BMCR 2008.05.42

Classical Archaeology. Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology, 10

, , Classical archaeology. Blackwell studies in global archaeology ; 10. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2007. xiii, 447 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9780631234180. $39.95 (pb).

A new book in classical archaeology always raises the interest of those who teach the subject at the university level. In this case the names of the editors further stimulate one’s interest as well as expectations.

The book is a part of Blackwell’s series on different disciplines of archaeology, whose aim is to produce accessible texts without sacrificing theoretical sophistication. Alcock and Osborne in their Introduction (pp. 1-10) follow up on this policy by stressing that ‘theory’ is not an optional extra for the archaeologist. One can only agree with them when they state that archaeological theory is about making assumptions explicit ‘since all who attempt to say anything about objects which survive from antiquity do so on the basis of a body of assumptions’. The editors see the purpose of the book as instilling a number of distinctive traits in classical archaeologists, and they stress the need to get away from ‘the old way of doing archaeology’. This can seem a bit outdated, since most practicing archaeologists today have moved away from the ‘archaeological skeleton of chronologies and typologies’.

The book is composed of 10 thematic chapters on different aspects of the discipline, in addition to one divided into a Greek and a Roman section, with a short introduction by the editors.

It is very clear that this book targets an audience of undergraduate students in Anglophone countries. This reveals itself implicitly in more than one way, both in the general discourse of the book, the references to research and educational practises, and in the numerous examples of archaeological case studies on Roman provinces, which focus on Roman Britain. In some chapters, there seems to be a discrepancy between the target group and the level of knowledge taken for granted. Thus the general scarcity of illustrations presupposes some knowledge of Greek and Roman material culture, just as many chapters presuppose some insight into Greek and Roman history.

Chapter 1: What is Classical Archaeology?

Anthony Snodgrass and Martin Millet debate the question ‘What is classical archaeology’, and both provide interesting and to some extent different answers. The authors both start their section by stating their views on how they perceive the discipline of classical archaeology. Snodgrass continues these considerations, focusing on the early key figures of classical archaeological research. He then moves on to discuss the mapping of ancient Greece and the establishment of a chronology. Millet also provides a historical perspective of classical archaeology. He draws an elegant line from ancient Roman reception of Greek culture to modern use and identification with antiquity as well as the background for academic research (in England and America!). He briefly describes the ‘new classical archaeology’ and the interdisciplinary and theoretical perspectives. The more recent tendencies in the discipline towards a greater collaboration with ancient history and classical philology are discussed, and Millet clearly sympathizes with this approach. On the other hand and rather surprisingly—if we understand Millet correctly—he seems to be more hesitant towards the opening up of classical archaeology towards other archaeologies. A reference to Jack L. Davis’s discussion of survey (Ch. 2) is badly needed. Inevitably the two authors sometimes tread the same ground, in their retrospective of the discipline and description of its modern reception, present day scope and range. Since the editors have chosen chapter 3 to consist of only one section, this might have been a better solution also for chapter 1.

Chapter 2: Doing Archaeology in the Classical Lands

This chapter focuses on the more practical endeavours of classical archaeology, such as excavation, fundraising and publication. It is evident here more than in any other chapter, that this book is targeting only an Anglo-American audience. Jack L. Davis, who authors the Greek section of this chapter, draws on his own experiences to illustrate the practical aspects conducting an archaeological project. He is able to cover the ground of different theoretical and methodological ways of studying and practising archaeology, although the style of the chapter and the chosen examples sometimes border on pure autobiography. An important trait in this text is the useful presentation of the methodology of survey and the inherent biases of this type of fieldwork are also mentioned. In the Roman section, by Henry Hurst, the focus is more on excavation. Hurst’s three main examples provide very different aspects.

Overall this chapter is useful, but lacks ‘the beginner’s guide of how to do archaeological fieldwork’. Since this book sometimes has the character of being a manual of how to study and practise classical archaeology, such guidelines would have been very relevant here.

Chapter 3: Human Ecology and the Classical Landscape

Lin Foxhall, Martin Jones, and Hamish Forbes are the authors of the only chapter where the Classical World is seen as one entity. The first part of the chapter focuses on the characteristics of the ‘Mediterranean region’, its variety of landscape types and the plants and trees typical of this ecological zone, while the second part focuses on agriculture. In general, the main focus is on Greece, though in the last part of the chapter the Roman world with its different climatic zones becomes more visible. Still, there is a significant underrepresentation of the Roman world, which is regrettable. Altogether it is an information-dense chapter, though one could have wished for more information, for instance, on archaeobotanical and archaeozoological research from the farms in the area of Chersonesos on the Crimea or the gardens in Pompeii. A few of the illustrations, such as figure 3.2, would have benefited from more information in the caption. Sadly the Hellenistic world is virtually ignored.

