BMCR 2003.08.09

East, Vol. 1, No. 1

, Ancient West & East. Colloquia Pontica (Series). Leiden: Brill, 2002. 1 volume 1, no. 1 : illustrations ; 25 cm. ISBN 9004128131 $140.00.

The cultures inhabiting the geographical edges of the Classical world have always received some attention from Classical scholars but never quite the attention they deserve. Because they were treated as peripheral to the two undisputed cultural centers of the northern Mediterranean seaboard, their histories were dominated in the past by a single narrative of conquest and assimilation inherited from the Greeks and the Romans themselves. Only recently has the scholarship on the Classical world’s relations with its neighbors moved in significant new directions, and two areas in particular have benefited from new methodologies and reassessment of available evidence. In the first place, Greek relations with Persia, both symbolic and real, have become the focus of numerous monographs and long-term collaborative projects;1 the second area encompasses the history and archaeology of Greek colonization.2 It is here that the efforts of Gocha Tsetskhladze, a Classical archaeologist at Royal Holloway University of London, have contributed significantly to the recent rise in the number of English-language publications, especially on the Greek experiences in the Black Sea. The publishers of Ancient West & East (hereafter αωἐ, with Tsetskhladze as the editor-in-chief, now propose to offer another forum for work that builds on the approaches developed in studies of Greek colonization but with more expansive chronological and geographical limits. AWE is intended as a periodical of equal interest to Classicists and Orientalists, historians of Late Antiquity and Bronze Age archaeologists. While such a chronological range is not unusual for a journal concerned with the ancient world, its geographical scope is meant to fill an important lacuna by making the periphery of the Classical world its central theme.

The journal’s editor-in-chief devotes no fewer than sixty-five pages of AWE’s inaugural volume to explain the timeliness and importance of this new undertaking, and he does so very effectively by inviting contributions from experts in the fields of archaeology and history of the ancient Mediterranean, Europe, Anatolia and the Near East. Since these introductory essays constitute a unique effort to define the study of the ancient West and East as a discipline and therefore describe the most significant objective of the new journal, my review will concentrate primarily on these essays and offer only a brief overview of the volume’s remaining contents.

The twelve introductory essays are presented in a uniform format, but for the purposes of summary they can be divided into three main thematic groups. The first group includes the contributions by John Boardman (pp. 7-8) and Fergus Millar (pp. 9-12), which outline the set of larger questions and methodological problems that must be addressed in future research on the West and East. Boardman argues that while the focus on Europe and the Mediterranean as the ultimate sources of Old World civilization had been fully justified in the past, it is time now to move towards writing the “World History” of antiquity. In order to accomplish this task, each of the areas of the ancient world must be treated as a link in a “chain of focuses” and not a “periphery to anything”; only then will we be able to properly evaluate contact between them. According to Boardman, therefore, area studies are an important preliminary to any investigations of artistic, religious, or political parallels and their sources. A similar invitation to more work focused on each of the ancient cultures is offered by Millar, but he is also concerned with the mutual perceptions that shaped much of the interchange between them. He suggests that we should study not only the western views of the East (a topic that has become very popular in recent years), but also the view of the Classical world from the East. Ultimately, however, the physical traces of mutual awareness or deliberate exchange between ancient cultures provide some of the most fascinating pieces of evidence for the complex history of cross-cultural interaction and become an inspiration for new research. Millar describes many such traces, among them a Kushan coin with a representation of Buddha and a Greek legend that reads “BODDO.” He argues that recent fascination with relations between West and East finds its ancient antecedent in the Histories of Herodotus and therefore does not constitute a projection of a purely modern preoccupation onto the ancient past. In Millar’s view, East/West contact deserves our attention because it was “one of the most important single factors” in Classical history.

