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Hierarchy and Judicial Institutions: Arbitration and Ideology in the Hellenistic World

  • Eric Grynaviski and Amy Hsieh

International arbitration is a distinctive feature of both contemporary international politics and the ancient world. Explanations of arbitration in the international relations literature generally posit that states engage in arbitration to mitigate the effects of competition in an anarchical system, or that the practice of arbitration reflects democratic norms. However, an examination of arbitration during the paradigmatic case of the Hellenistic period (338–90 bce) casts doubt on the existing literature. Hierarchy rather than anarchy better characterizes the political context in which arbitration took place: the Greeks often organized themselves into alliances or leagues in which a hegemon dominated decision making, or into federal states with a common foreign policy. This hierarchical setting was a necessary condition for international arbitration where the practice of arbitration was a tool to legitimize hierarchical powers. We assemble an original data set of Hellenistic arbitrations, and use qualitative comparative analysis to show that hierarchy was almost always a necessary condition for international arbitration. Process-tracing of arbitration under three political orders—hegemonic kingdoms in the Greek world, Greek federations, and the Roman Empire—shows that arbitration as a particular means of dispute resolution was used as an ideological device to build and legitimize international order. We then analyze the contemporary record, finding a role for hierarchy in modern international arbitration.

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