Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.24
Michel Sève, Patrick Weber, Guide du forum de Philippes. Sites et monuments, 18. Athènes: École française d'Athènes, 2012. Pp. 91. ISBN 9782869582415. €19.00.
Reviewed by Christopher Paul Dickenson, Radboud University Nijmegen (email@example.com)
The “sites et monuments” series of archaeological guides begun by the École française d'Athènes in the late 1970s has maintained a consistently high standard. Devoted to sites where research has been carried out under the auspices of the French School, each guide is written by leading archaeologists who have been actively involved in fieldwork at the site in question and manages to be accessible to a general readership while containing a sufficient level of detail and academic discussion to make it a useful scholarly tool. Previous highlights include the guides to Delos, Delphi and Thasos. This new publication on the Forum of Philippi is a welcome addition to the series and more than lives up to the expectations created by its predecessors. Its authors, Michel Sève and Patrick Weber, have worked at Philippi since 1977, studying and re-evaluating its monuments and publishing a series of important articles. The guide is a valuable summary of the main results of their work.
Philippi is an important archaeological site. The city was originally founded by Philip II in the late Classical period but a Roman colony was planted there following the famous nearby battle at which Octavian and Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius. Under the Empire the city became one of the most important and prosperous in the province of Macedonia. Roman rebuilding and rearrangements at Philippi were so extensive that archaeologists have managed to discover very little about the older, Hellenistic city. Philippi seems to have hung on to its Roman character until very late in its history. Unlike the other well-known colony in Greece, Corinth, where Greek became the standard language of public inscriptions in the 2nd century, Latin remained in use at Philippi until much later. The site was abandoned at some point in late antiquity and was never resettled, which has enabled large areas to be excavated. All this means that the site provides a unique window onto the political, cultural and economic life of a thoroughly Roman town deep within the Greek speaking east.
The forum was the heart of the city and was located toward the northern edge of the inhabited area - the walled area being much larger and including the acropolis to the north. The forum consisted of two terraces to the northeast and southwest of the supposed decumanus maximus, itself a part of the famous Via Egnatia, which cut through the city from northwest to southeast. The upper terrace seems to have been home to an important series of temples, presumably including the colony’s Capitolium, but construction of an enormous basilica in late antiquity destroyed most of the earlier remains and has made knowledge of that area extremely fragmentary. The lower terrace, with which this guide is primarily concerned, was the forum proper. At its fully developed extent in the 2nd century AD it was a fully enclosed square covering an impressive two hectares. One side backed onto the Via Egnatia. (Although this was technically the northeast edge the guide employs the useful conceit of imagining the forum to be aligned with the cardinal directions so that this becomes the northern edge. I will follow this convention here). In the centre of this edge was a monumental speaker’s platform and arranged to either side of it, in near perfect symmetry, were a series of monuments, including two fountains and two ramps that led up to the road. The principles of symmetry and axiality were strong features of the forum as a whole. At the northern ends of both the eastern and western sides a temple was situated, mirroring each other and facing inward toward the square. The western temple has been identified as the city’s curia. Connected to the porches of these temples a continuous pi-shaped stoa surrounded the square on its east, west and southern sides. Behind the colonnades were various rooms, most identified as having fulfilled some function in the administration of the colony – to the east possible dining rooms for magistrates and a library, to the west a basilica-like hall and a tabularium. Lining the rear of the southern stoa and facing outwards onto an east-west road was a row of shops. On the other side of the road was a large, fully enclosed market building (referred to but not discussed in this guide), which suggests that the forum itself was a centre of politics and administration rather than commerce.
The first excavations of the forum were carried out in the 1920s and 1930s by French scholars. Most of the area was cleared by the campaigns led by Paul Collart whose 1937 book, Philippes ville de Macedoine, depuis des origines jusqu'à la fine de l'époque romaine, remains the most comprehensive discussion of the site and of Philippi’s history. For a visitor to the site today it is easy enough to discern the overall shape and extent of the forum but understanding the individual monuments and buildings is a challenge because remains from different periods cut through one another and architectural blocks, uncovered during excavation, are now piled up and scattered across the site. Up to now visitors have had to make do with the guidebook to Philippi published by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, which, for all its strengths, devotes only four pages to the forum. This new guide does an admirable job of helping the reader to make sense of the confusing remains. The book is also very useful in providing an account of current interpretations of the various buildings and monuments, many of which have changed since Collart’s day, largely through subsequent restudying of the monuments by the guide’s authors.
