BMCR 2004.02.26

Olympia 1875-2000: 125 Jahre deutsche Ausgrabungen: Internationales Symposion, Berlin 9.-11. November 2000

, , Olympia 1875-2000 : 125 Jahre Deutsche Ausgrabungen : Internationales Symposium Berlin 9.-11. November 2000. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern, 2002. 376 pages : illustrations (some color), maps (some color) ; 31 cm. ISBN 380532989X. EUR 45.00.

Twenty-three essays by a wide variety of scholars treat the German excavations of Olympia broadly, with something of interest to any conceivable reader. The quality of almost all the papers in unusually high for such a large group, and the information they convey is both useful and thought-provoking. The first four essays examine in exhaustive detail the general cultural, political, and sociological background of the opening and first years of the excavation from 1875 to 1881. The following group of eight essays examines general archaeological, and art-historical issues which the excavations either first raised or to which they contributed in a signal manner. These are followed by four papers on the excavations at Isthmia, Nemea and Delphi, and then a series of five essays on specific aspects of Olympia and its monuments, among which are inserted two articles on Greek excavations in the area around Olympia.

The titles of the first four papers speak for themselves: Rüdiger vom Bruch, ‘Internationale Forschung, Staatsinteresse und Partei Politik. Die Olympia-Ausgrabungen als frühe Phase deutscher auswärtiger Kulturpolitik,’ 9-17; Thanassis Kalpaxis, ‘Die Vorgeschichte und die Nachwirkungen des Olympia-Vertrages aus griechischer Sicht,’ 19-30; Lutz Klinkhammer, ‘Grossgrabung und grosse Politik,’ 31-47; and Brend Sösemann, ‘Olympia als publizistisches National-Denkmal,’ 49-84. It is difficult to recapture the role which archaeological excavations played in the competitive spirit of international relations in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is perhaps even more difficult to understand how the first years of the excavation of Olympia failed to realize the aspirations of the political backers of the project, particularly in view of the energetic program of rapid publication in the official and popular press. This is partly explained by a remark of Bismark cited by Kalpaxis that funds were cut off because the site ‘only served scholarly purposes’ (24), a remark that underscores the limited importance of archaeology as an index of international prestige at the time.

The following group of six essays treats archaeological and/or art-historical issues. Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer, ‘Olympia und die Entdeckung der geometrischen Plastik,’ 85-89, sketches in broad strokes the development of a stylistic, that is, art-historical, approach to the extraordinary bronze votives found principally in the ‘Schwarze Schicht,’ beginning with Adolf Furtwängler and running through the work of Emil Kunze and Ernst Buschor. It was Furtwängler who coined the name ‘geometric’ for the early bronzes in Olympia by analogy with the Attic Dipylon vases published in 1877 (85). While outlining the signal importance of the vast number of early bronzes in Olympia, Heilmeyer concludes with a series of important questions that this array of early material might be used to answer beyond the positivist problems of chronology and regional schools, the analysis of which have been the focal points of earlier scholarship (88-89).

Several of the issues raised by Heilmeyer are treated by Nikolaus Himmelmann, ‘Frühe Weihgeschenke in Olympia,’ 91-107, specifically the meaning and function of the votives. In brief, he argues that the early votives are primarily directed at presenting the material value of the object and the status of the votary, while later the accent changes and religious themes predominate over value and stature (92-93). Himmelmann argues that the early human figurines represent the votaries and not the gods; the motif of figures with up-raised arms (99-102) and the dates of the major bronze figurines (98-99) are, to this reader, reviewed with convincing conclusions.

The next two articles treat architectural issues. Klaus Herrmann,’Bauforscher und Bauforschung in Olympia,’ 109-130, reviews the principal architects who worked at Olympia and the development of a systematic method of recording the excavation and its buildings. It was Wilhelm Dörpfeld, aged 24 (one year younger that Furtwängler when he first came to Olympia), who got the excavation under control. A sequence of architects followed, with various interests, and Herrmann gives a brief but clear picture of progress in recording and publishing monuments right up to the recent past, including an excursus on the old museum and current efforts to conserve the site. Wolf Königs, ‘Der Zeustempel im 19. und 20 Jahrhundert,’ 131-46, focuses on the Zeus temple alone; he publishes a number of the original field drawings of the building and emphasizes the problems of dealing with a building that stood for one thousand years and underwent several major repairs.

Suzanne Marchand, ‘Adolf Furwängler in Olympia: On Excavation, the Antiquarian Tradition, and Philhellenism in Nineteenth-Century Germany,’ 147-62, provides a brief but interesting review of Furtwängler’s career, with emphasis on his early training. She proceeds to describe the apparent change of emphasis from the text-based studies that preceded the great excavations of the late 19th century to the positivist inquiries of the next century. In the shift from texts to the study of objects she justly remarks that earlier antiquarianism had already achieved significant results that prefigure modern attempts to organize antiquities. However much the positivist credo may be criticized, it nonetheless made extraordinary strides in providing a firm foundation both in classification and in the new study of context for the types of studies Heilmeyer urges at the end of his paper (above), thus improving on the unfocused erudition of the antiquarians and providing the basis for more complex inquiries.

