Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Hendrik W. Dey, The Aurelian Wall and the Refashioning of Imperial Rome, A.D. 271-855. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. xv, 360. ISBN 9780521763653. $110.00.

Reviewed by Scott G. Bruce, University of Colorado at Boulder (bruces@colorado.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Ancient city walls are formidable monuments of human industry freighted with a host of potent associations. In this book, Hendrik Dey takes as his topic the massive 19km circuit of stone walls built around the city of Rome during the reigns of Emperor Aurelian (270-275) and his successor Probus (276-282). Still visible in many places in the modern city, the Aurelian Wall was a massive public works project that required the marshalling of material and human resources on an impressive scale. Most studies of this sprawling enceinte have dealt almost exclusively with the study of the physical fabric of the structure, the dates of its construction and renovation, and its relationship to the architectural history of the late Roman Empire. Dey's ambition is much broader. His study sets out "to explore Rome's relationship with its Wall (and vice versa)" (p. 7) from its construction in the late third century until the ninth century, when interest in the upkeep of this massive structure waned. In the first half of the book, Dey treats the building of the Aurelian Wall and the impact of this process on the city of Rome and its inhabitants. In the latter half of the book, he examines how the Wall informed the legal, administrative and religious boundaries of the city and remained a powerful symbol of Roman authority throughout the early Middle Ages, long after the disappearance of imperial power in the western provinces. The predominant theme running through this study is Dey's sense that "the Wall increased in prominence, physical and mental, in inverse proportion to Rome's contracting topographical, economic, and imperial horizons." (p. 10).

The opening chapters of Dey's book introduce the reader to the Aurelian Wall as a monumental structure and examine how it was built and for what purpose. Chapter One provides an architectural portrait of the construction and augmentation of the Wall over the course of six centuries. In its original iteration, the concrete, brick-faced Wall encircled the urban center of Rome. It measured on average 8m high and 3.5m thick and boasted many dozens of square towers, sixteen large gates to accommodate the traffic of the city's major arteries, and an equal number of smaller entrances (posterulae) for lesser routes. While some minor renovations to the structure occurred in the fourth century, it was only in 401-403 that Emperor Honorius undertook a massive rebuilding campaign that nearly doubled the height of the Wall and raised the towers by a full story. Repairs to the fabric of the Wall continued intermittently throughout the fifth and sixth centuries. The Liber pontificalis indicates that the bishops of Rome only became fully involved in its upkeep at the beginning of the eighth century and remained invested in its care until about 850. Archaological evidence read in tandem with the infrequent but persistent references to repairs of the Wall found in the written record provide a compelling portrait of a living structure that retained its practical value from the age of the Tetrarchy to the Carolingian period. Chapter Two considers the practical and logistical challenges of building the Aurelian Wall. Much of what follows in this chapter is inference, as there is almost no direct literary evidence for the details of the execution of this massive urban building project. The planning and placement of the Wall probably fell to the emperor and high-ranking government officials. Many factors would have determined its contours: the availability of imperial lands, the course of aqueducts, the impact of construction on preexisting buildings and neighborhoods, and the tactical effectiveness of the Wall itself. While there is no doubt that the building of the Wall was an imperial initiative, a large number of high-ranking public officials would have also played a major role in its completion. Provisions had to be made to secure the building material, which included new bricks and tufa as well as recycled materials, and to assemble and organize the huge labor force that would have also been necessary to complete the project. Dey concludes this chapter with a brief consideration of the lasting administrative impact of this undertaking, arguing that it was part of "an extensive series of Aurelianic reforms that saw the more important corporations bound to the service of the state, the range of government-subsidized commodities expanded, and the creation of a new treasury, the arca vinaria, to help defray the cost of public works formerly underwritten to a greater extent by private munificence." (p. 109). Chapter Three asks why Aurelian constructed the Wall in the first place and why subsequent generations thought it necessary to renovate it, sometimes drastically. To be sure, the primary purpose of the Wall was always to protect the city of Rome both from external threats like barbarian incursions, but Dey teases out some other possible benefits of this project. In the aftermath of violent civil unrest in 271 caused by a rebellion of mint workers, the construction of the Wall provided paid employment "for thousands of potentially idle hands" (p. 113) and the completed Wall would have served as a testimony of the all-encompassing embrace of imperial power in the capital. Dey also links the building of the Aurelian Walls with the spread of other urban circuit walls in the western Roman provinces between the late third and fifth centuries, concluding that "[w]here once it had been forums, baths, and theaters that represented the essence of classical urbanism across the Roman world, it was now walls that did so." (p. 131). Less convincing is his inference that the heightening of the Wall under Honorius was somehow inspired by the celestial Jerusalem, described as a city with "a great and high wall" in the Apocalypse of John, and the concomitant influence of the Wall on depictions of Jerusalem in contemporary church decoration in Rome.

The second half of Dey's book concerns the impact of the Aurelian Wall on the civic infrastructures of Rome and suggests how it realigned the religious boundaries of the city and served as a symbol of temporal power long after the disappearance of the western empire. Chapter Four asserts that the building of the Wall provided a distinct boundary between urban and suburban space that stimulated new patterns of settlement within its confines and contributed substantially to the reform and realignment of the movement of food and people around the city. Chapter Five argues that the Aurelian Wall replaced and enlarged the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city of Rome demarcated by white stones inside of which it was forbidden to bury the dead. Dey certainly could have done more with this topic by including a digression on the history and meaning of the pomerium and some discussion of its etymology (post moenium – "beyond the wall" – according to Livy I.44.5; see Roland Kent, "The Etymological Meaning of Pomerium," TAPA 44 [1913]: 19-24). This chapter also examines how the Wall divided Christian ecclesiastical districts and how by the Carolingian period the activity of Roman bishops like Paschal I (817-824) dissolved the boundary-setting function of the pomerium by investing intramural churches with the bones of Christian saints that had previously been interred outside of the Wall. Chapter Six considers the history of the Aurelian Wall between the reigns of Justinian and Charlemagne. It was only in the eighth and ninth centuries that the bishops of Rome turned their attention to the Wall in repeated campaigns of repair and rebuilding. Their initiatives were largely pragmatic, but Dey also sees in them a symbolic potency: by laying claim to the Aurelian Wall, popes like Hadrian I (772-795) expressed their temporal authority in the absence of an imperial presence in the old capital. At the end of the chapter, Dey carries the symbolic import of the Aurelian Wall even further – probably too far – by tethering it to the prominence of walls in poetic evocations of urban spaces in sources as disparate as the Old English elegy The Ruin and Alcuin's Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Euboricensis ecclesiae about his hometown of York. These discussion of Carolingian Rome would have benefitted from the insights of Caroline Goodson's book The Rome of Pope Paschal I: Papal Power, Urban Renovation, Church Rebuilding and Relic Translation, 817-824 (Cambridge, 2010) or the earlier articles that were propedeutic to her monograph.

Hendrik Dey's The Aurelian Wall and the Refashioning of Imperial Rome is a bold and adventurous book. In many places, it demands a certain amount of generosity on the part of the reader, as several of its claims are based almost entirely on inference or conjecture. Qualifying phrases like "[h]ard data in support of these hypotheses are hard to come by" (p. 207) are not uncommon. I would have liked to have seen Dey engage at greater length in his introduction with the "materialist" (some would say "catastrophist") turn in early medieval studies represented by the recent work of Bryan Ward-Perkins (the western provinces) and Robin Fleming (Britain). It seems to me that the living history of the Aurelian Wall, both in terms of its practical function and its symbolic value, with continuities from the third century to the late Carolingian period offers a challenge to the narrative of dire material decline that is enjoying currency in recent scholarship. More specifically, I would suggest assigning Dey's book in a graduate seminar alongside another recent work about a late Roman enceinte: Rob Collins' Hadrian's Wall and the End of Empire: The Roman Frontier in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries (Routledge, 2012). The conversation is sure to be fruitful.

(read complete article)


Bruce Gibson, Thomas Harrison (ed.), Polybius and his World: Essays in Memory of F. W. Walbank. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 416. ISBN 9780199608409. $150.00.

Reviewed by Michael Kleu, Historisches Institut - Alte Geschichte, Universität zu Köln (mkleu@uni-koeln.de)

Version at BMCR home site


In 1957 Frank W. Walbank (1909-2008) published the first volume of his Historical Commentary on Polybius. In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication and Walbank's life and work in general, a conference was held in Liverpool in July 2007. The results of the conference are published in this volume, edited by Bruce Gibson and Thomas Harrison.

In the introduction (pp. 1-35) the editors illuminate Walbank's academic life, emphasizing the relationship between his profession as a historian on the one hand and his political attitude and engagement on the other. Within this frame they also explore the influence of global political circumstances on Walbank's academic writing. Subsequently, Gibson and Harrison present a very brief summary of recent Polybian scholarship before they summarize the contents of the volume's articles (pp. 33-35).

John Henderson uses a combination of Walbank's unpublished memoirs and his decades-long correspondences with the publishers of the Historical Commentary on Polybius to present a vivid account of Walbank's road to classics in general, to Polybius in particular, and subsequently to the writing of the commentary (pp. 37-72).

In chapter 3 (pp. 73-90) John Marincola reconsiders Polybius' criticism on Phylarchus and his tragic history and suggests that Polybius does not, as is often assumed, attack Phylarchus' style, his rhetorical means or his application of emotions. His criticism concentrates rather on the question of whether the historical narrative is truthful or not. Furthermore, Marincola argues for regarding Polybius' criticism not only in relation to Aristotle's Poetics but also in the wider context of ancient discussion on the differences between literary genres and inter-generic competition.

Andrew Meadows demonstrates the high likelihood that after the memoirs of Aratus of Sikyon had ended – probably in August 220 –, Polybius used Aratus' unpublished journals for the events of 219/218 (pp. 91-116). For the time between August 220 and the end of 219 Polybius had to follow other sources that he did not manage to bring in conformity with each other, leading to several mistakes in his account of that time.

In a short chapter, John Briscoe presents 'Some Misunderstandings of Polybius in Livy' and explains their possible reasons (pp. 117-124).

In chapter 6 Hans Beck examines 'Polybius' Roman prokataskeuē' (pp. 125-142) and stresses, on the basis of comparisons with the account of Cassius Dio/Zonaras and epigraphic sources, that Polybius, due to the conceptual approach of his Roman introduction and its didactic and moral goals, took some liberty in over-simplifying or even rewriting the accounts of his sources.

Craige Champion suggests that Polybius' discussion of the Mamertine Crisis is intentionally vague because he wanted to illustrate third-century Rome as a moral authority. As a result, Polybius left it to his readers to decide by themselves how they should interpret the Roman intervention in Sicily in 264 (pp. 143-157).

