Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.11.30

Sabine Fourrier, Antoine Hermary, Amathonte VI. Le sanctuaire d'Aphrodite des origines au début d'époque impériale. Études Chypriotes XVII. Avec la collaboration de Philippe Columeau, Bettina Fischer-Genz, Marie-Dominique Nenna, Martin Schmid and des contributions de Michel Amandry, Marie-Françoise Billiot, Sandrine Marquié, Jean-Denis Vigne.   Athens:  École française d'Athènes, 2006.  Pp. 222; figs. 508. pls. 50; 1 plan.  ISBN 2-869958-220-X.  €100.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Anja Ulbrich, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg, Germany (
Word count: 2652 words

This book is meant to be the "first publication" (p. 1) of the excavations in the sanctuary of Aphrodite on the acropolis of the ancient city of Amathous on the southern coast of Cyprus, conducted by a team of the École française d'Athènes since 1976. Its goal is to document and discuss the development of this major urban cult-place from its foundation in the 8th century BC until the erection of the first monumental temple building in the 1st century AD. Thereby it aims to address various aspects of the site, such as its features and components, spatial organisation, equipment, cult practice and votive practice including animal sacrifice. In order to do so, it draws heavily on data already published and discussed in various preliminary reports, articles and monographs, including the Amathonte series and the Guide to Amathous, adds hitherto unpublished or only partly published material, such as Archaic pottery and animal bones, and draws comprehensive conclusions about the complete assemblage from the site.

The book is divided into a brief introduction and five main chapters, some very short, some very extensive, complemented by two appendices, and bibliography, index, and numerous plans, drawings and photographs.

A brief introduction of 4 pages by A. Hermary addresses the goal of the book, the history and method of the excavation and its documentation, its scale and limitations, and the major problems of the evidence including poor and complicated stratigraphy (a general predicament in Cypriot archaeology, aggravated by massive disturbances through the erection of the monumental first temple in the 1st century AD).

In chapter 1 (pp. 5-13), Hermary briefly reviews the literary, epigraphic and material evidence for the cult and the sanctuary of Aphrodite or Venus in Amathous in chronological order from its earliest appearance in ancient literary sources through the first explorations in the 17th century up to the early years of the French excavations that began in 1976. He summarises the general setting and topography of the cult-place within the city on the summit of the acropolis. He also addresses the questions of its extent and boundaries and the location of the entrance in any given period.

In chapter 2 (pp. 15-48), Hermary and various collaborators briefly and comprehensively present and discuss the different features and main find contexts of the site, the nature of associated material and finds and their validity for chronology. These contexts are: a tomb on the summit of the acropolis already carved into the rock in CG I (Hermary); the two Archaic deposits of the Bothros and the grotto (Fourrier); the monumental stone vases near the entrance of the 7th or 6th century BC (Hermary); a kiln of the Hellenistic to early imperial periods (Fischer-Genz); the Doric portico erected in the late 2nd and early 1st century BC (Hermary, Marquie, Schmid); and other buildings south of the temple of the 1st century BC (Hermary, Schmid). The chronology depends mainly on pottery from these contexts, and in the case of the stone vases on the iconography of the handle-decoration. The chapter ends with a summary of the general arrangement and spatial organisation of the sanctuary from the Archaic to the early Roman period and a short comparison with evidence from other Cypriot temene.

In an extensive chapter 3 (pp. 49-126), Fourrier presents the Archaic material from the bothros and the grotto, focussing on the massive amount of local pottery from both contexts. A first short section (pp. 49-51) discusses the methodology for pot-counting, and the validity and problems of the Gjerstad-system as a basis for classifying the material. Section 2 establishes a detailed system of classification for the wares from both contexts. Fourrier basically draws on the Gjerstad-system with an updated chronology (pp. 49-50 with all relevant references). Gjerstad distinguished seven different morphological phases in Cypriot Iron Age pottery within its different wares, which are defined basically by the type of decoration.1 However, Fourrier has now rearranged the material from Amathous principally by vessel-types or shapes and then by their subtypes and variations. These categories include vessels of the different wares defined by Gjerstad, but Fourrier also introduces locally made wares such as Black Slip mixte including intentionally blackened Red Slip, Black-on-Red or Bichrome Red, and thin-walled bowls. The main distinction in this typology is between open and closed shapes, which are subdivided according to their body profiles, rim shapes and handle types. Each of the types and subtypes is briefly defined and described, and comparanda from other Amathousian and Cypriot contexts are listed, followed by a list of the main examples from the sanctuary proper sorted by find context. This section ends with a concluding paragraph on the repertoire of shapes, illustrated by statistical charts. The next two sections deal with the complete assemblages of material from the bothros and the grotto separately. Here, the finds -- objects of bone, shell, stone, faience, metal, and terracotta, the latter including lamps, inscribed pot-sherds, and a small amount of imported pottery from Greece and the Levant -- are published with comparanda from Cypriot and non-Cypriot contexts. The great majority, however, consists of local Cypriot pottery, here documented by the same pieces as in the preceding typology section, but now sorted by the wares defined by Gjerstad and presented with measurements and descriptions of the clay and charts documenting the amount and relative proportions of each ware within both assemblages. The few pieces of coarse ware are also included. All the material, particularly the local Cypriot pottery, is amply illustrated by drawings and photographs.

