BMCR 2000.03.20

Ancient Greeks West and East

, Ancient Greeks west and east. Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava, 196. Leiden: Brill, 1999. xxi, 623 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.. ISBN9004111905 $160.

This is another edited volume from Tsetskhladze on the Greeks beyond their homeland (cf. BMCR 2000.02.06). This particular work began as a seminar series at the Institute of Classical Studies in London during the 1995-96 academic year on the general theme of the Greek concepts of “West” and “East,” presumably through cultural exchange. The volume, however, includes more contributions than just those which were presented in the seminar series. It is an important collection of historical, literary, art historical and archaeological accounts on a variety of topics from the Greek diaspora.

The first contribution, by G.M. Bongard-Levin, is a somewhat meandering account of the Russian scholar M. Rostovtzeff’s period in Oxford. Based upon correspondence, the chapter presents Rostovtzeff’s academic and political publication progress between 1918 and 1920; having left Russia for Sweden on a research trip from which he was never to return, he spent nearly two years in Oxford before travelling to France and ultimately settling in the United States. Rostovtzeff’s experiences as a Russian in Oxford highlight the competitive ambitions of narrow-minded Oxford academics, but Bongard-Levin does little with this, simply documenting Rostovtzeff’s activities during his time in England. This chapter is a shortened version of a longer piece published elsewhere, and it is not clear why the author chose to present the subject again here. He does not discuss Rostovtzeff’s relevant research in any detail, nor does he draw any parallels to the broader themes of this volume. Its inclusion may be the editor’s way of authenticating his own experiences at that same institution, alluded to in an editorial footnote to the chapter, leaving the reader to wonder if there is a hidden agenda in the inclusion of this contribution. The way the subject matter is discussed, an awkward translation into English and poor copy-editing make this a disappointing introductory chapter.

The subsequent chapter makes a much more fitting introduction to the volume. This contribution, by C. Tuplin, addresses racism in Greek literature and the attempts of ancient Greek authors to define Greekness. Tuplin offers a discussion of Greek definitions of barbarians and the ways in which these definitions developed. Focusing more on central and eastern Mediterranean non-Greek cultures than western ones, the author presents an interesting account of the diversity of forms of ethnic prejudice the Greeks displayed in their writings.

Continuing with a literary perspective, J. Hind presents a critical assessment of the forty-four brief references to colonies founded by Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans in Pomponius Mela’s two “world outline” books. Hind’s implied conclusion is that Mela is a mediocre source for classical colonisation, but Hind does not relate his criticisms of Mela back to any contemporary trends in thought on colonisation, or any colonial political agendas.

At this juncture, the volume begins a tour around the Mediterranean, beginning in the Near East, and finds much more success with its subjects. Research into the supposed Aegean origin of the Philistines has prevented appreciation of the culture’s richness and diversity. J. Vanschoonwinkel redresses this in a discussion of local Canaanite, Egyptian and Cypriot influences upon burial chamber types, terracotta figurines, and ceramics. Mycenaean influences are also discussed, but in relation to other cultural influences, creating a less Aegean-oriented perspective. R. Kearsley presents a fascinating new interpretation of the historical context for the foundation of Al Mina, arguing convincingly for its foundation as a mercenary, rather than commercial, settlement. J. Boardman also returns to the Al Mina debate with a riveting analysis of Woolley’s account of his excavations and a welcome summary of all the types of recorded ceramics from the site. Astonishingly, however, neither Kearsley nor Boardman makes reference to each other’s article. Boardman steadfastly sticks to the commercial hypothesis without discussion of the new alternative, while one might expect Kearsley to acknowledge Boardman’s revised percentages of the wares.

The volume then moves to Italy and Sicily. Connections have long been sought between the name of the South Italian town of Cleta and the Amazon Penthesilea’s handmaid of the same name. L. Moscati-Castelnuovo discusses Amazons as colonial eponyms and founders. The author links the development of the myth of Cleta with the local tradition of Cyzicus and proves that Cleta’s premises have no foundation in local Western traditions. C.J. Smith takes us to Cerveteri, where he places a locally made bucchero olpe with a Medea scene in its art-historical context with regard to theories of myth acculturation and acquisition. After such a laborious construction of the framework for the case study, it seems odd that there is no illustration of the vase. B. d’Agostino revisits the Greeks at Cumae and Ischia. Recent excavations at Cumae have revealed elements of Greek burial ritual and Greek sherds within a possible proto-urban context contemporary with the earliest material from Pithekoussai. This perhaps obscures Cumae’s temporal relationship with Pithekoussai more than ever. The author then re-explores the Pithekoussai graves, noting the evidence for social stratification with regard to burial method and age. Much of this can be found in more detail in the 1994 volume of papers edited by B. d’Agostino and D. Ridgway entitled Apoikia (Annali di Archeologia e Storia Antica, NS No. 1, Naples). The identification of Pithekoussai as an emporion has been abandoned for some time now in favour of an apoikia (the 1994 publication is quite convincing), yet d’Agostino writes as if this is a new idea. What is novel, however, is the author’s re-interpretation of the burial evidence, which concludes that the pattern suggests a restricted eminent social group such as a genos, rather than the more common oikist foundation. This serves to highlight the complexity of the nature of Euboean presence in the Bay of Naples.