Bruce Gibson wonders in chapter 8 (pp. 161-179) why Polybius pays so much attention to the Mercenary War and comes to the conclusion that the account shows Carthage in a situation in which she was most threatened, an analogy to Rome's situation after the battle of Cannae. While in Rome's case the crisis proves the excellence of the Roman constitution and the virtues of the Roman people, Polybius wants to demonstrate in the case of Carthage that her moral decline had already begun. By comparing the account with Xenophon's Anabasis Gibson can also show that Polybius used Xenophon's description as a model in order to contrast the mercenaries of Carthage with Rome's legions and allies.

On the basis of Polybius' account of Philip V, Brian McGing examines the description of youthfulness in the Histories and shows that Polybius' narrative has much more subtlety than is usually supposed (pp. 181-199). In this context the article stresses particularly the roles of expectation and focalization in the work of Polybius.1

Boris Dreyer examines whether the description of the last years of Philip V in the Histories measures up to Polybius' own standards concerning history-writers (pp. 201-211). In Dreyer's opinion this is the case since Polybius followed a Macedonian court source which was responsible for the tragic elements of the account.

Following approaches from the political sciences John Thornton regards the Histories as a diplomatic speech in the dialogue between Greeks and Romans in the middle of the 2nd century (pp. 213-229). From this point of view Polybius' work is a response to the question of how the Greeks should shape their relations to Rome. At the same time Polybius wants to suggest to the Romans the advantages of a sovereignty characterized by leniency.

Andrew Erskine reconsiders book 6 of the Histories and concludes that Polybius characterizes the Roman politeia in an over-schematic way, describing rather a model or the Platonic form of it in order to explain the enormous success of the Romans (pp. 231-245). Erskine stresses in this context that for Polybius the army is an important part of Rome's politeia.

Robin Seager's rather short article also discusses Polybius' account of the Roman constitution and reasons that despite all efforts Polybius fails in convincingly presenting the Roman constitution as a mixed constitution (pp. 247-254).

In chapter 14, Erich S. Gruen points out the parallels in the biographies and works of Polybius and Flavius Josephus (pp. 255-265).2 Both authors were intellectuals and political leaders whose works broached the issue of the Roman conquest of their motherlands and both of them enjoyed a privileged treatment by the Romans that gave them a special insight into the ruling power. Although Polybius and Josephus both respected Roman success they did not conceal the bad aspects of Roman rule and even foreshadowed that this rule would find its end at some point.

Christel Müller demonstrates that the excursus on decadence in Polybius' account on the rise and fall of the Boeotians has to be regarded as a literary construct (pp. 267-278). Based on this result Müller argues that in a broader context of intertextuality 'the Polybian narrative must therefore be studied as an object in itself […]' (p. 278).

By analyzing the traditions of Polybius and Diodorus Siculus, Hans-Ulrich Wiemer reconstructs as far as possible the historiographical work of Zeno of Rhodes (pp. 279-306). Wiemer arrives at the conclusion that on the one hand Diodorus offers aspects of Zeno's work which Polybius does not mention at all, while on the other hand Diodorus confirms Polybius' criticism of the glorifying and exalting of the Rhodians in Zeno's history. Comparisons with other Rhodian sources show that even works of local historiography could differ from each other in illustration, elaboration and interpretation.

In chapter 17 Michael Sommer looks into the friendship between Polybius and Scipio Aemilianus in order to examine the role the former played in the latter's life and the impact both men had on Rome's intellectual climate (pp. 307-318). Related to this are the questions of how far Greek philosophical thought influenced the Roman nobility and to what extend Polybius' perception of the senatorial class was influenced by his close contact to some of its members.

J. K. Davies (pp. 319-335) stresses the remarkable potential of the Histories as a source for economic information about large parts of the Mediterranean in the 3rd and 2nd century. In Davies' opinion this economic information is invaluable since Polybius offers economic facts rather casually or even unconsciously in the context of his actual topics. In this manner he passes on raw data without processing it within an interpretative framework. Comparisons with recent studies about Hellenistic economies concentrating on primary sources underline the value of Polybius as a source for economic information because he 'almost seems to be describing a different world' (p. 335).

Josephine Crawley Quinn shows that Polybius' synoptic approach constructs a pan-Mediterranean community covering more or less the geographical area controlled by Rome in 167 (pp. 337-352). Nevertheless, Polybius does not regard this community from a strictly Roman perspective but includes Rome into the Greek world. By comparing this synoptic approach with alternative approaches from both inside and outside the Histories, Crawley Quinn points to the likelihood that concerning the rise of Rome Polybius is no historicist in Benjamin's terms but shows his awareness of alternative ways of understanding the events and of alternative conceptions of the Mediterranean.

'Growing up with Polybius: A Daughter's Memoir' is the title of the book's last chapter written by Walbank's daughter Mitzi Walbank who offers a very personal insight into the Walbanks' family life (pp. 353-358).

The volume is completed by a bibliography (pp. 359-388), an index locorum (pp. 389-404) and a general index (pp. 405-416).

Chapters 3 to 19 cover a wide range of topics related to Polybius and, to various extents, also to Walbank's fields of interest. Irrespective of whether or not one agrees with the results of each article, most of the studies offer new insights or approaches and will certainly stimulate further discussions and research.

No less interesting are the three chapters about Walbank's academic career, his political attitude and his family life. Since 'There can be no modern scholar more closely associated with an ancient author than Walbank with Polybius' (p. 1), the articles make clear that from several points of view a detailed biography of Walbank is definitely a desideratum.

All in all the volume is highly recommended to everyone concerned with Polybius, the Histories and the life of Frank W. Walbank.


1.   Referring to Pol. 16.34.6 McGing confuses Philip V with Attalus I (p. 183).
2.   This article has been previously published in J. Pastor, M. Stean, M. Mor (eds.), Flavius Josephus: Interpretation and History, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 146, Leiden 2011, 149-162.

(read complete article)


Stephen English, Mercenaries in the Classical World: To the Death of Alexander. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2012. Pp. 212. ISBN 9781848843301. £19.99.

Reviewed by Nino Luraghi, Princeton University (nluraghi@princeton.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

This is a book on Greek mercenaries, from the archaic period to the threshold of the Hellenistic age. By and large, it consists of short narratives of the main wars or campaigns of the fifth and fourth centuries, with (mostly sparse) comments on the role of mercenaries. In some cases (e.g. Brasidas' campaigns in Northern Greece during the Archidamian War), the choice is dictated by the presence and/or importance of mercenaries, in other cases (e.g. the Persian Wars) apparently not. The narrative is backed by references to the main Greek historians, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Diodorus (often quoted in the text, in the translations available on-line through the Perseus Project), and occasionally to works of synthesis on Greek mercenaries such as Parke's old classic and Yalichev's. The bibliography covers six pages, with only one title in a language other than English, but the number of works actually used appears to be closer to half a dozen.

After a short introduction devoted mostly to the problem of defining a mercenary, the book opens with a chapter on the problem of payment, surely a key component of any definition, and of the identity of Greek mercenaries in particular. The remaining six chapters follow in chronological order, with the typical exception of fourth-century Sicily, which is relegated to a chapter of its own at the end of the sequence.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the archaic period and divided into three parts, one for each of the main employers of Greek mercenaries during this period: the Pharaohs of the 26th dynasty, the tyrants of mainland Greece during the 7th and 6th centuries, and those of Sicily in the last years of the 6th century and in the first decades of the 5th. There are a few odd things in this chapter. The Carians, whose presence in Egypt is much better documented than that of the Greeks, are mentioned only in passing, and one even suspects that English thinks they were Greek (see n. 4 on p. 190). At least in some cases the ancient evidence appears to have been quoted through the filter of a modern scholar. As an example, the reader may consider the discussion of how Pharaoh Psammetichus came to hire Greek mercenaries; English implies that Herodotus (2.152, not 2.52 as in n. 3 and 4) said that Psammetichus was preparing revolt against the Assyrian domination, when in fact Herodotus does not mention the Assyrian domination of Egypt at all. Similarly, of Cambyses' victory over Psammenithus, English writes (p. 23), "Herodotus tells us nothing that would allow us an attempt at a reconstruction of the battle, save that the Greeks fighting for Psammetichus were slaughtered by their counterparts in Persian service." Again, the innocent reader might think that this is more or less a paraphrase of Herodotus, but it is not: Herodotus does not say a word about the participation in the battle of Greeks on the Persian side; he does say that Cambyses recruited troops among the Ionians and Aeolians (3.1.1), but the romantic image of the Greeks killing other Greeks is an invention of English's (or another scholar? See n. 14). Similarly, on the war between Croesus and Cyrus, English states that Cyrus had Greek mercenaries, without any reference to a source – he actually takes it for granted, saying that Greek mercenaries were not the sole cause of Cyrus' victory. Examples of this sort of problem could be multiplied: most of the narrative parts of this chapter include speculative and/or careless readings of the evidence. On the other hand, well-established facts, like the employment of Arcadian mercenaries by Hippocrates of Gela and by Gelo, have totally escaped English; likewise the employment of mercenaries by Polycrates of Samos.

Chapter 3, devoted to the fifth century, opens with a narrative summary of the Persian Wars, based on Herodotus. English acknowledges the limited role of mercenaries in Darius' and Xerxes' invasions, although he may still be overestimating: the Saka fighting for the Persians are identified by English as mercenaries without further discussion, in spite of the fact that they show up in the list of Darius' satrapies (Hdt. 3.93), which would suggest that they, too, like the rest of Xerxes' army, were serving as subjects of the Achaemenid Empire. In any case, only a few lines of this portion of the book treat mercenaries at all, and one is left to wonder about the utility of this very imprecise narrative of campaigns and battles. The same is true of the second part of the chapter, devoted to the Peloponnesian War. Here again one finds superficial arguments which betray lack of familiarity with the historical circumstances. English speculates that Athens did not hire mercenaries in large numbers in the first part of the war because the Athenians had no easy access to the main recruiting areas of Arcadia and Achaea, and one wonders what "easy access" means here, especially considering that the Deinomenids of Syracuse had hired mercenaries from Arcadia; on the other hand, there is no mention of the position of both regions with regard to the Peloponnesian League, which may be thought to have more relevance when it comes to Arcadians and Achaeans serving, or not, for the Athenians. On page 50, English quotes Thuc. 6.24.3 in the course of discussing the motivations of allies and mercenaries who joined the second Athenian expedition to Sicily, without apparently noticing that Thucydides in that passage is talking about the Athenians (and once again one wonders if English is reading Thucydides or Parke, see n. 35).

