Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.38

Sharon R. Steadman, Gregory McMahon (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia, 10,000-323 B.C.E.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011.  Pp. xvii, 1174.  ISBN 9780195376142.  $175.00.  

Reviewed by Naoíse Mac Sweeney, University of Leicester (


The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia is a weighty volume, both in terms of its sheer mass and also its editorial ambition. The aim of the book, as stated both on OUP’s website and in the introduction of the volume itself, is to provide a comprehensive overview of Anatolia from the early Neolithic until the death of Alexander of Macedon in 323 BCE. To this end, the book comprises fifty-two separate chapters, organised into five sections. Since not all of these chapters can be discussed here, only a few highlights will be mentioned.

In the Introduction, the editors make the case for a handbook that is defined neither culturally nor politically, but geographically. Anatolia, they point out, has always seen high levels of cultural interaction and hybridity. To treat each of the many Anatolian groups in isolation would be both to miss important aspects of these groups and also to ignore a vital characteristic feature of Anatolia itself. After this, the geographical boundaries of Anatolia are defined, and the chronological limits of the handbook are discussed. Following this introduction, the first main section of the book sets the stage by tackling issues of ‘Background and Definition’. Matthews and Yakar provide authoritative introductions to the history of Anatolian archaeology as a discipline, and the issues surrounding Anatolian chronology respectively. These contributions establish a clear framework for the rest of the handbook.

The second section, entitled ‘Chronology and Geography’, is the largest of the book. It is likely to be the most obviously useful to those consulting the handbook to gain an initial familiarity with a particular region or period. The section takes the form of a chronological survey, with subsections for Prehistory (comprising the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic), the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Bronze Age, the Late Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Within each of these subsections there are between two and five chapters, each dealing with a geographical region within Anatolia. For example, the subsection on the Late Bronze Age contains a chapter by Bryce on western Anatolia, one by Seeher on central Anatolia, and one by Gates on south and southeastern Anatolia. This structure allows for a good level of regional detail without compromising breadth. However, the coverage is patchy, and not all regions of Anatolia are covered in all the subsections. For example, neither the Prehistory nor the Early Bronze Age subsections contain chapters on western Anatolia. Steadman does compensate for this somewhat in her chapter on central Anatolia in the Early Bronze Age, but the inclusion of western sites is not reflected in the title of her chapter and so could easily be missed. In general, northern and western Anatolia are less well covered, and more attention is paid to the plateau and the southeast. In terms of their content, the chapters in this section generally conform to a regular format, discussing key sites and/or archaeological phenomena. Some chapters deviate from this format, especially when there is a need to integrate archaeological and textual evidence within a single chapter. This is handled well in some chapters, such as Gates’ chapter on southern and southeastern Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age, and Matney’s chapter on the Iron Age in southeastern Anatolia. Bryce’s chapter on western Anatolia in the Late Bronze Age represents a missed opportunity in this respect, as the inclusion of more archaeological material, a more critical assessment of the textual evidence, and a fuller bibliography would have allowed for a more nuanced view.

The third section addresses ‘Philological and Historical Topics’. Chapters focus on four Anatolian languages – Hittite, Luwian, Urartian and Phrygian – and the population groups associated with them. Each of these chapters includes a brief history of the study of the language in question, an introduction to the language, and a discussion of the range of textual sources available. Following this are two chapters by Beal and Sams, which offer historical narratives for the second and first millennia, respectively. These narratives are broad and introductory, and in places overlap with the relevant chapters in the previous section. The section ends with a chapter by Harmanşah which considers rock- cut monuments in the landscape, from the Neolithic at Göbekli Tepe until the Iron Age in Phrygia. As with the previous section on ‘Chronology and Geography’, ‘Philological and Historical Topics’ is also somewhat patchy. Only a selection of Anatolian languages is introduced, and the absence of chapters on Lydian, Lycian, Carian, and Greek is notable. In addition, it is not clear why the final three chapters were grouped with the first four. While all the chapters in this section primarily work from texts and visual culture rather than archaeology in the strict sense, they are considerably different in aims and content. The chapters by Beal and Sams may have been more at home in the second section as introductory surveys of particular time periods, whilst that of Harmanşah may have fitted well into the fourth section.

