Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.10.42 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.10.42

Žarko Tankosić, Fanis Mavridis, Maria Kosma (ed.), An Island between Two Worlds: The Archaeology of Euboea from Prehistoric to Byzantine Times. Proceedings of International Conference, Eretria, 12-14 July 2013. Papers and monographs from the Norwegian Institute at Athens, 6.   Athens:  Norwegian Institute at Athens, 2017.  Pp. 666.  ISBN 9789608514560.  €40,00 (pb).  

Reviewed by David Michael Smith, University of Liverpool (

Table of Contents

Euboea is a region with an identity crisis (p. 13). With the minimum width of the Euripus Strait today standing at ca. 40m, the second largest of the Greek islands is insular almost as a product of technicality. The perception and experience of insularity are further obscured by the dual bridges at Chalcis, which unite Euboea with Sterea Ellada and render it one of only two islands, alongside Lefkas, accessible on foot from the Greek mainland. This connection has a deep history, the strait having been bridged since the late fifth century BC, as the result of collaborative endeavour by both Euboea and Boeotia of which Diodorus Siculus (13.47.3-4) writes that the latter considered it advantageous for the former be an island to all others, and a part of the mainland to themselves. Indeed, beyond Chalcis, insularity is reinforced by the increasingly open waters of the Euboean Gulf, by the visibility of the Sporades from the northeast coast, and by the presence of the Cycladic island of Andros across the Kafireas Strait to the south. It is this perception of Euboea as both island and mainland or, more accurately, as neither (or other), and the divergent socio-cultural trajectories apparent across its interior, and beyond it, which form the premise of this volume.

An Island Between Two Worlds presents the edited proceedings of a 2013 conference of the same name organised at Eretria by the Norwegian School at Athens and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea. Of the 56 papers delivered there, 43 are represented here; 28 in English (UK) and 15 in Greek, each provisioned with an abstract in the alternative as an aide à la compréhension. It maintains the diachronic structure of the conference as far as possible, although there are caveats in those contributions which lend themselves less readily to strict chronological ordering and which, despite the editors’ best attempts to accommodate them (p. 14), inevitably drift. The volume is presented as a reader on recent archaeological work on Euboea, a text in which both academic and non-specialist audiences may find value and the first to collate the long history of the island in one location. One might question the degree to which those more specialist studies should prove accessible to the ‘general reader’. As a vade mecum for recent work on the island and its environs, however, it succeeds admirably in its aims.

Those projects which initially thrust Euboea into the academic limelight feature only tangentially here. Instead, it is work undertaken since 1984 within the multidisciplinary research program of the Southern Euboea Exploration Project (SEEP), under the aegis of the Canadian Institute in Greece (and its previous iteration, the CAIA), which underpins many of the contributions. Žarko Tankosić is himself a project director, and Donald Keller, director and co-founder (with the late Malcolm Wallace) is also present, offering an analysis of prehistoric settlement in southern Euboea with associate directors Lauren Talalay and Tracey Cullen. There will be a sense of familiarity to those acquainted with the latter’s monograph on the prehistoric Paximadi Peninsula,1 although it is distinguished by the integration of data collected by the unpublished Norwegian Archaeological Survey in the Karystia (NASK) in the Katsaronio Plain,2 and the Bouros-Kastri Peninsula Survey, which has appeared in print only very recently.3 Data from the first phase of SEEP survey on the Paximadi Peninsula (1984-88) is integrated by Rebecca Seifried within a geospatial analysis of the so-called Paximadi Towers.4 Excavations undertaken by SEEP and the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleology of Southern Greece (EPSNE) in the Agia Triadha Cave, Karystos (2007-2010)5 are represented in contributions by project co-director Fanis Mavridis, who offers a preliminary report on the Late and Final Neolithic ceramic assemblage, and Markos Katsianis who, with Mavridis, Tankosić and Spyros Tsipidis, provides a largely methodological discussion of the spatial modelling of Early Bronze Age remains. Trevor Van Damme addresses mainland synchronisms and the Euboean-eastern Boeotian stylistic koine with reference to an LH IIIC Early destruction deposit identified by the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) at Eleon, while excavations by VU University Amsterdam and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea (formerly the 11th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) at Plakari-Karystos (2010-2014) are represented by two contributions. The first is provided by Xenia Charalambidou, who presents a ceramic assemblage of Early Protogeometric to Classical date from the Sacrificial Refuse Area, the first cult context studied from Karystos, and one perhaps associated with the worship of Artemis and Apollo; the second by Jan Paul Crielaard, the project director, who, with Filiz Songu, synthesises data from the 2010-2013 seasons to map the nature of this activity and the development, and changing fortunes, of the sanctuary over time.6

