K. H. Kinzl home page     TLG code for Greek text

Regionalism in Classical Athens?
(Or: An Anachronism in Herodotos 1.59.3?)

Konrad H. Kinzl

 

The Ancient History Bulletin 3.1 (1989) 5–9

 

   

   

 

— 5 —

 

Herodotos introduces the reader to Athens at the point when Kroisos gathers intelligence about her, c. 547/6.1 Athens, he learns, was held down, and torn apart in strife, by Peisistratos son of Hippokrates who tyrannised the Athenians, having carried out successfully what he had been counselled by his son Hippias.2 It can hardly be by accident that Herodotos conjoins the counsel of Hippias and the tyrannis of his father. Athenians looking back into their history first encounter amongst the Peisistratidai Hippias and his reign of terror after the assassination of Hipparkhos until he was expelled by the Spartans.3 In “reverse chronology” it is therefore the events of 514/3-511/0 which serve as a lens, focussing and filtering the events that precede that period. As regards the events before Peisistratos’ violent return in about 547/6,4 that year’s traumatic experience serves as a further “lens” between the later viewer and Athenian history of the fourth and fifth decades (circa) of the sixth century.

Before one bases a whole edifice of historical reconstruction on a particular phrase in Herodotos one ought to examine the potentially distorting effect of these “lenses” or “filters”. Our field of operation is both limited and expanded by this approach.

Let us now examine the notorious Three Staseis, their names, and the names of their leaders. May we believe that three men named Megakles, Lykourgos, and Peisistratos, were leading active participants in what Herodotos terms a game of stasis? Surely, yes: proper names of individual persons are most easily impressed on people’s memories. Was it an early sixth-century tradition that handed Herodotos his terminology of stasis, stasiazein, etc.? Most likely, no; they would seem to have been borrowed from contemporary political practice and usage of Herodotos’ own age.5 The “names” of the Three Staseis6 (OI( PA/RALOI, OI( E)K TOU=

 

   

   

 

— 6 —

 

PEDI/OU, OI( U(PERA/KRIOI)? These are the least likely candidates for an early sixth-century tradition and provenance, because Herodotos himself shows us that they are not specific to Athens. Herodotos writes that the territory of Miletos consisted of TA\ PERI\ TH\N PO/LIN, TO\ PEDI\ON, and TA\ U(PERA/KRIA7 (He also informs us that when the Aiginetai ravaged Attika sometime in the late sixth century they struck at Phaleron and at many demoi of the rest of the paralia.8 There is in Attika also at least one other, separate entity, TO\ *QRIA/SION PEDI/ON, that Herodotos mentions.9)

It appears obvious that for Herodotos a typical Greek community (Athens, lest we forget, was not a typical Greek community, if only in size) consisted of the following regions: a coastal plain, an urban core settlement, and the hinterland at a higher elevation: paralia and pedion, asty, and hyperakria. In Attic terms, the bay of Phaleron and the adjoining coastal land towards the south-east, representing the paralia; the plain which is now the mega-city named Athina, as the pedion; and the higher ground where the terrain rises towards Mts Parnis, Brilessos, Hymettos, Aigaleos, including e.g. Aharné, Kifissiá, etc., making up Herodotos’ hyperakria. No special sixth-century tradition, not even autopsia10 was required for Herodotos to identify these “regions”.

All Herodotos needed to know was that three men named Megakles, Lykourgos, and Peisistratos, were engaged in some kind of political struggle. In his and his age’s language it was called stasis. It had to involve the city of Athens (with its political central locales) and with it presumably the plain around it; the adjoining coast; and, if a third person was identified as attempting to join the game of stasis, he would be based in the third-nearest region, namely, the higher ground overlooking pedion and paralia known as hyperakria.

Thoukydides’ observations on the topography of Attika are strikingly similar. There is, to the west, the Thriasion pedion with Eleusis. Then there is the pedion with the polis or asty. Overlooking the plain there is the higher terrain with Akharnai and some other demoi. There is also the paralos ge or paralia,which includes Phaleron, the west coast adjoining it continuing into the east coast to at least Laureion. These are the regions which suffer most dearly from the Peloponnesian invasions.11 Thoukydides makes Akharnai stand out in particular. He claims it

 

   

   

 

— 7 —

 

could send into battle no fewer than three thousand hoplites, and that King Arkhidamos was hopeful that by occupying it he could bring about stasis of the Akharneis. Having lost everything, the Akharneis would be less enthusiastic at laying down their lives for those less or least affected12 (i.e. those behind the walls or those out of reach of the Peloponnesian invader). This stasis13 which Arkhidamos envisages would be centred on the city and also involve its immediately surrounding areas.

