Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.41

James Whitley, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2001.  Pp. 484.  ISBN 0-521-62733-8.  

Reviewed by Paul D. Scotton, University of Washington (
Word count: 1697 words

This volume, part of the Cambridge World Archaeology series, seeks to provide "an up-to-date synthesis of current research on the material culture of Greece in the Archaic and Classical periods (1000-300 BC)." The book is in three parts and fifteen chapters with bibliography, an index, and a section offering further reading by chapter.

Part I, Approaches to Greek Archaeology, serves to define the discipline (Chapter 1, Introduction: Classical Archaeology and its objects), provide its history in brief (Chapter 2, Great Traditions: Classical scholarship and Classical Archaeology), survey its current status (Chapter 3, Modern archaeologies of Greece), and define its terms and discuss issues of dating (Chapter 4, Chronology and terminology).

Part II, Archaic Greece, 1000-479 BC, is in six chapters: Chapter 5, Early Iron Age Greece, 1000-700 BC; Chapter 6, The Aegean, the Levant and the West: the Orientalizing phenomenon; Chapter 7, Gods, heroes and sacred places; Chapter 8, The city, the state and the polis; Chapter 9, Art, narrative and monumentality; and Chapter 10, Regional archaeologies.

Part III, Classical Greece, is in five chapters: Chapter 11, Defining the Classical: Classical art; Chapter 12 Cities and sanctuaries of Classical Greece; Chapter 13, The archaeology of democracy: Classical Athens; Chapter 14, Beyond the polis: the countryside of Classical Greece; and Chapter 15, Epilogue: towards Hellenistic archaeology.

There is much to like in this book but there is also that which gives me pause. First, the admirable. Although the book was written for an intended audience of advanced undergraduates, beginning graduates and non-classical archaeologists, Part I deserves the attention of us all. It is an excellent account of what the discipline is, where it has been, and where it is now. Especially good is Whitley's tracking of the influences on the contemporary scene of science, structuralism, and the 'new' archaeology. Disturbing, but certainly not attributable to Whitley, is the factionalism that has evolved.

It should come as no surprise that the strongest part of the book is Part II, Archaic Greece. This is Whitley's area of specialization and it is here that he best meets his goal of an up to date synthesis. Much of the recent and important work in the era comes from Cambridge and its students. Whitley, as one of this group, is clearly current or at least as current as any of us can be nowadays. It is also no coincidence that the Cambridge school, i.e. the new archaeology, comes so strongly into play here. This is rightly so. For example, the work of Catharine Morgan at Isthmia is an exciting, new, but also empirically based examination of familiar material. In reporting on such work, Whitley is on known and comfortable ground. It is this familiarity with the individuals and their work that makes Whitley's account of Archaic period archaeology so timely and so excellent.

As we should expect to find in any work of this length there are shortcomings. They are for the most part matters of interpretation but on occasion examples of theory supplanting practicality. For example, in his discussion of the Orientalizing period and the Phoenician influence on the Aegean and the greater Greek world at this time, Whitley asserts: "(t)he choice of Pithekoussai [as a settlement site], an offshore island, is inconceivable without the precedent set by the Phoenicians in Gadir and Motya." There are several issues at play here. Was there a Phoenician precedent? Motya was founded in the late 8th to early 7th century; Pithekoussai, in the early 8th and before the founding of Cumae in 735 B.C. Gadir was indeed founded before Pithekoussai in ca. 1100 B.C. But, this is well after other eastern Mediterranean island sites frequented during the Bronze Age. For example, Marsa Matruh/Bates Island, a seasonal trading post frequented by Cypriots, Minoans, and Myceneans as well as Egyptians and Canaanites. The Cypriot and Minoan/Mycenaean presence can be dated to as early as the 14th century; the Egyptians and Canaanites as early as the 13th century. Crediting the Phoenicians with inventing the practice of island trading posts and colonies ignores earlier Cypriot-Aegean practice and general practicality, i.e. sites on small islands are inherently defendable and can facilitate flight (certainly concerns for those staking out a claim in foreign and perhaps hostile country). In spite of Whitley's and my disagreement over such specific issues, this does not detract from Whitley's correct thesis: Phoenician contact was significantly influential and instrumental in jump-starting the resurgence of Greek culture and civilization. Nor does such a disagreement detract from the overall excellence of the discussion of the Archaic era.

