BMCR 2020.09.34

Greeks who dwelt beyond the sea: people, places, monuments

, Greeks who dwelt beyond the sea: people, places, monuments. Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie, Band 333. Bonn: Habelt Verlag, 2019. 375 p.. ISBN 9783774942165. €85,00.

It is hard to overstate how much discussion has been devoted to Greeks living beyond the eastern Aegean and its islands, and yet Greek identity and experience in particular regions of the ancient world remain poorly understood by scholars. New work that purports to take on a specific aspect of this topic is always promising, and a text advertising engagement with questions of monuments and place is no exception. Nováková’s book is, however, much broader than its title suggests. Its contents are centered on the question of Greek involvement in western Anatolia, and the resulting interactions between Greeks and native inhabitants. It treats the diverse western Anatolian populations (e.g., Karians, Lycians, Lydians, etc.), their Phrygian neighbors, and inhabitants of the Greek mainland.  In discussing cross-cultural interaction, the author presents a detailed summary of the state of scholarship on western Anatolia from the end of the Bronze Age through the beginning of the Hellenistic period. The primary purpose of the book beyond this synthesis, however, is not entirely clear. The author seems to be attempting two different things: (1) to provide background and contextual information that is better suited to an introductory textbook, and (2) to analyze the reciprocal influence of the inhabitants of western Anatolia and the rest of the Greek Aegean on one another, specifically within the realm of funerary architecture and practices.

Synthesis is valuable, but the book falls short in its lack of clear structure and argument. Thematic and topical organization often repeats between chapters, which means relevant discussions are split into noncontiguous sections. Moreover, the reader is often distracted by excess background and contextual information as well as the routine shifting of geographical and chronological scales within chapters (Chapter Four is discussed below as an excellent example). Finally, the selection of material seems patchy, and no justification is offered for that which has been included or omitted. Why, for example, focus solely on funerary practices? This seems like a reasonable choice, but should be explained. Similarly, Phrygian burial traditions are discussed at length in the beginning of the book (79-84), but the juxtaposition of Anatolian and mainland Greek funerary practices at the text’s conclusion (Chapter Seven) focuses solely on the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Without justification, the omission of earlier materials that have been presented at length is jarring. Together, these factors make it difficult to assess whether the author has achieved what she set out to do, or indeed to summarize the contents of the book in succinct fashion.

In Chapter One, Nováková introduces western Anatolia, which is her primary focus, as well as some of the main players among the region’s Greek-speaking peoples. She separates those people into Ionian, Aeolian, and Dorian tribes (more on this taxonomy below). She also introduces the differences in temperament and character between Greeks living in Asia and Europe that were theorized by ancient sources, presents the question of the degree of intermingling between Anatolian Greeks and Karians, and devotes brief attention to Greek settlements in the central Mediterranean. This content acts as a useful overview of western Anatolia as one of the most diverse regions within the immediate Greek cultural sphere, but its treatment is problematic; if this section were intended to serve as an introduction to western Anatolia for unfamiliar students or scholars, it is missing important aspects of contemporary discourse and debate. The division of Anatolian Greeks into three original tribes, for example, is not presented with any kind of complexity, and while Nováková notes the traditional nature of migration narratives that describe the settlement of the western Anatolian coast by separate Greek tribes, she does not challenge them here, taking them more or less at face value. In her discussion of ‘the Karian question’ (25), the nature of the ‘question’ itself is not explicitly stated, nor is the rationale for choosing Karians as the only non-Greek people to discuss in this chapter. By singling them out in this way, one wonders whether Nováková is questioning their potential Greekness as some kind of especially hellenized non-Greek. She notes the presence of mixed Greek-Karian communities (26), but also acknowledges the prevalence of mixed communities more generally in Ionia and its environs. It is surprising that the idea of a mix of two distinctive cultural elements is not questioned here,[1] especially when the chapter opens with a statement about the high degree of diversity and extensive mutual influence in Anatolia (8).

In Chapter Two, the author presents an overview of the cast of characters in western (and central) Anatolia who facilitated and participated in interactions with the Greek Aegean through the end of the Archaic period. The Phrygians, Karians, Lydians, Lykians and ‘Anatolian Greeks’ open the chapter. After a sudden pivot, the second half of the chapter offers an overview of tumuli and their role in the funerary landscape of both western and central Anatolia and the Greek mainland. This second half of the chapter is actually the first place where what seems to be the main subject of the book (burial practice) is introduced, although the reader is not made aware of its significance.

Chapter Three deals with the specific history of interactions that took place in western Anatolia between the Persians and the Greeks—the major events of the Persian War, and the influence of Achaemenid governance on western Anatolian regions and cities. After another sudden pivot, the second half of this chapter veers toward a specific focus on funerary practices, in addition to monuments more generally and the cross-cultural influences that are evident in their iconography and people’s engagement with them. The data that are presented here, and in Chapter Two, are described in sufficient detail to support a comparative and contrasting discussion of funerary practices. Such a discussion is not really fleshed out, however, and so the reader is left without clear takeaways. The lengthy historical introductions offering interesting, but not demonstrably relevant, fine-grained details, make the topical shifts in both chapters disorienting.

