pages long, receive lengthy treatments of authorship, language, content, scholarly disputes, and more, while other, more traditional, sources for ancient history are covered in a few sentences or less. Perhaps familiar material can be treated more briefly with a degree of impunity, but that procedure does allow a conclusion (particularly on the part of introductory readers) that writings at the fringes of Christianity and Judaism are more important than the classical authors. History of science and history of medicine are treated quite thoroughly; here, the basis for inclusion in not always self-evident, not because the articles are not important somewhere, but because the importance for ancient history is not clear. Take, for example, the article on 'Cardio- vascular system': why is it in this encyclopedia? Because ancient medical writers wrote on the topic, engaged in disputes? They also wrote on the brain, the heart, and many other things which are not treated in individual articles. Similarly, 'conic sections'. The topic is, of course, important to a history of geometry or of science more generally. But does it belong in an encyclopedia of ancient history? On what basis? Because it was somehow part of the ancient world? So, too, were sheep, not treated separately (except as 'Wool'), even though every other farm animal is. At times, the articles in this project give the impression that the goal was an encyclopedia of the ancient world. While the inclusion of a broad geographic and temporal (and even topical) scope was a laudable goal, the project's inclusiveness seems at times to have gotten a bit out of control, without even addressing the other ancient histories that might have been included, the Far East, for example, and the Americas.

Not surprisingly, a project of this scale is not without its little problems. Since each type appears in several or more articles, it would be unfair to single out individual articles and thus individual contributors; for that reason, only the kinds of problems will be noted. Somewhat unfortunately in a work of reference, errors of fact do appear in a few articles. Problems with grammar and punctuation appear, as do infelicities of expression. There are, as is to be expected, typographical errors and problems seemingly introduced in the process of formatting the text. At least for the pdf versions, some of the hyphenation is startlingly awful—even given a modern tendency to abandon syllabic hyphenation. A little more attention to copyediting and proofreading might have prevented many problems. On rare occasions, articles assume too much prior knowledge, and a few articles are highly theoretical, without establishing a basic starting point. No doubt, readers with expertise in areas not familiar to me will find examples of errors that did not catch my attention; in my assessment, problems of various types appear but do not abound. In fact, the overall quality of the articles is very high, in terms of scholarship, understandability, and usefulness to readers, including, most often, introductory readers. The greater issue is the definition of ancient history. Even if the etymological origin of the term 'history' could allow coverage of any research, two and a half millennia of scholarship have generated a definition that counsels a level of hesitancy in supposing that discussion of 'Asthma' should be regarded as ancient history.

The online material offers unique possibilities and problems. In the HTML versions, cross-references are hyperlinked to the relevant articles; that will certainly be easier for many readers than finding an article in a different volume of the print edition. To the extent that I have tested them, the links seem to be accurate. The online version could easily have offered links in many articles to relevant maps, but does not do so. Naturally, users of the online version can search the material, to find discussions of Leo and Clovis in articles on 'Isaurian emperors' and 'Merovingians' respectively; the printed edition offers an index for this purpose (see the editors' remarks, p. 2). To assist citation, the html and pdf versions of each article list the relevant page numbers of the printed edition; that is highly useful, though expansion of the online edition alone may create variations of pagination in relation to the printed text. The alphabetical list has a few problems: 'colonies, Roman and Latin (Republican)' appears between 'Art, Egypt' and 'Art, Greece', and 'Sobeknefru' shows up between 'Peloponnesian League' and 'Peloponnesian War'; 'Pharnakes I of Pontos' is in the list twice consecutively: the first links to 'Patron, patronage, Byzantine', which is not in the list anywhere else. A few additional errors when the project first came online have now been corrected.

