Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Nikolaos Papazarkadas (ed.), The Epigraphy and History of Boeotia: New Finds, New Prospects. Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy, 4. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014. Pp. xiv, 501. ISBN 9789004230521. €136.00.

Reviewed by John Ma, Columbia University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This chunkily handsome (if overpriced) volume contains papers from a recent conference on the epigraphy of Boiotia. It exhibits the genre's blemishes (tokenism, some self-indulgence, staid shoptalk, uncompromising technicalities)1 but also exults in the discipline's strengths (fascination for difficult material, careful presentation and exploration, striving for new findings, excitement).2 The volume stands out for two reasons. First, it accumulates insights, arguments and viewpoints on a major historical phenomenon ("federalism") in a region of major importance (Boiotia) with a complex history across the archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods. Second, the volume includes sensational, drop-everything-and-read-this findings, in separate (coyly, unrevealingly titled) papers by Y. Kalliontzis and N. Papazarkadas.

Across the various sections in the volume, the major theme is the emergence and workings of a regional entity, the Boiotian koinon. H. Beck and E. Mackil offer complementary essays in which they privilege organic connections between the Boiotian poleis, fostered by shared identity, religious ritual, local culture, and ecological and economic interests and leading to collaboration. Some of the insights offered by Beck and Mackil are strikingly confirmed by the new evidence. Very "holistic" is the existence of shared identity in late Hellenistic Boiotia in the absence of formal state institutions, whose reemergence after the dissolution of the League in 171 BCE C. Mueller places as late as the 40s-30s BCE. In other cases, the record qualifies the "holistic" interpretation, as in the case of the acquisitiveness of Thebes in the Asopos valley, confirmed by land owned by Thebans in the Parasopia (if that is what is going on in the archaic document discussed by Matthaiou). This dimension is central to Mackil's thesis (the tensions and limits of connectivity because of the widespread temptation of top- down power, not just for Thebes). Generally, the existence of the League did not mean the end of local dynamics such as the clustering of sectional interests or the festering of local disputes in the Kopais basin (see Beck's chapter and, especially, C. Müller's paper).

Beck downplays stateness in the early period (41: "it would be futile to argue for a developed federal state along the lines of later periods"). But the new evidence clearly shows more institutional development (financial, governmental, legal) than the organic-societal model allows for: it is time to bring the state back in. Boiotarchs, i.e. federal magistrates, chosen through institutional routes and with legally defined powers, are now attested by the late archaic period already by a document from the shrine of Herakles at Thebes, published by V. Aravantinos. This also shows citizens of Thebes, through formal membership of the League, enjoying legal privilege (propraxia, priority in recovering debt?) in another Boiotian city (the dialect implies it was issued by Tanagra). The third-century building of the huge temple of Zeus Basileus at Lebadeia was a venture of the League, involving dense institutional involvement, a process proudly monumentalized in a vast inscribed archive (R. Pitt). The abolition of the League immediately impacted local practice such as manumission (C. Grenet on Chaironeia, arguing against recent work by E. Meyer), forcing local solutions and mutations. Why consider that identity or even economic interests are necessarily primary and "natural", and institutions secondary and weak? One might just as well model development as driven by institutions and conceive culture and identity as a secondary, fictional if expressive by-product, and the economics as the result of chasing returns and opportunities created by institutions and their political dynamics. At the very least, state institutions should be thought of as potentially exerting the same dynamic agency and creativity as myth, identity and economics. It is telling that the League expanded beyond any "natural" boundary, affecting Euboia (D. Knoepfler), Eastern Lokris, and Megara (as A. Robu shows, the institutional legacy was durable and legible in the public record).

This expansion (curtailed in the crowded Hellenistic world by the presence of other Leagues, the Aitolian and the Achaian) belongs to the broader histories of Boiotia. The best known strand is that of Theban-led Boiotian hegemony, which left many traces: the cult of Tlepolemos probably reflects contacts made during the short-lived Boiotian attempt at sea hegemony (A. Schachter). Beyond hegemonical leadership, the eventful history of Thebes can be read in its epigraphical and material record. The unceremonious dumping of archaic public inscriptions, monumental or administrative, in a "cist" in the modern Theban suburb of Pyri (Matthaiou, 210) must reflect an upheaval in Theban history (the archaeological context indicates the early fourth century: during Spartan-backed factional rule starting in 383 BCE?). For the Hellenistic period, the funerary material is suggestive: a particular type of funerary stele, well attested with its inscribed architectonically decorated pediment perched on a narrow pillar, might evoke the look of the dromos of Macedonian tombs, and reflect Macedonian cultural influence. This suggestion by Bonanno-Aravantinos (whose arguments are a bit general) gains in plausibility in view of a durable faction of Theban makedonizontes (the "house of Neon and Brachylles", Pol. 20.5).3 Many of these funerary stelai were reused during the Hellenistic period: does this reflect internal upheaval, instability, or demographic turnover ?