In Sicily, R. Frederiksen attempts to find distribution patterns among the goods in the Protocorinthian graves of the Fusco necropolis of Syracuse. But for what purpose? Gender identification? Status? Rather, the author ambiguously states that the aim is to investigate the “meanings of the grave goods” (p. 229) with regard to social organisation. After a series of somewhat simplistic attempts to detect patterns based on age, sex, and quantity, Frederiksen broadly concludes that the finer pots, some of the metal objects and the more exotic goods are wealthy objects denoting wealthy burials (p. 247) and that many factors work together in the display of wealth (p. 248). This is not new, either in its generalisations or its specific application. There is also no cross-referencing in the brief section on the occurrence of metals in the graves to the following article by G. Shepherd, whose work revisits the theme of Italic fibulas as ethnic indicia in the western Greek colonies, particularly in the Fusco necropolis. Shepherd’s primary contribution to this discussion is her observation of the contextual correlation of fibulas with children’s graves, where, she suggests, they serve the function of prestige grave offerings rather than marks of ethnicity. This is an intriguing conclusion, awareness of which would have enhanced Frederiksen’s work.

Spain is the focus of the following two contributions. A.J. Domínguez examines Hellenic influences in native Iberian sculpture, script, pottery shapes and motifs, bronzes, grave markers and tomb types (misleadingly titled “funerary rituals” on p. 317) and finally grave goods themselves. This is mostly a summary of relevant finds, with no reference to theoretical frameworks for the acculturation process. The author’s rigid conclusion is that ‘the Iberians themselves were solely responsible for the insertion in their structures … of all the cultural elements provided by the Greeks” (p. 323) with the exception of sculpture and writing, which in turn were limited temporally and geographically. There is no reference to the following work by S. Aguilar, who examines a series of stone sphinx sculptures from various provenances, the sculptures from Porcuna, and the Lady of Elche. She describes the sculptures and discusses their past scholarship before directing the reader to avenues for productive research which might elucidate why selected elements of Greek culture were adapted and utilised by the local populations. Curiously, the editor has chosen to refer the reader to the previous paper for a minor point regarding script of Phoenician origin (349). Even more curious is the appendix which follows Aguilar’s article. It is a review article by R. Olmos and T. Tortosa which challenges a 1994 publication which suggests that the Lady of Elche is a forgery. Surely this volume is not the appropriate venue for such a piece, which would be better placed in a journal such as AJA or Antiquity, which frequently contain such contrapositive features. On p. 359, the authors state that they have not been heard on such international platforms and imply that they have not offered their voices to such venues. Why not? Surely, given the publicity that the book under review received, such journals would jump at the opportunity to provide a stage for redress, as they have frequently done in the past. And surely Olmos and Tortosa mean that the “circular arguments offered by the author do [not] stand up to expert criticism” (p. 352)?

The book then turns to Asia Minor. T. Robinson discusses the socio-cultural context for the construction of the Inscribed Pillar and the Nereid Monument at Xanthus by the Lycian dynast Erbinna. He examines their non-Greek attributes, convincingly placing them within more multi-cultural contexts. A.D.H. Bivar considers the political and social significance of a gold phiale given by the Persian king to a member of Plato’s family in a fascinating and concise contribution.

S. Ebbinghaus provides a bridge to Thrace as she explores Persian and Greek influences on Thrace through the use of the rhyton, which was appropriated as a status symbol by the Thracian elite. She offers a very lengthy and detailed account of the development of metal plate rhyta from a primarily art historical perspective. Although she discusses gift exchange, she does not fit this development within the context of the wider processes of acculturation. Z.H. Archibald recounts the history of Thracian cult scholarship, especially the cults of the Odrysian kingdom between 450 and 250 BC. Forms of evidence include inscriptions, and archaeological remains from sanctuaries and settlement sites. This provides the author with the opportunity to examine the role of domestic cult to discern interrelated traditions rather than looking for ethnic differences. This is an extremely important distinction of perspective in the study of culturally interactive zones but one that many of the other papers in this volume fail to consider.

