Monday, March 24, 2014


Raúl Buono-Core Varas, El Mediterráneo y la diplomacia en la antigua Grecia. Serie monografías históricas, 20. Valparaíso: Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaíso; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, 2012. Pp. 207. ISBN 9789561705241.

Reviewed by Silke Knippschild, Bristol University (

Version at BMCR home site

In his study on diplomacy in ancient Greece, Buono-Core sets out to discuss international law pertinent to the ancient world as well as today. This is doubtless a tall order, which the author often handles by glossing over dissimilarities. The aim may be simply to underline shared characteristics, but this reviewer wonders whether the tensions between ancient and modern practices may not have been a more rewarding subject matter. Overall, the largest part of the volume focuses on matters unrelated to diplomacy; material dealing with the subject appears in the third part of the book and is often thin. However, it does contain a rather useful bibliography for scholars interested in diplomacy, especially since it offers access to publications in all major scholarly languages.

Buono-Core's target group appears to be scholars as well as anybody interested in the subject (p. 10, paraphrase), which this reviewer presumes to be the general public. While the author states his intention of keeping notes to a minimum, he does give generic references. However, fairly extraordinary material remains unidentified (e.g. obscure reference to Assyrian fresco, p. 52). Citations and references without indications of author or source (primary and secondary) appear throughout the book (e.g. pp. 25 and 26), but are particularly striking in the beginning. Overall, Buono-Core's use of academic conventions is somewhat poor. Needless to say, this is not helpful and does not set a good example to any student handling this volume.

The first chapter's title, "El Mediterráneo en la Antigüedad: Una Forma de Comunicarse y Relacionarse" (pp. 19-78), is promising. However, the section contains in fact a potted history of seafaring from Egypt and Mesopotamia to Greece and Carthage, a very brief account of naval wars in the ancient world from the Persian Wars to Julian Apostata (pp. 50-66), followed by a history of the settlement of Sicily and Greek-Carthaginian relations. The fact that the people of the ancient world did travel by boat seems to fascinate the author. This is all well and good, but since the author does not make a link to diplomacy, the reviewer wonders whether this is the place to indulge it. His description of naval warfare in antiquity in 16 pages equally fails to link to diplomacy. Also, this section contains problematical concepts, which are bandied about without references or signs that they are not as straightforward (or even accurate) as the author makes out (e.g. Minoan Thalassocracy or the Greek peoples' cultural assimilation to the Minoans, p. 41).

Chapter 2, "Grecia y las Fronteras del Mundo: La Irrupción del Pensamiento Griego en las Formas de Convivencia" (pp. 79-114), starts with a short discussion of what the author perceives to be the rise and characteristics of the polis. He follows with a discussion of what he terms the Greek spirit of liberty, a characteristic he ascribes mainly to Athens, in contrast to Persia and Sparta, much as one would expect to find it in dated or slanted literature. This is followed by a discussion of key events in the Peloponnesian Wars and Spartan propaganda. The next part deals with the concept of the Greek and the "other", starting with the Persian Wars and ending with Alexander of Macedon. It discusses the relations between Greeks and Persians, reiterating the much belaboured ideas of Greek freedom versus Persian servility, and featuring impressive passages on the barbarians such as "Aparecen como hostiles, salvajes, refinadamente voluptuosos, torpes, serviles, escandalosos, todo aquello que es sinónimo de lo oriental." (p. 101). While Buono-Core briefly acknowledges Orientalism (p. 104), his narrative sails perilously close to it.

In his third chapter, "Instrumentos para las Relaciones Internacionales y la Diplomacia" (pp. 117-152), the author finally addresses the subject of his book, diplomacy.

Initially, Buono-Core discusses neutrality, setting out with the Persian Wars and going on to discuss the problems faced by Greek states during the Peloponnesian Wars. The argument then turns to passages in Homer and Herodotus, in which individuals order or claim personal neutrality. He posits that neutrality during the Persian Wars put cities in an uncomfortable position, because their stance not only did not help the Greeks, but aided their enemies, the Persians. During the Peloponnesian Wars, he claims that neutrality was the choice of the weakest and brought a certain amount of shame with it. At the same time, he calls neutrality a moment of calm and meditation. As examples of neutral spaces, he names sanctuaries, especially Delphi.

Buono-Core's next subject is the ceasefire. After a short discussion about the different natures of war, in which he calls many common terms inappropriate without identifying better ones, he goes on to discuss the role of the oath ratifying ceasefires. According to the author, the reason for ceasefires is retrieving the dead from the battlefield. The heralds initiating the negotiations come into focus and Buono-Core correctly identifies the limitations of their role. In this chapter cursory references to modern parallels appear, especially when discussing wars between Greeks and non-Greeks.