Mutuality and interchange provide a central theme for a piece by David Ridgway (pp. 13-18), which opens the next set of essays, all on the topic of Greek colonization. The core of Ridgway’s contribution consists of his review of another collection of papers edited by Tsetskhladze, Ancient Greeks West and East (1999). This review, reprinted in AWE in its entirety, originally appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement in 2000 and it was there that Ridgway suggested the need for a new periodical to encourage international and interdisciplinary collaboration, effectively planting the idea from which AWE would be born. In the review, Ridgway describes the most recent trends in studies of colonization, focusing in particular on the new understanding of the mechanism of cultural exchange. The recognition that interaction is a two-way process has, in his opinion, helped to revolutionize modern investigations of colonial encounters by encouraging a departure from the former, almost exclusive, scholarly interest in the instances of Hellenization. A more extensive historical perspective on the scholarship of Greek colonization is offered in the next essay by Anthony Snodgrass (pp. 19-23), who explains why this apparently straightforward definition of interaction had been ignored before. According to Snodgrass, throughout much of the twentieth century the most immediate historical model of “colonization” was offered by the post-1850s phase of British imperialism, in which institutional and psychological boundaries had closed off earlier avenues of contact and exchange. This “false analogy” between Greek colonization and late British imperialism was rejected only in the 1970s. One other pervasive paradigm, which once discarded could free up new interpretative possibilities, is that provided by Athenian economy. Thomas Figueira (pp. 24-27), in the last of the three essays on colonization, argues that comparisons between Archaic maritime states and Classical Athens are misleading, and suggests instead an entire range of trade patterns and related commercial organizations. Since, in Figueira’s view, each state’s method and intensity of colonial contacts with the non-Greeks depended to a large extent on the organization of its economy, we should now begin to distinguish between not only the different participants in the processes of interaction but also the many forms that this interaction could take.

In the last group of introductory essays, seven scholars describe the state of affairs in studies of individual regions that fall within the geographical scope of AWE. They include Ricardo Olmos writing on the Iberian Peninsula (pp. 28-33), Vassos Karageorghis on Cyprus (pp. 34-38), John Hind on the Black Sea (pp. 39-45), Antonio Sagona and Charles Burney on Anatolia (pp. 46-54), Stanley Burstein on Africa (pp. 55-58), and finally A.D.H. Bivar on west and central Asia (pp. 59-65). After the extensive treatment of the past, present and future in the studies of Greek colonization in the preceding three contributions, the essays in the last group are necessarily more selective in their approach. Olmos concentrates on the main challenges that must be overcome in the studies of ancient Spain, emphasizing in particular the need for a better communication between historians, archaeologists and anthropologists working on the region, as well as collaboration with specialists in other parts of the ancient Mediterranean. Karageorghis observes that while the second millenium BC, especially its last few centuries, has been prominent in studies of Cyprus, more collaborative work must be done on the role of East/West relations in the Early Iron Age. The modern barrier between West and East has only recently been overcome in the scholarship on the Black Sea, the history of which, along with major projects and publications, is presented by Hind. In the two essays on Anatolia, Sagona and Burney discuss the archaeological research in the eastern part of this region, where major discoveries belong to the Early Bronze Age and then the Iron Age supremacy of Urartu, but little material has been found dating to Achaemenid or Greco-Roman times. Greek remains are much more prominent in the regions “beyond the Tigris” as far as Pakistan and northern India, and they are enumerated in the essay by Bivar. Finally, the southern periphery of the Classical world is considered by Burstein, who focuses on the studies of the peoples described in ancient sources as the “Aithiopians,” that is the inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa and the Kingdom of Kush.

