Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.07.12

A. M. Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece.   Edinburgh:  Edinburgh University Press, 2006.  Pp. 485.  ISBN 0-7486-2333-7.  £60.00.  

Reviewed by Timothy Howe, St. Olaf College (
Word count: 2682 words

In Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece Anthony Snodgrass (hereafter S) brings together 25 previously published papers, with no additions other than revision of misprints. This is not, as the title might imply, a new archaeological interpretation of Early Greece.1 At first glace one might be tempted to conclude that there is nothing substantially new here, since almost all of these papers are well known and accessible. But such a conclusion would be premature. In this work, the reader has the opportunity to read S's arguments as a whole, grouped by theme, and see how 40 years of research by one of Classical Archaeology's foremost scholars have shaped the evolution of that discipline and others. Hence, from an historiographical standpoint, this work is uniquely invaluable for anyone who wishes to grasp the complexities of the various scholarly debates. Indeed, such debate was intended: according to the author these papers all presumed to bring about change and spark multidisciplinary thinking by straying across the traditional boundaries of Classical Archaeology, into the domains of prehistorians, ancient historians, and literary critics--part of what S calls "working across the grain of the subject" (vi). That said, there is little given to subjects beyond the focus of the traditional literary corpus, the "old Greece" of Archaic and Classical Athens and her neighbors. By his own admission, S pays little attention to the Aegean Bronze Age, Cyprus, Sicily, Crete, Lakonia or Boeotia. Moreover, the papers produced here provide no new contributions to excavation or fieldwork but rather seek to contextualize archaeological data for archaeologists and especially ancient historians. The papers are grouped into six themes of decreasing generality, with each chapter prefaced by a brief (often too brief) discussion of the original context of publication and how the author's, and the field's, views have since evolved.

Part I A Credo sets the tone for the work, including papers that are all critical of the "unquestioning continuation of past practices," that is, the traditional views, proprieties, and aims of Classical Archaeology. Chapter 1, "Archaeology" (1983), offers an explanation of the discipline's methods and scope, addressed specifically to historians. S explores the pitfalls and applications of archaeology to ancient historical research in terms of chronology, political and institutional history, military history, economic and social history, and finally, cultural history. He argues that it is not the role of archaeology to "correct" history but rather to supplement the historical sources and add context and complexity. Ancient History and Archaeology operate in different spheres and speak different languages. S asks that the reader recognize the serious discrepancy between archaeology and what S calls "event-oriented history" in terms of their time scales. Unlike history, which looks at discrete events, archaeology illuminates long-term processes and social background. Only in this way can it be useful to historians. Chapter 2, "Greek Archaeology and Greek History" (1985), picks up the theme of the first chapter and critiques the subordination of archaeology to ancient history, especially in terms of "undue deference to the ancient sources, event-oriented archaeological narratives, and the apparently irresistible urge to match the two with each other" (45). Throughout is a call for redirection of effort away from "event-oriented history," from expecting the material record will reflect the same events the historical sources do. Chapter 3, "The New Archaeology and the Classical Archaeologist" (1985), continues this theme with a critique of Classical Archaeology as a study of the particular and the unique, rather than the general. Here S probes the traditions behind classical archaeology and contrasts them with the methodologies of the "new archaeologies." The chapter ends with a call for Classical archaeologists to embrace both the theoretical stimulus New Archaeology offers and the context that document-based Classical archaeology provides. Chapter 4, "A Paradigm Shift in Classical Archaeology" (2002), considers the new directions in archaeological research: "rural life, domestic life, neglected periods, dedications, burial, the more backward regions of Greece" (78). In a sense, this chapter reflects back on the previous papers and attempts to show how far Classical Archaeology has moved from those particular aspects of the ancient world dominated by the literary sources. Chapter 5, "Separate Tables? A Story of Two Traditions within One Discipline" (2001), also addresses the health and direction of the discipline by comparing the differing approaches of the British and German archaeologists. Despite certain redundancies, these five chapters, taken together, illustrate how S's thoughts on the direction of Classical Archaeology have evolved over time.