In the final analysis, many readers will notice an inconsistency in treatment and coverage, and some will wonder whether this project might better be described as an Encyclopedia of the Ancient World (in which case, however, the project is short by thousands of articles). Despite the coverage of areas outside the traditional equation of ancient history with classical history, the project remains heavily classical. Diminished coverage of the fifth century CE is a classical approach, and, in accordance with a typically classical outlook, what happened in Athens did not stay in Athens, but is extended to all of Greece (articles might have been specified as 'Athens' or 'Athenian' instead of 'Greece' or 'Greek'). General articles, those without specification, tend to discuss mainly Greek (i.e., Athenian) and Roman material, sometimes with a token nod to other places and times. Despite such remarks, it bears repeating that the scholarship and writing in this project is of a high standard. But in a significant sense, the editors have chosen to be broaden the scope of ancient history too far beyond the reasonable limits. What emerges is a project that at times seems to lack focus.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013


Richard Bett, Sextus Empiricus: Against the Physicists. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xxxiii, 178. ISBN 9780521513913. $95.00.

Reviewed by Clifford Roberts, Cornell University (

Version at BMCR home site

This English translation of Sextus Empiricus' Against the Physicists (AP), the first in more than 75 years, has much to recommend it quite apart from its novelty. R. G. Bury's previous translation, which appeared in 1935, is old-fashioned, misleading, insensitive, and often includes more in the translation than the Greek source text justifies. Bett corrects all these infelicities and supplements his excellent translation with helpful secondary materials, including a valuable and rich provision of footnotes (over 300) discussing philological and textual as well as philosophical and substantive issues. The result is not only a translation of great fidelity and precision – sure to become the standard – but an edition of Sextus' work that will benefit both students and scholars interested in Ancient physics and skepticism.

The Pyrrhonist skeptic Sextus Empiricus (c. late-2nd cent. CE) is an important source both for Ancient skepticism and Hellenistic philosophy more generally; AP manifests both aspects of Sextus' legacy. By a misleading scholarly convention – which Bett laudably works to undo – the two books of AP are referred to as Against the Mathematicians (M) books IX-X; they do not, however, belong to M but to a second incomplete production. Both (M) and the incomplete work share the same abstract argumentative structure and subserve the same purpose in Sextus' skepticism: the communication of a method for achieving tranquility through suspension of judgment (ἐποχή). The method is to balance an argument for the claim that p with an argument of equal force against that claim (either for the negation of p or for an incompatible claim); having no further rational recourse, the skeptic suspends judgment. Various philosophical topics are addressed thus, each of which forms the focus of one or more books in M. The focus of AP is physics: the domain of knowledge concerned with the principles and constituents structuring and composing the natural world. The topics discussed include: cause/affection, whole/part, corporeal/incorporeal, place, time, genesis/destruction, number, and God.

The arguments for and against various claims that Sextus considers are generally not original to him; indeed, Sextus offers a dizzying number of citations to other thinkers, which is what makes AP such an important doxographical source. At length, Sextus addresses doctrines of the major Hellenistic schools (Stoicism, Epicureanism, Aristotelianism, Platonism, Academic Skepticism), but also those of the Pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle; to say nothing of the myriad lesser-known figures mentioned. In navigating these rich and varied doxographical waters, the footnotes and other secondary materials of Bett's edition are of no small help; even a weathered scholar will benefit from the occasional reminder, while the novice will thank Bett for illumination.

In his translation, Bett has sought fidelity above all and achieves this through a determined and praiseworthy literal-mindedness, most apparent in his decision to translate even obvious technical terms (e.g., ἕξις, φαντασία, ἀκολουθία) in literal ways ('holding', 'appearance', 'following') so as to indicate their connection to cognate forms and ordinary non-technical notions. The approach can generate sublime results as when Bett translates τελέως ἀπερρωγός as 'completely unhinged' (IX 262) and ὑπερβολὴν ἐμβροντησίας as 'extreme craziness' (IX 40-1). If Bett's translation is thereby sometimes inelegant, it is nevertheless precise, faithful, and readable.

