Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.36

J.N. Coldstream, L.J. Eiring, G. Forster, Knossos Pottery Handbook, Greek and Roman. BSA Studies 7.   London:  British School at Athens, 2001.  Pp. 224; figs. 68; pls. 43.  ISBN 0-904887-38-3.  £47.00.  

Reviewed by Jane Francis, Concordia University, Montreal (
Word count: 1869 words

Scholars working on the historic periods of Crete always welcome the publication of any material from post-Minoan Crete. Knossos, a site with over a century of excavation and publication history, has been continuously active but results have tended towards the bronze age, and later periods have only been sporadically published. These have traditionally appeared as studies of specific assemblages or contexts, either as articles in the Annual of the British School at Athens or as monographs in the BSA Supplemental Series, such as the post-Minoan pottery from the Unexplored Mansion (Sackett et al 1992) or the Demeter Sanctuary (Coldstream 1973). But these, through necessity, provide only piecemeal interpretations and none has been able to offer an overall picture of Knossos' ceramic history. The book under review aims to change this situation. This is the second volume of a continuous history of Knossoian pottery, with the first treating Neolithic through Minoan material. Now we are given Subminoan (11th c. BC) through Late Roman (5th c. AD). As explained by the editors, this publication is aimed at excavators throughout Crete, not only at Knossos, and, while it includes pottery made at Knossos, it also includes imported pottery found there and therefore can offer insights into the city's trade practices, production and distribution systems, and uses of ceramic objects and vessels. Not to be forgotten is the creative spirit of the Knossian workshops. Too often ignored or de-valued in favour of the Minoan spirit, the Greek and Roman products are well deserving of their own analysis and of obtaining their own importance in the ceramic history of Crete during the period under discussion.

Knossos Pottery Handbook. Greek and Roman is divided into four chronological sections: the Early Greek (Coldstream); Late Archaic and Classical (Coldstream and Eiring); Hellenistic (Eiring); and Roman (Forster). It is based substantially upon previously excavated and published material and brings together in one place pottery from numerous journals and books. The authors supplement this with ceramics housed in the Stratigraphical Museum at Knossos in order to fill out examples of a specific shape, ware, functional category, decorative motif or surface treatment, or chronological span.

Each chapter contains an introduction that provides background historical information; an outline of the specific stratified deposits to be considered for the period under discussion is included at the end of each. The bulk of each chapter is a summary of the pottery by function of shape (where appropriate), and a pertinent bibliography. Drawings and profiles are presented within each chapter, with plates collected together at the end. Every effort has been made to ensure that the drawings are close to the text where they are discussed. Abbreviations used throughout are offered at the beginning of the text. This includes bibliographical abbreviations for all pre-existing Knossos publications and deposits as well as other pertinent comparanda (i.e. KNS = Knossos North Cemetery; LPW = Little Palace Well). Additional abbreviations for individual sherds not published are supplied in the preface. This separation is somewhat confusing and demands some flipping of pages.

The individual chapters are divided into several sections. There is a brief introduction that places Knossos in a historical context for each period. The nature of the available deposits is also described: for instance, for the Early Greek period (Ch. 1), these are funerary and domestic, whereas for the Hellenistic period (Ch. 3) they are domestic (including numerous wells and cisterns), funerary, and ritual.

The discussion of pottery comprises most of these chapters. The material is organized by vessel function, in most cases, with the main breakdown being between "fine pottery" and "coarse and cooking pottery," although no definitions of fine and coarse are provided. Subdivisions among these treat specific shapes, sometimes in the categories of open and closed shapes. Comments on "fabric and technology" are offered in each chapter, sometimes for both fine and coarse examples. The chapters all end with a bibliography specific to that period and a list of pertinent stratified deposits.

The Early Greek pottery (Ch. 1) is concerned with pottery produced between ca. 1050 to 600 BC. and is divided into "Fine pottery" and "Coarse and cooking pottery." A third section comprises "Decoration," a subdivision unique to this period, since later vessels do not preserve the same type of painted decoration, and an interesting discussion of individual workshops is included here. This section is organized chronologically from Subminoan through late Orientalizing. The bibliography at the end of this chapter presents "general works," and then has a separate listing for "special topics," which specifically addresses painting styles and trends. Both local and imported pottery are considered. Imports from Attica supply the majority of foreign trade and some influence is seen, particularly in decorative styles. A table is provided that compares Attic and Knossian chronology during this period. Continuity in shapes from the Late Minoan period is seen in some vessels while other shapes are created anew. The examination of "fabric and technique" is cursory and refers the reader to chemical analysis of the material. A recognized cooking pot fabric is of particular interest. This is a red, gritty, micaceous clay that is also found in pottery from the Mirabello Bay area, although it is not certain that it was manufactured there. The use of this fabric continues into the next period as well.

