Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.01.20

Petros G. Themelis (ed.), *PRWTOBUZANTINH/ *ELEU/QERNA: *TOME/AS I, Volume 2.   Rethymno:  University of Crete, 2000.  Pp. 319, figs. 49 + 6 + 16 + 10.  ISBN 960-85468-9-3.  

Reviewed by John K. Papadopoulos, The Department of Classics and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA
Word count: 1966 words

The title of this volume requires some explanation, which can be gleaned from the preface (in Modern Greek) by Petros Themelis. In English the title would read: Proto-Byzantine or Early Byzantine Eleutherna: Sector I, Volume 2. The excavations at the archaeological site of Eleutherna, located approximately 25 km south-southeast of Rethymno, were initiated in 1985 and are still in progress. The site has been divided among different teams and directors from the University of Crete: Petros Themelis is responsible for Sector I, Thanassis Kalpaxis for Sector II and Nikolaos Stampolidis for Sector III. This volume is the first published final report on the excavations in Sector I. Although labeled the second volume, the first volume, which deals with the Basilica and Early Byzantine settlement, the tombs and their contents, as well as particular categories of material, has not yet appeared. This is to be regretted as the primary evidence of context and stratigraphy -- the backbone of any excavation report -- remains forthcoming. Consequently, the material presented in Volume 2 floats, as it were, without its published context.

Following the preface (pp. 11-12) and the Abbreviations and Bibliography (pp. 13-35), the first chapter (pp. 37-205) "The Early Byzantine Pottery" (in English), by Christine Vogt, a monograph in its own right, itself divided into "chapters", presents a typology of the Early Byzantine or -- as John Hayes has termed it 1 -- Late Roman pottery. Despite the fact that Vogt's contribution forms almost two-thirds of the book, her name does not feature anywhere on the cover or title page of this volume, and it is a shame that she and the other contributors were not listed at least on the title page. The section as a whole presents a solid, detailed but condensed typology of the pottery, with useful statistical overviews of the material. It begins with an introduction that sets the stage: the geomorphological features and economic resources of Crete, as well as the aims of the study and methods of classification. The presentation of the pottery begins with Chapter I, the Fine Wares (pp. 44-72). This in turn begins with the "wide-mouthed tableware" (normally referred to as "open vessels") and the ubiquitous North African Wares (African Red-Slip Ware), which constitute about 21% of the fine wares from Eleutherna. The Phocaean Red-Slip Ware, especially the common Hayes Forms 3 and 10 -- respectively accounting for 44% and 25% of the fine ware assemblage, is divided by Vogt into three sub-groups on the basis of the macroscopic features of the fabric. Despite these sub-groups, the bowls form a homogenous typological group, with virtually the same technological and morphological features. There are smaller quantities of Hayes Phocaean Red-Slip Ware Forms 5 and 6, as well as a solitary fragment of an Egyptian bowl (discussed as some length), and there are, in addition, very small quantities of "narrow-mouthed" or closed fine-ware shapes (a few jugs and flasks). Although there are no locally-made Cretan imitations of the standard Late Roman open fine wares, the local potters produced an abundant series of narrow-mouthed vessel forms, including small bowls, goblets, cups, flagon-unguentaria, mugs, "oilers", jugs, bottles, pitchers, and spouted jugs.

Vogt's Chapter II (pp. 73-75) deals with "Wares for Preparation of Food," which include a number of large bowls, basins, and terracotta "baskets," some with incised decoration. The "Cooking Ware" constitutes Chapter III (pp. 76-80). The cooking pots are presented typologically, and include a variety of vessels (saucepans and round-bottomed pots) believed to be both locally-made and imported (the imports include pots thought to be of "Aegean" origin, as well as a small group considered to be Palestinian or Egyptian). The fact, however, that identical cooking wares are found distributed over much of the Mediterranean, both east and west, suggests that much work remains to be done on isolating cooking ware production centers. The chapter ends with lids and a cooking grill.

Chapter IV (pp. 81-93) deals with "Wares for Transportation and Storage," primarily amphorae, together with a few storage jars. The imported amphorae include a number of standard North African, Asia Minor, Aegean, Palestinian, Egyptian and other Eastern Mediterranean types. Vogt's treatment of the amphorae, largely rehashed from earlier studies, is not as meticulous as that of other categories of material, and although she lists a copious bibliography in her discussion, much of this is not well digested. For example, there is good evidence to suggest that the common Carthage Late Roman Amphora Type 1 was produced at some twenty production sites from Antioch in the east to Rhodes in the west.2 Yet Vogt's discussion of the origin of the type overlooks this evidence in favor of earlier studies. In a similar vein, the amphora often referred to as Carthage Late Roman Amphora Type 2 is found in larger quantities in the North Aegean than Vogt suggests, and she overlooks the significant distribution of the type in the Black Sea and the Balkans, north of Greece. Moreover, this amphora type appears to have contained a good deal more besides oil (and perhaps the cinnamon Vogt refers to in one particular case); among other commodities, there is good evidence to suggest wine.3 In addition to the imported amphorae, the Cretan amphorae account for about 64% of the amphora assemblage. Here Vogt provides a useful overview of the Cretan AC1a-d amphora types. The chapter ends with a few storage jars of local manufacture. Chapter V (94-95) presents various utensils, beginning with lamps (mostly of Cretan and Asia Minor manufacture), a candlestick, beehives and a series of stands.

