Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.01.61 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.01.61

Emeri Farinetti, Boeotian Landscapes: A GIS-based study for the reconstruction and interpretation of the archaeological datasets of ancient Boeotia. BAR international series, S2195.   Oxford:  Archaeopress, 2011.  Pp. xiv, 425 p.; CD.  ISBN 9781407307503.  $162.50.  

Reviewed by Samuel D. Gartland, University of Oxford (

Boeotian Landscapes will be of fundamental importance to the study of this part of Central Greece. Closely based on a doctorate submitted at Leiden in 2009, the work provides a wealth of information on the landscape and settlement of ancient Boiotia with particular focus on the Archaic to late Roman periods, and comprehensively digests all previous archaeological work published in Boiotia (until 2006). The work is clearly laid out, copiously illustrated, and is invaluable to any study that involves consideration of the Boiotian physical environment or the archaeology of the region.

The book is divided into two main parts. At forty-two pages, Part I (“Research framework and methodology”) is by far the shorter. It provides a rigorous statement of the theoretical basis for the work and its methodological intent. The history and application of concepts that are of central importance to Farinetti’s approach (including “Community Area”, “Landscape”, “Taskscape”, and “Settlement-Chambers”) are usefully and succinctly discussed alongside a survey of the use of Geographical Information Systems in a regional context. This is followed by a consideration of geology and soil-types and then an extended discussion of the methodology chosen to deal with Boiotian archaeological data. Boeotian Landscapes is full of the self-critical analysis for which the Boeotia Project has become known and Farinetti takes care to point to the limits of our knowledge and her own abilities (for instance, p.19). This has the effect of reinforcing the reader’s confidence in the work, and the arrangement of discussion is logical and considered throughout.

Part II (“The Boeotian landscape”) begins with well-composed surveys of the topography and environment of Boiotia and the current state of archaeological research. After these, the main focus of Part II is centred on a detailed description of the sub-regions of Boiotia (Chapter 2.3.1-14), and this is the section that will be most employed by non-specialists wishing to find information on a specific Boiotian area. This survey of Boiotian chorai is based explicitly on the model established in John Fossey’s Topography and Population1 (p.27), though Farinetti’s survey has fourteen areas rather than Fossey’s nineteen because of smaller places such as Tegyra and Siphai not getting their own section and the Oropeia not featuring. Farinetti starts with the Koroneiake, and continues in a clockwise circuit of the Kopais in eight parts before crossing to the Thespike and progressing eastward, following the Korinthian Gulf to Plataia, then to the Thebais, Anthedonia and ending in the Tanagrike.

A topographical setting is provided, with a detailed description of situation in relation to other sub-regions, and identifying principal settlements as well as a particularly careful analysis of mountain features with modern observation coupled with analysis from earlier work such as that of Philippson. Each of these descriptions is accompanied with a map delimiting the sub-region and locating archaeological evidence on a modern topographical map. Next comes consideration of the boundaries of each sub-region, succinctly stated with a clear and full exposition of evidence from the ancient sources to the early travellers of the region. This can be a slippery area in less capable hands, but Farinetti clearly knows her stuff and integrates many considerations neatly and usefully for the reader. In the third element “Physical Land Units” her empirical analysis comes to the fore, with information on the types of land (sub-divisions of Mountainous, Hilly and Plains) broken down into percentages, based on the area’s physiography. The next section, and one that I know has already been excitedly perused by early economists, considers land capability and resources, with information on metal deposits and good stone, as well as sites of their exploitation.

“The Archaeological Record” follows this with a tabulated breakdown of all known find areas, and is accompanied by a graph illustrating the proportion of components found within different research frameworks (rescue excavation/ accidental discovery/ extensive surveys etc.). This is especially important in an area such as Boiotia where archaeological coverage of the landscape has been uneven and the primary information lacunose, and helps to allay bias in the archaeological record. For instance, the reader can see at a glance that the majority of the information from the Haliartia has come from surface survey (p.148), whereas the record from the Thebais has a high number of prehistoric elements because of personal specific research interests of archaeologists (pp.194-195), and in Lebadeia the correlation of find locations with the construction of the modern road network is emphasised (p.93). This critical model is carefully applied across all the chorai and I have found that the images and discussion also make an excellent teaching aid to undergraduates interested in using archaeological data sensibly and sensitively.

