Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.11.23 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.11.23

Dominique Mulliez (ed.), Στα βήματα του Wilhelm Vollgraff: Εκατό χρόνια αρχαιολογικής δραστηριότητας στο Άργος / Sur les pas de Wilhelm Vollgraff: Cent ans d’activités archéologiques à Argos. Recherches franco-helléniques, 4.   Athènes:  École française d'Athènes, 2013.  Pp. 442.  ISBN 9782869582507.  €89.00.  

Reviewed by Stefanie A. H. Kennell, Vancouver BC, Canada (

This volume presents the proceedings of a colloquium held at the French School of Athens 25-28 September 2003 on the century of archaeological investigation that has taken place at Argos since the Dutch scholar Wilhelm Vollgraff began excavating there as a membre étranger of the ÉFA in 1902. In view of BMCR’s constraint on length and the lack of an online table of contents, I shall present a commented list of the numerous and varied contributions—all in Greek or French—using the English titles provided in the trilingual summaries of each, then conclude with a few general remarks.

The book begins with a prologue by Alexandros Mantis (11-12) and a prefatory editorial note by Dominique Mulliez and Anna Banaka-Dimaki (13-15), followed by four papers: A. Mantis, “The care for the antiquities of Argos during the second half of the 19th century” (17-30); M. Piérart, “‘Arrived on the one o’clock train.’ The excavations of Wilhelm Vollgraff at Argos” (31-39); V.K. Dorovinis, “French excavations at Argos and the public reaction. The case of Wilhelm Vollgraff” (41-57); and F. Croissant, “Fifty years of research by the École française d’Athènes at Argos (1952-2002)” (59-74). Historians of archaeology and intellectual history will find much of interest here. Mantis considers the eighteenth and nineteenth-century foreign and Greek observers who engaged with the ancient city’s material remains. Piérart reflects on Vollgraff’s career and contacts as a philologically trained epigrapher and excavator, noting that his excavation notebook is accessible in digital form through the French School (Journal des fouilles d'Argos (1902-1930)). Dorovinis outlines three periods of excavations at Argos (Vollgraff’s, the post-WWII fieldwork under the direction of Daux, Corbin, and Croissant [1950-1978] and the current set of campaigns since 1978) and synopsizes all the reports in the local press from 1902 to 1930, adding a few remarks on the coverage by Athenian newspapers (48-55). Croissant’s overview of fifty years of Franco-Hellenic archaeological activity spotlights the sometimes uneasy coexistence of major discoveries (including a sanctuary of Aphrodite Pausanias saw adjacent to Argos’ assembly place on the Pron) with rampant urban development, necessitating coordination between international researchers and local interests.

Prehistoric Argos is represented by A. Philippa-Touchais, “The Middle Helladic intra-mural tombs in the light of the excavations on the Aspis at Argos” (75-100) and G. Touchais, “The Aspis hill in the Mycenaean period” (101-139). Both are concerned with the architectural and osseous remains, together with the ceramic record, on the lower citadel in the Middle and Late Bronze Age as they relate to the discussion of the symbolic dimension of the arrangement and use of space within the fortified area. Philippa-Touchais shows that the 13 Middle Helladic graves found since 1974 in the SE sector exhibit a variety of forms, construction techniques, and occupants (both sexes, ages from one to forty years; four burials contained a vase or two) and range in date from MH I to MH IIIA; she offers a few hypotheses regarding their broader significance. Touchais, the site’s principal excavator, outlines the overall stratigraphy before focusing on the Mycenaean pottery uncovered in the 1974-1990 campaigns (illustrated catalogue 112-139) in order to draw conclusions about the Aspis relative to Mycenae’s domination of the Argive plain in the Late Bronze Age.

Ceramics are also the unifying element in the papers by O. Tzachou-Alexandri (“A lebes gamikos with relief protomes from the North cemetery at Argos,” 141-156) and A. Banaka-Dimaki (“The workshops at Argos in the Hellenistic period” 157-174), which intersect with the theme of cemeteries as sources of evidence, the focus of contributions by E. Sarri (“Excavation of part of a cemetery of Classical and Hellenistic date in Em. Roussos Street at Argos,” 175-199) and P. Charlier (“Reexamination of the skeletons from Argos (South cemetery). The contribution of paleopathology to evaluating the state of health of populations,” 201-217). Tzachou-Alexandri catalogues the ceramic and metal finds from a cist grave in the north cemetery dated to the early 4th century B.C., including a lebes gamikos adorned with two female busts, analysis of which leads to the deduction that the deceased was a woman, likely a priestess of Kore/Persephone. Banaka-Dimaki assesses what the Archaeological Service’s rescue excavations in Argos have contributed to our knowledge of local ceramic manufacture from the 3rd to the 1st centuries B.C., presenting examples of both utilitarian objects and coroplastic products. Sarri’s paper features the Attic, Corinthian, and local pottery (plus a bronze mirror) from three unplundered 5th-4th-century graves found in 2000 in the rescue excavation of a plot in central Argos used for burials from late Geometric to Roman times. Charlier reassesses the skeletal remains of Middle Helladic to Medieval/Early Modern date unearthed in the South Cemetery from 1950 to 1960 in the light of modern research, emending the findings published by Charles in 1958 (BCH 82) and 1963 (BCH 87 and Études péloponnésiennes 3) on numerous points, though the dating of T 140 is still somewhat unclear (209-210, cf. 214).

