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Denver Graninger: Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly, Leiden / Boston: Brill 2011, XI + 210 S., ISBN 978-90-04-20710-3, EUR 93,00
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Rezension von:
Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos
Institute for Greek and Roman Antiquity, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos: Rezension von: Denver Graninger: Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly, Leiden / Boston: Brill 2011, in: sehepunkte 12 (2012), Nr. 7/8 [15.07.2012], URL:

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Denver Graninger: Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly

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Denver Graninger, after writing an excellent chapter on Macedonia and Thessaly, [1] returns with this monograph to Thessalian cults, to which he has devoted his Ph.D. dissertation. [2] His new work comprises, besides the appropriate acknowledgements and a map, an introduction, four chapters entitled respectively "I. Thessalian Histories", "II. Federal Sanctuaries", "III. The Thessalian Calendars" and "IV. International Religion", a "Conclusion and Postscript: Ainian Futures", an "Epigraphic Appendix", an "Index Locorum" and a "Subject Index".

In the first chapter the author provides an informative overview of the Thessalian geography [3] and history. He particularly insists on the necessary distinction between Thessaly proper (the four tetrades: Pelasgiotis, Hestiaiotis, Thessaliotis, Phthiotis) and the "perioikic" regions (Perrhaibia, Magnesia, Phthiotis Achaia, Malis, Oitaia, Ainis, Dolopia).

I do not understand what the author means when he entertains the possibility that the penestai had "fallen into their subordinate status by constitutional means" (13). It is also curious that he omits dialect and alphabet as markers of Thessalian identity, although he rightly observes elsewhere (93) that dialect, like coinage and calendar "could be powerful markers of difference among communities and unity within them".

The main sanctuaries of the Thessalian ethnos, the one devoted to Athena Itonia near modern Philia and that of Zeus Eleutherios at Larissa, are examined in the second chapter.

There is nothing to add to the presentation of the latter sanctuary. The origins of the cult and the Eleutheria contests celebrated in honour of Zeus Eleutherios are competently discussed, and the second part of this chapter, based on the documents of the Epigraphic Appendix, provides indeed valuable information which is not readily available elsewhere. The discussion of the cult of Athena Itonia, however, calls for a number of remarks.

According to the author there were several sanctuaries of Athena Itonia in tetradic Thessaly and the one near modern Philia did not acquire its prominent position as the "federal" sanctuary of the Thessalian ethnos before the Roman settlement of 196. [4] In fact, however, the alleged "Pharkadon" sanctuary is none other than the sanctuary near Philia in Thessaliotis, as R. Baladié [5] and B. Helly [6] have convincingly explained and as the author himself more or less admits. [7] The alleged "Pelasgiotid" sanctuary is attested only by Pausanias in a passage which contains scribal mistakes and which has been partly restored. [8] It seems to me highly improbable that Pyrrhos would not have consecrated the spoils from Gonatas' Galatians in the well-known shrine at Itonos in Thessaliotis (vide infra), which would guarantee the desired publicity. The existence of the alleged "Krannon" sanctuary relies on no other evidence than the celebration of the Itonia in that city, but Itonia was a pan-Thessalian festival celebrated in the month Itonios in all the cities of Thessaly. There was indeed an Itonos in the Krokian field near the Pagasatic Gulf, but it was situated in Phthiotis Achaia, outside tetradic Thessaly. It seems to me that in Thessaly proper there was only one Itonos, one sanctuary of Athena Itonia, in Thessaliotis near modern Phila, and two pieces of evidence concerning it, which are known to the author, clearly show that its central position as a "federal" sanctuary dates from well before the Roman settlement of 196. These are a) the Thessalian decrees referring to the koinon of the Thessalians and engraved along with a Coan decree in praise of the Thessalians, which were enacted in c. 294-288 (IG 12.4.1, 133), and b) the Coan law on sacred envoys (theoroi) adopted in the second half of the third century (IG 12.4.1, 207). Both the Coan decree and law mention Itonos, the one as the place were the Coan envoys should proclaim the honours voted by their city and the other as the place where they should announce the forthcoming festival in honour of Asklepios. The editors of the inscriptions as well as B. Helly in the Chiron article rightly identify Itonos as the well-known "federal" Thessalian sanctuary of Athena Itonia explicitly situated in Thessaliotis by Strabo in 9.5.14 and 17. [9] For some incomprehensible reason D. Graninger (57-58) discusses it in connection with the sanctuary in Phthiotic Achaia, to which no ancient literary or epigraphic source ascribes an official function. Even more curiously he concludes that "such testimony, suggestive as it may be, does not yet provide evidence of the status of the sanctuary from a Thessalian perspective". Another mention of Itonos in a third century inscription from Aigai in Aiolis has escaped the author's attention. [10] It is a document of capital importance, for it is a decree of the Thessalians which establishes beyond any doubt that the Thessalian koinon functioned as a decision-making body under the Macedonian kings throughout the third century and that "federal" decrees were published at the sanctuary of Athena Itonia. Moreover, this new element might allow us to date in a period prior to the Roman settlement the decree of Mytilene in honour of the Thessalian koinon (IG XII, Suppl. 3), which L. Robert had dated, in spite of its early lettering, [11] after 196, only because he thought that the Thessalian koinon did not exist before that year. [12] If this chronological revision were accepted, it would no longer be necessary to date the nearly contemporary Larissa decree in honour of Bakchios from Mytilene after 196, since its lettering too suggests an earlier date. [13] This latter decree offers us an additional mention of Itonos as a "federal" sanctuary bringing up to four the number of attestations of the sanctuary of Athena Itonia as the religious centre of tetradic Thessaly well before the Roman settlement.

