Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.2.19


William R. Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Pp. 350, maps 11, b&w ills. 420, color ills. $55.00 (hb). ISBN 0-8014-3173-5. $22.50 (pb). ISBN 0-8014-8280-1.


Reviewed by Patrick M. Thomas, Dept. of Archaeology/Art History, University of Evansville, pt4@evansville.edu.

William Biers' The Archaeology of Greece has been a popular text for introductory courses in Greek archaeology since its initial appearance in 1980. Those pleased with Biers at present will find this an improvement in most important respects, as it retains all the virtues of the previous edition, adds a small amount of new material, and updates the reference material in the footnotes and bibliography. It is not, however, a major revision, as approximately 95% of the text and illustrations are identical with the previous revised edition of 1987. In recent years, John Pedley's Greek Art and Archaeology (Prentice Hall, 1993) has provided an alternative to Biers' book. The Pedley text contains sections on the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, which are not covered in any depth by Biers, and more material on Sicily and South Italy. Biers deliberately omitted those areas in earlier editions, and he has also done so in the present book. Those who substituted the Pedley book for coverage of those areas will probably not find reason in the new edition to revert to Biers. A third group, those who are not completely content with either book, may find this revision just substantial enough to incline to it. Readers unfamiliar with either book should know that both are notably art historical in their coverage, although Biers treats a slightly wider range of archaeological material, most notably coins and lamps.

The strengths of Biers' book are manifold. Biers himself is conversant with a wide range of newer research, and that is clearly reflected in the discussion of individual items and in the notes. He is an exceptionally graceful writer, and both student and teacher will find this text easy to read, yet scholarly, too. The provision of the book with a moderate number of footnotes is one of its major virtues for two reasons. The mature and serious undergraduate will find the references helpful in investigating some particular areas of interest; the sources themselves are primarily in English and accessible to undergraduates. The second reason is that a number of the footnotes contain discussion of controversial points or refer the reader to books or articles about such controversies. The value of this is that it helps students see that archaeology is an active field, one in which debate and inquiry over questions of both fact, such as dating of particular artifacts and features, and interpretation play a large role: all too often introductory textbooks leave the impression that archaeology is a discipline purely about well-established facts. The lack of such notes in the Pedley book is one of its defects. Given the art historical emphasis of Biers' text, the topics covered are appropriate and discussion of them judicious and informative. One longs, though, for treatment of topics such as changing settlement patterns, agriculture, technology, environmental reconstructions and a host of other less art historical aspects of Greek archaeology.

Chapters are all organized in a fairly standard pattern: each begins with a brief general survey characterizing the period as a whole, along with relevant historical background. This is followed by a short general section on "Art," followed by treatments of architecture, sculpture, painting/mosaics, pottery, terra-cotta figurines, metalwork, coins, and lamps; of course not all of these categories are found in every chapter. Although this does provide a certain consistency, it also unnaturally divides integrated topics: the Mycenae Shaft Graves and their contents are discussed in several separate sections, and the architectural sculptures of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia and the Parthenon are discussed separately from the architecture, for example.

The illustrations are for the most part clear and sharp. One major defect of the book from an instructor's point of view is that the illustration captions almost all lack dates. Students studying for slide exams have frequently commented that one of the better features of the Pedley text is that virtually all of his illustrations have dates, limiting the amount of hunting they have to do in the text for particular information. Perhaps future editions can include such dates in the captions. A minor change to the figure captions is the presence of a superscript "P" at the end of the title for those buildings and artifacts which have additional views or information in Perseus 2.0.

In what follows, I concentrate upon what has been altered or added from the previous edition rather than trying to summarize the entire chapter, along with comments and suggestions about particular points.

Chapter 1 provides some general background on archaeology as a discipline and includes brief discussions of stratigraphy, relative chronology, seriation, and various kinds of archaeological research. Another short book by Biers, Art, artefacts, and chronology in classical archaeology (London and New York: Routledge, 1992) works well as a companion to this chapter. A paragraph and figure (p. 19-21; Fig. 1.5) have been added on the recent excavations under the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea, which have revealed the plan of a late Orientalizing peripteral temple, and two successive apsidal Geometric structures, presumably early temples, underneath it. Biers uses this excavation as an example of the international cooperation seen in many contemporary excavations.