Aspects of architecture feature in the papers by M.-F. Billot (“Some contributions from research on the ancient roofs of Argos,” 219-245) and J.-F. Bommelaer (“Argive monuments of Classical date at Delphi,” 247-260). Billot notes the vicissitudes of the study of architectural terracottas before narrowing her focus to the Argolid; since excavations began at the Heraion in the 19th century, the roofs of only five dated buildings at that sanctuary and in the city have been reconstructed, some Corinthian in origin, others produced by Argive workshops. Bommelaer re-examines the Argive presence at Delphi, attested by several inscriptions and mentions in Pausanias, in the form of dedications whose arrangement and appearance generations of scholars have variously interpreted; scrutinizing differences between restorations in the light of more recent discoveries and associations made between blocks, he concludes that only three Classical-period monuments stood close together near the sanctuary entrance (the bronze “Wooden Horse” abutting the base for the Seven Against Thebes and the Epigonoi, with the Chariot of Amphiaraos at its centre, and the hemicycle of the Kings of Argos directly opposite), while two or three other dedications were at other locations on the site.

Three contributions deal with epigraphy: A. Papadimitriou, “The new bronze tablets from Argos. I. Analysis of the excavational data from the Eu. Smyrnaios property” (261-274), C.V. Kritzas, “The new bronze tablets from Argos. II. Preliminary report” (275-301), and E. Psarra, “A funerary stela with inscription from Argos” (303-314). Psarra’s paper is devoted to a grave monument for a woman who died in the late 2nd or early 1st century B.C. Papadimitriou scrutinizes the archaeological context of a discovery of immense importance for the city’s history in the late Classical period: inscribed bronze tablets contained in four stone tubs (a fifth, protruding from under the adjacent property, remains tantalizingly inaccessible) and two other vessels found during the rescue excavation of a lot on Odos Korinthou in 2000-2001. Kritzas offers an updated Greek version of a presentation originally in French (CRAI 2006, 397-434) on the preliminary results of the conservation and decipherment of the tablets, 134 in total. They were found to be financial documents of the first decades of the 4th century B.C. recording deposits to and withdrawals from the treasury of Pallas Athena. They document the origins of various sums, the official bodies and magistrates involved in the transactions, and the purpose of the disbursements (including the full names of individual citizens, places, and dates), providing new information about the magistrates, festivals, onomastics, toponyms, and calendar of Argos, as well as about the city’s financing of military activity during the Corinthian War (see SEG 55 412ter [2005]: “Argos. Archive of bronze tablets (τελαμῶνες), early 4th cent. B.C.”).

Topographical concerns occupy the next five papers: P. Marchetti, “Argos: the town within its ramparts” (315-334); C. I. Piteros, “The akropolis of Larissa and the city walls of Argos” (335-352); O. Psychoyos, “The ancient stadium and the Aspis of Argos again” (353-372); K. Barakari-Gleni, “A new sanctuary at Argos” (373-392); and E. Palaiologou, “A road to the Argive Heraion” (393-403). Marchetti argues that fortifications were not absolutely necessary in the earliest (Geometric-early Archaic) centuries of the city’s development, when cemeteries (especially tombs of the “heroic” dead) and sanctuaries were central to social interactions between scattered settlements (cf. Sparta). Piteros traces the growth of the city’s walls from the fortification of the Larissa hill in the Middle Helladic and Mycenaean periods to the first ramparts around the city proper in the late Archaic period, which would eventually join with the wall around the Larissa, and Classical-period additions, partially modified in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods. Psychoyos, disputing the locations further outside the city to the northwest proposed by Vollgraff and Piteros, suggests the city’s stadium (site of the Nemean Games during the years of Argive hegemony) may have been situated on the saddle between the Aspis and the Larissa on the evidence of a 3rd-century B.C. retaining wall uncovered in the course of municipal infrastructure works. Barakari-Gleni surveys the architectural and movable finds from a multi-period (Geometric to Byzantine) site in SE Argos with an 8th-century B.C. tomb that was the focus of ritual activities for over four centuries. Palaiologou reports on an ancient road 1.5 km from the Heraion, uncovered in 2001 when a modern road was being built to link the area’s main archaeological sites.

Evidence for the Late Antique and Byzantine city is discussed by A. Ivantchik (“Paganism and Christianity at Argos in the 4th and 5th c. AD. Results from the excavations in the agora,” 405-415), J.-M. Saulnier (“Some aspects of Medieval coins from Argos,” 417-421), and G. Hadji-Minaglou (“The Dormition of the Virgin at the South Cemetery,” 423-431). Ivantchik combines finds from a well in the agora—a new fragment of an already known inscription (a dedication by Hadrian of a temple of Hera), three mutilated sculptures (including a bust of Sarapis), and a quantity of lamps—to conclude that while Christians were active in the agora in late antiquity, magical practices nonetheless continued to be popular. Saulnier surveys over 10,000 coins found in Argos, associating them with changes in economic activity from the Early Byzantine to the Venetian period. Hadji-Minaglou provides an array of useful information on the 11th-12th-century Church of the Dormition in the modern south cemetery; the last line of her transcription of the renovation inscription of 1699 is missing a word, but it can easily be supplied from the excellent accompanying photograph.

The volume ends with “From W. Vollgraff to SIG, or Argive space revisited” (433-442), the write-up of a poster presented at the conference by L. Costa, A. Pariente, and S. Robert.

SIG refers to “système d’information géographique,” a confusion (an Anglophone would have written GIS) is one of the infelicities arising from the absence of an Anglophone translator or reviser that hamper the abstracts’ usefulness to those not fluent in French and Greek. That ten years stand between the presentation of the papers and the date of their publication is likewise unfortunate. These minor complaints, however, should not detract from the appreciation that the editor and his collaborators deserve for having made this array of recent research on ancient Argos available to a wider public beyond the 2003 colloquium’s attendees. May the publication of newer discoveries proceed more swiftly.

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