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The Early Hellenistic Peloponnese: Politics, Economies, and Networks 338–197 BC.

The Early Hellenistic Peloponnese: Politics, Economies, and Networks 338–197 BC.

By D. Graham J. Shipley. Pp. xxxii + 355. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2018. $120. ISBN 978-0-521-87369-7 (cloth).

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Though we possess a general picture regarding the Peloponnesian peninsula for the period this book describes, between the Battle of Chaironeia and the Macedonian defeat against the Romans in the Battle of Kynoskephalai, “the present study examines an under-researched topic” (1). The conventional picture of the Early Hellenistic Peloponnese Shipley alludes to is that of a region oppressed by the Macedonian kings, ruined by warfare and tyranny.

In this excellently produced book, Shipley seeks to redress this picture through a variety of evidence: literary, archaeological, epigraphic, and numismatic. These last three, from the author’s perspective, sufficiently complement the inadequate literary sources (esp. for the period 301–229 B.C.E.) “to justify a new construction of the early hellenistic Peloponnese” (8). Shipley’s new construction demonstrates, he believes, that the evidence shows a thriving civic culture and a healthy trading economy under elite patronage instead of ruined societies. Moreover, in his view, the evidence suggests that loyalty to the individuals’ poleis remained more intact and stronger than loyalty to regional and federalist structures such as the Achaean league. Shipley employs theoretical models in this book, but he avoids a heavy exposition of them, making this work quite accessible for students of graduate level, although it is primarily destined for a more advanced academic audience.

The author expounds his views in five main thematic sections: “The Acropolis of Greece”; “Warfare and Control”; “Power and Politics”; “Economics and Landscapes”; and “Region, Network, and Polis.” Each theme includes several subthemes. The book concludes with a bibliography, an index locorum, and a general index. To facilitate the understanding of his argument, Shipley adds a “probable family tree of the Argive ‘tyrants’” (114), seven tables, and nine maps. Although some maps, like E showing the northeastern Peloponnese to Boeotia and Attica, regrettably show little detail, most are extremely helpful for following Shipley’s reasoning or the situation he alludes to. In this respect, the detailed maps of the Peloponnese are especially welcome, even more so because, as the author phrases it, “The overall geography of the Peloponnese is described surprisingly rarely in current English-language scholarship” (10).

Shipley uses the first theme to introduce his research methodology and to provide his audience with the (much needed, in his view) geographical knowledge of the Peloponnese. It is an approach I greatly welcome and find exemplary. The four remaining themes are used to make Shipley’s research accessible to his audience. The second theme concerns how the Peloponnese was affected by wars and the actions of external powers (with a focus chiefly on Macedonian military involvement, in its widest context, and that of the Achaean League or koinon). Shipley’s main conclusion is that Macedonia’s negative impact on the peninsula, be it as a unit or as a set of regions, has been exaggerated. Meanwhile, it looks certain that Macedonia’s desire to control the Peloponnese induced a near-constant controversy with Sparta over control of the peninsula, which slowly but surely undermined Sparta’s resources.

In theme three, Shipley “assesses the balance between change and continuity in Peloponnesian politics and compares the extent to which it was affected by Macedonian power . . . as opposed to internal factors” (92), focusing on the position of the polis. Even though most of what he writes about the polis and especially a phenomenon like stasis may ring familiar one way or another, here too his approach makes the developments on the Peloponnese understandable and his main thesis (as regards the limited political aims of the Macedonians in the Peloponnese) feasible.

Whether Macedonia’s limited aims, as Shipley proposes, had an effect on economic circumstances in the Peloponnese (change, continuity, greater or lesser inequality) is the subject of theme four. He writes, “Historians have rarely enquired after the economic condition of the Peloponnese at this time, and have tended to echo the damning judgements of ancient authors, Polybios above all” (159). Even though Polybios’ rant (2.62.3–4) appears to have been particularly directed against the Antigonid influences on the Peloponnese, his words have been—too easily, it seems—taken to reflect on the Early Hellenistic period as a whole as well as on the Peloponnese in its entirety. Shipley makes clear that such a view cannot be sustained in its absoluteness: though some regions may have suffered, the economic condition of the Peloponnese was, broadly speaking, sound. What I found especially stimulating in the author’s treatment of this theme is his challenge, based on a very detailed investigation of the available archaeological and numismatic evidence, of the still widely defended views of Rostovtzeff (The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World [Oxford 1941]).

The fifth theme examines “why continuity and perhaps modest improvement . . . were the salient features of the early hellenistic Peloponnese” (244). Many of the strands discussed in the previous chapters are brought together in the 14 sections comprising this part.

I found Shipley’s treatment of the subject innovative (especially due to his inclusion of more than the literary evidence) and reader-friendly (if only thanks to its structure), and the narrative clear. Though I am largely convinced by his argument, it is obvious that a book like this will provoke reactions: because of that it is useful and stimulating, as both a teaching and a research tool. This book deserves to be read by any serious student and scholar of either the Hellenistic period or the Peloponnese.

Jan P. Stronk

Book Review of The Early Hellenistic Peloponnese: Politics, Economies, and Networks 338–197 BC., by D. Graham J. Shipley

Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 4 (October 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1234.Stronk

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