Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.10.61 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.10.61

Dimitra Andrianou, Memories in Stone: Figured Grave Reliefs from Aegean Thrace. Meletemata 75.   Athens:  National Hellenic Research Foundation, Institute of Historical Research, 2017.  Pp. 472.  ISBN 9789609538640.  €72,00.  

Reviewed by Julia Valeva (

As Dimitra Andrianou rightly states at the very beginning of her book, southeastern Thrace is still "an understudied" area. For a long time, interest in the antiquities of Thrace, especially its southern and southeastern parts, has been somewhat lagging, although recently there has been an upsurge of Greek scholarship on the Greek part. In addition, researchers are paying increased attention to the Turkish part of this remarkable region that bridges Europe and Anatolia. Meanwhile, for centuries, inland Thrace has been the subject of thorough studies by Bulgarian scholars since the lands inhabited by the Thracians in the past represent the core of the national territory of present-day Bulgaria. This dynamic, though uneven, development of scholarly work on the material and spiritual life of ancient Thrace is inspiring because of the vast possibilities that it suggests for cultural contacts within the Eastern Mediterranean.

Andrianou’s book is a corpus of the figured funerary reliefs from Aegean Thrace that thus far have been discussed only concisely in a number of different (and mostly local) journals. In addition it provides a partial supplement to the epigraphic corpus of Aegean Thrace (IThrAeg ).

The book consists of three main sections, of which the first aims to familiarize the reader with the funerary reliefs under discussion. These are grouped into four chronological units: seventh to fifth centuries BC; the fourth century BC; third to first centuries BC; and first to third centuries AD. Within each group the monuments are first briefly set against their historical background and the context of the relevant funerary tradition; the author then describes their architectural form and iconography. The corpus reveals that the earliest known figured gravestones from Aegean Thrace date back to the last quarter of the sixth century BC, while the latest are from the third century AD. The seventh century is discussed only as historical context for the arrival of the first Greek settlers on the Aegean shore.

This first description of the monuments is concise and clear, and is not intended to duplicate the catalogue entries because, unlike the latter, its purpose is to direct the reader to iconographic, stylistic or chronological problems. It also includes historiographic comments.

The figured funerary reliefs are compared to the inscribed but undecorated grave stelae of Aegean Thrace (as presented in the IthrAeg): when a figured relief has an inscription, Andrianou uses this evidence to provide statistics about the discoveries of funerary monuments and types of burial rites. Verbal characteristics, such as the naming of the memorial, the types of invocations, the spread of specific types of monuments, information about the nationality and other affiliations of the deceased are also discussed.

A short chapter between the first and second section of the book outlines the typology of the funerary stelae in the North Aegean: naiskos type, panel stelae Stockwerkstelen, Grabreliefs—(the last two terms are adopted from the German vocabulary for clarity and in order to credit the widely acknowledged contribution of the German archaeological school to this field).

The second section of the book is dedicated to the funerary iconography of the South Aegean stelae. As mentioned above, the goal of the repetitive approach differs from the first part in order to focus on each specific theme, without reference to other features of each monument. Two subjects are of primary importance during the period under consideration: that of the Rider (Heros Equitans) and of the Funerary Banquet (Coena funebris). Andrianou contributes considerably to the understanding of both, seeing them as markers of a larger ideological layer that covers religious beliefs, funerary rites, cultural contacts, as well as some historical and social matters (indigenous population and immigrants, professions, social status). The author's overall conclusion is that in regions where Greek culture had stronger impact (usually along the littoral), the Funerary Banquet scene (part of the Ionic repertoire) was more popular, while the Rider iconography was used in inland Thrace. Andrianou’s other important observation is that the banquet iconography in South Aegean Thrace lacks the heroic connotation typical of the Hellenistic and Early Imperial reliefs to privilege depictions of families and implications of familial bonds.

Several other figural themes are discussed but not at great length because of the small number of extant monuments and their often fragmentary preservation: seated or standing men and women in isolation, various family members, half-figure portraits, gladiators, upraised hands, wreaths, archaistic-style reliefs, and the dexiosis motif.

This section concludes with a chapter that summarizes the production of figured gravestones in Aegean Thrace. I suspect that Andrianou would have liked to define the regional styles of the reliefs in Aegean Thrace, but the scarcity of material and their publications makes such an ambitious project hard to achieve at present. Meanwhile, her work is a good presentation of the iconographic influences, starting with the earliest ones from Ionia, through those from Thasos in the fifth century and from Attica in the fourth century BC.

As elsewhere in the text, the final chapter of the second section includes an excursus on the sculptural production of the neighbouring Thracian lands. Andrianou focuses on the general Greek, and specifically Ionian iconographic tradition, but she also mentions the ideosyncrasies that existed in the colonies of the Black Sea littoral due to their cultural bonds with either their Doric or Ionic metropoleis. The Ionic/Anatolian influence was particularly strong during the sixth and the fifth centuries BC.

