BMCR 1994.11.05

1994.11.05, Winter, Greek Architectural Terracottas

, Greek architectural terracottas : from the prehistoric to the end of the archaic period. Oxford monographs on classical archaeology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. xxxvii, 360 pages, 32 pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 26 cm.. ISBN 9780198147947. $85.00.

Excepting Asia Minor and the Aegean islands, a survey as broad as Nancy Winter’s was last attempted in two volumes by E.D. van Buren some 68 years ago. In the meantime, an enormous amount of new material has been excavated and published thereby simultaneously enriching and complicating attempts at understanding this often beautiful and practically ubiquitous material. As a result, providing a detailed overview of panhellenic production during the Archaic period has become a dauntingly monumental task, one for which Winter is among the few scholars with a sufficiently encyclopedic knowledge.

Winter, as head of the Carl Blegen Library, is ideally positioned for the task, aided by her proximity to both the Mainland Greek material itself, often those who excavated it, and, of course, the peerless research collection under her direction. More over, and perhaps most importantly, the breadth of her endeavor, her energy, and her scholarly generosity led Winter to organize international conferences on the material under the equally generous auspices of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. It is, therefore, gratifying to all of us who work on architectural terracottas that her efforts have finally come to fruition in Greek Architectural Terracottas from the Prehistoric to the End of the Archaic Period.

At the book’s beginning, besides the lists of contents, plates (131), figures (26), maps (6), tables (13), and abbreviations, the reader who is inexperienced with architectural terracottas will find a helpful glossary of terms used in the field. The following Introduction, labelled Chapter 1, states the intentions and the self-imposed limitations of the volume, the methodology by which those intentions will be achieved, and reviews previous scholarship in the field. Chapter 2, entitled Prehistoric Greek Roof Tiles, briefly reviews the problematic evidence for terracotta roofs from Aegean Bronze Age contexts.

The real subject of the book begins with Chapter 3 which discusses the roofs of the Protocorinthian System, almost certainly the earliest of the historical period, and, since all later systems in one way or another seem to descend from it, the Protocorinthian System’s seminal role.

Chapter 4 traces the development of the Corinthian System. Because of the great quantity of known examples and because so many of the other Mainland Greek systems respond strongly to it, as do those in East Greece and the West to a certain extent, the discussion is very detailed, occupying a full quarter of the book. It is in the context of the Corinthian and other Mainland Greek systems that Winter’s encyclopedic knowledge, based on firsthand study, is most apparent. One of Winter’s more interesting observations concerning the Corinthian System is the appearance of an archaizing tendency in terms of both profile and decoration in Late Archaic roofs. Apparently following the Corinthian lead, this archaizing tendency soon manifests itself in other Mainland systems, too. It seems that this phenomenon is perhaps even more widespread than Winter realizes, occurring in the early decades of the fifth century BC at such far-flung and relatively remote inland sites as Morgantina in central eastern Sicily. (To Winter’s impeccable bibliography add Marie-Francoise Billot’s study of those Corinthian simas with an ovolo profile, sometimes called “Megarian”: “Observations sur les simas ‘megariennes,'”Varia Anatolica III, eds. J. des Courtils and J.-C. Moretti [Paris, 1993] 119-216.)

Chapter 5 deals with the second major roofing system in Archaic Greece, the Laconian. Like the Corinthian, it is probably a first generation descendant of the Protocorinthian System, but its inception antedates the appearance of the Corinthian and may, indeed, be contemporary with the later examples of Protocorinthian roofs. Though pure Laconian roofs are a much more local phenomenon than Corinthian, the Laconian System’s influence is, in one way or another, felt by almost all others in the Hellenic world, and, because of its lightness, simplicity, and resulting economy of production, becomes, in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, and even down to this day, the most successful system, especially for utilitarian and domestic buildings.

Chapter 6 discusses in detail the North-Western Greek System found in Aetolia and Corfu. Despite the fact that this system uses details of both the Corinthian and Laconian systems, its overall visual impression is unique. Perhaps the most individual contribution of the North-Western Greek System is the use of heads in relief of varying depth on antefixes, an invention which has profound influence on architectural terracotta decoration in Italy, Sicily, East Greece, and, to a lesser extent, some of the other systems of Mainland Greece. Though appropriately sceptical, Winter reiterates Torelli’s theory that antefixes decorated with heads were invented by two Cretans, Dipoinos and Skyllis, sons of Daidalos, who left their native island and migrated first to Sikyon, thence to Aetolia, and finally to Italy. In spite of the inconvenient fact that no antefixes decorated with heads have as yet been found at Sikyon, this theory is attractive because antefixes decorated with gorgoneia and lion heads are known from Crete and, though largely unexplored by Winter, other Cretan influence seems apparent in the architectural terracotta production of South Italy, Sicily, and Etruria throughout the Archaic period. But more on this issue later. A new suggestion is offered for identifying the female headed antefixes as sphinxes. Indeed, the issue of their identity and meaning has vexed Winter and others ever since her 1978 RM publication. For a more recent alternative interpretation specific to Sicilian female head antefixes, see M. Mertens-Horn “Una nuova antefissa a testa femminile da Akrai ed alcune considerazioni sulle Ninfe di Sicilia,”Bd’A 66 (1991) 9-28. It would seem that female head antefixes could have different meanings in different places.

