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Recent decades have seen a wholesale reassessment of early Greek history, with many historians arguing that many if not most of the accounts that have come down to us of events prior to the sixth century are best explained in terms of the political circumstances of the time when the accounts first appear in the historical record rather than as containing kernels of historical fact. This position has not met with completely unanimous agreement. Emanuel Zingg signals his position in the debate through the striking title of his book. Zingg makes an uncompromising case that all the accounts of Western Peloponnesian history can be traced back to narratives devised in the 360s in order to bolster the varied claims by states involved in the jockeying for power and influence after the Battle of Leuktra in 371 BCE and the subsequent invasion of Laconia in 369 BCE.

Zingg divides his book into five chapters of unequal length. In the first (1-24), he sets out in detail his principles and goals. Among these is a subtle distinction in accounts of the past between what he terms Historizität, the verifiable factuality of a event or narrative, and Historiabilität, the quality of an account that occurred during the time in which it can be recorded in written form, as opposed to an event that supposedly happened before then, in prehistory. He also tentatively proposes to add a new category to Walter Burkert’s five-fold typology of myth (Kleine Schriften I, 2017, 1-12),Type 0, into which he places narratives about the formation of early multi-party alliances in the period concluding with the First and Second Messenian Wars (which he calls, confusingly, die ersten beiden Kriegen). However, none of this complex methodology has any discernible role in shaping the book’s argumentation and only appears explicitly in the concluding chapter. Zingg next presents his three hypotheses along with their answers, the second and most significant of which, since the remainder of his study is structured around it, concerns the four traditions or Initiativen, in his terminology, from the 360s that lie behind the different versions of early western Peloponnesian history transmitted through later authors.

The second and last preliminary chapter (25-66) is a survey of the relevant sources before 369 BCE, which includes discussions of the Ionian migration and Heraclid tripartite division of the Peloponnese. Zingg maintains that both were essentially much later inventions for political purposes. The next three chapters, each dealing with one of his Initiativen, contain Zingg’s central argument. First, in Chapter Three (67-127), in what was evidently a Spartan tradition about the causes of the wars leading to Messenia’s conquest, he discerns traces of Sparta’s attempt (die erste Initiative) to win Athenian support for an alliance in the period soon after the liberation of Messenia. Chapter Four (128-235), the bulkiest, deals with the various permutations of his zweite Initiative. This, Zingg argues, was the competing version of early west-Peloponnesian history devised by the Messenians in the 360s to provide mythical precedents for the contemporary disposition of pro- and anti-Spartan alliances in a pair of hostile, Peloponnesus-wide blocs in the period before their conquest. His focus shifts in Chapter Five (236-276) to the third and fourth Initiativen, which he views as opposing variants of the early history of Pisatis, the short-lived state of 365-362, that were constructed by the Pisatans themselves and then by the Eleians after they regained control of the territory. In an extremely brief conclusion (277-279), Zingg repeats the goals enunciated in his introduction and declares success in attaining them.

Zingg’s book is surely the most extensive and in-depth study available of the western Peloponnese’s early history, though readers may find the conclusions Zingg draws about its relationship to events of the second quarter of the fourth century somewhat surprising, informed as they are by a rigorous contextualist perspective. This involves some ambitious ideas about the origins of his four Initiativen, the first of which he dates to between winter and summer of 369 BCE, when the Athenians finalised their symmachia with Sparta (127). While his date of “approximately the year 367” (235) for the second Initiative is less strikingly precise, Zingg on the other hand maintains that the relations of the anti- and pro-Spartan coalitions in the early historical tradition correlate exactly with those of the mid-360s, a position that runs the risk of circularity. Contemporary events also shaped the construction of Pisatan histories: in the third Initiative, which he dates between 365 and 363 — although he deems July 26th, 365 BCE wahrscheinlich (251) — the Pisatans adapted elements of the second Initiative to provide their newly autonomous polis with an early history, while, in the fourth, the Eleians retrojected their own reconquest of Pisatis and destruction of Eleian Pylos in 363 back into the years after the Second Messenian War.

Though Zingg argues for a close chronological relationship between the creation each of his four Initiativen, his study ranges widely and produces some striking conclusions. One such concerns the poet Tyrtaios, the fragments of whose works he does not class among the earlier sources for west Peloponnesian history. On the contrary, Zingg sets out a detailed, intriguing case that the poems were first known outside Laconia only in the 360s when, as part of the first Initiative, the Spartans created the fiction of Tyrtaios’ origin as an Athenian poet sent to aid the Spartans in their earlier time of crisis (67-99). Zingg includes examinations of the Ionian migration (56-59), the mysteries in Andania (188-219), and Aristomenes’ abortive embassy at the outset of the Second Messenian War to two potential allies, the Lydian king Ardys and Phraortes, king of the Medes, which he contends functioned as a fictive historical parallel for diplomatic relations in 367/6 of Thebes with Artaxerxes II and Sparta with the rebellious satrap Ariobarzanes (230-232).

This is one example of the significance Zingg attaches to events after Leuktra and the foundation of Messene in shaping the record of early Greek history. His ambitious claim has ramifications for much of what is commonly understood to have taken place before the Messenian Wars, a situation that he appreciates and exploits. In fact, Zingg’s analyses of the versions promulgated as part of the ‘propaganda war’ are fulsome, to say the least. An several points the relevance of a particular discussion to his main thesis is difficult to grasp. Not only are his examinations of relatively minor topics so lengthy as to sow confusion — the half page spent rehearsing accepted reasons for the established date of Plato’s Nomoi (99) is one of the briefer examples – his writing can on occasion become reiterative and otiose. The impact of his radical reassessment is thus considerably lessened his discursive, turgid, and repetitive style. The absence of editorial guidance is evident in the sections that essentially restate early proposals and in such anomalies as the opening of Chapter Two, Die messenische Frühgeschichte in Quellen vor 369, whose first paragraph is spent in an explanation of why it is not concerned with the histories of Pisa, Triphylia, or Arkadia (25).

Zingg has performed a useful service by disentangling from local historical traditions, manifested in sources from the fourth century and later, a web of inter-state relationships that may have generated the Initiativen for quite specific political purposes. Some readers, however, might feel that he goes too far in assigning such restricted time frames for the invention of those original accounts. Most historians would posit longer periods for their gestation.

Zingg’s book makes a substantial contribution to the current debates over the reliability of ancient accounts of Messenian history before the Theban invasion and over early Greek history in general. It will be consulted by historians interested in the archaic period, the fourth century, and the construction of cultural memory, though I doubt many will have the fortitude to read it from beginning to end.

Nigel Kennell, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Publié en ligne le 05 février 2018