An important conclusion is that all the discussed iconographic themes from the sixth to the third centuries BC continue to appear on later funerary reliefs in the Pontic colonies and in the Asia Minor centres, as well as in Aegean Thrace, although irregularly. Certain new subjects are introduced, such as the Banquet with many characters, the standing female of the Herculanean type, gladiators, couples in dexiosis, but other typical Roman subjects, like the imagines clipeatae, do not appear on the known monuments. The Greek tradition stood its ground. Thrace’s traditional cultural ties with Asia Minor (from Scythia Minor to the north as far as Cilicia to the south, as the author points out) received new impetus during the Roman period. There are subjects that are not present in Aegean Thrace: the portrait medallions as well as the depictions that allude to the occupation of the deceased, and, rather significantly, there are no military funerary markers. Yet, the overall important conclusion is that the extant material does not present "evidence for heavy Romanization". The use of Latin in funerary inscriptions is rather limited as well.

Andrianou has dedicated several pages of her book to items from inland Thrace, relying on the results of some major studies in this field by other scholars. It becomes clear from this information, however brief, that despite the generally prevailing Greek influence, the fact that both inland and Aegean Thrace became part of the Roman Empire nolens volens brought in certain typical traits of Roman civilization. In many ways the figured funerary reliefs of Aegean Thrace show this new cultural affiliation.

The third main section of the book contains several short chapters that supplement the main study, plus a catalogue. One of the chapters is a compilation of onomastic studies pertaining to Aegean Thrace. The list of extant names, including their origin (Thracian, Greek and Roman), helps to enrich the picture of a society whose members were honoured with funerary reliefs. It becomes clear that during the periods under discussion the population consisted mostly of Greeks and Thracians, with a small number of immigrants.

Another chapter of the third section concerns the provenance of the stones used for figured reliefs in Aegean Thrace. The data result from a technical project with the participation of the author. Thus far the team has identified only the marble quarry of Marmaritsa, in the vicinity of Maroneia. Local poros stone was used for the necropolis of Abdera. A chapter by L. Lazzarini gives the details of the marble analysis.

Although not abundant, the evidence used by Andrianou is instructive, providing information on different aspects of the life of the ancient inhabitants of Aegean Thrace. Andrianou handles this material with caution, especially when dealing with fragmentary or damaged monuments. As she observes, the entire sculptural production of Aegean Thrace is small. Nevertheless, this modest number of monuments has sparked a rich multivalent discussion about the artistic influences in the Aegean area, the role of the Thracian and Greek populations in the formation of the local culture, and the degree of Romanization.

The catalogue produced by Andrianou contains 70 figured funerary reliefs from the entire South Aegean region between Nestos and Hebros, some of them not of the best artistic quality. Quite appropriately, specific attention is paid to several pieces: the frieze from Shapli-dere (no. 3), the enigmatic relief from Maronea with a winged figure (no. 8), the naiskos stele with two standing female figures in the Archaeological Museum in Komotini (no. 35), the naiskos stele with banquet scene in the same museum (no. 37), the plaque with banquet scene in the Tavaniotis Archaeological Collection (no. 44), the Stockwerkstele with Heros Equitans in the Komotini Archaeological Museum (58).

The footnotes are a good addition to the main text, containing not just simple bibliographical references but often clarifications about, and summaries of, the cited works. The book includes a good set of black-and-white photographs of the reliefs, taken from different angles and sides; the illustrations thus become an important supplement to the verbal description. I should emphasize that the designers have done an excellent job.

To conclude: Dimitra Andrianou demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the monuments she has included in the catalogue, as well as of those she uses as parallels. Of the utmost importance is the fact that she has inspected all of them personally. Obviously, the author has spent much time looking for monuments often buried in museum storerooms, and I can only imagine how frustrated she must have felt when unable to find some pieces or when she was denied permission to study certain monuments; moreover, a good number of items remain unpublished. Andrianou is well acquainted with the scholarly research on funerary iconography; quite naturally, she uses mainly Greek sources but shows a very good knowledge and appreciation of the publications by Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish scholars as well. It goes without saying that all literature regarding reliefs, chiefly in German, is also included in the bibliography of her book.

This book is written for professionals. Many terms, notions and formulations would be a serious challenge for the non-professional reader—all the more so because, as already mentioned, this part of the ancient world is not as familiar to the general public as the Greek regions.

This is a study of considerable value. It is dedicated to only one part of the territory where Thracians and Greeks historically met and lived together. There are, of course, other areas inhabited by Thracians in the past, which are, traditionally being studied by scholars of the countries to which they belonged in antiquity. I believe it is time that international research teams be created in order to intensify the scholarly efforts. Or, to quote Dimitra Andrianou herself: "Synthetic studies on ancient Thrace as a whole, studies that would incorporate all three modern regions (Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey), are now highly desired.”1


1.   I am most grateful to Mrs. Mariana Nedelcheva-Raykov who kindly edited the English version of this review.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010