The work of the Archaeological Service enjoys equal standing alongside these synergasiai, much of it, as might be expected, concerned with the historic record. Archaic relief pottery from older excavations at Zarakes (ancient Zarax) form the subject of Athina Chatzidimitriou’s contribution. Maria Kosma and Giannis Chairtakis address the fortification of Classical Chalcis with reference to a section of the enceinte exposed during rescue excavation at the General Hospital site (2012-2014), while Sophia Katsali and Garifallia Vouzara present a Hellenistic loutron discovered during 2010 close to the Agora at Eretria — a building, they suggest, indicative of the prosperity of the city under the philosopher Menedemos (322-267 BC) (p. 376). Evi Daphi publishes the ceramic assemblage from a late Roman–early Byzantine cemetery and bath complex identified during work at the DEH power plant site at Aliveri; the bath complex itself is discussed by Eleni-Athina Aggeli, although the piece is, in effect, a strategic conservation plan. Work undertaken since 2010 by the former 23rd Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities in the churches of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and St. Nicholas at Attali provides the foundation for discussion of their respective Middle Byzantine sculptural programs by Andromache Katselaki and Eleni Tsiovikou. On a broader scale, Stephania Skartis and Giannis Vaxevanis analyse the ceramic, and wider economic, networks of Chalcis before and during the Latin occupation with reference to a large volume of ninth- to fifteenth-century A.D. ceramics recovered over four decades of salvage excavation in the city, incorporating the results of important chemical analyses recently undertaken by the authors with Sylvie Yona Waksman and Nikos Kontogiannis.7 Finally, Giorgos Kourmadas and Panagiota Taxiarchi offer an architectural study, informed by ongoing restoration work, of the so-called ‘House of the Bailo’ at Chalcis, the single surviving example of civic architecture from medieval Negroponte, and one significant for its marriage of local and Venetian vernaculars (p. 646).

There are omissions, of course: the Swiss excavations at Amarynthos and Eretria, particularly, are nowhere addressed directly, nor is ongoing work at Lefkandi- Xeropolis. Kostas Voukaras’ report on the Bronze Age settlement and cemetery at Magoula Aliveri Boukaras is among those which have not survived the transition from paper to publication, an absence more keenly felt given the scarcity of Late Helladic remains on Euboea, and the fact that the later Bronze Age is treated in detail only by Tobias Krapf — who offers a summary of work to date in Middle Helladic Euboea, accompanied by the sobering note that, of more than forty sites identified, only Kalogerovrysi has been fully published (p. 145) — and by Margaretha Kramer-Hajos, who addresses the causal factors underlying the low archaeological visibility of LH I-II and LH IIIB on the island. This, however, is something of which the volume’s editors are all too aware (p. 13) and for which they can hardly be considered responsible.

It is not possible in the space available here to address all remaining contributions individually, although a number among them enjoy some thematic continuity. Both Adolfo Dominguez and Orlando Cerasuolo address Early Iron Age Euboea from the west, the former with reference to new data from the Spanish sites of Huelva, El Carambalo and La Rebanadilla, the latter with regard to incised ceramics from Etruria and Latium Vetus in Italy; the contribution of numismatic data to our understanding of Euboean history and identity forms the basis of chapters by Selene Psoma and Mairi Gkikaki, while Stavros Mamaloukos’ discussion of the Frankish Rizokastro at Aliveri and Crystalla Loizou’s contribution on the Medieval towers of Euboea together provide important perspective on the impact of Western-style feudalism in Greece.