Chapter 7 deals with the Arcadian System which closely resembles the Laconian but is somewhat more exuberant. This exuberance is manifested primarily in the use of geison tiles and the system’s antefixes which regularly employ both floral and figural relief decoration.

In Chapter 8, Winter deals with the Argive Systems. The first, more original local variant also seems to have developed from the Protocorinthian in the mid-seventh century B.C. Though found principally in the Argolid, perhaps the system’s most famous example is the early roof from the sanctuary of Aphaia on Aegina. Beginning in the first quarter of the sixth century, a Corinthianizing workshop coexists with this more idiosyncratic local system and its production is continuous down through the period covered by this book.

Chapter 9 deals with the Central Greek System which is found in Thessaly, Lokris, Phokis, Boiotia, and perhaps Euboia. Early examples of the system share a number of similarities with the indigenous Argive (perhaps through Aeginetan agency?), but use different decorative details. As so often on the Mainland, after ca. 570 B.C., the Central Greek System seems increasingly to depend on the Corinthian. Though less prolific, there also seems to have been a Laconicizing workshop in central Greece.

Due to the intensive excavations on both the Athenian Akropolis and in the Agora, the Attic System, which forms the subject of Chapter 10, is well-documented and thoroughly studied. The earliest terracotta roofs known from Attic contexts do not date until the early years of the sixth century. This fact can perhaps be seen as another facet of the poorly understood centrifugal tendencies of the Athenian aristocracy throughout most of the seventh century, and its apparent lack of interest in staying abreast of the latest political, social, economic and artistic developments emanating from other poleis where the centralizing power of the state was stronger. Once the state asserts it authority by making the sanctuary of Athena on the Akropolis the focus of a major state-sponsored cult, the system commences. From the beginning, the Attic System is highly eclectic, much like the architecture these roofs protected and decorated, mixing elements of the Central Greek, Argive, and Argive Corinthianizing systems. From this milieu, a local Attic style emerges around the middle of the sixth century. As might be expected, East Greek or Ionian influence first becomes apparent around 540 B.C. and heavy from ca. 520 on.

Though Chapter 11 is entitled the Aegean Island System, it subsumes two interrelated but separate systems. The first considers those decorated roofs found in Greek cities on the Asia Minor littoral, and, even, to a certain extent, those found at indigenous Asiatic cities. Here Winter’s firsthand knowledge is less complete than for Mainland Greece as she readily admits. The monumental work on this material remains A. Åkerström’s Die Architektonischen Terrakotten Kleinasiens, which appeared in 1966 and on which Winter builds, adding new material discovered in subsequent excavations and offering new opinions about dating. Though not addressed by Winter, one of the system’s major dating questions concerns the retarded adoption of terracotta roofing in Hellenic contexts in Asia Minor. Though the system’s inception is essentially contemporary with the Attic, it is not clear that the causes for the delay were the same.

Another problem concerns some of the characteristics of this system, its penchant for relief decoration and for the treatment as a continuous frieze of both simas and geison revetments. It is well-known, for example, that these molded revetments have an affinity with similar revetments found at both indigenous Italic sites and at some South Italian, mostly Achaean colonial Greek sites, and at one ethnically mixed site in Sicily. Regrettably Winter does not attempt a speculative overview of this potentially rich area of inquiry. The interested reader should, however, consult M. Mertens-Horn “Die archaischen Baufriese aus Metapont”RM 99 (1992) 1-122, who argues that the earliest known chariot frieze sima is that from the sanctuary of Diktaian Zeus at Palaikastro in East Crete and dates to the late seventh century. (Winter dates this sima to ca. 480 BC!) Could it be revetments of this type originated on Crete and, although not mentioned by Pliny, that the Cretans Dipoinos and Skyllis are responsible for the transmission to the West not only of antefixes decorated with heads, but of simas with modeled moldings and figural scenes in raised relief treated as continuous friezes? The possibility of such a route of transmission is strengthened by Mertens-Horn’s presentation of a fragment, now housed in the Staatliche Antikensammlingen in Munich, which was made in the same mold as the Palaikastro sima and is said to have been found in South Italy.

