Mordende Mitbürger. Stasis und Bürgerkrieg in griechischen Poleis des Hellenismus

Börm, Henning
Historia – Einzelschrift 258
Stuttgart 2019: Franz Steiner Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
362 S.
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Henry Heitmann-Gordon, Abteilung für Alte Geschichte, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Stasis has long been discussed as an essential feature of both the reality and the self-description of ancient Greek political culture. For the Hellenistic period in particular, the paradigm of the continued vitality of the polis has caused recent scholars to focus on its role not only in Hellenistic democracy, but also in Rome’s successful expansion into the East. Since a full treatment of the topic for the Hellenistic period has never been written, Henning Börm’s (B.) stimulating study of the phenomenon, born out of his 2017 Konstanz Habilitationsschrift, is more than welcome and destined to become essential reading on the topic.

In his introduction, B. surveys the challenges of the material and previous approaches to stasis. The definition adopted essentially follows that of A. Dössel: a stasis is any domestic conflict between two hostile factions that involves the use of structural or physical violence to such an extent that peace and public institutions are threatened (p. 35).1 While the title might suggest a very bloodthirsty approach, the author thus shows significant nuance here and elsewhere in his analysis. However, B. also adopts a decidedly Machiavellian (or perhaps better Paretoian) outlook, largely following in the footsteps of H.-J. Gehrke’s work on the Classical period and rejecting bottom-up and exceptionalist perspectives, as well as B. Gray’s recent approach with its focus on different visions of polis community.2 In a nutshell, B. accordingly argues that stasis was a predominantly elite-driven phenomenon caused by the failure of Greek elites to develop a reliable system of internal hierarchisation. This structural flaw was deeply embedded in Classical and Hellenistic polis society alike and caused problems especially whenever interstate conflict arose. The multipolar nature of the Hellenistic political landscape and the failure of the institutions available to curb competition (such as euergetism, gymnasium culture and the kings) further exacerbated this dynamic, which was fettered only by Rome. While the author shows awareness of the difficulty in pinning down „Hellenistic elites“, this matter is not of great significance throughout the book, nor are philosophical thought or other cultural aspects of these often brutal conflicts thematized.3 This is therefore a decidedly political, top-down study that seeks to dissect the conceptualisation of stasis found in the sources, i.e. as conflict driven by friendship bonds with foreign powers and socio-political cleavages: rich – poor/creditor – debtor, young – old, democrat – oligarch.

After the introduction, the book falls in three parts. The first and longest (p. 37–170) provides a chronological account of all staseis documented in the literary sources, organised by the major conflicts. The result is a sort of narrative history of the Hellenistic period consisting solely of staseis, which provides an immensely useful collection of material. B. succeeds admirably in identifying even faint traces of conflict, stitching together the snippets while also embedding them in the historical framework. Especially in his footnotes, the author further provides much important discussion on the individual episodes, all while exercising due caution lest he overstrain the material.

Part two (p. 171–272) turns to a selection of epigraphic evidence, mainly homonoia decrees, decrees honouring foreign judges (IG XII,4 1,132, I.Iasos 82, SEG 30:1119, SEG 36:750 & 752, SEG 57:576, SEG 25:447, OGIS 48, SEG 50:1304, Syll.³ 684, IK Knidos 34), civic oaths (IosPE I² 401, I.Cret III,iv,8, I.Cret I,ix,1), and laws against tyranny (IG II/III³ 1320, I.Ilion 25, I.Erythrai 503, IG XII,2 526), most of them well-known. B. justifies this subdivision by pointing to the difficulty of fitting the often imprecisely dated epigraphic evidence into his chronological scheme. While a more thematic approach might have avoided this issue, the division does prove quite convincing: while the historiographical sources are explicit in their thematization of conflict, the inscriptions largely obscure it and reflect communication not among the elite, but between elite and demos (p. 283f.).

The analysis of the epigraphic material is generally impressive. B. provides balanced assessments of the famous homonoia decrees, often following A. Dössel, but always making points of his own, such as when he emphasizes the small size of the groups at the heart of these conflicts. The other interpretations are similarly well-argued, especially for the Alipheira decree, which he sees as a hybrid between a declaration of victory by the now dominant faction and an attempt at reconciliation. Throughout this part, B. persuasively insists that these texts, as future-oriented monuments of the victors, have to be read against the grain (p. 254) to decipher the discourse of stasis, and he does so with great success, especially in his discussion of civic oaths and laws on tyranny. He shows that the oaths evoke largely the same dichotomies as the literary sources and that these were deeply entangled with both self-perception and historical reality. Paired with the fact that „democrat“ became the only legitimate self-description possible in Hellenistic political discourse, this caused any opponent to be branded a tyrant by default, making the discourse of stasis a sister to that of tyranny.

The final part of the book (p. 273–311) provides a lengthy summary and positions the results in relation to key issues in Hellenistic politics, cementing B.’s argument that stasis was an integral and vital force in Hellenistic history by reconsidering its role in Roman expansion and its disappearance in Late Antiquity. B. emphasizes that stasis was detrimental primarily to indirect forms of Roman control and that the Third Macedonian War should hence be seen as a watershed moment.

My most significant criticism is that the first part is not the discourse analysis B.’s announcement in the introduction (p. 33) leads one to expect.The author is rarely able to identify narrative colouring in the source material (as when he exposes a self-contradiction in Livy on p. 95) and the chronological organisation and rationalist focus obscure the scattered observations: in discussing the mysterious resistance to Lucullus at Chaironeia, for instance, B. rationalises the entire affair, rather than analysing its pederastic and tyrannicidal narrative elements (p. 143–5). The conclusions drawn from this part come as a surprise and while the findings gain much plausibility from the following parts of the book, they would be more convincing if the analysis was drawn up in discursive categories.

Nonetheless, this is an excellent study, deeply committed to a strongly political vision of the Hellenistic world as driven by calculating homines oeconomici. While one may be allowed to quibble whether this approach might not fall a bit short of the complex Hellenistic men and women we encounter in the evidence, B.’s reading is perfectly permissible and has a strong pedigree. While the first part is deterring in places, the second and third parts are insightful throughout and provide far more arguments in the details than this review can do justice to. The study will hence prove an illuminating read to scholars of the Hellenistic world and the Greek East, but also those working on the Republic. The book is handsomely produced, the bibliography comprehensive, and the index will certainly help one assemble B.’s views on single themes or cities.

1 Astrid Dössel, Die Beilegung innerstaatlicher Konflikte in den griechischen Poleis vom 5.–3. Jahrhundert v.Chr., Frankfurt am Main 2003.
2 Hans-Joachim Gehrke, Stasis. Untersuchungen zu den inneren Kriegen in den griechischen Staaten des 5. und 4. Jh. v.Chr., Munich 1985; Benjamin Gray, Stasis and Stability. Exile, the Polis, and Political Thought, c. 404–146 BC, Oxford 2015.
3 See for contrast Angelos Chaniotis, War in the Hellenistic World, Oxford 2005.

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