CJ Online Review | Rose, Class in Archaic Greece

posted with permission:

Class in Archaic Greece. By Peter W. Rose. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xiii + 439. Hardcover, £70.00/$120.00. ISBN 978-0-521-76876-4.

Reviewed by Jonathan M. Hall, University of Chicago

Scholarship over the past thirty years has hardly neglected the Archaic period of Greece (here, c. 800–500 BCE) but, according to Rose, what has been missing is a single, unifying explanation that can account for Dark Age society, the rise of the polis, colonization, tyranny, territorial expansion, and ultimately—though not everywhere—the emergence of democracy. For Rose, the driving factor behind developments in these three centuries is the struggle that ensued when a class of wealthy landowners monopolized the means of production. On this reading, conflicts over land ownership between free citizens, such as those documented for early sixth-century Attica, are just as significant as divisions between freemen and slaves.

In the Introduction, Rose bemoans the tendency of classicists either to avoid engaging with issues of class or to treat it as a deeply compromised analytic that needs to be encased in “scare quotes.” The blame for this is attributed in part to Engels’ insistence on the “scientific” status of Marxist approaches to history (14) but also to Moses Finley, whose substitution of Weberian notions of status for Marxist definitions of class was, Rose suggests, a consequence of his need to distance himself from Marxism in the political climate of the U.S. in the 1950s (5). Rose, instead, following the lead of Geoffrey de Ste. Croix’s magisterial The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981) advocates an unabashedly Marxist reading of the period—albeit with some refinements offered by the likes of Althusser and Gramsci. Whereas status consciousness is subjective, “the relationship of individuals to the mode of production is objective whether they are conscious of it or not” (9)—a perfect example of the “naturalizing” tendencies of Marxist ideology if ever there was one!

Dark Age society (Ch. 1) is characterized as lacking much social differentiation, with small communities dominated by basileis—a cross between “big-men” and chieftains. The polis is treated as the creation of a newly emergent aristocracy that responded to demographic increase and a shift toward a more agriculturally focused subsistence regime by forging a self-conscious community of small landowners while simultaneously insisting on its own distinctiveness and superiority. Each of the six chapters that follow pursues a largely chronological narrative, normally based on close readings of a specific text. So, the Iliad (Ch. 2) is interpreted as a stand-off between the consensus-based rule of charismatic Dark Age basileis, represented by Achilles, and the more recent collective leadership of big landowners, embodied in the figure of Agamemnon. The Odyssey (Ch. 3) reflects the recourse to commerce and colonization on the part of the impoverished and dispossessed and expresses “the long build-up of rage at the arrogance of the leisure-loving, stay-at-home suitors viewed from the perspective of a man who has traveled widely, who knows intimately what it is to do the hard labor of a small landowner …” (165). Hesiod (Ch. 4) represents the perspective of an alienated middling farmer and the first symptoms of a festering class struggle that Solon tried to address through a modest expansion of political privileges and the tyrants by curbing aristocratic excess and creating a more centralized state (Ch. 5)—though, in both cases, without drastically altering the relations of production. The surviving fragments of Tyrtaeus (Ch. 6) are plausibly interpreted as an attempt to instill in Spartan citizens a homogenizing ideology while the final chapter offers a welcome—if not necessarily approbative—rehabilitation of the Peisistratids’ role in the future development of democracy at Athens.

