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  • Honor and Profit. Athenian Trade Policy and the Economy and Society of Greece, 415–307b.c.e
  • Thomas Figueira
Darel Tai Engen. Honor and Profit. Athenian Trade Policy and the Economy and Society of Greece, 415–307 B.C.E. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010. Pp. x, 400. $85.00 (pb.). ISBN 978-0-472-11634-8.

This work opens with a well-wrought prospectus, touching on evidence, chronology, and methodology, and highlighting placement of trade policy within debates between primitivists/modernists or formalists/substantivists over the ancient economy. This portrait of earlier analysis, continued into the next chapter, is fundamentally sound, although somewhat defensive toward ideologized primitivism, such as that of Karl Polanyi and his admirers; see my discussion in Anc. World 10 (1984) 15–30. To speak of Polanyi’s “conceptual tools” (24) magnifies sociological impressionism to absurdity (see 136, where Engen interprets more astutely). Engen also recognizes the limitations of M. I. Finley’s “model,” although I doubt the work of this brilliant critic reached quite that level of synthesis. Engen sensibly espouses sociocultural construction of economic systems against their status as products of fixed human nature. An important theme is struck by emphasizing that awards for trade-related services possessed honorific and practical value. According to Engen, this mixture is peculiarly fourth-century, designed to couch traditionally disesteemed commercial activity, now disembedded, in conventional terms. Beyond my criticisms of the factual confusions and ideologization of the primitivists, I have offered an interpretation of aspects of Attic trade policy in “Sitopolai and Sitophulakes in Lysias’ ‘Oration Against the Graindealers’: Governmental Intervention in the Athenian Economy,” Phoenix 40 (1986) 149–71, where my systematic divergences with this work are notable.

Chapter 3 offers historical context for Attic decrees for trade-related services. The best discussion here was unsurprisingly devoted to the factors surrounding their emergence in the early fourth century, when they were exclusively devoted to foreign benefactors, and an early Hellenistic shift to include citizen benefactors. This policy is consistently examined with an eye toward earlier personal xenia. The wider context is not so deftly portrayed; e.g., in an excessive attribution of fifth-century success in assuring adequate foreign grain supplies to Athens’ superior ability to wield coercion. Well-conceived research can be undermined by its encapsulation within simplistic interpretative frameworks, sometimes conceived to gratify extra-disciplinary arbiters lacking expertise for evaluation. Here an exaggerated confrontation between mass and elite subverts our understanding of the wider social context, and mitigation of φιλοτιμία becomes an overworked leitmotif. Moreover, an antipathy to βαναυσία, “menial vocations” is too casually invoked, failing to distinguish between personal internalization and arm’s-length endorsement.

The heart and strength of this work begins with chapter 4, which surveys the services provided by honorands. These included goods, mainly grain, but twice [End Page 144] timber and once fish, supplied in various modes from conventional sale through gift. Chapter 5 organizes data about the honorands by legal status, with a difficult determination between metics and xenoi, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, where documentation of wealthy traders is stressed. Chapter 6 discusses laudatory language: ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός, χρήσιμος, ἀρετή, εὔνοια/εὔνους, and φιλοτιμία. The same semantic system in other honorific inscriptions is assessed. Interpretative keys are an early inhibition against applying this diction to citizens to preclude threatening democratic values by stimulating elite φιλοτιμία, legitimization of market-structured trade, and projection of Greek values onto foreign benefactors. Next, a thorough analysis is made of “honors” awarded benefactors (grants primarily symbolic rather than economically valuable), encompassing commendation, προξενία, recognition of εὐεργεσία, gold crowns, bronze statues, ξενία in the prytaneion, theater seats, and inscription of the decree. These built on fifth-century practices to reward political/military services, although gold crowns and bronze statues (albeit rare) were fourth-century phenomena. Chapter 8 deals with “privileges,” political rights conveying functional benefits: ἀσυλία, ἀτέλεια, ἔγκτησις, military and eisphoric obligation on parity with citizens. ἀσυλία had both practical and honorific value. Engen emphasizes protection against piracy, but protection against Athenian officials was probably equally relevant. ἀτέλεια could be relief from the metoikion or general immunity and was extended (mid-fourth century) to professional traders. Granting ἔγκτησις (right of property ownership) may have been influenced by Xenophon’s advice in the Poroi. The treatment of citizenship grants is...


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