Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.11.17

A. Trevor Hodge, Ancient Greek France.   Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania, 1998.  Pp. viii, 312.  ISBN 0-8122-3482-0.  $49.95.  

Reviewed by Timothy M. Teeter, Georgia Southern University
Word count: 684 words

arcebat eum ab inlecebris peccantium praeter ipsius bonam integramque naturam quod statim parvulus sedem ac magistram studiorum Massiliam habuit, locum Graeca comitate et provinciali parsimonia mixtum ac bene compositum.
"He (Agricola) restrained himself from the temptations of bad company because, in addition to his own good nature and integrity, as soon as he was a young boy he lived and studied at Massilia, a place where Greek elegance and provincial parsimony are joined and well-blended." (Tacitus, Agricola 4.2)

The image of the youthful Agricola, future general, senator and provincial governor, being sent as a young man to a Greek city to escape the allurements of vice is intriguing (although, Tacitus continues, his mother still had to warn him off the dangers of philosophy). Yet Massilia (or Massalia in its Greek spelling) seems to have had a high reputation among Romans, although it is difficult to tell just why. Until it chose the wrong side in the civil war and was economically eclipsed by Caesarean colonies at Arles and elsewhere in southern Gaul, Massalia was the Greek window on the Gallic world and served as a major port for the vital traffic in tin, slaves, and wine, as A. Trevor Hodge makes clear in Ancient Greek France.

Despite its title, most of Ancient Greek France concerns ancient Greek Massalia, with a chapter on the mother city of Phocaea before and brief discussions of over thirty sites of Greek foundation in southern France and Spain after, and a final chapter on the Celtic neighbors. It is earnest and detailed, and clearly a labor of love.

Hodge tries to confine his discussion to Massalia before Caesar. However, that does not leave much. "We never hear of any of those coups d'état that mark the history of so many Greek cities, nor yet of rumblings of popular discontent -- though we must straight away qualify this by noting that on the internal history of Massalia for most of the time we never hear anything at all." (p. 110) Very true. Since there is not very much material apart from the physical remains, Hodge fills up many pages with descriptions of the topography and ancient economy of the region (very useful and informative) and the surviving monuments, then tries to build what he can out of this and the few references to Massalia in the literature. This results at times in a maddening vagueness and speculation. Words and expressions like "presumably," "apparently", "it is possible", and "as far as we can tell" litter the pages. "I know of no evidence that this pattern [of ships arriving and leaving the harbor] existed, but it sounds reasonable." (p. 75) "Houses are thought to have been generally of the type exemplified by Olynthus, but this is, and has to be, pure guesswork." (p. 79) And so on. The details are many, the style prolix, and the reader must take frequent breaks.

Ancient Greek France is intended for a wide audience -- it turned up in the Louvre's excellent book shop this past summer. However, it is hard to see how useful the book would be for the non-specialist. It is not really useful as a guidebook. Although there are many site plans, there are few maps, which is a problem despite (or perhaps because of) the extensive geographical descriptions. It is not a guide on the order of James Bromwich's Roman Remains of Southern France (1993), nor is it strictly a history of the Greek-Gallic encounter, though it contains much historical matter. In form, portions of the book resemble Paul MacKendrick's Roman France (1971), yet the choice of illustrations is sometimes odd. The paved roads of Ambrussum get six lines of text but two pages of photos, while the famous Vix crater gets a full page of discussion but no photo at all. There is almost no mention of antiquities in the local museums, even for Massalia. Nevertheless, it is a mine of information, with a very full bibliography. The specialist will find it helpful, but do not expect a paperback edition to carry with you in Provence any time soon.

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