Chapter 4 is devoted to the Ten Thousand, whose story is narrated by Xenophon in the Anabasis. Even here, at times the source appears to be read somewhat superficially. English quote Xenophon's description of Cyrus' battle order at Cunaxa (Anab. 1.8.4-7), with the Greek mercenaries on the right, Cyrus and his elite cavalry in the center, and Cyrus' Asian troops on the left; he then characterizes this arrangement as "native Persian infantry in the centre with the detachments of Greek mercenaries to either side." But this is not what Xenophon wrote. English is persuaded that Clearchus' decision not to follow Cyrus' order at Cunaxa was wrong, and in any case, his depiction of the rudimentary Spartan infantry tactics, consisting in charging towards the enemy, is directly belied by Thucydides' description of the complicated maneuvers of the Spartan army at the battle of Mantinea – in that case, too, officers refused to follow the orders of the king, much as Clearchus did at Cunaxa (Thuc. 5.71-2).

Chapter 5 is devoted to the fourth century up to and including the Sacred War and consists, up to the battle of Mantinea, of a paraphrase of the relevant passages of Xenophon's Hellenica interspersed with the occasional quote from Diodorus and comments by the author. The first part of the chapter follows the fate of the 10,000 and the course of the Corinthian War up to the King's Peace, followed by Artaxerxes' campaign against Cyprus, the campaign of the Spartans against the Chalcidian League, the wars between Sparta and Thebes, the Corcyra campaign, etc., down to the Sacred War. Of special interest to the history of mercenaries is a short discussion of Iphicrates' reforms (p. 99-100). Here as elsewhere, the narrative often strays from the book's topic, and the author seems to be aware of this fact (p. 104) ("In terms of mercenary activity, there were, in reality, relatively few at Leuctra…"; in fact the defeat forced the Spartans to recruit mercenaries).

Chapter 6 concludes the chronological sequence, dealing with the period from the Peace of Philocrates to the Lamian War. After a few pages on Philip, mostly devoted to the battle of Chaeronea, some 24 pages are devoted to Alexander. Here, English builds on his 2009 book The Army of Alexander the Great, and the texture of these pages is markedly different from the rest of the book: gone is the narrative of wars and battles, and the focus is really on the mercenaries, their numbers, their functions, their role in the Macedonian and Persian armies.

In Chapter 7, Sicily comes in as an afterthought of sorts. After a few lines devoted to the age of the Deinomenids, the chapter again proceeds as a narrative of battles and wars summarized from Diodorus and Plutarch, from the Carthaginian invasion of 410 to the end of Timoleon's campaigns, with Dionysius the 1st getting the lion's share.

In the preface, the author writes that this book "is not an exhaustive academic examination of every reference to mercenary soldiers in the surviving sources." This is quite an understatement. In fact, the book has remarkably little to say about Greek mercenaries, apart from providing potted stories of battles and wars in which (usually) mercenaries were involved. The total lack of engagement with scholarship – and not only with works in arcane languages like French, German, and Italian – makes it of little use for the layperson and the professional alike. Surely between an "exhaustive academic examination" and this book there were various possible gradations.

(read complete article)


Anne Jacquemin, Dominique Mulliez, Georges Rougemont, Choix d'inscriptions de Delphes, traduites et commentées. Etudes épigraphiques, 5. Athènes: Ecole Française d'Athènes, 2012. Pp. 563. ISBN 9782869582484. €50.00.

Reviewed by Charles W. Hedrick, Jr., University of California at Santa Cruz (hedrick@ucsc.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

It is something of a scandale that the world has had to wait so long for this selection from the inscriptions uncovered by the French excavations at Delphi over the past century and more (cf. p. 9). Their colleagues from Delos produced a "choix" of inscriptions in 1977, and a "nouveau choix" from Delos appeared in 2002. Any lingering irritations will now be consigned to oblivion in the collective pleasure and gratitude that will doubtless attend the appearance of this handsome volume. The dossier of inscriptions from Delphi is one of the most extensive, significant and celebrated from any Greek site: more than 3000 have been published. This Choix offers a representative sampling of some 300 of these. More than a collection of texts, it also provides an initiation into the history of the site and its excavations, and it serves as a guide to the scattered editions of inscriptions that have been produced since the 1890s, typically first in the Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, then later collected in the Fouilles de Delphes (vol. 3, in 6 fascicles, 1910-1985, then abandoned) and now lately in the Corpus des inscriptions de Delphes (so far in 4 volumes with a fifth in the offing, 1977-present). The Choix begins with an outline—brilliant for its balance of generality and detail, clarity and brevity—of the history of the site and its inscriptions (pp. 11-31). Section headings provide orientation, making consultation easy and quick. The first section sketches an account of the chronology and history of the site, emphasizing crucial moments and evidence— much of it to be found in the inscriptions collected in the book. The next three sections deal with the institutional issues, treating in turn the administration of the sanctuary, the Delphic amphictyony, and the city of Delphi. The last two sections are devoted to the inscriptions of the site: first an account of their chronological distribution and character, then a guide to the history of their discovery and publication.

Few will read the Choix as a reviewer is obliged to, from beginning to end. Collections tend to be consulted rather than read. Yet the organization of the texts is artful, and a sustained reading is enlightening. The Choix begins with the "apotropaic" presentation of an egregiously misunderstood graffito and ends with a pair of official nineteenth- century inscriptions, which signal for the authors the place where the past events end and the scholarly writing begins: the end (or is it the beginning?) of the history of the place, its transition from inhabited village to sterile archaeological site ("Castri becomes Delphi once more"). In their arrangement of the texts, the editors have managed to balance the competing demands of time and typology: thematically unified clusters of texts are reasonably presented together in defiance of strict chronology.

The collection includes exactly 300 lemmata, an artificially precise tithe of the total epigraphic output of the site. In point of fact, substantially more than 300 texts are presented: in some lemmata two or more inscriptions are presented; other lemmata are doubled ("bis"). Format of the entries is conventional: a reference to the inventory number of the inscription and its physical dimensions, followed by the essential bibliography; the Greek (or sometimes Latin) text, with indication of textual issues at the foot in smaller type; and the French translation. A succinct commentary follows; controversial or tangential points are noted in smaller type at the end.

The editors repudiate the myopic obsession with the spectacular, and confirm their commitment to a representative collection, including a generous sampling of the typical and ordinary (p. 7). I find, however, little here that I would characterize as banal. Perhaps these inscriptions have faded to invisibility, as tedious things will when set in the company of so much that is marvelous and extraordinary? Or perhaps this book has somehow managed to transmute lead to gold? It is a maxim among epigraphists that the most unpromising scraps can be made to yield fabulous secrets if only they are considered systematically. The inscriptions presented here illuminate every aspect of Greek history, from economy and politics to society to culture. I hope the editors will pardon me if I draw attention to some of the most spectacular: the great Persian war inscriptions (nos. 15-20); the many dedications and accounts of objects and buildings (passim); the famous manumission inscriptions (nos. 127-136); the inscriptions of the Dionysian technitai (nos. 194-205); the hymns (no. 60; commentary without text); the musical inscriptions from the Athenian treasury (no. 203, commentary without text); the fascinating record of a shorthand system (no. 115); the many dedications to the rich and famous, including Aristotle (no. 49) and Plutarch (no. 255); honors for various performers, including an historian and an organ virtuoso (e.g. nos. 186-193); an honorific decree and statue bases for female athletes (nos. 185-6). Some copies of widely disseminated Roman inscriptions have also been found at Delphi, including the Roman law against piracy (no. 184) and fragments of Diocletian's Price Edict (no. 271): these are noted with the briefest of comments, but without the text.

Style of editorial presentation varies somewhat from inscription to inscription. The editors note and defend the inconsistency (p. 8), hinting—if I understand them correctly—that they have parceled out principal responsibility for various inscriptions among themselves. In at least one case (the musical inscriptions, no. 203) a guest, Annie Bélis, is noted as author of the lemma. In general, however, authorship of specific commentary is not attributed; the three editors assume collective responsibility for the whole. The differences in editorial style can be sampled by looking at no. 183, which preserves the arbitration of a disagreement between two cities. The Greek text includes summary headings and quotations from other documents. The editor indicates the main text with the normal, upright Greek font; summary headings are indicated using a bold font; and the quotations are presented in an italicized Greek. This treatment is reversed in the French translation: the main text (as usual) is presented in italics; headings are in boldface; and quotations are indicated using a Roman font. For my tastes the editorial rationalization of this text is excessive. By contrast, the manumission inscriptions (nos. 127-136) are presented with an exceptionable attentiveness to physical detail. These inscriptions were displayed on the great polygonal wall of the sanctuary; the texts are peppered with upright bars and dashes, indicating breaks between blocks in the wall and uninscribed areas of stone. The treatment will cause many readers at least some initial consternation: even though these symbols are duly indicated in the introduction (pp. 32-3), an explanation should be reiterated in the context of the presentation of the inscriptions themselves. This level of detail is arguably unnecessary in a volume of this kind—and if it is deemed necessary, the text should be supplemented with photographs or drawings.

Everyone these days is compelled to come to grips with the relationship between the book and the computer: Should books like these continue to be produced? Or would collections be better presented via web sites? Or would a "hybrid" form of presentation work better? What kinds of information should be reasonably consigned to paper? What might be better served by a digital format? The issue is apparent in the decisions the editors have made about illustrations, and especially about the index.

This Choix contains no photographs of inscriptions or the site (there are seven maps and plans at the end of the volume). It would indisputably be a benefit to have convenient access to illustrations of all of these texts: to take only one example, they would clarify the presentation of the manumission inscriptions. Photographs are certainly better presented in digital format than in print form: it is less expensive and the photographs can be more numerous, dynamic, and of far higher resolution. The editors note (p. 7 n. 3) that photographs of a certain number of the inscriptions can be found on the web site of the French School in Athens, and that they have in view the goal of sometime procuring and posting online photographs of all inscriptions in the Choix. I went to the site of the School (11/8/2013) and spent half an hour looking for them. I found no images that were designated using the numeration of the Choix. I did locate some Delphic inscriptions (by searching under the category "photothèque"). Doubtless I would have found more had I continued to look, but the essential lesson is that images of inscriptions are not yet clearly marked or easy to find.

Volumes such as this have routinely been provided with indices of Greek words, names and so on. The editors decided, "not without hesitation," to renounce these. They argue that indices would have taken a disproportionate amount of space—and that is true, given the amount of Greek text in the volume. They further suggest that word indices would be less useful for a selection than for an exhaustive corpus (p. 8). That is also true, but it is beside the point: it would nevertheless be useful to have an index of Greek words for the inscriptions included in the Choix. Arguably, though, they are right to omit the index of Greek words: in this day and age, an index is better presented in the form of a searchable digital database than as a printed list of words. The editors enigmatically (or is it pointedly?) make no recommendation of how to do word searches for Delphic inscriptions. The first resort should doubtless be the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) Searchable Greek Inscriptions database.

