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Tue, 29 Dec 2009 10:15:48 -0600
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Pastoral Politics: Animals, Agriculture and Society in Ancient Greece. By 
TIMOTHY HOWE. Publications of the Association of Ancient Historians 9. 
Claremont, California: Regina Books, 2008. Pp. x + 143. Paper, $19.95. ISBN 

Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Online 2009.12.03

Timothy Howe, who previously published an illuminating study of pastoralism 
in the Delphic context, has contributed this volume to the Association of 
Ancient Historians series, analyzing the “interdependencies between land 
use, animals, agriculture and politics in ancient Greece.” The scope of 
the book is narrowed to “politicized land non-use,” and three specific 
questions are posed: (1) why did … people in a dry, mountainous region 
like Greece prioritize the production of animals to such a degree that they 
removed some of the best land from cereal or other food cultivation; (2) 
how did these people justify taking much needed land away from subsistence 
food production in order to raise non-food animals such as horses; and (3) 
how did these animal production choices affect those individuals directly 
and indirectly involved in animal production? The rationale of the book is 
further clarified as presenting “an overview … to ancient historians 
who had little or no knowledge of the subject.” The practical 
implementation of the project is broken up into five chapters and an 

In the first chapter, H. surveys previous scholarly encounters with the 
economy, agriculture and animal management in Greek antiquity, and presents 
his own theoretical and methodical tenets. H. denounces the older 
“fossilized” debate for or against transhumance and agro-pastoralism on 
the ground that recent research actualizes a new approach. Hence, as a 
methodical principle H. combines the “regionally and chronologically 
sensitive approach” of Christophe Chandezon and of Hamish Forbes, who 
seeks to “explain animals” by understanding the social and political 
choices that motivated animal production strategies in the first place. 
Thus, in Greece H. presupposes the existence of a spectrum of animal 
management levels, which embraces and combines the two “extremes” of 
the previous debate (transhumance and integrated agro-pastoralism) with 
intermediary forms of management (estate-based animal husbandry and 
semi-mobile herding).

Subsequently, H. clarifies his primary concern, which is to discuss and 
identify the “politics,” i.e. the “network of human choices, values, 
and behaviours” that constitute the rationale behind animal production. 
In effect, this perspective directs attention toward the wealth-generating 
activities of the “elite” (p. 24). H. assumes that two distinct 
rationales of animal husbandry were practiced by specific classes of 
society: the subsistence production of the “masses” and an 
“elitist” mode aimed at wealth accumulation and consolidation or 
further enhancement of status. The terms “mass” and “elite” are not 
defined, and subsequent discussions display some potential circular 
argumentation (because use of animals for display and status are reserved 
for the elite, evidence on animal display suggests elite involvement).

In Chapter 2, Aristotle’s survey of wealth production (Pol. 1258b12–21) 
is taken to support the general idea that “large animals … became 
naturally exclusive symbols of wealth,” and that animal husbandry held 
priority over agriculture. But Aristotle’s advice concerning “wealth 
production” on the basis of farming is not unproblematic. The text 
explicitly recommends that entrepreneurs have expert abilities to match 
animals and land; and the nature (and scale?) of land available to 
individual farmers was a vital element of Aristotle’s argument. In 
Athens, numerous references suggest that (marginal) land constituted an 
important part of gentlemanly wealth and status (e.g. X. Oec. 10.22–4; 
the gigantic eschatia of Phainippos in D. 42), and epigraphic material 
suggests a 4th-century BCE Athenian interest in land that had the potential 
for marginal farming and pasturage (eschatia and phelleus). [[1]]

In Chapter 3, H. discusses how individual elites organized different modes 
and purposes of animal management to satisfy social, political and economic 
agendas; examples are drawn from Athens, Sparta, Thessaly and Arcadia. 
After an instructive introduction to the literary evidence for animal 
management, H. concentrates on Attica and the supply of locally raised 
animals to “the sacrificial market,” connecting Attic animal production 
to the liturgical commitments of the Athenian elite. The important question 
of the organization of Athenian animal husbandry is partially confined to 
footnotes that repeat the view of previous studies, and no precise 
diagnostic is presented. [[2]] In conclusion, however, H. envisions Attic 
animal husbandry as varying considerably from one locality to the next. 
Although he refers to Stanton’s interpretation of the so-called rupestral 
horoi (boundary markers in marginal tracts of Attica, interpreted as 
measures to protect marginal resources, including pasturage), the more 
elaborated interpretations of Merle Langdon would have been useful, and the 
new edition of the Rationes Centesimarum by Lambert should have been 
considered as well. [[3]] Finally, the order and potency of Athenian animal 
production must be weighed against contemporary evidence suggesting massive 
trade and traffic with animals in the Classical Period (and potential elite 
interests in this activity?). The nearby island of Euboia, for example, was 
renowned for raising probata, and Athenian involvement with this activity 
may be borne out by the literary evidence (e.g. Th. 2.14, 16; 7.28; 8.92).