Chapter 2, on the Minoan civilization, has substantially updated footnotes, minor modifications to the discussion of the palace at Knossos, a rewritten paragraph on the settlement at Akrotiri on Thera, and more discussion of the Thera eruption. Instructors will want to note that Biers accepts the revised "high" chronology for the Thera eruption (p. 28, n.4), which leads to a substantial raising of the starting dates for a number of periods in the Bronze Age. This is more implicit in the chapter on the Minoans than in the one on the Mycenaeans, because Biers prefers to use the "Pre-Palace, Old Palace, New Palace, Post Palace" schema rather than Evans' periodization. In this instance, the beginning of the New Palace Period is raised to 1725 (from 1700 in the previous edition) and still ends in 1380 BC. Because Biers suggests a date in the late 17th or early 16th century BC as the date of the eruption, the beginning of LM I must be moved back substantially. I am not sure that the "party line" among Aegeanists has shifted so decisively on the date of the eruption that this alteration is worth moving into the text as the preferred set of dates, although discussion of the controversy is certainly warranted. Completely new are discussion and illustration (pp. 42-43; Fig. 2.18) of Building P at Kommos, the so-called "ship-sheds" of LM III date, and a detail from one of the recently discovered "Minoanizing" frescoes from Tell el Dab'a in Egypt (p. 48; Fig. 2.22). A new color photo of women gathering crocuses from Xeste 3 at Akrotiri has been added also. Because Biers is attempting to cover the whole of the Minoan palatial civilization in this chapter, an illustration of Kamares Ware, which is obliquely referred to in the text would be helpful. Another useful addition would be illustration of the whole "Naval Fresco" from Akrotiri, of which only a small part is illustrated.

Chapter 3 is on the Mycenaeans. Here the effect of Biers' acceptance of the "high" chronology is very noticeable, as the beginning of LH I is shifted to 1675 BC (p. 62), greatly lengthening LH I and II. Because this is a very considerable change from the previous edition, more extended discussion of this would be helpful. Few changes have been made to this chapter outside of the footnotes, although a new plan of the final phase of the Tiryns palace has been provided (Fig. 3.5), and a slight addition has been made to the discussion of the "Woman" fresco from Mycenae (Fig. 3.15), noting the presence of two right hands in the figure. The rigidity of the presentation leads to the unhappiest result in this chapter: rather than being discussed as a unit, the Mycenae Shaft graves and their contents are discussed in piecemeal fashion throughout the chapter.

Chapter 4 is on the Greek Dark Ages, essentially the Protogeometric Period in Biers' treatment. Slight changes have been made to the introductory historical remarks; it would be helpful to students if Biers provided a clearer explanation of who the "Ionian speakers" and "Aeolic and Dorian peoples" (p.98) are, as some hasty readers will conclude these are non-Greeks. New discussion and illustrations include an apsidal house from Nichoria (Fig. 4.3) and an extended discussion of the Lefkandi Heroon, with a new plan (Fig. 4.4) and reconstruction (Fig. 4.5).

Chapter 5 is on the Geometric Period. Biers rightly eliminates discussion and illustration of the problematic "Megaron B" at Thermon. Mention is made of the important discovery at Tegea under the Temple of Athena Alea of apsidal cult buildings dating to the Geometric period; these are illustrated in Chapter 1. The rest of the substantial changes involve the Temple of Apollo at Dreros. A new restored plan and model (Figs. 5.5-5.6) are provided, and the illustration of the "Apollo" sphyrelaton from the temple, previously in the following chapter, is moved here (Fig. 5.14). Biers' earlier ambivalence about the date of the temple and sculptures appears to have been resolved (p. 113) in favor of a Late Geometric date for both. Suggestions include bringing up the process and problem of attribution when discussing the Dipylon Amphora and the pedestal krater by the Hirschfeld Painter. Experience shows that students can see the differing characteristics of each hand very clearly through use of these examples. Given the changing nature and diversity of burial practices in the Late Geometric Period, more extended discussion of them would be welcome.

Chapter 6 covers the Orientalizing Period. Most of the changes have been made in the architecture section. A more recently drawn plan of the Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia is provided (Fig. 6.6), along with a reworked discussion of this temple and the roughly contemporary one at Corinth. Following Broneer, Biers says that a "well-developed Doric elevation," (p. 137) was present in the Isthmia temple, although this point is highly controversial. The discussion of the Temple of Apollo at Thermon (p. 138) has been modified slightly: the style of the earliest terra-cotta heads on the sima are now said to date the construction. New information is provided on the Orientalizing temple at Tegea under the temple of Athena Alea (p. 139): this is said to be a peripteral building, with a 6 x 18 configuration, dating to the last quarter of the 7th century BC. An improved plan of the second Heraion on Samos is also furnished (Fig. 6.9). As noted earlier, the "Apollo" sphyrelaton from Dreros has been moved from this chapter to the preceding one.

