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An Empire of Allotment: Imperial Stability and the Athenian Frontier in Fifth-Century Euboea

Timothy Sorg

          This paper argues for a systemic and relational approach to Athenian imperialism in the mid-fifth century. In the wake of the Battle of Coronea in 447 BC, the Euboean revolt required the Athenians to revisit the means by which they could secure their landed interests on the island. For Eretria and Chalkis, this meant renewed oaths of loyalty and an agreement (homologia) in the priority of Athenian interests (Eretria: IG I3 39; Chalkis: IG I3 40). Though the practical consequence of Pericles’ settlement of Euboea was the normalization of Athens’ projection of force, the subsequent allotment of Euboean land among Athenian rentiers divorced local land-holding (interested in profit) from imperial governance (interested in stability). As a result, the Athenians were unable to develop stable, inter-generational relationships with local elite populations on the island.   

          In recent years, Martin Ostwald (2002), Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz (2004), and Alfonso Moreno (2007) have all used the Eretria and Chalkis decrees to show the extent of Athenian exploitation and imperial control in Euboea. None of the studies, however, have developed how the Athenians’ capital-intensive investment in coercion shaped their interactions with local populations. In light of recent trends in global imperial history (e.g., Abernethy 2002; Morris and Scheidel 2009), this paper explores the dynamics of the Athenians’ fifth-century empire by linking imperial land allotments (klēroi) to a new sensitivity for the how empire-building was a social phenomenon that required negotiation on the periphery. It demonstrates the importance of a peripheral perspective to imperial stability and draws wider conclusions about our understanding of Athenian imperialism (cf. Gauthier 1973; Erxleben 1975; Figueira 1991; Salomon 1997).

          My study develops through three sections. First, I review the epigraphic (e.g., IG I3 14; 15; 34) and literary (e.g., Aristoph. Birds, 1021-57; [Arist.] Ath. Pol. 24.3) evidence for Athenian imperial officials and garrisons in order to establish how Athens’ investment in manpower was relatively low in frontier regions. Confronted by the systemic conditions of the eastern Mediterranean, the Athenians tended to favor coercion from a distance (to reinforce the inevitability of punishment and an enduring Persian threat) over imperial presentism. Though Athens’ military presence on the island increased after 446/5, garrison units were no mean substitute for more meaningful interactions with local elite populations.

          Second, I situate the settlement decrees of 446/5 within their imperial context in Euboea. Epigraphic (e.g., IG I3 418; 421-30; IG XII 9.934) and material (e.g., Green and Sinclair 1970) evidence for Athenian land-holding on Euboea suggest that the Athenians compartmentalized imperial control and land-allotments as separate phenomena. As a result, the allotment of imperial land was an endogenous expression that put a premium on developing consensus in the desirability of empire among the Athenians (e.g., Aristoph. Clouds, 202-5; Wasps, 715-21). This unofficial infrastructure of the Athenian empire, therefore, precluded the development of an integrated imperial elite in Euboea.

          Finally, I turn to Athens’ broader Mediterranean context to briefly compare Athenian imperialism in Euboea to similar processes among the Syracusans (at Caulonia and Rhegion after 387 BC) and the Romans (the settlement of the Latin communities after 338 BC). By emphasizing the particularities of each imperial repertoire, I differentiate between what was peculiar about of the klēros in Athenian society and also how Mediterranean conditions created similar problems that each state had to find solutions for.

          Such an approach accounts for why the Athenians preferred, relative to their Mediterranean counterparts, political particularism in their imperial interactions with, and never extended citizenship to, local populations. Furthermore, land-allotment was a necessary condition for the development of the Athenian empire in the mid-fifth century: klēroi brought the sovereign voting body into the imperial process and share of imperial rewards. Land allotments were thus a consensus-building tool within the governing citizen body. As a result, the Athenians kept imperial negotiation largely confined within the citizen body but separated from local populations in Euboea. 

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Empires, Kingdoms, and Leagues in the Ancient Greek World

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