BMCR 2012.06.37

Roman Sculpture in Asia Minor

, , Roman Sculpture in Asia Minor. Proceedings of the International Conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Italian excavations at Hierapolis in Phrygia, held on May 24-26, 2007, in Cavallino (Lecce). JRA Supplementary series, 80. Portsmouth, RI: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2011. Pp. 384. ISBN 9781887829809. $149.00.

This is a multilingual volume of 25 papers presented at the conference on ‘Roman Sculpture in Asia Minor’ held in 2007 to celebrate the 50 th anniversary of the Italian excavations at Hierapolis, Phrygia. As stated in the very brief Preface by the editors, this book intends to complement the Hierapolis volumes published in recent years by the Missione Archeologica Italiana at Hierapolis (MAIER) and by Ege Yayınları in Istanbul (p. 7). The volume is indeed a welcome contribution for understanding the recent finds, problems, and methods of interpreting the sculpture of Hierapolis and other major sites in Asia Minor.

The presentations are organized in six sections. The first, ‘Roman sculpture in Asia Minor: the state of the art,’ comprises three articles by Koch, Bejor and Pensabene that deal with key questions about production and schools of sculpture. The following four sections group essays not according to subject matter, but according to the sites that they discuss. They are: Aphrodisias (Smith, Chaisemartin, Roueché), Ephesos (Aurenhammer, Auinger, Rathmayr), and Hierapolis (D’Andria, Ritti, Romeo, Zaccharia Ruggiu and Canazza, Rossignani and Sacchi, Yıldız, Pellino). The fourth section, titled ‘Other Sites,’ deals with Nysa (Strocka), Ilion (Rose), Lagina (Söğüt), Perge (Bravi), Sagalassos (Mägele), Laodikeia (Şimşek) and Pergamon (Mania). The final section is devoted to ‘late antiquity’ (Kiilerich, Sperti). Due to space restrictions, the present review will not deal with all the articles individually, but only with some specific points.

First of all, the Preface is too short (only five paragraphs) and is largely devoted to thanking various institutions and sponsors that made the conference possible. Although it states the three major themes handled in the book (see below), a more comprehensive introductory chapter by the editors might have addressed significant issues, such as the aims of this gathering, the choice of sites and especially of invited scholars, what results were gained from the encounter, and what new finds or methods of investigation it produced.

The second point that deserves mention is that the site-based division of the articles, although seemingly well organized, does not necessarily reflect the three important themes addressed in the book. As stated in the Preface, one of these themes is the “contextualization of the sculptural finds within the topographic and social landscapes of cities such as Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Hierapolis, Ilion, Laodikeia, Pergamon, Perge, and Sagalassos” (p. 7). Examining sculptural material within its cultural, social, historical and archaeological context is indeed a popular trend that promotes viewing the objects through the eyes of their contemporaries. Auinger, for example, compares the sculptural decoration from the Vedius and the East gymnasium baths in Ephesus. Based on reconstructions of fragments in their context, she concludes that the so-called Kaisersaal halls were used as an encomium to the benefactors. Mägele, likewise, examines the sculpture of Sagalassos in its urban context, in particular the three monumental nymphaea and their sculptural assemblages. Similarly, other authors demonstrate the usefulness of considering epigraphic and literary context in interpreting statuary. Ritti delves into the relationship between art and text at Hierapolis, while Roueché investigates the ancient response to statues by discussing text and graffiti not only at Aphrodisias, but also at other sites, particularly Ephesus.

The second leitmotif in the book is the construction of identity and cultural memory in statuary within the cultural context and the complex web of power relationships in Asia Minor. Among the many articles in this category, D’Andria’s paper on the sculptural decoration of the nymphaea in Hierapolis examines how the scenes of Amazonomachy and images of the Gods aimed to evoke cultural memory and myth within the broader background of the Second Sophistic. Similarly, Romeo investigates the civic identity expressed by the iconography of the ‘Beautiful Tomb,’ a monumental heroon at Hierapolis. Rose focuses on sculpture and coinage at Roman Ilion to demonstrate the evident link of the Roman site with its Bronze Age antecedent in the visual record, and the complex relationship of the imperial family with Ilion’s past. Bravi, on the other hand, examines the reflection of panhellenism and cultural memory in the public spaces at Perge, particularly the Hellenistic towers and the city gate, and the north nymphaeum.

The third theme in the book concerns the modes of production, trade, technical aspects of the workshop, and the existence of workshops and their relationship with each other. Under this category, Bejor’s article on the ‘schools’ and ‘workshops’ poses significant questions regarding the definition and distinction of these terms while reviewing current literature on the topic. Pensabene focuses on the ‘schools’ of Dokimeion, Aphrodisias and Nicomedia, while Smith’s essay concentrates on the visual and epigraphic evidence regarding sculptural workshops at Aphrodisias. Koch’s paper on the state of research on Roman imperial sarcophagi in Asia Minor deserves special mention. It raises several critical questions that await further analysis in the field of sarcophagus studies, such as the practice of producing imitations of Attic sarcophagi in local workshops, or where Dokimeion sculptors were located after the workshops ended production. An expanded and illustrated version of this article, happily for students of Roman sarcophagi, was recently published in a bilingual book (German and Turkish).1

The essays in the book were written by a good mix of well-known and accomplished scholars with less well-known or new names in academia. Such combination is a welcome and positive aspect of the book, which adds to the richness of the collection. This applies also to the choice of subject matter, which unites new material with reappraisal of previously published items. However, greater consistency would have been desirable as well, in terms of both the scholars’ contribution and the content and coverage of the material. While some papers hit key points in the overall thinking and methodology of understanding the sculptural material, others are no more than descriptive accounts that rely on basic, though careful, formal analysis.

Of the 25 articles in the volume, 11 are in English, 10 are in Italian, 3 are in German, and 1 is in French. Since the volume was published by a prominent American publisher, this reviewer would have preferred to have English abstracts for each paper, both in order to appeal to a larger audience in the Anglophone world, and for quick reference to the articles’ contents. The print quality is high, consistent with the rest of the JRA supplementary volumes. Some of the drawings and plans are more meticulously and accurately prepared than others, but are, in general, satisfactory.

Overall, the book is a welcome and commendable addition to the recent scholarship on the sculpture of Asia Minor, which in general receives less attention than sculpture in Italy or Greece. The reader will not only learn about recent finds and scholarly research, but also about recent methods of interpreting the material.


1. Koch, G. 2010. Türkiye’deki Roma İmparatorluk Dönemi Lahitleri. Genel Bir Bakış (Kaynakça Eki İle)/ Sarkophage der Römischen Kaiserzeit in der Türkei. Ein Überblick (mit einer Bibliographie). Antalya: Suna-İnan Kıraç Akdeniz Medeniyetleri Araştırma Enstitüsü.