Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Albrecht Matthaei, Martin Zimmermann (ed.), Urbane Strukturen und bürgerliche Identität im Hellenismus. Die hellenistische polis als Lebensform, 5. Heidelberg: Verlag Antike, 2015. Pp. 421. ISBN 9783938032558. €119.90.

Reviewed by Jeremy LaBuff, Northern Arizona University (jeremy.labuff@nau.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book consists of 18 contributions stemming from an initiative funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft on "The Hellenistic Polis as a Way of Life," which has given rise to a book series of the same name and of which the volume under review is the latest installment.1 The series has produced particularly welcome results that further our appreciation of the vitality of the polis after Alexander and, alongside the continued insistence by some specialists of Classical Greek history to dismiss this era as one of decline and inauthenticity, speaks to the need for stronger cross-fertilization between Anglophone scholars and their Continental counterparts.2

Urbane Strukturen und bürgerliche Identität im Hellenismus seeks to enhance the series' impact in the form of individual summaries of each project relevant to the initiative. As Zimmermann explains in the book's introduction, the projects together provide additional evidence for the flourishing of the polis after Alexander and at the same time convey the diversity of experiences that preclude generalizations about a "typical" Hellenistic polis, or a simple narrative of continuity or change. He also attempts to identify five thematic and intersecting areas into which the various projects fall, but the reader suspects that these overlaps have not inspired much in the way of dialogue among these projects: the contributions are not grouped according to the areas identified, nor do they acknowledge each other except for the occasional cross-reference in a footnote.

The organization of this volume lacks a discernible principle—indeed, even papers on the same site are not always placed together—so I will attempt to follow Zimmermann's five thematic areas in presenting the contents of the various contributions. First, two papers address "polis foundation and processes of centralization." Freitag discusses his conclusion that the effects of membership in a federal league on the institutions and traditions of a polis were generally minimal, but he cautions against any statement that ignores the diversity of situations. To illustrate, he presents the case study of Megara, the evidence for which involves a number of uncertainties that Freitag seems to shrug off in asserting that the city was relatively free from interference from either the Achaean or Boiotian League. Unfortunately, the understudied phenomenon of decentralization—the "secession" of segments of Megara to form autonomous poleis—is only lightly touched upon. Schuler and Walser treat the impact of non- federal sympoliteiai on the political landscape of the Hellenistic world through several examples from Phokis and Lykia; this serves as a precursor to a forthcoming systematic study of more than 100 cases spanning mainland Greece, the Aegean islands, and Asia Minor. Noting the challenge of deriving solid conclusions from laconic and lacunose epigraphical texts, the authors strive to explain why a community would sacrifice its autonomy and what effect such a sacrifice had on local identity and infrastructure. They emphasize interregional diversity of experience while recognizing intraregional patterns. For Phokis, local disputes over territory and Roman intervention feature as motivating factors, while in Lykia sympoliteiai seem to have been driven by the inherent appeal of larger urban centers, actual or potential, as well as Roman provincial policy. The difficulty here is in connecting motives to actual evidence, a plight I sympathize with as a fellow victim of such circumstances: does the mere possibility that economic weakness, the urban appeal of a larger polis, or royal intervention can be linked to a sympoliteia warrant favoring these factors as causes? In some cases, the coincidence is sufficient to justify confident assertion, but as I have argued elsewhere, the tendency to link sympoliteiai to Hellenistic kingship is more a product of top-down approaches to the history of the period.3

The theme of "phases of urban development and its regional impact" is addressed by six papers, five of which provide useful images, site plans, and synopses of their findings from surveys or excavations of Elaia near Pergamon (Pirson et al.), Lysimacheia (Lichtenberger et al.), Lissos in Albania (Oettel), and the public/cultic and residential spaces of Priene (Raeck et al., and Rumscheid, respectively). Each of these contributions focuses productively on establishing or furthering our knowledge of the site in question, but otherwise confirms the introduction's emphasis on a diversity of results by avoiding comparative or synthetic considerations. A sixth paper by Rheidt aims more at synthesis by examining the evolution of urban architecture and its impact on the image of the polis and its institutions in four case studies: Pergamon, Assos, Typaneiai, and Samikon (these last two located in Peloponnesian Triphylia). He concludes that in each instance, a physical reimagining of the city's institutional and defensive space coincides with an increase in autonomy during the early Hellenistic period, and thus represents the expression of a newly self-conscious citizenry. Rheidt's piece serves as a timely reminder that the history of polis autonomy and agency matters even in cases where a clear relationship of political dependence is present.

