Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.65

Alexandra Villing (ed.), The Greeks in the East. British Museum Research Publication 157.   London:  The British Museum, 2005.  Pp. v, 123; figs. 109, color pls. 44, tables 4.  ISBN 0-86159-157-7.  $50.00.  

Reviewed by Barbara A. Barletta, University of Florida (
Word count: 2151 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book comprises a series of eight essays stemming from the 21st British Museum Classical Colloquium of the same name held on December 9-10, 1997. Not all of the papers are published here: some were not submitted and others appear elsewhere. Of those included in this volume, most were updated in 2002.

The title of the conference and the resulting book is somewhat misleading. The essays deal as much with what is not Greek in the East, in terms of both the people and their artifacts, as what is. Moreover, the Greeks are defined very broadly, with three of the eight essays focusing on the Bronze Age and including in their discussions Minoans and Cycladic people as well as Mycenaeans. The length and depth of the submissions are likewise varied, ranging from a detailed discussion of the excavations at Miletos to a brief synopsis of problems in assessing Bronze Age trade.

The first essay, on Bronze Age Miletos by Niemeier, is also the most extensive. It incorporates the results of the 2004 season of excavations and is thus among the most up-to-date of the submissions. Although it purports to be a summary of the research carried out by the author and his wife over the previous ten years, it goes much beyond this in its depth and detail. By setting the evidence from Miletos within the context of developments elsewhere in the Aegean and Asia Minor, exploring methodological issues, and offering extensive references, Niemeier provides the reader with a useful overview of interconnections in this region throughout the Bronze Age.

Niemeier begins his discussion with questions posed by previous work at the site and accordingly the goals of his own excavations. One concerns continuity of occupation from the Late Chalcolithic period, which is now confirmed to the end of the Bronze Age. A series of questions deals with the identity of the Aegean occupants and the character of their settlements. Niemeier's discoveries in this area are particularly important. Thus, the "first Cycladic figurine fragment found in a controlled excavation on the mainland of Asia Minor" (page 2) is taken to demonstrate the presence of at least some Cycladic people in the otherwise native Early Bronze Age settlement of Miletos II. On the basis of evidence from elsewhere in Asia Minor, he attributes their presence to the search for Anatolian metals. His excavations also determined a much earlier presence of the Minoans at Miletos than generally believed, already at the beginning of Miletos III or the Old Palace Period on Crete (MM IB-MM II). This was based on the discovery of dark-faced incised ware, which is normally not exported, as well as other locally produced domestic ware of Minoan type. Furthermore, two Minoan seals and a clay sealing may point more specifically to the imposition of a Minoan administration, as in a "governed colony," although they could also reflect a commercial function and thus a "community colony."

Even more evidence exists for Minoans at Miletos during the New Palace Period (MM III-LM IB/II). According to the author, Minoan domestic pottery is particularly abundant, offering tables and sacrifices attest to the practice of Minoan cult, frescoes and walls are executed with Minoan techniques, a Minoan weight system is in use, and Linear A inscriptions appear on LM IA vessels, at least five of which were produced at Miletos. As Niemeier notes, the cumulative weight of the evidence marks a significant change from the Minoan presence in Miletos III. He thus considers Miletos IV a "settlement colony," which provides support for the later tradition of a Minoan thalassocracy. This period of the city is divided into two phases. The first, IVa, ended in a destruction associated with the eruption of the Theran volcano, as shown by analysis of tephra found in this level. The rebuilt settlement, Miletos IVb, was destroyed at the end of LM IB or during LM II, probably in conjunction with other destructions marking the end of Minoan power in the Aegean. Thus, in Miletos as elsewhere, the Mycenaeans dominate from LH IIIA onward. They are attested by the overwhelming proportion of Mycenaean, as opposed to Anatolian, pottery in the area excavated, as well as by ritual figurines and, in Miletos VI, also a Corridor House and Mycenaean burial rites. Niemeier argues that Miletos in this period is to be identified with Millawanda, as known from Hittite sources. Although it subsequently passed under Hittite control and was finally destroyed at the end of the Bronze Age (ca. 1100 or 1060/40 B.C.), its reoccupation by Greeks in the Protogeometric period thus had a historical basis.

In the next essay, Muller continues the discussion of the Bronze Age in the east, but takes as her subject Near Eastern painting of the second millennium B.C. Its relationship to the Greek, or rather Aegean, world is limited to a comparison with Minoan and occasionally Cycladic painting in order to argue the case of Near Eastern precedence. The primary subject of this essay is the paintings from the palace at Mari, since they represent the best preserved, as well as the earliest, examples from the region.

The author begins with a very useful description, localization, and identification of the frescoes from the Royal Palace, then discusses their dating (from the twenty-first to the eighteenth century or perhaps even the first half of the seventeenth century B.C.), technique, execution, and representation. In doing so, she sets this material against the background of painting elsewhere in the Near East as well as in the Aegean. Perhaps the strongest connections with local traditions are found, as expected, in iconography. As generally characteristic of Near Eastern frescoes, those from Mari do not use the true fresco technique of the Aegean. Nevertheless, the two traditions do share certain motifs, such as the spiral, imitation of stone, and the general allusion to textiles. Additionally, at Mari, on one hand, and at Knossos and Akrotiri, on the other, small-scale frescoes occasionally appear at high levels.

Despite these similarities, the author sees no reason to assume Aegean influence on the frescoes at Mari. Rather, she argues for the reverse, suggesting that the Mari frescoes likely pre-date the second palaces on Crete (which she places after 1700 B.C.) as well as the eruption of Thera (even using the higher chronology of 1625 B.C. given by the author). They are thus a reflection of the Near Eastern tradition and its westward diffusion to the Aegean.