The fourth section of the handbook is titled ‘Thematic and Specific Topics’. Chapters in this section introduce a range of current debates in Anatolian studies, often highlighting areas of particular scholarly activity and discussion. Some of the key debates introduced are: the arrival of Indo-European speakers (in the chapter by Melchert); the status of Troy in networks of trade and exchange (Jablonka); the interpretation of the Chalcolithic period as a period of static continuity (Düring); the role played by metals and metallurgy in social developments (Muhly); and the nature of Hittite imperial power (Glatz and van den Hout). Amongst these chapters, many focus on connections and interactions with groups beyond the geographical boundaries of Anatolia: Özdoğan’s chapter discusses interaction between Anatolia and continental Europe through Thrace; Sagona traces the connections between Anatolia and the Transcaucasus; Radner considers relations between the Urartians and the Assyrians, and Rothman outlines interactions between Anatolia and the societies of Chalcolithic Mesopotamia.

The fifth section focuses on ‘Key Sites’ in Anatolia. Opinions of which sites should be included in a list of key Anatolian sites will necessarily vary from scholar to scholar, and there are several sites that are notable by their absence here. Nonetheless, this section does offer a good range of examples from prehistory to the Iron Age. There are chapters on Göbekli Tepe, Çatalhöyük, Ilıpınar, Titriş Höyük, Kültepe-Kaneš, Ayanis, Gordion, Kaman-Kalehöyük and Sardis, as well as a chapter by Mielke comparing five key Hittite sites. On the whole, these chapters offer accessible guides to the sites they describe, outlining the history of research and key issues in interpretation as well as offering an introduction to the archaeological remains. The content of these chapters occasionally overlaps with that of chapters in the second section. However, this is not problematic, as individual readers will need to consult this handbook in different ways and for different reasons.

It is significant that throughout the handbook, the individual chapters are generally of a high quality, and provide readers with accessible points of entry into a wide range of topics and periods. The bibliographies at the end of each chapter are crucial for this, as they enable readers to seek out more information on specific issues. For many topics therefore, the handbook is a useful point of reference and starting introduction. But whilst the individual chapters are for the most part excellent, I have two concerns about the handbook as a whole.

The first concern lies in the claim of comprehensive coverage, made by both the editors and the publishers. Whilst a fully comprehensive handbook may perhaps never be possible, there are nonetheless several areas that are conspicuous by their absence, which would not have been difficult to include. As already mentioned, notable neglected topics include western and northern Anatolia in general, and western Anatolian languages and population. In addition to these issues already identified, there is also surprisingly little mention in this handbook of the Achaemenid period (there are only brief passages in the chapters by Sams and Harl). Given that the chronological frame of the book closes with the death of Alexander, this is a significant gap.1 The second concern is over the treatment of the Greek settlements of western Anatolia. Greeks are treated somewhat differently from other migrant groups to the peninsula,2 and relatively little information is included on the archaeology of Greek sites (save for parts of the chapter by Greaves). In addition, many of the chapters that do rely on Greek literary sources adopt a somewhat positivist approach to the texts, which no longer represents current scholarship. It is now widely accepted that literary sources do not simply transmit historical fact, but are shaped by social expectations and convention, as well as having their own impact on social perceptions. Harl’s chapter in particular would have benefited from the inclusion of more insights from recent research.

Overall, the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia has much to recommend it. Most of its chapters are well written, researched, and presented, and will serve their purpose of introducing readers to ancient Anatolia admirably. The project was an ambitious one, involving the co-ordination of fifty-six scholars based in more than ten different countries, and the finished volume represents a rich resource for students and established scholars alike. However, greater consistency would have been desirable, both between the chapters to maintain the high quality and up-to- date approaches throughout, and also in terms of content and coverage to avoid leaving major gaps in the presentation of Anatolian antiquity.


1.   Given the contents and coverage of the volume, it might have been better to close the chronological span with the Achaemenid conquest. Indeed, the unification of Anatolia within a single political structure marked a radical departure from previous periods and so may have been an appropriate point at which to stop.
2.   It is argued in the introduction that Greek inscriptions and texts can only offer us the perspective of ‘outsiders’ on Anatolia (p.7), even when written by Anatolian Greeks. In contrast, the writings of Assyrian merchants at Kültepe-Kaneš are described as useful sources (p.8).

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