Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.04.38 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.04.38

Michele Scafuro, L'area tra il Kolonos Agoraios e l'Areopago dall'XI al VI sec. a.C.: contesti e aree funzionali. Studi di Archeologia e di Topografia di Atene e dell'Attica, 8.   Atene; Paestum:  Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene; Pandemos, 2015.  Pp. 184; 1 CD.  ISBN 9788887744620.  €80.00.  

Reviewed by John K. Papadopoulos, UCLA (

It is unclear for whom, or even why, this volume was published. The book is a summary, and not always an accurate one (see below), of the area between the Kolonos Agoraios and the Areiopagos from the Protogeometric period through the Archaic. As the volume relies on the material excavated by the American School of Classical Studies from 1931, primarily burials and well deposits, one wonders, first of all, why the earlier Mycenaean and especially the Submycenaean tombs and non-funerary deposits are not included since many of these are transitional to Protogeometric. The reasons for beginning with Protogeometric are not cogently articulated. The purported aim of the volume is to identify what the author calls useful indicators in order to define the character of the use of the area together with its diachronic transformation through time (Scafuro refers to the occupation of the area, but since the greater part of this area was used for several large cemeteries and as the potters’ quarter—the original Kerameikos—of Athens, especially throughout the Early Iron Age and into the earlier Archaic period, “occupation,” in implying settlement, is, perhaps, not the best word). Scafuro concludes, not surprisingly, that the most reliable contexts of this period in the Agora include the wells, pits and burials usually dug deep into the bedrock, a conclusion reached and clearly stated by T. Leslie Shear and Rodney Young in the 1930s. As the English translation of the Italian précis of this volume states, somewhat awkwardly: "The oriented reading of the different contexts, defined and articulated in space and time, allows to identify the presence of social groups circumscribed and to understand their transformation in relation to the urban transformations and monumental evidence of one of the areas most politically representative in the history of the Athenian polis." This is a tall claim, indeed, but it is not fulfilled by the book.

Following a brief introduction, an equally brief first chapter is entitled "Approach to the reading of the contexts". With such a title, I was expecting something bold and innovative, but I quickly found that Scafuro’s reading is largely derivative and based on the various publications of the Agora Excavations of the American School. The remainder of the volume presents the material chronologically. Chapter 2 deals with the Protogeometric contexts (1050-900 BC); Chapter 3 with the Geometric (900-700 BC); Chapter 4 is concerned with the 7th-century contexts—though Scafuro is reluctant to tackle the problems of the absolute chronology of this period—while Chapter 5 is concerned with the Archaic contexts (600-480 BC). A brief Chapter 6 presents the "Organizzazione e trasformazione funzionale di uno spazio." Once more, there is nothing new or radical in Scafuro’s overview of the organization and functional transformation of the space that was to become the Classical Agora. It is an amalgam of arguments—old and new—presented and published by scholars who have worked in the Athenian Agora.1

I found many “old friends,” that is, drawings and photographs that I published in various venues since 1994, not least the watercolors by Piet de Jong, though here these are, sadly, presented in black-and-white, which does not do them justice. Normally, when one uses copyrighted material in one’s scholarship it is customary to seek permission to do so. A simple letter either to the Publications Office of the American School or the Agora Excavations would have done the trick and, unlike many other institutions, this permission is freely given. What is also customary is that the author, when publishing material from controlled excavations, including previously unpublished material, actually studies the material in person, which in this case is clearly not so (there is no record of Scafuro or the publisher of his volume seeking such permission either in the Archives of the Agora Excavations or the Publications Office of the American School, nor is there any record of Scafuro applying to study this material in the Agora).

A number of drawings of Early Iron Age pots that appear here in print for the first time were downloaded from the website of the Agora Excavation without permission or any due credit.2 Moreover, there is no acknowledgement to the archaeological illustrators, Anne Hooton and Freya Evenson, for their painstaking work, nor to those who raised the funding for these drawings to be done. I am not sure what to call such behavior, but one result that is most unfortunate, especially since Scafuro did not actually handle any of the published or unpublished material he presents, is that the volume is full of errors: Early Iron Age vessel shapes are sometimes mislabeled, Agora inventory numbers are not always accurate, deposits and their quantifications are based on partially published contexts, and a periodization is assumed for the Protogeometric period that has little basis in fact. There is, furthermore, a "catch-as-catch-can" quality as to which drawings were downloaded and which were not. It appears that Scafuro was not cognizant of the fact that the Agora drawings that appear on an individual drawing sheet are not necessarily all from the same context. The result is a volume that should be handled with extreme caution. (There is even a CD that presents a putative catalogue of the deposits, though in reality this is a list of earlier publications that present the material.) All in all, this is a book that will quickly fade into irrelevance.

What is perhaps most surprising about this volume is that it was not published by some fly-by-night publisher, but by Pandemos Press, under the auspices of the Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene, in the series Studi di Archeologia e di Topografia di Atene e dell’Attica, overseen and directed by Emanuele Greco.3 I wonder what the director of the Italian School in Athens would think if unpublished material from an archaeological project sponsored by the Italian School appeared, without permission, in a publication series of another school?

One of the hallmarks of the American School Excavations in the Athenian Agora is the openness of their archives—digital and hard-copy—and of the ease in accessing hundreds of thousands inventoried antiquities that have been published. This has been a boon to every scholar interested in the Classical world. It is a shame that this generosity is abused by those few who would throw professional standards and courtesies to the wind.


1.   Among many other publications see especially H.A. Thompson and R.E. Wycherley, Agora XIV. The Agora of Athens, Princeton 1972; J.M. Camp, II, The Athenian Agora: Excavations in the Heart of Classical Athens, London 1986; J.K. Papadopoulos, Ceramicus Redivivus: The Early Iron Age Potters’ Field in the Area of the Classical Athenian Agora (Hesperia Supplement 31), Princeton 2003; C.A. Mauzy, Agora Excavations, 1931-2006: A Pictorial History, Athens 2006; J.M. Camp, II and C.A. Mauzy (eds.), The Athenian Agora: New Perspectives on an Ancient Site, Mainz am Rhein 2009; S.L. Martin-McAuliffe and J.K. Papadopoulos, "Framing Victory: Salamis, the Athenian Acropolis, and the Agora", Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 71, 2012, 332-361 (the latter not cited by Scafuro).
2.   On account of the imminent publication of Agora XXXVI on the Early Iron Age burials in the area of the Athenian Agora, drawings of both the Early Iron Age funerary and some of the non-funerary deposits were uploaded onto the Agora website. These drawings have since been taken off the website. See J.K. Papadopoulos and E.L. Smithson, Agora XXXVI. The Early Iron Age: The Cemeteries, Princeton 2016-2017.
3.   For reviews of three earlier volumes in the series, see J.K. Papadopoulos, "Always Present, Ever Changing, Never Lost from Human View: The Athenian Acropolis in the 21st Century," AJA 117, 2013, 135-40.

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