Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.11.34 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.11.34

Gabriele Cifani, Simon Stoddart (ed.), Landscape, Ethnicity and Identity in the Archaic Mediterranean Area.   Oxford; Oakville, CT:  Oxbow Books, 2012.  Pp. x, 358.  ISBN 9781842174333.  $70.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Denise Demetriou, Michigan State University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This new, and nicely illustrated, collection of essays contributes to studies on ancient ethnic identity by examining the role of landscape in the construction of ethnicity. There is merit in this approach because it emphasizes the burgeoning field of landscape archaeology, which has not yet been exploited sufficiently in relation to the study of collective identities. In addition, because the editors solicited essays on a wide range of locations, from the Iberian Peninsula to the coast of Asia Minor, during the archaic period, the volume presents an opportunity for comparative work, though this exercise is left entirely up to the reader.

Most of the essays start with an overview of the scholarship on ethnicity, in part because the editors charged the authors with this task. This results in a lot of repetition, and even the short endnote, titled “Situating Ethnicity,” repeats the same bibliographic review already encountered several times in more than a few of the articles. Fulminante’s contribution is the best synthesis, and perhaps should have been showcased as such; hers is essentially a theoretical piece with a strong and useful discussion of the ways in which different disciplines approach the study of ethnicity. No essay pulls all the articles together, and the consequence is a lack of coherence on the definition of ethnicity, as some authors use the word vaguely or as synonymous with identity, which is usually understood (including by some of the contributors e.g., Osborne, Fulminante, Rajala, Stoddart, Lomas) as a larger category that includes ethnicity.

The essays are organized according to geographic criteria, moving from the eastern to the western Mediterranean, with the exception of the very first essay. Carandini’s article is intended as a centerpiece to anchor the volume, and, for this reason, it is the only essay followed by critical responses. Carandini presents the results of his excavations on the Palatine, which reveal discontinuity in the archaeological record around the middle of the eighth century BCE. He explains this, persuasively, as a result of the development of political authority and a sense of communal identity in Rome that led to the reorganization of communal spaces. The author then claims that this new dating corresponds to the literary sources’ foundation date for Rome. The four short critical responses essentially point to the same methodological problems: first, the exclusive emphasis on Rome does not take into account the larger context of changes taking place regionally and in the wider Mediterranean; second, there is an implicit circularity in Carandini’s argument, which uses the literary sources – late, antiquarian, and unreliable – to interpret the archaeological record and then employs the archaeological finds to prove the literary sources correct.

It would be impossible for me to pay equal attention to all remaining seventeen articles, so I will point at patterns that emerge through groups of essays, before making some general points about the collection as a whole.

Osborne, in his contribution, argues that ethnicity is often a negligible category in antiquity and that, just as landscape and genealogy could be exploited as needed by communities to achieve political ends, so too could ethnicity, but it did not determine cultural divisions among groups of Greeks. For Osborne this means that we should not expend our energies studying ethnicity, and should instead focus on how communities structured and restructured their political and social identities. Contrary to Osborne, and, as several of the essays in this volume show clearly (e.g. Lohmann, Fulminante, Cifani), ethnic identity did frequently determine how individuals and political communities acted, and this includes their use of material culture.

The new identification of the archaic Panionion and the city of Melia that Lohmann offers in his article, if correct, will solve an old problem: for years the identification of a site on Otomatik Tepe as the archaic Panionion seemed difficult to maintain. Anyone familiar with this site will know that nearly no archaic material has been discovered, the theater dates to the fourth century BCE at the earliest, and the so-called bouleuterion is probably unfinished. Lohmann instead locates the site of archaic Melia on a different hill, Çatallar Tepe. A map of the area would have been useful to illustrate the various sites. The implications of this new location for the Panionion are that the foundation of the Ionian League must now be dated to ca. 600 BCE, given the dates of the archaeological finds at this site, and that the creation of the Ionian League was perhaps a response to ethnic conflict (the Melian War) between Ionian Greeks and Carians.

