Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.08

Catherine Abadie-Reynal, La céramique romaine d'Argos (fin du IIe s. av. J.-C.-fin du IVe s. ap. J.-C.). Études péloponnésiennes, 13.   Athens:  École française d'Athènes, 2007.  Pp. 342; pls. 78.  ISBN 2-86958-200-5.  €110.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Kathleen Warner Slane, University of Missouri (
Word count: 2221 words

[Table of Contents are listed at the end of the review.]

This book presents the Roman pottery from the excavations carried out in Argos between 1953 and 1984 (and some more recently published materials) by the French School at Athens. In the introduction Abadie-Reynal explains that the chronological termini are set by both political events, not specified, and by ceramic changes: the introduction of Eastern Sigillata A in the late second century BC and the appearance of eastern products suddenly available in Greece at the end of the fourth century after Christ. She has catalogued some 3500 pieces from the larger quantity of pottery available for study. For the fine wares her goal was to present a good cross-section; the common wares selected for publication represent useful stratigraphic contexts. In a final, thought-provoking chapter the author summarizes patterns of import, use, and deposition and connects them to such evidence as building forms, dining habits, and cuisine to sketch a picture of cultural changes in Roman Argos. The last 50 pages provide a list of the contents of the 48 context-groups from which the catalogue was drawn. In addition to plates of profiles, there are two color plates of the main clay types found at Argos, including 6 used for local fine wares (1-6) and two cooking fabrics (16 and 19) predominant at both Argos and Corinth.

In the 1970s the excavators of many eastern sites turned their attention to the Roman phases of those sites: in addition to Argos and Corinth, Knossos, Labraunda and Ephesos in Asia, Stobi in Macedonia, Benghazi in Cyrenaica, and a little later Gortyna on Crete. On Greek sites "Roman" was understood broadly to extend from the defeat of the Achaian League in 146 BC or the Sullan destruction in 87/86 to Alaric's invasion in 396, followed by "Late Roman" (often assigned to another specialist) until the late sixth century. At each site the problems were the same: to define the fabrics, types, and chronological parameters of the imported fine wares in order to date local monuments and, eventually, add another chapter to the history of the site. Some studies also included (mostly local) cooking pots and plain wares, but this effort has been hampered by the fact that so much had already been discarded. Other work in progress with a wide chronological span includes the second part of Robinson's Athenian Agora volume by John Hayes (the imported fine wares were published in January 2009 as Athenian Agora XXXII; another volume on the common ware is in preparation), the Roman pottery from Isthmia also being studied by Hayes, my own work on the pottery from east of the Theater at Corinth, pottery from Olympia being studied by Christa Schauer and Archer Martin, and pottery from Sparta being studied by Clare Pickersgill. Studies of single deposits or phases have proliferated.

The Argos volume is an excellent addition to these studies. The picture of Argos that emerges is of a self-sufficient city little affected by outside events (or trade) from the second century BC until the Flavian period. Construction of several monumental buildings of both Greek and Roman types and an increased level of imports attest that the first half of the second century after Christ was a prosperous period. There was little building construction either in the first century BC or between the mid second century and the late fourth, and hence there are few deposits for these periods. Abadie-Reynal argues, however, that Argive prosperity continued well into the fourth century until the monumental buildings in the agora were destroyed. As elsewhere in the Peloponnesos destruction by the Herulians c. 267 is hardly apparent in Argos, and the causes of the "late fourth/early fifth century" destruction, or if it was a single event, are not discussed (the implication is that it was Alaric rather than earlier earthquakes).

For each ware, category and type, Abadie-Reynal provides a count of the number available for study. The identifications are accurate and can be depended upon. Each catalogue entry contains (in addition to the usual data of inventory number, form, ware, dimensions, and additional examples) a brief essay on the dated contexts and other criteria of interest for the sherd (such as the potter for Italian sigillata). At the end of each imported fine ware description she has provided a critical analysis of the occurrence of the ware at Argos and elsewhere in Greece or the East (and at Belo with which she is also very familiar). These are very useful and are the first of their kind in French. Beyond the catalogue and immediate discussion, the book also provides a modern description and illustrations of about 20 of the main Argive and other common-ware fabrics (pp. 186-187). My single organizational complaint is that the common wares, which include the local and regional fine wares, are presented by form rather than by fabric. The result is that some interesting data are not very obvious: only two pieces of LR Attic are catalogued, 310 and 326; 358, 368, 373 and possibly 376 are the "local" cooking pots and 393-399 the pitchers typical of the NE Peloponnesos.

