Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.08.23 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.08.23

Denise Demetriou, Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean: The Archaic and Classical Greek Multiethnic Emporia.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2012.  Pp. xi, 292.  ISBN 9781107019447.  $99.00.  

Reviewed by Meritxell Ferrer-Martín​, Stanford University (


In this book, Denise Demetriou follows the scholarly tradition of Mediterranean “connectivity,” initially postulated by Fernand Braudel (1949)1 and later stressed in Classic Studies by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell (2000), and by Ian Morris (2005).2 For her part, Demetriou argues that contacts between culturally different groups — mainly Greeks and non-Greeks — occurred throughout the Mediterranean basin and served to create new collective identities on ethnic, civic, linguistic, religious and status lines. To support her argument, she analyzes in detail five ‘Greek’ emporia from between the end of the 7th century BC and the middle of the 4th century BC. She does so from a multidisciplinary perspective that takes into account both material culture and literary and epigraphic evidence.

The book is organized around three sections and structured into seven chapters. The first chapter (pp. 1-23) introduces and defines several aspects that she considers to be key in her argument. She successively undertakes a brief review of previous scholarship on Mediterranean perspectives, defines some concepts that are widely used in her study, such as religious syncretism and identity, and presents the methodology used in her analysis. In connection to this later point, it is worth highlighting her critical assessment of what an emporion was in the archaic and classic Greek world.

The following 5 chapters are dedicated to a detailed analysis of 5 emporia located in different geographic and cultural areas of the ancient Mediterranean. Chapter 2 (p. 24-63) is centered on Emporion, a commercial enclave founded by Phoceans in the mid 6th century BC in the northeastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Her analysis begins with a general overview of the enclave, giving special relevance to the ancient literature that mentions it, to the Iberian populations that surrounds it, and to its participation in Western Mediterranean Phocean trade network that from the 5th century BC centered around Massalia. She later presents a more detailed study of Emporion and its relations with the most important surrounding settlements through archaeological evidences, in some cases subordinating them to information from literary accounts. Finally, she concludes the chapter by analyzing the construction of new collective identities in Emporion. Her focus is mainly on the religious identities shared by other settlements of Greek origin that were part of this Massaliotea network. To do this she primarily follows textual information that has until now been poorly corroborated archaeologically.

Chapter 3 (pp. 64-104) analyses Gravisca, a commercial harbor in Etruscan territory that had a strong Greek presence from the 6th century BC. Because of the scarce literary information on it, the study of this emporion is achieved mainly through archaeological evidence, in particular that of its sanctuaries. This evidence also allows to the author to stress the importance of religion, and of some cults in particular, in the construction and representation of collective identities, as well as the importance of sanctuaries as spaces of interaction for different cultural groups, mainly Greeks and non-Greeks.

Chapter 4 (pp. 105-152) discusses Naukratis, a Greek emporion in Egypt founded at the end of the 7th century BC. Like in Gravisca, archaeological and literary evidence suggests that religion was here the main vehicle for the articulation of the civic and collective identities of its Greek residents. Likewise, and following Irad Markin’s argumentation (2001),3 Demetriou points out that the construction of the Hellenion temple represents one of the first expressions of a pan-Hellenic identity, perceived mainly through its opposition to Egyptian ethnicity and under which all Greek residents of this center came together, independently of their place of origin.

Chapter 5 (pp. 153-187) presents the Greek emporion of Pistiros, in Thracia, modern-day Bulgaria. This analysis is done specifically through the Vetren inscription, from the 4th century BC. The importance of this inscription lies in the fact that it is the only document found so far that officially details the legislation and legal organization of a Greek commercial enclave from a non-Greek perspective. It also deals with the different interethnic interactions that occurred within it. Likewise, based on the inscription’s reference to Dionysus, a god worshipped by both Greeks and Tracians, Demetriou again stresses the importance of religion in the mediation of relations between different cultural groups.

Chapter 6 (pp. 188-229) is focused on Peiraieus, Athens’ commercial harbor. Because of its position in Greek territory, this emporion is an appropriate counterpoint to the other emporia Demetriou analyzes, which are all located in non-Greek lands. In this case study she mainly focuses her analysis on its legal and administrative organization, on its historic trajectory from Athenian deme to commercial emporion and on the successive consequences of this change for Athens. Once again, Demetriou highlights the importance of religion and of sanctuaries in the construction and representation of new civic and collective identities, as well as in the interaction among cultural groups of diverse origin.

Finally, this book ends with a brief conclusion (pp. 230-239) where Demetriou summarizes aspects that are repeatedly reiterated throughout the volume. According to her, these aspects not only characterized ancient Mediterranean emporia, but also largely determinate the different interactions carried out in them, both between Greeks and non-Greeks and between Greeks of different origins. Considering that trade is the main activity of these multiethnic enclaves, the first aspect to be taken into account is the creation of new political, administrative and judicial mechanisms that were accepted by all who inhabited or simply traded in these enclaves. The second alludes to the role of religion in the creation of a ‘middle ground’ that allowed for the mediation and the coexistence of the different cultural groups that made up these commercial centers. Finally, she highlights the construction of new levels of collective identity in these multicultural emporia, affecting the new community but also the one that acted as a host.

Along with an impressive command of the bibliography for each of these emporia, the main strength of this volume is its determination to incorporate evidence from different academic fields, in particular archaeology, literature and epigraphy, in order to offer a more holistic and complete view of the Mediterranean in archaic and classic times. However, this attempt also represents one of the volume’s main weaknesses, given the large difficulties in establishing a common field of analysis for all the emporia. Likewise, it is worth noting that most of the evidence comes from resources that belong to the Greek sphere, thus offering a Hellocentric image of the Mediterranean in which other Mediterranean societies, such as Iberians, Etruscan, Thracians or Egyptians as well as Phoenicio-Punics, play a marginal role in the construction and development of the emporia under study in particular, and in the formation of the Ancient Mediterranean in archaic and classic times in general.

Having said that, this book will be a welcome addition for researchers interested in the Ancient Mediterranean and, in particular, in the role of trade and religion in the organization of multicultural spaces.


1.   F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et la monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II, Paris 1949.
2.   Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History, Oxford 2000; I. Morris, “Mediterraneanization”, in Mediterranean Paradigms and Classical Antiquity, ed. I. Malkin, London and New York 2005, pp. 30-55.
3.   I. Malkin, “Introduction”, in Ancient Perceptions of Greek Ethnicity, ed. I. Malkin, Washington DC 2001, pp. 1-23. ​

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