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1. The Hellenistic Boiotian League Robert J.

Buck (University of Alberta)

The Ancient History Bulletin 7.3 (1993) 100-106


The Boiotian League of Hellenistic times lasted from 336 to 146 (or even later) as a working federation. It is the longest lived Greek federation known, at nearly 200 years. In one sense, then, it was a very successful federal state: it worked; it survived; it somehow satisfied the need for union among the Boiotians; it also gave scope for Boiotian local aspirations and Boiotian fractiousness in a satisfactory balance. A successful federal state that does what this one did repays study. Unfortunately the references to it are very thinly scattered in extant literature; we must in large part rely on inferences drawn from inscriptions and other archaeological evidence, and even then the picture is limited.1 Before we examine the Hellenistic Boiotian League in detail, we might find it wise to look at the earlier Boiotian federal states, each of which seems to have been comparatively short -lived and to have had various shortcomings. The earliest Boiotian League was established somewhere around 525 B.C., apparently under Theban leadership and with Thebes as the capital.2 Its federal organization is almost completely unknown, but it seems to have been controlled by a very narrow inner circle, a small oligarchy within an aristocracy, according to the sources.3 The Thebans and the other Boiotians blamed this inner circle, especially two of its nobles, Timagenidas and Attaginos, for the League s medizing immediately after the defeat at Thermopylai in 480. Herodotos (9.88) does have Timagenidas emphasize that the medizing was carried through with the full support of the people. After the Greek victory at Plataiai in 479 the League was reformed (or perhaps dissolved), while only the two culprits were punished.4 The League had lasted forty-five years. What sort of League, if any, replaced it between 479 and 447 (thirty-two years) is unknown,5 except that there were abortive experiments with democracy that disappeared in the aftermath of an oligarchic coup in 447, one that established an oligarchic League.


This League, which lasted from 447 to 387, some sixty years, is very well known from an excursus in the historian who wrote the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia.6 The fifteen or so Boiotian states and cities were divided among eleven districts, which were apparently of abo ut equal population and resources. Each district provided the same number of troops to the Federal army and the same amount of money to the Federal Treasury. Each district also provided one Boiotarch, sixty councillors, and a certain number of jurymen for the Federal courts. These all were selected from the citizens of hoplite census in each district by methods completely unknown. It is not unlikely that some sort of block voting was employed.7 This was also a feature of the Hellenistic federation. The Council of 660 members was the sovereign body, with the KU=ROS, as Thucydides (5.38.2-3) puts it. This supreme organ was a representative body, not an assembly of all the adult males of the League. Since the representatives were elected by the districts, with a limited franchise, restricted to the hoplite and cavalry classes, and perhaps only to those of the dominant towns, the constitution of the League was oligarchic. The elected Council had one very interesting feature: each one-quarter in turn every three m onths formed an executive committee for the other three -quarters. This rotation of responsibilities became a characteristic feature advocated for other oligarchies, notably the Four Hundred at Athens, and the constitution envisaged under the Thirty. Some o f the states, nonetheless, were not happy with their federal League. Many felt their autonomy was threatened, since four of the districts were Theban, and two of the others normally supported the largest city in Boiotia. Six of the eleven districts regularly supported Theban desires, and so states like Orchomenos and Thespiai were discontented and secessionist, the latter because of pro -Athenian and democratic leanings, the former

because of long-standing antipathy to Thebes. Each of them tried to withdraw; Thespiai s attempt in 414 was sternly suppressed; Orchomenos, however, with Spartan backing succeeded in 395. The League was dissolved without too much difficulty at the conclusion of the King s Peace in 387 B.C. The problem of how to give the smaller states some voice vis--vis the big ones, especially Thebes, was not solved under the hoplite oligarchy. In 378, after a nine-year gap, the League was reestablished (at least symbolically, by the election of Boiotarchs), this time as a radical democracy. It lasted to 338, approximately forty years. The constitution was, mutatis mutandis, on the Athenian model, with a supreme Assembly of all adult males, not just 660 representatives of the hoplites and cavalry. Since the Assembly met at Thebes, and proxies we re not accepted, this meant that the Thebans normally dominated the meetings, to the great discontent of many citizens of the other states. Attica had accepted the idea that by