While too plentiful to enumerate in the context of a review, there are a host of other instances of what appears to be Cretan influence on Western production. For example, the palmette antefixes from Knossos and Gortyn, both mentioned by Winter in Chapter 11, have their closest connections with a series of similar revetments from Morgantina. Winter makes passing reference to some of the Morgantina examples under the heading “Sicilian Eaves Tiles” in Chapter 12, but neglects, perhaps out of deference to this reviewer’s forthcoming work, to make the connection with Crete, though it was, indeed, she who first brought the Cretan revetments to my attention. In fact, the finest of these Morgantina revetments comes from a late Archaic roof in which multiple instances of Cretan influence appear.

The second subchapter of Chapter 11 concerns the Aegean Island System proper and its similarities with and differences from production on the nearby mainland of Asia Minor. Both Samos and Thasos, though at almost diagonally opposite corners of the Aegean and distinct in their production, are prominent in this discussion because excavations there have produced large quantities of terracotta revetments. Thasian production, known mostly from the buildings in the sanctuary of Herakles, appears highly eclectic, but fits in comfortably with other north Aegean production. For example, the semicircular antefixes with a dentate border, an inner frame of molded leaves or a fascia with painted decoration surrounding a central motif in raised relief are found at the Herakleion on Thasos and are associated with the Temple of Apollo at Neandria. Remarkably, though far afield, the closest parallels for antefixes of this type are found in Campania, a complicated and poorly understood connection that Winter does not venture to explore in spite of the fact that the production of Campanian Kyme, the earliest Greek colony in the West, is relatively well-known and appears to have been seminal in the creation of the Campanian and South Etruscan systems. The reader interested in the architectural terracotta production of Kyme and its relationship to those of other Campanian centers as well as the greater Greek world should consult the excellent but little-known monograph by L.A. Scatozza “Le terrecotte architettoniche cumane di età arcaica,”Klearchos 22 (1971) 45-111.

Indeed, the Campanian System, now that the subject has been broached, seems to evince another important influence which Winter does not mention from yet another Greek system. In discussing the female head antefixes of the North-Western Greek System, Winter mentions that “the plaque to either side of the head was painted with a cream-colored volute descending from atop the head and ending in a spiral,” an unusual device appearing elsewhere, to the best of my knowledge, only on Campanian and South Etruscan female head antefixes. On these Italian examples, the volutes are often distinguished by relief as well as by paint. In describing these volutes, Winter also attempts to strengthen her previously mentioned suggestion that female head antefixes represent sphinxes, at least in the North-Western Greek System. Are we by analogy to conclude that female head antefixes in the Campanian and South Etruscan Systems also represent sphinxes? Palmette and occasionally gorgoneion antefixes in these and other Italian systems often display similar volutes. It appears that if the volutes were ever meant to designate sphinxes, they had lost that meaning in the West.

One other addition should be made to Winter’s discussion of the Aegean Island System. On p. 242, Winter discusses unusual lateral simas from Larisa and Temnos which use gorgoneion and feline head appliques. Besides the obvious connections with North-Western Greece, Crete, and Sicily, a new fragment, apparently from the same mold as the sima from Temnos, has been found at Miletos as reported by V. von Graeve and R. Senff “Milet 1990/ Kalabaktepe”IstMitt 41 (1991) 132, pl. 24, fig. 2. Another roof of perhaps early Classical date which uses the same motifs has been found at Olympia (See A. Heiden “Klassische Dächer aus Olympia”Hesperia suppl. 27 [forthcoming]).

In Chapter 12, Winter moves on to the Western Greek Systems encompassing four subchapters. The first deals with Sicilian roofs and the second with South Italian roofs. As was the case with her treatment of the Aegean Island System of Chapter 11, Winter’s knowledge is based primarily on publications of the material rather than comprehensive firsthand examination, and, as a result, her treatment, in both instances, is less thorough than that provided for the Mainland Greek systems. Fortunately, major studies of both the Sicilian and South Italian material have appeared in recent years. For Sicily, there is Charlotte Wikander’s 1986 monograph entitled Sicilian Architectural Terracottas: A Reappraisal, which though advancing some important new ideas which Winter adopts, deals exclusively with previously published simas and geison revetments, ignoring both the other components of the roofs as well as roofs that used antefixes rather than simas at the eaves. For those revetments not considered by Wikander, Winter has had to rely on small studies of the roofs of particular buildings and on excavation reports. The result is that a lot of material that has languished unpublished in museums and excavation storerooms is not considered. See now M. Mertens-Horn, “Una nuova antefissa a testa femminile da Akrai ed alcune considerazioni sulle Ninfe di Sicilia”Bd’A 66 (1991) 9-28, and my “A Modelled Terracotta Frieze from Archaic Morgantina: Its East Greek and Central Italic Affinities”Deliciae Fictiles eds. C. Wikander and E. Rystedt (Stockholm, 1993) 21-28].