Four papers speak to "the significance and development of public buildings," specifically covering theaters, gymnasia, the sanctuary complex of the Athenian acropolis, and temples in Pergamon. For von Hesberg, Hellenistic theaters increased the regulation of citizens that thereby enhanced a collective communal experience through the control of the distinction of honored individuals. Von den Hoff's observations about the gymnasion at Pergamon seem to contradict Rheidt's conclusions on the city's image, since von den Hoff argues that ruler imagery was only supplanted in the gymnasion in the late 2nd century, i.e., when architectural expressions of autonomy die out according to Rheidt. Unfortunately the two studies do not acknowledge each other. Krumreich and Witschel discuss the statuary arrangement on the acropolis of Athens in order to reconstruct those honored during the Hellenistic period, with a focus on the recycling of monuments to honor Roman magistrates. Finally, Steuernagel argues that Pergamon's temples help to define a cultural self-understanding that oscillates between participation in a Hellenistic koine and an emphasis on distinctiveness.

With respect to "the structures of rural settlement and their specific dynamics," Held and Wilkening-Aumann shed light on the economic prosperity and religious adaptation of the Karian Chersonese after Rhodian incorporation, though the evidence does not always fit this picture as much as the authors suggest, since two of five settlements decline during the third century. The book's editors along with Ateş present the results of their survey of Pergamene rural territory, which suggest both decentralization and agricultural intensification under the Attalids. Heiden and Rohn illuminate the landscape and natural resources of Triphylia and relate this to the political history of the region.

On the topic of "the social stratigraphy of citizen communities," Günther provides an extremely brief summary—devoid of footnotes or bibliography—of her work on epigraphically attested Bürgerinnen in Miletos in order to discover elite families within the polis, and identifies a marked change in the nature and make-up of the socially powerful in the 2nd and 1st centuries. Horster and Kató present their very preliminary understanding of the role that religious functionaries played in the cultic life of Hellenistic poleis. Finally, Kah explores the impact of a growing euergetism on the democratic institutions of Priene through the lens of honorary inscriptions, concluding that an increase in social prominence may represent an intermediary phase in the emergence of an elite ruling class during the Imperial period.

Zimmermann wraps up the volume with an epilogue arguing for an interdisciplinary approach to local and city identities that weds evidence for urban structures to that related to social, political and sacred practices. He also emphasizes the importance of studying cities in their microecological context, with a nod to Horden and Purcell. His piece is followed by indices of places, personal names, religious proper nouns, and keywords, and lastly, by the authors' contact information.

While I hope to have shown the many merits of this book, its usefulness is more difficult to evaluate. This stems from the fact that behind the façade of a standard edited volume of original and interconnected articles, the reader finds something closer to a progress report. The result is certainly valuable for funders assessing a return on their investment, but for specialists in the topics under discussion, one must ultimately look elsewhere to engage with the arguments and interpretation of evidence that have led to the conclusions summarized in most of the contributions. Matthaei and Zimmermann seem to acknowledge this by providing a bibliography between the introduction and the rest of the book, organized by project and helpfully inclusive of often hard-to-procure publications. For scholars whose research interests lie elsewhere, the volume may assist in keeping abreast of developments in Hellenistic studies, though I for one still wanted to know the basis for claims about mainland Greece despite not specializing in this region. Certainly it would have been beneficial to clarify those for whom the volume's contributors were "taking stock." Such clarification would presumably also illuminate why projects at such obviously different stages of progress were juxtaposed in a single volume.

The real missed opportunities, however, lie in two specific areas. First is the lack of interaction among articles whose interests and even subject matter clearly intersect. I have suggested some prominent examples above. Second, the absence of "identity" as a conceptual concern in the majority of the contributions is remarkable, given the book's title. According to the index, only eight chapters treat the topic, but in fact a mere third (six) devote substantial attention to it. Perhaps the comments in Zimmermann's epilogue were aimed more at his fellow contributors than at outside readers.