The excellent chapter on the Thessalian calendars rightly underlines the importance of Greek calendars "as powerful markers of difference among communities and unity within them". As I have repeatedly stressed, the names of the months of the Macedonian calendar on inscriptions enable us to practically draw the borders of Macedonia proper at a given period, as opposed to territories subject to the Macedonian kings but not considered as Macedonian. [14]

The Macedonian name of the month corresponding to our March is not Xanthikos, but Xandikos, just like the Perrhaibian month of the same name.

The chapter on "International Religion" offers useful information about the presence of Thessalians in Panhellenic sanctuaries, particularly at Delphi, and about the connections of Thessalian cults with the rest of the Greek world, but I am afraid that many Hellenists will be offended by its title.

"International" and even more "religion" are anachronistic terms out of place in an ancient Greek context. The first, without quotation marks, implies the existence of several Greek nations, while even the existence of one is subject to controversy, and the second suggests a codified creed to which, until the diffusion of the Christian faith, the ancient Greeks remained recalcitrant. The author should rather follow Herodotus (8.144.2), who wrote of "common shrines and sacrifices". Moreover, the conclusion of the chapter that "such activity (i.e. of the koinon "in the early second century and continuing into the first") contrasts strongly with the fourth and third centuries when individual cities were the primary participants in international festivals" is belied by the very activity of the koinon in the third century, which the author either ignores or underestimates. This exclusive insistence on the later Hellenistic period calls the title of the book itself into question. Although it is entitled Cult and koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly, the first sentence of its introduction describes it as a monograph which "examines the state religion of the Thessalian League, ca. 196-27". Leaving aside the anachronistic notion of "state religion", one is surprised by the severe "shrinking" of the Hellenistic age into the short period between the years 196 and 27, depriving it thus from its first and most creative part. This seems another unfortunate consequence of the erroneous belief that there was no Thessalian koinon before the Roman intervention in Greece.

The "Conclusion and Postscript: Ainian Futures" constitutes an interesting case study of one of the minor perioikic ethne, which despite its incorporation into the Thessalian koinon managed to keep alive its specific cults and legends.

The Epigraphic Appendix comprises a new edition of seven Eleutheria victor lists and one list from a dramatic festival at Larissa, which provide the documentary base for the discussion of the cult of Zeus Eleutherios.

In contradistinction to the complete bibliography and index locorum, the "Subject Index" hardly deserves that name.

In conclusion the present monograph has many merits. It has been carefully produced. In particular the mistakes or other oversights [15] in the Greek passages [16] are extremely rare. It has been written by a scholar who possesses an excellent command of the bibliography and also field experience of Thessaly and its antiquities. The author is usually cautious in his opinions, [17] but occasionally does not shrink from adopting new interpretations and suggestions. The main fault that I find, the misreading of the third century documents and the exclusion of the early Hellenistic period from his monograph, is only marginally his, for it reflects the current dogma on the absence of a Thessalian koinon under the Macedonian kings. On balance there is much to praise and little to blame in Cults and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly, which will prove a useful reference book thanks to the wealth of reliable information that it contains.


[1] D. Graninger: "Macedonia and Thessaly", in I. Worthington / J. Roisman (eds): A Companion to Ancient Macedonia (Malden MA - London 2010) 306-325, a contribution among the few to stand out in an otherwise disappointing volume.

[2] D. Graninger: The Regional Cults of Thessaly (Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell 2006).

[3] One wonders why the author consistently (9,17) transcribes Livy's Cambunii montes "Kamvouni", which are usually (and appropriately) rendered as "Cambunian mountains" in English.

[4] See p. 46; cf. p. 2.

[5] Cf. R. Baladié: Strabon, Géographie, Livre IX (Paris 1996) 228.

[6] B. Helly: "Décrets de cités thessaliennes à Cos", Chiron 34 (2004) 96-98 with references.

[7] See p. 52.

[8] The reading Φερῶν, which allegedly places the sanctuary in Pelasgiotis is but a modern correction.

[9] Cf. R. Baladié: Strabon, Géographie, Livre IX (Paris 1996) 228 and B. Helly: "Décrets de cités thessaliennes à Cos", Chiron 34 (2004) 98.

[10] H. Malay / M. Ricl: "Two New Hellenistic decrees from Aigai in Aiolis", EA 42 (2009) 48-55.

[11] Cf. H. Pistorius: Beiträge zur Geschichte von Lesbos im vierten Jahrhundert v. Chr. (Bonn 1913) 161, who dates this inscription c. 220 B.C. I owe this information to Chr. Habicht, to whom I extend my thanks.

[12] L. Robert: "Notes d'épigraphie hellénistique", BCH 49 (1925) 236-38 (= OMS I, p. 30-32).

[13] A. Tziafalias / B. Helly: "Deux décrets de Larissa", BCH 128-129 (2004-2005) 377-417 and 418-19.

[14] Cf. M. B. Hatzopoulos: Macedonian Institutions under the Kings. I. A Historical and Epigraphic Study ("MEΛETHMATA" 22; Athens 1996) 163-65; 187-88; 390-91.

[15] Menestheos (p. 34-35), which is a transcription of the genitive form, should be corrected into Menestheus, the expected transcription of the nominative Mενεσθεύς. There is some confusion between "capital" and "capitol" on p. 47, n. 8. The "Sofatidikos" river on p. 51-52 is the Sofaditikos. The "Ambacians" on p. 59 are certainly the Ambraciotes of the ancient city at modern Arta; "Kynokephalai" on p. 73 should be corrected into "Kynoskephalai".

[16] As on p. 31, n. 99 μέντον instead of μέντοι, άποκαθιστασθαι instead of άποκαθíστασθαι; on p. 59, n. 51 συντελουνένην instead of συντελουμένην; on p. 101, n. 49 ὐπέστρεψε instead of ὑπέστρεψε; on p. 112 ποά instead of πόα.

[17] Though I would not share the author's faith in the new orthodoxy concerning definitions of Greek or regional identities (5-6). The 'trendy' discussions about "ethnicity" do not seem to me to have brought about any significant improvement on Herodotus' definition of to hellenikon.

Miltiades B. Hatzopoulos