Winter’s knowledge of the South Italian material relies primarily on the fundamental monographs of D. Mertens on the Archaic roofs of Metapontion and Kroton and his more comprehensive studies in Megale Hellas: Atti XXI CSMG (Taranto, 1982) and Neue Forschungen in griechischen Heiligtümern (Tubingen, 1976). As mentioned above, the only major lacuna in Winter’s discussion of the Western Greek Systems is her decision not to grapple with Campania which is somewhat surprising given the fact that her studies of female head antefixes of necessity involved her heavily in the architectural terracotta production of that region. In any event, the most interesting new scholarship on South Italian Greek material to appear since the volume under review went to press is M. Mertens-Horn’s previously mentioned monograph “Die archaischen Baufriese aus Metapont”RM 99 (1992) 1-122. In addition, Peter Danner in his brief “Figuren an Simaecken – eine Form ostgriechischer Architekturdekoration im griechischen Westen”Varia Anatolica III eds. J. des Courtils and J.-C. Moretti (Paris, 1993) 253-260 recognizes the strong East Greek connections of a sima from Paestum. The corners of this sima are decorated with winged female figures, presumably Nikai, in such high relief as to be almost freestanding. Danner rightly compares these figures with the Nikai from the corners of the architrave of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma.

Subchapters three and four concern first Western Greek roofs on Mainland Greece, i.e. at Olympia and Delphi, and second, those roofs from Corfu which, beginning ca. 580, come under heavy Western Greek influence. In both instances, the latest scholarship, largely interpretive, consists of the contributions of M. Mertens-Horn and C. Wikander to the First International Conference on Archaic Greek Architectural Terracottas which Winter organized and which appear in Hesperia 59 (1990).

Chapter 13 is entitled “Technical Discussion” and includes subheadings on manufacture, placement or laying of tiles, and tile stamps and inscriptions. These facets of roof-making have been mentioned by Winter wherever appropriate throughout the preceding chapters, so this chapter is something of a summary. I might at this juncture say that Winter’s decision to deal with the undecorated utilitarian tiles is most welcome and will hopefully spur on excavators’ growing attention to these less glamorous members of roofing systems.

There is one other suggestion that might be appropriately made under the rubric of “Technical Discussion” in connection with stamps and inscriptions. Apparently some tiles in the Sicilian System, especially ridge tiles, bear incised or painted doodle-like representations of real or mythical creatures on the top of the exterior of the saddle, a position where they would never be seen by anyone other than those making repairs to the apex of the roof. As I reported in Hesperia 59 (1990), the most extensive set of such tiles comes from the roof of a Late Archaic temple at Morgantina, and, in this instance, the doodle on each tile represents a different creature. It would be interesting to know if this phenomenon is unique to Morgantina.

The last chapter, 14, is entitled “Conclusions,” and, as might be expected, sums up the information presented in much greater detail in the previous 13 chapters. Perhaps delving more fully into the cultural context of these roofs would have unacceptably broadened the scope of the book, but this reader could not help wishing that there had been more speculation on both the connection between these roofs and the developments that were simultaneously occurring in the buildings below, as well as the social, political, and economic environment in which these considerable projects were effected. The fact that the conversions from thatch or wooden shingles to terracotta roofs and from wood and mud brick to cut blocks and columns of stone in the building below happen at the same time is surely significant. Similarly, the enormity of effort and the organizational skill required for the construction of these sometimes large temples seems to presuppose the emergence of the polis and its consolidation of power as, indeed, Winter’s occasional invocation of Periander, Pheidon, Kroisos, and Polykrates would imply.

Finally, following the Conclusions of Chapter 14, the reader will find a list of ancient authors consulted, a museum concordance which lists each tile or fragment by museum where housed, find or accession number, and, if it is illustrated in this volume, its plate and/or figure numbers. The museum concordance is followed by an index.

In spite of the few minor suggestions this reviewer has made, Greek Architectural Terracottas from the Prehistoric to the End of the Archaic Period is a truly monumental effort by one of the few, if not the only scholar in the world with the encyclopedic knowledge requisite for providing a credible overview of these diverse and complicated systems.