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

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

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

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


'a cogent, wide-ranging introduction to the scope and scale of political expression in the ancient Greek world that will be warmly welcomed by ancient historians and classical scholars alike.' -Bryn Mawr Classical ReviewDemocratic Athens is often viewed - mistakenly - as the model ancient Greek state. This volume of papers by a wide range of contributors sets the record straight by examining the huge variations of political systems and forms of regional community around the Hellenic world. It highlights the immense political flexibility and diversity of ancient Greek civilization.


Roger Brock and Stephen Hodkinson

In the second half of the fourth century bc Aristotle’s school undertook a major research project: a collection of ‘constitutions’ (politeiai) of Greek states. the project’s primary purpose was to underpin Aristotle’s writing of his Politics (as the transitional passage at the end of his Nicomachean Ethics makes clear); but the ‘constitutions’ clearly also circulated independently, since the ancient lists of the works of Aristotle mention a collection of 158 constitutions of states ‘democratic, oligarchic, tyrannic, and aristocratic’. the project covered the full range of constitutional forms; and from the surviving fragments of eighty-odd individual studies known to us, we can see that it also covered communities of widely differing types and locations. the major Greek poleis (‘city-states’ or, perhaps better, ‘citizen-states’) of the mainland and islands—places such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Miletos, Samos, Naxos, and Aegina—were there, together with Syracuse, Akragas, Taras, Croton, and other major powers of Magna Graecia; but so too were small poleis such as Troizen, Cythnos, Melos, and Tenedos. Indeed, the project clearly embraced the whole Greek world, from Massalia (modern Marseilles) in the western Mediterranean, via Cyrene in Libya, to Soli in Cilicia, as well as cities whose Greek nature was marginal, such as Adramyttion and Kios in Mysia, and, most famously, Carthage, which was not Greek at all. It included communities not regarded as poleis, and even some which were not unitary states. There were studies of a number of communities

the quotation is from Diogenes Laertius 5. 27, item 143; what Hesychius means by a polis idiōtikos in his parallel list is anyone’s guess. It is interesting that Diogenes’ list excludes the ‘good forms’ of democracy and monarchy, namely polity and kingship, which complete the list of six types of constitution in Aristotle’s Politics 3. 7.

For a recent edition of the fragments see Gigon (1987) 561–722, though his list of 148 constitutions identifiable by title or fragment is probably rather optimistic.

‘City-state’ is the orthodox English translation of the Greek term ‘polis’. the alternative term, ‘citizen-state’, on which see Hansen (1993), lays stress on the polis as a community of citizens. For a succinct account of the polis see the article ‘Polis’ in the Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd edn.) by O. Murray. the meaning and reference of the term ‘polis’ are the subject of a major research project by the Copenhagen Polis Centre. One important qualification of the traditional view to emerge from their researches is the argument that autonomy was not an essential feature of a polis: see Hansen (1995a).

That there was a Carthaginian Constitution is an inference from the lengthy discussion in book 2 of the Politics; it is not otherwise attested (Gigon 1987: 648–9).

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