Adolf H. Borbein, ‘Olympia als Experimentierfeld archäologischer Methoden,’ 163-76, clearly demonstrates the advantages and dangers of the new approach. Olympia was originally thought of as a new Pompeii, in which, however, stratigraphy was recognized as a new, scientific tool of analysis of the life of an ancient site and a new guide for the chronological organization of recovered objects, though its usefulness for a site so long occupied and so often built upon and rebuilt proved less than at first hoped. Nonetheless, the vast assemblages of diverse material from the excavations of the 19th century lead the study of antiquity away from a concentration on major monuments of marble and bronze and, because of the defined contexts from which the material came, allowed comparative analysis on a level unknown to earlier antiquarians. The use of photography to record both excavation and material recovered, if not new, was both widely used and rapidly developed as a tool of scholarship. But the shortcomings of positivism also became apparent: the truly scientific goals of classification and total excavation quickly gave way to the realization that only a fragment of antiquity remained and the results of both had to remain tentative.

Jörg Rambach’s study of the prehistoric site,’Olympia. 2500 Jahre Vorgeschichte vor der Gründung des eisenzeitlichen griechischen Heligtums,’ 177-212, is longer than the other contributions and more fully illustrated in both color and black and white. The subject is primarily the recent excavations in the area of the Pelopion carried out from 1987 to 1994. Although not in the order presented, R. reviews the pottery from the north embankment of the stadium, which begins in the late Neolithic and carries down into Early Helladic (181-82, Appendix, figs. 34, 36). EH II sherds have also been found in the area of the Prytaneion and the new museum (187). The new evidence from the area of the Pelopion confirms Dörpfeld’s interpretation of the limited excavation he carried out here in 1929: beneath the historical structure is a tumulus ringed and covered by stones, although it is not Mycenaean as Dörpfeld thought, but dates to EH II. The apsidal buildings in the area are also early (late EH III [186]) and are houses. Here the ceramic evidence is the fine incised ware of the Adriatic Cetiana type (177-80). The tumulus was not a tomb but appears to have served as the focus of rituals in which large quantities of grape-vine snails played a role (192). At the end of EH III the apsidal houses were burned and replaced with rectangular structures, the inhabitants of which dug into the tumulus ostensibly for building clay (198). The MH I houses do not have any sequel, though MH II-III sherds were found in the stadium in 1960 (187; Appendix, fig. 35). A Mycenaean phase is not excluded, though as yet not located.

Helmut Kyrieleis,’Zu den Anfängen des Heiligums von Olympia,’ 213-20, addresses the beginnings of the historical sanctuary after a brief review of the prehistoric evidence. The recent excavations were able to show that the ‘Schwarze Schicht’ lay on sterile soil and that its latest contents date to the advanced 7th century (216). Equally important is the observation that it was not laid down gradually but was the result of several relatively brief grading operations. The earliest material in the layer are kylikes of the late 11th century and protogeometric jugs. Since the top of the old tumulus was demonstrably still visible in the early Iron Age and it lies under the historical Pelopion, K. observes that it could logically be thought the focus of the new cult and considered the grave of Pelops (218). However, K. argues that the evidence does not support the idea that the cult of Zeus was grafted onto to a cult of Pelops since the material from the ‘Schwarze Schicht’ is uniform and points to a single cult. Indeed, K. argues that the cult of Pelops was first developed in the late archaic or even classical period (218-219). The interpretation and function of the tumulus in the early Iron Age is left uncertain.

The following four papers deal with the three other panhellenic festival games. Elizabeth R. Gebhard, ‘The Beginnings of panhellenic Games at the Isthmus,’ 221-37, discusses the foundation tradition of the Isthmian games in Olympiad 49. She concludes from analysis of both the textual and archaeological evidence that the Isthmian games may have become part of the panhellenic cycle only around the middle of the 6th century and the early date given by the texts resulted from association with the Pythian games.

Stephen G. Miller, ‘The Shrine of Opheltes and the Earliest Stadium at Nemea,’ 239-50, suggests that an irregular, four-sided enclosure wall that lies over the top of an earlier tumulus might be a parallel at Nemea to the Pelopion at Olympia, though the identification is uncertain and the supporting evidence is not presented in M.’s brief synopsis. The tumulus was probably constructed in the Geometric Period and contained some Mycenaean sherds (246-47). Next to the cult place were found traces of the race-course; deposits of sand and light gravel found in 2000 suggest that the hippodrome also lay near the mound of the sanctuary, from which perhaps the games were watched. M. then suggests that at Olympia the original hippodrome may also have lain near the Pelopion, since a recent study suggests that the ‘Pillar of Oinomaos’ somewhere to the north of the Temple of Zeus was originally a turning post.