The Sacred Peace is the next section of the chapter, which the author identifies as a sacred form of ceasefire, announced by sanctuaries before panhellenic or major local festivals. The author flags up the negotiations by emissaries of the sanctuary with the cities they visited as an act of diplomacy. The process within the cities in question resembled that of international negotiations. Buono-Core optimistically views the Sacred Peace as a means of establishing peaceful and friendly relations between the participating states (p. 132).

The following short section, dedicated to the synoikismos, addresses the consolidation of Attica. This started, according to the author, at the time of the Trojan War, which he takes as a historical event without dating it.

Treaties are the next part of the chapter. Buono-Core discusses common terms connected to treaty making and some of the typical elements of treaties, such as the stipulation that both partners are to have the same enemies and friends. He also highlights the economic aspects treaties could have in cities, e.g. enabling (or not) the use of their harbours to allies. When discussing the ratification of treaties, he focuses exclusively on the exchange of treaty texts and the oath (without going into detail on the type of oath sworn), but generally ignores the equally vital legal symbolic acts beyond a passing mention of the possibility of a libation. The author largely fails to address the diplomatic manoeuvring behind the conclusion of treaties.

The last part of this chapter deals with (dis)information and espionage. The author states that diplomatic missions could often be a cover for spying on the enemy and posits an informal type of diplomacy, which operated under the surface of official international relations. He names as examples the Spartan krypteia and the Persian "eyes and ears of the king". A large part of this chapter discusses Rome rather than Greece.

The last chapter, "Diplomacia y Diplomáticos" (155-182), deals with the personnel involved. According to the author, the role of ambassadors was to persuade a potential partner, not to negotiate terms and conditions. Accordingly, ambassadors needed to be skilled orators. After this, he goes on to discuss the situation in Rome. He returns to ambassadors when he discusses professionalism (see below).

When discussing arbitration, Buono-Core focuses on third-party arbiters with the legal power to settle disputes. He emphasises that these processes were seen as part of dike and details closely the procedures involved.

In the next part, the author asks whether Greek ambassadors could be considered to be professional diplomats. His main argument is the ad hoc character of embassies in antiquity, in contrast to the constant presence of ambassadors in states of the modern world. He goes on to discuss characteristics of ambassadors again, which would have been better included in the section focussing on this office. Subjects are again the limits of the ambassador's powers when it comes to negotiations. A further point in his description is their advanced age, physical fitness and good looks, and he compares them to Homeric heroes. According to Buono-Core, old age as guarantor of experience and wisdom is especially important, proposing that many mistakes in modern diplomacy would have been avoided, if only the negotiations had been undertaken by old people (p. 166). The reviewer declines to comment. This section finally brings up Carthage and Etruria briefly, validating to a certain extend their treatment at the beginning of the book. The last part presents a jumble of sentiments presented in other parts of the book. This reviewer hesitates to call it a conclusion, because it does not have a separate heading indicating this was the intention; it does not sum up arguments or present concluding remarks (except for the last few lines); it is also the place suffering most from random repetitions of long phrases and even pages appearing earlier in the book (see below).

The book contains many black and white images. They do not always appear close to the passage they accompany and are not referred to, but feature subtitles to identify the image and illustrate the subjects of the text (e.g. the Venus de Milo when discussing Melos). However, the quality of the images is often poor. The book features a chronology and an extensive bibliography, including titles in all major academic languages, which is becoming increasingly rare and is therefore good to see. Unfortunately, there is no index. Language and orthography are good (except for the original Greek, which lacks breathings and accents, e.g. pp. 137, 138, 144, 157). However, the author has a penchant for rather long sentences, which will make understanding hard for readers unfamiliar with Spanish (e.g. 12 lines, p. 21).

The editing of the volume is very poor, which shows e.g. in literal and long repetitions of sometimes entire pages, e.g. p. 156 and p. 181, p. 164f and p. 174.

Overall, the book lacks logical cohesion. Only a relatively small part of the volume is actually dedicated to the subject matter. In spite of the title, the author focuses mostly on Thukydides, not all of ancient Greece, and includes a roughly equal amount of Roman material, mostly drawn from Cicero. It is laudable to include neighbouring cultures, such as the Egyptians, the Ancient Near East or the Etruscans. However, this reviewer wonders whether it would have been better to focus on the subject and give depth to the description, rather than sprinkle in the odd comparison, which does not really add to the narrative. Buono-Core sometimes relies on rather dated or inappropriate literature, e.g. Paradisi 1954 for Ancient Near Eastern treaties (p. 134).

In conclusion, this book is nice to have if one is interested in a rather generic description of ancient seafaring or is looking for bibliographical information on diplomacy. This reviewer would not recommend it for the use of students because of poor editing, poor academic conventions, poor structure and, most importantly, nearly missing the question.

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