Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.01.28 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.01.28

Anastasia G. Yangaki, Εφυαλωμένη κεραμική από τη Θέση «Άγιοι Θεόδωροι» στην Ακροναυπλία (11ος-17ος αι.) / Glazed pottery from the "Hagioi Theodoroi" site in Akronauplia (11th-17th c.). National Hellenic Research Foundation, Institute of Historical Research, Department of Byzantine Research. Research series, 7.   Athens:  The National Hellenic Research Foundation, Institute of Historical Research, 2012.  Pp. 368.  ISBN 9789609538091.  (pb).  

Reviewed by Effie F. Athanassopoulos, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (

Anastasia Yangaki’s book is a substantial contribution to the study of medieval ceramics in Greece. She represents the new generation of scholars who have embraced the study of medieval material culture in Greece and are transforming it into a vibrant field. This study provides an overview of glazed ceramics from many regions of the eastern and western Mediterranean. In that sense it stands out because it brings together a body of widely dispersed literature, published in regional journals and in a multitude of languages, access to which is difficult for most heritage professionals in Greece and elsewhere. Furthermore, few publications present this material in Greek. There is also a short summary in English. Thus, the book addresses this particular need, in addition to presenting a new, significant collection of medieval pottery from Greece. Furthermore, Yangaki approaches ceramics as a source of history, a valuable category of material culture that can provide information on many aspects of daily life, including diet, social norms, and trade patterns.

The study presents decorated ceramics from rescue excavations at the hill of Akronauplia undertaken in 1972, by the 1st Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities. The pottery can be dated to the period from the 11th to the 17th century, and provides a substantial window to medieval habitation and activity in Nauplio. Nauplio was an important center in the Peloponnesos, and part of the extensive trade network that connected the Aegean with the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. Many of these trade connections can be established through ceramics, and the study collection contains a great variety of glazed ceramics from the western Mediterranean.

The first part provides an overview of historical and archaeological aspects of Nauplio. Little is known about the city in the early and middle Byzantine periods until it became an important trade center in the 11th century. Trading activity in Nauplio is associated with the Venetians, who were granted tax exemptions and privileges in the late 11th century during the reign of Alexios Komnenos; these privileges were renewed at the end of the 12th century. After the Fourth Crusade, Nauplio came under Frankish domination, first under Villehardouin, followed by Othon de la Roche. Starting in the 13th century, it became the political and commercial center of the Argolid. The city was under Venetian control for two periods (1389-1540, 1686-1715). The Ottomans controlled the city twice (1540-1686, 1715-1822), and held it until the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Nauplio served as the capital of the newly independent Greek state, before Athens was chosen in 1834.

Nauplio has been inhabited continuously, thus, there have been limited opportunities for systematic excavations in the city. In the Byzantine period the settlement was located on the fortified hill of Akronauplia. The settlement expanded beyond that area in the first Venetian period, when the lower town began to grow. The archaeological material came from rescue excavations in the southern part of Akronauplia, where a hotel was going to be built in the 1970s and was relocated. The excavations concentrated in the area of Agioi Theodoroi and revealed three architectural units, which represent remains of a church, a cistern, and a series of rooms that may have been part of a military structure. Coins and pottery dating to the 13th -18th century period were recovered from the area, especially the cistern. The material presented in the book includes only glazed wares (it would be desirable to publish the coarse wares as well). The ceramics came from a disturbed context, so the dates are derived from comparanda. Even though the assemblage is small, it is important, especially for the period of Latin rule, which, in general, is not well documented. There are few other areas that have produced ceramics of this time period, in particular the city of Herakleio, Crete, and the island of Rhodes. The ceramics from Agioi Theodoroi are similar, and indicate that these diverse regions participated in the trade networks established in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade.

Part two presents an overview of the well-established types of Byzantine glazed pottery, the characteristics of each type, their chronology, and sites where they have been documented. Here, major decorative categories are discussed, those with sgraffito/incised, or painted decoration. The main categories of pottery are subdivided into smaller groups, such as slip painted, green and brown painted, glaze painted, followed by sgraffito wares, fine sgraffito, painted sgraffito, incised sgraffito, champlevé, measles ware, Zeuxippus, late sgraffito, and post-Byzantine pottery from production centers in northern Greece, especially Thessaloniki.

For each type of ware the author discusses its main characteristics, decorative themes, common shapes, geographical distribution and excavation context in Akronauplia, followed by a detailed catalogue. The sections on the various wares are informative, for example, regarding Zeuxippus ware the author presents a detailed summary, starting with the initial classification by A. H. S. Megaw, subsequent modifications, and current thinking. There is considerable variability in this ware in decoration as well as fabrics. As a result, a broader term has been adopted, Zeuxippus Ware Family, which encompasses the various names used by scholars, including Imitation Zeuxippus, Zeuxippus Derivatives, Glossy ware, etc. The drawings and photographs of the pottery are presented in the very last section of the book, separately from the catalogue. This separation of text and illustrations is not ideal although it simplifies the production of the book.

