In recent years there is a renewed interest in the history and archaeology of Gaza. The book under review was preceded by B. Bitton-Ashkelony and Aryeh Kofsky (eds.), Christian Gaza in Late Antiquity, Brill: Leiden and Boston 2004.1
Gaza, located on the southern littoral of Palaestina, on a junction of the Sea Route connecting Egypt with Syria, with routes coming from Arabia across the Negev desert, was a flourishing Late Antique city, with a dense agricultural countryside. A cosmopolitan society of mariners and caravaneers mixed with the local population lived there side by side. In the 4th c it was a stronghold of paganism, suppressed by an imperial edict accompanied by army, enforcing the closure and demolishing of the temple of Marnas, the local supreme deity. Yet, profane Hellenism had survived in its famous school of rhetoric, and was praised by the local sophists. Monasticism, founded in the early 4th c by Hilarion, flourished in its countryside. Under Peter the Iberian, and Severus, the future patriarch of Antioch, it was known as a Monophysite stronghold. Some of these interesting topics are dealt with in depth in the book.
After a preface by Bernard Flusin (ix-xii), and an introduction by the editor (xiii-xvi),2 the book contains 12 chapters, dealing with archaeology, art and the literary activity, mainly, of Choricius. The first section, comprising five chapters, is devoted to archaeology. Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Ayman Hassoune give a survey of the more recent archaeological excavations conducted in the Gaza Strip by the Antiquities Service of the Palestinian Authority, in collaboration with the École Biblique et Archéologique of Jerusalem (1-12). After a geographical introduction, and a history of archaeological research in this region under the Israeli regime and before, the more recent finds pertaining to the period under discussion are briefly surveyed, from N to S. Regrettably, there are no plans, or site maps.3 Maiuma and Anthedon were the two maritime outlets of Gaza, which was located more inland. Major sites where Christian antiquities (churches, monasteries, burials, dwellings and installations) came to light include the ecclesiastical complex of Mkheitim in Jabaliyah, that was surrounded by a vast cemetery. It comprised a basilical church, an annexed chapel and an elaborate baptistery, all decorated with magnificent mosaic floors with Greek inscriptions, some of them dated.4 Another outstanding complex is the vast Monastery of Hilarion, identified at Tell Umm el ‘Amr, on the S bank of Wadi Ghazzeh, at a distance of some 500m from the sea, described by René Elter and Ayman Hassoune (13-40). The adjacent ruins of dwellings at Umm el ‘Amr belonged to Thauatha – the village of origin of Hilarion, to the outskirts of which he had retired according to Jerome’s Vita Hilarionis. The identification of the ruin as the Monastery of Hilarion is based on one of the Greek inscriptions found at the site. This is in accord with the distance of 7 miles from Gaza given in the literary sources. The complex, in its most elaborate 6th c. phases, comprises a vast basilical church with a crypt, an annexed chapel and a baptistery, a well, a bath complex, a refectory and a hostelry, indicating that it became a center of pilgrimage. Eight levels and farther sub-levels (illustrated in plans) were discerned, starting with Hilarion’s primitive hamlet, where he was buried a year after his death in Cyprus in 371. Other churches with mosaic floors were found in Abu Baraqeh, to the W of Deir el-Balah, where a dedication inscription dated to 586 was found, and in Sheikh Ibrahim, in Abassan el-Kebir, where an inscription dated to 606 was found.
The pottery found in the above mentioned excavations is the focus of the next two chapters. Pascale Ballet studies the commercial exchange between Egypt and Palestine through Gaza, in the time of Choricius and before (41-50). No illustrations or diagrams are provided. Delphine Dixneuf examines the evidence of the amphorae for the study of production and circulation of goods in the city (51-74). The archaeological and art section is concluded by a study by Pierre-Lois Gatier, devoted to the transportation of giraffes from Africa via Aila and Gaza to Constantinople. This route is suggested by the depiction of giraffes on the mosaic floors (depicted in 14 figures) in Palaestina (including Gaza), Arabia, Phoenicia and Syria, and by the literary sources.