The histories of scholarship and discussions of key bibliography offered in each one of these papers are extremely informative and useful. Considering the necessary constraints of space, the editor-in-chief and his contributors make a number of very important points in a subtle yet effective way. The different analyses of selected disciplines combine to offer an exhaustive list of challenges facing any future attempts to understand the complex interface between the Greco-Roman world and the cultures with which it interacted. Some examples of these challenges include the difficulty involved in developing a method of evaluating the art of peripheral regions on its own terms rather than in relation to that of Greece and Rome, the need to establish more effective means of communication and exchange of ideas with Near Eastern scholars, and the uneven distribution of written and archaeological evidence, which often forces researchers to utilize the classificatory paradigms developed by one culture as a basis for their evaluation of another. The choice of areas covered in AWE’s introductory essays, their frequent focus on the periphery’s periphery, can also be interpreted as an effective tactic to broaden our horizons by simply bypassing the regions that are already more familiar. The overarching goal is to demonstrate the need to perceive all these disparate cultures and periods as legitimate fields of study, important and interconnected. The essays presented in the first volume of AWE certainly achieve this objective, and therefore they will continue to serve not only as an invitation to new contributions, but also a valuable resource for anyone beginning to work on the ancient West and East.

The material which follows the introductory essays demonstrates quite clearly what to expect in the years to come. The themes of the eight articles and notes cover a broad range of approaches and material. One can find among them F.C. Woudhuizen’s new text and commentary on the Luwian hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Emirgazi stone altars (pp. 67-86), A.J. Graham’s discussion of the evidence for dynastic connections between Bosporan Spartocids and the Greeks from Thasos (pp. 87-101), and R. Alston’s reading of Strabo’s emphases and silences in his description of Alexandria (pp. 141-161). Other papers focus on the art and chronology of the Sarmatians (Y. Ustinova, S. Burstein), present results of surveys conducted in Azerbaijan and Phanagoria (D.T. Potts, C. Brandon and G.R. Tsetskhladze), and finally consider the questions of influence and autonomy in artistic production of Thrace (P. Alexandrescu).

The review section (pp. 189-230) opens with an essay by Tsetskhladze which discusses the most recent publications on the Black Sea and the archaeology of Eastern and Central Europe. An inclusion of review essays of this kind is promised by the editor-in-chief as a regular feature of the new journal. One area that might be considered in the future is, for example, Achaemenid Persia. The themes of cultural contact and receptivity have been particularly prominent in recent scholarship on Persia, and some groundbreaking work has been done on the intersection of historical and archaeological methods.3 Since AWE declares “overcom[ing] divisions between archaeologists and historians” as the first in a list of its three most explicit aims (p. 237), an overview of the efforts made in this direction in the field of Achaemenid studies would be especially relevant to its readers. Another interesting feature of the new journal are the brief descriptions of recent work published in Central and Eastern Europe, a feature already seen in Tsetskhladze’s other undertakings, most notably Colloquia Pontica, which will now serve as the monograph supplement to AWE. This overview of recent publications offers an indispensable bibliographic tool for anyone conducting research on the history and archaeology of the Black Sea, and one hopes that in the future it will also be made available in an electronic format, which could make it more easily accessible.

This new journal from Brill makes many important promises to all scholars interested in the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and the Near East and the interactions between them. Its inaugural volume clearly defines the need for such a journal and outlines the main directions for future research. By opening a regular avenue for cooperation and conversation among scholars from many disciplines and countries, AWE has a real potential for fulfilling the promises it makes.


1. Most important here are the Achaemenid History Workshops, which were held in Groningen in the 1980s with proceedings published in eight volumes under the uniform title Achaemenid History. The series continues and now publishes monographs, which include Pierre Briant’s Histoire de l’empire perse (1996) [editor’s note: this has now been translated by Peter T. Daniels, From Cyrus to Alexander, A History of the Persian Empire (Eisenbrauns, 2002)].

2. For historical work see especially Irad Malkin, Religion and Colonization (1987), Myth and Territory in the Spartan Mediterranean (1994), and Carol Dougherty The Poetics of Colonization (1993). Archaeological studies come in several edited volumes, such as G. Tsetskhladze and F. De Angelis (edd.), The Archaeology of Greek Colonization (1994), J.-P. Descoeudres (ed.), Greek Colonists and Native Populations (1990), G. Tsetskhladze (ed.) North Pontic Archaeology (2001).

3. E.g. Margaret Miller, Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC (1997). Other work on Achaemenid Persia is now easily accessible through Briant’s Bulletin d’histoire achéménide and Achemenet.