Before his death in 2000, Geoffrey Ernest Maurice De Ste. Croix was one of the leading classical historians in the world. He showed that Marxist theories can be applied fruitfully to the Hellenic world in his 1981 work "The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World." His works were striking for their thoroughness and their careful analysis. What we have here is a collection of essays on the early Hellenic world which were written in the sixties. They have been collected and edited by David Harvey and Robert Parker, and contain scholarly updates on the subjects at hand. Most readers will find these essays extremely technical. They do not have the common theme of "The Class Struggle," nor of his first book, "The Origins of the Peloponnesian Wars." And whereas in those books Ste. Croix was capable of wit and the sharp piercing insight, many readers will find much less of that here. (The one exception is a joke Ste. Croix tells about Herodotus, where responding to the claim that Herodotus was the father of history, he adds yes, since history proper started the next generation with Thucydides.) They will not find them particularly Marxist, but there is a stress on such important themes as the rationality of democratic institutions and an emphasis on the primitive nature of the classical economy.
Particularly technical are the first two essays which look respectively at the Solonian Census Classes and the Solonian constitution. They are marked by an extremely close analysis of the few remaining sources. The most interesting part of the first essay is a discussion in which Ste. Croix shows that Aristotle was wrong about particular measures. Building on a classic essay he wrote on Greek Accounting, Ste. Croix points out that the measures could not have been based on money values because Greek Accounting was not developed enough to differentiate between "profit" and "loss." The following essays help vindicate the good sense of Athenian democracy. Ste. Croix argues that sortition, or selection by lot, was not as foolish, or as widespread, or as democratic as other scholars might have thought. He discusses the constitution of Cleisthenes and argues against those who claim Cleisthenes manipulated it to enhance his own power. After all, Cleisthenes was probably in his sixties when his reforms were made. Ste. Croix also argues that ostracism was not the irrational practice many scholars think. In an age without political parties it could stop prominent politicians who could get elected without a clear platform but whose acts were clearly opposed by the majority. In contrast to banishment, the citizenship and the property of the ostracized were not taken away from him, and he could return to high office after ten years. Nor was the law invoked all the time. Often it ignored for a decade or two, and stopped altogether after a particularly unfortunate case in 417. Ste. Croix also discusses the Athenian citizenship laws in a provisional paper. He argues that its restrictions on granting citizenship to those whose parents were not citizens were designed not so much against Athenians who married foreigners as against Athenians who sought to give citizenship to their and their slave's children. The law still hampers the lives of slaves, but at least the Athenians appear less xenophobic.
The longest single chapter is a discussion of Aristotle's "Athenian Politeia." Although Ste. Croix is often very critical of Aristotle's arguments throughout the book, the essay here seeks to support his basic reliability. He argues that the book was the product to a large extent of Aristotle's own research, and Aristotle may have been the first person to really use archival sources. In contrast he argues that Aristotle did not rely on Androtion, which is a good thing for the "Athenian Politeia"'s reliability, since Androtion wrote in exile and would not have been able to do much research there. There are then two fine chapters on trade and colonization. With a few minor exceptions, trade was not the cause of Greek colonization; land hunger was. We can see that from Greek laws which showed little interest in exports (the contrast with Commercial Carthage was striking). Greek colonization efforts (such as in Syracuse) often dispossessed the original inhabitants from their lands. This makes eminent sense if the Greeks were basing their economy on agriculture, little sense if they were merchants searching for people to trade with. Scholars have often argued that Aegina was an exception, ruled by commercial merchants. Ste. Croix thoroughly refutes this idea, with its "proto-capitalist" implications. Pindar's references to Aegina use praise common to landed aristocracies. The fact that there are many references to boats should not imply that traders were crucial to its existence. As the editors properly note, Aegina was an island: if they wanted to meet other people one of them would have to use a boat. There are few Aeginian merchants mentioned, nor is the land as infertile as people think. As for coinage, Aegina may have introduced coinage first, but only by a couple of decades. And anyway the correlation between coinage and commercial trade is unclear; Phoenicia and Carthage were great trading centers but their coinage developed relatively late. After getting though this complex, difficult book, one is struck by Ste. Croix's thoroughness, his careful rumination over every fact and interpretation. (The contrast with Allan Bloom's edition of The Republic, published around this time, is striking). Now we will wait to see if Oxford will publish the essays on Christianity that Ste. Croix spent the last twenty years of his life working on.