Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.11.46 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.11.46

Mary Emerson, Greek Sanctuaries and Temple Architecture: An Introduction.   London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney:  Bloomsbury, 2018.  Pp. xx, 270.  ISBN 9781472575289.  $25.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jessica Paga, William & Mary (


This slim and affordable volume represents an updated version of Emerson’s 2007 book, Greek Sanctuaries: An Introduction (reviewed in BMCR 2008.06.26). Two new chapters draw attention to the west: one on Paestum, which includes a general overview of Greek colonies in southern Italy and Sicily, and one on Akragas. Additionally, there is increased commentary on architectural sculpture throughout and the bibliography is greatly expanded. This review will principally focus on these changes from the first edition, but some comments on the overall book are also offered.

The intended audience, as highlighted in the new preface, is a reader with little or no prior knowledge of Greek sanctuaries and temple architecture. In practice, this will primarily mean undergraduate students in introductory survey courses, although some parts of the book may appeal to a curious traveler. There are no footnotes, minimal parenthetical references, a glossary (the first use of each term is printed in boldface in the text), 119 images (black-and-white photographs and line drawings), and a bibliography (nearly all of which is in English). In addition, there is a companion website with additional color images, primarily for the two new chapters on Paestum and Akragas. All of these factors make this book an attractive volume to assign for an introductory class.

Substantively, the book also benefits from Emerson’s attention to the role of color in Greek architecture and architectural sculpture, and from her inclusion of women and girls in discussions of sanctuary use. For instance, the Olympia chapter includes a section on the as-yet-undiscovered Hippodameion, which Emerson uses as an opportunity to treat more broadly (pp. 80-81) Hippodameia, Hera and the Heraia festival, and the roles of marriage. The focus on the role of seeing (especially pointed in the final chapter, which functions as an extended discussion of the first choral ode of Euripides’ Ion) and on viewing angles is also good and would easily segue into a classroom discussion of sightlines, viewsheds, and modern visual analysis. In her treatment of architectural “refinements,” for example, Emerson approaches them from both a practical and an aesthetic standpoint (pp. 103-104), and in Chapter 13, “Views and their Meaning: The Acropolis and its Surroundings,” she considers the views both to and from the Acropolis in the four cardinal directions.

One addition is Chapter 15, “The Age of Greek Expansion to the West: Paestum.” Here Emerson first considers the nature of Greek colonies in the west—why and how they were founded—and then zooms in on the founding of Paestum; selections from the Odyssey are used to good effect. Individual sections on each of the three major temples follow, along with limited treatment of the heroön and agora. The abundant discussion of the three temples is further subdivided with bullet points, which students will appreciate. Emerson then shifts to the sanctuary of Hera at Foce del Sele with detailed descriptions of the remains. Here, too, Emerson devotes space to the role of women, tying it in to the multivalent meanings of the sanctuary, positioned as it is on the northern border of Paestan territory.

This latter discussion, however, is at odds with the persistent earlier interpretation of the extra-urban sanctuary, where its location and the distribution of the metopes are interpreted as constituting a “challenge” to the Etruscans on the other side of the river (p. 219). Further insistence on the martial character of Hera likewise contradicts her more Argive connotations with the fertility of peoples and land. From the sections on the Heraion one might get the impression that the Greeks at Paestum and the Etruscans across the river were constantly at odds with each other and that military aggression could and did erupt on a regular basis. Not appearing in the bibliography is Malkin’s work on the Middle Ground in the Bay of Naples, a portrayal of interaction that would have nuanced this analysis.1

The second addition is Chapter 16, “The Temple of Olympian Zeus at Akragas, Sicily.” After briefly relating the site topography, Emerson moves to a detailed account of the Olympieion. Throughout this chapter, she makes splendid use of Diodorus to complement and supplement the archaeological remains. Moving from the exterior to the interior, Emerson provides description and analysis of a complicated structure, with special attention to the massive telamons and a section on the various influences in the size and design of the temple. Emerson draws particular attention to the influences of Ionia and Selinus, but is dismissive of any possible connections to Carthaginian models or Egypt (p. 246).

These two new chapters help expand the geographical thrust of the first edition and are welcome additions. They show how Greek architecture spread beyond the confines of the mainland and allow Emerson to further her discussion of architectural innovation, the role of color, and the presence of women in sanctuaries. What these two new chapters lack, however, is any site plan at all. This is a major oversight. The rich description of topography and positioning of the other temples at Akragas, for instance, is hard to follow and has little impact without a plan, while the discussion of Foce del Sele’s relationship with Paestum and territory beyond is of little use without any visual reference (Foce del Sele does not even appear on Map 2). Site plans are not included on the companion website either.