Rose displays a dazzling command of the relevant scholarship—especially in his treatment of the literary evidence but also, despite several disclaimers, in his familiarity with the archaeological material. Readers will, of course, find their own reasons for disagreement—be it the sharp distinction drawn between subjective representations and objective conditions “on the ground,” the conventional dating of Homer and Hesiod, the “autobiographical” readings of Hesiod and the Archaic poets, the traditional explanation for colonial ventures and the failure to consider how impoverished farmers secured the capital for overseas voyages, the seemingly timeless or primordial character of Spartan institutions, or the notion that the architects of Athenian democracy appealed to the memory of the charismatic leadership of Dark Age basileis. To my mind, details aside, Rose makes a persuasive case for the heuristic value of a Marxist definition of class to the study of Archaic Greece even if I am less confident that a struggle for control of the means of production is the only underlying thread that accounts for developments in this period. But Rose’s class-based analysis does not really generate any radically new interpretations of the evidence—as opposed to setting existing interpretations on a more explicitly theoretical footing—which might suggest that scholars have already incorporated, however unconsciously, Marxist approaches into their working methodologies. Indeed, reading this book can sometimes feel like receiving a stern dressing-down from a card-carrying member of the party brandishing the official rule-book. Overall, however, this volume is as rewarding as it is dense—which makes it all the more regrettable that it is marred by an unacceptably high number of editing errors (I had to abandon my intention of logging all the typos, spurious cross-references, and ungrammatical constructions long before reaching the misspelling of even the word “class” on p. 348

CJ Online Review | Boatwright, Peoples of the Roman World

posted with permission

CJ-Online ~ 2013.07.07

Peoples of the Roman World. By Mary T. Boatwright. Cambridge Introduction to Roman Civilization. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xix + 256. Hardcover, $90.00/£55.00. ISBN 978-0-521-84062-0. Paper, $25.99/£17.99. ISBN 978-0-521-54994-3.

Reviewed by Karen Klaiber Hersch, Temple University

Mary Boatwright’s important book should be required reading for anyone new to the complexities of ethnicity in antiquity. The diversity of its population, Roman writers were prone to boast, was the source of Rome’s enduring success, but Boatwright shows that incorporation and assimilation were never straightforward, and concepts of ethnicity varied and shifted over time. In her introductory chapter, she shows that for some, ethnicity was a matter of language or dress; for some, ethnicity did not equal “otherness.” Identity depended upon the identifier: a person’s beliefs about belonging to a group would not necessarily match the opinions of the larger society. Boatwright asks us to consider whether the opinions of elite male authors (representing the majority of written evidence) were known to, or shared by, many in the Roman world, an estimated 80–90% of whom could not read. Could the average Roman identify which conquered people were depicted on triumphal monuments any better than we can today?

Chapter 2 (“Gauls, Celts, Germans and Other ‘Northerners’”) dashes all hope of easy answers. These northerners left no written record, a loss that would not be so devastating if Roman testimony were not so ambiguous. Roman writers misidentified whole groups, or lumped them together while at the same time recording a mixture of opinions—admiration, fear and suspicion—about those misidentified barbarians, and often enough in the same text (problems reiterated in subsequent chapters). The ghosts of the Gallic Sack of Rome (390 bce) haunted Rome’s collective imagination, but by the late Republic Cispaline Gaul had become “quintessentially Italian” (45). Tacitus both admired and feared German military prowess, perpetuating the paranoia following the famous loss in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 ce, after which Germans and Gauls were deported from Rome. Can we judge the assimilation of northerners successful because, by the 2nd c. ce, Gaul had produced an emperor?

Boatwright’s discussion of Greeks in Chapter 3 provides an effective counterpoint. Greeks seem never to have suffered from the reputation of barbarity, but still the Roman evidence is conflicted: were Greeks ardent admirers of all that was good and noble, or dissipated lovers of luxury? Were Greeks cultured, or were they corrupters of morals? We are especially hampered by the ubiquity of Greek slave names that conceals slaves’ true origins. Did the Romans believe that Greek names lent a whiff of luxury and class, or by using them did the Romans determine to humiliate all Greeks? Boatwright does not hazard a guess, but she shows us that we can suspect a host of motives. The suspicion arising from the enthusiastic Hellenizing of a number of Roman emperors is illustrative; the fact that Greeks were members of the senate by the beginning of the 1st c. ce, yet no Greek became emperor, speaks volumes.