The arrangement allows easy consultation, and the command of the array of information that Farinetti enjoys is evident in the simple and comprehensible manner in which the information is digested and presented. A feature of this is the relocation of a lot of the archaeological information into a 141 page appendix. This lightens the centre of the book and makes it easier to comprehend for those more interested in an archaeological summary than in an extensive discussion.

The largest part of the survey of chorai is taken up with discussion of the chora landscape and reflects the chronological focus of the book in focusing only on Prehistoric and Greco-Roman settlement explicitly. The discussion includes such information as burial areas, cult places/religious areas and forts and fortifications, and reads as an excellent introduction to the landscape and the settlements within it. The section finishes with discussion of long-term settlement trends, and Farinetti’s knowledge of more recent periods comes to the fore to emphasise change. Each sub-region also has a map representing the known settlements and the walking times. This makes readily visible a rich landscape of asty-chora relationships, as well as demonstrating Farinetti’s excellent use and presentation of GIS methods.

There are three appendices to the work and the first of these is included in the book. The CD inside the back cover then continues with Appendix II, an excellent fifteen-page description of the physical geography of Boiotian sub- regions based on Philippson’s topographical work on Boiotia,2 and Appendix III, a 50-page spreadsheet of the units of archaeological evidence used in the book. Also on the CD is a collection of all the images from the sub- region catalogue in colour.

A small criticism of Boeotian Landscapes might be that more of Farinetti’s reflections have not been added to the PhD submission on which this book is based. Section II.4 “Landscapes of Ancient Boeotia” begins to demonstrate the possible application of all of this information and Farinetti clearly has a compendious knowledge of and great affection for the region. The majority of this section is taken up with a useful discussion of long-term settlement trends that brings the discussion back to a regional level and offers the reader a cohesive picture of Boiotia. However, only a few pages were left for her own reflections on the history of Boiotia. Given the exhaustive treatment she has offered in the rest of the work (which stretches to 425 A4 pages, plus the extra information contained on the CD inside the back cover) this brevity is understandable, but feels tantalising and rushed compared with the majority of the book and would have been a natural candidate for expansion (or failing that, deletion). In this section, the work of Frederick Cooper should have been mentioned in the discussion of the fortified landscape of the confederation (pp.254-256).3 There is also no index, but given the clear ordering and encyclopaedic feel to the book, this is not problematic.

Boeotian Landscapes is a successor to John Fossey’s Topography and Population, but the works are different in many respects. Where Fossey’s work has the immediacy and occasional caprices of a solo adventurer (as so much of Boiotian scholarship), Farinetti’s work is proof of the value of combining individual dedication with the rigour that comes from working as part of a team. In this, Boeotian Landscapes reflects the general strength of contemporary Boiotian studies, with archaeological and increasingly also historical research being conducted in the collaborative spirit necessary to understand this large and fascinating region.

Boeotian Landscapes marks a watershed in the accessibility of the physical environment of Boiotia and the archaeological data from the region. It is already more widely held (in UK institutions at least), than Fossey’s 1988 work. This is excellent news for the field, and testament to the achievement of the author and also the possibility that the book presents to advance interest in Boiotian studies. Because the task the work sets itself is so comprehensive, it is already out of date, but it will be of enduring value to students of Greece at all levels, and should serve as a model for comprehensive summary of regional archaeological data. It is the most useful and usable publication yet to emerge from the work of the Boeotia Project and will be cited in work of any length that considers Boiotia. It is neatly produced and free from typographical errors. The bibliography is extensive and should now be considered the place to commence enquiry into the physical landscape of Boiotia.


1.   Fossey, J.M. (1988), Topography and Population of Ancient Boiotia, Chicago.
2.   Philippson, A. (1951), Die Griechischen Landschaften. Eine Landeskunde: Vol. 1.2 Das Östliche Mittelgriechenland Und Die Insel Euboea. Frankfurt.
3.   Cooper, F.A. (2000), “The Fortifications of Epaminondas and the Rise of the Monumental Greek City”. In City Walls: The Urban Enceinte in Global Perspective, edited by J. D. Tracey. Cambridge. pp. 155-91.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010