BMCR 2002.02.05

Corinth, Volume XVIII, part IV, The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: Terracotta Figurines of the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman Periods

, The sanctuary of Demeter and Kore : terracotta figurines of the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. Corinth ; volume XVIII part IV. Princeton: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2000. xxvii, 394 pages, 79 portraits : illustrations ; 31 cm.. ISBN 0876611846 $100.00.

This volume continues the work of the three previous monographs in the Corinth, Volume 18 series in publishing the results from the excavations of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, which is located on the north slope of Acrocorinth in ancient Corinth, Greece. These excavations, which ran from 1961 to 1975, along with a field season in 1994, uncovered more than 24,000 figurines and fragments ranging in size from miniatures to statuettes more than 50 cm in height. This corpus of figurines from the sanctuary is not only noteworthy for its large number of finds but also for the diversity of styles and manufacturing techniques contained in the collection. This volume, however, offers more than just a well-organized catalogue of finds and also includes both an overview of the coroplastic techniques in use at Corinth as well as some reasonable speculations about the use of the figurines in the cult of Demeter and Kore.

The introduction deals with several different topics that are crucial for understanding the sections that follow. First Merker addresses the difficulty in counting and processing such a large number of items and then presents basic item counts broken into chronological periods. Merker is very forthright about the problems facing the analysis of the material from the sanctuary, such as the difficulty in obtaining an accurate count, the lack of contextual assistance in dating the figurines, and the sanctuary’s effect on artifact distribution due to the repeated construction on the site over the years. While these problems create difficulties in analyzing the material, they do not present insurmountable obstacles. For example, the lack of contextual evidence for certain types of figurines was overcome by using well-documented figurines from other sites in Corinth, such as the North Cemetery and the Forum Southwest Excavations. Even with the assistance of finds from other Corinthian sites, the figurines from the sanctuary can be reliably dated only to a fairly wide chronological range. Any further improvement of the dating must rely on both stylistic interpretation and comparisons with work in other media, such as stone and bronze.

This introduction also provides a nice overview of Classical and Hellenistic coroplastic techniques and focuses on what the material from the Sanctuary can add to the existing knowledge base. The earliest Archaic coroplastic production in Corinth dates to the last quarter of the seventh century BC. These early figurines, produced in the Potters’ Quarter workshops, continued to be produced until the 320’s BC, when production shifted to other more widely scattered workshops throughout Corinth. This shift from a centralized production center to dispersed sites might explain the diverse types produced within the city. It has also been thought that Corinth adopted hollow molding later than other areas, but a selection of Classical hollow-molded figurines that date to the early fifth century BC demonstrates that Corinth began using the technique at about the same time as other production centers. This section is one of the more valuable aspects of the work for those who are not experts in the area of terracotta figurines since it offers a brief, but solid introduction to the subject.

The next six chapters, which make up the bulk of the volume, offer description of the figurines and their stylistic analysis. As Merker pointed out in her introduction, an important point to bear in mind is that the large number of figurines discovered during the excavation seasons prevented the inclusion of all figurines in the catalogue. Instead, what is presented in these six chapters is a representative selection of the larger collection. The chapters are broken into chronological units such as Classical, Early Hellenistic, Middle Hellenistic, or Roman, and these sections are well organized and easy to follow. Each chapter has a discussion section that focuses on the different types of figurines discovered at the site dating to that chronological period. The discussion section focuses on the stylistic analysis and chronological development of the figurines. The discussion is followed immediately by a catalogue of the items. The items that are discussed specifically in the text are easy to locate in both the associated catalogue and collection of plates at the end of the study. While this may not seem noteworthy on the surface, anyone who has ever used an archaeological study where specific artifacts are almost impossible to find in the plates and figures because of an overly elaborate numbering system will certainly appreciate the clarity to this work.

In the last chapter, Merker provides a nice summary that synthesizes the information provided in the previous seven chapters. She examines the nature and conduct of the cult by using the figurines to examine the cult’s deities and participants and their relationship. She first offers several caveats to the reader: there is little written evidence for the function and significance of the figurines, and, since the sanctuary was in existence for such a long period, no single type was in existence for that entire time and so we must rely on a “patchwork of types”. With these cautions in mind, however, the figurines from the sanctuary can still be examined in view of their cultic context and can be looked at in relation to two parts: functional and symbolic. For example, their large number allows certain inferences to be drawn. During the excavation seasons more than 800 articulated “dolls” were found at the site indicating that thousands were probably brought to the site over the years. Their very number indicates these “dolls” were not toys but cult objects with special significance, perhaps as substitute dedications to Aphrodite from young girls.

An analysis of the overall numbers seems to indicate that the period of the most prolific production and dedication was the fourth century B.C., following the Peloponnesian War. The number of figurines drops dramatically during the Roman period. The Corinthian coroplastic workshops produced a diverse corpus of figurines that ranged from elaborate, highly detailed works down to simple terracotta animals. Merker also examines the connection between the Corinthian coroplastic industry and other workshops. While it could be assumed that there was a connection between the coroplastic industry and the local terracotta workshops or the production of stone sculptures, there is little evidence for such a link. It is clear, however, that there was a close connection between the coroplast industry and the manufacture of Corinthian bronzes. Corinthian coroplasts probably used archetypes from models developed for small bronzes and in some cases the same workshop might have produced both large terracotta figurines and bronze statuary.

This is an important work that contributes greatly to both the study of terracotta figurines and to our understanding of the nature and conduct of the cult at the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. This brief review has only touched upon a few of the many valuable facets to this treatise. It is well organized and well illustrated, two very important attributes for any archaeological work. The detailed notes and extensive bibliography are reflective of the careful attention to detail that Merker displays throughout the study. This volume continues the high level of scholarship contained in the three previous volumes and is a worthy addition to the series.