The focus of the second section of the book is the literary activity of the school of Gaza, mainly that of the sophist Choricius, a contemporary of Justinian. First Eugenio Amato examines the manuscript tradition and the state of research of the discourses of Choricius (93-116). Following a systematic philological analysis he concluded that the classical 1929 edition of Foerster, published posthumously by Richtsteig, should be revised, since we have a better text, and now understand better the text transmission. A new edition is now under preparation by the author, in collaboration with J. Schamp and I. Ramelli (93). Next the Declamations of Choricius are studied by Bernard Schouler (117-134), and his Epithalamia (marriage poems) for student bridegrooms, are the focus of Robert J. Penella (135-148). Violaine Malineau discusses Choricius discourse in praise of the mime, and its contribution to the study of the 6th c. theater. The chapter (149-170), is rich in comparanda. Topics discussed are the organization of the spectacles and their technique, the repertoire, the location and festal context, the status and modes of life of the actors, and the reception of the mime by the public. Each topic is set in a wide cultural context. Next, CS examines the contribution of the writings of Choricius, mainly his rhetorical eulogies, for the study of the history and urban space of the city (171-196). Choricius’s role as a rhetor, and his works, in the tradition of the city eulogies of Aelius Aristides (2nd c.), Menander Rhetor (3rd c.), or Libanius (4th c.), are not studied for their own sake, but rather within the civic historical context, with awareness of their contribution to the reconstruction of the actual realia in the city. The two laudatory discourses in honor of bishop Marcianus, a eulogy for the governor of Palaestina Prima Stephanus and the dux Aratius, another one for the dux Summus, are at the focus. Bishop Marcianus is also mentioned in two Greek inscriptions found in Mkheitim-Jabaliyah church, dated to 530 and 549. Governor Stephanus, a citizen of Gaza, was honored for his euergetism in financing the construction, or refurbishing, of St. Sergius church, by depicting his portrait in it. Detailed descriptions ( ekphraseis) of this intra-mural church, and of the extra-mural St. Stephen church, are noteworthy. A wealth of information on the urban space — the city walls, civic structures, porticos, other churches, monasteries — monuments that had disappeared, and on a sector of the local society is included in these ekphraseis, in prose. Three useful tables of references are appended. Another ekphrasis, in verses, by the grammatikos John of Gaza, is discussed in Delphine Renaut’s chapter (199-220), indicating that the recitation of this highly rhetorical literary genre was a vivid reality in 6th c Gaza. Finally, A. Laniado, studying an anonymous encomium, traces the career of a local notable of Gaza who served first as a governor in various provinces of Egypt, and then became the City Father ( pater civitatis) of Gaza (221-239). A French translation of this important source is provided as well. The article is rich in information about the course of education of the youth, and about the municipal administration.5
In conclusion, beside its importance for the study of the history and archaeology of Gaza, in many aspects this is an excellent contribution to the study of profane life in the Late Antique city at large. The authors and the editor should be praised for the erudition, high standards, and eloquence reflected in their papers and in the book as a whole.
1. Earlier monographs on Gaza are: K.B. Stark, Gaza und die philistäische Küste, Jena 1852, and C.A.M. Glucker, The City of Gaza in the Roman and Byzantine Periods [BAR International Series 325], Oxford 1987.
2. CS, a lecturer (maître de conférences) in the university of Poitiers, is the author of Les lois des bâtiments: voisinage et habitat urbain dans l’empire roman. Recherches sur les rapports entre le droit et la construction privée du siècle d’Auguste au siècle du Justinien, Beyrouth 1994; and Le traité d’urbanisme de Julien d’Ascalon. Droit et architecture en Palestine au VIe siècle [Travaux et Mémoires du Centre de Recherche d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance. Collège de France. Monographies 8], Paris 1996.
3. For a more detailed description of the more recent archaeological finds see: J.-B. Humbert (ed.), Gaza méditerranénne. Histoire et archéologie en Palestine, Paris 2000.
4. These were published by CS: “Gaza dans l’Antiquité Tardive: nouveaux documents épigraphiques”, Revue Biblique 107 (2000), 390-411.
5. On this see now: A. Laniado, Recherches sur les notables municipaux dans l’empire protobyzantin [Travaux et Mémoires – Monographies 13], Paris 2002.