Tip for using the catalogue: the catalogue entries are numbered in a running series and illustrated examples are catalogue #1, catalogue #2 etc. always in bold face. These numbers are useful for finding illustrations in the plates and are also listed for each context. Preceding the catalogue number is a complex number in plain font that designates the form; it includes a group number for the ware, a number for the general form, and a third number for the specific variant so form 4.1.11 designates an Italian sigillata plate of Conspectus form 18, form 6.2.7 an Eastern Sigillata A hemispherical bowl of Atlante form 22A, form 17.1.1 an LRC/Phocaean Red Slip ware dish of Hayes form 1. Numbers beginning with 20 are for the common wares and 30 designates the amphoras, both in chapter 2. These numbers are listed in the section on context groups but not in the individual ware-essays in chapter 1. In the descriptions of the context groups the published sherds listed under dating evidence are those listed by form and count under summary of pottery.

The picture given by the fine wares is familiar from other Greek sites. Black-glazed ware come from Campania but also from eastern sources, and local production persists until the middle of the first century after Christ (299). ESA (154 vessels) is the first significant red-ware import and dominates at least through the Augustan period. Italian sigillata (212 vessels plus a piece of South Gaulish relief ware) characterizes the middle and second half of the first century contexts, and some of the second-century stamps found elsewhere in southern Greece are also found at Argos (Oct. Pro., LRP etc).. Eastern wares become dominant again from the Flavian period: ESB (393 vessels) in the last quarter of the first century and second, Çandarli (628 vessels, 37% of all the fine ware) throughout the second and into the third century. African Red Slip ware is relatively uncommon (190 vessels, mostly fourth century, 6 dateable to the second), and 25 pieces of Late Roman C are dated in the fourth century, 15% of the fine-ware of that time. Abadie-Reynal argues that the fourth-century western imports reflect the growing importance of Constantinople in empire-wide trade.

To me one of the most interesting features of the Argive ceramics is that the "local" cooking fabric is actually a regional product, as Abadie-Reynal stresses. Cooking pot forms (356, 358, 368, 373 and possibly 376), a flanged bowl 327, a one-handled mug and other pitchers (330, 393-396, 399), and even some amphoras (438, 439, perhaps some of 440) are as local in Argos as they are in Corinth. They are also the types found in Nemea, Berbati, Epidauros, and Isthmia, but the cooking pots of Sikyon and Stymphalos are from a different source, although related. The table amphora 327, cf. also 439, on the other hand, which I would have also placed in this group, seems to be an Argive product. Abadie-Reynal is surely correct to look for production of the cooking fabric somewhere on the north eastern coast of the Peloponnesos, a center which supplied both cities from the second or first century BC into at least the fifth century after Christ. (This regional source is not the source that supplied Corinth with Classical or Byzantine cooking pots). We are reaching a point in the province of Achaia where regional production of cooking pots and containers can be recognized and sub-regions defined. It is my impression that regionalism on this scale was exceptional in the Roman world.

