Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.09.31

Kalliope Sarri, Orchomenos IV: Orchomenos in der mittleren Bronzezeit. Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch - historische. Klasse, Abhandlungen, n.F. 135.   München:  Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften; in Kommission beim Verlag C. H. Beck, 2010.  Pp. 479.  ISBN 9783769601237.  €144.00.  

Reviewed by Peter Pavúk, Comenius University (

Table of Contents

Few sites have as long a history of research, and as complicated a history of publication, as Orchomenos in Boeotia. First excavated in 1880-1881 by Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered the famous Treasury of Minyas, the site was subject to more systematic excavation under the direction of Heinrich Bulle in 1903 and 1905. Stratigraphy and description of architecture were published by Bulle in 1907 almost immediately after excavation, with Neolithic and EBA pottery published somewhat later in 1931 and 1934 by E. Kunze. P.A. Mountjoy’s volume on the Mycenaean pottery followed only in 1983.1 However, the core of the material, MBA in date, remained unpublished. In addition, by the 1990s, only part of the excavation documentation survived, and a majority of pottery fragments could no longer be assigned to their original contexts. Nevertheless, given the lack of excavated and published sites with a continuous stratigraphy in Boeotia (Eutresis aside), the study and presentation of this material is more than worth the effort.

Kalliope Sarri's book, based on her 1998 University of Heidelberg PhD dissertation, is titled Orchomenos in the Middle Bronze Age although half of the material presented falls in fact within the early Late Bronze Age. One cannot blame the author for the choice of a title: it stands firmly within a longer tradition begun when Hetty Goldman assigned Eutresis strata contemporary with LH I-II periods in the Argolid to her Third Building Horizon of the MBA. 2 Thus, the designation MBA must be taken here as a generic one, including also MH traditions in the early LH period, a definition that is stressed also by Sarri herself, if not reflected in the title of the book.

For this reason, the book needs to be read together with the previous volume on Mycenaean pottery by Mountjoy, as both cover the Early Mycenaean period (LH I and II). Mountjoy published mainly the decorated Mycenaean pottery and only a small selection of the undecorated, which is itself hard to date on its own. However, the majority of the accompanying pottery for the Early Mycenaean period is published in the present volume! Only merging the two sets makes it clear that there must have been a considerable occupation in LH I and II at Orchomenos, with thriving pottery industry, one that showed notably few Mycenaean influences at first.

Following the introductory pages, the volume begins with a discussion of the geographical context of the site, especially its proximity to the ancient Kopais lake (Die Umwelt, pp. 11-22). The information contained in this chapter has relatively little direct bearing on the following pottery discussion, but it offers a very good summary of the problems and contains some interesting insights into possible climate changes during the earlier part of the 2nd millennium.

The next chapter (Der Fundort, pp. 23-54) deals with the history of research, excavation and recording methodology. It offers an almost day-by-day account of the Bavarian excavations, as well as brief descriptions of all uncovered contexts (strata, features, structures), complemented by two reconstructed trench profiles (cross-sections) and a new edition of plans at the end of the volume. This chapter, based primarily on the original publication by H. Bulle, also offers new observations resulting from a re-evaluation of the original day-books and study of the preserved ceramic material. Quite useful as well is the author's account of all cist and other types of MBA graves throughout the excavated area.

The various architectural phases follow the colour code on the original plans in the 1907 Bulle publication. The so- called Botrosschicht, or Green Phase, consists of free standing oval buildings, as well as of the eponymous bothroi, which can now be dated to EH III. Its last sub-phase possibly overlaps with MH I, as it already contained some fully developed Grey Minyan Ware. Oval houses seem to continue to the next Blue Phase, by the end of which angular buildings come into existence which seem to form insulae. The following Yellow Phase dates according to Sarri to MH II. This date, however, is based on Sarri’s stratigraphic re-dating of the Burned Building (Das Verbrannte Haus) from Blue to Yellow Phase, which, based on the pottery in situ, does indeed date to MH II. However, its exact position in the sequence is not known and it is thus unclear whether this date applies to the Yellow phase in general, or only to this single context. The Orange Phase is not very well preserved and was dated to MH III, overlapping with LH I, followed by a fully Mycenaean Pink Phase (Tab. 8 on p. 233). However, given the large amount of typologically late pottery, I would suggest making the Yellow Phase last until MH III and move the Orange Phase to LH I and II.