The analysis of the objective of Spartan animal management strategies 
focuses on the group meal as a forum for elite conspicuous consumption, but 
H. overlooks the epigraphic evidence that actually proves Spartan 
involvement in the display of (elitist?) virtues on horseback. [[4]] 
Xenophon’s retreat at Skillous (pp. 67–8) is also contemplated as a 
“model” for Spartan animal husbandry, but whether this was the case 
remains unverified. In comparing Athens and Sparta, H. displays some 
uncertainty as to the nature and organization of their respective practices 
of animal husbandry. [[5]] The presentation of the Thessalian and Arcadian 
contexts is illuminating, and the Arcadian example in particular serves to 
indicate the complexity induced by the exchange of animals and animal 
produce between different social groups from different communities. 
Potentially in defiance of the methodical principle of the book, however, 
it appears that (elite?) Arcadians exploited animals to fulfill subsistence 

In Chapter 4, H. demonstrates how warfare and border disputes originated in 
elite desires to maintain or expand pasturage.
But few of the cases are explicit about the connection between pasturage 
and warfare. One example involves disputes and reorganization of the border 
zone between Megara and Athens prior to the Peloponnesian war and again in 
the mid-4th century. Concern for the cultivation of the range is attested 
in the mid-4th century (IG II2 204), [[6]] and in both instances religious 
and ideological concerns are implied by allusions to the complexities of 
piety and violation of sacred space. Border zones were thus complex 
entities that held a variety of economic (not only animal-related), 
military, ideological and religious concerns for any polis, and these 
concerns may have been “activated” in response to any change in this 
vital part of polis-territory.

The final chapter discusses the politics of display and includes important 
observations on the acceptance of elite ideology and power when expressed 
through animal involvement. H. identifies a number of vital and interesting 
peculiarities, and suggests that social ambition was promoted by engagement 
with animals. A more precise account of individual societal reactions 
toward elite involvement with animals in this context might have been 
useful. In particular, it seems important to consider how and when 
societies of different constitutional orders (democratic, oligarchic, etc.) 
dealt with questions of “pastoral politics.”

The approach H. has chosen makes one wonder why proponents of 
agro-pastoralism and transhumance disagreed in the first place. H. is 
correct, I believe, to surmise that specialized forms of animal husbandry 
were confined to specific geographic, environmental and socio-economic 
contexts. But the negative outcome of the original debate was due in part 
to the fact that partisans of both positions argued on the basis of 
inconclusive evidence. The approach H. employs does not in itself 
neutralize this fundamental problem; we must still struggle with the 
question of how various forms of animal husbandry differed, and the only 
way to do that is to confront and challenge the evidence again. In this 
regard, H. focuses on the literature, but ignores much epigraphic evidence.

At the end of the day, H. should be complimented for taking on a complex 
and challenging field of research, for coining the concept of “pastoral 
politics,” and for presenting good readings of those parts of the 
evidence that support elite use of animal husbandry. It is my sincere hope 
that this book will spur further debate and as such fulfill one of H’s 
most obvious ambitions. [[7]]

Institute for History and Area Studies
Aarhus University

[[1]] A substantial number of eschatiai are discussed in S.D. Lambert, 
Rationes Centesimarum: Sales of Public Land in Lykourgan Athens (Amsterdam, 
1997). On phelleis, see e.g. SEG 24.152; IG II2 2492; Ar. Nu. 71.

[[2]] Compare the opinion that “Attika experienced the highest level of 
intensive farming coupled with animal production.” in the 4th century 
BCE, while transhumance became dominant only in the Hellenistic age (p. 60 
n. 37) with p. 61 (with nn. 42 and 43), where previous studies are cited to 
the effect that semi-mobile herding dominated (in the Classical period?).

[[3]] Lambert 1997 (n. 1). 

[[4]] On the Damonon stele, and Spartan animal husbandry in general, see S. 
Hodkinson, Property and Wealth in Classical Sparta (London, 2000), esp. 

[[5]] Compare p. 67 with pp. 68–9: “Yet as with Athens, the degree of 
integration between arable farming and animal husbandry remains elusive” 
and “…the abundant well-watered plains of Messenia and Laconia, with 
their large amounts of farming and grazing land, worked by servile helots, 
witnessed a greater separation between agriculture and animal husbandry 
than existed anywhere in Attika.”

[[6]] See text and commentary in P.J. Rhodes and R. Osborne, eds., Greek 
Historical Inscriptions 404–323 BC (Oxford, 2003) 272–81.

[[7]] Full bibliographic information is provided in the reference list as 
well as in footnotes, although these contain multiple errors and list one 
title I have been unable to verify: Stanton, G. “Some Attic 
Inscriptions.” ABSA 92 (1997): 178–204. H.’s use of the article seems 
to refer to another piece by G.R. Stanton: “Some Inscriptions in Attic 
Demes,” ABSA 91 (1996) 341–64.

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