Part two continues with the discussion of glazed wares from the West, primarily from Italy, dating to the 13th-17th centuries. Most of these wares are tin glazed. The only lead glazed Italian ware is RMR (Ramina Manganese Rosso) which dates to the mid- 13th-14th centuries, was produced in southern Italy, and has been found in several Peloponnesian sites. Many other types of Italian wares are discussed in this section, especially maiolica, with several sub-categories: protomaiolica, archaic maiolica, maiolica with blue decoration, maiolica “alla porcellana”, polychrome maiolica, and maiolica berrettina. Relatively rare luxury wares such as the Spanish-style lusterware maiolica of Deruta are also represented in Akronauplia, albeit with one sherd. Another product of northern Italy was polychrome marbled ware, which has been found in several locations in the Peloponnesos, including Akronauplia. Furthermore, a large variety of Italian sgraffito wares were found at the site; these include Veneto/Roulette ware, San Bartolo, graffita arcaica, graffita a fondo ribassato, graffita rinascimentale canonica, graffita a decorazione simplificata, graffita monochroma, graffita cinquecentesca a fondo ribassato, graffita a stecca, and graffita veneziana. In several instances the author goes beyond the stylistic description of each type to add information about the social context and use of the vessels; for example, graffita rinascimentale vessels, which were decorated with human figures, were offered as wedding gifts; it is not clear whether this was the case with the examples of this ware from Akronauplia. Another dimension touched upon here is the iconography of particular wares, the symbolism of certain motifs (e.g., hare and fertility), and the influence of Chinese porcelain on Italian pottery production. One piece of luxury Spanish lusterware, which is known from a few sites in Greece, is presented from Akronauplia.

The last section of part two is dedicated to ceramics from Cyprus, Asia Minor and the Near East. Cypriot pottery from Lapithos and a blue-painted ware from Syria are represented by a few sherds in the Akronauplia collection. Next comes an overview of the wares produced primarily for the Ottoman court at Iznik in Asia Minor, which are known from archaeological excavations in Greece, including Corinth. There are few examples from Akronauplia, dating to the late 15th-first half of 16th century, a period when Nauplio was under Venetian rule. Part two concludes with a brief discussion of local pottery production. The presence of a small tripod is evidence of local production of glazed wares at Akronauplia. Given the proliferation of pottery workshops in the Late and Post-Byzantine periods, it is very likely that Nauplio would have had its own production center. One hopes that analysis of other excavated deposits from the area will provide further information on this subject.

The third part of the book connects the material record with the broader economic and political picture. The period of occupation documented by the ceramics is subdivided into shorter periods that correspond to the major political shifts. The city is placed into its regional context, and is compared with other Peloponnesian sites, such as Argos, Corinth, Sparta, and the broader Aegean region. Nauplio played an important role in the maritime network that connected East and West and was largely dominated by Venetian merchants. Many products, including grains, wine, and currants were exported from the region of Nauplio. The presence of western ceramics at Nauplio points to the commercial ties of the city with several regions of Italy, such as Apulia, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, which developed rapidly during the first Venetian period. This wide-ranging trade network also connected Nauplio with the East, Cyprus, Syria and Asia Minor. Once Nauplio came under Ottoman control, the patterns of trade changed, shown by the limited number of Italian wares in the mid-16th - early 17th centuries, mainly from northern Italian regions, and the fragments of Iznik ware from Asia Minor. Overall, the number of imported wares is small, compared to the previous period. An additional factor here is that the excavated area was probably abandoned in the early 17th century as settlement shifted to the lower town.

Overall, this is a substantial contribution that presents new material in a comprehensive manner. The author makes impressive use of comparanda, published in a wide array of sources and languages. By bringing all this material together, in addition to the contribution that the book makes to medieval and post-medieval archaeology, it also serves as an invaluable reference source. Furthermore, it facilitates comparisons of Nauplio with other important medieval centers. For example a similar pattern has been documented at Corinth, where Italian wares increased rapidly in the last quarter of the 13th century. As more archaeological projects in the Peloponnesos (e.g., Corinth, Isthmia, Nemea, Sicyon, Argos, Asea, Sparta, Pylos, etc.) and the broader Aegean area publish the medieval phases of these settlements/regions, we can finally begin to understand the significant sociopolitical changes in medieval and post-medieval Greece, not only through documentary but also archaeological evidence.

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