Exploring Intercommunity Political Activity in Fourth-Century Greece

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This papers offers a new perspective on the nature of ancient Greek political activity. It might seem reasonable to take the view that the study of ancient Greek political behaviour could plausibly focus upon exchanges that went on inside the polis: after all, the word ‘politics’ derives from the Greek politika (‘polis affairs’). However, the concerns of ancient Greek polis-communities were not merely introspective: communities (regardless of size or military clout) were obliged to face the consequences of the decisions and activity of other communities. Human representatives of city-states performed necessary interactions with outsiders: they fought as soldiers, and staked political or ideological claims as ambassadors and politicians. On their return to their home communities, these individuals proclaimed to their audiences the significance of their activity away from home. Furthermore, the overlaps in social and cultural structure of different Greek city-states (especially in the light of Greif’s (1994) work on the relationship between cultural and institutional structure), as well as the existence of shared modes of decision-making, might lead us to anticipate the value of trans-community forms of political activity. At the heart of this question, therefore, is an overall debate about the degree of ‘unity’ of Greek political institutions and behaviour (a view recognised in some classical contexts: cf. e.g. Rhodes with Lewis 1997; Jones 1987; Herman 1987; Mitchell 1998; Low 2006; Vlassopoulos 2007; Hunt 2010, but perhaps better established for the Hellenistic period: cf., e.g., Crowther 1992; Ma 2003; Fröhlich 2004; Dmitriev 2005), a debate I intend to explore by particular reference to the contested transferability of the decree (psephisma) in Greek inter-state politics of the fourth century.

In this paper I will assess the extent to which political activity possessed transferable value between Greek city states of fourth-century Greece: I will explore (a) Athenian perceptions of the shared characteristics of Greek political systems and morality, (b) the claims the Athenians made about the trans-community significance of their own political forms and institutions, (c) the dissemination of Athenian legislation among other communities, and (d) Athenian politicians’ deployment of their political skills outside Athens. Some Athenians took the view that political values, institutions, and rhetoric possessed transferable trans-community moral and persuasive significance, and I will assess the evidence for the possibility that, in some circumstances, other Greek communities were interested in Athenian politics. How far, I will ask, was this perception of a cross-community transferability of politics distinct from (and indeed distinguishable from) wider hegemonic tendencies associated with the Athenians of the classical period? Was it challenged in the second half of the fourth century? Does awareness of such correspondence between globalistic and hegemonic views of the world (and its implications) underlie current implementations of International Political Economy and Institutional Logics theories, or can it inform them (cf. Friedland and Alford 1991; Djelic 2010; Thornton, Ocasio and Lounsbury 2012, 173-4)?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAncient Greek History and Contemporary Social Science
EditorsCanevaro Mirko, Erskine Andrew, Gray Ben, Ober Josiah
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781474421799
ISBN (Print) 9781474421775
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2018

Publication series

NameEdinburgh Leventis Studies


  • ancient Greek politics
  • the polis
  • oratory


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