BMCR 2000.02.06

The Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea Area: Historical Interpretation of Archaeology. Historia Einzelschriften 121

, The Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea Area: Historical Interpretation of Archaeology. Historia Einzelschriften 121. Stuttgart: Steiner, 1998. 336. DM 148.

The editor puts it well. “Of all the regions of the ancient world colonised by the Greeks, the Black Sea is one of the least well known to Western scholarship” (p. 7). That is a pity, as many of the fondest assumptions of those who study Greek colonisation are challenged by the archaeological analysis of the Greek contacts and settlements of this area. This book offers a first step in the process of what Tsetskhladze (hereafter T.) calls the crossing of “two, long artificially separated paths of scholarship” (p. 7), and provides an insight into the vast wealth of archaeological material which may be studied in this region, and the means by which Western scholars may pursue study of this material.

The book thus comprises a series of articles, mainly in English, by scholars from Russia (6), Bulgaria (4), Britain (4), Israel (1) and Romania (1), which present new data and/or new interpretations which throw light upon the Greek contacts or settlement of the Black Sea area. The approaches and materials discussed are diffuse. Archaeological essays range from the publication of exciting new finds and syntheses of archaeological material (in particular Solovev and Panayotova), to the analysis of single classes of finds (e.g. Treister, Boardman). There are masterly discussions of epigraphic problems (Avram, Vinogradov) and finally the obligatory (it seems) discussion and (re)assessment of literary sources (e.g. Hind, Asheri, Braund, Vassileva). On the whole, and on their own terms, the pieces demonstrate good scholarship, and (and this is the great strength of the volume) a wealth of new information.

This does not mean that the collection is without its problems. A collection of articles from countries as diverse as these is bound to produce contrasting approaches and methods of scholarship. These divergences in approach are clearly a source of anxiety to T. in his introduction: his worries are, however, to some extent unfounded. The very strength of this volume lies in its demonstration of the current levels and varying methodologies of scholarship in (and about) this area. This, combined with the amount of new data published, for the first time in a form accessible to Western scholars, makes the book an exciting addition to our bibliographies. T.’s anxiety is also manifested in a sometimes somewhat overbearing editorial input. For example, at the beginning of Solovev’s fascinating essay, outlining and discussing the evidence for the earliest settlement by Greeks and native ‘Scythians’ and their interactions, a footnote draws attention to T.’s disagreement with its substance (a fact already evident from T.’s introduction) in a way which allows little scope for the critical intelligence of the reader (p. 205).

Perhaps the great disappointment of the book, however, is precisely that the methodologies are in one respect more uniform than T. allows. The culture historical framework of explanation forms a strong unifying factor within the diversity of approaches. Culture historical approaches have always been evident in the Eastern European literature, but this work does little to display the large gulf in theoretical approaches between East and West which T. suggests exists. Indeed, none of the British contributions offer new archaeological theoretical approaches or methodologies.

This cultural-historical approach means that archaeological analysis often takes a back seat to literary interpretation, since the key element of such approaches is the (often simplistic) correlation of material culture and texts. As our texts are Greek, it also leads to a Hellenocentric bias in the study of this region. For example the concept of ‘Hellenisation’ appears often in these essays — a concept which gives no attention to how the ‘native populations’ actually used the material culture of other peoples. A particularly common element within these essays is the racial attribution of burials. It seems to me that such approaches miss the complex, subtle, and, above all, active ways in which people use material culture.

Among the literary studies, Vassileva and Braund give perhaps the most useful discussions of the sources. Braund, in particular, provides a critical analysis of our literary sources, indicating that we should perhaps take note of the nature and social context of such texts rather than looting them for useful tidbits. His conclusion, that our texts “tell us as much and perhaps more about the context in which they were written than about the colonial origins which they claim to present” (pp. 295-6) has unfortunately not been heeded by many of the articles in this volume. However, he seems to imply that such necessary disparagement of our textual source base is merely destructive. Contextual archaeological analysis is nowhere in this volume seen as an alternative resource.

Braund’s brief discussion of the problems of using the poetical fragments of Archilochos to build up an historical ‘house of cards’ account of the Greek settlement of Thasos is one of which note should be taken. However, it is not enough merely to note the satirical nature of Archilochos’ verse, although this is a fact to which many scholars have paid scant regard. The question of reception, mentioned by Braund, needs to be addressed more fully. Archilochos has come down to us through a filter, not only of the concerns of antiquity, but of modern interpretations and restorations. A case in point is one of the most famous poems, West 93a, from the 1st. century BC inscription from Paros: the Monumentum Archilochi — an explicitly ideological context in which fragments of Archilochos’ poems are quoted to back up an account of Parian history. The current text of this poem has been reproduced by many editions,1 and the substance of it, in particular the line translated by West as “with a cargo of pure gold for bribing Thracian dogs”, has been used by many scholars to prove the general model of violence between Greek and Thracian, and the general disdain in which Greeks held Thracians at even this early period.2 However, my research has shown that the restoration ‘kusi’ (dogs) is nowhere justified on the stone, with a phi, rather than a kappa seemingly visible.3 Indeed, the initial restoration was ‘phosi’ (men) rather than ‘kusi’ (dogs). This seems to me to be a case of the prevailing (modernist, colonialist) view of Greek colonisation intruding not only upon the interpretation, but upon the restoration of a fragment — a fragment upon which much historical weight has in turn been put.

