[For Trevor Bryce’s response to this review, see BMCR 2012.07.10.]
Trevor Bryce’s handbook encompasses much of ancient Western Asia and fills a lacuna in geographic designations and descriptions. The extremely long volume enables the beginning student to place accurately his or her thoughts concerning the multitude of little-known and recondite localities, such as those surrounding the trans-Causasus region, Scythia, and the like. It does not pretend to supplement the excellent scholarly works that abound in other languages; e.g., the famous Repertoire géographique des textes cuneiformes and so forth. Quite to the contrary, Bryce’s work is aimed at a less scholarly audience and thereby serves as an excellent overview.
However, Egypt is excluded. Hence, for a well-rounded survey of the key sites and peoples of the ancient world, set within a temporal framework of the third millennium BC to 525 BC, there is a large and very noticeable lacuna. If Hittites, the Neo-Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians and Persians are to be included, then surely Egypt, which had contact with them and occupied parts of Western Asia for a few centuries, needed to be represented. Why was Meluhha included (pages 467-8) and Egypt not? After all, the former is essentially outside the limits of this survey. Owing to this absence, this Routledge Handbook is incomplete, and thus transmits the message that cultural-historical considerations were placed to the side owing to geographic prejudices. The list of subeditors or section writers represent the following areas: Cyprus, which is decidedly not in western Asia, Iran and Central Asia, Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine as well as Urartu. Their entries are often scintillating and informative.
Owing to the length of this volume, only a general bibliography is provided. Nevertheless, pages 815-46 are sufficient for any interested person who desires to follow in the steps of these five academics. The maps included by Bryce come to only twenty, thereby revealing a further weakness of the book. Detailed maps are needed. Since there is an entry for Megiddo and, further, the famous Egyptian attack on Megiddo under Thutmose III is recorded (page 465) with further details included regarding the Amarna Period, why is no local topographic map of the city provided? The same can be said for other key localities such as Kadesh on the river Orontes and Carchemish.
This is not to say that the entries are simplistic. But the limitations imposed by the size of such a volume are self-evident. Entries vary in length. Some are resplendent with information (e.g., Marhashi, pages 449-50) while others are surprisingly short (e.g., Margiana, pages 448-9). In many examples, but not all, a brief bibliography is given. Sidon, is awarded about three pages and possesses three specific references (649-52). Sumer, on the other hand, receives slightly less space than that of Sidon. On pages 250-51 Gaza is granted less than one page, a size not fitting to its age-old, millennia-long history.
Naturally, all must have been dependent upon what the publisher, the senior editor, and his assistants decided. I support the necessity for brevity, but glaring inconsistencies occur. Historically speaking was not Tarsus more significant for history than Tarhundassa? (Saul/Paul is mentioned in the last sentence of the entry of the former.) The devotion to Cyprus on pages 175-8 is well deserved, but why is the entry comparable in size to Miletus? In contrast, Mesopotamia (page 469) receives one-fifth of a page.
My feelings of disappointment with the conception and the execution of this volume have been given above. I suspect that they are mainly due to the concepts lying behind such a large book. Its remarkable size, unsuitable for this paperback edition — if opened frequently, the spine will break — reveals its limitations. I have checked a reasonable sample of the entries, ten per cent to be precise, and picked out those of keen interest to me, concentrating on Syria and Anatolia. I do not find fault with the authors or the facts presented therein. But the omission of Egypt remains a sore thumb, both red and swollen, which cannot go away. Egypt was part of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean World for millennia, as was Cyprus and Anatolia. It cannot be overlooked.