The standard Whitley set in the Archaic section of the book is not maintained in Part III Classical Greece. This is not to say Part III is bad, but, after having set a high standard in the previous section, Whitley is only good in his discussion of the Classical era. In some regards, it is a good digest of significant trends, artifacts and monuments presented in more detail by such authors as John Pedley and Jeffrey Hurwit. It would seem, however, that Whitley's preference for things Archaic allayed his presentation of the Classical. This is apparent at a basic level, the percentage of the number of pages devoted to the Archaic, ca. 48% of the book, as opposed to those devoted to the Classical, ca. 31%. Granted the recent interest in the Archaic period has been both justified and fruitful, but the importance of the Classical age has not so diminished on the current scene. More telling is Whitley's reliance upon more dated bibliographies. This is in contrast to his keen awareness of ongoing work in the Archaic era, e.g. the citation of Brice Erikson's then still uncompleted dissertation on Archaic Crete. That Whitley is more aware of his era of specialization is understandable, but to not pursue current work on sites selected as examples is a puzzle. For example, the sites chosen in Chapter 12.2, Three state sanctuaries, are: the Heraion at Perachora, the Argive Heraion, and Epidauros. The most current research on two of these sites, research that was complete or on-going before the publication of this book, was neither consulted nor cited. Whitley's discussion of Perachora goes no further than R.A. Thomlinson's 1988/90 work on the so-called hestiatorion but relies most heavily upon the 1940 work of Humphrey Payne and that of W.H. Plommer and F. Salviat in 1966 and J.. Coulton in 1967. Noticeably absent is Blanche Menandier's 1995 University of Cincinnati dissertation on the 6th century temple and sanctuary. Also striking is the treatment of the Argive Heraion. Yes, J.M Hall's 1995 work is cited but the crux of the presentation is derived from work in 1952 and 1973. Ignored is the then-underway, multi-volume publication of the full archaeological record under the co-editorship of Carol Lawton and Christopher Pfaff and under the aegis of the American School of Classical Studies. We cannot expect Whitley to be current on every topic, but it is curious that he is not on sites he singles out for discussion.

The dominant chapter of Whitley's presentation of the Classical period is Chapter 13, The Archaeology of Democracy: Classical Athens. In a little under 50 pages, Whitley presents a good summary of three primary sites (the Agora, the Acropolis, and the Kerameikos) and a somewhat frustrating one of the Piraeus. He identifies its import as twofold: 1) the main commercial and naval port and 2) the presence of an orthogonal plat with homes of similar plan arranged in insulae. In this section, neither the commercial/naval works nor the insulae homes are portrayed in a figure. What is, however, are courtyard homes on the slopes of the Areopagus, which Whitley points out are unlike those of the Piraeus in plan and plate. If no plan of the Piraeus houses were available for publication, a reference back to the plan of Olynthus and its insulae would have offered some help to the non-specialist. As the matter now stands, the reader is left with only an illustration of what a Piraeus house is not.

One last issue. In section 13.2, Democracy and public building: the Agora and the Pnyx, the intended audience would miss the significance of the four stoas of the Agora. The clearest description of the four is that of the Stoa Poikile as the repository of Polygnotos' paintings of the battle of Marathon and arms captured in battle. The Royal Stoa is described as the "place where the 'king archon' or basilieus could conduct his business." What his business was is left unsaid. The Stoa of Zeus is identified as "there for the pleasure and convenience of Athenian citizens." South Stoa I: "a public building with commercial interests." None of Whitley's statements here is wrong. What is lacking is the significance of this type of structure in general and in the specific context of Athens. That is, this is the most common building type found in the Athenian agora. These structures are significant if for no other reason than their columnar facades acted to unify and define this public space, the heart of Athens and its democracy. Stoas are, in fact, one of, if not the most important, examples of the architecture of democracy. Therein the every day business of Athens was conducted or enabled. The hoi polloi were offered shade, shelter, and, at the Stoa Poikile, inspiration, all at public expense and amidst public officials acting in their official capacities. The omission of an explicit statement to this effect seems to diminish the significance of the stoas and that of the Agora itself.

In summation, this book is a fine effort that meets its stated goals. Although the quality of the presentation is uneven, the effort never falls below good and it is more often than not excellent. In spite of some misgivings over specifics, I do not hesitate to recommend this volume and welcome it as a significant contribution to the scholarship on Archaic and Classical Archaeology.

Note: Plate 6.1, a Protocorinthian aryballos, is not the vessel described in the text, p. 102. It has only a single figural register and it is neither that of the frieze of men, horses and chariots nor that of goats and lions as described.

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