Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.06

Judith Herrin, Margaret Mullett, Catherine Otten-Froux, Mosaic. Festschrift for A.H.S. Megaw. BSA Studies, 8.   London:  The British School at Athens, 2001.  Pp. 200.  ISBN 0-904887-40-5.  £35.00.  

Contributors: I. Nicolaou, S. Brock, A. Cutler, J. Rosser, D. Michaelides, P. Armstrong, Ch. Bouras, K.M. Skawran, Ch. Bakirtzis, G.D.R. Sanders, D. Pringle, M.-L. von Wartburg, D. Papanikola-Bakirtzis, J. Richard, H.W. Catling, C. Otten-Froux, C. Roueché, R.C. Anderson

Reviewed by Amy Papalexandrou, Austin TX (
Word count: 1921 words

For those interested in the material culture of Byzantium, A.H.S. (Peter) Megaw stands out as a prominent player amongst a group of pioneering and energetic scholars who uncovered, scrutinized, preserved, and published Byzantine monuments in the course of the last century. Anyone who has had occasion to pursue a topic relevant to Byzantine architecture or pottery doubtless will have made ample use of his fine scholarship, and anyone who has visited the island of Cyprus will have appreciated that island's cultural heritage due, in part, to his long tenure as Director of the Department of Antiquities there (from 1936 to 1960). His contribution to the field has thus been twofold, for it has involved both the expansion of our knowledge of Byzantium and our access to its physical remains. The volume under review was intended as a celebration of his lifelong achievements and consists primarily of the contributions of established scholars who have provided brief essays (on average 4-6 pages of text) covering a broad range of topics. The arrangement of the interesting mix of material is chronological; as a means of organizing my own discussion I have found it more convenient to disregard this system in favor of a series of loose categories into which the essays can (mostly) be grouped. One will generally not find new approaches here, but a majority of the authors do present new material that is published for the first time.

The four essays devoted to Byzantine pottery (P. Armstrong on Impressed White Wares, G. Sanders on Polychrome Pottery, D. Papanikola Bakirtzis on Zeuxippus Ware, M.-L. von Wartburg on the iconography of birds and falconry in ceramic contexts) together form what may be the most significant contribution of the book. Their combined subjects show at once Megaw's legacy (in taxonomy as well as technical analysis, the latter groundbreaking in its impact) as well as the significant progress made in recent years by a new generation of pottery specialists working to dispel previously accepted notions of chronology and production. The non-specialist will find much useful information in the essays of Armstrong and Sanders, where the authors are careful to educate the reader as to the nature of the various glazed wares under discussion. Sanders, in particular, provides a concise history of his subject as well as a discussion of fabrics that would be beneficial to any archaeologist in the field. His general re-dating of polychrome pottery (11th to 12th century rather than the traditionally accepted 10th century) is provocative and will certainly stimulate further discussion. Papanikola-Bakirtzis, while not defining the precise characteristics of Zeuxippus Ware, nonetheless enriches our knowledge about this family of pottery with the publication of new material (from Paphos and ancient Kitros), as does von Wartburg with her publication of a series of complete Fine Sgraffito vessels from private Swiss collections. Extensive catalogs accompany three of the four articles. These, as well as the systematic breakdown of polychrome into three types according to decoration and form, will be useful primarily to the specialist.

Three essays are strictly archaeological in their outlook: J. Rosser here publishes evidence discovered in the late 1970's for a Justinianic garrison in central Greece at the Dhema Pass (near Thermopylae). His is part textual analysis of the relevant testimony in Procopius, part topographical study of the area, and part excavation report. It includes a catalog of the small finds that allow him to date the 'garrison' to the 6th century. D. Pringle focuses on much later material, namely two (not three, as he would have us believe) modest chapels from Qal'at Salah al'Din in Syria. On the basis of comparative evidence primarily from Cilicia the author dates the chapels to the Byzantine phase (early 12th century) of the site's history and suggests that they were built by and for Armenians. Finally, Ch. Bouras contributes a study of the now destroyed 11th-century church of the Taxiarchs in Athens based on drawings, descriptions and several surviving pieces of architectural sculpture from the original building. It is most unfortunate that none of the plans or views of the church in question is included, this despite the fact they are discussed at length in the text. These three studies, which are almost entirely descriptive in nature, emphasize the present state of Byzantine studies, where factual information of a purely documentary nature is still lacking for much of what we study.

Texts are the focus of an epigraphical study by I. Nicolaou and a hagiographical analysis by S. Brock. The latter concerns two Syriac translations (both in the British Library) of the Life of St. Epiphanios of Cyprus. The former study is also centered on Cyprus, specifically three inscriptions associated with the Eustolios complex at Kourion. The author emphasizes the survival of pagan literary forms within a Christian context. While her angle is hardly new (note especially p.14, where the 'colourless' style of the inscriptions and their 'shocking' orthography are noted), the complete publication of such inscriptions, including transcriptions, translations and photographs, is welcome.

