Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.04.25

Dimitra Andrianou, The Furniture and Furnishings of Ancient Greek Houses and Tombs.   Cambridge/New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2009.  Pp. xvi, 213.  ISBN 9780521760874.  $80.00.  

Reviewed by Elizabeth Baughan, University of Richmond (

Table of Contents

The topic of ancient furniture may seem dated, but this new study is anything but old-fashioned. Based on a Bryn Mawr PhD thesis, it is packed not only with information about recent archaeological discoveries in Greece but also with new ways of considering old evidence and new assessments of its significance, with the help of ethnographic comparisons. Its title may at first seem somewhat misleading, given the book's primary focus on Late Classical and Hellenistic Greece, and on Macedonia in particular. But the discussion of literary and epigraphic sources in the following chapters is so wide-ranging, from Homer to Porphyry, that the book does in the end offer a general overview of furniture and furnishings (curtains, textiles, etc.) used in ancient Greece and provides a long-overdue update to Richter's classic study.1 But this new work is conceived with very different goals in mind; instead of creating a typology of ancient furniture, Dimitra Andrianou aims "to draw attention to" remaining questions of household organization and "to offer new archaeological evidence for consideration concerning the interior layout of Late Classical and Hellenistic Greek houses" (10). Form and decoration are clearly secondary, for Andrianou, to contexts of use and deposition. The primary archaeological contexts considered are domestic and funerary, but epigraphic evidence for sanctuary dedications is also dealt with in detail. It should be noted that most of the evidence and analysis presented here appeared in a pair of recent Hesperia articles by the same author.2 In fact, much of the first four chapters repeats portions of those publications. The book, however, gathers more evidence (including additional catalogued items as well as additional categories of evidence, such as containers, shelves, and looms), in a more user-friendly format that unites epigraphic with literary and physical evidence, and offers an additional exploration of the social and religious significance of furniture in Macedonian tombs.

After an introductory note, the book opens with a chapter called 'Historiography,' which discusses prior scholarship on ancient households and furniture and notes the idiosyncracies and limitations of all types of available evidence (written, visual, and excavated). Andrianou makes the important point that furniture remains have often been labeled in excavation reports as 'minor objects' and treated accordingly as less important than architectural and other finds, sometimes merely listed without indication of context, dimensions, etc. Visual representations are given less emphasis than literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence in part because they have already been explored by Richter, but also because fifth-century Attic vases are of questionable relevance for the Late Classical and Hellenistic period. Written evidence from earlier and later eras, however, is adduced throughout the book to populate the text with a rich vocabulary for furniture and furnishings and to try to illuminate their use-contexts.

Chapters Two and Three, 'Furniture' and 'Furnishings,' comprise the majority of the book. Each contains subsections devoted to particular types of furniture or furnishings (seats, bed-couches, tables, boxes, cupboards, shelves, various types of textiles, and looms), with embedded catalogue entries for most of the types that have been preserved archaeologically (physical evidence for shelves, cupboards, and weaving furniture is summarized but not catalogued). For furniture, Andrianou divides the presentation of evidence by context--domestic and funerary--but for textiles all known contexts are funerary. Distinction of context is very important for Andrianou. While she recognizes that funerary spaces may allude to contemporary domestic arrangements and that portable items placed in tombs may have been used in homes prior to burial, she is also careful to point out that all funerary furniture has a "dual meaning," as both "practical and symbolic," and so must be considered with different questions in mind (11). The catalogue presents, in all, 89 furniture items and seven textile remains from the fourth through the first centuries BCE. Readers who are looking for a comprehensive catalogue of Macedonian funerary furniture should know that Andrianou does not include items previously catalogued by Sismanidis.3 The amount of information given in the individual entries varies, depending on prior publication, but Andrianou makes an effort to include as many details of dimensions, context, and chronology as are known or published. She also includes indirect evidence such as molds for bronze furniture fittings. Though decorative schemes including figural ornament are described in individual entries, Andrianou opts not to synthesize this aspect of the evidence or to explore its significance.

