Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.09.44

Fede Berti, Roberta Fabiani, Zeynep Kızıltan, Massimo Nafissi (ed.), Marmi erranti. I marmi di Iasos presso i musei archeologici di Istanbul. Gezgin Taşlar. İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri'ndeki Iasos Mermerleri. Wandering marbles. Marbles of Iasos at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. (İstanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri 7.12.2010 - 4.7.2011).   Istanbul:  Istanbul Arkeoloji Müzeleri Müdürlüğü, 2010.  Pp. 243.  ISBN 9786058839472.  

Reviewed by Esen Öğüş, New York University School, Institute of Fine Arts (

This exhibition catalogue examines a group of marble objects from Iasos in Caria, modern day Turkey, that were brought to Istanbul between 1886 and 1890 prior to the start of systematic excavations on the site. These objects were exported from Iasos and slated for use in construction projects in the capital. Instead, they were acquired by Osman Hamdi Bey, the first director of the then Imperial Ottoman Museum (today the Istanbul Archaeological Museum), which was under construction for the purpose of displaying the sarcophagi from the Sidon necropolis. The ‘marbles’ were placed in the Museum garden and have remained there ever since. An exhibition of the marble statue bases, honorific inscriptions, statues and a sarcophagus from Iasos—hence the ‘wandering marbles’— was recently organized in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Italian excavations in Iasos. The 12 objects presented in this catalogue were recently restored and placed in their original positions in the Museum garden. Some of them had never been published before, and certainly not as a group.

The exhibition was among the events acknowledged by the Agency of ‘Istanbul, 2010 European Capital of Culture,’ and the catalogue was made possible by the collaborative efforts of both Turkish and Italian authors. It is a trilingual volume (Italian, Turkish and English, in that order), which consists of a brief introduction, eight short essays, a catalogue of the 12 marble objects, and 29 black-and-white plates.

The introduction is written by Fede Berti, the director of the Iasos excavations, and Zeynep Kızıltan, the director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums and very briefly narrates the circumstances of the discovery of the marbles and the occasion for this exhibition and catalogue.

The following eight short essays target a general audience and do not assume any prior historical or archaeological knowledge. They are gathered under two sections, each consisting of four essays. The first section (essays I-IV), called: “Iasos: a historical and archaeological outline,” sets the broader historical and geographical context by shedding light on the history and settlement patterns of the site. The first essay, by Roberta Fabiani, ‘Historical profile,” summarizes the history of Iasos from the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity backed up by historical documents. The second essay, by Fede Berti, “Fifty years of Italian excavations at Iasos,” contrary to what the title suggests, does not provide a history of the excavations, but instead is concerned with the history of urban development and various urban structures (cult buildings, agora, necropoleis, etc.) within the overall layout of the city. The third essay, “From Iasos to Kıyıkışlacık: a history yet to be written,” by Raffaella Pierobon Benoit, surveys the history of the settlement and its economic resources from the ancient site to the modern village of Kıyıkışlacık. The fourth and final essay of this section is by Gianfranco Maddoli: “Memory and rediscovery.” It presents the history of epigraphic/archaeological research on the Iasian inscribed blocks beginning with their transfer to Istanbul. It also gives a brief account of how the excavation project was taken up by the Italians.

The second group of essays (V-VIII) is gathered under the title: “Iasian marbles at Istanbul: history from the stones.” This section has a more focused approach, aiming to place the marble objects in their historical context. The first essay , “The Hecatomnids and Caria” by Massimo Nafissi, is a brief yet significant summary of the history of the dynasty, their influence in Caria, and their ability to maintain the sensitive balance between the Greek and Persian worlds. The second essay, by Roberta Fabiani, “The élite and the polis: politics, euergetism and honours,” focuses on honorific practices in Iasos from the second century BC onwards. Drawing evidence from Iasian inscriptions, some of which are not in the catalogue, Fabiani establishes a solid foundation to help better understand the nature of the honorific inscriptions included in the exhibition. Mustafa H. Sayar’s essay, “The gymnasium during the Hellenistic and Roman periods,” is a broad and useful overview of gymnasium culture and clarifies the terminology used in many of the inscriptions (e.g. gymnasiarch or paidonomos). It is difficult, however, to establish the connection between the city of Iasos and this broad overview. Thus one wishes that the correspondences between the concepts he explains and the city of Iasos were made more explicit. The concluding essay in the book, by Şehrazat Karagöz, “The figured marbles of Iasos,” focuses on two draped female statues and one garland sarcophagus in the collection. Regarding the former, the essay stresses the practice of honoring women, an innovation that took place in the Hellenistic period. Although both statues were dated by the author to the second century BC, the monument of Plancia Magna from Perge, dated to the second century AD, is introduced as a comparandum. Therefore, one wonders what other comparanda closer in date and relevance to the Iasian statues might be available. In addition, Karagöz mentions the sarcophagus as being related to the Aphrodisian garland sarcophagi, but fails to cite the most recent publication by Fahri Işık on this group.1

It is impossible to comment on every item in the catalogue, but a general categorization will clarify their nature. Of the 12 objects, four are inscribed statue bases (nos. 1, 4, 8, 9); two are blocks or columns inscribed with honorific decrees (nos. 3, 6); and two are statues (nos. 10, 11). The remaining four are: an inscribed exedra for three statues (no. 2); an architrave block (no. 5); a column with graffiti (no. 7); and a sarcophagus (no. 12). The catalogue would have been more easily followed if these objects were categorized in groups, or at least if similar objects were presented consecutively.