Such problems abound in the study of Greek colonisation — a subject which is implicated in the nationalist discourses of many of the modern nation states upon whose territory the remains of Greek settlements are found, mainly through the Hellenist origin myth of ‘Western civilisation’.4 This is a problem which is never broached in this work, despite the greater awareness that this particular geographical area has of the political nature of archaeology. Indeed, for all T.’s emphasis on the need to define our terms in the study of Greek colonisation, there is a distinct lack of theorisation of the concept in these essays. Nowhere are the key terms ‘colonisation’ and ‘colony’ even discussed, despite the debate which has (rather tardily) begun concerning the applicability of the analogy between modern colonialism and Archaic Greek ‘colonisation’. It is true that even many scholars who note the problem find themselves tangled up in this analogy.5 This is due to its complexity. Greek and Roman colonisation were used as justificatory examples by modern colonialism, and the two have therefore become conceptually tangled. T., however, prefers to argue quite vehemently on the land-hunger side of the (very stale) ‘motivations for Greek colonisation’ debate — a debate which explicitly uses the analogy of Western European imperialism. It is encouraging to see that some of our Eastern European colleagues have begun to realise the need for new approaches. For example Fol emphasises “the need to study not ‘Graeco-barbarian relations’ in general, according to anachronistic models of Greek colonisation, but to examine each region, or city, or settlement separately in connection with its hinterland” (p. 84).

For all this, T.’s effort and success in producing this fascinating collection, and in particular in the inclusion of so many of our Eastern European colleagues, must be applauded. The disagreements between the scholars is not (despite T.’s worries) a negative sign. On the contrary, it shows that the study of the Greek settlement of the Black Sea is a vibrant discipline. The article by Panayotova, for example, also demonstrates the skilful and valuable excavation which has taken place in Bulgaria for decades past and which continues today. Her extremely clear and detailed exposition of her work on the Sozopol necropoleis forms a really useful database for scholars in the field. I can only hope that collections such as these will contribute to increasing the number of such scholars.


1. The most central editions are M.L. West Iambi et elegi Greci ante Alexandrum cantati (Oxford 1971-72; reprinted 1998), G. Tarditi Archilocho (Rome 1968), M. Treu Archilochus (Munich 1959). In these texts the dots under letters, which conventionally indicate that whilst the letter itself cannot be read, the letter is necessarily the only possible one in context or that whilst the letter is incomplete, such traces as remain of it agree with the editor’s restoration, migrate worryingly from text to text. Treu represents the reading ‘kusi’ as completely secure, West, places dots (correctly) under the kappa, upsilon and iota of ‘kusi’, and Tarditi dots the sigma, which is the only letter which is secure and easily visible on the inscription. For publications of the inscription, see note 3.

2. See e.g. A.J. Graham “The foundation of Thasos” in BSA 73 (1978), 61-98; S. Luria “Zu Archilochos” in Philologus 105 (1961), 178-97.

3. A squeeze of this inscription (taken at the beginning of the twentieth century) was kindly lent to me by the IG archive of the Berlin Akademie der Wissenschaften. I must here thank Joyce Reynolds, John Graham and Onno van Nijf for their help in reading this squeeze. All three concur that kappa is not visible, and would be reluctant to cite any letter of this word as certain apart from the (very clear) sigma. The inscription was first published by Hiller von Gaertringen in 1900, in Berliner philologische Wochenschrift 20, 606ff, and the restoration ‘phosi’ was taken up by him in IG XII (5) 445 (1909). The restoration ‘kusi’ was proposed by Hiller von Gaertringen in 1934 “Noch einmal das Archilochosdenkmal von Paros” in Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Gottingen (Phil. Hist. Kl. I) (1934-6), 41-56, without explanation. Whilst Jacoby ( FGrH 502) accepts the reading, claiming that it was made after a new reading of the stone, a supplement, by Maas, to Hiller von Gaertringen’s article brackets the kappa of ‘kusi’. I have been unable to find any intermediate stage in the proposal of this emendation, and would be delighted if anyone could enlighten me further on the process.

4. See e.g. B. Wailes and A. Zoll “Civilization, barbarism and nationalism in European archaeology” in P.L. Kohl and C. Fawcett (eds.) Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology (Cambridge 1995), 21-38; M. Dietler “The Cup of Gyptis: Rethinking the Colonial Encounter in Early-Iron-Age Western Europe and the Relevance of World-Systems Models” in Journal of European Archaeology 3.2 (1995), 89-111.

5. See e.g. F. de Angelis “The foundation of Selinous: overpopulation or opportunities?” in G. Tsetskhladze & F. De Angelis (eds.) The Archaeology of Greek Colonization (Oxford 1994), 87-110, and, by the same author “Ancient past, imperial present: the British Empire in T.J. Dunbabin’s The Western Greeks” in Antiquity 72 (1998), 539-49