Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.12.18 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.12.18

Christopher Ratté, Angela Commito, The Countryside of Aphrodisias. Kelsey Museum Publication, 15.   Ann Arbor, MI:  Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, 2017.  Pp. 168.  ISBN 9780990662358.  $18.95 (pb).  


Reviewed by Maeve McHugh, University of Birmingham (m.mchugh@bham.ac.uk)

The volume under review presents an abridged version of the results from the Aphrodisias Regional Survey,1 and is simultaneously published in English and Turkish. My intention in this review is not to reassess the data recorded or the conclusions made by the initial survey. The survey’s publication undoubtedly shed great light on the hinterland of Aphrodisias and was an important step forward in the integration of urban and rural archaeology. Instead, I review The Countryside of Aphrodisias with regard to the success of presenting the initial survey’s conclusions in a format that makes them accessible to general readers and those visiting the ancient city of Aphrodisias. This volume is the first in a new series for the Kelsey Museum Publications, which aims to present abridged versions of reports from Kelsey-sponsored field projects intended for the general public. To help achieve this aim the series is published in English and the language of the host country in order to “pay back a small part of the debt we owe our host countries” (pg. 4). The intention of making the data recorded during archaeological projects accessible to a wider audience, in particular the local community, is to be commended.

The introductory chapter (Chapter 1) begins with the topography of the Maeander River basin, including its natural resources, the ancient city, and the methodology of the survey, all of which one would expect in any good survey report. Thus, it is clear from the outset that the content and structure of the monograph follows the larger, more in-depth report published in 2012. The remaining chapters take a chronological approach to the data, beginning with prehistory and continuing through to the present day. To help the reader gauge the types of archaeological evidence associated with different periods, the authors discuss in greater detail certain architectural features which could be deemed typical of each. For example, in Chapter 2, “Before the Founding of Aphrodisias”, descriptions are given of the Lydian tumuli and territorial fortifications. There is a good study of the existing tumuli, and the fact that some of them have standing architectural remains will certainly attract interest from potential visitors to the region. Along the same lines, the description of the Yazır Citadel gives a good overview of the site and its importance within the region.

Chapter 3 covers the founding of the city and its impact on the surrounding territory. The first half of the chapter offers a thorough overview of Aphrodisias and its architecture before moving on to discuss the economies of the territory, including brief discourses on agriculture and quarrying. The discussion here is informative and helps the reader gauge the extent of Aphrodisias’ exploitation of its countryside and the various types of economic industry within the region. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to the territory’s water supply, including the architectural remains of aqueducts and the potential routes of supply to the city. As with the presentation of the tumuli in Chapter 2, the standing remains presented in the photographs certainly look striking, and make a good case to the modern tourist that they are well worth a visit to the region. But the large scale of the general maps and the symbology used for site locations might make it difficult for visitors to use these resources to locate these sites, particularly if they are not well-versed in the reading of survey data maps.2

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 discuss Late Antiquity, the Christianization of the region, and a history of the landscape from the Middle Ages to the present day. These chapters are informative, with enough historical background of each period to allow a reader who might be unfamiliar with certain time periods to understand how the archaeological data reflects historical trends. For example, the study of the Christianization of the territory offers concise information concerning the archaeology of the repurposing of pagan shrines and temples and the development of churches in the area. The inclusion of these chapters within this abridged version of the larger survey report highlights the authors’ wish to engage the reader in the long-term history of the region, instead of confining the discussion to the Classical and Roman periods. Consequently, these chapters make an important contribution to the readers’ understanding of the area in later periods.

The final chapter, “A Tour of the Countryside of Aphrodisias”, presents a series of hiking and driving tours. The intention here is to encourage the reader to take a tour of the landscape and visit the archaeological remains. The tours are divided into nine sections in a circular route around the valley, which allows the visitor to stop off to visit certain sites in the vicinity. Having never visited the region, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the directions; my experience with travelling through the countryside of Greece, however, trying to find small paved and unpaved roads, suggests that the uninitiated visitor may struggle, and a more detailed map of the modern road system might have been beneficial. Additionally, it would have been helpful for the authors to note that the majority of the maps used in the publication are available online.3 Finally, as some of these sites may be on private land, it would be useful to know whether all of these sites are accessible to the public.

As stated at the beginning of this review, the intention of such a monograph—making the data recorded by the survey team accessible to people beyond archaeological practitioners—is commendable. In addition, the inclusion of chapters on those periods that often receive less attention in historical guidebooks will help the reader gain a greater sense of the long-term history of the region. While the information included in this volume is an abridged version of a longer treatise on the archaeological data of the Aphrodisias region, the authors provide enough information so the general reader will not become lost, while also giving enough detail on specific sites to satisfy the more knowledgeable reader. The book does have some weaknesses, particularly in relation to the scale and readability of maps and ground plans. For example, the symbology on some of the maps may make it difficult to find these sites on the ground, and the plan of Yazı Citadel could have been larger to allow the reader to follow the description in the text. These issues are perhaps due to the nature of the publication, the size of the printing, and limitations of space. Furthermore, if this book is intended for use by tourists to the region it would have been helpful to have more integration with the tour routes and the sites discussed in the earlier chapters. These issues, however, do not take away from the overall efficacy of the book in communicating the process of survey and its results in the region to the interested lay reader.

This book succeeds in its stated aim of presenting the findings of the Aphrodisias Regional Survey to a wider audience. In particular the book is successful in giving a sense of each period by selecting certain sites for a detailed study. These studies are enhanced with the use of color photography to illustrate the nature of the standing architectural remains. The maps could have been improved upon, and I do believe better maps would help the visitor navigate the landscape. However, this should not subtract from the worthwhile value of this book, especially to an audience of interested tourists and students conducting site visits, who will surely find the book worthwhile and informative read.


Notes:


1.   C. Ratté and P. D. De Staebler (eds.), Aphrodisias V. The Aphrodisias Regional Survey (Darmstadt/Mainz 2012): the current monograph duplicates the information found in the original survey report and should be considered a companion to the larger volume rather than an advancement in the publication of the project.
2.   The maps presented in the volume have not been amended from the initial survey’s publication.
3.   Aphrodisias Regional Survey.

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