Despite the accessibility, affordability, and high points of description, the overall thrust of the book is somewhat disorganized, and I would be hesitant to assign it as the sole textbook in an introductory class. As noted in the review of the first edition, the early chapters on ritual, cult personnel, and development out of the Bronze Age and Iron Age are anemic; even with classroom supplementation, they leave much to be desired. Many controversial issues are presented in a nuanced way (such as the various approaches to interpreting the Parthenon frieze), but others are glossed over or presented as fact (the “petrification” theory, for instance, regarding the Doric order is frequently employed as factual explanation, despite the inclusion of Wilson Jones in the bibliography).2 Subjective evaluations pepper the descriptions, such as the Ionic order being more “appealing” than the Doric (p. 104), the Parthenon frieze as being carved in the “loveable style” (p. 122), and Pelops being heralded as “a good role model for the male visitor” to Olympia (p. 80).

The glossary is a useful inclusion, but it is also riddled with errors, omissions, and confusing choices. I counted nine terms in the glossary not boldfaced in the text, one term present in the glossary but not in the text at all, 17 entries boldfaced more than once in the text, and 10 items bold in the text but missing in the glossary. Among the most egregious errors is “geison,” defined as “same as sima,” and “regulae,” defined as “same as mutules.” Some items are provided with their plural forms, while others are not. One term is provided with its Greek form (“oikist (Greek—oikistes)”). “Loxias” is glossed, a word which appears only once (p. 251, in a quotation from the Ion) and is not discussed at all in the text, while “Epikourios” is not glossed, even though it features extensively in Chapter 14, “The Sanctuary of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae,” and is present in the index. There are glossary entries for “poros,” “limestone,” “Parian marble,” and “travertine,” but no entry for “marble.”

The index is also oddly chosen, with entries for “columnae caelatae” but not “stereobate,” for “Egypt” but not “Ionia.” The bibliography is full of inconsistencies. All but four entries for chapters in edited volumes lack page numbers; sometimes journal articles are provided with a volume number and page numbers, sometimes nothing at all; sometimes journal titles are abbreviated, sometimes given in full; and three references within the text are not present in the bibliography at all. The bibliography is arranged alphabetically rather than by topic, which makes its usefulness to students somewhat limited.

General issues with consistency plague the book itself, as well. Capitalization is haphazard (East vs. east, Gigantomancy vs. gigantomachy) and the parenthetical references vary even within a single page (pp. 254-255 contained the following: Eur: Ion, 205-219, Eur. Ion 230, Eur. Ion, 223-5). While this may not faze students, I found it distracting. There is also no real consistency in using Greek, Latin, or modern terms, hence “architrave” (“epistyle” is not to be found anywhere in the text), Athene but Heracles, Paestum instead of Poseidonia, but Akragas instead of Agrigento. In the preface to the second edition, Emerson states that “there is not much attempt here to follow a consistent method” of transliterating Greek (p. ix), which simply makes one wonders why adherence to some names and terms was chosen but not others. Why not follow a consistent (or at least more consistent than this) method? Why wait until p. 230 to introduce the term “crepidoma,” for instance, but then not explain how it differs (or does not differ) from the previously employed “stereobate”?

These drawbacks are all the more unfortunate because so much of this introductory book is good. Its main competition is a book like Pedley’s Sanctuaries and the Sacred in the Ancient Greek World, which is more expensive (even in its paperback version), longer, and less up-to-date.3 Although Emerson’s volume is more explicitly about architecture and contains more recent work in the bibliography, Pedley’s geographic and chronological breadth, abundant images, and deep contextualization may justify its higher price for some. Perhaps a class that combines the two texts in some way, or that supplements them with additional articles, would be most successful.


1.   Malkin, I. 2002. “A colonial Middle Ground: Greek, Etruscan, and local elites in the Bay of Naples.” In The Archaeology of Colonialism, eds. C.L. Lyons and J.K. Papadopoulos, The Getty Research Institute, pp. 151-181. Reviewed BMCR 2003.09.43.
2.   Wilson Jones, M. 2014. Origins of Classical Architecture: Temples, Orders and Gifts to the Gods in Ancient Greece, Yale University Press. Reviewed BMCR 2015.09.56.
3.   Pedley, J. 2005. Sanctuaries and the Sacred in the Ancient Greek World, Cambridge University Press. Reviewed BMCR 2006.10.20.

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