Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Ludwig Meier, Die Finanzierung öffentlicher Bauten in der hellenistischen Polis. Die hellenistische Polis als Lebensform, 3. Berlin: Verlag Antike, 2011. Pp. 470. ISBN 9783938032497. €79.90.

Reviewed by Michael Kleu, Universität zu Köln (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The volume, a revised version of Ludwig Meier's PhD thesis, is divided in two parts: a series of analyses (pp. 15-179) and a catalog of the most important inscriptions, with translations and commentaries (pp. 183-425).

In the introduction (pp. 17-27) Meier stresses that till now there has been almost no comprehensive and systematic examination of the financing of public works in the Hellenistic polis (p. 23).1 With this first detailed study of this topic Meier hopes to offer a more differentiated
evaluation of the Hellenistic polis’ economic performance and, thereby, insight into its internal constitution. In this regard, the relation between works donated by single benefactors and those publicly financed is one of the book’s central questions. It is Meier’s goal, moreover, to illustrate
the decision-making mechanisms, the administrative means and the financial resources that enabled the Hellenistic polis to build and maintain public works (pp. 25f.).

The analyses are mainly based on epigraphical sources which Meier claims to have incorporated as a whole. The most important of them are presented in the catalog. Nonetheless the second chapter (pp. 28-62) deals with the financing of public works in Lycurgan Athens, for which, besides the
epigraphical sources, several literary sources also exist. With the help of these literary sources Meier tries to integrate the rather selective information of the inscriptions into the broader context of day-to-day politics. Therefore, Meier uses the study of Lycurgan Athens to produce a model
with which to study the Hellenistic world. Chapter 3 examines the financing of construction by public funds (pp. 63-101), chapter 4 presents forms of administration and the earmarking of funds for construction (pp. 102-117), chapter 5 deals with the financing of construction on the basis of
credits and expenditures (pp. 118-140) and chapter 6 summarizes other forms of financing which do not fit in with the aforementioned categories (pp. 141-165).

In the concluding chapter (pp. 166-179) Meier refers to the problematic situation of the source material before he points out that the sources nevertheless offer a well-rounded picture of the financing of public works (p. 169). So the study arrives at the conclusion that fundraising campaigns
by the citizens (or other groups of inhabitants) of a polis are the best documented source of income for public financing. Furthermore the poleis seem to have used forms of mixed financing, particularly in the case of bigger projects. Regarding public financing, fortifications and sanctuaries are
documented most often in the sources, followed by “Amtsgebäude” (“official buildings”: e.g. bouleuterion, agoranomion), theaters, stoas, “Funktionsgebäude” (“functional constructions”: e.g. shipsheds, arsenals, depots) and infrastructural works. Public financing of a gymnasium is only attested
twice. Meier stresses the fact that two-thirds of the evidence is related to fortifications, sanctuaries and official buildings, constructions that were most important for the polis (pp. 170-174). The author underlines the contrast with works donated by single benefactors or kings; only in few
cases were the poleis dependent on such donations. Besides, the construction activities of the nobility were highly controlled by the institutions of the poleis (pp. 177f.). The source material shows that fortifications were rather infrequently donated by private benefactors, probably because
only a whole polis or a king was in the position to underwrite such great efforts. Sanctuaries were more often donated by kings than publicly financed. In the 2nd and 1st centuries BC private benefactors are documented increasingly in this context. Regarding official
buildings, there are only slightly more references to donations by private benefactors than for public financing. Kings did not engage in financing such buildings at all. Theaters were somewhat more frequently donated than publicly financed. As for stoas, royal donations dominate the private ones
while public financing is only documented rarely. The gymnasiums show the largest discrepancy between donations and public financing. While publicly financed gymnasiums are only documented twice these buildings seem to have been commonly donated by kings and gymnasiarchs (pp. 174-176). In the
end Meier distinguishes a lack of liquidity as the most urgent problem of the Hellenistic polis, but cautions against a potential overrepresentation of such emergency situations in the source material. In the same way he suggests caution with regard to late-Hellenistic inscriptions that describe
the bad conditions of buildings repaired by benefactors; exaggerating the deficiencies might have been a way to honor benefactors (pp. 177-179).

The catalog of inscriptions follows the regional arrangements of the Bulletin Épigraphique and the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum: Attica (pp. 183-209), the Peleponnesus, Central and Northern Greece (pp. 210-246), the Black Sea area and the Aegean islands (pp. 247-322) and
finally Asia Minor (pp. 323-425). Meier’s intention is not to offer a new critical edition of the inscriptions but to present the current state of research on each document in order to free the first part of the book from discussions of details (pp. 26f.). All inscriptions are presented both in
ancient Greek and in a German translation. Moreover Meier enlists in each case the most important editions and scholarship and offers commentaries of different length.

The volume is completed by a bibliography (pp. 429-455) and several indices (pp. 456-480).

There are only minor points of criticism: On p. 144 Meier confuses Antigonus II Gonatas with Cassander. On p. 239 he writes that in 192 BC Macedonia and Thessaly were fighting with Antiochus III against Rome. In fact Philip V of Macedon fought with the Romans against Antiochus. In the same
context Meier mentions concerning the year 186 a conflict between Macedonia and Thessaly about cities in Thrace which were annexed by the Macedonians. Actually, the conflict was about cities in Thessaly while there was at the same time a conflict between Philip V and Eumenes II of Pergamon about
cities in Thrace.2 There are a few mistakes in the text, most of them resulting from the reformulation of sentences.3

It might be asked if the catalog of inscriptions is really necessary for the publication of the study. On the one hand Meier does not offer new critical editions of the inscriptions, and most of them are published in standard works like the Inscriptiones Graecae and are therefore
easily accessible. On the other hand Meier’s study is the first comprehensive and systematic examination of the topic at hand, so that the collection seems to be justified, the more so as it indeed frees the analysis from discussions of details. Nevertheless there remains the question why the
catalog does not present all relevant inscriptions but just those which are – from the author’s point of view—most important. After all Meier evaluates a few inscriptions not included in the catalog as important enough to be quoted in the analysis, partially both in ancient Greek and in a German
translation.4 However, this approach is explained in the first chapter where Meier states briefly his criteria for the selection (p. 26 fn. 55).

Certainly, the rather marginal points of critique mentioned above do not overweigh the many positive aspects of Meier’s well-structured study. The book is close to the source material and the author’s conclusions are well balanced. Terms and definitions are chosen carefully (e.g. pp. 63,
102-104, 118-121 and 163f.) and occasionally there are references to modern times (e.g. pp. 102f.). Due to the translations and commentaries the catalogue of inscriptions might offer a valuable foundation for teaching beginner’s courses in epigraphy. Altogether Meier’s study makes a very good
impression by presenting the first comprehensive and systematic examination of the financing of public works in the Hellenistic polis.


1.   Meier refers to L. Migeotte: Finances et constructions publiques, in: M. Wörrle/P. Zankler: Stadtbild und Bürgerbild im Hellenismus, München 1995, pp. 79-86 as the single study of the topic.

2.   Cf. Polyb. 22,1,2-3, 22,6(9),3-6 and Liv. 39,24,5-39,26,14.

3.   For instance, on p. 320 Meier writes ‘Jahrhunderte’ instead of ‘Jahrzehnte'..

4.   See especially IG II2 2334, ll. 1f. (p. 80f.); IG II2 1023, ll. 17-23 (p. 116 fn. 83); I. Kyme 12, ll. 1-7 (p. 133); SEG 39, 1244, ll. 24-29 (p. 146 fn. 34); IG V 2, 461 (pp. 153f.).

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