Chapter 7 surveys the Archaic Period. Biers slightly lowers the date of the Temple of Apollo at Corinth to 560-540, in accord with more recent research, as opposed to 570-560 in the earlier edition. In keeping with his self-imposed limits, Biers does not discuss Sicily or South Italy to any degree, but does mention and illustrate the Temple of Hera I at Paestum. The inclusion of more buildings from Magna Graecia in this chapter in future editions is a possibility the author should consider, as nothing shows the interaction between mainland, Ionia, and Magna Graecia more clearly than the development of temple architecture in the Archaic Period. Some may quibble over the representation of the Royal Stoa in the plan of the Athenian Agora of ca. 500 BC: a note or discussion indicating that the building was moved from elsewhere to its present site is in order. Biers provides a new discussion of the Kritios boy (p. 166), noting that it is probably a post-Persian work, and so not truly "Archaic." A short treatment of bilingual vases has been added (p. 184), along with a color photo of a bilingual by the Andokides Painter, who is also mentioned as the possible inventor of the red-figure technique.

Chapter 8 is on the 5th Century BC. Mention is made of the ongoing Acropolis restoration and preservation project (p. 200-201); a color photo of the restored Erechtheion has been added. Biers has updated the section on the Parthenon (pp. 201-202) to reflect the recent discoveries of M. Korres: a new plan (Fig. 8.6) shows the windows on the east end of the cella, and the shrine and round altar within the pteron of the north side (reconstructed view of the two structures in the north pteron in Fig. 8.7). In the Athenian Agora, however, it is peculiar to see no mention of the Stoa Poikile; the 1970 plan of Travlos is used to show the 5th century Agora, and this shows the Stoa Poikile as a "hypothetical" building running more or less E-W along the N. end of the Agora. In the following chapter, though, a more recent plan (1982) plan by Dinsmoor shows the restored plan and orientation of the building as revealed by excavation. A photo and discussion (p. 218; Fig. 8.25) have been added of the so-called "Motya Charioteer." Biers uses this to make the point that even seemingly well-known periods can produce surprises, but the inclusion of this piece cries out for the addition of the Ludovisi Throne, too. The sculptures one expects to find in a chapter on the 5th century BC are here with one exception: the Sandal-Binder from the Nike Temple Parapet. The standing Nike figure illustrated by Biers from this frieze is a less good choice. Biers has also included a new color illustration and discussion (p. 241) of another vase by the Meidias Painter, the well-known hydria with Phaon and Demonassa.

Chapter 9 covers the 4th century BC and Chapter 10 the Hellenistic Period. No changes have been made to Chapter 9 with the exception of the updated plan of the 4th century Agora mentioned earlier, but Chapter 10 has a number of alterations. Biers mentions (p. 290) the drawings of architectural details found inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. An updated plan of the Athenian Agora is included, along with a new color photo of the lower story of the Stoa of Attalos. In the section on the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon, it is surprising that Biers does not mention the scholarship that has been lavished on trying to understand the different "families" of gods represented on the altar. With regard to sculpture, Biers mentions the hypothesis (p. 303) that the "Drunken Old Woman" of Myron of Thebes is connected with Dionysiac cult; the Laocoon is properly redated to the late 1st century BC or early 1st century AD, and a more extensive discussion of the dating of the Sperlonga sculptures is provided (pp. 314-315). A short section on Hellenistic Macedonian tombs has been added (pp. 315-316), with a new color photo of the Tomb of Lyson and Kallikles. The "Tomb of Philip" also receives a more extended treatment than in the previous edition, although Biers is more concerned with the painting on the exterior than with the tomb itself or the debate over the identity of its occupant. The "Epilogue," which briefly discusses Greece during the Roman period, has no substantive changes.

In summary, Biers' book is a sound, well-illustrated introduction to the traditional aspects of Greek Archaeology. The improvements to the second edition are minor in scale, but bring the book up to date in the areas it covers. The Archaeology of Greece will certainly remain one of the premier textbooks in the field.