Sviatoslav Dmitriev, The Greek Slogan of Freedom and Early Roman Politics in Greece (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011), XIII + 544 pp.Int class trad


Arthur Eckstein
History / Cultural Studies / Classics / Literature and Literary Theory / Philosophy


The fundamental thesis of this interesting study of “freedom” ideology as used by Hellenistic governments—including but not limited to Rome—is that the application of the slogan and concept of “freedom” was extraordinarily flexible. It could be used as a way of establishing the existing geopolitical status quo on a firm basis; it could be used as an excuse for an aggressive war that overturned the geopolitical status quo; it could be used as the moral goal of a Common Peace; it could be used as the moral goal for a major military campaign; it could be used as the basis of a large-scale alliance; it could be used to undermine the basis of a large-scale alliance; it could be used to establish unequal relations between a great power and a weaker state (and to mask or even mitigate that imbalance in power); it could be used to justify rebellion against such a situation.

These multiple uses for the slogan and concept of Greek freedom were developed in Greek politics long before the Romans arrived in the eastern

Mediterranean and began to transform the political environment in their favor. The evolution of the idea of a polity existing in “freedom” began in fifth century Greek conflicts (especially between Athens and Sparta), was then developed in the fourth century (especially with the King’s Peace of 386), and reached completion as a flexible political idea under Philip II, Alexander the

Great, and the wars of the Successors of Alexander (Introduction and Chapters 1-3). The slogan and concept of “freedom of the Greeks” was therefore already waiting for the Romans to use. And—one should not forget—for the

Greeks to use as well. Dmitriev is certainly correct that it is impossible to understand the stance of, say, Rhodes during the Third Macedonian War (171-168

B.C.), or the behavior of both the Spartan government and the Achaean

League in the 140s, without understanding that the political leaders operated on the basis of principles of Greek politics, including “freedom”, that represented a continuum from the fifth century B.C. (p. 11). © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 18, No. 4, December 2011, pp. 636-642.

Sviatoslav Dmitriev, The Greek Slogan of Freedom and Early Roman Politics in

Greece (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011), XIII + 544 pp.

DOI 10.1007/s12138-011-0292-x

Book Reviews 637

Given the flexibility of the use of the concept and slogan of “freedom of the Greeks”, Dmitriev’s view is fundamentally cynical. But the issue is complex. The concept held in general that it was unjust for Greek political communities to be in slave-like submission to a ruler. This was more than a vague moral statement; the concept of “freedom” possessed specific practical content. “Freedom” (eleutheria) probably meant originally a city’s complete independence from external domination, but by the third century eleutheria had become congruent with a lesser independence—the idea of mere local selfgovernment (autonomia). The latter term specifically meant freedom from being garrisoned, from paying tribute or taxes to another political entity, and the enjoyment of one’s own traditional laws (as in, e.g., Antigonus I’s letter to

Iasus, ca. 309 B.C).1 Even in the Hellenistic period it could mean true independence on the interstate level (as in the case of Athens, freed from Macedonian control in 229 B.C.). But “freedom” might also mean only that local self-government (autonomia) was being respected by a dominant great power; there were large grey areas. Some poleis were “free” but much under the political control of a king (e.g., the relationship between King Antiochus III and

Teos on the west coast of Asia Minor), or were “free” but had been handed over as a territorial reward to an ally in a successful war (e.g., the town of Phthiotic Thebes in central Greece, given by Rome to the Aetolian League in 196

B.C.). But without being naïve, the popularity and the specific content of the freedom concept might well place limits on what could be done to a city by a larger power. To some extent, then, the idea was taken seriously and provided a minimal protection—if only because the generosity embodied in grants of such freedom could lead smaller states to support in a crisis a larger power that did take the idea seriously (as with Smyrna and King Seleucus II during the Laodicean War in the 240s).2

All this was established practice long before the Romans appeared.

Hence a central issue in the analysis of early Roman relations with the Greek world has been the origin, usage and meaning of the concept and slogan of “freedom of the Greeks” as used by the Romans (Chapters 4 and 5). As

Dmitriev emphasizes, the Roman usage appears quite traditional—and traditionally ambiguous. A general statement from the Romans appears in the famous Isthmian Declaration of 196, following the victory of Rome and her

Greek allies over Philip V of Macedon in the Second Macedonian War: the proconsul T. Quinctius Flamininus (with the backing of the Senate and a senatorial Commission of Ten) proclaimed publicly that all Greek states would henceforth be left free, ungarrisoned, untaxed, and free to enjoy their own ancestral laws (Polyb. 18.46.5). On the one hand, the Isthmian Declaration meant that the Romans had permanently expelled Macedonian power from the

Greek states; it also implied no direct Roman rule. On the other hand, this general grant of “freedom” not only established the Romans as a large if informal presence in Greek interstate politics (for they were the granters of the “gift” of freedom), but it also often coincided with the Romans’ placement of smaller poleis under the authority of larger Greek political entities (the 1. Inscr. Iasos 2, lines 47-53, and 3, lines 11-15 and 21-25. 2. See J. Ma, Antiochos III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 49-50.