Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.11.23

Gérald Finkielsztejn, Chronologie détaillée et révisée des éponymes amphoriques rhodiens, de 270 à 108 av. J.-C. environ. Premier bilan. BAR International Series 990.   Oxford:  Archaeopress, 2001.  Pp. 260.  ISBN 1-84171-275-2.  £38.00.  

Reviewed by John Lund, National Museum of Denmark
Word count: 1817 words

The book under review addresses the core issue of any scholarly study of Rhodian amphorae: the need to establish a reliable chronology for the eponyms named on their stamped handles. Gérald Finkielsztejn's interest in the subject was originally kindled by his discovery of a possible flaw in the hitherto accepted dating system, established by Virginia Grace: the fact that she assigned 29 years to period IV, but suggested only 14 certain and 4 possible eponyms to cover this time span.1 The author first dealt with the subject in his unpublished 1993 dissertation, on which the present volume largely builds, and subsequently presented aspects of his results in a series of articles. Now he brings all of the documentation pertaining to the time span between about 270 and 108 BC together in a single volume, which has been eagerly awaited by scholars in the field. They will not be disappointed.

The introduction (p. 23-52) is divided into three parts. Finkielsztejn begins by evoking the great potential in establishing the chronology of the eponyms named on Rhodian amphora stamps for assigning absolute dates to the contexts in which such stamps occur. He goes on to provide a useful glossary of the terms used by him (p. 33-35 with an English summary on p. 230). The so-called fabricant is, for instance, described as the "head of a workshop whose name endorses the stamping". Elsewhere, Finkielsztejn points out (p. 37) that it is not known if the fabricant was the "propriétaire de l'atelier de fabrication, ou bien s'il pouvait être aussi un contre-maître, ou un notable également producteur de vin, sur un même domaine...". Perhaps, then, it might have been better to opt for a more neutral designation for this individual, but it is understandable that the author refrained from introducing a new and unfamiliar term to the discussion. In his subsequent review of previous research in the field, Finkielsztejn acknowledges his debt to Virginia Grace and Jean-Yves Empereur. Like them, he based his work on three fundamental assumptions: 1) that eponyms did indeed change annually, 2) that there were no interruptions in this practice, and 3) that we are in possession of all -- or nearly all -- of the names of the individuals in question.

In the first part of the book (p. 53-162), Finkielsztejn constructs a relative sequence for the eponyms by linking "packets" of such individuals through their associations with a particular fabricant, stamp type, or secondary stamp.2 The methodology is consistently applied, and Finkielsztejn's profound first hand knowledge of the material lends credibility to his conclusions, even if only scholars with a specialist insight in the subject will be able to follow all the intricacies of his complex reasoning.

The second part (p. 163-199) concerns the absolute chronology of the eponyms. Finkielsztejn follows the method previously used by Grace and Empereur, namely to anchor the relative sequence of names to occurrences of eponym stamps in historically dated archaeological contexts. In this, he takes the argument farther than his predecessors by introducing new evidence from sites in the Southern Levant. Finkielsztejn recognises the complex issues involved in so doing, such as amphora handles occurring at Carthage and Corinth which postdate the destruction of these sites in 146 BC (p. 167 note 9). Another case, of which Finkielsztejn seems unaware, is his reference to Hama in Syria in connection with his placing of the eponym Peisistratos about 160 BC. The site was destroyed by the Assyrians in 720 BC but subsequently resettled, and Finkielsztejn states (p. 172) that "la fondation de la ville héllenistique ... est fixée, de façon large il est vrai, entre 170 et 160 av. J.-C.". True, scholars have generally assumed that the town was named Epiphaneia after Antiochos IV (175-164 BC), the first Seleucid king to take Epiphanes as an epithet, because Eusebius Hieronymus states (Hebraicae Quaestiones in Genesim X 15-18) that the Syrian name Hamat was replaced by the Greek name Epiphaneia.3 But the pottery and coins found by the Danish excavations at Hama show that the town had already revived by the middle of the 3rd c. BC,4 and it is therefore inadvisable to use this site as a chronological fixed point. It should be stressed, though, that it plays a marginal role at best to Finkielsztejn's argumentation, which is otherwise generally persuasive. His conclusions about the dates of the individual eponyms (185-199) are conveniently summarized in a series of tables (Tableaux 17-21).