The typological sections of Chapters Two and Three are punctuated with occasional sections called 'Discussion.' These contain some of the most interesting observations, such as a comparison between the banquet scene of Agios Athanasios Tomb III and the furniture of the Tekirdag tumulus in Thrace and consideration of questions of portability, multi-functionality, privacy, lighting, and the relationship of furniture to social status. Valuable insights are also found in the introductory sections that precede the catalogue entries. In the presentation of literary evidence for klinai ('bed-couches'),4 for instance, Andrianou clarifies the problem of 'Delian beds' as a modern one, based on misunderstandings of Pliny's text. Her cautious discussion in the same section of enigmatic 'sphinx-footed' klinai mentioned in Delian accounts also makes an original contribution to scholarship, although I would recommend broadening our conception of the term perhaps to include kline legs or supports that take the form of sphinxes, as known in Anatolia,5 and I would add that the golden couches of Ptolemy II's lavish banquet pavilion were likewise described as "σφιγγόποδες."6

Chapter Four complements the emphasis in the foregoing chapters on domestic and funerary contexts with a consideration of 'Sacred Furniture in Treasure Lists.'7 This evidence contributes additional vocabulary for ancient furniture and insights concerning its value, and an analysis of the function and significance of furniture in sanctuaries allows Andrianou to make further conclusions about its meaning in other contexts. The chapter begins with a glossary and discussion of terms drawn from the treasury inventories listed in three appendices, and this widens the scope of 'furniture' to include items not covered in previous chapters, such as thesauroi and pinakes. Andrianou concludes that various terms for containers in the Delian accounts may reflect scribal preference rather than real distinction of shapes or functions. Andrianou then considers 'The Significance of Furniture Dedications,' with a brief survey of literary evidence8 followed by a thoughtful and balanced discussion of cult furniture and its functions, both practical (for use in cult activities) and symbolic (for display). Andrianou identifies three possible sources for cult furniture: pieces commissioned by cult officials for this purpose; items recast from earlier metal dedications; and dedications of used or new furniture items by individuals. While items from the first two sources probably served practical functions, dedications made by individuals may have been intended for display as well as actual use. What emerges at the end of this discussion is that the same furniture types best attested in the Delian and other sanctuary treasuries are those best attested in Macedonian funerary contexts. Even assuming the underrepresentation of furniture from domestic contexts due to the limits of archaeological preservation, Andrianou finds this correlation significant.

A final brief chapter, 'Furniture, Luxury, and Funerary Symbolism in Macedonia,' draws upon this correlation and upon the concurrent lack of evidence for such luxury furnishings in Macedonian domestic contexts to suggest that overt expressions of luxury were, in Macedonia, reserved for the funerary realm, where they may have been associated with concepts of heroization and Orphic beliefs. While the discussion here is both thoughtful and thought-provoking, it nevertheless seems risky to infer that Macedonian palaces lacked the opulent thrones, klinai, and textiles attested in contemporary funerary contexts. Tombs not only offer more favorable conditions for preservation than domestic contexts, but they also reflect very different archaeological formation processes, as Andrianou herself is keen to stress elsewhere in the book.

Archaeologists and philologists alike will nevertheless be well-served by this volume, with its indices of both Greek and English terms, detailed appendices (in addition to the three listing sacred treasuries, a fourth charts the chronology of Delian houses discussed in the text), and careful presentation of primary evidence, some of it published here for the first time in English. Although there is much here of general interest for students and non-specialists, the book is pitched at a scholarly audience. Greek terms and phrases are frequent and not always translated, even when incorporated syntactically within English sentences (as when Andrianou describes the Andania inscription in her discussion of cult furniture: "A μάκρα εὔκρατον is provided to those θέλοντες βαλανεύειν ἐν τῶ [sic] ἱερῷ"). Besides two maps, illustrations are limited to catalogued items (only 23 of them). The book would benefit from the inclusion of comparative illustrations of certain works like the painted banquet scene from Agios Athanasios Tomb III, which is described at length in a 'Discussion.' Representations on vases are often cited, but without standard references (museum inventory or Beazley numbers); the reader who wants to see an image of a vase mentioned must go the specific source referenced rather than to the (now quite user-friendly) on-line Beazley archive.