The guide begins with a brief two-page overview of the history of Philippi. This is followed by a more detailed discussion of the development of the forum itself, covering sixteen pages in which the main buildings and monuments are introduced. The excavators have been able to distinguish three monumental stages in the site’s development: the first was in the reign of Claudius when the main lines of the square’s design were set out and early versions of some of the buildings were constructed. In the second monumental phase, which can be easily dated to the reigns of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius by building inscriptions, most of the buildings were replaced and the forum was given the unified appearance sketched above. It is this phase of the site’s history that is best known. The forum retained its basic design until it fell out of use in late antiquity although a short-lived “third monumental phase”, dated to around 500 AD saw significant renovations of some of the buildings: colonnades were replaced with rows of arches and walls were pierced with new doors. These modifications accompanied major transformations elsewhere in the city as it became Christianized, such as the construction of the basilica on the upper forum terrace, of another one in the open space of the market building, and of an octagonal church to the east of the main forum. Philippi was apparently abandoned some time in the 7th century as suggested by the absence of later coins among the excavated finds.
After an overview of the types of building techniques used on the forum at Philippi, with useful photographs of the different styles of masonry from the different periods, the guide to the site proper begins. Over the remaining 47 pages the visitor is led systematically around the main monuments. Setting out from the upper terrace the guide takes a roughly clockwise route around the main forum, beginning with the eastern temple, moving around the east, south, west and north sides before ending up on the decumanus maximus which separates the two terraces. The descriptions of the buildings and monuments are extremely clear. Although the emphasis is on architecture the discussions include attention to questions of function, problems of interpretation and significant finds associated with individual buildings and monuments. The authors never lose sight of the problems that non-experts or first time visitors might have in trying to interpret the remains and frequently include helpful pointers as to where visitors might look to best be able to discern particular phases in a building’s history. The descriptions are accompanied by a great number of photographs, mostly in black and white, and beautiful architectural reconstruction drawings (plans, facades and axonometric projections) of buildings by Marc Fautrez.
The guide is very well organized. Each monument has been given a number, which is always cited when the monument is mentioned in the text. The book is equipped with several useful plans of the various phases of the forum’s development on which the numbers also appear in bold print so that they are easy to find. In addition to the illustrations that accompany the text the inside covers feature fold-out maps of the site of Philippi as a whole and of the actual state of remains of the forum (front and back respectively). In the back of the book are five fold-out pages of illustrations: architectural cross sections of the eastern and western wings, extended elevations of each of the square’s four sides and two maps of the central area of the city in both the high Roman and early Byzantine periods. The book includes an index for easy reference and a glossary of potentially unfamiliar words (mainly architectural terms but also including certain Latin terms for political offices, etc), that are always asterisked in the main text. Throughout the book two different size fonts are used - slightly larger for the most important information, slightly smaller for more detailed discussion, thereby serving the needs of both tourists and academics. Unlike the guides to Delos or Thasos, there are no footnotes or lists of relevant publications after each individual entry but there is a comprehensive bibliography at the back. In short, every effort has been made to make the information contained in the book easy to find and easy to use on the ground when visiting the forum. This is a small book and as such it is ideally suited to being carried around on site.
On the whole the book is a great success. It would occasionally have been useful to read more about how the identifications of certain buildings have been reached – in particular the Curia and Tabularium. Have they been given those names simply because we expect to see such buildings on the forum of a Roman colony? Considering that the book is clearly aimed not only at academics but also at tourists it would also have been helpful to have included an introductory section in which Philippi and its forum were placed in a broader cultural context. Non-specialist visitors to the site would be better able to understand its importance if the book had included a short discussion about what a Roman colony was and how Philippi compares to colonies in other parts of the Empire. A consideration of what exactly a forum was – what its standard features are and how the Forum of Philippi compares to fora elsewhere – would also have helped visitors make sense of the layout and appearance of the site and to think about how it would have been used in antiquity. Finally, translations of this guide and others in the series into other languages would be most welcome considering that many of the tourists who visit the site will not be able to read French. This suggestion is intended as a compliment because these guides – and this one in particular – are first class and deserve to reach as wide an audience as possible.