Friday, May 17, 2019


Jacek Rzepka, Greek Federal Terminology. Akanthina, 12. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2017. Pp. 110. ISBN 9788375312379. £20.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Meyer, The University of Virginia (

Version at BMCR home site

This short volume (79 pages of text, plus bibliography, general index, Greek terms, and index locorum) studies the language used by Greeks to describe the institutions and actions of Greek federal states. This is a useful project in itself, but it has a further end, to understand "whether and how Greeks perceived problems, institutions and issues related to federalism" and whether federal leagues contributed to a federalist political philosophy and to the general political language (mostly polis-based) of the Greeks (9-10). Rzepka's answer to all of the above is "yes."

The first chapter studies the word koinon and how Greek federal states were named. Koinon is the word often used by scholars for a federal state, but these federal states called themselves by ethnics, such as "the Aetolians" or "the Boeotians." Going more deeply into the uses of koinon versus ethnics in decrees, Rzepka notes that in Boeotia the damos votes that distinguished foreigners were to be proxenoi "of the koinon" (thus koinon means community or state here), while in Aetolia honorees are praised for the goodwill towards the koinon (and sometimes the ethnos, 22). Thus, parallel usage so far; but Aetolian usage also names the koinon as the decree-passing body, as do leagues of Akarnania, West Lokris, Phokis, Thessaly, and Arkadia (17-19), so that koinon also and more often means the primary federal assembly. The Achaeans distinguished between technical terms for meetings (synodoi and synkletoi) and the abstract, conceptual term for all the citizens, which was koinon (19). Decrees from other cities for the Aetolians replicate the word koinon when the Aetolian koinon has voted them a benefit that they are reciprocating, thereby acknowledging that koinon here means the Aetolians' voting assembly (20-22). Because such inscriptions also draw a careful distinction between the Aetolians' koinon and the granters' demos (of the Chians, of the Mytilenians, of Andros, of Athens), these other Greeks "understood the nature of Greek Federal states" (22) or at least "used federal terms in a considered and thoughtful manner" (23).

Chapter Two addresses the phenomenon of "council-based government." Synedriake politeia is Polybius' (novel) formulation (31.2.12): the term is used of Macedonia after 167 and its division into four merides, and means a constitution based on a"federal council." Rzepka studies usage in Polybius, Plutarch, and Pausanias, noting that Polybius uses synedrion as well as boulē for the councils of the Achaeans (but never synedrion for the council of a polis), while usage in the other two authors mostly follows that of Polybius in using both words (26-27). Pausanias also, however, uses synedrion for "state," since it was not unusual after the Hellenistic period for a (federal) state or even a (federal) assembly to be called a (federal) synedrion; the word itself is archaizing and recalls "'the good old days'" (34). The third-century Aetolian evidence is copious but confusing. Boularcheontes appear in numerous inscriptions, and their numbers range from one to six (although Rzepka thinks there should have been seven in 260 BC, equal to the number of Aetolian districts at the time, 29). He concludes that they were "representatives of the Confederacy as a whole" and "officials of the Aetolian districts" at the same time (29), although at 30-31 he notes that the district boularcheontes date to the second century and the federal boularcheontes to the third. A third title appears in only one inscription of 214/13, hoi prosstatai tou synedriou, although synedrioi themselves appear frequently. Rzepka concludes that hoi synedrioi were titles given to Aetolian councillors in general, while the boularcheontes were their chairmen (33). Fluctuations in the numbers of federal boularcheontes noted in inscriptions reflect not actual change, but merely the number of officials actually present at an action, with the first (or only one) mentioned the chairman of the group (32). All this is, despite Rzepka's laudable efforts, mildly bewildering, which probably explains why "modern students have rarely been attracted to Aetolian inscriptions, which . . . lack uniformity and seem to provide equivocal data on the organization of the state" (29).

Having established, in the first two chapters, that federal leagues did employ a shared vocabulary, if not always with exactly the same meaning, Rzepka in his third chapter asks whether Greek federal states also worked "in a more or less similar way" (35). First, however, we return to Boeotia, and the chronology of its enactment formulae. In the fourth century BC we find edoxe toi damoi (perhaps to assert statehood and sovereignty without seeming to encroach on others' autonomia, a King's-Peace-based issue), then edoxe toi koinoi, and then again edoxe toi damoi, which followed (although perhaps not directly) the reintegration of Thebes into the League, but also marked a "traditionalist" return to the great fourth century as well as to an archaizing dialect (37). Otherwise, Greek federal states in the Hellenistic period referred to their assemblies as koina. This did not imply "an identical range of functions" (38), but Rzepka wonders whether federal Greeks discussed what their neighbors were doing. When, for instance, Philopoemen adduced (in addressing the Achaean council) the Aetolian regulation constraining the Aetolian strategos from expressing his own opinion on a matter of war (Livy 35.25.4-10), this is taken as a "hint" that "similarly named officials, operating in a similar legal framework, were expected to act in a similar way to one another" (40): federal Greeks did know how other leagues worked, and league structures did develop in concert with each other, in a type of peer-polity interaction. Rzepka's compelling example here is the switch of the Aetolian, Achaean, and Akarnanian Leagues to a single strategos in 279, 255/4, and in or after the 230s, respectively. In Aetolia this strategos may have replaced a board of three generals, who may in turn have replaced an aitolarch who, if he existed at all (he appears only in much later ghost-stories) might have been created in imitation of the Boeotian boeotarch (42-43). What worked was noticed and imitated, and Rzepka concludes that "most Greek leagues worked in a similar way" (44).