Egypt was the exotic “other” in the Greco-Roman world, but who was Egyptian? From the time of Alexander the Great, Greek language and Greek culture held sway in city centers, but Boatwright notes that no one has satisfactorily explained how far removed the ruling Greek elite were from the common folk. Boatwright questions the extent to which the “Egyptomania” of the early Empire infected average Romans. While many Roman writers expressed derision for Egyptian religion, the popularity of these very practices had attracted negative attention in Rome by the 50s bce. The dire conflict with Cleopatra marked the beginning of a new phase of Roman mistrust; Augustus claimed Egypt as his own personal property and instituted restrictions which kept Egypt “estranged from the rest of the Roman world” (117). A “hierarchy of ethnicity” came into play, with Romans at the top (excepting Antinoopolis, in which Greek, Roman and Egyptian culture flourished). Boatwright ends by exploring Roman worship of Isis and Serapis and the testimony of Egyptians themselves, made more problematic because it is left to us by “Greco-Egyptian” elites.

What constituted successful assimilation is thrown into high relief in Chapter 4, which Boatwright begins by noting that while Jews lived everywhere (and often received official accommodation from the Roman government), they also resisted assimilation everywhere, seeking to be, and remaining, a people apart. We possess more literary evidence concerning Jews than other groups, yet we are hampered by Romans’ hazy definition of them. Jews were recognized as a distinct group by the mid-first century yet fifty years later, Jewishness was an unrecognizable quality, and correspondingly Jews suffered (expulsions were not uncommon) or benefitted from the lack of a “consistent Roman policy” (145). A parade of Roman triumphal art celebrating the end of the First Jewish Revolt (begun 66 ce) illuminates the important turning point this insurrection represented, and the nightmare of Domitian’s reign is made frighteningly clear. The horrors of the Second and Third Jewish Revolt end in the telling observation that hardly any evidence survives about Jews in the Empire in the second century.

Christians (Chapter 5), incorporated “outsider” status into their self-representation, identifying themselves as a “new race” (171). Early Christian writers asserted that Christianity enjoyed widespread worship, yet Boatwright reports that by ca. 100 ce Christians represented perhaps 0.01% of the Empire’s population. The Gospels’ account of Jesus’ death provides a useful backdrop to the problems his worshippers would encounter later. Not surprisingly, many Romans had difficulty differentiating Jews from Christians, and one result of the Jewish Revolts was to separate the two. Boatwright guides us with care through the literary evidence, examining the famous letters between Pliny and the emperor Trajan that mark a period of an official “hands-off policy” (179). This time of comparative peace was followed by dreadful persecutions, and here our evidence is made stronger by martyrologies. Boatwright asserts that while the Edict of Milan granted freedom of worship to all, Constantine in all probability did not seek a unified Christian empire.

Romans may have congratulated themselves on their diverse world—the result of conquest and forced assimilation, but also of peaceful migration—but depending upon the time period or the place in the Roman world in which they found themselves, the people who provided this diversity could be subjected to a wide range of reactions, from praise to mild tolerance to blame and finally violence. At best those determined to be “other” living in the Roman world would be left at peace to live and work; at worst, their lives would be in mortal peril. Through centuries of empire-building, depending on the whim of those in power, the Roman world could, with alarming swiftness, shift beneath the feet of its denizens.


Seen on the Classicists list:


Università degli Studi di Urbino "Carlo Bo"
Dipartimento di Scienze della Comunicazione e Discipline Umanistiche (DiSCUm)
Scuola Estiva di Metrica e Ritmica Greca
MOISA-International Society for the Study of Greek and Roman Music and its Cultural Heritage

;Between Lyra and Aulos, Musical Traditions and Poetic Genres; is a multi-disciplinary international
conference to be hosted by the University of Urbino ;Carlo Bo, Department of Sciences of
Communication and Humanities (DiSCUm), Summer school in Greek Metrics and Rhythmics, on 5-6
September 2014.

