Odysseus One, Oligarchs Nil

Michael Kulikowski

  • Class in Archaic Greece by Peter Rose
    Cambridge, 439 pp, £70.00, December 2012, ISBN 978 0 521 76876 4

Anglophone ancient historians have never had much time for Marx. They tie themselves in knots to avoid class-based analyses, recasting what can look an awful lot like class in terms of something else (status, say, or ‘social stratification’); or they dismiss class as an analytical category on the grounds, refuted long ago by Fredric Jameson, that it’s inapplicable in a pre-capitalist world. Few historians have confronted the problem head on, tacitly adhering instead to the Weberian understanding of ancient economic life advocated by M.I. Finley, rather than the insights of G.E.M. de Ste Croix’s The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981). That masterpiece is a touchstone for Peter Rose, who like de Ste Croix insists that the formation of the state apparatus in the early Greek polis and the widespread rise of tyrants in the late Archaic period make little sense without reference to conflicts between classes. As he sees it, the dialectical responses of competing classes drive historical development, but are complicated by the power of ideology to mystify exploitation so that the exploited class accepts it and takes it for granted. By insisting on the role of ideology, Rose goes beyond de Ste Croix; his book mixes echt Marx with dashes of Jameson and Althusser.

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