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Marathon Fighters and Men of Maple: Ancient Acharnai

Marathon Fighters and Men of Maple: Ancient Acharnai

By Danielle L. Kellogg. Pp. ix + 348, figs. 9. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013. £75. ISBN 978-0-19-964579-4 (paper).

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This book has its origins in a dissertation submitted to the University of Pennsylvania in 2005. “The subsequent delay in publication,” according to the author, is the result of “the almost total reworking and reconsideration of the ideas contained” in the dissertation (vii). Readers of this monograph—who will include specialists concerned with the Attic countryside and Athenian associations, as well as those with a more general interest in Athenian history—will find plenty of reasons to be grateful for the delay. Kellogg presents an impressively thorough and meticulous examination of all the evidence relating to the largest of Athens’ demes. She also passes beyond the simple compilation of material in order to engage with influential recent readings of broader themes in Athenian history. This is, in short, exemplary Attic microhistory, with welcome (if only occasional) connections to the macrohistory of the Athenian polis.

The work begins with a short theoretical introduction. Kellogg situates her work in the tradition of empirically minded investigations of the Attic countryside of Eliot, Traill, Whitehead, and Osborne. She notes Finley’s insistence that local histories should contribute to larger questions, only to declare that she has “chosen to ignore [Finley’s] warning” (4). Her hopes for her project are accordingly modest: “that by presenting a picture of life in one rural Athenian deme … our knowledge of life in the Athenian polis may be, in some small way, enhanced” (4).

That close study of a single deme can indeed contribute to our view of the Athenian polis is quickly demonstrated in the book’s first chapter, on the site of Acharnai. Kellogg argues that the ancient deme was not a single settlement; instead, though public areas were concentrated in one place, there were also “other, subsidiary, areas of population” (26). This supports the increasingly popular view that many (if by no means all) demes had more than one center of population.

In the second chapter, on demography, Kellogg relies mainly on the calculations of Hansen, especially the proposition that “for every new bouleutēs [councillor] of 30 years of age, there would have needed to be some 65 males in the total population” (41). Kellogg uses this and other models to conclude that the total male citizen population of Acharnai in the Classical period was between 1,500 and 1,800, making it in all likelihood “the largest single centre of citizen population outside of Athens” (69).

Chapter 3 examines the politics and economics of Acharnai. In some ways, Acharnian institutions look similar to those of other demes; as with other demes, for example, the deme assembly (called an agora) of Acharnai seems to have been held in the deme itself (111). In other ways, though, Acharnai’s approach to its affairs can fairly be called “idiosyncratic” (112); this can be seen, for example, in the leasing of the deme’s theater. Acharnai’s magistracies encapsulate its blend of the typical and the exceptional: in addition to the usual demarch and tamias (treasurer), Acharnians were perhaps the only Athenians to have at their disposal a deme grammateus (secretary).

There follows a fourth chapter on local identity. In the Classical period, men of Acharnai were associated chiefly with two things—bellicosity and charcoal. Amphitheos’ characterization of the chorus in Aristophanes’ Acharnians (lines 178–85) as “sturdy geezers, tough as hardwood, stubborn Marathon fighters, men of maple” refers to both these traits (the maple providing not only a hard wood but also a fine charcoal). Kellogg’s suggestion is that these martial associations were due in large part “to the distinctive cult of Ares and Athena Areia located in the deme” (137).

This leads Kellogg to the topic of her final chapter: religion at Acharnai. Here the suggestion that there was a shrine of Oineus at Acharnai is of great interest. If it is correct, Oineus would be one of only two of the eponymous heroes of the Kleisthenic phylai (tribes) to have his cult center outside of Athens itself. Moreover, if the cult of Oineus existed at Acharnai before Kleisthenes’ reforms, in selecting him as a tribal hero the Athenians may well “have co-opted an aspect of the Acharnian identity for use in a pan-Attic context, weaving the Acharnians more tightly into the fabric of a unified Attica” (174).

The conclusion returns to the theoretical vein of the introduction. “While a certain amount of standardization or uniformity was indeed necessary across all 139 demes for the Athenian democratic system to function,” Kellogg states, “it is becoming increasingly clear that a ‘one size fits all’ model of the Attic countryside elides the diversity and flexibility of the socio-political organization of ancient Athens” (192). This sentence makes clear the considerable challenges that will face scholars seeking to make generalizing claims about the Kleisthenic system. But it also highlights the potential such synthetic studies now have to present integrated accounts of the democratic polis that remain sensitive to local variation. For scholars working at such higher levels of generality, the archaeological gazetteer and exhaustive Acharnian prosopography that round out Kellogg’s work will be of great value.

For most such scholars, Kellogg’s careful work on the evidence from a single deme will require no excuse or apology. Indeed, their work will be aided by the pains she takes to link her conclusions to broader historical questions. All of this makes her dismissal of Finley’s insistence on the importance of such questions in her introduction as surprising as it is unnecessary, especially since she offers no substantive arguments against Finley’s stance.

Still, some might find it helpful to read Kellogg’s book alongside a more general account of Athenian associations (e.g., P. Ismard, La cité des réseaux [Paris 2010]; not in her bibliography). Kellogg’s discussion of the involvement of an Acharnian family in the office of the dadouchia (torch-bearer) at Eleusis is compelling; but even specialist readers might want to situate the Acharnian evidence within the larger pattern of what Ismard calls the “aristocratisation” (393) of Athenian religious associations in the Hellenistic period.

This, of course, is not a criticism of Kellogg’s work. On the contrary, the ease with which her book can be put into dialogue with more synthetic works is an aspect of its success. It is sure to be joined by further monographs on individual demes (e.g., Delphine Ackermann’s study of Aixone is forthcoming). And researchers wanting to try their hands at this relatively novel genre of Attic history are unlikely to find a better model than Kellogg’s book.

James Kierstead
Victoria University of Wellington

Book Review of Marathon Fighters and Men of Maple: Ancient Acharnai, by Danielle L. Kellogg

Reviewed by James Kierstead

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 1 (January 2015)

Published online at


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