Boiotian cities had a continuous history which is not reducible to federalism and hegemony. Sixth-century cups found at the shrine of Herakles are inscribed with mostly votive inscriptions (unsurprisingly), but others are ownership marks, and at least one (and hence potentially other fragmentary cups) might hint at gift exchange (X had this cup made for Y, who gave it to Z: Aravantinos, 178, quoting CEG 445 as a parallel: a trace of the elite erastic culture so long-lastingly typical of Boiotia? (It is now attested by a fascinating sixth-century stele from Akraiphia: SEG 49.505). Fascinatingly, the eventful history of Boiotia, the "dancefloor of Ares", with its episodes of local conflict, participation in big history, hegemonical temptations, and warfare, was also a reflexive history, of self-aware historical agents shaping their memory of it. Boiotian inscriptions dealt with war, community and history, as explored by Y. Kalliontzis and N. Papazarkadas in their respective papers. Strikingly, such inscriptions could get reinscribed, centuries after their original production. An epigram commemorating Thebans fallen in some battle around 500 BCE probably belonged to a context of upheaval and conflict between Thebes and its neighbours well attested in Herodotus and epigraphy, including a recent find from Pyri at Thebes (Hdt. 5.78; ML 15; SEG54.518). It was reinscribed in the 370s BCE, at the time of Theban irredentist revival and hegemonialism: the gesture is surely linked to the patriotic context, as pointed out by Papazarkadas. At Plataia, an inscribed casualty list recorded men who fought and died at Olynthos. This is already fascinating, even though the historical context remains unclear (a lonely skirmish by the Plataian exiles installed at Skione after 424, against the Chalkidian League, scrupulously recorded by the exiles and inscribed after regaining their city in 404? The Olynthian campaign of the Spartans in 382/1, as proposed by W. K. Pritchett already? The defence of Olynthos by the Athenians against Philip II, preferred by Kalliontzis?)4 The range of possibilities itself reflects the eventful history of that city. But equally fascinatingly, the casualty list survives in an inscription dating to (perhaps) the first century BCE: it belongs to post-Classical Plataia, a storied lieu de mémoire with a self-consciously layered place in Greek history.

As mentioned, these two papers contain sensational findings. John Camp and students at the ASCSA found and published an inscribed cippus from Chaironeia, the very trophy set up by the Chaironeians to commemorate their decisive participation in the battle fought by Sulla against the forces of Mithradates VI, and quoted by Plutarch in his detailed account of the battle which combines Sulla's memoirs with local tradition (Plut. Sulla 19, SEG 41.448). But as Kalliontzis shows, the stone is a third-century BCE votive or funerary monument, the last line ΑΡΙΣΤΙΣ a proper name rather than the word "heroes" extolling the two Chaironeians who supposedly excelled on that day in 86 BCE. Is the whole Chaironeian tradition a bogus story, conjured out of a misinterpreted funerary monument? Beyond problematizing Plutarch's methods and veracity, Kalliontzis locates the story in the network of constructed memory surrounding Chaironeia in the first century BCE.

Just as extraordinary is the Theban epigram published by Papazarkadas (with Kalliontzis' help). Inscribed in the late sixth century and reinscribed in the fourth, it records the rededication of a golden shield—none other than the golden shield dedicated by Kroisos, the king of Lydia, as commemorated by Herodotos, who must have seen this very inscription and indeed quotes its phraseology (Hdt 1.52). The text is fragmentary, even though Papazarkadas's reconstruction on the basis of the parallel archaic and classical texts is a triumph of philological method. What is clear is the layeredness of the transaction: the original dedication by Kroisos at Oropos was stolen, then recovered by a Theban priest with the oracular help of Apollo, and dedicated in Thebes (?) as part of the reaffirmation of Theban power in the area in the aftermath of conflict and upheaval at the end of the sixth century; this transaction was inscribed a first time, then re-inscribed in the Ionic script on the same stone, in the first half of the fourth century. The exact circumstances are still mysterious (and have already been interpreted differently); 5 but the inscription clearly unites three or four moments in Theban history (mid-archaic prosperity, late sixth century crisis, the resurgence of the 370s). It is Papazarkadas' achievement, and this volume's, to allow Boiotian epigraphy and Herodotos to illuminate each other.

