Hellas und das große Ganze. Die alten Griechen in “Weltgeschichten” zwischen Geschichtswissenschaft, Buchverlagen und historischer Bildung

Walter, Uwe
Studien zur Alten Geschichte
Göttingen 2023: Verlag Antike
Anzahl Seiten
166 S.
€ 50,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Victor Parker, Dept. of Classics, University of Canterbury

Walter’s engaging book focusses on the Greek section of five twentieth-century German “World Histories”:

1.) Ullstein Weltgeschichte (six volumes; 1907–1910): K.J. Beloch covered the Bronze Age to Alexander, K.J. Neumann the Hellenistic period (together with the Roman Republic);

2.) Neue Propyläen Weltgeschichte (only four of the projected six volumes were published; 1940–1943): H.E. Stier covered Greek history from the Bronze Age through the Hellenistic period;

3.) Fischer Weltgeschichte (36 volumes; volumes 3 through 7, which contain the Greek sections, appeared in 1965–1967); Mycenaean period (a chapter in vol. 3 – M.I.Finley), Dark Ages and Archaic period (a chapter in vol. 4 – M.I. Finley); Classical period (the bulk of vol. 5 – H. Bengtson); early Hellenistic period (the bulk of vol. 6 – P. Grimal et al.); late Hellenistic period (subsumed under the “Making of Rome”) (in vol. 7 – P. Grimal et al.).

4.) Herder Weltgeschichte (one volume; 1971): J. Bleicken’s Greek chapter covers post–Mycenaean Greece through the Hellenistic period;

5.) Holle Universalgeschichte (one volume; 1974): G. Wirth covered the Bronze Age to the end of the classical period, H. Kaletsch Alexander and the Hellenistic period.

Walter’s opening chapter (pp. 9–32) discusses both the nature of such collaborative enterprises and the difficulties which contributors encounter when coping with their colleagues’ prospective judgement, their publisher’s ukases, and their envisaged readers’ background and wishes. The succeeding chapters in Walter’s book present each individual “World History” as a whole and discuss the Greek section’s position in it before introducing the author of the Greek section and then discussing his contribution at some length.

One complication, never explicitly problematised, is whether the Mycenaean and Hellenistic periods count as “actual” Greek history. Thus Walter does not discuss Neumann’s, Grimal’s, and Kaletsch’s treatment of the Hellenistic period in the Ullstein, Fischer, and Holle World Histories. As for the Mycenaean period, both Beloch and Stier covered it as best they could even though no-one at the time could tell for certain whether the Mycenaeans were even Greek.1 The decipherment of Linear B in 1953 settled that question, and the Linear B texts quickly revealed a world far different from what anyone had hitherto even suspected. Yet Moses Finley in vol. 3 of the Fischer Weltgeschichte dismissed the Linear B material as worthless2, and in vol. 4 (p. 283) declared the Mycenaean period not “actually” Greek history. It was surely the publisher’s decision in the Herder Weltgeschichte to have Jochen Bleicken begin his chapter in the post-Mycenaean period (cf. Walter, p. 130); the Mycenaeans are covered, archaeologically only even if the Linear B texts are mentioned en passant, in an earlier chapter on the Bronze Age Mediterranean world (pp. 196–197 – not discussed by Walter). In the Holle Universalgeschichte Gerhard Wirth does cover the Mycenaeans, but does so on the basis of the archaeological material only.3 Although they completely rewrote our understanding of Mycenaean state and society, the Linear B tablets might as well not have existed as far as these last three World Histories are concerned, and what the latter do have to say about Mycenaean society is therefore, as though by design, perfectly useless.

To turn, however, to Walter’s discussion of the individual historians. By far the most important is Julius Beloch. A treatment of Greek history by Beloch – one which chronologically stands between the first and second editions of his Griechische Geschichte – is eo ipso of interest. Walter therefore rightly devotes more space to Beloch (pp. 33–59) than to any of the others. Of particular merit is Walter’s clear-headed discussion of Beloch’s view on what drives history (pp. 42–46), especially how Beloch relativised the rôle played by far too many modern historians’ bête noire, the “Great Man”.

Hans Erich Stier (Walter, pp. 61–84) is less important, but the era of his contribution, the Nazi period, imparts some interest to it; and Walter (pp. 73–77) shows how Stier bent to ideological winds in vocabulary and theme wherever necessary, whilst declining to break in substance: in one case Stier makes an ideologically required assertion (Stier, p. 178; Walter, p. 77), but guts it with the disingenuous phrase “as it seems” – in ordinary speech meaningless verbiage, but amongst colleagues well-understood shorthand for “this isn’t actually proved”.

The Fischer Weltgeschichte, unlike its two predecessors here discussed, was a sprawling, 36-volume work which afforded its contributors some scope for discussing evidence and consciously reflecting on the principles implicit in their presentation of the material. Walter shows (pp. 97–106) how in particular Finley usefully availed himself of the latter possibility in his discussion of post-Mycenaean, pre-Classical Greece.

Unlike Finley’s two brief chapters in volumes 3 and 4, Hermann Bengtson’s contribution comprises by far the better part of volume 5 under the title “Greeks and Persians”. Walter (pp. 107–113) rightly categorises Bengtson’s chapters as a deeply conventional presentation in which we duly learn about the deeds of Great Men who, “departing, leave behind [them] \ Footprints on the sands of time”. Although the title of the volume – set presumably by the publisher – promises an even treatment of Greeks and Persians (see on this Walter, pp. 107–108), Bengtson in his preface (p. 9) contrarily justifies a treatment which will focus on Greeks. Moreover, as Walter (p. 109) notes, Bengtson conventionally presents the Greeks as freedom-loving “goodies” and the Persians as despotic “baddies”. Thus Bengtson suppresses evidence which makes the Persians appear less oppressive (Herodotus 6,42–43); and even where one might justifiably tell the story from the Persians’ perspective (e.g. Persian diplomacy with the Greeks from 413 to the mid-360s: the two draft treaties at Thucydides 8,18 and 37 clearly stem from the Persians; Artaxerxes II’s rescript at Xenophon, Hellenica 5,1,31, was composed by a non-native speaker of Greek, i.e. presumably a Persian), Bengtson cleaves to the Greek perspective with a will of iron.

The brevity of Bleicken’s and Wirth’s chapters obviously limited what either could say; and accordingly Walter too is limited in what he can say (on Bleicken see Walter, pp. 130–135; on Wirth see Walter, pp. 135–142). The reviewer for his part will limit himself to the comment that from the perspective of undergraduate pedagogy, Bleicken’s chapter stands head and shoulders above the others here discussed.

1 Older scholars who dated the “Coming of the Greeks” to ca. 1200 B.C. necessarily considered the Mycenaeans non-Greeks. See R. Drews, The Coming of the Greeks, Princeton 1988, pp. 16–17.
2 Fischer Weltgeschichte, vol. 3, pp. 315–317 – from 1966, well after the publication of Ventris’ and Chadwick’s epoch-making Documents in Mycenaean Greek (1956) and the first three international Mycenaean colloquia (1956, 1958, 1964).
3 Wirth mentions the Linear B tablets in an aside in his Minoan section (pp. 75–76) and admits that they have become “the most important evidence for state and society” of the early Greeks (p. 76). Yet his Mycenaean section (pp. 73–75) is based on archaeological evidence only.

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