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Alternatives to Athens: Varieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece.

Alternatives to Athens" Varieties of Political Organization and Community in Ancient Greece. Edited by Roger Brock and Stephen Hodkinson. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xvii, 393. $95.00.)

The editors of this volume define the "alternatives" in its title in three senses. The word refers, first, to political ideas and systems that competed with Athens; second, to ways of organizing social and political life other than through democracy and the polis; and finally, to new historiographical strategies, which attempt to offer broader perspectives and a more flexible approach, primarily by tapping new sources of historical information such as poetry, landscape archaeology, and geography. The eighteen papers in this volume address these alternatives as they overlap with one another, each one highlighting complexity and variation in political organization.

Challenges to democracy and its social implications were issued not only on the battlefield, but also in the writings of those engaged in social struggle yet estranged from military combat. Robin Lane Fox and Hans van Wees explore the criticisms made against the democratization of power and moral values in archaic Megara by its most outspoken aristocrat, Theognis, who offered an uncompromising view of the true noble, with a sense of moral superiority entirely divorced from wealth and only partially related to birth. David Braund and P. J. Rhodes assess the vigor of challenges to democracy within Athens from the oligarchic and monarchic perspectives.

We live now in a climate saturated by the polis, but there is a risk that we will be lulled by typologies into understanding it as a monolithic structure. The highly variegated concept of the democratic polis is addressed in case studies of Lesbos (Nigel Spencer), Cyrene (Barbara Mitchell), Syracuse (Keith Rutter), and the Arcadian confederacy (James Roy). These articles each make important individual contributions, but together they remind us that "the democratic polis" is a figment of the scholarly imagination. In reality, forms of political and social organization, even within poleis, varied widely and constantly.

Perhaps the most significant contributions are those that address the editors' alternatives in all three senses. Catherine Morgan focuses on settlement scale to dismantle the assumed equation of urban center and fully autarchic polis by scrutinizing the uneven archaeological record of the Achaean ethnos and attending to sites in the context of the human landscape of the region. Zosia Halina Archibald takes this approach further in a comparative study of the spatial organization of Thessaly, Thrace, and Macedonia based on a deep knowledge of the archaeology of these regions. Her comparative approach is still rare, but important, if regional history is to escape the bad name given it by narrowly positivistic and nonrelational studies of particular regions and cities made in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Settlement scale and interaction lead to relations of interdependence among communities, which in turn mandate an agreement on the allocation of power manifested in social and political hierarchies. The agreements made in each community, or group of communities, vary according to the complexities and conditions (economic, social, and cultic) present in each case. These essays provide an exhortation to uncover complexity and address it squarely, to use our overly simplistic labels with caution or to abandon them altogether.

Emily Mackil

Princeton University
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Author:Mackil, Emily
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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