Mis-steps are rare. Vagia Mastrogiannoupoulou and Adamantios Sampson’s broad-brush review of Neolithic Euboea serves as a useful foundation for what follows, although the text would have benefited from a more careful reading by a native English speaker. It also retains Sampson’s LN IIa-b periodization for the final phase/s of the Neolithic. While one could hardly expect any different, it is worth noting that, with a single exception, the more common ‘Final Neolithic’ designation is employed in other contributions; the LN II/FN controversy is, of course, well known, and is referenced explicitly by Margarita Nazou (p. 113), although an explanatory note at the beginning of the volume might have served to mitigate confusion for those unfamiliar with it. Editorial oversights are, similarly, few,8 the most notable being the absence from Anna Karabotsoli’s contribution on obsidian tool manufacture of figures 7-12, which should have illustrated material from Manika. Less serious are those difficulties presented by Fanis Mavridis’ Table 4 (p. 85-86), which contains a number of minor errors and in which data has been so heavily abbreviated due to restrictions on space that decipherment is rather effortful. Such issues, however, do not detract from the work at large.

The text is well illustrated and data rich, and Euboea emerges from it an entity for which excavation and critical study has delivered much, and for which its continuation promises more. It is a valuable addition to the growing library of works on the archaeology of Euboea and a fitting testament to the late Maria Kosma, for which the editorial committee should be commended.


1.   T. Cullen, L.E. Talalay, D.R. Keller, L. Karimali and W.R. Farrand, The Prehistory of the Paximadi Peninsula, Euboea (Philadelphia, 2013).
2.   Discussed in a preliminary fashion in Ž. Tankosić, ‘Land management in the Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age Aegean? Some tantalising indications from Southern Euboea’ in S. Dietz, F, Mavridis, Ž. Tankosić and T. Takaoğlu (eds.) Communities in transition. The circum-Aegean area during the 5th and 4th Millennia BC (Athens, 2017), 373-380.
3.   J.M. Wickens, S.I. Rotroff, T. Cullen, L.E. Talalay and C. Perlès, Settlement and land use on the periphery: the Bouros-Kastri Peninsula, Southern Euboia (Oxford, 2018).
4.   The same analysis appears in C.A.M. Gardner and R.M. Siefried (2016) ‘Euboean towers and Aegean powers: insights into the Karystia’s role in the ancient world’, Journal of Greek Archaeology 1, 149-176. A more thorough treatment of these structures is provided by R.M. Seifried and W.A. Parkinson (2014) ‘The ancient towers of the Paximadi Peninsula, southern Euboia’, Hesperia 83, 277-313.
5.   Previously, F. Mavridis and Z. Tankosić (2009) ‘The Ayia Triadha Cave, Southern Euboea: finds and implications of the earliest human habitation in the area (a preliminary report)’, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 9(2), 47-59; F. Mavridis and Z. Tankosić (2016) ‘Early Bronze Age burial deposits at the Ayia Triada Cave at Karystos, Euboia’, Hesperia 85, 207-242.
6.   Now somewhat superseded by J.P. Crielaard, ‘The Early Iron Age sanctuary of Karystos-Plakari (Southern Euboea) and its wider context’ in A. Mazarakis Ainian, A. Alexandridou and X. Charalambidou (eds.). Regional stories. Towards a new perception of the early Greek world (Volos, 2017), 127-144.
7.   S.Y. Waksman, N.D. Kontogiannis, S.S. Skartis and G. Vaxevanis (2014) ‘The main ‘Middle Byzantine production’ and pottery manufacture in Thebes and Chalcis’, Annual of the British School at Athens 109, 379-422.
8.   Karystos’s’ (p. 280); ‘electron’ (p. 425); ‘know’ and ‘reconstructions’ (p. 519); ‘B.C’ and ‘A.D’ without the final period also have a habit of appearing and disappearing at will throughout (for example, p. 425, p. 434, p. 469, p. 493).

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