I hasten to say that I am not suggesting that a searchable database is a replacement for an expert and systematic set of indices, anymore than the raw output of an unlimited "google" search of the word "the" would replace or even approximate the definition one would find in the Oxford English Dictionary. In lieu of indices of Greek words, the editors of the Choix have provided a judicious and expert index of leading institutions, names and ideas, which combines the virtues of an index, dictionary and encyclopedia. So, for example, if one looks up the word "hieromnemons" in the index, one does not find references to all of the myriad occurrences of the word in the Choix. Rather one finds a brief and informative essay, with carefully chosen illustrations:

Official representatives at the amphictyonic council of various states that are members of the amphictyony. Introduction, p. 19. – Under the empire the word "hieromnemon" seems to be replaced by the term "amphictyon": 292, 295 and already, for example, 182 l. 2 – Conflicts relative to the allocation of amphictyonic seats (or "votes," psephoi) and the manner of their provision (means of designating hieromnemons): 150 (?); 183 and comm.; 252.

Everything essential is succinctly indicated here. Of course, for those needing more information or aspiring to do a study of the word, it will be necessary to go to a search engine and the corpus volumes. For the purposes of the Choix and its readers, however, this index is supremely serviceable; it might serve as a model for future collections such as these, and maybe even for epigraphic corpora (if such continue to be issued in print).

It is difficult to do justice to a book like this in a review; at the end, the right response is to get to your feet and applaud. Minor academic libraries in the United States these days hesitate before purchasing scholarly works in foreign languages (I mean the French here, not the Greek); they should make an exception for the Choix. Any college or university where Greek and Latin are taught should have a copy on hand.

(read complete article)


Attilio Mastrocinque, Giuliano l'Apostata, Discorso su Helios re. Studia classica et mediaevalia, Bd 5. Nordhausen: Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2011. Pp. iii, 113. ISBN 9783883091020. €20.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Francesco Massa, Labex HASTEC/ Laboratoire d'études sur les monothémes, Paris (f.massa@tin.it)

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Attilio Mastrocinque here publishes the Italian translation and commentary of one of the most interesting writings by Emperor Julian, the Hymn to King Helios. Mastrocinque's work is particularly useful to historians of religion and philosophy of Late Antiquity since Julian's work is a theological treatise, composed on the occasion of the feast in honour of the Sun god—which was celebrated on December 25th—and aimed at defining the nature of this supreme god and his intervention in the world. The objectives of the commentary, stated in the brief Preface, are in the first place to highlight the "political purpose of Julian's cosmological and theological thought" (p. VIII), and secondly, to point out the effects of Julian's thought on the political organization of the empire.1

The translation and commentary are preceded by an Introduction, which begins with a section dedicated to the life of Julian, from his origins in Macellum, Cappadocia, until his death in the battle against Shapur II, in 363 CE. Mastrocinque then focuses on the sources of Julian's treatise on the Sun, stating that the author himself admitted his debt to Iamblichus, and that he certainly knew the Chaldean Oracles and their comments. Mastrocinque is particularly interested in establishing whether and how religious doctrines on the Sun—widespread in the fourth century—had influenced the thought of the emperor (p. 6). Ample space is dedicated especially to Mithraism, which happens to be the author's field of expertise.2 Mastrocinque does not believe that the Hymn to King Helios was a Mithraic treatise, since a broad range of components have merged into the philosophical and theological speculations of the emperor; but the importance of the teachings of Mithraism in Julian's thought cannot be underestimated.

Mastrocinque then analyzes the contribution of Julian's text to the study of the religions of the Roman Empire. The importance of this Hymn comes from the fact that it is the most important theological text ("a unique and irreplaceable work", p. 14) that allows for a reflection on the "solar religion" that, from the time of Aurelian, had placed the Sun at the top of the empire's pantheon. The Hymn is divided into three parts: the origin and substance of Helios, the activities and powers of the god, his property and his patronage of Rome. At the basis of Julian's theology there was the division between hyper-cosmic gods (the first principles) and cosmic gods (those who belong to our world); the supreme Sun god corresponded to the absolute Good, and cosmic gods represented his mediators, who put him in relation with the Earth. Mastrocinque notes that this system also corresponds to Julian's view on political theology, because the emperor, like the Sun (and like Mithra), was placed at the summit of the Cosmos, and his court revolved around him (p. 17). In addition, Mastrocinque realizes that this vision could be accepted by Christians, on the basis of an identification between the Sun and Christ: see, for example, the mosaic of the vault of the tomb of the Julii in the Vatican Necropolis, where Christ, crowned by rays of sunlight and dressed in a fair tunic, is depicted on a chariot drawn by white horses, holding a large globe in his left hand.

The last part of the introduction is devoted to the political value of Julian's treatise. The term βασιλεύς, attributed to the Sun, was perfectly in line with the name used to refer to the figure of the emperor in the Greek language. The speculations around Helios were not merely the result of a personal philosophical interest; on the contrary, knowledge of solar theology was to serve as an inspiration for the good emperor and for the reforms of the empire (p. 19). Mastrocinque proposes a parallel with Constantine's political theology, stating that the latter "had understood his monarchy as an earthly replica, or an earthly emanation of Jesus Christ's monarchy in the Kingdom of Heaven, and bishop Eusebius of Caesarea [...] clearly expounded this theory" (p. 19). However, a significant difference exists between the two situations, because Constantine's political theology is the work of a Christian bishop who presents the figure of the emperor as the one who must embody both regnum and sacerdotium, and does not coincide completely with an emperor who continues to nourish—albeit subdued—a relationship with the Pagan tradition of the Empire. Julian's text, instead, is proof of the perfect coincidence between theology and politics, between a philosophical reflection and the political project of the emperor.

The volume reproduces the Greek text of Christian Lacombrade (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1964), from which Mastrocinque's divergences are explained in the notes. The Italian translation is found in the first part, along with the commentary notes, while the second part contains the Greek text, without critical apparatus.

The notes not only provide the reader with numerous cross-references to other works of the literary and philosophical tradition but are also essential to understand a particularly complex text, especially in passages of a more strictly philosophical nature.3 All the elements highlighted in the introductory pages are reflected and further explored in the notes: this is the case of the aspects related to Mithraism, even if they are not directly explained by Julian, as it happens with Serapis (n. 114 , p. 40), Ananke (n. 121, p. 42), the "central" position occupied by Helios (n. 137, p. 45), and the political significance of Julian's theology, such as the centrality of the Sun, to which corresponds, on Earth, the centrality of the emperor (n. 141, p. 47, cf. also n. 195, p. 65). Of great interest is the comment on the relationship between Helios and the other gods, among whom Apollo and Dionysus play an important role, because the Sun is able to reconcile the many aspects of traditional gods. Mastrocinque emphasizes the complementarity between Apollo and Dionysus, referring to the alleged alternation between the two deities in presiding over the shrine of Delphi (n. 159, p. 54 and n. 192, p. 64). However, the problem of the complementarity between Dionysus and a solar deity (Apollo and/or Helios) is not tightly linked to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, where even Dionysus was such an important deity that he deserved to occupy one of the two pediments of the temple. The question is linked to a philosophical interpretation already espoused by the Stoics: some fragments of Cleanthes, in fact, allow for an identification of an ancient interpretation in which the divine figures of Dionysus and Apollo were assimilated into Helios (SVF I frr. 540 -541, 546).

Mastrocinque's comment to Emperor Julian's Hymn enriches the important bibliography dedicated to a key figure of the mid-IV century with an innovative and extremely useful work, especially for studies on solar religion and on Mithraism in Late Antiquity.

Table of Contents

1. La vita di Giuliano
2. Le fonti del trattato di Giuliano sul Sole
3. L'apporto del trattato di Giuliano sul Sole per lo studio delle religioni dell'impero romano
4. Il valore politico del trattato sul Sole
5. Nota al testo
Parte prima: Traduzione e commento: Flavio Claudio Giuliano Augusto, Discorso su Helios re
Parte seconda: Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΑ ΗΛΙΟΝ
Scelta bibliografica
Indice dei nomi personali e geografici


1.   A first observation concerns the choice to call Emperor Julian "the Apostate" in the book's title: despite the widespread use of such title, even in scientific literature, perhaps it might have been preferable to avoid it in favour of the more neutral and adequate of "Emperor Julian".
2.   See, for example, Studi sul Mitraismo (il Mitraismo e la magia) (Roma: G. Bretschneider, 1998) and Des mystères de Mithra aux mystères de Jésus (Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2009).
3.   See, for example, the explanation of the articulate philosophical system that is the basis of the emperor's thought (n . 85, pp. 30-31).

(read complete article)


Wytse H. Keulen, Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser (ed.), Aspects of Apuleius' Golden Ass. Vol. III: The Isis Book. A Collection of Original Papers. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2012. Pp. xvi, 255. ISBN 9789004221239. $144.00 (hb).

Reviewed by Laurent Bricault, Université de Toulouse II-Le Mirail (bricault@univ-tlse2.fr)

Version at BMCR home site


La majorité des 11 contributions réunies dans cette publication est issue d'une rencontre organisée à l'Université de Rostock en novembre 2008. Le n° III porté par ce volume renvoie à deux autres ouvrages du même titre publiés respectivement en 1978 et 1998.1 Ce troisième opus se focalise sur le onzième et dernier livre des Métamorphoses d'Apulée, rédigées vers 170 p.C.

L'ouvrage s'organise autour de six thèmes : le style et la construction du roman (Zimmerman et Nicolini) ; l'auto-représentation et la Seconde Sophistique (Egelhaaf-Gaiser et Harrison) ; la philosophie et la fiction (Graverini et Drews) ; la topographie et les déplacements (Tilg et Dowden) ; la réception de Plutarque chez Apulée (Van der Stockt et Finkelpearl) ; la présence de l'auteur dans une œuvre de fiction (Smith).

M. Zimmerman se propose d'étudier les liens unissant plusieurs niveaux de lecture au travers de quelques exemples, dont celui de la tonsure des initiés, qu'il aurait été intéressant de confronter à ce qu'en disent les autres auteurs anciens et à mettre en rapport avec les supposées représentations de prêtres isiaques au crâne rasé. L. Nicolini s'interroge sur les jeux de mots apuléens du livre XI, pour constater qu'ils n'y sont pas moins présents que dans le reste du roman.

U. Egelhaaf-Gaiser, dans l'un des meilleurs papiers du volume, montre combien complexe est l'image de Lucius—jusque dans ses représentations corporelles—et à quel point le « spectacle littéraire » mis en scène par Apulée livre une iconographie polysémique de son héros en parfaite adéquation avec les Selbstdarstellungen de la Seconde Sophistique. St. Harrison expose à nouveau ses arguments pour une interprétation satirique du roman.

