Summary and Info
At first sight an unusual work for review in this journal; but this challenging and well-argued thesis deserves recognition for taking full account of the fact that at all times in classical antiquity the majority of the population lived in the countryside. It is only recently that historians and archaeologists have turned their attention from the cities of Italy and Greece to the systematic study of the pattern of land use and settlement in the areas around the major civic centres. Thucydides claimed that the majority of Athenian citizens lived in the demes, villages, of Attika down to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war in 43 1 bc. In his survey of the economic resources of Attika Ober is right to dismiss the idea that the area did not have the soil or climate to sustain a rich agrarian economy. Its three large plains and many fertile valleys produced oil and wine aplenty and, on Ober's calculations, may have grown the grain to feed well over half of the Athenian population. Ober's discussion is not particularly original; for a thorough study of the rural settlement in Attika we have to wait for the publication of Robin Osborne's work. Attic agriculture, however, was disrupted in the Peloponnesian war by the yearly invasions of the Spartan army and later by the establishment by the Spartans of a permanent base at Dekeleia from which they could ravage the country- side. In the face of this Perikles' strategy was to bring the rural population into Athens, where they could be protected by the walls and supplied from the sea. There was little chance of a successful Spartan seige because much seige-warfare was ineffective at this date; the invention of the torsion catapult was still fifty years off. Sparta's policy of ravaging was the standard way of putting economic and psychological pressure on the enemy. Its effects were vividly described by Thucydides. Following Athens' defeat in 404 bc, as Ober demonstrates so well, a determination soon appeared that never again must Attika suffer as it had done. As early as 403 bc the orator Lysias stated: 'since we have lost everything else in battle, our homeland is all that is left to us'. In the next century writers repeatedly stressed the importance of the resources of Attika and the need for their protection. Xenophon reflected current discussion when he suggested that the best way to defend the territory of the Athenians was to plant advance units in the hills to guard the approach roads to Attika. The primary evidence for this new defensive mentality may be the numerous remains of forts and defensive walls to found in the hills of NW and NE Attika. These form the subject of the second half of Ober's book. Given the inadequate archaeo- logical investigation of these sites, Ober is over- ambitious in ascribing them all to the Fourth century, and some of them, it has been suggested recently, may not even be Athenian. In any case Ober misses the final irony of the fact that this defensive system did not work. Two land leases of the period, which laid down the terms of sharing the cost of damage done to property ravaged by enemy action, are testimony to the continuing insecurity of the countryside. Even though there was only one raid in the century, on the three occasions when Attika was threatened with serious invasion in 338, 335 and 322 bc, the Athenians hurriedly came to terms with the enemy to avoid damage and disruption to their agriculture. Ober's detailed study of one area is a most useful supplement to V D Hanson's Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983).
More About the Author
Josiah Ober is an American historian of ancient Greece and classical political theorist. He is Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Professor in honor of Constantine Mitsotakis, and Professor of Classics and Political Science, at Stanford University.
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