By the late fourth century, almost half the poleis of mainland Greece and the Peloponnese had become part of one koinon or another. These "common polities" began to emerge during the archaic period, and reached their most developed form by the fourth century, flourishing until the Romans took over in the second century BCE. Emily Mackil's trail-blazing book, Creating a Common Polity: Religion, Economy, and Politics in the Making of the Greek Koinon (Berkeley; Los Angeles; London, 2013) asks two important questions: How did the koinon develop, and why was it so attractive to so many Greek poleis? This is a matter of great interest not only to us Classicists, but to historians and political scientists in other fields. As Mackil remarks: "Federal political structures ... have proved tremendously attractive in early modern and modern history ... (including the USA, Canada, and Australia ... India, Belgium, Spain...; cf. too the European Union.... And while federalism tends to be understood as a phenomenon of the modern world, it [has] its origins in Greek antiquity."
Even though ancient theorists (Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, etc.) never discuss the federal koinon as a form of political arrangement, the nature and functions of these "common polities" can -- with difficulty -- be reconstructed from a number of disparate but overlapping sources, including ancient historiography, local inscriptions, coinage, demography, and the archaeological record (especially religious building programs, artworks, festivals, and cult arrangements). The challenge of assembling, coordinating, and interpreting these scattered sources is enormous; but Mackil has succeeded magnificently, on a scale never before attempted, in combining meticulous and nuanced attention to particular details with sophisticated and marvelously well-informed engagement with the bigger picture of Greek (as well as other premodern and modern) institutions and socio-economic behaviors. Her clearly presented and eminently readable account is a game-changer, and is making its mark not only on the field of ancient history but also among political theorists interested in the processes whereby large-scale political cooperation can be initiated and instituted among autonomous states, even in such an intensely competitive and apparently fragmented world as classical Greece.
Mackil's book focuses primarily on three large regions of mainland Greece: Boeotia, Achaea, and Aetolia. She provides a diachronic account of the ways in which new forms of economic, religious, and political cooperation emerged and developed into a formally recognized federal koinon in each of these regions, with common features to all three but also distinctive differences; and a synchronic and comparative analysis of three separate factors that combined to drive this process: religion, economics, and politics. Whereas previous studies of "federalism" in ancient Greece have tended to emphasize the military and political aspects -- especially the element of fear (whether of Thebes, Sparta, Athens, Macedon, or Rome) in motivating smaller poleis to band together for mutual self-protection, Mackil's analyses are especially striking in demonstrating the key role played both by religion, in effecting "common" participation and mutual commitment between neighboring communities, and by rural economic interests and the desire for an expanded "common market." As Mackil shows, these religious and economic impulses seem often to have long preceded any particular military or political crisis. The book is full of penetrating individual case studies as well as illuminating modern continuities and comparanda involving regionalism, federalism, and rural economies. The Appendix is extremely valuable too, especially to professional historians and students, as it provides an extensive dossier of the most important epigraphic texts on which many of Mackil's larger-scale interpretations are based, with full, detailed commentary.
With the Goodwin Award of Merit, the SCS salutes Emily Mackil's book as a model of what scholarship in ancient history should ideally be: technically impeccable, theoretically bold and imaginative, rigorously argued, and -- not least -- a pleasure for both experts and novices to read.
Barbara Weiden Boyd, Chair