The short conclusion (96-101) looks at the evidence of pottery from the end of the fourth to the mid seventh century after Christ from the lower town of Eleutherna against the backdrop of the eastern and southern Mediterranean maritime trade. The period as a whole is seen, progressively, as one of apogee, decline and desertion. Vogt returns to the resources of Crete -- including wine, olive oil, honey, cheese, wool, and wood, including that for shipbuilding -- and especially those of the rich agricultural and pastoral Milopotamos region in which Eleutherna is located. From the end of the sixth century the town witnesses a decline in population and unsettled trade relationships. And sometime toward the middle of the seventh century, the lower town of Eleutherna appears to have fallen victim to the turbulent times, though a small group of people seem to have retreated to the relative safety of the acropolis. In the final section of her conclusion, Vogt tries to reconcile the evidence of the pottery with that of other sources in order to gain a clearer picture of the socio-economic situation at Eleutherna. The remainder of the section comprises drawings of the pottery (pp. 102-199) accompanied by basic information presented succinctly in tables (giving the number, type, locus, clay fabric and reference to discussion in the text for each piece). Vogt is to be commended for the publication of so many useful drawings, though an occasional photograph, especially of the local material, would have greatly aided the reader. There follows an interesting appendix, by Philip Gouin and Christine Vogt, entitled "Quarrymen and Potters in Ancient Eleutherna." This very useful discussion adds considerably to the study, although its full force is lost in its appearance as an appendix and much of the discussion could have been incorporated into the introduction and/or conclusion.

The following section, prepared by Eleni Aloupi, Vassilis Kilikoglou and Peter M. Day, deals with the provenance and technological characterization of the fine tableware (pp. 207-222), with an appendix on the petrographic analysis of the domestic pottery (pp. 223-235) by Louise Joyner. The fine tablewares were subjected to a combination of thin section petrography and trace element analysis using instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) to investigate provenance, with complementary analysis of production technology by means of examination with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The conclusions are predictable and anti-climactic: essentially the science revealed a clear differentiation between "Asia Minor" and "North African" wares, aspects that were clear from a more traditional visual examination. Similarly, the scientific analysis also showed the solitary "Egyptian" sherd to be clearly different from the others in terms of its chemical composition, petrographic examination and micromorphology. Joyner's appendix on the petrographic analysis of the domestic pottery is a more workmanlike account of the microstructure, groundmass, inclusions and coarse and fine fractions of selected specimens. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the scientific analysis is the fact that it is divorced from the more general study of the pottery. There is little, if any, discussion of the scientific results in Vogt's analysis of the pottery, and there is little attempt to integrate the archaeological with the scientific evidence, a phenomenon that is all too common in Classical archaeology and Aegean prehistory.

The final three sections of the volume publish the inscriptions (pp. 237-259), by Yiannis Tzifopoulos (in English), the coins (pp. 261-287), by Kleanthe Sideropoulos (in Greek), and the physical anthropology of the deceased (pp. 289-319), by Chryse Bourbou (also in Greek). A total of 54 inscriptions have been found to date at Eleutherna, of which 16 are published by Tzifopoulos in this volume. Many of the others were published in preliminary reports or in Kretike Estia. The majority of those published here were found in and around the Early Christian Basilica of the Archangel Michael. They include inscriptions in the mosaic floor of the narthex of the basilica -- one of which records the building of the divine temenos by His Holiness the Bishop Euphratas -- a number of sepulchral plaques, and several architectural elements, many of which are fragmentary.

Sideropoulos publishes 49 coins of the first Byzantine period, the majority (36) from the mint of Constantinople, and two each from the mints of Kyzikos, Nikomedeia, and an unofficial eastern mint (Cyprus). More than half of the coins (28) date to the reign of Constans II (A.D. 642-668), nine to the reign of, among others, Heraclius (A.D. 610-642), with small numbers of coins dating to the reigns of Arcadius, Leo I, Justinian, Justin II, Phocas, and Constantine IV. Sideropoulos provides useful comparisons, in a series of tables, between the numismatic finds of Eleutherna and those of Gortyna and Crete generally.

Bourbou's meticulous study of the physical anthropology of the Early Byzantine population of Eleutherna includes an analysis of 151 skeletal specimens from the tombs. Of these, 52 have been identified as males (or possibly males), 21 females (or likely females), and 78 unidentified. Ages at death vary between infants to mature adults, though the age of some of the latter (e.g. 54, 59) are stated with a remarkable degree of precision. One of the strongest aspects of Bourbou's study is the palaeopathology of the deceased. Among other pathologies and ailments, she looks at the dental hygiene of the population, the incidence of arthritis, Cribra orbitalia, Vitamin C deficiency, a number of ailments caused by infections (mostly of unknown etiology), several traumatic episodes (including fractures), as well as a number of hereditary diseases, such as Spina bifida occulta. This is an important contribution to our knowledge of the physical anthropology of a Early Byzantine population in Greece, but the fact that this report has been presented separately from the publication of the tombs themselves is a shortcoming.

Early Byzantine Eleutherna: Sector I, Volume 2 is a significant contribution to a period that has been traditionally neglected in the Aegean. It will quickly take its place as a standard reference work for the material culture of Crete in late antiquity. The volume brings together, under the guiding hand of Petros Themelis as the director of the excavations and the editor of this volume, several aspects of the archaeological record of a large site with a long and complex history in north central Crete. We eagerly await the publication of Volume 1.


1.   J.W. Hayes, Late Roman Pottery, London 1972; id. A Supplement to Late Roman Pottery London, 1980.
2.   J.-Y. Empereur and M. Picon in R.E. Jones and H.W. Catling, eds., New Aspects of Archaeological Science in Greece (BSA Fitch Laboratory Occasional Paper 3), Athens, 1988, pp. 33, 35, fig. 21; J.K. Papadopoulos, "Roman Amphorae from the Excavations at Torone", Archaiologike Ephemeris 1989, p. 88.
3.   Ibid., pp. 83-87.

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