Northern Illinois University Press

Writing Authority

Elite Competition and Written Law in Early Greece

Jason  Hawke

A fresh take on status conscious Greeks and the emergence of written law

“This is an important book that will have an impact on the field of early Greek history and law. It makes its argument in a compelling way.”—Kurt A. Raaflaub, Brown University

In Writing Authority, Hawke argues that the rapidly changing political and economic landscape of early Greece prompted elites to begin committing laws to a written form. The emergence of the polis and its institutions, the demographic growth of Greece, the development of market forces, and the commoditization of wealth, all presented new challenges and difficulties for the Greeks of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE. Hawke contends that no one felt the attendant anxieties of these changes more acutely than the leading members of early Greek communities—they confronted regulating their intense competition for status and power in an environment where traditional sources of authority, such as the Homeric epic, offered no ready solutions for problems arising from the transformation of Greek society. Greek elites wrote rules aimed at stabilizing their relationships with one another and, by extension, their communities.

Challenging both established and emerging orthodoxies about the appearance of written law in ancient Greece, Writing Authority questions the importance of a popular or communal role in the earliest Greek legislation. Approaches from anthropology, legal studies, and sociology are used to situate the emergence of Greek law in the broader context of Greek legal culture in the eighth through early sixth centuries BCE as Hawke describes in rich detail the legal culture of Homer’s world, considers the impact of literacy on Greek attitudes about law and authority and its practical consequences for the governing of the Greek polis, and examines the effects of the tumultuous changes in Archaic Greece on the leading members of Greek communities. The result is a compelling monograph that provides an exhaustive and nuanced history of earliest Greek law and the motivations of the elites that brought it into being. It will be of interest to scholars of Greek history, classicists, and early legal historians.

Jason Hawke is Assistant Professor in the History Department of Roanoke College. He has also held faculty positions at Seattle University, the University of Iowa, Northern Illinois University, and Furman University.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-438-5