Many of the following essays focus on the construction of identities in colonial contexts. Bintliff examines changes in the ethnic makeup of Boeotia from late antiquity to the modern era (the title of this piece does not reflect its content). Burgers and Vives-Ferrándiz both adopt a post-colonial perspective to examine changes in the landscape and use of material culture among indigenous populations. Burgers focuses on the Isthmus of Salento in Apulia, where Greek colonists had settled, and Vives-Ferrándiz on the basins of the Segura and Vinalopó rivers in Southern Iberia, where Phoenicians had established settlements. They both come to similar conclusions: changes in the material culture in these two areas may be attributed to elites appropriating Greek styles in Apulia and Phoenician ones in Iberia, and the production of hybrid styles and mixed-style burials indicates a mixed population. Burgers also shows that ritual practices reorganized the landscape: old sanctuaries were revived in the Hellenistic period, and many of them were located at the interface between urban centers and rural sanctuaries, perhaps in order to provide cohesion to new groups. Naso’s article on Molise attributes similar changes observed in the material culture in the Bojano region to colonization by Capua in the west or contact with Daunian communities along the coast.

Several of the articles on Italy, besides Carandini’s essay, discussed above, focus on the interplay between written texts and practice, as evidenced by archaeology. Ceccarelli successfully combines textual and material evidence in her treatment of religious identities in Ardea that contributed to the construction of a Latin identity. She demonstrates that individuals and groups had recourse to different versions of origin myths for Ardea, which they could use depending on the context, as well as the fact that the specific traditions about Lavinium became important after 338 BCE (erroneously given as 388 on p. 111), when the Latin League was disbanded. (References to Malrin (p.109), I think are to Irad Malkin, Returns of Odysseus: Colonization and Ethnicity, Berkeley 1998, which is missing from the bibliography.) Stoddart takes a different approach and argues against the use of the Iguvine Tablets, dated to between the third to the first centuries BCE, the content of which is not described in any detail, to reconstruct local identities in northern Umbria in the archaic period. The author shows that religious practices in this region, as attested by votive deposits in the settlements and surrounding landscapes, are not at all similar to the rituals described in the Iguvine Tablets. Lomas instead considers inscribed texts as objects that could be used to demarcate space, to change the perception of land or territory, and thus to contribute to the construction of identity because of their physicality. Grave markers with inscriptions, in Padua and Este in the Veneto region, for example, were placed on tombs at the edges of cemeteries, thereby functioning both as boundary markers and as expressions of both kinship and state identities. Lomas also discusses the different uses of space in the ritual and burial practices of Padua and Este to show how each was able to express varying levels of collective identities (kinship, state, ethnic).

Rajala and Cifani in their respective essays consider settlement patterns as markers of ethnic identity. Rajala uses a theoretical perspective, according to which landscape actively shapes ethnicity and other identities to interpret recent finds from settlements and cemeteries in Nepi, in central Italy. She argues that settlement patterns were related to territoriality, and, therefore, political identity, whereas burial sites were indicative of ritual and social identities. None of these claims are unexpected, but the value of this essay, besides its fresh approach, is that the evidence can reconstruct the community’s multiple levels of identity, though notably not necessarily its ethnicity. Cifani’s article on frontier areas in the Tiber valley is impressive in its scope because it examines the development of political communities of various Italic ethnic groups inhabiting this region and the relations among them, from the Bronze Age through the end of the archaic period. Cifani traces the development of city-states (e.g., Umbrian, Latin, Sabine) and territorial states (e.g., Veii) and shows how power relations between each type of state and its environs influenced constructions of identity. For example, the rise of Rome as a territorial state in the sixth century BCE facilitated the organization of Latin states into alliances that were based on Latin ethnicity. Territorial growth and expansion, which were expressions of political authority, transformed ethnic identities and, in turn, this had an effect on both the political structures of the region and the landscape — extra-urban sanctuaries intended to provide a focal point for newly formed groups were set up as markers in the land. The co-authored essay by Cifani, Ceccarelli, and Stoddart, which explores lakes in Etruria as frontier areas, makes similar observations about power structures and extra-urban sanctuaries as influencing communal memories and, therefore, as constructing identities.

