Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.60

Yannis A. Lolos, Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State. Hesperia supplements, 39.   Princeton:  American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011.  Pp. xxviii, 635.  ISBN 9780876615393.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota (

Table of Contents

Land of Sikyonis a handsomely produced and impeccably edited volume that includes a massive amount of new information on Sikyon produced over the course of a diachronic, extensive archaeological survey initiated by Yannis Lolos as part of his dissertation research and expanded in subsequent field seasons. Moreover, Lolos's book provides valuable and extensive synthesis of past work in the region and a careful study of relevant ancient texts. This work is a groundbreaking study of this city and its countryside.

A short introduction presents the scope and method of the work. Lolos's survey revisited numerous sites previously documented and identified over two centuries of fieldwork in Sikyonia. To discover new sites, Lolos employed the "kapheneion" method first articulated by Y. Pikoulas in his work in the Peloponnesus.1 This involved talking with local people to secure information on antiquities in the landscape and then finding local guides to the most significant finds in the field. Once Lolos visited and confirmed archaeological features or artifact scatters, he then conducted an intensive artifact collection to define the area of the city and its chronology. This combination of extensive survey and intensive and systematic artifact collection has obvious limits. Scholars now generally accept that sampling a region in an intensive way is likely to a produce a dramatic increase in the number of sites particular for periods that are less easily recognized or less well preserved in the surface record. It would have made Lolos's book stronger if he had explored these limits more critically.

The first chapter examines the "Physical Environment and Resources" of Sikyonia by providing a detailed description of the topography, geology, climate, flora, fauna, and agricultural resources of the region. The section is thorough and should become the standard citation for many basic details concerning the natural geography of the northern Peloponnesus. Like Lolos's treatment of method, however, this section feels slightly disjointed from the rest of the work. Whereas many intensive survey projects use the geography of the region to guide their sampling of the landscape or to explain the organization of settlement, Lolos's work tends to shy away from such ecological arguments. It remains unclear, for example, whether his arguments for the relationships between settlement and various environmental resources are the product of his survey’s sampling strategy or past land use preferences. Even with such potential biases in the data collection methods, Lolos’s work confirms the viability of the ancient authors who celebrated the region’s agricultural wealth.

The second chapter provides a thorough study of ancient texts related to Sikyonia and a brief, but informative, discussion of the Medieval and Ottoman history of the region. As dictated by the sources, most of this section emphasizes the military and political events and the status of the region in relation to more powerful or larger political entities ranging from the Spartans in the Classical era to the succeeding Roman and Byzantine states. While it is remarkable that such an apparently wealthy region did not feature more prominently in political history and textual sources, it is also clear that during the Archaic and Hellenistic period Sikyon played a more significant role in regional politics than scholars have sometimes appreciated. Lolos's efforts to continue his study of the history of Sikyon into the post-antique period is commendable, although he is clearly (and understandably) less comfortable with the diverse array of sources for the Late Roman, Medieval, and Ottoman period declines.

Chapters 3 to 6 are the heart of this book. Chapter 3 is a detailed study of the ancient, medieval, and early modern roads in the region. For many scholars of the northeast Peloponnesus, Lolos's dissertation has stood as a battered and dog-eared companion for the perambulations and re-imaginations of military movements and the routes of ancient and modern travelers through the area. The published version of this text is not only expanded, but also complemented with vivid maps and clear photographs. Lolos identified numerous stretches of previously undocumented wheel ruts and bridges that allowed him to reconstruct at least partially the major ancient routes into the city and its territory. Recent work on the routes through the western Corinthian and the territory of Kleonai now allow scholars to present a rather extensive - if not comprehensive - picture of travel from the Isthmus of Corinth to points west and south. It is unfortunate that Lolos's did not have the opportunity to integrate Jeannie Marchand's recent work on the road network of Kleonai into his study.2

Chapter 4 considers the remains of urban and rural fortifications in Sikyonia. A detailed study of the city's fortification wall addresses the vexing question of whether Sikyon featured a series of long walls connecting the city to its port like Athens and Corinth. While the evidence for the long walls remains problematic, Lolos argues convincingly on the basis of texts and archaeological remains that a wall of some kind separated the city of Sikyon from its harbor even if evidence remains tenuous for long walls linking the ancient urban core to the port across the plain.

Lolos's discussion of rural defenses in Sikyonia may be more valuable for scholars. Since the publication of J. Ober's Fortress Attica in 1985,3 the study of rural fortified sites has attracted sustained interest among archaeologists of the Classical and Hellenistic Greece. Lolos's work continues in the spirit of Ober in arguing that Classical and Hellenistic fortifications in Sikyonia served the interest of the state and protected vulnerable arteries into the territory. His treatment of these fortifications does not take into account recent work on rural fortifications in the Corinthia, however, nor does it address in a critical or extended way the growing chorus of scholars who have questioned whether such rural installations were fortifications coordinated by the state or erected by local communities or even individuals.4 Despite the limited perspectives offered by Lolos's argument, his work to clarify or document the range of rural fortifications in Sikyonia commendable.