L. Graverini, partisan lui d'une interprétation comique du roman, reprend l'idée d'une opposition entre les livres I à X et le livre XI, ce dernier, fortement teinté de stoïcisme, apparaissant beaucoup plus sérieux. À la prudentia régulièrement énoncée dans les dix premiers livres répond, à la fin, la providentia, caractéristique majeure de la déesse. Fr. Drews oriente la réflexion vers le platonisme récurrent du roman d'Apulée, suggérant que la Destinée y est, au final, subordonnée à la Providence, ce qu'exprimerait la transformation, dans le livre XI, de l'âne philosophe en initié isiaque empreint de philosophie platonicienne.

Pour St. Tilg, le Livre d'Isis est beaucoup plus léger qu'on ne le pense généralement et l'antagonisme savant entre « sérieux » et « comique » est un faux problème. Sur les plans rhétorique et littéraire, le récit, le discours d'Apulée ne se distingueraient guère d'œuvres similaires, qu'il s'agisse e.g. des Milesiaka d'Aelius Aristide ou de la Callirhoe de Chariton d'Aphrodisias.2 K. Dowden observe qu'au voyage horizontal qui mène Lucius de la Thessalie à Rome se superpose un voyage vertical, celui de l'élévation de l'âme vers le divin, impliquant non seulement Isis mais aussi Hélios et Mithra.

L. Van der Stockt s'interroge sur les fils susceptibles d'être tissés entre Apulée et Plutarque. Malgré certains points de convergence (philologiques, philosophiques, généalogiques) bien connus, il faut se montrer très prudent tant la nature du De Iside et Osiride diffère de celle de l'Asinus Aureus, dans leur conception, dans leur analyse, dans leur présentation, dans leurs références, dans leurs objectifs, comme l'indique d'ailleurs chacun des deux auteurs dès le début de leur œuvre : l'un est un traité philosophique platonicien, l'autre le récit d'une expérience religieuse personnelle transcendante. E. Finkelpearl reprend cette distinction fondamentale pour approcher le rapport à l'Égypte chez Plutarque et Apulée. Elle remarque à juste titre que l'écrivain de Chéronée a tendance à vouloir domestiquer ce que le rhéteur de Madaure cherche au contraire à rendre exotique.3

Enfin, W. S. Smith (re)pose la question de l'introduction, à un moment donné, celui d'une vision onirique, de l'auteur lui-même dans un récit de fiction, en cherchant des parallèles dans les Actes des Apôtres ou les Canterbury Tales de Chaucer.

La lecture de ce livre laisse à vrai dire le lecteur quelque peu perplexe, avec l'impression diffuse mais persistante que depuis trois décennies—au moins—les approches littéraires de l'œuvre n'ont guère évolué, suscitant les mêmes controverses, les mêmes points de vue plus ou moins inconciliables (entre satire, œuvre philosophique, récit comique, roman d'aventure et testament à clefs) et les mêmes impasses, faute d'avoir su intégrer ces analyses dans le champ plus vaste de la recherche historique. Sauf chez trois des contributeurs à ce volume (Egelhaaf-Gaiser, Finkelpearl et Graverini) et ce dans une certaine mesure, les études multiples menées depuis vingt ans sur les cultes isiaques, les rapports réciproques entre l'Égypte et Rome, les recherches en histoire des religions sont complètement ignorés. Comment, en 2012, est-il possible d'écrire sur un tel sujet sans utiliser et mentionner une seule fois, pour ne citer qu'eux, car la liste des oubliés dépasserait à elle seule le cadre de ce compte rendu, M. Malaise, J. Fr. Quack, J. Rüpke ou M. J. Versluys ? C'est vouer, assurément, les ouvrages de cette nature à s'auto-citer perpétuellement sans jamais dépasser un cercle d'initiés plus réduit que celui des dévots d'Isis. Ce qui est pour le moins regrettable.

Concluons toutefois en saluant la haute qualité de production du volume, malgré de petites étourderies ici et là (p. 103 n. 52, Bricault-Veymiers date de 2007 et non 2008—la date est correcte p. 146 n. 3 et p. 224 dans la bibliographie ; Vout 2003, citée p. 193 n. 24, n'apparaît pas dans la bibliographie ; la SIRIS de L. Vidman est mentionnée deux fois dans la bibliographie p. 222 et p. 237, mais pas le RICIS publié en 2005, etc.).


1.   Aspects of Apuleius' 'Golden Ass'. Volume I: A Collection of original papers, ed. B.L. Hijmans Jr. and R.Th. van der Paardt, Groningen 1978 ; Aspects of Apuleius' Golden Ass. Volume II: Cupid and Psyche. A Collection of Original Papers, Groningen 1998.
2.   Cf., entre autres, Br. Rochette, « Aelius Aristide, Lucien, Apulée : Trois témoins du sentiment religieux dans l'Empire romain au IIe siècle ap. J.-C. », que nul ne semble connaître.
3.   Cf. M. J. Versluys, « Orientalising Roman Gods », in L. Bricault, C. Bonnet (ed.), Panthée. Religious Transformations in the Graeco-Roman Empire, Leiden 2013, p. 235-259.

(read complete article)


Evan Hayes, Stephen Nimis, Hippocrates' 'On Airs, Waters, and Places' and 'The Hippocratic Oath': An Intermediate Greek Reader. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing, 2013. Pp. xix, 136. ISBN 9780983222859. $13.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Lesley Bolton, University of Calgary (labolton@ucalgary.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

Hayes and Nimis' latest intermediate Greek reader, this one covering Hippocrates' On Airs, Waters and Places (hereafter AWP) and the Oath, represents a departure from their previous four volumes. They have moved from the Second Sophistic (Lucian's A True Story, On the Syrian Goddess, and The Ass, and Plutarch's Dialogue on Love) to texts of the medical corpus of the fifth century BCE. As someone who works in the area of ancient medicine, I am particularly pleased to see this latest offering, for both AWP and the Oath have much to recommend them as intermediate Greek readings for the non-specialist.

Like the previous volumes, the aim is to facilitate rapid reading. The Greek text occupies roughly one third of a page, generally some eight or ten lines, followed by extensive help in the form of an alphabetical vocabulary and a commentary section. The text is that of the 1922 Loeb edition by W.H.S Jones, with some minor emendations. The page-by-page running vocabulary generally glosses words as appropriate to the reading on that page; verbs that are glossed by a more generic dictionary definition are expanded upon in the commentary. Only the most common words are omitted from the vocabulary, and most entries are repeated on every page in which they occur in the text.

The commentary itself is almost exclusively grammatical, "explaining subordinate clauses, unusual verb forms, and dialectic peculiarities" (p. ix). Difficult expressions are translated in what the authors call "translationese" (p. xi) in an attempt to reproduce the Greek grammatical relationships in English. There is no textual apparatus or discussion. The text is preceded by a useful summary of Ionic Greek features and forms, and brief summaries of grammatical and morphological topics are interspersed in the earlier parts of the texts, using examples from AWP. Three special topic sections discuss Hippocrates' use of geographic and astronomical terms, along with a synopsis of Greek knowledge of topography to that point. A list of irregular verb forms and a comprehensive glossary follow the text, plus a handy glossary of the medical terms used.

In most respects, AWP and the Oath make ideal intermediate texts; their sentence structure is relatively straightforward, their vocabulary is generally not specialized, and AWP has a recurring format with much use of easily anticipated antitheses. My only concern would be about exposing students who have just finished learning Attic Greek grammar to the Ionic dialect in their first 'real' text. But, to be fair, Hayes and Nimis make this as painless as possible with their summary of Ionic Greek features and their commentary entries.

As to the subject matter, both AWP and Oath provide much opportunity for discussion. The AWP falls roughly into two parts. The first presumably aimed at the itinerant physician, deals with environmental influences on health as well as the effects of seasonal variations on the incidence of disease. It also touches on weather prognostication and provides an extended discussion on the formation of bladder stones and why men suffer from them more regularly than women. The second part of AWP is less medical and more ethnographic in nature, attributing the differences between Asians and Europeans to their environment and customs. For instance, it offers descriptions of the peculiar "Longheads", the "Sauromatae" with their horse-riding, arrow- shooting women, and the infertile and feminized men of the "Anarieis". Given this subject matter and the use of the Ionic dialect, the AWP would be an ideal preparation for reading Herodotus.1 The Oath is probably the most familiar Hippocratic work and, despite its brevity, provides ample opportunities for analysis and debate.

Like all the volumes in the series, this volume is self-published and print-on-demand (POD), available only through online distributors. It has not been professionally edited, and some errors are evident, but these are relatively few. Ones I spotted include incorrect page numbering of Hippocrates' medical calendar (p. iii), misspelling of von Staden's name (p. x), confusion between the upper and lower bowels (p. 17); ἅτε ἐόντα should read 'because they are…' (p. 26), συνίστημι should read 'to combine, become solid' (p.51), ἀργότερος, -η, -ον: 'wild' should read ἀργός, -ή, -όν: 'idle, lazy' (p.72), and while ὁκόταν reproduces the Loeb reading, ὅταν in the commentary reproduces the TLG reading (p. 89). In addition, there are odd omissions from the otherwise extensive vocabulary: commonplaces like γάρ and καί are included, yet ἡ πόλις, ὁ τόπος, and ἄλλοτε, for example, are excluded.

There are also places where the vocabulary entry and commentary translation do not match, or where more suitable translations could be provided; ἡ κοιλίη, for example is glossed as 'belly' but translated as 'womb' in the commentary (p. 10), συντετραίνω is glossed as 'to unite by a channel', but the passive is translated as 'opened directly' in the commentary (p. 46), and a gloss of τό ἦθος as 'character' would better suit the context than 'an accustomed place' (p. 98). Occasionally the page formatting that matches commentary to text goes awry (pp. 64, 67-69), not every abbreviation used in the commentary appears in the abbreviation list (p. xix) and, even though only a handful of secondary sources are referred to, a formal bibliography would be useful. But these are quite pedantic points, none of which should cause any real problems; moreover, the authors encourage readers to submit corrections and suggestions to them for incorporation into future versions of the text (pp. xi-xii). One suggestion I would make is to replace the blank 'Notes' pages at the end of the volume with the continuous Greek texts of AWP and the Oath, both for review purposes and for the keener student. The authors have also made the entire volume available, via email, under a Creative Commons License, allowing for copying, alteration and distribution of the work under certain conditions (p. ii).

The strengths of this volume far outweigh its negligible weaknesses. Hippocrates' 'On Airs, Waters, and Places' and 'The Hippocratic Oath': An Intermediate Greek Reader adds to the limited number of offerings suitable for in-class reading at the intermediate level, and it is good to see a less mainstream work added to the group. The page-by-page running vocabulary format allows for quick progress through the text, since students are not repeatedly thumbing through previous pages, and it allows for jumping into the text at any point. The POD format allows for an inexpensive price-tag, and students can actively contribute to the production of a cleaner edition by noting errors and suggesting corrections that better suit a student's needs.


