Guest Post by Bram ten Berge: New Research on the Athenian Tribute Lists

From Stone to Screen’s latest blog post features a guest author, Bram ten Berge, writing on the ATL’s from Athens, Greece. Enjoy!

 

Hello all,

My name is Bram ten Berge. I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, and am currently living in Athens as a regular member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In this short blog I would like to share with you some of the new developments in the scholarship on the Athenian Tribute Lists about which I learned in a recent tour in the Epigraphical Museum; this new research shows that the digitization project at UBC coincides with an exciting time for Greek epigraphy.

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Bram investigating an inscription at the Epigraphy Museum, Athens

 

First some background information. The ‘Athenian Tribute Lists’ (ATLs) are inscriptions that record tribute payments made annually by Athens’ allies – the members of the Delian League – after 454 BC, when the League Treasury was moved to Athens from the island of Delos. What these inscriptions record are not the actual tribute lists (of which not a single fragment survives today), but rather a 1/60th part of each ally’s total assessed tribute, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena as ‘first-fruits’ (aparchai). These amounts are commonly referred to as the ‘tribute quota’ and the inscriptions that record them as the ‘tribute quota lists’. These amounts were annually inscribed on stone slabs (stelai), some of which have survived from antiquity. For the first fifteen years, from 454/3 to 440/39 BC, the tribute quota lists were inscribed on the four sides of a massive stele of Pentelic marble, the so-called Lapis Primus (‘First Stone’). For the following eight years, from 439/38 – 432/31 BC, the lists were inscribed on a smaller stele of Pentelic marble, the so-called Lapis Secundus (‘Second Stone’). In all subsequent years, down to 415/14 BC, each list was inscribed on its own marble stele and on one side only. The tribute quota lists were recorded annually after representatives of the allied cities delivered their tribute during the City Dionysia, a large festival in honor of the god Dionysus. The stones on which they were inscribed stood on the Acropolis, where visitors and allied representatives could witness them, a physical representation, if you will, of Athenian power. Some of these stones eventually made their way down to the Athenian Agora. Most of the fragments of these stones are now in the Epigraphical Museum in Athens, where they have been stored since their discovery. Many of the squeezes in the McGregor collection come from the above stones and allowed him to continue studying the evidence while away from Athens.

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The Lapis Primus (Photo courtesy of M. Miles)

The tribute quota lists form crucial evidence for our conception of fifth century Athenian financial, political, and military history. They are commonly used by modern scholars, together with other major inscriptions and the principal historical events, to reconstruct the nature and development of Athenian power in the Aegean throughout the fifth century. There are many other concerns, especially economic in nature, that are connected with the lists as well, such as the financial details of the building program on the Acropolis, for which we know part of the tribute surplus was used, the financial upkeep of the Athenian democratic institutions and judiciary system, supplied in part by the incoming tribute, the economic vitality of allied cities, and the location and identification of lesser-known cities based on the lists.

The major edition of the lists consists of four monumental volumes edited by Malcolm McGregor and his colleagues Benjamin Meritt and Henry Wade-Gery, titled The Athenian Tribute Lists and published over 14 years from 1939-1953. The volumes were a truly massive accomplishment on the part of the authors and still constitute the authoritative edition. Their reconstructions of the lists as well as their historical conclusions soon became orthodoxy and they remain the starting-point for any examination of the finances, history, and geography of the Athenian empire. All this is not to say, however, that the last word on these topics has been spoken, much less that our evidence is final or fixed. On the contrary, recent developments have left the field wide open to new interpretation.