Bett's approach sometimes requires translation of clearly confused or corrupt bits of text without intervention; but his footnotes provide context and explanation for this. The footnotes also record departures from Mutschmann's canonical Teubner edition of AP (1914), which Bett largely follows, and only occasionally incorporate emendations from Werner Heintz (1932) and Jerker Blomqvist (1968). In general, Bett is far less interventionist and more conservative than previous scholars, preferring to follow the manuscripts unless they deliver syntactically or semantically impossible results. One great advantage of Bett's decision to confine his interventions to footnotes is that it allows him to indicate to the reader controversial or confusing passages and to suggest potential remedies or merely synopsize the discussion. In a sense, Bett's approach means he can have his cake and eat it: he can translate the Greek as is and survey potential resolutions, whether his own or another's. This approach is invaluable, since the reader is not only alerted to controversy, but is provided the relevant data (the literal text), so that she might come to her own conclusions. The Greekless reader is thus given an opportunity to engage in the sort of textual haggling usually unavailable to her, while the Greek reader is provided a good sense of content and structure without being forced to continually consult the source text.

The secondary materials attached to Bett's translation include: an introduction, outline of the argument of the text, indices nominum (equipped with biographical information) and topical, Greek-English/English-Greek glossaries, and a helpful list of parallel passages in Sextus' opera. The introduction helpfully presents such information as we have about Sextus' life, a brief overview of his skeptical outlook, and more involved discussion of Sextus' work, with particular emphasis on AP. Two of the secondary materials seem especially valuable and important. First, Bett provides an outline of the whole argument of the text prior to his own translation, an outline which is also used to structure the translation itself with the various headings in the outline reappearing in the text. The outline – in both guises – is immensely helpful: it allows one to orient oneself within the larger abstract structure of the argument and gives one a clear sense of the text's structure at various levels of abstraction. Second, Bett's footnotes serve as a sort of selective commentary on the translation, particularly those footnotes pertaining to the philosophical force of the text's claims and arguments. Bett indicates the presence of technical terms and provides helpful explanation of the meaning of such terms in the context of the relevant philosophical view. Where his choice of English translation of some term is controversial, he's almost always careful to note this and to adumbrate the sources of controversy. Passages that are substantively rather than formally obscure (though the two are not entirely separable) are marked; in cases where the arguments or claims are unclear or the trains of thought confused, potential remedies are suggested and the reader helpfully directed to the current literature on the topic, a selection of which is provided by Bett in an impressively up-to-date bibliography.

Even an excellent translation – which Bett's surely is – must decide among competing formulations, each of which has an equal claim to felicity, and thereby opens itself to criticism. Some points of criticism arising in AP have appeared already in this journal; see, for instance, Diego Machuca's incisive criticism of Bett's translations of ἀπορία and πάθος in Sextus' Against the Logicians (BMCR 2008.01.11). In what follows, I would like to discuss five cases where Bett's choice of translation seems to mislead the reader and obscure the force of the text.

1. Bett translates ἐνάργεια/ἐναργές as 'plain experience'/ 'plain (thing)'; this choice seems problematic for several reasons. First, ἐνάργεια is the abstract noun corresponding to ἐναργές and in ordinary discourse the term simply denotes that property (apparentness, evidentness/evidence, clearness) in virtue of which things are ἐναργή (evident, clear, apparent). Bett's translation fails to register this semantic connection: both plain experience and plain things are ἐναργή (and so possess ἐνάργεια), but 'plain experience' does not denote the property in virtue of which things are plain. For the sake of consistency and his policy of 'literal' translation, Bett ought to translate ἐνάργεια as 'plainness.' Second, while it is true that the noun ἐνάργεια is sometimes used elliptically to denote things that are ἐναργή, candidate 'things' are not only psychological states like experiences; in certain cases, they are better seen as objective facts, e.g., the fact that there is motion (IX 62). Moreover, there is often occasion for dispute about the denotation of ἐνάργεια in a given bit of Greek text, which if possible a translation ought to preserve. Bett's choice, however, fails to capture the range of the term and artificially restricts it to psychological states, thereby forcing a specific interpretation of the text. A translation like 'plainness' (or 'evidence'/'evidentness') would leave open the possibility of any one of these different meanings and would better reflect the text. Third, in philosophical contexts especially, 'experience' is usually a translation ἐμπειρία, about which the Hellenistic schools (and Sextus himself) had their own views. To choose experience as part of the translation of seems to invite confusion. Finally, Bett is obliged to translate 'ἐναργή' (and related forms) as 'plain things' (e.g., IX 393-4, 397) and this sounds strange or at least awkward in twenty-first-century English. What's worse, of course, is that it's ambiguous: it could mean 'obvious things', but I think it's more commonly used to mean something like 'ordinary/humble things' except in special locutions, like 'plain fact.'