Sections from some of the inscriptions (nos. 1-9) are published in the book for the very first time. They include nos. 1 B (honorary decree for the athlete T. Flavius Metrobios); 4 B-E (graffiti on the statue base of T. Flavius Metrobios); 6 B-D (graffiti on the honorary decree for paidonomos C.Iulius Capito); and 7 K-V (column with agonistic graffiti).

Each of the catalogue entries for the inscribed blocks (nos. 1-9) are written collectively by various authors, namely by Nicolò Masturzo, Massimo Nafissi, Roberta Fabiani. They include the Greek transcription of the text and a translation in three modern languages (Italian, Turkish and English). The inscriptions range in date from the Classical period to the Roman. The entries successfully present the significance of the text, its particular nature, historical context, and speculate about the archaeological context of the object. Even a non-specialist would enjoy reading these entries, as they were written lucidly to illuminate the broad historical meaning of the objects and their inscriptions.

The catalogue entries, with the exception of nos. 8 and 9, are accompanied by drawings of the inscribed blocks, which is one of the primary strengths of the book. However, one wishes the catalogue had also provided photographs of the feet impressions on the statue bases of Theaitetos Leon (no. 8), and Iulia Domna (no. 9). Yet this may have been impossible for the publishers since these bases today support unrelated statues.

The catalogue entries for the statues and the sarcophagus from Iasos (nos. 10-12) were written by a single author, Şehrazat Karagöz. Both honorific statues depict draped female figures and are dated by the author to the second century BC. No. 10 is a headless female wearing a chiton belted underneath the breasts, and a himation wrapped around the hips and draped over the left shoulder. The reasoning for a mid-second century BC date is not explained. With the context unknown, it is unclear on what evidence this statue was dated to the second century BC, as opposed to, for example, the early imperial period. Similar examples from the Julio-Claudian period exist in Aphrodisias and provide the most obvious comparanda.2

No. 11 is another headless draped female figure from the later second century BC and , as the author suggests, is of the so-called ‘Nikokleia’ type.3 The author’s speculation that the missing head should have been facing left like that of Plancia Magna from Perge is not entirely convincing for methodological reasons, as about 300 years separate the two statues.

Finally, no. 12 is the garland sarcophagus from Iasos. The description does justice to the well-preserved and elaborately decorated chest. As mentioned above, however, Fahri Işık’s volume on Aphrodisian garland sarcophagi should have been cited for relevant comparanda.4

The content of the volume aside, the print quality of the black-and-white plates is quite poor. Most of the inscriptions are already poorly preserved on the discolored blocks and thus are hardly visible in the photos, if at all. Note especially plates XIII, 2 (exedra dedicated to Phormion) and XXIII, 1 (column with agonistic graffiti). On the latter one, no graffiti are visible in the photo at all, and a much needed close-up image is not included. For the statuary and the sarcophagus, the photos are flat and would require more contrast to allow one to see details properly (Pls. XXVI, 1; XXVII, 1; XXVIII, 1, 2; and XXIX, 1). Photos of the statuary from other angles would have been useful as well. If a view from the back was impossible, then shots taken from the sides might have yielded clues about the original setting.

Overall, however, the book is quite useful to understand the significance of this group of objects in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. It provides epigraphic interpretation of various inscribed objects, and presents material evidence from a Carian city, albeit from a lost context, to better understand the city’s history from the Classical period to the Roman. Being a collaborative effort between Italian and Turkish archaeologists, the book is particularly significant as part of the larger program to showcase the cultural potential of Istanbul as the 2010 European Capital of Culture.


1.   Işık, F. 2007. Girlanden-Sarkophage aus Aphrodisias. Mit einem Beitrag zu den Inschriften von Joyce M. Reynolds und Charlotte Roueché. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.
2.   Smith, R.R.R. 2006. Roman Portrait Statuary from Aphrodisias. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern, Cat: 81, 82, 95.
3.   Eule, J.C. 2001. Hellenistische Bürgerinnen aus Kleinasien. Weibliche Gewandstatuen in ihrem antiken Kontext. Istanbul: Task Vakfı, 25-33.
4.   See footnote 1.

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2011
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review
Bryn Mawr Classical Commentaries

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
HTML generated at 11:45:52, Thursday, 22 September 2011