Chapter 4 (pp. 127-64), written mainly by Hermary with contributions by Fisher-Genz, Vigne and Nenna, discusses literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence for cult and votive practices in the sanctuary. Topics addressed are the literary and epigraphic evidence for a harvest-festival for Aphrodite in Amathous (Hermary); the nature and shape of the cult-image (Hermary); and various types of votive offerings dating from the Archaic period to early imperial times (Hermary et al.). These votive offerings include dedications of statues by king Androkles himself attested by inscriptions in the late 4th century BC (Hermary), and other small votive objects including parts of jewellery in metal and precious or semi-precious stone (Hermary) and glass (with Fischer-Genz) as well as other votive objects of gold, ivory, bone, shell (Vigne), bronze and iron, faience and glass (Hermay, Nenna), stone and terracotta (Hermary), all of which are presented here for the first time in more or less detail followed by a brief summary on the nature of the votive offerings. The late Hellenistic and early Roman glass vessels are published (in greater detail than other objects here) by N. Nenna. Other categories, however, are only documented by lists or a very few pieces which needed to be added to previously published material, e.g., most of the terracottas were published in a separate volume, but some hitherto unpublished are just listed here, but not discussed in detail or as a group of material. A separate section deals with the dedication of a thesaurus by king Androkles to Aphrodite, addressing its functions in cult practice with regard to marital rites and ritual prostitution. Another section discusses the role of water in the sanctuary and in the general cult practice as attested by the monumental stone vases and several fragments of stone basins. The last paragraph concentrates on other cults in the sanctuary, which might be attested by the cultic use of an existing tomb on the highest ground in the temenos and a Hellenistic dedicatory inscription to Sarapis, Isis, Aphrodite and other gods including Ptolemaios and Kleopatra dating from the period of 142/1-132/1 BC.

In chapter 5 (pp. 165-96), Hermary discusses the structures in the sanctuary connected with animal sacrifice, and Columeau presents the animal bones. A brief review of the scarce literary and epigraphic evidence on animal sacrifice in Cypriot sanctuaries by Hermary is complemented by Columeau's analysis of the animal bones from other published Archaic and post-Archaic sacred contexts. Sheep and goat predominate, followed by cattle; very few bones show traces of burning, calcination or butchery marks. Comparisons with evidence from the Artemision at Ephesos, the Heraion on Samos and the Aphrodite sanctuary at Miletos show, for Amathous, a much higher proportion of sheep and goat in relation to cattle in all periods, while -- as at Miletos -- pigs are not attested at all. Moreover, in Amathous, changes of preference can be observed between the Archaic and later periods with respect to the type and age of the animals sacrificed and the body-parts kept and deposited within the sanctuary. In the next section, Hermary discusses the Archaic or Classical structures in the sanctuary that are associated with animal sacrifices, drawing on many comparisons from Cyprus and the Aegean. Features at Amathous include 12 rings carved out of the bedrock most probably for tying animals destined to be sacrificed, and various channels and round holes carved in the rock, possibly for posts to hang meat or smaller animals. The structures also include an angular foundation for a fence, a rectangular altar-bothros carved in the rock west of the sacrificial area and a cubic gypsum offering table with several mouldings and a circular channel around its upper surface. The concluding paragraph summarises the results, pointing out the lack of pigs and birds among the sacrificial animals, and the lack of evidence for burnt sacrifice. Hermary suggests that suitable offerings to Aphrodite were liquids, such as wine, water and juice, as well as grain, fruit and vegetables as recorded in some ancient Greek sources.

Appendix 1 (Amandry) publishes and partly illustrates 18 apparently hitherto unpublished Hellenistic coins from the site: 12 are from the Paphian mint, and one each from Salamis, Tyre and possibly Alexandria.

Appendix 2 (Schmid) presents the late Hellenistic and Early Roman architecture in greater detail, including possibilities for reconstructing the Doric portico and other buildings.

This is a valuable book: Firstly, it pulls together and cross-references disparately published evidence for and from the sanctuary and presents it comprehensively by contexts and by aspects of cult and votive practice. Secondly, it provides a methodical analysis and critical discussion of the different contexts, the structures in the temenos, and the different kinds of material associated with them. The documentation and illustration of contexts and finds by charts, drawings, photographs, plans, phase plans and reconstructions are high quality, systematic, extensive and well arranged; references to illustrations in the text are accurate and frequent. The treatment, documentation and discussion of material, particularly the Archaic pottery, is excellent, and, in its extensive use of comparanda from Cypriot and other Mediterranean contexts, exceeds the standards of previous publications of pottery from Cypriot sites. The authors offer alternative interpretations for different features and aspects of the sanctuary, debating them in the light of a vast amount of comparanda and evidence from Amathous, Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole. In these respects, the book goes far beyond the scope and standard of most preliminary or even final publications of Cypriot sanctuaries.