Table of Contents

List of Contributors

Section I: Boeotian History: New Interpretations
1. Hans Beck: "Ethnic Identity and Integration in Boeotia: the Evidence of the Inscriptions (6th and 5th Centuries BC)"
2. Emily Mackil: "Creating a Common Polity in Boeotia"
3. Denis Knoepfler: "ΕΧΘΟΝΔΕ ΤΑΣ ΒΟΙΩΤΙΑΣ: The Expansion of the Boeotian Koinon towards Central Euboia in the Early Third Century BC"
4. Adrian Robu: "Between Macedon, Achaea and Boeotia: The Epigraphy of Hellenistic Megara Revisited"
5. Christel Müller: "A Koinon after 146? Reflections on the Political and Institutional Situation of Boeotia in the Second Half of the Second Century BC"

Section II: The New Epigraphy of Thebes
6. Vassilios L. Aravantinos: "The Inscriptions from the Sanctuary of Herakles at Thebes: An Overview"
7. Angelos P. Matthaiou: "Four Inscribed Bronze Tablets from Thebes: Preliminary Notes."
8. Nikolaos Papazarkadas: "Two New Epigrams from Thebes"
9. Margherita Bonanno-Aravantinos: "New Inscribed Funerary Monuments from Thebes"

Section III: Boeotian Epigraphy: Beyond Thebes
10. Albert Schachter: "Tlepolemos in Boeotia"
11. Yannis Kalliontzis: "Digging in Storerooms for Inscriptions: An Unpublished Casualty List from Plataia in the Museum of Thebes and the Memory of War in Boeotia"
12. Robert Pitt: "Just As It Has Been Written: Inscribing Building Contracts at Lebadeia"
13. Claire Grenet: "Manumission in Hellenistic Boeotia: New Considerations on the Chronology of the Inscriptions"
14. Isabelle Pernin: "Land Administration and Property Law in the Proconsular Edict from Thisbe (Syll.3 884)"
Index Locorum
General Index


1.   I. Pernin's paper about the renting-out of public property in Severan Thisbe is the only paper on Boiotia in the Roman empire; H. Beck's "Akraiphnion" is intolerable in a volume on Boiotian epigraphy; D. Knoepfler gives too much too personal information on being snubbed by Paul Roesch (and it is outrageous to see the name of that Swiss scholar, one of the doyens of Boiotian studies, mispelled as "Knoepfler, Dennis" in the otherwise excellent indices, which repay perusal); surreally, A. Matthaiou devotes close textual comment on unpublished documents which are not reproduced in the volume.
2.   V. Aravantinos and M. Bonanno-Aravantinos separately present new material from excavations in Thebes (including 70 new funerary stelai); R. Pitt's discussion of the federal building accounts of the temple of Zeus at Lebadeia is informative (at times drily humorous) and offers important views on the practical legibility of such inscriptions; C. Grenet, C. Mueller, I. Pernin all give careful treatment of difficult material.
3.   The Macedonian-style "Tomb of the Erotes" at nearby Eretria offers a parallel (especially since the occupants were not actual Macedonians: Knoepfler, BE 2009, 276).
4.   I prefer Pritchett's dating for two reasons. First, because we know the Spartans took their allies to their northern campaign (including Thebes, although Thespiai and Plataiai, especially pro-Spartan, are not explicity attested, as emphasized by Kalliontzis). Second, because Philip II favoured Plataia after 338 by supporting its refoundation, nearly fourty years after its destruction by Thebes. This makes it hard to believe that the Plataian exiles fought against Philip II in 348 (or that they set up an inscription commemorating a fighting against that king precisely after he refounded their city).
5.   P. J. Thonemann, TLS, 15 August 2014, ingeniously suggesting further layers: the dedication was made by one Kroisos, the Alkmaionid aristocrat represented on the famous Anavyssos kouros; in the late sixth-century, fourty-odd years later, the Thebans misunderstood this to be the king of Lydia, and Herodotos followed suit.

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