Finkielsztejn repeatedly stresses the preliminary character of his results and is the first to point out that the precision varies from one period to the next (pp. 201-202). It is relevant in this context to apply his results to two cases, which were unknown to the author. The first concerns a group of Rhodian amphora handles found in the upper fill of a well at the Maussolleion of Halikarnassos.5 Stamps on 10 of the handles in question name eponyms: Agemon, Aristeidas, Aristeus, Kallikrates, Kallikratidas, Nikon, Xenaretos, Philokrates (this name occurs twice) and Sochares. As a matter of fact, Finkielsztejn places eight of these in Period IIa, for which he suggests a date between about 234/233 BC and 220 BC, and one (Sochares) at the beginning of period IIB, close to c. 220 BC. The new find group cannot but confirm the general validity of Finkielsztejn's suggestion. The second case concerns the eponym Aristomachos I, who functioned between c. 159/158 and 154/153 BC according to the revised chronology (p. 193-194). His name has, according to Finkielsztejn (p. 128), not been recorded among the finds from Carthage, but a recent find by the German excavation team headed by H.-G. Niemeyer has changed this situation. The handle in question was found "in dem westlischen Abwasserkanal" of a street, that "blieb bis Zerstörung der Stadt in Benutzung",6 which suggests a date not too far removed from the beginning of the third Punic War in 149 BC. Again, Finkielsztejn's conclusions seem confirmed. Also, as far as period V is concerned, it is interesting to compare his suggested dates for the individual eponyms with those reached independently by Marek Palaczyk.7 The variation between the two schemes is mostly less than 5 years -- only rarely 10 years or more.

To what extent does the new system differ from the previously accepted chronology? An easy answer to this question is provided by the chronological tables in the publication, which compare Finkielsztejn's overall conclusions with those of Grace and Empereur (Tableau 22.1-2). A comparison between the two shows that the new chronology is generally slightly lower than the traditional, which bears out Finkielsztejn's reference to his scheme as "la chronologie basse". The maximum divergence is at most 15 years, except for period I b and c, to which Finkielsztejn allots the time spans between c. 270-c.247 and c. 246-235 BC, respectively, whereas Grace and Empereur dated them between c. 279 and 270, and c. 269 and 240 BC. For some sub-periods, for instance IV b, the differences are almost non-existent. This is reassuring and does not diminish the value of the new chronology.

In the brief concluding chapter "Bilan et perspectives" (p. 201-207), Finkielsztejn proceeds to use his results to determine the chronological distribution of the stamped Rhodian eponym handles found at Lindos and at Kamiros in Rhodes, fig. 1. A comparison of this graph with a chart based on the same data using the traditional chronology8 shows certain differences. Still, the general trends exhibited are not dissimilar, and Finkiel-sztejn's conclusions about Rhodian trade are not drastically different from those reached by earlier scholarship.9 Interestingly, his chart shows two steep drops in the number of finds at both Rhodian sites, between 195 and 191 BC and between 125 and 121 BC. Time will tell if the new scheme is right in detecting such "micro-developments", if as seems likely its margin of error is 5-10 years -- in certain periods more, in others less.

In sum: Finkielsztejn is to be congratulated for having produced what is by far the most important single study on Rhodian amphorae to emerge for many years. With its logical disposition and intelligently applied methodology, his book represents the current state of the art. The book makes great demands on specialist and non-specialist readers alike, and a more careful editing process could arguably have obliterated some repetitive discussions and typographical errors, and added forgotten titles to the Bibliographie.10 But these are minor matters indeed, and Finkielsztejn was surely right in not delaying the publication in order to pursue a perfection which might in any event prove illusionary.

"Chronologie détaillée" is the new standard work of reference for the dating of Rhodian eponym stamps. It is an indispensable tool not only for field archaeologists but also for archaeologists and historians struggling to make sense of Rhodian amphorae as a source of ancient history -- economic and otherwise.


Börker, C. 1978, Zur Datierung einiger Inschriften aus der rhodischen Peraia, ZPE 28, 35-39.

