The Autobiographical Polis

Community and History in Classical and Hellenistic Greece

Daniel Tober

Fordham University

All communities tell stories about themselves. In literate communities, this historical consciousness manifests itself not only as cultural memory but also as local historiography. The ubiquity of the form is astonishing; whether the focalizer is polis or urbs, county or parish, state or nation, local history abounds. My talk, "The Autobiographical Polis," explores the phenomenon of local history in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, suggesting that the self-identity of a Greek community is reflected in the way its members construct narratives of the collective past. After a brief overview of the evidence and a discussion of the popularity of local history in ancient Greece, I examine the diversity of these texts, looking in particular at the distinctive ways that various poleis (e.g. Sparta, Samos, and Pontic Herakleia) structured, shaped, and framed local memory. In the last part of my talk, I turn to the social construction of territory in local histories, with Megara serving as a test case. In the late fourth and early third centuries BCE, I argue, the Megarian community began to articulate a new localism that was both parochial and cosmopolitan, with Megarian historians using local graves and the traditions attached to them to delineate Megara as a thoroughfare town and the Megarid as a facilitator of movement across the isthmus. 

Daniel Tober earned Master’s degrees in Classics and ancient history from Oxford and Harvard and received his Ph.D from Princeton in 2013. He taught ancient history in the Departments of Classics, History, and Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College and is currently a lecturer in the Classics Department at Fordham University. His book project, The Autobiographical Polis, which he is in the final stages of editing, uses the remains of local historiography to explore the interface between community and history in Classical and Hellenistic Greece. He is also working on a study of politics and memory in early Hellenistic Athens. 

Registration is required at

Admission to lecture closes 10 minutes after scheduled start time.

Please check for event updates.

On a limited, first-come, first-served basis, ISAW is able to provide assistive listening devices at public events in our Lecture Hall. To ensure an optimal listening experience, we recommend that guests bring their own headphones (with a standard 1/8-inch audio jack) to connect to our devices. Please direct questions, comments, or suggestions to .