The analysis of settlement patterns forms the core of most recent regional studies, and chapter 5 of Lolos's book features a detailed discussion of settlement in Sikyonia. For all the advantages of the "kapheneion method" of survey, it remains unsystematic and relying on local informants rather than a more blind sampling methods runs the risk of biasing results toward more recent patterns of settlement and rural activity. As a result, this section of the book is appealing as a starting point for the documentation of the dynamic character of the countryside, but unconvincing as a model for understanding the structure of ancient settlement on a regional scale. At the same time, the diachronic pattern for settlement in Sikyonia is familiar to scholars studying the northeastern Peloponnesus: expansion of settlement during the Classical, Late Roman, and Medieval periods and abrupt decline in the number and extent of settlement in Hellenistic, Roman, and Early Byzantine periods. Lolos pays particular attention to the continuities with earlier and later periods at each site and the distribution of small, medium, and large sites in the landscape. This work certainly recognizes the importance of these issues in contemporary intensive survey projects, but offers little contribution to the challenging issues of site definition, function, and size. To support his identifications, this section includes a good selection of color photographs and profiles for diagnostic objects. Lolos also provides useful commentary on the few sites mentioned in the ancient textual sources.

The final chapter in the volume looks at evidence for the ancient religious landscape. Lolos focuses on both intramural sanctuaries at Sikyon and extra-urban sanctuaries in the countryside with a particular emphasis on Pausanias’s travel through the area. Lolos's treatment of the healing sanctuary at Titane, for example, draws together a tremendous amount of past research at the site and integrates it with new observations on the ground. Other less well-known sites receive similar treatment and detailed study. It is rather unfortunate that Lolos did not extend his understanding of Sacra Sikyonia into later periods.

The volume concludes with a series of valuable appendixes. The first appendix is a register of sites documented by the survey. Each site in the register receives a short description with information on the location, surface conditions, architecture, small finds, chronology, and function. The detailed information in the site register suggests a greater attention to method and procedure in the fieldwork than the analysis and interpretation reveals. The absence of any quantitative data on the number of artifact, artifact densities, or even the proportion of artifacts from each period does not follow contemporary standards for survey.

The second appendix by A. Koskinas is a useful study of tiles from the various sites and offers a framework for a potential typology of roof tiles. Unfortunately permit restrictions made it impossible to collect a study collection or to subject formal observations with more scientific studies of fabrics. It remains, however, a start and an important point of departure for more systematic studies of tiles in both excavated and survey assemblages in the region.

Appendixes 3 and 4 document the sparse remains of aqueducts in Sikyonia and a horos inscription that appears to mark the boundary of public land. Appendixes 5 by L. Kormazopoulou, I. Zygouri, and V. Papathanassiou and 6 by A. Matthaiou and Lolos present the result of work at the Cave of Lechova where the remains of a sanctuary active from the Archaic to Hellenistic period were found. Appendix 7 provides a transcription and translation of a 16th-century inscription from the church of Ayios Nikolaos in Vasiliko. The use of this inscription to imagine a 16th-century revival in religious architecture in the Sikyonia seems a bit tenuous.

The book is well-edited, as is common to works in the Hesperia Supplement series. It is, however, a bit odd that the author did not provide translation of the Ancient Greek passages as is typical in Hesperia. Finally, the decision by the author and the press not to update the citations after a significant delay in publication (the manuscript was submitted in 2005) is frustrating.

These minor points, however, do not detract in a substantive way from the value of Lolos's work to scholars working in the Northeastern Peloponnesus or on the history of cities and region across the Mediterranean. The books fits well into the flurry of recent publications on the Corinthian landscape and contributes in a meaningful way to this area becoming the best understood territory in Ancient Greece outside of Attica.


1.   Y. Pikoulas, Ὁδικὸ δίκτυο καὶ ἄμυνα. Ἀπο τὴν Κόρινθο στὸ Ἄργος καὶ τὴν Ἀρκαδίας. Athens 1995.
2.   J. Marchand, “Kleonai, the Corinth-Argos Road, and the "Axis of History"” Hesperia 78 (2009), 107-163.
3.   J. Ober, Fortress Attica: defense of the Athenian land frontier, 404-322 B.C. Mnemosyne Supplement 84. Leiden 1985.
4.   Much of the current debate is summarized in S. P. Morris and J. Papadopoulos, “Greek Towers and Slaves: An Archaeology of Exploitation,” AJA 109 (2005) 155-225.

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