1.   A point noted also by the reviewer of Hayes and Nimis' intermediate reader Lucian's On the Syrian Goddess (BMCR 2013.05.21), as Lucian employs an archaizing Ionic dialect for this work.

(read complete article)


Giulio Guidorizzi, Il compagno dell'anima. I Greci e il sogno. Scienza e idee. Milano: Raffaello Cortina Editore, 2013. Pp. 253. ISBN 9788860305787. €21.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Silvio Schirru, Università di Cagliari (silvio.schirru@unica.it)

Version at BMCR home site

Non capita di frequente che un saggio, pur costituendo un'accurata sintesi dello status quaestionis secondo una prospettiva scientifica, funga al contempo da introduzione chiara e esauriente all'argomento trattato anche per i non specialisti. È questo il caso del recente libro di Giulio Guidorizzi, Il compagno dell'anima. I Greci e il sogno, incluso dall'editore nella medesima collana (Scienza e Idee, diretta da Giulio Gorello) che di Guidorizzi aveva ospitato, nel 2010, l'analogo lavoro dedicato alla follia in Grecia.1

Il percorso tra i meandri del sogno proposto da Guidorizzi si articola idealmente in tre sezioni. Nella prima (capp. 1-2), l'autore inquadra la problematica trattata (in termini concettuali e lessicali) e ne definisce i contorni. Illustra anzitutto (cap. 1) come, per i Greci, il sogno sia uno stato contiguo alla morte, al punto che lo stesso statuto era assegnato "ai sogni e alle ombre dei morti, [...] entrambe entità che vivono in uno spazio intermedio, lontane dai viventi ma non tanto da esserne completamente separate" (p. 15). Ne è prova anche l'indeterminatezza del lessico impiegato per definire sogni e 'apparizioni' di defunti, che, da Omero in poi, potevano indifferentemente essere designati coi nomi di ὄναρ ('sogno'), ψυχή ('soffio vitale') o εἴδωλον ('parvenza simile al vero'). È la nozione stessa di sogno, peraltro, a non essere univoca per la mentalità greca. Artemidoro fu il primo a operare una classificazione (cap. 2), distinguendo tra una "esperienza onirica ordinaria, prodotta dall'elaborazione inconsapevole e automatica dei residui diurni" (p. 26), definita ἐνύπνιον, e il sogno significativo, presago di eventi futuri, capace di attivare nella mente addormentata facoltà ignote alla sfera cosciente, detto ὄναρ. Entrambe le categorie comprendono a loro volta tipologie diverse di esperienze oniriche: all'ἐνύπνιον è infatti riconducibile l'allucinazione (φάντασμα), mentre rientrano nella sfera dell'ὄναρ tanto l'ὅραμα (visione che si manifesta a chi si trova in uno stato liminare tra sonno e veglia) quanto il χρηματισμός (sogno oracolare).

I molti nomi del sogno, del resto, altro non sono che una spia della pluralità di funzioni ad esso attribuite dalla cultura greca, incrementate dalla convinzione che un sogno non appartenga del tutto (o quanto meno non in maniera esclusiva) a chi lo sogna, ma sia un patrimonio condiviso con la divinità o la comunità, a seconda delle circostanze. L'efficacia dell'ὄναρ, peraltro, non rimane circoscritta alla sfera dell'incoscienza, ma si proietta, in maniera multiforme, sul mondo della veglia (ὕπαρ), in un rapporto di costante interscambio tra le due dimensioni, differenti ma non sempre nitidamente distinte. Il sogno può, addirittura, essere tanto reale da lasciare dietro di sé un oggetto come prova della sua esistenza al di fuori dell'universo interiore del sognatore. Emblematico, in questo senso, per Guidorizzi, il racconto dell''iniziazione' alla poesia da parte delle Muse in Hes. Theog. 22ss., interpretabile come un'esperienza onirica alla fine della quale il poeta si ritrova con in mano un bastone d'alloro (e non d'ulivo, cfr. p. 37), simbolo tangibile dell'autenticità della visione.

Una volta messo a fuoco, in generale, il fenomeno del sogno nel contesto della grecità, nella seconda parte del volume (capp. 3-7) Guidorizzi conduce chi legge in un viaggio attraverso i sogni dei Greci, organizzato per 'tappe' tematiche e sviluppato prevalentemente attraverso la narrazione di varie esperienze oniriche, letterarie e non. L'autore indugia dapprima sulla geografia del mondo del sogno (cap. 3), posto all'imboccatura della terra dei morti (a ricordare, ancora una volta, il legame tra le anime dei defunti e i sogni). La soglia tra le due dimensioni "è lo spazio in cui la coscienza sprofonda quando si accendono i sogni" (p. 43), spesso attraversato da entità sovrannaturali alla ricerca di un contatto con le menti dei dormienti. Oltre la soglia trovano asilo sogni falsi e veritieri, inestricabilmente avviluppati gli uni agli altri. Famosa, del resto, è l'allegoria omerica (ripresa da Virgilio, Aen. 6, 893-896) delle due porte dei sogni: una di corno, attraverso cui passano i sogni veridici, l'altra d'avorio, foriera di messaggi ingannevoli (cfr. Od. 19, 562-567).2 Si passa poi a una rassegna di sogni e visioni celebri (tratti da autori come Omero o Livio, ma anche dalla Bibbia o dalla saga di Gilgamesh), il cui tratto comune è esemplificare, ancora una volta, come il sogno rappresenti una realtà autonoma rispetto alla psiche di chi dorme: non è costui a produrre fantasmi onirici, ma sono i sogni a raggiungerlo da altri luoghi. "Nella lingua greca, infatti, non si fa un sogno, ma lo si vede: ὄναρ ἰδεῖν" (p. 54), come fosse uno spettacolo teatrale.

Dopo una riflessione sul sogno dell'aquila e le oche, raccontato da Penelope in Od. 19, 536-553, il primo della letteratura greca a essere narrato da chi lo ha fatto (cap. 4), l'indagine assume una prospettiva (anche) diacronica, quando esplora (cap. 5) il rapporto tra il sogno e la ψυχή (termine che, dal definire, in Omero, il soffio vitale emanato da un moribondo, passa a designare, a cominciare dalla tarda epoca arcaica, l'entità invisibile racchiusa in ogni essere umano, ovvero l'anima). Da Socrate e Platone in poi, l'anima diviene l'Io per eccellenza, ed allora il sogno non può che esserne l'inseparabile compagno. "L'anima sognante è la stessa a cui, progressivamente, verranno riferite tutte le funzioni superiori della mente" (pp. 67-68). Ciò comporta, inevitabilmente, che sognare metta a nudo anche gli aspetti deteriori dell'anima (come osservato, tra gli altri, da Platone e Agostino), o quanto meno ne riveli la spinta narcisistica all'infrazione delle regole morali e dei limiti imposti dalla ragione. È quindi la volta dei "grandi sogni" (cap. 6): da una parte quelli che Artemidoro definiva ὀνείρατα κοσμικά ('sogni cosmici'), cioè le visioni in cui il sognatore osserva se stesso o il mondo dall'esterno (magari arrivando a contemplare i fenomeni celesti o l'infinità dell'universo, come nel Somnium Scipionis ciceroniano) e χρηματισμοί ('sogni-oracolo'); dall'altra i 'contatti' onirici con grandi personalità o addirittura divinità (per esempio Asclepio, protagonista delle epifanie notturne riferite da Elio Aristide). Il cap. 7, poi, è dedicato ai sogni 'doppi', nella duplice accezione di sogni fatti più di una volta e di sogni sognati contemporaneamente da due persone.

Nella terza e ultima sezione del libro (capp. 8-12), l'autore delinea con efficacia quella che si potrebbe definire una storia dell'ermeneutica onirica. Si comincia approfondendo il legame tra sogno e medicina (cap. 8): se, da una parte, Galeno, così come altri, riteneva possibile "utilizzare i sogni come una specie di ecografia degli stati interni del corpo" (p. 116), dall'altra "l'applicazione diagnostica del sogno trova ovvi limiti nella pratica terapeutica" (p. 124). Va comunque notato come la teoria medica del sogno muovesse da un presupposto culturale affine a quello dell'oniromantica: il mondo onirico è foriero di un messaggio espresso in un codice coerente ma simbolico, che è pertanto accessibile solo a chi lo sappia decifrare. Il cap. 9 è dedicato alla visione aristotelica del sogno, considerato dallo Stagirita, razionalisticamente, null'altro che "la prosecuzione fantastica delle sensazioni che si provano durante la veglia" (p. 133). Il cap. 10 tratta invece della natura 'demoniaca' attribuita ad alcuni sogni dagli autori cristiani. Buona parte del cap. 11, incentrato sugli incubi, è riservata "alla più complessa e allucinatoria scena onirica di tutta la tragedia greca" (p. 158), l'apparizione di Clitemestra nel sogno delle Erinni (Aesch. Eum. 102-154), mentre il cap. 12 è incentrato sui sogni incubatorî.

I capp. 13-15, infine, possono essere considerati altrettante 'appendici' alla trattazione principale: la prima dedicata al 'diario onirico' lasciatoci da Elio Aristide nei suoi Discorsi sacri; la seconda a una riflessione sull'interpretazione dei sogni; la terza a un'opera tecnica, gli Oneirokritikà di Artemidoro.

Il libro di Guidorizzi costituisce una lettura interessante e piacevole, nonostante la complessità dell'argomento affrontato. Il racconto dell'autore scorre fluido (grazie anche al rigore logico delle argomentazioni e alla limpidezza dello stile), sulla scia di nessi e analogie non sempre immediatamente identificabili, ma comunque suggestivi, al punto che il lettore, più che posto di fronte a una serie razionalmente ordinata di informazioni, si sente immerso in un caleidoscopico e sinestetico vortice affabulatorio, in linea con la tematica onirica.

Se il punto di partenza dell'indagine di Guidorizzi è spesso, e inevitabilmente, costituito dal dato letterario (o archeologico), la prospettiva scelta è prevalentemente antropologica (non a caso, tra gli autori più spesso citati, c'è Eric R. Dodds). Da questo punto di vista, è interessante come lo sguardo dell'autore vada ben al di là di quanto il titolo del volume lascerebbe intuire: prendendo le mosse dalla concezione ellenica del sognare, la trattazione non solo si estende al mondo romano, com'è in fondo naturale, ma comprende sovente riferimenti a culture 'altre' rispetto alla classicità, dalla tradizione cristiana a quella maori. Non mancano, peraltro, frequenti richiami a Sigmund Freud e alla sua interpretazione dei sogni (passaggio apparentemente 'obbligato' ma tutt'altro che scontato, considerando l'ambito di interesse dell'opera). A tale proposito, se Guidorizzi non manca, ovviamente, di ricordare il debito di Freud nei confronti della classicità (e del mito in particolare), a volte sembra quasi voler suggerire, con una nota di ironia, come molte risposte fornite dalla psicanalisi già albergassero, seppure velate, in racconti risalenti ad almeno due millenni prima.

