Sunday, July 10, 2016


Thibaut Boulay, Arès dans la cité: les poleis et la guerre dans l'Asie Mineure hellénistique. Studi ellenistici, 28. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2014. Pp. 567. ISBN 9788862277082. €280.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Andrew Monson, New York University

Version at BMCR home site

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

[The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of his review.]

This book is Boulay's Ph.D. dissertation, which he defended in December 2007. He subscribes to the cultural approach to Hellenistic warfare developed by Angelos Chaniotis and John Ma, emphasizing the ways in which the military penetrated all aspects of polis life, from its citizens' education to its religious festivals (18-19). He is at the same time deeply steeped in the French epigraphical tradition of institutional history and uses the uneven survival of textual evidence from Asia Minor to draw a composite picture of the generic Hellenistic polis. His stated aim is to assess the impact of unceasing warfare on social solidarity in the polis and on its political evolution (19, 487). A novel feature is the organization of the book as a biography of the experience of the polis through stages of warfare: its initial preparations, its defeat and subjugation, and finally its survival and recovery. Within these three parts appear a bewildering number of topics, subtopics, and sub-subtopics, many no more than brief digressions or textual analyses, which render the volume somewhat unwieldy. Nevertheless, Boulay merits praise for his mastery of the epigraphical sources and for daring to undertake such an ambitious project.

Part I contains six chapters describing the military preparations of Greek cities, from the training of the young citizens for garrison duty or active military service to the building of naval forces and fortifications. Military training and service seem to be a typical feature of citizenship in the Greek poleis, in which he sees continuity from classical to the Hellenistic period (26). The rich epigraphical evidence, on the other hand, enables Boulay to describe the military institutions in more detail than is possible for most classical poleis, with the exceptions of Athens and Sparta. He notes that cities kept up military readiness by involving the neoi, men under thirty, in martial exercises at the gymnasium (34-6). He concludes from the very existence of these activities that "war or the threat of war was thus an everyday reality" (155). However, the military culture of the Greek poleis could simply have become institutionalized without constantly being a function of actual military threats. The chapters contain discussions of garrisons, army organization, navies, fortifications, and other matters. Mercenaries receive surprisingly little attention (106-11) considering their general importance in the wars of the late classical and Hellenistic period but this owes probably to Boulay's focus on civic armies and institutions.

At over 230 pages, Part II is the longest and most wide-ranging section of the book, going well beyond the "defeated city" of its title. For example, Boulay unexpectedly investigates the institutions of intercity arbitration (163-73) in Chapter 1, which treats the ravaging of enemy territory, treaties of alliance, and isopoliteia, and he discusses epiphanies (242-51) in Chapter 2, which is on the city under siege. In fact, Boulay's attempt to fit the abundant material he has collected into his organizational plan leads to jarring transitions between topics as well as duplication. Emergency measures to raise funds, for example, are treated briefly in Chapter 2, and then again Chapter 3 on the "occupied city", using different examples (223-5, 357-9). Boulay describes the payment of tribute (phoros) as a financial burden levied as a lump sum on the cities (316-18). However, Schuler has convincingly shown that phoroi usually refer to taxes and that the coveted status of exemption (aphorologetos) probably indicates merely that the king did not intrude on the city's fiscal authority (kyreia) by imposing his own royal taxes in the city.1

A major theme of the book that runs through these six chapters of Part II is that depredations, sieges, military defeats, and foreign occupation threaten to undo the social solidarity and exclusivity of the citizen body (186, 254, 306-7, 333, 383). Chapter 6, for example, explores the distress due to war, famine, and financial crises, starting with the terminology of the epigraphical sources. In this chapter he furtively introduces the evolutionary aspects of his thesis, especially the rise of euergetism, Roman rule, and the transition to the "basse époque héllenistique", a periodization that highlights the increasing control of politics by the elite, in which he again cites warfare as the driving factor (359-61, 366-78, 383-4, 489).

Part III turns to the post-war recovery of the polis with four relatively short chapters. Chapter 1 provides examples of how cities tried to efface the memory of conquest by repairing the damage from sieges and rebuilding sanctuaries as well as introducing sacrifices and commemorations. Chapter 2 examines measures taken to recover from the demographic losses by merging with other cities (synoikismos) and by extending citizenship to foreigners. Civil strife (stasis) rather than war is the subject of Chapter 3, which covers the impartial settlement of disputes, amnesty decrees, the abolition of debts, the punishment of abusive tax farmers, and the creation of religious unity. The final chapter explores how war made its mark on Greek religion in Asia Minor.