Part II, The Early Iron Age in Greece, builds upon the suggestions of the first section and takes the reader towards more specific issues, especially how the techniques of prehistory might illuminate the world of early Greece. Chapter 6, "Metalwork as Evidence for Immigration in the Late Bronze Age" (1974), challenges the then (early 1970s) prevailing view by arguing that metal finds do not justify the literary inference that mass-immigration and permanent settlement of non-Mycenaeans in Greece characterized the Late Bronze Age. Chapter 7, "The Coming of the Iron Age in Greece: Europe's Earliest Bronze/Iron Transition" (1989), argues that the permanent shift to iron working came about because post-Mycenaean Greeks were seeking self-sufficiency. This shift, begun for practical reasons after the Mycenaean collapse, produced a better and ultimately more useful product that never was replaced when Bronze again became readily available. Chapter 8, "The Euboeans in Macedonia: A New Precedent for Westward Expansion?" (1994), aims to communicate "the profound implications for early Greek history in general, and in particular for the foundation of Pithekoussai and its successor-sites in the West" of the recent work (pre 1994) in the Chalcidic peninsulas of the northern Aegean (147). S demonstrates that Euboeans were active settlers much earlier than commonly thought and that, by the time Pithekoussai was settled, had centuries of experience in permanent settlement. Chapter 9, "The Rejection of Mycenaean Culture and the Oriental Connection" (2002), concerns itself with continuities and discontinuities. Here, S highlights regionalism and regional variation in early Greece by focusing on the resemblance between the archaeological records of Middle Bronze and Early Iron Age. He concludes that peripheral regions rejected Late Bronze Age Mycenaean culture but preserved much from the pre-Mycenaean Middle Bronze Age. Chapter 10, "An Historical Homeric Society?" (1974), wades into the debate surrounding the historicity of the Homeric epics by exploring the inconsistencies in Homeric marriage. In the end, S observes that the epics were works of creative genius but not evidence for a cohesive society; there are too many inconsistencies.2

Part III, The Early Polis at Home and Abroad, brings archaeological evidence to bear on questions previously answered only by textual sources. Chapter 11, "Archaeology and the Rise of the Greek State" (1977), echoes many themes of the first section about new directions for Classical Archaeology and a broader approach beyond the confines of literary texts. In this chapter, S is seeking archaeological indicators with which to mark the presence of the Greek polis. Although many observations advanced here, such as the tribal nature of early Greece, have not aged well--which S acknowledges (198)--the building of monumental cult places as an indicator of the appearance of the polis have.3 Chapter 12, "Heavy Freight in Archaic Greece" (1983), argues that the Greeks had different economic motives than the modernist mantra of "profit." By examining sea-borne freight, especially in marble and metal ores, S shows that only raw materials, not finished product was transported. Moreover, raw marble was owned by the sculptor and carved in situ, not bought from a "marble trader." Although the evidence is less unambiguous, S. argues that metal ores, especially iron, may have been treated the same way. Consequently, there was no trade in raw materials, no trade in "commodities" as has often been assumed. Chapter13, "Interaction by Design: The Greek City State" (1986), employs the model of "peer polity interaction" to show that interaction, specifically one-upmanship, was an intentional part of the political changes that took place between 750-650 BCE. S suggests that intentioned competition of peer political units in creating laws-codes, hoplite warfare, burial practices, monumental temples and painted pottery shaped the evolution of the Greek polis. Chapter 14, "The Economics of Dedication at Greek Sanctuaries" (1989-90), analyzes the discrepancy between the preponderance of dedications at local and panhellenic sanctuaries in the 8th-6th centuries and general lack in later periods. Instead of dedicating raw symbols of wealth, such as armor or jewelry, later Greeks dedicate things that convert wealth, such as commissioned statuary or inscriptions. For S, the cheaper, more numerous, early dedications represent the egalitarian ethos of the nascent polis. The more expensive, commissioned, later pieces were a reaction to this and a need to emphasize status differences. Chapter 15, "Archaeology and the Study of the Greek City" (1991), offers an update of Chapter 11, with more attention paid to the developed polis and the role of survey in Classical Archaeology. The central question addressed is: What factors brought about paradigm shift and encouraged historians and archaeologists to pay more attention to each other? S illustrates how explanation has taken over from analysis and description in both disciplines, prompting a concerted search for new evidence, especially for explaining the origins and rise of the polis and the physical and economic bases for its support. Chapter 16, "The Nature and Standing of the Early Western Colonies" (1994), surveys recent work by contrasting the western colonial foundations with those in the northern Aegean in order to illuminate "the unprecedentedly planned, deliberate, and calculated nature of the movement to settle in the West" (291). Throughout, S highlights the role of Euboeans in both areas.

