Coastalness and Inlandness: the Case of Attica

Scholarship has in the past few years dealt more systematically with networks of interaction in the Greek world, especially within the framework of coastalness and inlandness. According to Polybius (30.9.16.), the inhabitants of the Lycian city of Kybira were not able to send Polyaratus of Rhodes to Rome because they were μεσόγαιοι τελέως, “totally inland people”. I assume that the historian expresses here a sharp opposition between coastalness and inlandness in relation to a land-locked location. Attica, that forms the focus of my research, can be considered maritime in character; being a peninsula and encompassing a fairly circumscribed territory, this region can be viewed as an island, isolated and closed, but at the same time connected in diverse ways with the outside world. The use of the concept of insularity to describe Attica is not a modern invention, but has been already perceived and expressed by ancient Athenians themselves. In the Poroi (1. 7), Xenophon explicitly likens Attica to an island:

Kαὶ μὴν οὐ περίρρυτός γε οὖσα ὅμως ὥσπερ νῆσος πᾶσιν ἀνέμοις προσάγεταί τε ὧν δεῖται καὶ ἀποπέμπεται ἃ βούλεται· ἀμφιθάλαττος γάρ ἐστι.

“Moreover, though she is not completely surrounded by the sea, as if she was an island all the winds bring to her the goods she needs and carry away her export; indeed, she lies between two seas”

With the construction of the Long Walls in the 5th century BCE, the asty and Piraeus became “an island”, totally separated from the Attic chora.[1] This development determined a drastic change in relation to the concept of a substantial equality between the citizens of the asty and those of the chora,[2] resulting in changes in the relationships between citizens of the asty and citizens of the chora.  It seems, however, that from the 4th century BCE onwards the concept of insularity, which is seen as a metaphor of safety, affects not only the asty and Piraeus, but the whole of Attica, as the growing Athenian interest in defending the chora in that period would suggest.[3]

My main aim in relation to this project is to assess the notion of coastalness and inlandness in the case of Attica. Following the Kleisthenic reorganization of 508/7 BCE, demes were combined with other demes from the same area to make trittyes – larger groups of population, which in turn were combined to form the ten phylai, or tribes of Athens. Each tribe contained one trittys from each of three regions: the city, the coast, and the inland area. This tripartite organization, however, was not completely observed on the ground: city, coastal and inland demes were not systematically distributed within the city walls, along the coastline and in the internal chora. For this reason, some coastal demes lay at a considerable distance from the seashore, whereas a number of inland and city demes were situated directly on the coast. At the same time, various city demes were placed quite far from the asty. This situation offers an excellent opportunity to investigate possible differences between coastal demes in the real sense – the demes in physical proximity to the coast, as opposed to those that are less coastal but belonging to the Paralia trittyes, and those that are truly rural.

Within this framework, I am exploring how the geographic position of the demes may help us understand settlement patterns in Attica; whether demes are more positively affected by a coastal location than by an inland one; and to what extent the demes’ development and organization was influenced by distance, not only from the sea but also from the urban center. The study of the impact of coastal/inland nature of settlement in Attica requires a longue durée approach from the Late Archaic to the Early Imperial period so as to detect possible changes in demes’ organization and structure over time. Within this historical cadre, I also propose to examine the political regression that the demes seem to have undergone from the third century BCE onwards.[4]

This research moves along, builds on and expands from the research I pursued for my doctoral dissertation[5]. Methodologically, it integrates epigraphic, archaeological and literary data in an attempt to identify reflections and physical manifestations of the communities living in coastal and inland areas. Are there any distinctive features? How did their inlandness and coastalness affect their development and even physical appearance? How should we assess these differences, especially in light of the relationships between coastal and inland demes and between them and the urban center?


Works cited

Constantakopoulou, C. 2007. The Dance of the Islands: Insularity, Networks, the Athenian Empire, and the Aegean World, Oxford.

Oliver, G.J. 2006. Hellenistic Economies: Regional Views from the Athenian Polis, in Descat, R. (ed.), Approches de l’économie hellénistique, Musée archéologique de Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

Id. 2007. War, Food, and Politics in Early Hellenistic Athens, Oxford.

Osborne, R. 1985. Demos: the Discovery of Classical Attika, Cambridge.

[1] Constantakopoulou 2007, pp. 137 ss.

[2] Osborne 1985, p. 188: “politically the distinction between asty and country is not only ignored, it is effaced”.

[3] Constantakopulou 2007, pp. 163, 173-175. She refers to the fourth century BCE, but Oliver (2006, p. 224; 2007, pp. 113 ss.) points out that in the third and second centuries BCE, the Athenian interest still focused on the protection of Attica, as epigraphic evidence from fortified demes such as Eleusis, Rhamnous, and Sounion, confirms.

[4] Oliver 2006, pp. 233 ss. (esp. p. 233, 240).

[5] A monograph based on my Ph.D. dissertation on coastal demes of Attica (I demi attici della Paralia) is expected to appear in 2013.