The discussion moves on to questions of identity of Greek and Anatolian peoples in Chapters Four and Five, where the author zooms out to take a chronologically broad perspective on the development of ethnic, regional, and civic identities over time. Chapter Four exemplifies the meandering trajectory of the book. It begins with a broad discussion of the relational aspects of collective Greek identity, moves on specifically to discuss Greek perceptions of the Persians, veers perplexingly into Greek practices of depicting and commemorating historical events and important individuals, and ends with an overview of Classical Attic burial practices in the context of familial and civic belonging. Such a progression is not entirely unreasonable, but without explanatory transitions between topics, the reader is easily lost.

Chapter Five, meanwhile, moves from representation of the everyday individual in funerary contexts to depictions of rulers and other elites. Nováková highlights iconographic evidence, specifically, and the ways in which depictions of attributes associated with the Other(s) were used to affirm specific types of social identity in different regions and communities. The clearest example of this is willingness in Anatolia to incorporate numerous traditions and attributes associated with other cultural traditions into depictions of individual, local elites as a signal of social status and power (e.g. 197-204) versus a lack of non-Greek attributes being incorporated into depictions of Greek elites in similar funerary contexts. The contrast between different iconographic practices on the Greek mainland and in western Anatolia is presented, but actual analysis again falls short. Furthermore, while the reciprocal reception of Greek and Persian cultural attributes, and individual interactions between people, are discussed more broadly in the beginning of Chapter Four, choices for funerary iconography are not clearly situated within these trends as part of the larger picture. Similarly, the selective adoption of some Persian clothing elements into non-funerary iconography (e.g. the kidaris and kandys on Attic vases or as popular fashion in Athens (167)) is noted, but not discussed in the detail it merits, given the author’s claims about other, sepulchral imagery.

Chapters Six and Seven are the first place where the text seems that it might build toward a possible argument. While Chapter Six provides background on the history of conflicts after the Persian War (Peloponnesian and Corinthian), the primary goal is to lay out the context for shifting relationship between various cities and the Achaemenid empire, and the subsequent mobility of craftspeople, artisans, and others during this period. Both chapters are primarily devoted to trends in temples, tombs, funerary art, and the role they played at the nexus of individual identity and power in western Anatolian interactions with the rest of the Greek Aegean. As a result of the distinctive attention to funerary practices here, and the citation of some of Nováková’s own work on the subject, this discussion seems to be the primary issue at the heart of this research project. Nováková illustrates how emphases on the relationship between the individual and the civic community, or the state, can be seen in choices surrounding funerary architecture in Athens vs. western Anatolia (e.g., different attitudes toward the acceptability of public monuments to individuals (251-3; also 177-179), and the use of idealism vs. realism in depicting the dead on funerary monuments (298)). While these contrasts are made, this section of the text is weakened by the lack of discussion of their significance. Overall, the absence of this greater discussion also makes it hard to determine the author’s original contributions, and therefore to assess the monograph’s contribution to current discourse.

The conclusion to this text offers a reprisal of a few key points, but does not necessarily bring those points together. It is helpful to have a paragraph or two devoted to highlighting key ideas from each chapter (though they are not identified as such in the text), but disappointing not to hear the clear voice of the author coming through to wrap up the monograph. Indeed, the conclusion cuts off abruptly and the reader is left to draw together threads from the various chapters on their own. The author seems to think there is a broader argument to be made about the parallel development of funerary practices in western Anatolia and mainland Greece, but what exactly that argument might be is lost in the mix of overwhelming historical background and highly detailed descriptions of funerary structures and other monuments already discussed.

Overall, the monograph would have benefitted significantly from a clear structure and organization. This would aid the reader in understanding what novel contribution(s) Nováková intends to make to the study of western Anatolia and its relation to its neighbors. Individual sections of this book may be of interest to students or scholars in search of introductory overviews to questions of cross-cultural interaction within western Anatolia (Chapters One and Two), or to the general practice of tumulus construction (79-99), but their unevenness means they would require supplementation. Additionally, very detailed descriptions of some funerary monuments (e.g., various tumulus construction techniques, Hekatomnid maussolleia, the Nereid monument, etc.) are available in the text, and some, like the tradition of tumulus use around the Aegean, are noted in the table of contents and therefore easy to find; others will require more careful combing through the relevant thematic sub-sections. Ultimately, the topic of reciprocal influence in funerary practices between Anatolia and the Aegean is an important part of discussions around cross-cultural exchange in these milieus more broadly. Trends in choices of self-representation for elite and non-elite individuals in funerary contexts, and their relationship to self-representation and adornment in life, carry implications for an understanding of identity and exchange in the Classical Aegean that material evidence makes ever more nuanced. Nováková has collected a significant body of relevant data related to these issues, and they deserve more extensive treatment in the future.


[1] See, e.g. Jiménez, Alicia. 2011. “Pure hybridism. Late Iron Age Sculpture in Southern Iberia”. World Archaeology, 43 (1), Postcolonial Archaeologies, 102-123.