There is much more to say about this volume, but my own reactions would be but a testament to its ability, in spite of its summary and disjointed nature, to evoke scholarly discussion leading to a more nuanced understanding of the Hellenistic polis. Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that it will provide confirmation of (and new fodder for) what Hellenistic historians already know, tantalizing instruction for scholars who are open to the possibility that Hellenismus is not just the dark side of antiquity's chiaroscuro tableau, and support and analysis that will be insufficient to convince those who continue to privilege other periods of ancient history.

Authors and Titles

Martin Zimmermann, Vorwort
Felix Pirson, Güler Ateş, Melanie Bartz, Helmut Brückner, Stefan Feuser, Ulrich Mania, Ludwig Meier, Martin Seeliger, "Elaia: Eine aiolische Polis im Dienste der hellenistischen Residenzstadt Pergamon?"
Klaus Freitag, "Poleis in Koina. Untersuchungen zu den Auswirkungen von bundesstaatlichen Organisationsformen auf Strukturen in griechischen Poleis der hellenistischen Zeit unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Polis Megara"
Linda-Marie Günther, "Bürgerinnen und ihre Familien im hellenistischen Milet. Untersuchungen zur Rolle von Frauen und Mädchen in der Polisöffentlichkeit"
Winfried Held, Christine Wilkening-Aumann, "Vom Karischen Bund zur Griechischen Polis. Archäologischer Survey in Bybassos und Kastabos auf der Karischen Chersones"
Henner von Hesberg, "Theatergebäude und ihre Funktion in der Polis frühhellenistischer Zeit"
Marietta Horster unter Mitarbeit von Péter Kató, "Soziale Konstruktionen religiöser Funktionsträger in hellenistischen Poleis"
Ralf Krumreich, Christian Witschel, "Die Akropolis von Athen im Hellenismus: Zur statuarischen Ausstattung eines zentralen Polis-Heiligtums"
Achim Lichtenberger, H.-Helge Nieswandt, Dieter Salzmann, "Die hellenistische Residenzstadt Lysimacheia: Feldforschungen in der Zentralsiedlung und der Chora"
Martin Zimmermann, Albrecht Matthaei, Güler Ateş, "Die Chora von Pergamon: Forschungen im Kaikostal und in der antiken Stadt Atarneus"
Andreas Oettel, "Lissos in Albanien: eine illyrische Stadt in hellenistischer Zeit"
Wulf Raeck, Arnd Hennemeyer, Axel Filges, "Interdependenzen urbanistischer Veränderungen im hellenistischen Priene"
Frank Rumscheid, "Urbanistische Strukturen und Veränderungen im hellenistischen Priene"
Klaus Rheidt, "Polis und Stadtbild im 4. und 3. Jahrhundert v. Chr."
Joachim Heiden, Corinna Rohn, "Die antike Landschaft Triphylien: Siedlungstopographischer Wandel und Repräsentationsmöglichkeiten im Hellenismus"
Christof Schuler, Andreas Victor Walser, "Sympolitien und Synoikismen. Gesellschaftliche und urbanistische Implikationen von Konzentrationsprozessen in hellenistischer Zeit"
Dirk Steuernagel, "Die Tempel aus der Zeit der Attalidenherrschaft in Pergamon"
Ralf von den Hoff, "Das Gymnasion von Pergamon: herrscherlicher und bürgerlicher Raum in der hellenistischen Polis"
Daniel Kah, "Soziokultureller Wandel im hellenistischen Priene: Das Zeugnis der Ehrendekrete"
Martin Zimmermann, "Ausblick: Städtische Physiognomien. Lokale Identität und Mikroregion"


1.   See also the project website, "Die hellenistische Polis als Lebensform".
2.   For the latest example, see the considerate but still dismissive fifteenth chapter of P. Cartledge, Democracy: A Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Significantly, Cartledge limits his assessment to Anglophone scholarship.
3.   J. LaBuff Polis Expansion and Elite Power in Hellenistic Karia, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016, especially pp. 17, 77-78.

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