The largest part of the volume is dedicated to the descriptions of wares and pottery shapes (Das Fundmaterial, pp. 55-196). Since most of the material can no longer be attributed to their original contexts, the whole lot has been treated as one group. It is thus hard to produce any statistics. The numbers offered below reflect only my approximate ratios calculated within the best represented category, the so called “Minyan”, recognisable by the typical surface treatment. Sarri differentiates several variants: Grey Minyan (29% of Minyan only), Grey Minyan Coarse (9%), Brown Minyan (5%), Yellow Minyan (18%) and Red Minyan (39%). Sarri also attempted to distinguish and define further sub-variants, which, while they may well exist, are hard to work with without the actual pieces at hand. Whereas Brown Minyan is possibly just a misfired (?) sub-variant of the Grey Minyan represented by only a few pieces, Yellow and Red Minyan set themselves apart both in terms of shape typology and decoration. The use of term Red Minyan is a bit confusing here, since earlier literature used it for a different ware, a red-slipped ware of Aeginetan affinities. Sarri, however, uses it to describe a reddish variant of the Yellow Minyan, typically decorated with bichrome matt paint in the so called Mainland Polychrome Style. This type of decoration was also applied to the Yellow Minyan Ware, but less often. As for the pottery with painted decoration in general, there was, not unlike Eutresis, a whole range of wares and styles in use at Orchomenos. The majority overlapped with the wheel-made Yellow and Red Minyan (see above), while others belonged to the Wace and Thompson's Δ1β ware known from Thessaly,3 with only a few resembling the handmade matt-painted wares we know from Argolis and Aegina. Some might in fact be direct imports from those areas. Nevertheless, Central Greece was home to a whole range of regional matt-painted styles and fabrics, which, as has been pointed out by David French and Joseph Maran4 need further systematic study. Notable as well is the occurrence of one MM IIA fragment imported from Crete. As for the Coarse Wares, the original excavators seem to have preserved only a small selection (a mere 100 fragments out of ca. 3000 processed by Sarri). Worth mentioning is a good collection of the so-called Adriatic Ware, mainly as one-handled cooking (?) pots, decorated with incised herring-bone patterns, which may have a functional rather than ornamental purpose.

The shapes have been dealt with typologically, irrespective of wares. This is partly understandable, as it offered a rather objective way to categorise the material. Each shape is described in detail, its use considered, technical aspects pointed out, occurrence of different sizes noted, followed by definition of typological variants and discussion of decoration and chronology. Where possible, find contexts of the respective pieces were noted. The accompanying catalogue contains over 890 entries. Future studies may find it fruitful to attempt to look at the shapes by ware, as there seems to be a great deal of development through time and within the wares. Again, the absence of contexts makes everything more complicated.

Despite this obstacle, the material can, in my view, be subdivided quite well and dated typologically. A small number of fragments belong to MH I, which is quite important, as this phase is not recognisable on most of the other Central Greek sites. The rest of the pottery falls more or less nicely into two stages: an older one consisting mainly of MH II and a more recent one dating to LH I(-II). Unclear so far is the definition of MH III (or even its existence as a meaningful typo-chronological phase), as well as the end of the more recent phase: is it LH IIA or LH IIB? By LH IIIA2 the entire pottery production on the site, both decorated and undecorated, is already fully Mycenaean. Thus, the change must have happened before that. Similar development can be seen in Eutresis and to some extent also in Kirra and other sites. It is thus no longer true that Central Greece is almost deserted in Early Mycenaean Period, as might have seemed to be the case from the extensive surveys. However, something definitely changes at the end of the MH Period, as we have increased occurrence of cist graves within(?) the settlements, followed soon by the occurrence of the first built chamber tombs, which, however, are a phenomenon in their own right.5

Possibly even more interesting than what we have from Orchomenos is what is missing at Orchomenos. There is no hand-made Dark Burnished Ware and also no two-handled bowls with ribbed shoulder and incised festoons on the lower body, both so typical for most of Peloponnese and with a distribution as far North as Eutresis. Absent too is the already mentioned Red Slipped Ware, as well as the typical stemmed shallow carinated bowls/plates, which are again present at Eutresis, but in both cases absent in Kirra, which seems to suggest some kind of northern limit for the distribution of both types. Likewise missing or almost completely absent are the Grey Minyan semiglobular cups with hollowed lip and Vapheio cups, both dating to LH I in the Argolis. Again both are represented at Eutresis.

The concluding chapters offer a good synthesis of the information scattered throughout the book and are published in both English and Greek. The first chapter is also of a more general character and can be assigned even to undergraduate students. The rest of the book, however, is a bit too specific for such purposes and is largely for experts only. Nevertheless, anyone dealing with first half of the 2nd millennium in Central Greece should consult this book as a source of useful comparanda for inter-regional studies. The volume is a major contribution to our knowledge of MBA and early LBA Boeotia, but much work remains to be done.6


1.   H. Bulle, Orchomenos I. Die älteren Ansiedlungsschichten. AbhMünchen XXIV, 2 (München 1907); E. Kunze, Orchomenos II. Die neolithische Keramik. AbhMünchen, N.F. 5 (München 1931); E. Kunze, Orchomenos III. Die Keramik der frühen Bronzezeit. AbhMünchen, N.F. 8 (München 1931); P.A. Mountjoy, Orchomenos V. Mycenaean Pottery from Orchomenos, Eutresis and Other Boeotian Sites. AbhMünchen, N. F. 89 (München 1983).
2.   H. Goldman, Excavations at Eutresis in Boeotia (Cambridge 1931).
3.   A.J.B. Wace - M.S.Thomson, Prehistoric Thessaly (Cambridge 1931) 20.
4.   D.H. French, Notes on Prehistoric Pottery Groups from Central Greece (Athens 1972); J. Maran, Die Deutschen Ausgrabungen auf der Pevkakia-Magula in Thessalien III. Die Mittlere Bronzezeit. BAM 30–31 (Bonn 1992).
5.   N. Papadimitriou, Built Chamber Tombs of Middle and Late Bronze Age Date in Mainland Greece and the Islands. BARIntSer 925 (Oxford 2001).
6.   My own perspectives can be found in P. Pavúk – B. Horejs, Mittel- und spätbronzezeitliche Keramik Griechenlands. Sammlung Fritz Schachermeyr III (Vienna, in print).

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