Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.07

Martin Harrison, Mountain and Plain: from the Lycian Coast to the Phrygian Plateau in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Period. Ed. Wendy Young.   Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2001.  Pp. xx, 127.  ISBN 0-472-11084-5.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Hugh Elton, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara (
Word count: 871 words

It has been said that books are often abandoned rather than finished. When abandoned, the author at least has some control over the process. In the case of Mountain and Plain the author who died prematurely in 1992 has had no chance to influence the process of writing his own book. It is unlikely that Harrison's main thesis, that a large part of the population of late antique Lycia moved from the coastal region to inland sites, would have taken the form expressed here if he had continued working on the problem. The peculiar nature of the work thus makes an audience for the book hard to define. Specialists in Anatolia or in late antiquity will be disappointed. Nor can it be recommended for students since it is not adequately referenced, is out of date and does not engage with other interpretations. Criticism of the work is obviously difficult, but Harrison should rather be remembered for his substantial achievements.

This is a slim book, 85 pages of text followed by a 26 page appendix written by Michael Ballance and Charlotte Roueché. It is well written and produced (I noticed no misprints). The photographs are excellent, though some of the plans are disappointing. There are a number of appealing anecdotes and a clear mention of the changes that are taking place in Turkey (robbing sites, tourism, road construction). Academic monographs, however, depend on content. The introduction by Stephen Hill states (v) that this book is based on "preliminary notes", though Wendy Young, Harrison's research assistant and the book's editor, claims it was "virtually complete" (xi). The former is closer to the truth. The core of the book is Harrison's thesis that there was a shift in the location of the majority of the population from cities in the coastal region to upland sites in late antique Lycia (2). Harrison argued this view in a number of articles (being particularly impressed by the fact that coastal churches often used reused material) and has been followed by Garth Fowden.1 The arguments presented here are almost entirely Lycian and archaeological. They show no awareness of the lively debate on the late antique city.2 Moreover, Clive Foss and Hansgerd Hellenkemper have rejected his thesis (here an editorial note could have helped make readers aware of the controversy).3

The first chapter briefly describes three cities of the coastal region, Myra, Xanthus and Pinara. A detailed analysis of the coastal cities is clearly a prerequisite for Harrison's argument, but this chapter is a weak support. The seven pages of rough notes conclude "the great Hellenistic and Roman cities of the coast give no evidence of new building or any major development much after the fourth century AD" (7). Regardless of whether urban vitality or population size can be measured through new constructions, this is simply untrue. At Xanthus, for example, a mid-sixth century basilica complex with marble decoration measured 93 x 32 m.4 Little use is made of literary sources concerning these sites, e.g. for Myra, where Marcian enlarged the area enclosed in the city walls (AP 15.2) and rebuilding occurred after an earthquake in 529 (Malalas 448). At least one new city was built on the coast, at Lebissus, an island site where there was no classical city.5

The second and third chapters provide details of a number of sites in inland central Lycia, collecting material from articles published by Harrison from the 1960s. New construction (late antique though mostly not precisely dated) was clearly taking place at many inland sites.6 These chapters mainly discuss architecture, with a few minor comments on pottery, inscriptions and the Kumluca treasure. They do not present a fully rounded picture of inland Lycian life in late antiquity nor do they provide an advance on already published work. A different perspective on the region comes in an appendix, by Ballance and Roueché, concerning three inscriptions from Ovacik, a site discussed by Harrison (57-60). One of these was partially published by Harrison in 1979 (SEG 29.1514); a full edition is now provided. The other two have been already published (SEG 41.1390). Further light is thrown on them by the first inscription, and their readings are lightly revised. This excellent appendix shows a different side of late antique Lycia and gives a good sense of the potential for work in the region.

The fourth chapter discusses Amorium (with some minor comments on Cremna and Sagalassus). Amorium was an important city in central Anatolia, sacked by Arabs in 838. Harrison worked there from 1987 to 1992. Chris Lightfoot has continued Harrison's work at Amorium, so there is much that can be added.7 Given this, there is no point in publishing a preliminary summary nine years late. An appendix briefly discusses the two Lycian Saints called Nicholas, from Myra and Sion.

Overall, a disappointing book. Antony Birley's work on the posthumously published Anatolica of Ronald Syme is a far better model of what an editor can do. A few pages on other work, including the enormous amount of ongoing excavation and survey in Lycia, would have placed Harrison's views in perspective. To publish what are basically preliminary notes from 1992 is unfair to the author. Those interested in late antique Lycia should read Harrison's finished articles.8


1.   Fowden, G., 'Religious Developments in Late Roman Lycia: Topographical Preliminaries', Meletemata (Athens, 1990).
2.   Most recently Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.G., The Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford, 2001); but before 1992, Brandes, W., Die Städte Kleinasiens im 7 und 8 Jahrhundert (Amsterdam, 1989); Cormack, R., 'Byzantine Aphrodisias: Changing the symbolic map of a city', PCPhS 36 (1990), 127-155; Whittow, M., 'Ruling the Early Byzantine City', Past and Present 129 (1990), 3-29.
3.   Hellenkemper, H., 'Lykien und die Araber', Borchardt, J. and Dobesch, G., eds., Akten des II. Internationalen Lykien-Symposions Wien 1990 (Vienna, 1993), 99-106; Foss, C., 'The Lycian Coast in the Byzantine Age', DOP 48 (1994), 1-52.
4.   Canbilen, H. et al., La basilique de l'acropole haute de Xanthos, Anatolia Antiqua 4 (1996), 201-230; for other sites, see summaries in Mitchell, S., 'Archaeology in Asia Minor 1990-1998', Archaeological Reports 1998-1999, 125-191; 'Archaeology in Asia Minor 1985-1989', Archaeological Reports 1989-1990, 83-131; see also annual summaries of work in 'Archaeology in Turkey' in AJA.
5.   Tsuji, S., The Survey of Early Byzantine Sites in the Ölüdeniz Area (Osaka, 1995).
6.   Foss, C., 'The Cities of Pamphylia in the Byzantine Age', Cities, Fortresses and Villages of Byzantine Asia Minor (Aldershot, 1996), 1-62.
7.   Lightfoot, C., 'The Survival of Cities in Byzantine Anatolia, the Case of Amorium', Byzantion 68 (1998), 56-71.
8.   Especially 'Churches and Chapels in Central Lycia', Anatolian Studies 13 (1963), 117-151 and (with G.R. Lawson) 'An Early Byzantine Town at Arif in Lycia', Yayla 2 (1979), 13-17.

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