Chapter Four tackles the question of whether the language of federal leagues was chosen to strengthen communal feeling and promote that "community" among other Greeks. The known overlap in Athens between the official language of decrees and the language of the Attic orators inspires Rzepka to look for a similar relationship between the "political language of documents" and the "everyday political usage of elites," for which he (necessarily) looks to Polybius (45-47). Polybius has, in federal contexts (49), an exceptional insistence on using words of collaboration started with syn- (some of his own coining): is he adopting a language of federal elites? Rzepka's general answer is yes, but before arriving at this point he swerves backwards in time, to make the case (with the word synedrion) that terms describing political collaboration themselves have a longer history, and therefore that "the beginnings of federalist thought" are reflected in the "practices of the composite organizations, alliances and amphictyonies of the Classical age" (49). Compounds of koino- in Polybius do not yield as rich a harvest, appearing mostly to characterize joint rather than individual actions. The language of cooperation "became enriched and more nuanced during the Hellenistic Age . . . the federalist boom was crucial for this development" (51).

Building on Chapter Four, Chapter Five examines the words synteleia, isopoliteia, and sympoliteia. Thebes and the Boeotian League in the fourth century BC were singled out in the Oxyrhynchus Historian and Diodorus as a synteleia, a political arrangement that kept the Boeotian cities tributary to Thebes rather than allied with her. Synteleia generally had quite dark implications, apart from its (neutral) use for districts within the Achaean League at Polyb. 5.94.1. Sympoliteia in the best and most accurate sense, as the transformation of two polities into a single, united state (53), appears in Xenophon and is first seen epigraphically in the homologia of two poleis, Stiris and Medeon (Syll.3 647), rather than in a federal context. Federal uses of sympoliteia in epigraphy are infrequent (SEG XLVIII 588, a treaty between Demetrius Poliorcetes and the Aetolians; IG IX I2 3a, a treaty between the Aetolians and the Akarnanians; StV III 489, a treaty attaching Epidaurus to the Achaean League); most references come from Polybius, for whom it was the highest form of interstate collaboration. Then Rzepka tests the possibility that Polybius construed Aetolian isopoliteia as sympoliteia, tackles briefly the possibility that references in IG IX 2.234 to Pharsalian politeumenoi and sympoliteumenoi denoted citizens and second-class citizens, and concludes that the Aetolians switched to using isopoliteia in their documents so as not to imply second-class citizenship and give offense. The chapter ends by concluding that "the most perfect form of communal citizenship was . . . isopoliteia" while sympoliteia "was regarded with less enthusiasm" (66-67), which confused this reader, since at the beginning of the chapter (53), isopoliteia, a union "without the intention to merge the two different polities into a single state," was implicitly worse than sympoliteia, which created a single state. And was not the latter also more highly valued by Polybius? Although in general the English of the monograph is very good, something may have been lost in translation here.

The sixth chapter examines treaties or decrees of association. Two of them are Aetolian and grant isopoliteia; two are collective grants of the Aetolians and use the phrase "they shall be Aetolians equal and the same." Three are Achaean, and where not too fragmentary clearly recorded, or expected, that the new associates would use the new federal ethnic "Achaean" (71). These emphases seem to be two different strategies—the Aetolians stressing equality, the Achaeans participation and identity—but "both sides perfectly understood each other. The cooperative and federalist language was indeed much more unified than the political language of the Hellenistic poleis" (72).

Because double ethnics ("Aetolian from Kalydon") are common for Greeks who lived in ethnē and federal states, the question arises of whether this naming practice reflects a dual political allegiance, or indeed points to the existence of a federal league. Chapter Seven investigates, looking at inscriptions from Thermon, Delphi, Olympia, and Achaea Phthiotis. Because the Soteria victor-lists from Delphi "when federal leagues were at the height of their power" give Aetolian agonothetes in the form "Aetolian from [city]," it seems that this nomenclature was "the fullest and most perfect ethnic . . . for a Greek living in a federal state" (78), the official name in the official document. In manumissions, only Aetolian polis- names identified the manumittors, while abroad, Aetolians and Achaeans are identified only as such, without additional polis-names (79). The two questions with which the chapter began are not actually addressed, as the discussion follows a different path; Rzepka ends with the observation that "patterns of expanded ethnics differed from one region to another," and that some existed to distinguish homonymous cities, while others offered "a precise reference to the legal status of the individual . . . described" (83).

The Epilogue concludes that the Greeks did develop a federal political theory, that its language was present in the everyday language of the Greeks, and that such language had positive connotations. The Romans allowed "federalist ideas and slogans" to persist, and indeed some of the leagues themselves, but as a kind of social club. Individuals and cities valued simultaneous membership in more than one league (86-87), but as a way to strengthen their positions in home cities or regions.

I have given a full description of the contents of each chapter precisely because that is what this book is: evidence and observations, sometimes strung together rather loosely. Apart from the structuring by chapter, there is little argument, although some scholarly disputes are noted along the way. It admirably serves its purpose of surveying the terminology of leagues and providing a finder's guide to the evidence, proving that Greeks did indeed think differently but productively about leagues, and therefore provides an excellent starting-point for those who wish to delve deeply into federal language, organization, and action.

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