Herodotos’ sixth-century activities all seem to occur in the vicinity of the city. In particular, the deception by Peisistratos of his fellow citizens suggests this. He drives into town bleeding from fresh wounds he had inflicted on himself but claims to have been caused by his enemies.14 He would have administered this kind of surgery in his home base which had to be near the city (unless we assume that he touched up his wounds with tomato ketchup). A ride from a distant corner of Attika across plains and over mountain passes is implausible, whilst one from a place just above the pedion is most plausible indeed. It is from the same general direction, incidentally, that Athena, impersonated by the tall and blond maiden Phye from Paiania,15 materialises in that splendid theatrical show staged by Megakles to haul Peisistratos back into Athens and his daughter’s bed.

Thoukydides, writing about events that occurred in his own lifetime, and using no doubt contemporary language, thought it possible that the Spartan King Arkhidamos expected stasis to erupt in Attika. Since he can scarcely haven known the expectations of Arkhidamos, we must assume that Thoukydides himself, observing near-stasis in 429/8, not to mention the stasis of 411/0, conjectures as to Arkhidamos’ assumptions. The historian who, like Herodotos, writes about events of the more distant past before his own lifetime, writes about these events in the language of his own contemporary world rather than that of the past. Herodotos accordingly portrays the actions of Megakles, Lykourgos, and Peisistratos, as stasis (using the terms current in the 45Os-420s), which he places in exactly the same regions in which at least near-staseis occurred during his own age.

In conclusion, I would suggest that Herodotos’ passage on the three staseis of sixth-

 

   

   

 

— 8 —

 

century Athens tells us less about the sixth century than it does about Athens of the mid-fifth century and later. If I am right in my assumption that there was a very real threat of regionally based stasis in the Attika of the age of Herodotos and Thoukydides,16 it would be tempting to speculate that the events of 464-2 might be similarly explained: the hoplites who accompanied Kimon to Lakedaimon may have been in their majority from the same region which Thoukydides could credit with supplying three thousand.17 In the 460s too their interests may have been substantively divergent from those of the pedion or the paralos ge populations. Therein perhaps lies the key to unlocking the mystery of the Ephialtic Revolution:18 its dynamics as driven by regional stasis.

 

   

   

 

— 9 —

 

Appendix

 

Herodotos is our earliest source for Peisistratos’ Three Tyrannies. The only other source for tyranny at Athens which is equally “ancient” or more “ancient” are the skolia preserved in Athenaios’ Deipnosophistai.19 The skolia clearly speak of not Peisistratos but of his son Hipparkhos. Historical accuracy aside, they do attest to an early attachment of the word tyrannis to the last years of the Peisistratid presence at Athens. As for Peisistratos himself,20 at any stage of his career except c. 547/6 when he acted upon the counsel of his son Hippias, the word tyrannos does not best describe his activities nor is there any reason to believe that Herodotos had any evidence that anyone ever referred to Peisistratos as tyrannos (just as there is no reason, in my opinion, to believe that anyone in Athens in the 560s used the word stasis, simply because the word turns up in Herodotos). Herodotos had a very clear notion of what a tyrannos stood for. The events at Athens around 514/3-511/0 are such that the label tyrannis fits perfectly. Because of the fact that, looking backwards, one first sees tyrannis in Athens connected with the Peisistratidai clan, that term also attaches to Peisistratos himself. If one were to search, unimpeded by the “filtering” effect of the violent reign of Hippias leading up to his expulsion, for an Athenian who behaved in a manner which coincides with Herodotos’ description of a tyrannos, and who did so consistently, one would turn up the name of Megakles son of Alkmeon.

 

   

   

 

Footnotes

 

1     The thoughts here presented were aired at the 1988 meetings of the Classical Association of Canada at the University of Windsor. I have kept annotation to minimum, limiting it mainly to the relevant passages in Herodotos and Thoukydides.