some spiritual synoikismos, by a sympoliteia, all its inhabitants now became Athenians, not Atticans. The residents of Sounion or Marathon were Athenians and were proud of it. Athens was now a unitary state. There was no such shift of feelings in Boiotia, and Perikles wisecrack that the Boiotians were like the il ex trees, always knocking one another down,8 still applied. They were all Boiotians, true, but they did not think of themselves as Boiotians first, much less as transplanted Thebans. They were Tanagrans or Thespians first and Boiotians second. The non-Thebans still felt out-gunned and outweighed, and there was a lot of dissatisfaction. The old eleven districts were no longer in use, and anyway there was no place for representation in a direct democracy. Dissent, however, was still sternly quelled: Orchomeno s was destroyed, and Thespiai and Koroneia were reduced in status, and doubtless in population. Fifteen or so towns were recognized as units in some way analogous to the Athenian tribes. These units were used for deploying the army, distributing some offices, and for giving each individual a legal title, So-and-so, son of Such-and-such, of Haliartos, or the like. As far as can be ascertained the seven Boiotarchs of this time (not eleven) could be chosen from any part of Boiotia, but we may suspect that Theb es obtained the lion s share of them, though the inscriptional evidence suggests that an effort was made to get a few non Thebans on the board from time to time.9 There was also a Council that seems to have resembled the Boul at Athens, with very limited powers and authority. It was primarily a committee to filter material and fix the agenda for the Assembly. With a popular Assembly dominated by the Theban voters and a unitary system superimposed on a federation, there was ample room for non -Theban displeasure and discontent. When Boiotia was defeated by Philip at Chaironeia in 338, the democratic League was forthwith abolished. A new League was soon formed, but it did not come into its own until after the destruction of Thebes by Alexander in 336. It is worth noting that contingents from such disaffected Boiotian states as Thespiai, Orchomenos and Tanagra happily assisted Alexander at the siege and the sack of Thebes, the hated master. Clearly a democratic League did not work, either. But nonetheless a Le ague of some sort seemed like at good idea. Though the Boiotians were a fractious stock, they did have some feelings of community. All states, for example, with one exception, always used the indented shield, the crest of Boiotia, on their coins, apparently even when the League was not in existence.10 They had numerous cults and festivals in common. There was a need felt for some League, if only to look after activities of this kind. But it had to be a League that did not impinge on local liberties and did not allow one state to dominate the others, whether Thebes or any other Boiotian city.


The difficulties faced by both he oligarchic and democratic Boiotian federations, that is, the excessive domination through Theban control of representative organs in the oligarchic federation of the time of the Peloponnesian War, and the Theban packing of the popular assembly in the democratic League of the fourth century, influenced strongly the organization of the League of Hellenistic times.11 The capital had been moved, while Thebes lay desolate, to a neutral site, in what had been variously Haliartan or Theban territory, the sanctuary of Poseidon at Onchestos.12 There it remained for the next two centuries, so that the federal Archon (who gave his name to the Boiotian year) is often referred to in Hellenistic inscriptions as the Archon at Onchestos. 13 This relocation of the capital helped to restrict Thebes from exercising

undue influence. Furthermore, though Thebes was resettled in 316 under Kas sandros and readmitted to the League by 311,14 its prestige and authority, not to say the size of its population, were all diminished. Second, about twenty different units, mostly towns, were recognized as constituent members of the Boiotian Federation. It must be emphasized that these towns, these units, were considered the building blocks of the League and were used as such. An Assembly of all adult Boiotian males apparently remained as the sovereign federal body, but, if the current view is correct, it s voting was not by the majority of individuals present, but by the majority of the constituent towns.15 The Boiotians, then, had a system of unit voting, rather like that in the Roman comitia tributa.16 In a way this gave some recognition to the principle of equality (or perhaps equity) of representation by states, though not of equality of individual citizens votes. It ensured for meetings at Onchestos that the citizens of Thebes or of Thespiai nearby would not be able to swamp the assembly, and that the smaller cities would have some power. On the other hand, it perhaps meant that a small state like Koroneia would have the same vote as a larger one like Thespiai. Though most authorities say that the Hellenistic League was democratic in Greek terms, this is arguable. Even if it does have some of the features of representative democracy, unit voting is not a democratic device, but oligarchic in Greek terms. There was also a federal body mentioned in inscriptions, the members of which were called SOU/NEDRU or SU/NEDROI, members of the Synhedrion.17 They were elected by their respective cities; that is, it was a representative body. It seems to have had probouleutic functions and considerable auctoritas, like the Roman Senate. When the