Chapter 2 (Late Archaic and Classical) is divided again into "Fine pottery" and "Coarse ware" and covers the period between ca. 500 and ca. 300 BC. Attic imports are noted, as are Atticizing imitations. Potters seem to be trying to copy the black, glossy coating of Attic pots but local efforts produced a metallic and mottled result. Distinctly Cretan shapes are seen, like tulip cups, cylindrical cups, and the Household Kraters I and II. Fabric comments for this pottery show no clear development in clay sources or processing methods.

Chapter 3 (Hellenistic) concerns pottery from ca. 300 BC through the 1st c. BC. The author notes that the Roman political and military presence in Crete for most of the last century did not significantly alter the course of its ceramic development, and the Hellenistic period is considered to include the 1st c. BC. This chapter is rather curiously organized. It begins with a group of vessels related by shape (e.g. open vessels) but then progresses to pottery ordered by function (e.g. pouring vessels). The third category is "closed vessels" but it is not clear why pouring vessels are not included here. These classifications include some pots with specialized surface treatments, including West-Slope Decoration. Finally there is cooking pottery, which also contains "other coarse vessels." This presumes that all cooking pottery is coarse as well, but this is not made clear. Imports indicate Knossos coming into the mainstream of trade routes, and many of the favoured types of pottery seen at other Hellenistic Mediterranean sites also appear: e.g. Megarian bowls; Echinus bowls; and Hadria-style vases. Fabric information, again by visual analysis, suggests a change in clay sources since locally produced Hellenistic pots show a smaller amount of calcareous inclusions. It is not considered, however, that other explanations may exist: modifications in processing techniques or the realization that large amounts of calc were undesirable. Petrographic analyses performed on some Hellenistic transport amphoras from a kiln area show them to be consistent with the local geology and therefore confirmed Knossian productions, but these results seem to be unpublished to date.

The last chapter considers Roman pottery. This period is defined as beginning when Knossos was turned into a Roman colony in 27 BC; the end point is more ambiguous since it lacks secure external or historical evidence but is placed in the 7th c. AD. Nonetheless, the author has decided to present pottery dating only from the Augustan period through the end of the 5th c. AD due to the immense amount of available material; therefore, highlights of the "general character" of Knossian pottery are presented.

This chapter is organized into six sections. It begins with imported fine pottery, which is sub-divided into major groups based on convenient designations: Red-gloss and Sigillata wares contain, for example, Eastern Sigillata and Cypriot Sigillata; Late Roman Red Slip Wares include Phocaean Ware; and the category of Others has types like Knidian and thin-walled wares. Local fine wares are next and are separated by surface treatment: painted with patterns and colour coated. Cooking wares are divided by shapes, with a miscellaneous group at the end for later Roman cooking wares. Amphora are classified as Cretan or Imported. Plain wares are all local. Special function vessels are last, including ritual vessels. This is a useful section, as each ware begins with background information, place of manufacture, and the general characteristics; these are often reproduced from J. Hayes, Late Roman Pottery, but it is helpful to have this information in one place. Shape descriptions (i.e. shallow bowl) have been used instead of Hayes Form numbers, and this will not assist readers in identifying specific forms or placing this material into a greater context of Cretan Roman imports. Fabric information is quoted from Hayes and is twenty years old; more precise details are desirable.

As a handbook aiming to present the basic characteristics and development of pottery from 1050 BC to the 5th c. AD, this publication fulfills its goal. It is organized so that individual wares or shapes can be easily found, and illustrations are well placed and ample. The degree to which Knossos participated in more widespread Mediterranean ceramic practices is well demonstrated, including imports and the local response to these. It would be desirable to see more done with fabrics. It is understandable that much of this pottery has already been published, but it was all available to the authors and the state of fabric analysis has made much progress in recent years, especially for Cretan material. At a minimum, it would have been advantageous to be provided with a general description of Knossian clay so that the term "local," when used, would be more justified and understandable. As well, although the section "fabric and technique" is included in every chapter, there is really little said about technique.

The editors' hope, stated in the "Preface," that this book will aid in the quick and precise identification and interpretation of pottery from Knossos and Crete, is met. One can well imagine sitting down over a pottery table with it and looking up specific shapes and wares. But, as the authors note, much of post-Minoan Knossos remains to be excavated, and this is by no means the last word. Additionally, it is recognized in this text that Knossos does not provide all the answers. It was an important city and trading center off and on throughout the periods under discussion, but that should not relegate other sites on Crete to a lesser status. Ongoing work elsewhere suggests that there are significant regional variations in pottery on the island, and it is hoped that one day a more complete picture of the entirety of Cretan ceramics will be obtained. Until then, or at least until other sites, excavations, and surveys are published, the Knossos Pottery Handbook. Greek and Roman stands as a solid contribution that will undoubtedly be useful for many scholars, both at Knossos and elsewhere on Crete.

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