 

As part of the ASCSA regular program, I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Epigraphical Museum several times this year, and the last time under the guidance of well-known epigrapher Angelos P. Matthaiou. Judging from what our group discussed with him that morning I can tell you this is a great time for Greek epigraphy. First off, new discoveries of fragments constantly encourage us to reconsider the current configuration of the tribute lists as reconstructed by McGregor, Wade-Gery, and Meritt. Professor Matthaiou showed us a number of recently discovered (and still unpublished) fragments of the lists as well as a new fragment of the so-called “Thoudippos Decree” on tribute reassessment (425/4 BC) that proved that some of the seemingly secure restorations of the editors are in fact incorrect. Such new evidence reminds us of the risks inherent in restoring words (especially large chunks of text) that are not in fact present on the stone. Since the tribute lists and texts like the Thoudippos decree are crucial sources for any reconstruction of 5th century Athenian history, any changes in the lists’ configuration can have far-reaching implications for the historical conclusions that depend on them.

In addition to the discovery of new fragments, the resolution of the so-called “three-barred sigma controversy” is leading to the re-dating of many important 5th century inscriptions that are highly relevant to the tribute lists. Some of these will have their date shifted from the 440s to the 420s BC and vice versa, with significant implications for our reconstruction of the nature and development of Athenian power throughout the fifth century. Until about 15-20 years ago, there existed among epigraphers an orthodoxy (challenged early on by Harold Mattingly: see esp. The Athenian Empire Restored, 1996) whereby inscriptions containing a so-called “three-barred sigma” had to pre-date 448/7 BC, the year in which, according to this ‘rule’, sigmas with three bars went out of use and were replaced by sigmas with four bars. It has now, with the help of laser-beam technology, been sufficiently proven that three-barred sigmas did in fact continue to be used after 448/7, vindicating Mattingly, questioning letterforms as a secure dating-criterion, and opening up many 5th century inscriptions to re-dating and re-interpretation. A great place to see some of the new directions taken in the scholarship as a result of these developments is the recent volume edited by John Ma, Nikolaos Papazarkadas, and Robert Parker (Interpreting the Athenian Empire, 2009).

But perhaps the most exciting development, and certainly the one that will have the biggest impact on future scholarship on the ATLs, is the proposed dismantling and reassembling of the Lapis Primus, with its 180 fragments of ancient white marble. The interior rods of this massive stone (at c. 3.5 meters high it easily rises above all other inscriptions in the museum) have slowly deteriorated over time and, as Professor Matthaiou and the current director of the Museum told us, will soon (pending financial support) be replaced by titanium rods. When this happens (and we all hope it will be soon), it will give scholars the opportunity, for the first time since 1927, to reexamine the inscribed fragments from every side, to re-measure them, and, ultimately, to reassemble them again. Matthaiou and the director further told us there are plans for similar projects for the Lapis Secundus and the stele of the Thoudippos Decree, although I believe these plans are much less formalized for the time being. In addition to the above developments, careful searches through the storerooms of the Agora and Acropolis museums may yield further fragments of the lists that as of yet have remained undiscovered (Matthaiou recently found one such fragment in the storeroom of the Acropolis Museum). All of the above developments make for an amazing time in Greek epigraphy and the study of ancient Greece more generally. Given the projected dismantling and reassembling of the Lapis Primus it is all the more significant that the McGregor squeeze collection as well as McGregor’s personal charts be preserved online. It will preserve for posterity copies of the stone’s fragments as McGregor and his colleagues studied and configured them.

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The Lapis Primus (Photo courtesy of M. Miles)

 

I would like to congratulate the graduate students at UBC for initiating this wonderful project of digitizing the McGregor squeeze collection, including squeezes of the Athenian Tribute Lists and McGregor’s personal charts. These are truly remarkable resources that I’m confident many around the world cannot wait to be able to consult online. Congratulations also on the recent acquisition of additional funds from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund at UBC. The project could not be happening in a more exciting context for Greek epigraphy!

 

All the best,

 

Bram ten Berge (bltenber@umich.edu)

 

About Chelsea Gardner

A PhD Candidate at the University of British Columbia, Chelsea works on several archaeological projects in Greece and is the Project Manager for From Stone to Screen. Chelsea loves travel and all things related to Classical Archaeology, even when it involves uploading metadata or encountering spiders in the field.

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