Da quanto detto finora, risulterà chiaro che il maggior pregio del libro è la sua natura 'di confine'. Il volume, pur incentrato su una tematica ben delimitata (cronologicamente e concettualmente), si allarga a un approccio non solo multi- e transdisciplinare, ma anche multiculturale. Il compagno dell'anima costituisce, sostanzialmente, un compendio ragionato di quanto scritto finora sul sogno in Grecia, dall'autore3 o da altri,4 apprezzabile tanto dal classicista, che sarà forse incuriosito soprattutto dall'interpretazione di alcune fonti e dal raffronto con elementi non appartenenti al mondo greco o romano, quanto da chi classicista non è. Non è un caso, del resto, che il libro sia stato scritto da uno studioso che, da sempre, coniuga indagine scientifica e interesse per la divulgazione, consapevole forse che certe storie, per non essere dimenticate, hanno bisogno non solo di chi le racconti, ma anche di qualcuno che continui a sognarle.5


1.   Ai confini dell'anima. I Greci e la follia, Milano, Raffaello Cortina Editore, 2010.
2.   L'eziologia di quest'immagine è probabilmente da ricercare, come ricorda l'autore, in una paretimologica connessione tra κέρας ('corno') e κραίνω ('realizzo') da un lato, ἐλέφας ('avorio') e ἐλεφαίρομαι ('inganno') dall'altro.
3.   Di Guidorizzi sarà sufficiente ricordare, a titolo esemplificativo, la curatela del volume Il sogno in Grecia, Bari, Laterza, 1988; l'introduzione a Artemidoro, Il libro dei sogni, a cura di A. Giardino, Rizzoli, Milano, 2006; nonché saggi come L'interpretazione dei sogni nel mondo tardoantico: oralità e scrittura (in "I sogni nel medioevo", Seminario internazionale, Roma 2-4 ottobre 1983, a cura di T. Gregory, Roma, Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 1985, pp. 149-170) o I demoni e i sogni (in "Il Demonio e i suoi complici: dottrine e credenze demonologiche nella Tarda Antichità", a cura di S. Pricoco, Soveria Mannelli, Rubbettino, 1995, pp. 169-186).
4.   Ricordo qui solo due studi, in traduzione italiana, cui Guidorizzi fa spesso riferimento nel corso del lavoro, rimandando per il resto alla breve ma esaustiva bibliografia ragionata che correda il volume: E.R. Dodds, Pagani e cristiani in un'epoca di angoscia. Aspetti dell'esperienza religiosa da Marco Aurelio a Costantino, tr. it. Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1970; P. Cox Miller, Il sogno nella tarda antichità, tr. it. Roma, Jouvence, 2004.
5.   Aggiungo, a margine, che il volume si presenta ben curato nella veste editoriale e nell'impianto complessivo (l'unica scelta poco perspicua è quella di proporre i termini greci a volte traslitterati e altre volte no). I refusi sono rari: mi limito a segnalare, a mo' di curiosità, che l'autore di Doppio sogno non è ovviamente Albert Schnitzler (p. 102), ma Arthur.

(read complete article)


Brian Campbell, Lawrence A. Tritle (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World. Oxford handbooks in classics and ancient history. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xxxviii, 783. ISBN 9780195304657. $175.00.

Reviewed by Jorit Wintjes, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (jorit.wintjes@mail.uni-wuerzburg.de)

Version at BMCR home site


TheOxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World covers the history of war in antiquity from the beginning of the classical period in Greek history down to the end of the Roman principate, with some essays exploring even later issues, though late antiquity clearly is not the focus of the volume. It begins with a long introduction focussing on the sources for the study of war in the ancient world (pp. 3-139). This is then followed by a second part looking at Greek and Roman societies at war (pp. 143-276). The third and by far largest part (pp. 279-620) offers thematic discussions on a wide array of topics related to the different facets of fighting a war in the Greek and Roman world; one focus here is on operational and technological matters, while issues of strategy receive less coverage. A number of selected case studies form the fourth part (pp. 623-725), while an epilogue on the legacy of war in classical antiquity (pp. 726-742) concludes the volume.

The first part of the volume opens with two essays by Louis Rawlings (pp. 3-28) and Randall S. Howarth (pp. 29-45), each giving general overviews of war and warfare in Greece and Rome and highlighting current trends in scholarship on the subject. P. C. Millett (pp. 46-73) and Michael Lovano (pp. 74-90) then cover the literary sources for the history of war in Greece and Rome, not limiting themselves to historiography and military writers proper but also taking other literary genres into account, while Simon James (pp. 91-127) provides a thoughtful and excellently illustrated introduction on the use, potential and limitations of archaeological evidence, even covering experimental archaeology. The final essay in the introductory part of the volume by J. Donald Hughes (pp. 128-139) offers a slightly unusual yet highly stimulating approach by looking closer at how warfare could affect the environment, for example by one or more of the parties involved in a military conflict laying waste to the countryside.

The first essay of the second part by John W. Lee (pp. 143-161) covers troop types, equipment and organization, formations and battle mechanics in the classical Greek world usually associated primarily with hoplite warfare. Waldemar Heckel's essay (pp. 162-178) concentrates on the development and history of a specific "unit" and sketches the development, equipment and operational history of the Macedonian infantry guard. John Serrati (pp. 179-198) provides a general overview of warfare in the Hellenistic period explaining how the era was characterized both by change as well as technological innovation and by considerable continuity. Nicholas V. Sekunda focuses (pp. 199-215) on the impact of military organization and war on Greek society from the archaic period down to the Hellenistic era. With Michael Sage's essay (pp. 216-235) the second part of the volume turns to Roman military history. Sage gives an overview of the history of military technology, tactics and organization from early Rome to the development of the semi-professional army of the late Republic, while Phyllis Culham (pp. 236-260) continues this overview into the Roman principate. Colin Adams (pp. 261-276) explains how the professional Roman imperial army had a profound influence on Roman society, stressing particularly the role of the army in the provinces.

The first essay of the third part by Lawrence A. Tritle (pp. 279-293) focuses on the individual experience of the soldier before, during and after combat in the Greek and Roman world. Inevitably, this involves talking at some length about various forms of bodily harm that could be inflicted upon someone on an ancient battlefield; it is rather fitting, then, that the following essay by Christine F. Salazar (pp. 294-311) gives an extremely useful overview over Greek and Roman military medicine. Stefan G. Chrissanthos (pp. 312-329) discusses the development of military discipline from the Homeric era down to the Roman imperial period. Matthew Trundle's essay (pp. 330-350) covers the rise of mercenaries in the classical and post-classical Greek world and looks at how mercenaries were hired and paid, whereas the role of mercenaries in Roman military history is only briefly mentioned; while mercenaries are certainly much more obvious in Greek military history it might have been interesting also to take a closer look at developments in the late Roman military. Donald Engels (pp. 351-368) provides a brief overview over the logistical challenges faced by ancient commanders, taking examples from the Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods. Philip de Souza's essay (pp. 369-394) focuses on the history of war at sea in the Greek and Roman world, turning his attention not only to the "usual suspects" – technological and tactical development – but also to the equally important yet often neglected issue of naval infrastructure. Eero Jarva (pp. 395-418) and Duncan B. Campbell (pp. 419-437) provide a two-part essay of the individual soldier's arms and armour, beginning with the Homeric period down to the high principate; Jarva's overview of the development of hoplite armour is particularly useful and well illustrated. Angelos Chaniotis' (pp. 438-456) excellent essay on siege warfare in the Greek world concentrates not only on technology and logistics, but also on issues like military leadership and the psychological impact of siege warfare. Rosemary Moore (pp. 457-473) discusses how the overall command function developed from Homeric times to late antiquity; her stimulating essay focuses on the highest level of military decision making, mostly leaving out the issue of command and leadership lower down in Greek and Roman chains of command. Frank Russell (pp. 474-492) turns to military intelligence, covering both the gathering of operational intelligence and its role in the surveillance of military frontiers. A two-part essay by Ann Hyland is dedicated to the importance of the horse for ancient military establishments. While the first essay (pp. 493-511) concentrates on the animal itself, its breeding, upkeep, equipment and related issues, the second essay (pp. 512-526) focuses on its employment on the battlefield, focusing mainly on the history of Greek and Roman cavalry. Daniel P. Tompkins (pp. 527-541) and John Rich (pp. 542-568) provide valuable introductions into the ritual aspects of Greek and Roman warfare, covering a wide array of issues ranging from pre-combat rituals to burying the dead and dedicating war booty. The final three essays of the third part turn to the enemies of the Greeks and Romans. Bruce Laforse (pp. 569-587) covers how the Greeks interpreted their conflict with the Persians, while Peter S. Wells (pp. 588-600) describes the ever changing tribal environment beyond the Rhine and Danube river frontiers during the Roman empire, and Scott McDonough (pp. 601-620) gives a brief overview over the evolution and history of the Sasanian army, going down right to the very end of the Sasanian empire in the 7th century. While providing only a small sample, these three essays nevertheless serve well to contextualize some of the Greek and Roman military developments described at length in the handbook.

Six case studies covering specific campaigns or even single actions make up the fourth part of the handbook. Lee L. Brice (pp. 623-641) describes in considerable detail the Sicilian expedition of 415 – 413 BC, while Michael Seaman (pp. 642-656) gives an overview of siege warfare in the Peloponnesian War, stressing that the usually rather robust treatment of a defeated population had its origin well before the conflict; two useful appendices list sources for sieges undertaken during the pentekontaetia and the Peloponnesian War. John Buckler (pp. 657-670) analyzes the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, taking a closer look at how recent scholarship has evaluated Epaminondas' generalship. Thomas R. Martin (pp. 671-687) turns to another well-known Greek general, Demetrios Poliorketes, using his example as an introduction to various aspects of Hellenistic warfare. Dexter Hoyos (pp. 688-707) covers the Second Punic War in his essay focusing mainly on strategic questions. Finally, A. D. Lee (pp. 708-725) gives an overview of Roman-Persian warfare from the early 3rd until the early 7th century, his article making an excellent companion piece to McDonough's introduction to Sasanian warfare.