Part IV, The Early Polis at War, explores a subject in which S was an early contributor, the world of arms, armor and warfare. Chapter 17, "The Hoplite Reform and History" (1965), argues that the adoption of hoplite panoply was a long, drawn out process by focusing on the development of the panoply. Here S seeks to illuminate hoplite tactics and explain the societal impact of those tactics. His approach is comparative, using evidence from Etruria and Rome to show the impact of such a system on socio-political structure. S concludes that (1) the adoption of hoplite warfare in Greece occurred during a period of aristocratic or regal domination; (2) aristocratic ascendancy survived this adoption for a long period; and (3) adoption of itself brought on no spontaneous political movement by a "hoplite class." Chapter 18, "The Historical Significance of Fortification in Archaic Greece" (1986), is "an attempt to deconstruct the simple concept of 'fortification' by showing that, even within a single period, its nature could change radically and that the building of defensive circuits could serve radically different ends" (331). Although interesting and innovative in its approach, Chapter 18 breaks with the hoplite theme of the others and seems out of place in this section. Chapter 19, "The 'Hoplite Reform' Revisited" (1993), brings the section to a fitting end by offering a defense of S's earlier arguments (chapter 17).4 Through a review of both the Homeric evidence and the main features that define hoplite warfare, such as arms and armor dedications at Olympia and other sites, S argues that the mid-seventh century BCE saw a marked increase in "classic" hoplite equipment, which suggests the arrival of "classic" hoplite warfare at that time and not earlier. He does, however, reiterate his earlier point that the hoplite evolution was long in duration and certainly had roots in the fighting Homer described.

Part V, Early Greek Art, explores the links between Classical Archaeology and Art History. Chapter 20, "Poet and Painter in Eight-century Greece" (1979), attempts to separate out visual and literary themes by showing that the presence of mythological and heroic scenes does not need to rely on the stimulus of Homeric epic but could come from many possible sources, such as oral tradition and hero cults. Chapter 21, "Narration and Allusion in Archaic Greek Art" (1981), examines the temporal narrative devices in Archaic painted pottery. Through an analysis of both geometric and black-figure scenes, S argues that the passage of time in individual scenes as well as from scene to scene, what he calls the "synoptic" method, is one of the oldest, and later the most prevalent means by which artists conveyed narrative. Chapter 22, "The Uses of Writing on Early Greek Painted Pottery" (2000), asserts the novel thesis that inscriptions on pots were dialogue for use in symposia as entertainment--participants would read aloud their cup's captions. Chapter 23, "Pausanias and the Chest of Kypselos" (2001), examines Pausanias' motives in the extended description of the Chest of Kypselos (Paus. 5.17.5-5.19.10). This is the second longest descriptive section in the work and S argues that Pausanias chose to spend time on the Chest because it was not familiar to his audience. "The challenge of its difficult subject matter aroused in him [Pausanias] an enthusiasm that he wanted to communicate to his readers" (435). In essence, Pausanias was "showing off." All of the chapters in this section share the theme of visual narrative, and the last offers a nice inversion of the first, with visual sources inspiring literary narrative.