The few weaknesses of the book are partly caused by the vast amount of material and evidence which needed to be included in the publication. The result is a somewhat imbalanced presentation of the different types of material, with very detailed treatment for instance of the Archaic pottery and animal bones, but more general or even summary discussions of the votive offerings, and bare mentions of the votive sculptures, post-Archaic pottery and incense burners. Some of this material has been published elsewhere, such as the votive sculptures and terracottas presented in Amathonte V and the material from other contexts at Amathous excavated by the French team such as the palace and the city wall. The items from the sanctuary on the acropolis are only briefly mentioned in the section on the nature and shape of the cult image (p. 128) and have a short paragraph in the section on the nature of the votive offerings (pp. 130-32). In view of the amount and chronology far down into the post-Archaic period, the votive sculptures and terracottas deserve a separate comprehensive and more detailed section in chapter 4 on the nature of votive-offerings.

Another group of neglected material is the Classical, Hellenistic and early Roman pottery, which reflects both votive practice and ritual -- including drinking and/or dining -- even if the evidence is mostly from disturbed levels or late fills. Only part of this has been published elsewhere, such as some Hellenistic pottery (pp. 45-46).2 Post-Archaic pottery is only mentioned briefly in the discussion of the stratigraphy of certain contexts, such as the kiln (p. 35), the Hellenistic portico (p. 40-41) and the later pre-imperial buildings (p. 46). However, there is no comprehensive or statistical information on local wares, shapes, imports and contexts including disturbed layers, which are all indispensable for a publication aiming to document the development of the site and its cult-practice up till the early imperial period. This stands in marked contrast to the excellent publication of the Archaic pottery (see above) which, however, also has its weaknesses. One of them lies in the nature of the material, displaying a great variety of shapes, sizes and other details all freely combined, which make consistent and strict classifications difficult: this is a general problem in Cypriot archaeology. Thus, the distinction between some of the deep bowls (figs. 205-218) and jars (figs. 383-388) does not seem clear. Unfortunately, a few shapes are not documented by drawings at all, such as big bowls or basins (p. 63 D), amphorae with knob-shaped bases (p. 79 D), and jars with folded rim (p. 81, C.2). One also wonders whether the bowls in figs. 168 and 169, only decorated outside, might not actually be lids as shown in figs. 395-96 and 398. The fact that the author does not distinguish the different types of Black slip mixte, as explained on p. 51, in her coded catalogue-numbers for individual pieces and their drawings, but invariably names them bs is a bit confusing. As regards these catalogue-numbers, it would also have been more user-friendly, if their composition had been explained briefly in an introductory sentence in the typology, or in a footnote or even in the list of abbreviations at the end of the book (p. 205). One has to infer from the text that, apparently, those numbers are made up of abbreviations for contexts, shape, ware -- in Gjerstad-abbreviations -- and a running number for the series of a certain type. However, the abbreviation co for the fine-walled bowls remains enigmatic (perhaps it stands for coloured rim-zone?).

The same problem of unexplained abbreviations appears in the charts of the bone analysis, which refer to earlier studies of other international specialists and earlier publications of the author. The abbreviations are not at all evident to an archaeologist who is not specialised in this field and not French. This critique applies also to the very short and patchy list of abbreviations (p. 205) which only lists the more common internationally known or, by textual context, easily understandable abbreviations for Cypriot wares and periods in English and French, but not the more specialised ones used in this publication for the material, e.g. glass (ve), torpedo amphora (t), small object (po) etc.

Finally, the complete and extensive bibliography is a slightly inconsistent mixture of Harvard-type and title abbreviations, e.g. listing Amathonte I-III under that rubric, but Amathonte IV and V under the name of Queyrel or Hermary, respectively.

The values and merits of Amathonte VI, however, exceed its relatively minor weaknesses by far. The book is a highly satisfactory publication of the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Amathous, and convincing in its systematic, comprehensive and, in places, detailed and extensive treatment of the evidence and material by addressing important aspects of Cypriot religion and cult practice within its Mediterranean context. Thus, Amathonte VI sets new standards for the publication of, and research on, Cypriot sanctuaries and contributes greatly to the study of Cypriot religion and cult.


1.   For the classification and chronology of Cypriot pottery established by Gjerstad see E. Gjerstad, The Swedish Cyprus Expedition IV.2., The Cypro-Geometric, Cypro-Archaic and Cypro-Classical periods (Stockholm 1948), 48-91 figs. I-LXXI (pottery); 184-427, summarised on p. 427 (chronology). The system was further elaborated in E. Gjerstad, Pottery Types, Cypro-Geometric to Cypro-Classical, Opuscula Atheniensia III, Lund 1960, 106-122 with figs.
2.   F. Burkhalter, La céramique hellénistique et romaine du sanctuaire d'Aphrodite à Amathonte, BCH 111, pp.353-391.

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