Chapter 4: The Essential Countryside

The Greek section of this chapter is written by one of the editors, Susan Alcock. Alcock rightly stresses the inseparability of chora and polis, and includes the importance of archaeological survey results for the understanding of population patterns of the country, exemplified by the Southern Argolid. She draws a general and clear picture of the makeup of the Greek countryside, including not only rural dwellings but also tombs and shrines and other aspects of landscape archaeology. Nicola Terrenato focuses on the chronology of the Roman landscape beginning in the Bronze Age, which is interesting but the detailed description of settlements from this early period is rather beyond the scope of this book. The general relationship between city and country is discussed separately and Terrenato stresses the importance of infrastructure and Roman road construction. Both contributions to this chapter provide a valuable understanding of the Greek and Roman countryside during different periods and are sufficiently illustrated.

Chapter 5: Urban Spaces and Central Places

The Greek part is written by the only author who is employed outside the Anglophone world, Tonio Hölscher from Heidelberg. His contribution is characterized by his usual approach, which combines facts and fine reflections. Keeping his audience clearly in mind, he also manages to present the subject, spanning from the origin of the Greek polis to the Hellenistic metropoleis, in such a way that the reader does not feel the lack of illustrations (here only three plans). A small detail: The editors might have used a different expression in place of ‘poliadic sanctuary’, which is probably not immediately understood by the target group. Nicholas Purcell’s contribution on the Roman world opens elegantly by underlining that the central issue here must be rather the opposite of that found in Hölscher’s contribution on the Greek world; that is, instead of exploring the variety of patterns which characterizes the Greek response to urban spaces, here the primary focus must be on the repetitiveness of the organization of plan and system. This central point, however, is not easy for the reader to follow through the chapter, not least because the text and the illustrations in many cases do not work well together. Thus the idea of presenting the so-called Plastico (scale model of Rome) from the Museo della Civiltà Romana as the first illustration would be obvious if the point had been to give the reader a general impression of central Rome during the High Empire. Instead it is used to focus on the Capitoline Hill, which despite the attempt to mark it with a black arrow remains virtually invisible to the reader. Also Figure 5.6 remains difficult to understand. A plan of Augustus’ Forum is badly needed, as well as a plan of one of the great baths of the Imperial period. Concerning Roman road construction, one looks in vain for references to parts of Chapter 4 (pp.152-153) which do not conform to Purcell’s views.

Chapter 6: Housing and Households

Lisa Nevett and Bettina Bergmann present how people lived during a time span from the 10th century BC to the fourth century AD. In the introduction to the chapter Alcock and Osborne state that a detailed study of ancient housing began only in the latter part of the 20th century. This is a strange underestimation of earlier studies, particularly of Roman houses, but it is certainly true that this aspect of the classical culture(s) has witnessed a new flourishing in the most recent decades. Lisa Nevett presents a chronological overview from the early Iron Age houses at Nichoria and Skala Oropou to the classical and Hellenistic houses at Athens, Olynthos and Delos, and the possible uses of the various types of rooms. On p. 214 the houses of Olynthos are presented, including illustrations of two of the houses of the city. The reader looks for an explanation of the room named andron on the illustrations in vain until the paragraph on the Hellenistic period, which starts with further explanations on the houses of Olynthos. Early Hellenistic times are presented by a house from Pella; houses from Eretria and Maroneia are mentioned—but with no further references the readers are here left completely on their own, if they wish to find out more about these houses. Bergmann, for obvious reasons, chooses not a chronological but a typological presentation of Roman houses encompassing the atrium house, the peristyle house (here a better coordination with Nevett’s presentation of houses on Delos would have been desirable), insulae and multiple dwellings, and villas. The last part treats interior décor. Bergmann’s chapter is very often inadequate in references. Thus Vitruvius is mentioned in connection with the atrium house but without reference to his De Architectura, and a number of villas are mentioned on p. 238 without further references. A plan of the Atrium house with the Latin terms would have useful.

Despite these shortcomings chapter 6 altogether offers the young student a basic knowledge of dwellings in the Greek and Roman world.

Chapter 7: Cult and Ritual

One of the editors, Robin Osborne, has authored the Greek section of this chapter, while the Roman section is written by Christopher Smith. As in several other chapters there is a great discontinuity and difference in method between the two sections, which is actually most striking here. Osborne starts out with an interesting explanation about the meaning and practice of religion for the Greeks, which could have been elaborated more. Unfortunately he soon starts a very long and as it seems unnecessary description of the Greek temple and its architectural development, totally without illustrations. Since this chapter is called ‘Cult and Ritual’, the reader expects a text on this matter, and not one on temple architecture. Smith has written an excellent text on the subject in a Roman context, which covers aspects such as theory, scope and origin of Roman religion, material evidence, relation to the state and its leaders, and interaction with other cultures. The academic level is high, possibly sometimes slightly over the top for the target group.

