BMCR 2007.01.33

Priene. Second edition

Kleopatra Ferla, Fritz Graf, Athanasios Sideris, Priene. Hellenic Studies ; 5. Athens: Foundation of the Hellenic World, 2005. 231 pages : illustrations (some color), color maps, plans, photographs ; 25 x 30 cm.. ISBN 0674012720 $50.00.

This beautifully illustrated book has the admirable aim of allowing a non-specialist reader to understand and appreciate the architectural elements of a typical ancient Greek city. It does so by using the well-preserved site of Priene as a case-study, and although it adds little new information to our knowledge of the site, it succeeds in achieving this aim. It will also be of interest to a more specialised readership.

The book begins with a series of introductory essays by various contributors that aim to set Priene the city and Priene the book in their respective contexts. Of these, the longest and most informative are by Kleopatra Ferla on the history of the site, and Wolfram Hoepfner on Pythius (the architect of the Temple of Athena in Priene) and the design of the city (with particular emphasis on the domestic units). Ferla’s contribution, which consists of a rapid summary of the major external events that affected the history of Priene from its foundation to its excavation, is one of the most substantial alterations from the first edition (in which this note was just 2 pages long, and stated that definite conclusions cannot be drawn about the history of Priene in any period). Ferla has broadened her discussion substantially, but she focuses heavily on the role that Priene played in externally generated events, and does not make use of the well-known and abundant inscriptions that permit a detailed history of internal events in this polis to be written. A few curious statements aside (for example, if Priene’s contribution of 12 ships to the battle of Lade allows its free population to be estimated at c.10,000, then Chios with its 100 ships was a veritable superpower!), this note is generally well balanced and judiciously circumspect in its coverage of what is currently the most controversial point in Priene’s history: was it re-founded on a new site in the 4th century, or simply rebuilt over the old? In comparison, Hoepfner’s contribution tackles this point immediately, and after a brief discussion comes down firmly on the side of the former. Unfortunately, his argument is ill-served by a confusing commentary on Pseudo-Scylax’s description of the site, which may be due to a poor translation of Hoepfner’s original text. The major part of his essay is, however, concerned with a clear and well-illustrated discussion of the development of the housing units of Priene, in which particular attention is paid to the so-called “Sacred House”.

A formal “Introduction” follows that focuses on general issues affecting the plan of the site (A Brief History of Excavations; Topography; Water Supply, Ventilation, Sunlight; City Planning; Streets; Necropoles (sic!); Defense System; Acropolis) and sets the tone of the rest of the book with its lavish use of photographs, maps and reconstruction drawings. The well-organised text is neatly arranged under clear sub-headings, and a series of informative footnotes are located in the margins of the relevant pages.

Subsequent chapters are devoted to individual monuments or areas (The Agora; Ekklesiasterion/ Bouleuterion; Prytaneion; Sanctuary of Athena Polias; Asclepieion/Temple of Zeus; Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore; Other Shrines; Theatre; Gymnasia — Upper and Lower; Stadium; Residential and Commercial Dwellings; Christian Buildings). The volume concludes with a chapter on the sculpture and pottery of Priene by Eleni Zymi, an appendix on the architectural orders, visual and verbal glossaries, and a bibliography.

The sanctuary of Athena Polias is the most famous monument in Priene, and will therefore serve as a good example of how these core chapters are organised. It begins with a concise description of the location of the sanctuary within the city and the structures within it, and proceeds to give a detailed account of the temple, the altar, the paving of the sanctuary, the propylon, the stoa and the treasury. The chapter concludes with a section on the rediscovery, excavation and restoration of the sanctuary. The emphasis throughout is on the form and dimensions of the various monuments, as is to be expected given the overall aim of the book, but the date of construction, the various phases of development, building material used, decoration and colour scheme are discussed where known, and care is generally taken to note the sometimes divergent views of scholars regarding issues of reconstruction. The accompanying illustrations are well placed with regard to the text, and are abundant: in this chapter alone, 9 pages of text are matched by 17 pages of maps, plans, reconstruction drawings and photographs, together with 6 smaller images in the margins of the text.

The wealth of information thus provided gives a good introduction to the sanctuary, and brings it to life in a way that will undoubtedly appeal to the layman to whom this book is addressed, as well as prove informative for scholars who have been studying the site, its architecture and history for some time. The text does occasionally focus too much on architectural matters though, to the detriment of a more complete description. For example, there is no mention of the so-called ‘archive’ of inscriptions that were carved into the northern wall and anta of the temple.

Chapter 6 “Asclepieion or Sanctuary of Zeus” is the only one in which the text runs the risk of confusing the reader, as the problem of the correct identification of this sanctuary is never properly addressed, and the history of the site thus becomes very confusing.1 Recent work on this sanctuary has in fact shown that there are no firm grounds for either of the traditional identifications, and it is very surprising that this has not been taken into consideration in either the first OR second editions of this chapter.2

The few changes that have been made between editions consist of a brief introductory note by Fritz Graf, the new information included in Ferla’s Historical Note, the verbal glossary, a minor re-shuffling in the order of the introductory contributions, and some tidying up of errors of spelling and grammar.3

Owners of the first edition will not find that these changes are sufficient to merit the purchase of this revised edition, but university libraries that have not yet acquired a copy should be encouraged to do so on the strength of the illustrations alone, which are an excellent resource for undergraduate students studying any aspect of the ancient Greek city-state. Those seeking a guide to Priene itself (rather than to a typical Greek city in general) would, however, be better served by F. Rumscheid’s recent guidebook to the site (see note 2). Although these two books do complement each other well, the overall aim of the book under review prevents it from rivalling Rumscheid’s work in terms of specific detail.


1. The statement (p. 112) that the sanctuary “was later referred to as the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus” is rather bold. The discovery of a small altar of Zeus Aithrios in front of the temple has led some to believe that this complex could have been consecrated to Zeus (although the altar could easily have been dumped there at a later date), but there is no firm evidence to link it with Olympian Zeus, and although inscriptions show that this deity was an important one in Priene, and no other shrine has yet been found in which he could have been worshipped, this is not sufficient grounds to claim this particular sanctuary for him, and certainly not without an adequate discussion.

2. Handily summarised in section 7 of F. Rumscheid, Führer durch das “Pompeji Kleinasiens”. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari. 1998. (Also available in English and Turkish).

3. The most irksome errors occur in the transliterations of ancient Greek terminology, with e.g. ephebi (for epheboi: given correctly in the glossary!) and the use of both prostas and prostasis to describe the same architectural feature. The translation of “neopoios” on p 122 as “ship-builder” is especially unfortunate.