In a related vein, Collon's essay highlights some of the problems posed by Bronze Age trade and the corresponding diffusion of goods and motifs. She cites examples of motifs that appear over a widespread area and time, concluding that such anomalies "make research into the world of exchange and transfer of motifs in the East Mediterranean world so frustrating, challenging and enjoyable" (p. 51).

The next series of essays moves into the time period that is more generally understood as "Greek." They begin with a contribution by Lemos that forms an appropriate transition from the Bronze Age discussions in noting the differences that arise during the first millennium. In the early years of this period, political and social circumstances are constantly changing in both areas and thus affect the types of relationships and evidence for them. Her essay uses pottery to reconstruct Euboian contact with the eastern Mediterranean during a limited but critical period of time, ca. 950-825 B.C.

She notes that the earliest Greek pottery found in the east dates to the second half of the tenth century. This situation is explained by the increased stability and prosperity in both areas in comparison to the troubled times of the eleventh century. This early pottery was probably carried by Euboians, who had also developed an extensive trading network in Greece. During the first half of the ninth century, however, the situation changes. The paucity of Greek vases in the East, along with the continued presence of eastern goods in Euboia, has been explained by Coldstream as resulting from a shift to Phoenician ships. Such goods also begin to appear in other areas of Greece, reinforcing this view. Finally, in the next stage, ca. 850-750 B.C., there is a considerable increase in the number of Greek vases in the East, which were probably once again brought by Euboians, now working in competition with Phoenicians. Lemos' contribution thus clarifies the shifting relationships of this period.

Al Mina, which has long been considered key to understanding the role of early Greeks in the east, is treated in the following two papers. The substantial remains of Greek pottery at that site initially led to its designation as a Greek (Euboian) emporium during the eighth century B.C., but this has been questioned more recently. Lehmann weighs in on the problem with his re-examination of the Syrian and Phoenician pottery, much of which has remained unpublished. His essay, a status report on this work, presents examples of that pottery and the conclusions drawn from it. While Greek wares seem to predominate in the earliest five strata of the site (until ca. 600 B.C.), the proportions of pottery cannot be used to indicate the relative numbers of Greeks, Cypriots, Syrians, and Phoenicians at the site. Normally cooking pots may indicate the presence of a particular group of people, but at Al Mina the excavator, C.L. Woolley, discarded much undecorated pottery. Thus, although the author raises a number of interesting points, including the significant Phoenician presence at the site, his essay remains inconclusive in regard to the issue of the Greeks.

The next contribution, which focuses on late groups of pottery from Al Mina, offers scientific support for the presence of the Greeks at the site between 539 and 301 B.C. Chemical analysis of these groups, consisting of kraters with either ivy-leaf decoration or wavy lines and horizontal bands, oinochoai, and painted amphorai or hydriai, is compared with that of other pottery from the site to demonstrate that much of the material originally assumed to be manufactured locally was instead imported. Ashton and Hughes are able to identify the location of production as western Asia Minor and in some cases specifically the area of Miletos. Although this changes the source of the pottery, the authors draw the same general conclusions from it. Woolley had interpreted local manufacture of Greek-type vessels as an indication of the continued presence of the Greeks at Al Mina. Ashton and Hughes argue that the importation of pottery from western Asia Minor reinforces the attribution of the port to Greek control and that the high quality of the local copies identifies the potters as Greek.

The final two essays explore the relationship of Greek artists to those of the east, the first through jewelry and the second through several different media. Williams uses as his starting point a group of (largely unpublished) items from Phokaia, now in the British Museum. In tracing parallels for this material, he is led to Lydia (especially the Lydian Treasure), Cyprus, and Persia. His essay highlights the interaction of these areas and the difficulty of deciphering their individual contributions. Along similar lines, Curtis attempts to decipher the Greek component in Achaemenid architecture, sculpture, and the "minor" arts. Although Greek influence has long been recognized in Persian architecture, Curtis concludes that it remains very limited in other media. The focus of both of these essays, then, is not so much the Greeks as their (relatively minor) position within the wider eastern world.

Indeed, one might more appropriately have titled this volume "The Greeks AND the East," or something more descriptive, in order to make clearer its actual content. As the product of a conference, it naturally faces the problems of disparate themes, approaches, and levels of treatment. Yet there seems to have been little attempt to provide unity to the essays. The preface mentions that the volume faced many obstacles and delays, which may have impeded additional editorial work. Nevertheless, an introduction from the editor explaining at least the stated theme of the conference (and thus the book) or better, an overview linking the ideas of the various essays, would have been most welcome. As it is, the valuable contributions that appear here are likely to be overlooked by potential readers.


W.-D. Niemeier, "Minoans, Mycenaeans, Hittites and Ionians in Western Asia Minor: New Excavations in Bronze Age Miletus-Millawanda," 1-36

B. Muller, "De Mari à l'Egée: La Peinture Proche-orientale au 2e Millénaire av. J.-C.," 37-45

D. Collon, "Aspects of Bronze Age Trade," 47-51

I.S. Lemos, "The Changing Relationship of the Euboeans and the East," 53-60

G. Lehmann, "Al Mina and the East: A Report on Research in Progress," 61-92

S.-A. Ashton and M. Hughes, "Large, Late and Local? Scientific Analysis of Pottery Types from Al Mina," 93-103

D. Williams, "From Phokaia to Persepolis: East Greek, Lydian and Achaemenid Jewellery," 105-114

J. Curtis, "Greek Influence on Achaemenid Art and Architecture," 115-123.

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