2. At IX 270-6, Sextus deploys several arguments that rely on the close connection in Greek between τὸ (μὴ) ὂν and (μὴ) ὂν. The arguments in question depend crucially on conceiving of τὸ (μὴ) ὂν ἐφ' ὅσον (μὴ) ὄν ἐστι, which Bett translates as 'what is (not) insofar as it is a (non-)being'; but 'what is' and 'what is a being' are not synonymous expressions: the former seems to denote a larger class of things than the latter. Indeed, the latter considerations are presumably what motivated Bury to translate the two expressions as 'the (non-)existent' and '(non-)existent', so that the crucial phrase could be translated as 'the (non-)existent insofar as it is (non-)existent,' thereby showing the connection between the two expressions. Bett's translation, however, risks misleading the reader about the force of the argument by obscuring the connection between the expressions.

3. Sextus' arguments often take the form of a reductio ad absurdum which deduces a consequence of some commitment in order to show that it must be rejected. In such arguments the consequence is typically either inconsistent with other claims deriving from the same commitment or inconsistent with something ἐναργές. The word Sextus uses to express this inconsistency is ἀπεμφαῖνον (IX 424; X 28, 34, 135, 187) which Bett translates as 'counter-intuitive.' Something ἀπεμφαῖνον, however, is not merely counterintuitive, but more strongly inconsistent. Bett's translation doesn't capture the force and character of the charge; 'inconsistent' or 'incongruous', by contrast, makes precise the criticism Sextus is pressing.

4. Bett's translation the virtue-term φρόνησις by 'insight' seems oddly unmotivated and certainly misleading. The term – at least when it marks the virtue (which it may not at IX 77) – is usually translated as either 'practical wisdom' or 'prudence.' The former has the benefit of bringing out its connection with systematic knowledge of practical ethical matters, a connection which becomes especially important in the two arguments involving φρόνησις at IX 162-170. By contrast, 'insight' has but little connection to knowledge and seems to connote something more on the order of a talent or unique ability.

5. Bett translates three expressions – φαντασία, φάντασμα, and φαινόμενον – by 'appearance.' As a translation of φαντασία, this seems unproblematic since Bett is careful to supply a footnote explaining its character in Hellenistic philosophy of mind; similarly with φάντασμα, which is often a mere synonym for φαντασία, although I would quibble about Bett's failure to note when 'appearance' translates φάντασμα, which would better communicate the details of the text. More problematic, however, is φαινόμενον. In general, Bett insists on translating the term sensibly as 'apparent', but on two occasions (X 45, 49) he departs from this practice and uses 'appearance'; perhaps this is a mere misstep, but the importance of the term for Sextus' skepticism and its divergence in significance from φαντασία (well-recognized by Sextus) mean it cannot be ignored.

These small inadequacies do not detract from the overall quality of the translation and the value of the edition. Bett has combined a readable yet faithful translation with a conscientious, erudite and intelligent commentary. His edition approaches asymptotically the experience of a philosophically informed encounter with the source text; certainly an ambition of many, but an achievement of few.

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