great stele was erected, Thespiai returned three members each year. If the other cities regardless of size did the same, the synhedrion would have 60 or so members. Such a Council could be considered an example of the principle of representative democracy, b ut since its members were not elected by lot, and apparently had to be of a fairly high census rating, it bears all the earmarks of oligarchy. Several other federal officials were chosen directly by the individual towns, as inscriptional evidence makes clear. These include the Aphedriateuontes (A)FEDRIATEU/ONTES), the Thesmophylakes (TEQMOFOU/LAKES) and the Agonarchs (A)GW/NARXOI).18 The Aphedriateuontes were a board of the same size as that of the Boiotarchs, normally seven, with some sort of sacral or r eligious responsibilities, their precise nature uncertain. They represent the towns, not the Federal government. The Thesmophylakes were another board, again less than twenty, perhaps five, a smaller group than the Aphedriateuontes.19 It also had a Secretary noted in the stele from Thespiai and in the Nikareta inscription (IG VII 3172). The inscription makes it clear the Thesmophylakes had some judicial and administrative function. Quite possibly it was a Supreme Court, with competence over the whole federa l state. The Agonarchs 20 were the controllers of the markets, analogous to the Roman aediles. They were not in charge of games. Precisely how the three boards were elected by the towns is unknown, but with less than twenty members in each the members must have been chosen on some system of rotation. It has been suggested that the Boiotians recognized two classes of cities: the first-class ones, Thebes, Thespiai, Plataiai, Orchomenos and Tanagra, elected members every year; the second -class ones, the rest of the cities, took turns to fill the remaining seats.21 On the other hand, several offices were chosen by the Federal Assembly. It selected several officials, including the Boiotarchs,22 the Archon, the Naopoioi, and the Hipparchs and Navarchs. Some rules apparently tried to ensure that they were equitably distributed among the constituent towns, but the method is unknown.23 Some authorities claim that the Boiotarchs, some seven or eight, depending on the period, at some stage of the third century lost their traditional direction of military affairs, and it was turned over to a professional strategos, but there is little evidence for any Boiotian federal strategos until Roman times.24 The seven or eight controlled foreign affairs, convoked and presided over the Assembly, and generally had the direction of the federal government.25


The Archon seems to have done very little except to grace the year with his name, much like the Athenian Eponymous Archon. It is unknown when the office was started, but probably at some point in the fourth century, in emulation of Athens. He was apparently elected by lot, probably from a slate named by the Assembly.26 The Naopoioi were a Board elected, like the Boiotarchs, by the Federal Assembly. They were originally the officials responsible for the construction and upkeep of sacred edifices.27 By the first century A.D., however, they were the only surviving Board of the League, and their Secretary gives his name to the year.28 Its size is unknown. The Katoptai were another Board of federal officials.29 Apparently they were the auditors, who controlled all the financial operations of all the other officials. If they resemble the local board from Thespiai, there were three of them, with a Secretary.30 They were probably elected by the Assembly. Various military officials subordinate to the Boiotarchs are mentioned in Hellenistic inscriptions, notably the Hipparch, the cavalry commander, and the Navarch, the fleet commander. Both were elected by the Federal Assembly.31 If Roesch is right, there was no federal Strategos as an official before the first century A.D.32 The Hellenistic League was a curious hybrid. The popular vote in the Assembly was counted by the towns, not by the majority of voters. In one sense, then, it was a representative body. On the other hand, the towns themselves directly returned various Federal officials, themselves, not by way of the Assembly, while others were chosen indirectly by the towns through the Assembly. Then, again, the federation was much less centralized than any previous League, even in foreign affairs. The cities were permitted on occasion to have direct relations with foreign states, sending and receiving embassies.33 To be sure, most of the inscriptions refer to purely ceremonial and honorary acts, but the principle is there: that a constituent state can have foreign relations. Nonetheless, the federal state still had considerable and wide-ranging powers, powers that could be used when required, as the story of Nikareta makes clear. She was the redoubtable lady who got the Federal authorities and courts on her side when the Boiotian town of Orchomenos defaulted on a large debt to her. Under