The editor’s own contribution surveys evidence of foreign influence on the local peoples of the Pontus and Caucasus. He briefly summarises relevant indigenous migrations and their archaeological evidence, from art to burial methods and artefacts, which reflect Anatolian influences. There is also a section concerned with the identification of the Cimmerian culture. This is another useful presentation of Russian scholarship by which Tsetskhladze continues to make the study of these regions more accessible to a wider, non-Russian-reading, audience, providing extensive bibliography. A. Ivantchik examines the development of the classical tradition of the so-called Scythian rule over Asia during the second half of the seventh century BC. Scythian and local legends were sources for the classical tradition about their raids in Asia, and Ivantchik traces their uses in the versions of Pompeius Trogus and Herodotus, which differ mostly over the duration of the stay of the Scythians in Asia. The author’s use of Biblical data as a basis for precisely dating the raids is a re-introduction of a methodology which has not been considered for some time and is a welcome incorporation of a closely linked discipline which perhaps gets rejected too often by classicists. Continuing with the Scythians, D. Braund emphasises the more positive aspects of the Scythian image in Greek literature. In particular, he focuses on the Scythian production of mare’s milk, as discussed by Herodotus and in the Hippocratic corpus. Rather than merely a feature of differentiation from Greek culture, its inclusion in Greek writing may have served as an example of practical utility in a culture where horses did not suggest wealth and status, as in Greece, but one in which a more simple lifestyle pervaded. Rather than a peculiar tradition, the Scythian production of mare’s milk may have been viewed by the Greeks as appropriate to its context, and hence the Greek tendency to credit the Scythians with eunomia and justice. Braund argues that this outlook should be extended to other interpretations about references to the Scythian lifestyle.

V.D. Kuznetsov offers an architectural history of Greek houses on the northern coast of the Black Sea during the Archaic period. He is concerned with the excavation of and evidence for dug-out and semi-dug-out dwellings, arguing that Archaic Greek houses of the Black Sea region developed “in accordance with the general line of the development of Greek houses” in Ionia (559) and that dug-outs and semi-dug-outs cannot be considered as the first houses of the Greek colonists. M. Treister examines late Hellenistic horse-harness plaques from south Russia. The author analyses the artistic style of the classical mythological scenes (and of war-elephants) to identify the production provenances of the phalerae. The author concludes that some classes were manufactured by Sarmatian craftsmen while others may be of Parthian, Asia Minor, Bactrian or Bosphoran origin. The final contribution to the volume is N. Gigolashvili’s discussion of the famous silver aryballos from a Vani burial. The author provides a detailed description of the decoration and offers an interpretation favouring a Near Eastern artistic tradition rather than a Greek one, based on the quality of the decoration and the method in which ornamentation was applied. The possibility of an Ionian craftsman seems reasonable, particularly given the blend of Greek, Rhodian-Ionian, and mainland Achaemenid influences which are apparent.

The editor’s intention was broad and ambitious. In the Introduction, he outlines his goal of bringing together contributions which would combine the different types of evidence (literary, archaeological, art-historical, etc.), discussing them from every perspective and for every region of the ancient world in which Greeks settled (p. viii). Greek activity in North Africa has been overlooked entirely, however, and there is no discussion of Greek presence in France, although the two works on Iberia may satisfy the editor as fulfilling the “western” role. Furthermore, while throughout the volume there are works from a literary, historical, art-historical or archaeological perspective, few of the contributions combine all such approaches. And, given the variety of topics discussed, no single theme is examined “from every perspective”.

Individual contributions are meritorious, and there is a nice pairing of topics within a particular geographical region, but the book as a whole is missing a sense of cohesion, and of greater purpose. The lack of cross-referencing between clearly related contributions denies the volume the chance to present the most up-to-date arguments or to push scholarship in these regions to a new level. With no clear ideological or theoretical framework, the book seems to be only a collection of essays on assorted topics to do with Greek colonisation. The quality of the translations is variable, and many of the chapters have awkward phraseology. Furthermore, not a single chapter is immune from spelling, grammatical, punctuation and/or consistency errors (there is no Ridgway 1990 in Shepherd’s bibliography, for instance). The example of the negative which has been left out in a critical sentence in the review article is perhaps the gravest of such oversights, but for a price of £81 I expect a quality of sub-editing this book fails to reach. Nevertheless, there are many important contributions contained within the volume, which individually should be essential reading for any student or scholar of Greek colonisation, and this should be compensation for the price and failings of the book as a whole.