One of the theoretical frameworks that emerges from the articles on Italy, namely the effects of political authority in structuring state identities, is also prominent in the four essays on Iberia (Vives-Ferrándiz is discussed above). Ruiz and Molinos present a sophisticated theoretical model on the formation of limits, frontiers, and boundaries, and test it by examining the changing demarcation of boundaries in the Guadalquivir valley from the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C.E. Once again, sanctuaries are placed at the limits of defined political territories or act as meeting points within a territorial state, and ethnic identities seem to persist despite the changing political groupings. For Grau Mira, who examines the situation in eastern Iberia, boundaries may be defined by funerary monuments, ceramics, and epigraphic evidence, but none of these can be equated with ethnic groups. Grau Mira claims, however, that the emergence of states may have contributed to ethnogenesis, which is a more doubtful proposition (see Osborne or Ruiz and Molinos, who demonstrate that political boundaries do not necessarily correspond with ethnicity). González-Ruibal investigates the development of communities and the effects that these had on material culture, landscape, and the construction of collective identities in Callaecia and Asturia in northwest Iberia. He divides the societies in this region into four systems – house societies, kinship-based chiefdoms, heroic societies, and deep rural communities – and suggests that these intersected with ethnic identity. That each type of society developed a collective identity is easy to imagine but that this identity was an ethnic one, as the author claims, is something that the majority of contributors to this volume would dispute.

Is this volume successful in exploring the interrelation between landscape and ethnicity? On the whole, what the majority of the essays show is how landscape was used by political authorities either to express power or try to unify the people within their boundaries, and only a few argue that landscape or territory can actively construct ethnic identity. This should not come as a surprise. Neither should the fact that another common theme that emerges from this volume is the use of extra-urban sanctuaries as boundary markers or as unifying sites for groups of people. But how this worked, beyond their actual placement, is not addressed. Nonetheless, the strength of this collection lies in the fact that it offers a remarkable array of new finds and a wealth of information on dozens of sites throughout the Mediterranean that advance our knowledge of the historical development of settlements and collective identities.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: contextualising ethnicity (Gabriele Cifani and Simon Stoddart)
2. Urban landscapes and ethnic identity of Early Rome (Andrea Carandini)
Comments (T. Cornell, C. Smith, A. Snodgrass and R. Osborne)
3. Landscape, ethnicity, and the Greek polis (Robin Osborne)
4. The discovery of Carian Melia and the archaic Panionion in the Mycale (Hans Lohmann)
5. Multi-ethnicity and population movement in Ancient Greece (John Bintliff)
6. Hybrid forms of identity (Greek/native Italic) on the border between Taranto and the Messapians (Gert-Jan Burgers)
7. Before the Samnites: Molise in the eighth and sixth century BC (Alessandro Naso)
8. Ethnicity, identity and state formation in the Latin Landscape. Problems and Approaches (Francesca Fulminante)
9. Ethnicity and identity of the Latins. Evidence from the sanctuaries between the sixth and the fourth centuries BC (Letizia Ceccarelli)
10. Political landscapes and local identities in Archaic central Italy – Interpreting the material from Nepi (VT, Lazio) and Cisterna Grande (Crustumerium, RM, Lazio) (Ulla Rajala)
11. Landscapes and ethnic frontiers in the middle Tiber valley (Gabriele Cifani)
12. The Grotte di Castro project: defining a boundary of identity (Gabriele Cifani, Letizia Ceccarelli and Simon Stoddart)
13. Between text, body and context: expressing Umbrian identity in the landscape (Simon Stoddart)
14. Space, boundaries and the representation of identity in the ancient Veneto (Kathryn Lomas)
15. Identities, Frontiers and Landscapes in the Guadalquivir Valley (Eighth century BC- fourth century BC) (Arturo Ruiz and Manuel Molinos)
16. Landscape and Ethnic Identities in the Iberian Early States: The example of the Eastern Iberian Peninsula (Ignacio Grau Mira)
17. The politics of identity: ethnicity and the economy of power in Iron Age northern Iberia (Alfredo González-ruibal)
18. Changing identities in a changing landscape: social dynamics from a colonial situation in early Iron Age Iberia (Jaime Vives-Ferrándiz)
19. Endnote: Situating Ethnicity (Simon Stoddart and Skylar Neil)
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