Chapter 8: The Personal and the Political

John F. Cherry begins the Greek section of the chapter by relevantly discussing the concept of individuality and its methodology in classical archaeology. This discussion is too interesting to be left after only four pages for the example of Alexander the Great, which consumes the rest of the chapter. Some aspects of the presence of the individual in the Greek world and archaeological record are thereby neglected. Named inscriptions and personal representation in funerary contexts and private portraiture are examples which would have been highly relevant to this topic. As interesting as Alexander is as a person traceable in the archaeological record, this chapter ends up being too unilateral, focusing on elite and lacking the versatility of multiple examples as well as a theoretical perspective. Davies’ considerations on this matter in the Roman world on the other hand include a wider range of expressions of individuality in antiquity. Her text covers the various different social classes in Rome, starting with the best documented group of individuals, the emperors. Other subjects treated are individuality in a religious context and private and public portraiture. Different aspects of the commissions of architecture by individuals or groups are covered fully, in particular imperial building activity. Occasionally focus is lost in less relevant discussions, for example on the imperial control of the marble trade. This is a very information-dense section, covering the ground of the subject well.

Chapter 9: The Creation and Expression of Identity

Here is a chapter where the two contributions work perfectly together. It is actually one of the few cases where the reader clearly has an impression that the two authors have actually read each other’s contribution (and perhaps even discussed them). Jonathan Hall’s section on the Greek world is a very well-composed contribution where the author keeps in mind the members of his audience and their level of knowledge. After a short and lucid introduction to the subject Hall illustrates the subject through three examples, the question of the Dorian invasion, the material expression of Athenian democracy, and colonialism and hybridity (this part focuses on Sicily as a case study). One of his points is that in all three examples the archaeological evidence is supplemented by textual evidence, and we can only agree with him when he stresses that classical archaeologists working with cultures where material culture is not the only evidence should appreciate this fact rather than see it as a disadvantage as has quite often been the case in recent years. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill follows up on identity in the Roman world. It is clearly written by a historian (thus references to ancient authors are numerous and also precise!). The deceptive simplicity of the chapter makes reading it pure joy, and the few illustrations here are well chosen and have adequate captions (including such an obvious thing as information about museums—sadly often lacking in the contributions by other authors). In his first theme ‘Clothes and Language: What is “Hellenization”?’ Wallace-Hadrill points out how identity can be put off and on like clothes. Here he also stresses that it is in particular after the Roman conquest that the need for a Hellenic identity in the many large cities in the former Hellenistic kingdoms grew, not least symbolized by the gymnasium and its paideia. The second theme is ‘Romanizing Italy’, and the last one ‘Romanizing the Barbarian’, with the subtitle ‘Baths and Seduction’, is brief.

Chapter 10: Linking with a Wider World

Sarah P. Morris starts out the Greek section of this chapter by outlining the prehistoric evidence of trade and contact with Egypt and the Near East. Colonial contact since the archaic period and the discussion of colonial theory is touched upon, but could have been more elaborate and better referenced. The expansion of the Hellenistic world at the time of Alexander is well covered in this text, but the aftermath and the actual Hellenistic kingdoms are fatally neglected. Morris’ use of the term ‘hellenization’ in this section is old-fashioned and problematic, especially since it contradicts her own words earlier in the text, where she briefly outlines the issues of colonial archaeology. A reference to Gosden’s excellent contribution on the subject would have been relevant (Gosden, Archaeology and Colonialism, Cambridge 2004). Despite this, Morris uses many fine examples and her text meets the needs of a young student. Jane Webster also provides a good overall picture of the different aspects of Roman contact with the wider world, including an interesting discussion of limes and frontier-related problems. As in the Greek section there is an absence of theoretical perspective, which the theme of cross-cultural contact so clearly could have benefited from.


Will we use ‘Classical Archaeology’ as a textbook? Yes and no—probably not the book in toto as the first introduction to classical archaeology, but several chapters could definitely provide excellent supplements even in the first year of our curriculum. One can hardly blame the book for being targeted at Anglophone students, but on the other hand too many contributions neglect literature in languages other than English, and the discussions of the Roman provinces, as already mentioned, focus all too often on Roman Britain. In this respect the German parallel ‘Klassische Archäologie’ represents a more open approach to the research and practise of classical archaeology.

The list of illustrations is woefully insufficient, and for many readers the lack of an abbreviations list and a general map must be problematic.

Despite these critical remarks the reviewers find the book highly recommendable. The editors certainly deserve praise for the inspiring composition and the general idea of this book.