The final essay by Thomas Palaima and Lawrence A. Tritle (pp. 726-742) serves as an "Epilogue" and covers briefly the legacy of ancient warfare in the modern world, ranging from Hemingway's famous anthology "Men at War" to recent experiences of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A useful chronology (pp. xv-xxiii), a list of emperors from Augustus to Heraclius (pp. xxv-xxvii) and eight maps (pp. xxxiii-xxxviii) precede the essays, a number of which are illustrated with further maps; a comprehensive general index is located at the end of the volume (pp. 743-783). Each essay is followed by a bibliography; some of these are more extensive than others, and many display a certain tendency of focussing nearly exclusively on Anglophone literature. While this may well be intentional and due to the handbook targeting primarily English-speaking audiences, in some case this choice seems to be slightly less than fortunate. Thus it is, for example, a bit unsettling not to find Ritterling's seminal article on the Roman legions or any of Yann LeBohec's important studies in a standard reference work covering war in the Roman world. Also, as is generally the case with works of such a wide scope, the specialist could find himself in disagreement with one or the other detail.

Nonetheless, the Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World is a major scholarly achievement. As a handbook it offers an excellent starting point for anyone studying the history of war in antiquity in all its variety – but the volume edited by Campbell and Tritle is more than that. Innovative and stimulating, it stands out as an important contribution to the study of war in Greece and Rome.

(read complete article)


M. Shane Bjornlie, Politics and Tradition between Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople: A Study of Cassiodorus and the Variae 527-554. Cambridge studies in medieval life and thought. Fourth series, 89. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xiii, 370. ISBN 9781107028401. $99.00.

Reviewed by Scott G. Bruce, University of Colorado at Boulder (bruces@colorado.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


The Variae are a well-known collection of 468 legal and administrative briefs (including an often overlooked treatise on the soul: De anima) written and assembled by Cassiodorus (c. 490-c. 585). He was an important member of the palatine court in Ravenna during the rule of the Ostrogothic king Theoderic and his short-lived successors in the decade before Emperor Justinian's war of reconquest (535-554) violently realigned the political axis of northern Italy toward the imperial capital of Constantinople. At first glance, the Variae appear to be the fossilized remains of Ostrogothic administration in action. They provide a detailed and persuasive impression of the exercise of diplomacy, the maintenance of public works, the deployment of royal officials and other rich details about the business of government in the court of Theoderic and his heirs. Most scholars who have spent time with the Variae have come to realize, however, that there is more to this assemblage of documents than first meets the eye. For example, James O'Donnell's study of Cassiodorus (University of California Press, 1979) alerted readers to the fact that the Variae attempt to "put the very best possible face on the Ostrogothic kingdom" (p. 30). In short, this collection is more than a collection; it is a literary construct assembled for a particular purpose.

In the book under review, M. Shane Bjornlie explores this idea with a depth of analysis unparalleled in previous studies of Cassiodorus. He interprets the Variae as a full-fledged apology, the object of which was "the political rehabilitation of the Italian elite who had served as the palatine bureaucracy of the Amals" (p. 5). Cassiodorus' work presents the reader with a highly stylized portrait of former court elites, including the author himself, at a time when they were losing their grip on their social and political positions in Italy. Moreover, in his most original contribution, Bjornlie argues that the Variae cannot be understood apart from the themes of political discourse then current in Constantinople, where oblique criticisms of Justinian's autocratic style of rule filled the air. By treating the Variae as a sophisticated literary enterprise written to salvage the tenuous worth of northern Italian palatines during the regime change heralded by the Gothic Wars of Justinian, Bjornlie provides us with new insights both into the rhetorical purpose of this well-known text and into the polemical context that informed its content.

After an introductory chapter that discusses the date and historical circumstances under which Cassiodorus wrote the Variae, the book unfolds as a diptych, with two parts comprising five chapters each. The first part – "Cassiodorus and the Circumstances of Political Survival" – argues that the Variae cannot be understood apart from the "the contemporary currents of political thought to which Cassiodorus was exposed" (p. 37), the most prominent of which originated at the imperial capital of Constantinople. During the Gothic Wars, the innovations of Justinian's policies had inspired a public discourse of carefully crafted complaint, oblique criticism and shrill apology, all of which had an influence on the tone and themes of the Variae.

Chapter 2 surveys the structures of political power in early sixth-century Constantinople and the intellectual culture of the bureaucracy, which "was weighted toward the cultivation of traditional, secular paideia" (p. 53). Inflected by Neoplatonism, this culture allowed bureaucrats to define themselves as morally suitable representatives of the imperium while also "anchor[ing] the practical virtues associated with public service in a more comprehensive system for elaborating moral good" (p. 55). Insulated by the stability of their own intellectual and institutional traditions, civil servants developed an ideology which focused their loyalties on the concept of the state rather than on the person of the ruling emperor.

Chapter 3 shows how the autocratic policies of Emperor Justinian threatened the long-standing culture of this bureaucracy, in numerous ways. First, the emperor advanced men with little or no educational background to important positions in the government; second, he passed legislation purging the administration of individuals who had "Hellenic" leanings; and third, he made the correct interpretation of the law the concern of the imperial court rather than the bureaucracy. While these efforts to consolidate the authority of the emperor may have met with some resistance – Bjornlie implicates "leading figures within the bureaucratic corps" (p. 75) in the Nika Revolt of 532, but the evidence is tenuous – the "systematic reduction of bureaucratic independence" (p. 77) by Justinian was plain for all to see.

Chapter 4 catalogues the voices of political criticism and apology expressed in the wake of the emperor's radical reforms to the structure and purpose of the bureaucracy. Beginning with the Nova Historia of Zosimus, whose work predates the time of Justinian but anticipates themes that would surface during his rule, Bjornlie marshals a staggering number of texts in Greek, Latin and even Syriac representing a wide spectrum of views on the responsibilities of the emperor. Some, like the Instituta Regularia Divinae Legis Libri Duo by the court propagandist Junillus Africanus, articulated a defense of Justinian's notion of theocracy, while others, like John Lydus' De magistratibus, provided indirect criticism of the emperor's failure to rule according to traditional expectations. According to Bjornlie, it was this "dynamic political discourse" that inspired and informed Cassiodorus.

Chapter 5 treats the composition of the Variae in the context of contemporary hostility toward the Amals and those who served them by the Anicii, an ancient senatorial family with strong connections to the eastern imperial court. The fragile relationship between the Anicii and Theoderic was shattered by the murder of two prominent members of the family, Boethius and his father-in-law Symmachus, in 524 and 525. Cassiodorus thus had to negotiate the rehabilitation of the reputations of the palatine elite of Ravenna in the shadow of Boethius' indictment of the Amal government in his De consolatione, which circulated posthumously among exiled Italian elites in Constantinople.

Chapter 6 carries this theme further with an analysis of the ways in which Cassiodorus used letters addressed to Boethius and other Roman senators in the Variae both to deflect criticism of the Amal government and to distance himself from personal blame for the deaths of Boethius and Symmachus. In short, "[i]t was Cassiodorus' intention that the Variae transpose the image of a philosophically alert bureaucratic elite over that of the benighted palatine elite of the De consolatione" (p. 183). Unlike the previous chapters in this section, which illuminate the political and discursive background of the composition of the Variae, this chapter seems out of place because it launches into a detailed analysis of the text without a full consideration of its unusual genre and dominant themes (the subjects of Part Two of the book).

The second part of Bjornlie's book – "Reading the Variae as Political Apologetic" – undertakes a detailed literary analysis of the contents of the Variae themselves. He argues that Cassiodorus employed this unusual compilation of official correspondence to offer a subtle critique of Justinian's character of rule while shoring up support for the intellectual and moral standing of the western palatine elite among the constituency with whom they had the most in common: the eastern bureaucracy whose time-honored traditions were threatened by the innovations to governance introduced by the emperor.

Chapter 7 details the literary aspects of the Variae and how it differed from other late ancient letter collections, both in terms of the authorial prefaces that directed the reader's reception of its contents and in terms of the digressive material on history, natural lore and geography that appear throughout the Variae.

The next three chapters of the book explore separate but related themes employed by Cassiodorus to achieve the same purpose: the rehabilitation of the state service of the palatine elite in Italy at the expense of the emperor in Constantinople. Bjornlie does this by contrasting the traditionalist character of an Amal government obedient to antiquitas and the reckless innovations introduced by Justinian, with special attention to the public building programs of these regimes (Chapter 8). He then shows how Cassiodorus contested the rationales for the legal innovations introduced in Justinian's Novellae by arguing that nature itself had a universal constancy and by pairing this notion with the antiquity of legal custom employed by the Amals to unmask how the emperor had tampered with received tradition (Chapter 9). In short, according to Cassiodorus, "[w]here the eastern emperor dictated matters concerning nature and law, the Amals and the palatine elite of Italy received law from learned ancient custom that was itself informed by nature and the harmonious system that orchestrated nature" (p. 283). And lastly, he discusses the purpose of the treatise De anima, which Cassiodorus appended to the collection "as a means of ensuring that his audience would read the Variae with an eye toward moral interpretation" (p. 293), that is, with a sensitivity to the spiritual understanding of good governance expressed in Neoplatonic thought (Chapter 10).

The final chapter – "The Variae as Apologetic Narrative" – treats the letters in the collection written under the name of Cassiodorus himself when he was praetorian prefect. These letters articulate his belief that political service drew its value and authority from a moral and ethical tradition quite separate from the character of individual rulers, be they Amals or emperors. A laconic conclusion braids these various strands together, while restating Bjornlie's principle contribution: "[t]hat Cassiodorus fashioned in the Variae an image of palatine governance that was attuned to Constantinopolitan debates about legitimacy and tradition in order to make the governmental elite of Ravenna appear suitable for return to office after the conclusion of the Gothic War" (pp. 331-332).

Bjornlie's book compels us to read Cassiodorus' Variae with a new sensitivity to the broader currents of political polemic that shaped and informed its veiled contentions. Like Matthew Dal Santo's Debating the Saints' Cults in the Age of Gregory the Great (Oxford University Press, 2012), Bjornlie reminds us that the world of sixth-century Italy was still very much a Mediterranean world, the ligatures of which stretched from Rome and Ravenna to distant Constantinople and beyond. Historians of late antiquity will find much of value in this ambitious reevaluation of such a well-known source. It is not a book for the faint-hearted, however. While not overly long, the text is dense with information and the language is often precious. Bjornlie favors complex sentences, frequent digressions and uncommon words. But these matters of style do not detract in the least from the insights that reward the reader. Upon finishing the book, my thoughts lingered on the failure of the Variae. Did Cassiodorus embark upon his later monastic career because his carefully crafted attempt to rehabilitate his political reputation was unsuccessful? To what degree did his smothered hopes shape the new life that he fashioned for himself at Vivarium? And was there any relationship between the Variae and De anima and his later Expositio psalmorum, which shares the same twelve-book structure (a topic raised on p. 205 but not fully explored)?

(read complete article)