The rather long article by Catherine Morgan,’The Origins of the Isthmian Festival,’ 251-71, notes that there were settlements at and around the site from LH I to late LH IIIC. Evidence for an early Iron Age settlement is sparse and begins at the end of the PG into EG (251-52). Cult activity, however, is evident in the discovery of figurines that appear to bridge Submycenaean to early PG (253-56). There is only the short stretch of cyclopean wall on the Rachi ridge just outside the southern boundary of the later temenos to suggest an early ruin as the focus for the cult, though the date of this wall is disputed. According to M. Isthmia was the only known early Iron Age sanctuary in the Corinthia; notable growth is evident from the end of PG, in part indicated by Attic imports (262, 265). However, the nature of the evidence from the Corinthia and particularly the area of Isthmia does not yet allow a convincing description of the growth of cult and social structures in the early Iron Age.

Claude Rolley, ‘Delphes de 1500 à 575 av. J.-C. Nouvelles données sur le problème “ruptures et continuité”,’ 273-79, describes briefly the evidence for a LH habitation area at Delphi. Rolley considers figurines of the ‘phi’ and ‘psi’ type found in fill of the Marmaria to be from tombs. The great rubble wall discovered under the 4th-century temple is part of a retaining wall on which the main settlement was built and possibly also served to divert storm waters from the site (276). Excavations under the ‘Pillar of the Rhodians’ to the east of the great altar produced clear evidence of occupation in LH IIIC and into PG, although a slight break may exist at the end of the 11th century. Although the first peribolos wall of the sanctuary dates around 575 and the first formal panhellenic games to 586/82 (49th Olympiad), the earliest votives found thus far in the sanctuary are of the late 9th century. There is, therefore, no parallel to the earliest material of Olympia, yet there is one to Kalapodi and Delos, with the notable exception that at Delphi there was habitation throughout the Iron Age.

Five essays deal with particular aspects of Olympia; they are here not treated in the order of the book, but are grouped according to subject matter. The essence of Aliki Moustaka’s article, ‘Zeus und Hera im Heiligtum von Olympia,’ 301-315, is that the cult of Hera is not widely attested in the north-western Peloponnesos and therefore the early date of her temple at Olympia is anachronistic. She revives the hypothesis that the building was actually the temple of Zeus until the grand temple of the 5th century was built, when Hera gradually took over the older structure, so that when Pausanias arrived in Olympia, the original attribution had been lost. In support of this hypothesis is certainly the undifferentiated material in the ‘Schware Schicht’ remarked on by Kyrieleis.

Tonio Hölscher, ‘Rituelle Räume und politische Denkmäler im Heiligtum von Olympia,’ 331-45, describes the various spatial structures of the sanctuary, distinguishing monumental, religious, ritual, and votive. He adds a ‘representational’ space (338), but this seems to be splitting hairs too finely. The various spaces according to H. are not congruent, but again the fine shades of emphasis he places on each are, to this reader, too subtle. Clearly all functions of the sanctuary focus on the ‘Temple of Hera,’ Pelopion, and Temple of Zeus. The 70 odd altars recorded by Pausanias are clearly subsidiary and form minor sacred points around the central altar and associated buildings, something like a reflection of the hierarchy on Mt. Olympos. This is evident at some distance in the article of Ulrich Sinn, ‘Olympias Spätgechichte im Spiegel des Demeterkults,’ 371-76, in which it is suggested that the title of ‘priestess of Demeter’ was not really a religious, ritual office, but a manner of designating a particularly worthy benefactor. As such the title and its monumental foci survived into the latest period of the sanctuary in the 5th century A.C.

Two very interesting articles deal with objects: Ismene Trianti, ‘Neue technische Beobachtungen an den Skulpturen des Zeustempels von Olympia,’ 281-300, and Peter Siewert, ‘Die wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Bedeutung der Bronze-Urkunden aus Olympia,’ 359-70. Although very different, they are equally illuminating. Trianti works though all the fragments of the two pedimental groups and, with convincing arguments and excellent photographs taken by herself, argues for the placement of Pelops and Hippodameia (F) to the viewer’s right in the east pediment with, accordingly, Oinomaos and Sterope (K) on the viewer’s left. There are too many additions and subtractions of note in her presentation to be commented on here, but her photographs of the back of the figures and each fragment are admirable. Siewert analyzes in detail an inscribed bronze disk of the first half of the fifth century which confers citizenship on a Spartan and Euboian and enters them in the Elean epoikoi of their home districts. Siewert convincingly reconstructs a series of such epoikoi that were linked to the cult of Zeus and aided the theorodokoi in the ekecheiria, or announcement of the truce at the time of the Olympic games. The inscription allows a rare glimpse into the managerial structure of a panhellenic cult.

The last two papers deal with sites around Olympia: Xeni Arapojanni, ‘Neue archäologische Entdeckungen in der weiteren Umgebung von Olympia,’ 316-29, describes the excavation of a temple of Athena at Phigalia and another at Prasidki, and Nikolaus Yalouris, ‘Elis, die Wiege der Olympischen Spiele, im Lichte neuer Ausgrabungsergebnisse,’ 347-57, presents a synopsis of his book of the same title of 1996.

It is a pity that the title of this book does not adequately reflect its varied content. There are also rather too many typos and errors in the references to figures. One minor point on p. 151: Bassae is not on Aegina. However the content and excellent photographs, many in color, make this a very useful contribution to the study of Olympia, the north-west Peloponnesos and the other three panhellenic sites.