Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.07.27

Pia Guldager Bilde, Jane Hjarl Petersen (ed.), Meetings of Cultures in the Black Sea Region: Between Conflict and Coexistence. Black Sea Studies 8.   Aarhus:  Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2008.  Pp. 422.  ISBN 9788779344198.  $63.95.  

Reviewed by Yulia Ustinova, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (
Word count: 2147 words

Full text

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

The volume edited by Pia Guldager Bilde and Jane Hjarl Petersen includes mostly papers presented at the seventh international conference on meetings of cultures in the Black Sea region, organized by the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Black Sea Studies. The articles in the collection treat a wide range of subjects, from archaeology of Greek and indigenous settlements through history and its periodization to religious and cultural ideas. In terms of geography, the majority of papers deals with the Black Sea area, but some reach as far away from Pontus Euxeinos as Magna Graecia. The collection is divided into sections, each consisting of rather loosely connected papers united under the titles 'Setting the Scene', 'Spaces of Identity,' 'Claiming the Land', 'The Dynamics of Cultural Exchange,' and 'Mind the Gap.'

The aims of the editors are large-scale: in the spirit of post-modern rhetoric, they suggest in the Preface to study 'colonial encounters' rather than colonization and to avoid discrimination between the 'the colonized' and 'the colonizer' (p. 10). However, as the titles of several papers in the volume show, the editors failed to impose their ambition on many authors who retained traditional terminology. The lack of unity in this volume reaches however beyond semantic nuances, and even beyond expectable differences in approaches between scholars. Some papers present full-scale research with considerable bearing on the study of Greek colonization (the present reviewer prefers to stick to the old-fashion word), while many articles are publications of single sites or even separate features, which properly belong to archaeological reports rather than to a volume aspiring to propagate a conceptual change. As a result, the reader receives an assortment of papers of divergent quality which share one feature only: all of them deal with Greeks and barbarians.

The first section, 'Setting the Scene', opens with a synopsis of the historical development of the Cimmerian Bosporus by J. A. Vinogradov, who argues convincingly that major changes in the area were determined by dynamic relations between the urban centers and various indigenous peoples controlling the adjacent territories, and suggests a division of the first six centuries of the Bosporan history into seven stages.

P. Guldager Bilde raises an interesting point emphasizing the correspondence between some religious phenomena, in particular mystery cults, in the Black Sea area and in Magna Graecia, which she explains by 'diasporic experience' of the Greeks overseas. The comparison itself is very stimulating and could launch a promising investigation. However, the thesis is blurred by the use of misleading conceptions, old ones, such as 'Dionysos religion' (p. 30) or 'Dionysianism' (pp. 32, 40) which have been discarded in the study of Greek religion a long time ago, and new ones, such as 'diasporic experience' of the Greek colonists. With due respect to the trauma of any continuous break with the community of origin, diaspora--as opposed to other instances of emigration--follows a catastrophe in the native country and diasporic experience is fashioned by this catastrophe first and foremost, which is not the case of the Greek colonization. In the colonial milieu, an advantage of the Dionysiac mysteries over many other mystery cults lay in the absence of the former's attachment to a specific locality. Another reason for the popularity of Orphic and Bacchic practices and ideas could be interaction with local traditions--a cause suggested by Guldager Bilde herself. There could be other factors that are worth an in-depth study, but 'diasporic experience' does not seem to be one of them.

V. Mordvintseva proposes to re-examine current views on the propagation of the Sarmatians into the Black Sea area from the east, using as an indicative group of artifacts phalerae, presumably elements of horse harness, which in her opinion arrived in the Northern Pontic region from the West. The article is a combination of a short survey of phalerae with a detailed historiography of the issue, which hardly leads to the proposed conclusions. A much wider study of archaeological evidence and written testimonies is needed to substantiate the global change of approach suggested by the author.

The second section is entitled 'Spaces of Identity.' In his impressive paper, P. Attema evaluates the situation in the Sibaritide diachronically, making use of landscape archaeology and combining data from the urban settlement and its environment, in order to assess the nature of relations between the indigenous peoples and the Greeks. The results of this research clarify the dynamics of the Greek colonization in the Sibaritide, and contribute to the development of a nuanced approach to colonial situations elsewhere, showing that they may have differed not only from area to area, and also from period to period even in the same place. Modes of domination, exchange, conflict or co-habitation are also discussed by A. Baralis, who examines the chora of the Greek cities in the Aegean Thrace. The article demonstrates that the formation of city territory was a complex multi-dimensional process.

Although placed by the editors in a different section, the article of J. Munk Hojte joins the papers by Attema and Baralis in its keen sensitivity for the importance of local peculiarities and the fluidity of Greek-barbarian relationships. The author analyses factors determining the choice of sites for colonies, taking as his point of reference failed attempts at founding colonies. Due to this original perspective he arrives at thought-provoking insights concerning settlement patterns and modalities of intercultural relationships in the Black Sea area.

Articles by A. V. Karjaka, A. V. Gavrilov, and T. N. Smekalova in the section 'Claiming the Land', as well as contributions by M. Vickers and A. Kakhidze, and E. Kakhidze, to be found in other sections, are publications of excavations of sites and monuments or archaeological surveys of limited areas. Important as they are as accounts of precious archaeological evidence, they lack analytical and comparative aspects present in other contributions.

Four papers in the section 'The Dynamics of Cultural Exchange,' employ archaeological monuments or artifacts as evidence of cultural interaction, social stratification or ethnic complexity. J. H. Petersen emphasizes the elite context in which the kurgan burials at Nymphaion belonged. N. A. Gavriljuk suggests using black-glazed vessels discovered in Scythian burials as social indicators. L. Summerer demonstrates that Greek type decorated clay plaques of the Halys Basin attest to the variety of tastes and demands of the local elite. N. G. Novicenkova uses the excavations of a sanctuary in the Crimea Mountains to attain a better understanding of the relationships between the local tribes and the Greeks and Romans.

Papers in the section 'Mind the Gap' examine personal aspects of cultural interaction in the Black Sea area, focusing on the individual's attitudes to the other. It is noteworthy that all three authors refer, alongside other testimonies, to the story of Scyles in Herodotus and the famous 'Orphic' bone plaques from Olbia. R. Osborne demonstrates that Classical Olbia does not yield significant evidence of divergence between religious beliefs and customs of the local Greeks as compared to other Ionians, and that when the Olbians adopted new political or cultural practices, they borrowed from other Greek cities. Osborne subtly detects that it was not the origin or essence of their practices that made Olbians slightly different from other Greeks, but the selection of ideas and procedures and perhaps the way to articulate them in material form.

Among the authors of the volume, D. Braund is the only one to affirm that his starting point comes from the post-colonial discourse. However, in emphasizing the perspective of the indigenous population alongside that of the Greeks, Braund is far from being alone. He shows that figures like Anacharsis or Zalmoxis were used by Greek authors to draw attention to Greek idiosyncrasies: familiar looked strange when the beholder's eye was barbarian. Furthermore, the Greeks were not all concentrated in urban centers, they penetrated the Scythian land, and their interaction with the Scythians took place in different locations and took different forms, extending beyond economic exchange, and Braund highlights the importance of constructive engagement of the Greeks with their neighbors.

The viewpoint of G. Hinge is different; his article aims to trace 'eschatological ideology' in Herodotus' Book 4, which supposedly served to contrast Scythian nomadism and Greek civilization. That Herodotus' entire work was written to show that 'East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet', is well established; the Scythians in this context are just one of the many non-Greek peoples. However, it is not entirely clear how the five episodes of the 'eschatological string' suggested by Hinge function in this context. For example, figures like Abaris and Zalmoxis can be viewed as bridging the 'gap' between the Greeks and barbarians rather than symbolizing its insuperability, whereas Darius' crossing of the Danube can hardly be regarded as an unsuccessful initiation. Notwithstanding the ingenious presentation of the 'eschatological string' and a number of remarkable insights, Hinge's main thesis still lacks coherence.

