The city of ancient Athens has always been considered the most fruitful case for the study of the complex phenomenon of the Greek polis. Oswin Murray, with witty acumen, observed:
«To the Germans the polis can only be described in a handbook of constitutional law; the French polis is a Holy Communion; the English polis is a historical accident; while the American polis combines the practices of a Mafia convention with the principles of justice and freedom».
To this spectrum of fundamental approaches Daria Russo adds an Italian concept: the polis of small local and social units. It is a concept applicable to various historical communities which is implemented here in a fundamental investigation of classical, democratic Athens, from the reforms of Clisthenes up to Demetrius Falereo.
Methodologically, the book offers the first comprehensive documentation and interpretation of the archaeological evidence of democratic Athens. The relevant documents, places, monuments and images, literary and epigraphic texts, of the various political subgroups are presented in a comprehensive review which will serve as a basis, far beyond the scope of this book, for any future research in this field. However, with this approach we not only get a quantitative extension of our knowledge, but it opens up a whole new qualitative perspective on the political life of the civic community of Athens. The traditional conception, based mainly on literary sources, conceives Athenian democracy more or less explicitly in the abstract sense of a political organization, i.e. in terms of a "constitution" of a "state", implying modern notions of political structures and practices which they have recently been rightly questioned. In this situation, the archaeological evidence does not direct our gaze so much "from above" on the general structures of political institutions as "from below" on the concrete reality of life and political practice: a lived life that takes place not so much in the great assemblies of the citizenship in the central metropolis but in the local subdivisions, of the phylai and demoi, phratriai and trittyes, including the whole territory of Attica. In this sense, Daria Russo's book is part of a series of recent praxeological works to which she contributes with an important new chapter.
The fundamental merit of this book consists in the systematic integration of the various factors and aspects into a coherent concept of the political and cultural praxis of historical actors. According to this approach, in the sequence of chapters, the places and spaces of associations, the forms of actions and interactions in these spaces, the large public monuments and the typologies of self-representation through figurative and epigraphic dedications are analyzed and interpreted. The project is ambitious, as it requires, and in fact testifies, in addition to the full disciplinary mastery of Greek archeology, topography, art history, philology and epigraphy, a vast interdisciplinary competence of the author in the fields of political, social and of religion. I wish Daria Russo's book a wide diffusion and a lively reception among scholars of Greek antiquity and of the general history of political institutions.