The two maps included underline the modest geographic scope of the book. Aside from the remarkable Tekirdag tumulus in Turkish Thrace, all catalogued evidence comes from modern Greece. Comparative material from other regions (Etruria, Asia Minor, Cyprus, and Egypt) is sometimes mentioned, but much more could be learned, I believe, through more detailed comparisons with Alexandrian and South Italian Hellenistic tombs, which may be seen as legacies of the Macedonian tombs,9 and with earlier tombs in Anatolia, from which they probably draw their inspiration.10

Editorial errors are relatively few but notable: for example, "dinning" for "dining" occurs more than once (35, 64). Other infelicities involve word choice: for instance, "queues" for "cues" (129); and "porphyry" used in its ancient sense as an adjective synonymous with "purple" (67, 93), though this may perhaps be explained by modern Greek usage. European convention also explains the weight of 5,656 g listed for gold threads from a tomb at Pella, which must in fact be 5.656 g (93 no. 94). Another error involves the description of a box from Stavroupolis, Thessaloniki Museum *924; Θ 24; Θ 7437, illustrated in Fig. 22: it is identified as a "wooden box" in the figure caption (81), but as a "bronze box" in the catalogue entry, where the interior is described as "divided into two semi-cylindrical partitions," while the item shown in Fig. 22 clearly has more than two interior compartments.

In conclusion, this book represents a noble effort to take on a seemingly impossible task--the elusive study of the perishable, portable, and multi-functional furnishings of Late Classical and Hellenistic Greece. It supersedes the author's two Hesperia articles on the same subject by offering greater breadth and depth of discussion as well as additional evidence. Andrianou's work brings together and makes accessible many new finds previously published only in preliminary excavation reports, many of them in Greek. Scholars studying furniture from this period no longer have to synthesize evidence scattered throughout various site monographs and reports. This book will become a standard reference also for discussions of furniture terminology and value, as reflected in epigraphic sources, and it makes original contributions to scholarship on cult furniture and Macedonian luxury.


1.   G.M.A. Richter, 1966. The Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. London: Phaidon Press.
2.   ''Chairs, Beds and Tables: Evidence for Furnished Interiors in Hellenistic Greece,'' Hesperia 75:2 (2006) 219-266; ''Late Classical and Hellenistic Furniture and Furnishings in the Epigraphical Record,'' Hesperia 75:4 (2006) 561-584.
3.   K. Sismanidis. 1997. Κλίνες και κλινοειδές κατασκευές των μακεδονικών τάφων (Athens).
4.   Andrianou rightly stresses the dual functionality of klinai as beds for sleeping as well as couches for banqueting and so coins the term 'bed-couch' as the only proper translation for the word kline, but for ease of reference she refers to such furnishings as 'beds' throughout most of the text.
5.   Such as the marble kline-supports from the Harta tumulus in Lydia: I. Özgen, J. Öztürk, and M. J. Mellink edd. 1996. Heritage Recovered: The Lydian Treasure. Istanbul: Ministry of Culture, Republic of Turkey, 36-39, 67, no. 1.
6.   Ath. 5.197a. Andrianou discusses these couches elsewhere in the book without reference to this description and states that the term "σφιγγόπους" is found "only in the Delian accounts" (32).
7.   It should be noted that some material catalogued as 'domestic evidence' could have had cult use, such as no. 18, a fulcrum from Pella found "in a building complex near a small temple...along with other bronze implements that might suggest a dining area (hestiatorion?)" (34).
8.   To which could be added the offerings of Midas and Kroisos to Apollo, Hdt. 1.14, 1.50.
9.   S. Steingräber. 2000. Arpi-Apulien-Makedonien. Studien zum unteritalischen Grabwesen in hellenistischer Zeit. Mainz: Phillip von Zabern; M. S. Venit. 2002. Monumental Tombs of Ancient Alexandria. The Theater of the Dead. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; A-.M. Guimier-Sorbets and M.-D. Nenna. 2003. "Le lit funéraire dans les nécropoles alexandrines." In Nécropolis 2, vol. 2 [Études alexandrines 7], edd. J.-Y. Empereur and M.-D. Nenna, 533-575. Le Caire: Institut français d'archéologie orientale.
10.   Though these are, admittedly, less well known. See Özgen et al. 1996 (supra n. 5); E. P. Baughan. 2004, Anatolian Funerary Klinai: Tradition and Identity (Ph.D. Diss., U.C. Berkeley); C. Huguenot. 2008. La Tombe aux Erotes et la Tombe d'Amarynthos. Architecture funéraire et présence macédonienne en Grèce centrale. Eretria, vol. XIX, 39-50. Gollion: École suisse d'archéologie en Grèce. The last is cited in Andrianou's text but missing from the bibliography.

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