Calls for individual papers (duration 20 mins) are now invited. A title and abstract of 300-400 words
should be provided by 31st January 2014. The languages of the conference are Italian and English.
Proposals are welcome from researchers in Ancient Greek Literature, Latin Literature, Classical
Philology, History of Ancient Music, History of Ancient Art, Archaeology and Iconography of Ancient
Instruments, Anthropology of Ancient World.

The meeting will focus on the relationship between the poetic genres of Archaic, Classical and
Hellenistic Greece and the instrumental accompaniments traditionally associated with them. In
particular, the idea would be, on the one hand, to re-read the poetic genres and their history in the
light of the more technical aspects of practice and instrumental performance and, on the other hand,
to reconsider more carefully the performance and instrumental practice in closer relationship to the
genera and poetic forms that are inextricably linked to it. Possible lines of research could be, among

1. Literary Genres and Instrumental Accompaniment: Ethos of a Given Instrumental Accompaniment
in Relation to Different Literary Genres; Literary Genres between Lyra and Aulos: Dominance of Lyra
over Aulos (and vice versa) in the History of Literary Genres, and Its Meaning; Literary Genres
accompanied by both Lyra and Aulos

2. Instrumental Music within the Classification of Literary Genres

3. Iconography and Archaeological Evidence

4. Evidence from Ancient Sources: Technical and Scholarly Writings, Historiography and Literature

5. Lyra and Aulos in Poetic Imagery

Please send proposals and queries by email to: liana.lomiento AT uniurb.it

Deadline: 31 january 2014

Scientific Committee

Andrew Barker (University of Birmingham)
Antonietta Gostoli (Università di Perugia)
Pauline LeVen (Yale University)
Liana Lomiento (Università di Urbino)
Angelo Meriani (Università di Salerno)
Eleonora Rocconi (Università di Pavia-Cremona)

Deadline for confirmation of acceptance by the scientific committee: March 31, 2014

Deadline for final confirmation of participation at the Meeting: May 31, 2014

The organization will not be able to cover speakers’ meals and accommodation in full. More
information on this aspect will be communicated as soon as possible.

If you are interested in participation but are not a MOISA member, you can join the Society at


where more detailed information on the conference will be available soon.

Classics Confidential | Michael Squire on the Imagines and Tabulae Iliacae

I think I missed these … a two-parter; here’s the blurb for the first part:

This week’s interview features Dr Michael Squire of King’s College London, talking about his current research project on the Imagines. This text, which was written by the third-century AD Greek author Philostratus the Elder, contains accounts of 65 paintings displayed in an (imaginary?) gallery on the Bay of Naples. Mike introduces us to some of the paintings described by Philostratus, including a representation of the Cyclops Polyphemus and an image of the Trojan river Scamander. He touches on questions of authenticity and fiction, ecphrasis and imagination, and explains how the images in Philostratus’ gallery relate to one another, as well as referring out to other ancient literary texts including Homer and Sappho.

You can read more about Mike’s work on Philostratus on the Leverhulme Trust website:

The blurb for part II:

Last week we posted the first half of an interview with Dr Michael Squire from King’s College London, about his work on Philostratus’ Imagines. Here in Part 2 he tells us about a fascinating group of objects called the Tabulae Iliacae – miniature marble tablets dating to between the end of the first century BC and the early first century AD, which represent scenes from the Homeric epic cycle and other mythological and historical subjects.
For related links and images of the objects Mike discusses in the video, please visit the interview page at http://classicsconfidential.co.uk/201…

Ancient Art Podcast | Lycurgus Cup

The blurb:

Raise your glass to the most incredible chalice from antiquity. The Lycurgus Cup in the British Museum is truly exceptional for its exquisite beauty, delicate craftsmanship, magnificent detail, and a seemingly magical ability to transform colors before your very eyes. Discover the myth of the doomed Thracian king, Lycurgus, driven mad by Dionysus and ensnared by the wine god’s creeping vines. Explore the wondrous curiosity of Roman cage cups found in collections across the world, including the Corning Museum of Glass and the Cologne Cup in the Römisch Germanisches Museum

The video: