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Metics and the Athenian Phialai-Inscriptions: A Study in Athenian Epigraphy and Law (review)

From: Classical World
Volume 105, Number 4, Summer 2012
pp. 561-562 | 10.1353/clw.2012.0023

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Elizabeth A. Meyer. Metics and the Athenian Phialai-Inscriptions: A Study in Athenian Epigraphy and Law. Historia Einzelschriften, 208. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2010. Pp. 167. $90.00. ISBN 978-3-515-09331-6.

During the nineteenth century several fragments of inscriptions were discovered in Attica, which came to be known as the “Attic Manumissions.” These fragments recorded the dedications of bowls (φιάλαι) by metics who were defendants (ἀπέφυγε) in trials brought by Athenian citizens and in some cases by metics. Until now most scholars have believed that these trials were legal fictions: the accusers were masters who brought a δίκη ἀποστασίου against their slaves as a way of manumitting them or of liberating them from their duties as freedmen. The bowls were dedicated as a kind of tax for the transaction.

In this excellent monograph, Elizabeth Meyer challenges the traditional view of these inscriptions and presents a valuable new edition of the fragments. [End Page 561] Part I begins with a lucid review of previous interpretations from Curtius and Rangabé to E. Cohen and R. Zelnick-Abramovitz. She shows how the traditional views developed by piling one speculation on top of another. She then brings several objections to these views (I have selected what I consider the strongest ones). First, she observes that there were simple and inexpensive methods of manumitting slaves; there was no reason to invent such a cumbersome and costly procedure. Second, if these are manumissions, why do so many occur in the 330s and 320s, the period to which all the fragments are dated? Third, there is no evidence in the sources for such a tax on manumissions. Fourth, the restoration [δίκη ἀπο]στασίου in IG II2 1578, line 2, is hardly compelling (and one might add, the phrase is without parallel in official Athenian documents preserved on stone). Fifth, the view that the trials were designed to release freedmen from duties to their προστάται is also problematic because προστάται had to be citizens, whereas the “defendants” in these fictive trials were sometimes metics. Finally, δίκη ἀποστασίου was a private case, which would have first gone to a public arbitrator; why wasn’t the case settled at this stage instead of going to court, which would have added unnecessary time and expense? Meyer proposes that the trials arose from public prosecutions of metics for failure to pay the metic tax, and that the bowls represented a tithe of 10 percent from the 1,000 drachmas paid by unsuccessful prosecutors. As Meyer admits, her suggestion is speculative, but it has the merit of showing that the traditional interpretation is far from necessary.

Part II, “Epigraphy,” presents carefully edited texts of all the fragments based on autopsy with critical apparatus and epigraphical notes, which record all readings proposed since the second edition of Inscriptiones Graecae ii. There are also forty-seven superb photographs. This section will be a valuable resource for those interested in the status of metics in Athens. My only complaint is the absence of a prosopographical index and a list of all the occupations found in the fragments.

Edward M. Harris
Durham University
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