federal pressure the Orchomenian authorities organized a whip-around among the wealthy, and eventually Nikareta got her money back.34 The League seems to have led a comparatively quiet life under Macedonian domination down to 197 B.C., except for an interlude of Aetolian control from 245 to 236 B.C.35 After F laminius defeated the Macedonians, there were some twenty -five years of lively factional politics in the League between proMacedonian and pro-Roman groups, as the League threaded its way through various hazards.36 By 171 the controlling pro-Macedonian faction made a false Rep, and he Roman authorities, backed by the pro Roman Boiotians, announced that they would no longer deal with the League, but only with the constituent cities.37 Torn between supporting Rome or Macedonia the League collapsed into civil war, most states supporting Rome, but Koroneia, Haliartos and Thisbe supporting Macedonia. In 170 a Roman force supported by pro-Roman Boiotians captured and sacked Koroneia and Haliartos, while Thisbe capitulated.38 The territory of Haliartos was given to Athens, no doubt to exacerbate Athenian-Boiotian rivalry. The League revived shortly after Pydna in 167.39 Under pro-Roman leadership the League persisted until 146. Shortly before that year the anti -Roman faction gained control and made an alliance with the Achaian League. The Romans defeated them in two battles and both Leagues were dissolved. Again, a few years later a Boiotian League was established, but one very different from the others. There were no Archons, Boiotarchs, Aphedriateuontes or Assemblies, only the Naopoioi. We may infer that this League existed strictly for maintaining the shrines and festivals. The old titles were revived after the time of Augustus, and the League had a kind of twilight existence traceable up into the third century A.D. But it was not the Hellenistic League. The Hellenistic League tears all the earmarks of being the product of a deliberate effort to overcome many of the shortcomings of the previous Leagues. Since it lasted down into Roman times, it seems to have

been successful in its aim of achieving a satisfactory balance between the particularism of the constituent states and the needs to coordinate common actions and policies. It is well to emphasize that the central government had enough power to steer Boiotia s course through the tangled currents of Hellenistic Greece quite competently, until the federation split under Roman pressure, and Haliartos was destroyed.


1 The inscriptional evidence comes from IG VII and from the great stele from Thespiai (ArchDelt, 1931-32, 12-40), plus other material, much of it collected in P. Roesch Thespies et la confdration botienne (Paris, 1965), and tudes botiennes (Paris, 1982); see also J.M. Fossey Papers in Boiotian Topography (Amsterdam, 1990). Return to text 2 R.J. Buck, History of Boeotia (Edmonton, 1979), 107 -122; J. Ducat, BCH 97 (1973), 59 -73. Return to text 3 Hdt. 9.87 f.; Thuc. 3.62.3 -4; cf. C. Hignett, Xerxes Invasion of Greece (Oxford, 1963), 23, citing Xen. Hell. 3.5.8. Return to text 4 The Boiotians also faced some other punishments, notably from the Olympic authorities for violating the Olympic truce by attacking Athens and Thespiai, SEG 31 (1981), 358, with bibliography. Return to text 5 It is now generally believed that a League continued to exist. A. Giovannini, Untersuchungen ber die Natur und die Anfnge der bundesstaatlichen Sympoliteia in Griechenland (Gttingen, 1971), 47 and n. 9; Buck, History of Boeotia 141f. Return to text 6 Hellenica Oxyrhynchia (ed. Bartoletti, Teubner, Leipzig, 1959), 16.1-17.1; see also P.R. McKechnie and S.J. Kern, eds., Hellenica Oxyrhynchia (Warminster, 1988), loc. cit. Return to text 7 R.J. Buck, Boiotia and the Boiotian League, 432-371 B.C. (Edmonton, 1993), Ch. 2; History of Boiotia , 154-160; J.A.O. Larsen, Greek Federal States (Oxford, 1968), 34 -36. For block voting, R.J. Buck, Group Voting in Boiotia , AHB 4 (1990), 61-64. Return to text 8 Mentioned in Arist. Rhet. 3.4.3. Return to text 9 Cf. SEG 25 (1968), 553, with Boiotarchs from Thespiai and Tanagra. Return to text 10 Though one must treat the numismatic evidence with reserve. The best monograph on Boiotian coinage remains B.V. Head, The Chronological Sequence of the Coins of Boeotia (London, 1881; reprint Chicago, 1974), now somewhat out of date. Return to text 11 The best discussions of the epigraphical evidence and the inferences to be drawn from them are in Roesch, Thespies and tudes, where there are excellent treatments. Return to text