Christensen, AP 1971, Les poteries hellénistiques, in: A.P. Christensen and Ch. F. Johansen, Hama Fouilles et Recherches de la Fondation Carlsberg 1931-1938 III 2: Les poteries hellénistiques et les terres sigillées orientales. Copenhague, 1-54.

Grace, V. and Savvatianou-Pétropoulakou, M. 1970, Les timbres amphoriques grecs, in: Exploration archéologique de Délos XXVII, L'îlot de la maison des comédiens. Paris, 277-382.

Grainger, J.D. 1990, The Cities of Seleukid Syria. Oxford.

Habicht, C. 1989, Der rhodische Eponym Autokrates (IG XII 5, 824), Chiron 19, 273-277.

Lund, J. 1999, Rhodian Amphorae in Rhodes and Alexandria as Evidence of Trade, in: Gabrielsen, V., Bilde, P., Engberg-Pedersen, T., Hannestad, L. and Zahle, J. (eds.), Hellenistic Rhodes: Politics, Culture and Society. Studies in Hellenistic Civilization IX. Aarhus, 187-204.

Niemeyer, H.G., Docter, R.F. and Rindelaub, A. 1995, Die Grabung unter dem Decumanus Maximus von Karthago. Zweiter Vorbericht, JdI 102, 475-490.

Palaczyk, M. 2001, Rhodische Rundstempel mit Helioskopf. Zur Chronologie der Perioden V und VI, in: Buzzi, S., Käch, D., Kistler, E., Mango, E., Palaczyk, M. and Stefani, O. (eds.), Zona Archeologica. Festchrift für Hans Peter Isler zum 60. Geburtstag. Antiquitas Reihe 3 Band 42. Bonn, 319-329.

Rauh, N.K. 1999, Rhodes, Rome, and the Eastern Meidterranean Wine Trade, 166-88 BC, in: Gabrielsen, V., Bilde, P., Engberg-Pedersen, T., Hannestad, L. and Zahle, J. (eds.), Hellenistic Rhodes: Politics, Culture and Society. Studies in Hellenistic Civilization IX. Aarhus, 162-186.

Rotroff, S.I. 1997, The Athenian Agora XXIX. Hellenistic pottery: Athenian and imported wheelmade table ware and related material. Princeton, New Jersey.

Thomsen, R. 1986, The Graeco-Roman coins, in: Hama Fouilles et Recherches de la Fondation Carlsberg 1931-1938 III 2: The Graeco-Roman Objects of Clay, the Coins and the Necroplis. Copenhagen, 59-69.

Zeitoun, N., Christoph, C. and Empereur, J.-Y. 1998, Les anses d'amphores du Musée Greco-romain d'Alexandrie. L'état d'avanchement de la banque de données sur les amphores et le cas exemplaire du fabricant rhodien Theumnastos, in: Empereur, J.-Y. (ed.), Commerce et artisinat dans l'Alexandrie hellénistique et romaine. Actes du Colloque d'Athènes 11-12 décembre 1988. BCH Supplement 33, 367-391.


1.   Cf. also Börker 1978, 36 note 12.
2.   The packet defined by the rhomboid stamp used by the fabricant Theumnastos is a particularly clear example of this, cf. Zeitoun et al. 1998.
3.   Cf. Grainger 1990, 141.
4.   The earliest datable specimens of Attic or Atticizing pottery from the tell are fragments of black gloss fish plates datable to the first quarter of the 3rd c. BC, Christensen 1971, 6 nos. 2-3 fig. 1-2 and Rotroff 1997, 146 note 13: "possible Attic", cf. Rotroff 1997, 316 nos. 717-718 fig. 51 pl. 64 dated to 290-275 BC and ca. 275 respectively and Christensen 1971, 2-6 no. 1 figs. 1 and 2. The two earliest coins found on the tell were struck by Antiochos II (261-246 BC) and Seleukos III (226-223), cf.Thomsen 1986, 59.
5.   The context will be published by the reviewer in a forthcoming volume of the series "The Maussolleion at Halikarnassos".
6.   Niemeyer et al. 1995, 490 note 29.
7.   Palaczyk 2001, 328-329.
8.   Lund 1999, 189-190 figs. 1-2.
9.   Cf. for instance Rauh 1999.
10.   For instance Habicht 1989.

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