Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.03.27


Ian Morris, Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. 244. $59. ISBN 0-521-39279-9 (hb). ISBN 0-521-45678-9 (pb).


Reviewed by Lynette Mitchell, University of Durham.

The self-proclaimed ambition of this collection of essays in a series entitled New Directions in Archaeology is to "re-figure" Greek archaeology in order to "bridge the divide" between Greek archaeology and ancient history. The editor's basic contention is that Greek archaeology, which has developed within the European idealism of Hellenism, and which has become divided from other, theoretical, archaeologies by concentrating simply on artefactual analysis, is in danger of becoming irrelevant. What he proposes here (as others too have proposed before him) is that Greek archaeology should move beyond the study of the artefacts for their own sake and ask social and economic questions about the archaeological record in order to put the people back into the archaeology. I am an ancient historian and not a specialist in Greek archaeology, so, rather than providing a detailed critique of the archaeological method, my comments will generally be directed towards the usefulness of this book to ancient historians.

The essays are divided into four parts, the common thread being the question: what can archaeology tell us about Greek society? Ian Morris opens the collection with the first two essays by setting out his position and giving an overview of the history of Greek archaeology. This is intended to set the scene and justify why a new approach is needed. Although in Chapter One ("Introduction") Morris is largely defensive, in Chapter Two ("Archaeologies of Greece") he moves on to the offensive, attacking the "traditional" Greek archaeology with its essentially taxonomic emphasis and urges instead that Greek archaeology should move further towards adopting the practices of the "new" archaeology which, by asking anthropological questions of the artefacts, attempts to place them within their socio-political context. Although there are a number of "divides" within Greek archaeology, Morris sees that the main aim of the new archaeology is to break down the divide between Greek archaeology and Greek history.

Part II contains essays by James Whitley, Herbert Hoffman and Robin Osborne, who begin with essentially stylistic and art-historical analyses, but then attempt, with varying success, to show what such analyses can tell us about Greek society. Using a contextual approach to discuss protoattic pottery, Whitley ("Protoattic pottery: a contextual approach") concludes that, although it is generally assumed to be a ceremonial style, protoattic was in fact used to reinforce social structures by its "rationing" to elites. He argues this from finds principally associated with ceremonial usage, but also points to well deposits from the agora which must have been essentially domestic. Hoffman ("The riddle of the Sphinx: a case study in Athenian immortality symbolism") claims that the iconography and shape of the Sotadean sphinx vase are consistent with each other in the symbolism of liminality, and essentially represent a "bridge connecting this world with the Other." Osborne's paper ("Looking on -- Greek style. Does the sculpted girl speak to women too?") on archaic and classical female sculpture is the most successful of the three in its contribution to our understanding of Greek social history and thought. Although his analysis of the statuary itself is not always convincing, he moves on to argue that the changes in the representation of the female figure between the archaic and classical periods reflect, and even emphasise, a similar change in the Athenian attitudes to citizenship, and from this suggests a corresponding change in the attitude to women. In the sixth century the family had been important in political activity, and hence political marriage. In the fifth century, Osborne says, the emphasis was on the citizen and his corporate role. This affected the perception and representation of women: the political man suppressed and silenced woman.

The essays in Part III by David Gill, Karim Arafat and Catherine Morgan look at Greek artefacts found outside Greece, discuss what they can and cannot tell us about trade between Greek and non-Greek communities, and challenge the generally accepted models for trading networks, and even the notion of "trade" itself for the Greek world. Gill ("Positivism, pots and long-distance trade") attacks the positivist view that the distribution of pottery should be equated with its desirability and value, as well as reflecting trading routes, and claims that the presence of pottery in non-Greek locations does not necessarily imply direct trade with Greece. Arafat and Morgan ("Athens, Etruria and the Heueneberg: mutual misconceptions in the study of Greek-barbarian relations"), on a similar tack, discuss Greek vases in non-Greek find-spots. They consider how the iconography of Greek pots changed its "meaning" when interpreted through a different culture (here Etruscan). Then in a discussion of the "market activity" and local "economies" of Etruria, the Hallstatt empire, and Massalia, they challenge the "core-periphery" theory of trade and the notion that the Greeks and barbarian worlds were inextricably bound together by trade, arguing not only that there is little solid evidence for long-distance established trade links, but also that parallel markets probably provide a more appropriate model.

In Part IV essays by Susan Alcock, John Cherry and Jack Davis (the first a joint paper by the the three, and the second a paper by Alcock alone) both defend the use of field survey technique within the context of Greek archaeology and try to show show how it can provide either new evidence for old questions or new directions that could be pursued. Alcock, Cherry and Davis ("Intensive survey, agricultural practice and the classical landscape of Greece") use detailed survey as a means of testing the theory of manuring as an explanation of "off-site" pottery distributions, concluding that manuring is inadequate as the only explanation of this phenomenon, but other factors, such as erosion, soil movements and the shape of the landscape, could account for the intensity of distribution on some "sites". Alcock ("Breaking up the Hellenistic world: survey and society") then goes on to show how our knowledge of the Hellenistic world can open up from a "piece by piece" survey of the Hellenistic oikoumene, and that what emerges is a complex, and changing, mosaic of land use, population movement and economic growth and decline.

The final section comprises Responses from Michael Jameson and Anthony Snodgrass. The former, though welcoming the "re-peopling" of Greek archaeology, is, on the whole, relatively negative and pessimistic that such an approach to archaeology can go far beyond the type of questions posed in this collection. Snodgrass is more positive, and sees in these essays questions which could not easily have been asked half a generation ago.

This collection deals with a number of individual and generally unrelated questions. For the ancient historian some have more significance than others: for instance, how the Athenian male's changing self-perception affected his perception of women, and the Athenian woman's perception of herself; how "trade" between Greeks and non-Greeks can tell us as much about the non-Greek receiver as about the Greek giver, and how we need to reconstruct our understanding of ancient trade and the movement of artefacts around the ancient world.

But perhaps more important and of greater interest than the particular problems dealt with by these essays are the larger issues they raise. For example, how far, as classicists, ancient historians and archaeologists, do we need to justify our existence to the world at large (for, as Jameson notes, the question of relevance is as much a problem for classicists as it is for Greek archaeologists)? And are we still as Hellenocentric as Morris would have us believe? Is there still confrontation between Hellenism and Orientalism? Here, I think, Morris overstates his case. Increasingly, other states outside the Greek world are being studied by scholars with traditional classics backgrounds, and not always simply in a "colonialist" spirit. However, having said this, Morris et al. have defined a positive position from which Greek archaeology can make a conscious movement, even though the drift in this direction may have begun twenty years ago.

For an ancient historian the most important feature of this collection is the challenge it presents to meet the archaeologists half-way. In the past there has been a tendency for ancient historians to use the evidence and analysis provided by archaeology to answer traditional historians' questions, not to see archaeology as the source of new enquiry. But not only must the Greek archaeologists keep asking relevant and stimulating questions about the classical period of Greek history, but the Greek historians (particularly of the classical period) must also look more to Greek archaeologists to see what new insights they can provide and what new questions they are asking. This collection of essays has raised provocative questions which ancient historians need to face, and this kind of analysis provides welcome insights into ancient Greek society and the societies outside the Greek world with which they interacted.