12 A. Schachter, Cults of Boiotia (London, 1986), 2. 216 for changes of ownership. Roesch, tudes 266 275. Return to text 13 E.g., the stele of he magistrates at Thespiai, Roesch, Thespies p.9, 1. 64; IG 12.9.912; BCH 94 (1970), 146f., no. 3. Return to text 14 Roesch, tudes 422-425. Return to text 15 Livy 33.2.6 says that they voted by this method in 197, and presumably it was in use earlier, as we noted above. But cf. Larsen, Greek Federal States 178f. Return to text 16 Roesch, Thespies, 125f.; tudes 287-290, 362. Busolt-Swoboda, 2. 1435. Return to text 17 Roesch, Thespies 126-133. Return to text 18 Roesch, Thespies, 135-141; tudes 424, 429. Return to text 19 Roesch, Thespies 145-152, argues for a number less than seven; tudes botiennes 382 -384, suggests five. Return to text 20 Roesch, Thespies 141-145; tudes 286. SEG 38 (1988), 377. Return to text 21 Roesch, Thespies, 133, 138 f. Return to text 22 Roesch, Thespies 103-108; tudes 287-290. Return to text 23 Cloch, Thbes de Botie 241; Roesch, Thespies 104f. Return to text 24 See Roesch, Thespies 105, 112-121; cf. Busolt-Swoboda, 2. 1434-36, for the other view. Return to text 25 For Boiotarchs SEG 15 (1955), 282: here there were eight plus a Secretary. Cf. Larsen, Greek Federal States 179f. Return to text 26 Plut. de gen. Soc. 31 (597a). The idea that the office goes back as far as the Archaic Period, or even earlier, has no evidence to support it. Return to text 27 IG VII 3073, lines 87-89. Return to text 28 IG VII 2711, lines 56, 70.

Return to text 29 There were also katoptai for various towns. See Roesch, tudes botiennes 291; Thespies 199, 208f. Return to text 30 Roesch, Thespies 208f. Return to text 31 Roesch, Thespies 109-112. Return to text 32 Roesch, Thespies, 112-121. His arguments seem to be sound. Larsen, Greek Federal States 179f., is in error here. Return to text 33 Cloch, Thbes de Botie 241. Return to text 34 R.J. Buck and R.M. Nielsen, Is Nikareta an exception? Prudentia 21 (1989), 14 -21. Return to text 35 D.G. Martin, Greek Leagues in the Later Second and First Centuries B.C. (PhD Princeton, 1975), 179 and n. 3. Return to text 36 Cf. Livy 33.29ff., Polyb. 20.7, Martin, Greek Leagues 180f. for details. Return to text 37 Livy 42.38.5-6, 42.44.2; Polyb. 27.1.1-6; Larsen Greek Federal States (Oxford, 1968), 462 -66; BusoltSwoboda 2. 1444. Return to text 38 Haliartos: Livy 42.56.3-6.65.3-10; Koroneia: Livy 43.4.11; Thisbe: Livy 42.63.12, and Busolt-Swoboda, 1444 and n. 6. Return to text 39 Cf. Pausanias 7.16.9 is correct in calling a later Theban figure a Boiotarch.