On the chronology, P.J. Rhodes, CommAthPol 191ff., must surely be right.

Return to text

2     Hdt. 1.59.1:
[Greek text]
Hdt. 1.65.1:
[Greek text]
Hdt. 1.61.2f.:
[Greek text].
Hdt. 1.64.3:
[Greek text]
(Texts from Herodotos after ed. H. Rosén [Leipzig 1987] for books 1 to 4, and after C. Hude [Oxford3 1927] for books 5 to 9.)

Return to text

3     Hdt. 5,55-65; Thoukyd. 1.20; 6.53.3-60.1; AP 17.3-19.

Return to text

4     Hdt. 1.61.3-64.1 (cf. n. 2 above); 1.59.3:
[Greek text]
Ath. pol. 13.4 names them
[Greek text]

Return to text

5     Stasis does admittedly occur in Solon 4.19 (West), though it seems difficult to construe it to mean Herodotos’ Three Staseis; cf. also Theogn. 51.

Return to text

6     See, for the most important literature, Rhodes (n. 1 above) at 13.iv., 184-187.

Return to text

7     Hdt. 6.20
[Greek text]

Return to text

8     5.81.3
[Greek text].
The possibility is undeniable that dêmoi is in this context used by Hdt. in an anachronistic way; Hdt. took it for granted that there were dêmoi along the coast but we have no proof that the Kleisthenic dêmoi had already been established by the time the Aiginetai attacked Athens during their confrontation with Boiotia. (Cf. p. 7 below with n. 15.)

Return to text

9     Hdt. 8.65.1; 9.7.ß.2. For illustration cf. D. Müller, Topographischer Bildkommentar zu den Historien Herodots etc. (Tübingen 1987 "Region VII: Attika" (593-725) (cf. my review in Gymnasium [96 (1989) 244f.]).

Return to text

10     Müller (n. 9 above) 14f. attempts again to make a case for extensive autopsia.

Return to text

11     Thoukyd. 2.19.1-23.3; 2.55.1- 56.3; 7.19.1f.:
[Greek text]

Return to text

12     Thoukyd. 2.20.4:
[Greek text]

Return to text

13     Although Thoukydides does not use the word stasis at 1.107.4 and 6, Spartan expectation of such activities and the Athenians’ suspicion of their motives are quite similar in the spring of 457 before Tanagra.

Return to text

14     Hdt. 1.59.4:
[Greek text]

Return to text

15     Hdt 1.60.3-5:
[Greek text]
(On the possible anachronistic usage of dêmos cf. n. 8 above.)

Return to text

16     Rather than “Regionalism in archaic Athens” (thus the title of an article by R. Sealey, Historia 9 (1960) 155-180 = Essays in Greek politics (New York 1967) 9-38).

Return to text

17     The figure three thousand has been dismissed as impossibly great, cf. e.g. Gomme, HistCommThuc at 2.20.4. On the other hand, Akharnai sent 22 bouleutai to the boulê, indicating its large size population over the age of thirty years. One just might speculate that there were a disproportionately greater number of men in their twenties around, before the health hazards of charcoal making such as emphysema or cancer had claimed their lives.

Return to text

18     As I would prefer to term it, cf. ["Athens: between tyranny and democracy", in K.H. Kinzl (ed.),] Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean ... (Berlin-New York 1977) 221.

Return to text

19     15.695 = FF 10-13 Diehl. Cf. e.g. V. Ehrenberg, “Das Harmodioslied”, WSt 69 (1956) = idem, Polis und Imperium (Zürich- Stuttgart 1965) 253-264, for an exalted interpretation. More likely, they were parodies sung and performed at symposia with the actors assuming the pose of the tyrannicides of Kritios and Nesiotes as seen on an Attic RF vase of c. 470 by the Copenhagen painter in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (to which I drew attention in Gymnasium 85 (1978) 126 with plate II).

Return to text

20     I am here merely reiterating points which were first made in “Betrachtungen zur älteren griechischen Tyrannis”, in Die ältere Tyrannis etc., ed. K.H. Kinzl (Darmstadt 1978) 308ff. and (revised) AJAH 4 (1979) 31ff. [English trans.].

Return to text

  Return to beginning