Two stimulating articles by A. Cutler and D. Michaelides are devoted to late antique sculpture. Cutler's discussion of a single ivory plaque depicting the apostle Peter (housed in the Glencairn Museum) turns to the question of creativity and innovation in the Early Christian period and the difficulty that such invention presents when trying to distinguish forgeries. The archaeological evidence of the object is used to verify its authenticity and hence remove it from the list of nineteenth-century fakes to which it had previously been assigned. Michaelides' contribution is likewise devoted to a single object, in this case the sixth-century marble ambo from Basilica A at Cape Drepanon, in northwestern Cyprus. The ambo is here carefully reconstructed from the surviving fragments and placed within the broader context of contemporary structures in Asia Minor and the Aegean. The author's reconstruction drawings are excellent; his accompanying catalog fully explicates the various components. Many issues are raised which will be useful to the specialist and non-specialist alike. These include the importance of the site (first excavated by Megaw in the 1950's); questions of typology, construction and prefabrication; the general location of ambos within churches, and the importation of marble to the island.

Byzantine frescoes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries are treated in two separate articles by K.M. Skawran and Ch. Bakirtzis. The latter is a brief note in which the author suggests that a series of prominently positioned warrior saints in the church of the Kosmosoteira in Thrace are actually portraits of the emperor Alexios I Komnenos and members of his family (John II, Isaac and Andronikos). Analysis of facial features with regard to historical personages is of course a risky business in this period, and the lack of identifying inscriptions makes positive identification impossible. Skawran deals with the question of 'provincialism' in 11th-century paintings from remote areas in Greece, namely the islands of Naxos and Corfu and the Mani peninsula. Her conclusion that the frescoes are inspired 'entirely from the centre (i.e., Constantinople), diluted only by provincialism' (p.81) does not surprise: this is the usual argument that has guided Byzantine art historical studies over the past century. One would rather see the old categories and pejorative adjectives concerning style (pp.78-80) abandoned in favor of new approaches whereby material from the periphery is analyzed contextually and on its own terms.

Three articles treat the later medieval history and monuments of Cyprus. J. Richard discusses a 13th-century trend of expiatory pilgrimage, in which travel to the Holy Land could be replaced by a one- or two-year séjour on the island. Although no particular sanctuary is stipulated as the focus, the author speculates that this may have been the church of Notre Dame in Nicosia. He links this building with the popular veneration of a miraculous image taken from the church of Notre Dame of Tortosa, translated to Nicosia in 1291. C. Otten-Froux treats issues of urbanism and topography in Famagusta, the primary port city of the island, during the later Middle Ages. She examines published texts as well as unpublished archival documents to clarify the locations, surroundings and, in one case, architectural details of several important ecclesiastical structures within the ramparts of the city. The general documentation, along with the author's new plan (p.147), will be of use to those concerned with the Genoese presence on the island. Of special note is the inclusion of the specifics of a 15th-century inventory from the church and hospital of St. Catherine. The precise details of its contents (tunics à la Byzantine, altar cloths, pithoi, trestle table, etc., p.146) pique our curiosity and afford much-needed information concerning the realia of Byzantine life and liturgical practices. Finally, H.W. Catling's eloquent, concise treatment of a medieval figural tombstone in the archaeological museum of Paphos elucidates an object that has been mostly overlooked in its present context of 'higher' antiquity. His astute remarks concerning the imbalance of Lusignan/Venetian remains at Paphos as compared to elsewhere on the island serve to emphasize the importance of this singular monument. His prefatory homage to Peter Megaw is not to be missed for its clear and insightful look at the honorand's overall contribution to the preservation of Cypriot antiquities.

The two final articles in the volume cannot be squeezed into easy categories. C. Roueché's historical account of the Department of Antiquities before Peter Megaw's tenure there is primarily of interest to those working on Cyprus. The decision to focus solely on its genesis rather than to include the period of Megaw's own involvement detracts slightly from its relevance to the present context. The intrigues (particularly of Gunnis and Jeffery) nonetheless make for a readable account as do the author's remarks (pp.160,163) on the slowly realized potential of antiquities to benefit the cultural politics of the Cyprus government. Finally, R. Anderson's short guide to kite aerial photography comes as a great surprise at the end of the book. It is, in some ways, the most readable of all the essays. Peppered with the author's own drawings of the various types of kites, frames, cameras (including the author's own Aero Camera), and techniques, the resulting manual will be of use to field archaeologists, historians, and kite aficionados alike.

The essays are preceded by the brief but poignant introductory remarks of J. Herrin, while a complete bibliography of A.H.S. Megaw's published works concludes the volume. Some editing problems are apparent throughout: several figures (for example, R. Anderson's fig.18.3) are incorrectly referenced, and the reader of von Wartburg's text will be mystified when trying to correlate text with accompanying illustrations. As for content, the broad range of topics clearly reflects Megaw's own diversity and breadth as a scholar. Perhaps best represented is his interest in ceramics. We may have wished for a stronger sense of his other contributions, especially in the field of architectural history. Indeed, those of us who study the Byzantine monuments of Greece, Cyprus, and Constantinople are indebted to Peter Megaw for a very rich series of published articles, many of which are still seminal to the field. This deserves emphasis, for the modesty of their titles (as found in the bibliography) does not fully equate with the significance of their content. More evidence of this aspect of Megaw's career would have been a welcome and highly relevant addition to the text as well as a fitting testament to the full corpus of his scholarly accomplishment. This should not, however, detract from the editors' well-placed efforts to recognize the intelligence, energy, talent, and generosity of one of the great Byzantinists and preservationists of our time.

Read Latest
Index for 2003
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:48, Friday, 03 April 2009