The general assumption throughout the book that war threatens the polis with civil strife may be true in particular cases but Boulay does not consider the possibility that the intensity of warfare and the high degree of military participation are precisely what made the Greek poleis so cohesive. In his conclusion, Boulay again stresses that military emergencies called for extraordinary measures such as the enrollment of non-citizen dependents as soldiers and even the liberation of slaves willing to bear arms on behalf of the city, which led to a greater openness of the citizen-body in the Hellenistic period (488-9). In an article that may have appeared too late for Boulay to use, Thonemann does away with the problem of the Pedieis, showing that the term refers generally to inhabitants of the Maeander plain, not to a people subjected by the Prienians who later rose to the status of paroikoi (484, 489).2

Boulay's dissertation raises questions that call for further research. Despite its rich detail the results are invariably framed as universalizing generalizations in the chapter conclusions and in the final conclusion at the end. There is little attempt to flesh out differences between cities, whether regionally or chronologically, much less to explain them. He even disputes John Ma's identification of regional variation in Greek military culture in Asia Minor, stressing instead its uniformity (488).3 The book's major statement is that the institutional and cultural phenomena Boulay describes were due to the impact of warfare, which he repeatedly calls "incessante" and "une realité quotidienne". He does not address the problem of measuring this impact or its significance relative to other factors. For instance, he does not adequately explain the causal force that he attributes to warfare in respect to the rise of euergetism and elite power in the basse époque héllenistique. (384, 489). To substantiate the author's claim, one would at least want to find a correlation between the intensity of warfare, which did vary, and institutional change. Admittedly, the nature of the epigraphical evidence makes such substantiation difficult, since it might lead one to argue, contrary to Boulay, that military culture was so institutionalized that it no longer depended on the prevalence of warfare. One could also begin by comparing macro-historical differences between Hellenistic Asia Minor and the preceding Achaemenid or the posterior Roman imperial period, when wars between poleis became less common. Boulay notes only in passing that there was some abatement of warfare after Asia became a Roman province in the late second century BC, but he insists that this had no impact on military participation or defense spending (487). Such a contradiction with the book's basic premise reminds us that other factors must be taken into account. Fortunately, Boulay promises to publish a separate volume providing an exhaustive synthesis, region by region and city by city, of all wars in Hellenistic Asia Minor (487 n. 1). This would surely be an invaluable resource for future studies of the impact of war on Greek culture and political evolution.

Table of Contents

Première partie. Prévenir et préparer la guerre
Chapitre 1. La formation et l'entraînement militaire des citoyens
Chapitre 2. La participation des citoyens à la défense de la cité
Chapitre 3. L'armée civique
Chapitre 4. Flottes de guerre des cités
Chapitre 5. L'ochyrôsis de la cité: fortifications et infrastructures de défense
Chapitre 6. Assurer l'approvisionnement
Deuxième partie. La cité défaite
Chapitre 1. La chôra dévastée et pillée
Chapitre 2. La cité assiégée
Chapitre 3. Les violences subies par les vaincus
Chapitre 4. La cité occupée
Chapitre 5. Les marques de la sujétion
Chapitre 6. La détresse publique
Troisième partie. Recomposer la cité
Chapitre 1. La renaissance: reconstruire, restaurer et protéger
Chapitre 2. Recomposer le corps civique
Chapitre 3. Réconcilier les citoyens
Chapitre 4. Renforcer les solidarités civiques
Conclusion générale
Index des sources
Index analytique


1.   Ch. Schuler, "Tribute und Steuern im hellenistischen Kleinasien," in H. Klinkott, S. Kubisch, and R. Müller-Wollermann, eds. Geschenke und Steuern, Zölle und Tribute. Antike Abgabenformen in Anspruch und Wirklichkeit (Leiden 2007), 371-405.
2.   P. Thonemann, "Alexander, Priene, and Naulochon," in P. Martzavou and N. Papzarkadas, eds. Epigraphical Approaches to the Post-Classical Polis (Oxford 2013), 23-36, esp. 34-5.
3.   J. Ma, "Une culture militaire en Asie Mineure hellénistique?" in J.-C. Couvenhes and H.L. Fernoux, eds. Les cités grecques en Asie Mineure à l'époque hellénistique (Tours 2004), 199-220.

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