Part VI, Archaeological Survey, brings the work full circle by emphasizing the role of survey in Classical Archaeology and suggesting possible directions for future research. Chapter 24, "Survey Archaeology and the Rural Landscape of the Greek City" (1990), uses the Cambridge/Bradford Boeotia Survey results for Askra and its surroundings to illustrate the applications, techniques, and limits of archaeological survey for understanding the rural components of the polis. Chapter 25, "Rural Burial in the World of Cities" (1998), focuses on one small result of the Cambridge/Bradford survey to show how such evidence can greatly affect understanding of the countryside. By analyzing the context of small isolated burial sites from the Classical period, S argues that small, rural family burials near cultivated landholdings imply ownership and perhaps even on-site residence. In both of these works, S highlights the pivotal role survey can play in broadening our understanding of rural realities.

In any work such as this, where previously published studies are grouped together thematically, there is bound to be some repetition between chapters and between sections (which the author acknowledges (4)) as well a certain awkwardness in terms of fit (Chapter 18 is a prime example). More troublesome, though, is the problem of shelf-life: in a discipline as changeable as archaeology, driven and shaped in large part by new discoveries and new methodologies, certain theories and interpretations evolve quickly and the usefulness and timeliness of general "surveys of the discipline" have a relatively short lives and can quickly become fixed in time as the debate moves on. Consequently, the utility of the general chapters in the first half of the book is more in understanding the evolution of Classical Archaeology than in assessing the scope of current work. And for the other sections, many, though not all, of the debates S's articles place themselves in have moved on. To be sure, S certainly understands this problem and updates each chapter with a short reflection about the impact of the original publication. In many respects this book is a chance for S to respond to his critics as well as an opportunity to call attention to past theses and the way they have shaped debate. As noted above, this is commendable and especially useful for the student wishing to gain some context for the evolution of Greek Archaeology as a field of study. Notwithstanding, it might have been even more useful to both the discipline and the student, at least from this reviewer's perspective, if S had offered more extensive commentary in these sections and argued his positions anew, in response to new evidence and new arguments. But this is a relatively minor quibble. On its own merits, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece is a testament to the myriad ways in which Anthony Snodgrass has affected the discipline of Classical Archaeology and has been, in turn affected by it. This is a very important work and will surely be useful to undergraduate and even graduate instruction. It will hopefully encourage debate over issues many had thought long closed.5


1.   For the most recent treatment see J. Whitley, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
2.   Ian Morris has responded to S's arguments on the inconsistencies in Homeric practice and shown that they may not be as incompatible as S originally thought. I. Morris, "The use and abuse of Homer," Classical Antiquity 5(1986): 81-138.
3.   E.g., F. de Polignac, La naissance de la cité grecque: cultes, esppace et société, VIIIe-VIIe siècles avant J.-C., (Paris: Editions la Découverte, 1984).
4.   This paper is a reaction to arguments, such as the of Latacz, that date hoplite reform much earlier (before Homer). Joachim Latacz, Kampfparänese, Kampfdastellung und Kampfwirklichkeit in der Ilias, bei Kallinos und Tyrtaios, Zetemata vol 66 (Munich, 1977). The repercussions of this argument also bear on the recent thesis of van Wees, who argues that full adoption happened much later (Persian Wars). See H. van Wees, "The development of the hoplite phalanx: iconography and reality in the seventh century," in War and Violence in Ancient Greece, ed. H. van Wees, (London: Duckworth, 2000), pp. 125-66, and Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, (London: Duckworth, 2004).
5.   While the text is generally clean and free from errors, a few minor corrections might be noted: p. 5 "Regional divisions in the early history [of] both Greece and Italy..., "a fortiori" on p. 51 should read a fortiori, on p. 166 "to be Geometric (8th century) in, date" should read "to be Geometric (8th century) in date", and on p. 176 "poét" should change to "poet."

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