My single fundamental problem with the book arises from the fact that Abadie-Reynal's study has been constrained by an historical and stratigraphic assumption that the agora of Argos was destroyed by Alaric c. 396 and by what I take to be the practice of assigning levels broadly across the Argive agora. This is implied in her descriptions of contexts (group 43 and elsewhere) and made explicit in a recent article by Askold Ivantchik on a late well.1 The titles of the book and article show that the dividing line between "Roman" and "early Christian" has been set c. 400. Level III represents the last phase of the agora ending with the destruction by Alaric, i.e., the destruction debris; surface IV seals the preceding phase. In fact, what Abadie-Reynal reports for that phase is three groups (34, 36 and 38, the last two with contamination) with termini ante quem c. 300. These represent a series of sand layers in the agora, a third-century destruction debris underlying surface IV, and the dumped fill over group 28 beside the theater. Deposits 36 and 38 are the most abundant groups published here, and both have some later contamination; as Abadie-Reynal makes clear, they have many parallels at Corinth in the published "Tetrarchic" deposit, in the destruction of the east of Theater buildings, and among unpublished groups. Abadie-Reynal dates the groups that contain LRC (42-45 and 47) in the early fifth century or c. 400 but this is a lower limit: they may be dated anytime in the first half of the fifth century before LRC form 3 appears c. 450 or later. The succeeding ceramic phase was illustrated in the recent article by Ivantchik publishing an early Christian well in the Argive agora; he expressly dates the destruction of the agora to Alaric and states that the material in his well, the earlier part dated 400-425, the later 425-500, is parallel to the use deposit in another agora well, which is Abadie-Reynal's group 48 (cf. also 47) In my opinion these dates are too early and the effect is to compress a lot of fifth-century material into the fourth century. Abadie-Reynal is explicit that all examples of LRC form 2 are found in contexts of the fifth century or later, but a few examples of form 1 seem to be transitional from Çandarli. Recent work in Corinth confirms that LRC forms 1 and 2 are prevalent in the first half, perhaps even second quarter of the fifth century, rather than in the fourth.2 Furthermore, imported cooking pots like 372, of which 5 examples are listed in group 47, are dated by us mid-fifth to early sixth century (Late Roman micaceous Aegean cooking ware). The effect in Corinth has been to give new prominence to the fifth century and leave us wondering about Alaric.

Despite the lower chronological limit stated in the book's title then, the book contains a lot of fifth-century pottery. In addition to the LRC and the Late Roman micaceous Aegean cooking form 372 listed in the preceding paragraph, one can add form 377 of the same fabric, probably 371 and 375 of a similar ware that may appear at the end of the fourth century, and the latest examples of the imported pan 374. Many of the illustrated amphoras are also fifth to sixth-century types and the evidence that they appear before 400 is tenuous at best. The following amphoras are found either as contamination in group 38 or in groups dated no earlier than the fifth century: 444?, 445 Calabrian or Sicilian wine amphora, 447.1 the late version of a Niederbieber 77, 452 Late Roman Amphora 1 (aside from group 38, the earliest example at Argos is from the Ivantchik well), 453 two-handled micaceous water jars that do not appear at Argos earlier than group 48, 456, and 461 large spatheion first appearing in group 45; also 455 a regional type in groups 47 and 48. Very few amphoras in this volume are dateable to the second to fourth centuries.

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

List of abbreviations 7

Chapter I The Fine Wares 13-181
Campanian, other black glazed wares, relief bowls, Italian and late Italian sigillata, Gaulish sigillata, eastern sigillata A and B, ESC or Çandarli, Cypriot sigillata, Pontic sigillata, thin-walled wares, lead-glazed ware, Pompeiian red ware, Corinthian relief bowls, other moldmade vessels, African red slip ware, Phocaean red slip ware (called LRC in the above review)
A concordance linking the typology to the principal published typologies 179-181.

Chapter 2 The Plain and Cooking Wares 185-254
Common pottery divided by shapes 185-237
Amphoras 237-254.

Conclusions 255

Graffiti and dipinti 273-274
Analysis of contexts 275-322.

Bibliography 323

Plates 343


1.   A. I. Ivantchik, "Un puits de l'époque paléochrétienne sur l'agora d'Argos," BCH 126, 2002, pp. 331-413, especially pp. 332-340.
2.   Kathleen Warner Slane and Guy D. R. Sanders, "Corinth: Late Roman Horizons," Hesperia 74, 2005, pp. 243-297; see now also Kathleen Warner Slane, "The End of the Sanctuary of Demeter on Acrocorinth, Hesperia 77, 2008, pp. 465-496.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2009
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:33:36, Friday, 03 April 2009