The volume is nicely produced and reader-friendly. It is provided with four indices: of geographical names, gods and mythological figures, of ancient proper names, and of ancient authors. Nevertheless, names in the volume seem to be a problem. First of all, the title of the book appears as 'Meetings of cultures: between conflict and coexistence' on the cover, and as 'Meetings of cultures in the Black Sea region: between conflict and coexistence' on the title-page, the words 'in the Black Sea region' printed exactly in the same font as the beginning of the title. Furthermore, in the Preface the editors refer to an article by A. Baralis and A. Riapov (p. 10). Riapov's name is dropped in the contents and in the title on pages 101-130, where A. Baralis appears as the only author. The reader is left to guess 'what's in the name', of the volume and of the article. The editors also made some strange spelling choices. Throughout the volume, the name of M. Rostovtzeff is spelt as Rostovcev (p. 18, 47, 56 and elsewhere). Although a legitimate transcription of the Russian name, this spelling looks rather bizarre. Rostovtzeff himself signed his works in European languages in several ways (Rostowtzeff, Rostovtseff, Rostowcew), and it would be natural to make use of the form most common in his English works, which is Rostovtzeff. A. Khazanov whose most important works were published during several decades in English, chose how to spell his name in this language. Why not to respect his decision, and to invent Chazanov (p. 237), an enigma to non-Russian-speaking readers?

To sum up: Many papers in the volume propose interesting insights into various aspects of Greek colonization. The articles are of uneven quality, treat a large variety of subjects and address readers with divergent interests. As a whole, the collection is a noteworthy contribution to the Black Sea studies.


Preface (9-12)

Jurij A. Vinogradov, Rhythms of Eurasia and the Main Historical Stages of the Kimmerian Bosporos in Pre-Roman Times (13-27)

Pia Guldager Bilde, Some Reflections on Eschatological Currents, Diasporic Experience, and Group Identity in the Northwestern Black Sea Region (29-45)

Valentina Mordvinseva, Phalerae of Horse Harness in Votive Depositions of the 2nd-1st century BC in the North Pontic Region and the Sarmatian Paradigm (47-65)

Peter Attema, Conflict or Coexistence? Remarks on Indigenous Settlement and Greek Colonization in the Foothills and Hinterland of the Sibaritide (Northern Calabria, Italy) (67-99)

Alexandre Baralis, The Chora Formation of the Greek Cities of Aegean Thrace. Towards a Chronological Approach to the Colonization Process (101-130)

Michael Vickers and Amiran Kakhidze, A Kolchian and Greek Settlement: Excavations at Picvnari 1967 to 2005 (131-148)

Jakob Munk Hojte, The Cities that Never Were. Failed Attempts at Colonization in the Black Sea (149-162)

Alexander V. Karjaka, The Defense Wall in the Northern Part of the Lower City of Olbia Pontike (163-180)

Alexander V. Karjaka, The Demarcation System of the Agricultural Environment of Olbia Pontike (181-192)

Alexander V. Gavrilov, The First Results of the Archaeological Surveys near Cape Cauda and Lake Kacik on the Kerch Peninsula (193-206)

Tatiana N. Smekalova, Archaeological Sites of the Southwestern Part of Bosporos and their Connection to the Landscape (207-213)

Jane Hjarl Petersen, Kurgan Burials from Nymphaion--A New Approach (215-235)

Nadezda A. Gavriljuk, Social and Economic Stratification of the Scythians from the Steppe Region Based on Black-glazed Pottery from Burials (237-261)

Latife Summerer, Indigenous Responses to Encounters with the Greeks in Northern Anatolia: The Reception of Architectural Terracottas in the Iron Age Settlements of the Halys Basin (263-286)

Natalia G. Novicenkova, Mountainous Crimea: A Frontier Zone of Ancient Civilization (287-301)

Emzar Kakhidze, Apsaros: A Roman Fort in Southwestern Georgia (303-332)

Robin Osborne, Reciprocal Strategies: Imperialism, Barbarism and Trade in Archaic and Classical Olbia (333-346)

David Braund, Scythian Laughter: Conversations in the Northern Black Sea Region in the 5th Century BC (347-367)

George Hinge, Dionysos and Herakles in Scythia - The Eschatological String of Herodotos' Book 4 (369-397)

Indices (399-420)

Contributors (421-422)

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