Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2009.06.37 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.06.37

Robin Osborne, Greece in the Making, 1200-479 BC. Second edition (first edition published 1996). Routledge History of the Ancient World.   London/New York:  Routledge, 2009.  Pp. xx, 377.  ISBN 9780415469913.  $41.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Cynthia King (

For the second edition of Robin Osborne's useful Greece in the Making, 1200-479 BC in the Routledge History of the Ancient World series,1 Routledge has managed to reduce the weight (the second edition is almost half an inch thinner) and number of pages (396 to 377) without losing text (and indeed accommodating some additions), illustrations, and tables. The font is slightly smaller, but very clear, and paragraphs in the first edition have sometimes been broken up to improve readability. Space is also saved by removing the boxes around the primary texts and printing them in bold. Illustrations and tables have usually been reduced in size. Two illustrations which suffer from reduction are Figure 35, the Siamese twin pedestaled krater in New York 14.130.152 and Figure 38a, the Chigi vase. Figure 32 and Table 5 documenting Greek settlements abroad are, however, much improved: Figure 32 has been expanded to two pages and broken into four maps; Table 5's font has been made larger and clearer.3

In substance, the chapters are essentially the same. "Setting the Stage" which was Chapter 3 has switched places with the old Chapter 2, "The Problem of Beginnings." The last sentence of the new Chapter 3 (65) should have been rewritten: it refers to a coming discussion of "the physical environment of the Greek mainland and islands," that is, the subject matter of the new Chapter 2. The chapter headings on each page of Chapter 9 after the first page have an unfortunate misprint: "52-479 BC" instead of 520-479 BC. The bibliographical notes (336-360) have been brought up to date; reference to them would be easier if the chapter to which they refer were noted in the heading for each page, especially for chapters where the note encompasses several pages (for example the note for Chapter 4 on pages 343-348). I also miss a regular bibliography and find it interesting that Osborne provided a fine one in his much smaller Greek History (Routledge 2004).4 In fact, I would recommend that the novice start with that book, in the Classical Foundation series, even though it has only two pictures, and then tackle Greece in the Making.

Osborne is rightly (in my opinion) skeptical of the traditions later Greeks had about their early past: he believes in no Ionian migration, no Dorian invasion (50-51)--"the Greeks of the archaic period knew nothing about the Dark Age" (51); "archaic Greece is a prehistoric period, for it is a period before history was written" (4). He advises us (again rightly, in my opinion) to follow Herodotus' lead: "That perceptions are context-dependent is something some early Greek philosophers had insisted upon...; Herodotus' implicit recognition of this in the way he writes down his researches is one that we ignore at our peril" (4).

I am a bit put off by Osborne's claim that we study archaic Greece because of its end (classical Greece) (3). We could do more justice to these beginnings by turning to Susan Langdon's Art and Identity in Dark Age Greece, 1100-700 B.C.E. (Cambridge 2008) for an account that makes elegant use of the archaeological material. Also an approach that aims to put archaic Greece in its wider "Near Eastern" context and to problematize the simplistic categories of "Greek" and "Oriental" more than justifies the study of archaic Greece. Ann C. Gunter's recent book, Greek Art and the Orient (Cambridge 2009), shows us how we should be seeing Greece, the Near East, and Egypt in the context of the Assyrian Empire of the 8th and 7th centuries BC.5

An example of a new section of text comes at the end of Chapter 4, "Forming Communities": "From Communities to Poleis?" (128-130).6 Osborne does not think that the term polis is useful in general: it "has come to be invested with a technical sense which it did not possess in antiquity" (129). Changes in the 8th century should not be understood as connected with a so-called "rise of the polis"; the works of Homer and Hesiod (Chapter 5, "The World of Hesiod and Homer") show "the irrelevance of the polis to the existence of sophisticated political understanding" (130).7 The problem of leadership in the Iliad, the vacuum created by Odysseus' absence in the Odyssey, Hesiod's quarrel with his brother because of corrupt "kings" -- all show a concern for political authority connected with leaders. "Monarchical rulers too are good to think with, even, perhaps especially, in a community that lacks them" (144).

I learned a great deal from the first edition of Greece in the Making, and I think the changes made in the second edition clarify Osborne's original points. Although I don't think he breaks new ground, it is good that the book with its wealth of information will still be available for it is a solid introduction to the problems of understanding what was going on in the early Greek world.


1.   For a review of the first edition see Lynn E. Roller, BMCR 98.2.09.
2.   NY 14.130.15 is not Attic Late Geometric I; it belongs to the LGIIA Trachones Workshop. See the official publication: Mary B. Moore, CVA, MMA 5 (von Zabern 2004), pls. 14-18, fig. 3. On page 162 Osborne should put his reference to this illustration after "processions of armed men in carts or chariots."
3.   The cover illustration has been changed to a double image based on a Geometric bronze seated man holding an object to his mouth = fig. 34, page 135 (Walters Art Museum 54.789). Also the illustration (fig. 42, page 160) for the Near Eastern "motif of two facing animals which join in a single frontal head" (159) has been changed from the beautiful Ziwiyeh plaque in New York (MMA 51.131.1) to a gold belt perhaps from Ziwiyeh in the British Museum. This belt has a repeating pattern showing frontal heads developing from looped horns, not from facing animals; recumbent deer are shown in the spaces between the heads. A drawing of this hard to read object would have helped. I am also puzzled by the discussion of the 'Mistress of the Animals' motif on relief pithoi (157); this has not changed from the first edition (166). It is not clear what he means by the 'Mistress of the Animals' pithos since he gives no specific reference. One general reference is to M. E. Caskey, AJA 80 (1976), 19-41, and I suppose he means Athens NM 5898, pl. 4, figs. 12-13 which Caskey calls the Athens Potnia pithos.
4.   Reviewed by Robert W. Wallace, BMCR 2005.08.22.
5.   It is instructive to contrast her treatment of the inscribed (in Aramaic) Hazael bronzes from a horse harness with Osborne's (260-261, fig. 76). For Osborne these were booty captured by Hazael, raided by Greeks, and opportunistically exchanged. By contrast, Gunter devotes a chapter to exploring the implications of these "gifts" and those like them, and she seems to favor Ingrid Strom's idea of sanctuary networks with the distribution of certain objects linked by cult: "foreign" horse trappings are widely dispersed in sanctuaries belonging to Hera, Athena, Apollo, Artemis (124-154, especially 152-153). Gunter points to the importance of the acquisition of objects from distant places: there is a "perception of qualitative difference between goods, resources, and persons deriving from 'here' and those deriving from 'there.'" (138, drawing on the work of Mary W. Helms). Gunter's discussion of the terms used to characterize "foreign" objects in the Aegean world is worth reading (140-142); she would not approve of Osborne's "gewgaws" (123).
6.   A sign that it is new is the addition (with a typo) to the Index (373): "polis, 'bith of' 129-30".
7.   Unfortunately the last sentence of Chapter 4 is unintelligible: "That this [the irrelevance of the polis in these poems] is if sic very far from making these poems irrelevant to the social and political conditions of the Greek world around 700 BC is something I explore in the next chapter" (l30).

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