BMCR 2020.10.57

Greek colonization in local contexts: case studies in colonial interactions

, , , Greek colonization in local contexts: case studies in colonial interactions. University of Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology monograph, 4. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow, 2019. Pp. 248. ISBN 9781789251326 $59.99 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

These papers from a 2007 symposium in Cambridge are the culmination of the project “Greek colonization: its impact on Europe,” conducted by the authors from 2004-2007, with case studies from northeast Spain, southern France, southern Italy and Sicily, the north Aegean, and the Black Sea. Not restricted to any single theoretical perspective, the papers employ a variety of methods to analyze and interpret archaeological data from different culture-contact scenarios while exploring the process of colonial foundation and identity construction, laying particular emphasis on landscape and spatial dynamics in overseas settlements, diachronic change in settlement patterns and material culture, and social and economic interactions with local populations.

The first section addresses the central and western Mediterranean from the late 8th century BCE through the end of the Classical period. Murray explores the production of locality — i.e., a distinct local culture — through case studies from South Italy and Sicily, seeing the creation of local civic identities as the result of settlers’ dichotomous roles — although they are originally citizens of their metropoleis, as residents of new settlements they construct and maintain local social identities and memory while only selectively retaining aspects of their original homelands. With the addition of the responses of local populations, localizing forms that are distinct from the originating communities emerge — the product of hybridity and competitive expression between new settlements and the local, populated landscapes. Domínguez questions traditional narratives about the foundation of Locri Epizephyrii, reexamining whether extensive influence from the colony’s originating community can be discerned in the archaeological record, and even whether there was a singular “metropolis.” He suggests that the South Italian settlement may have been a joint venture by communities in both East and West Locris (or even the ethnos as a whole), closely examining the material record in both regions of the motherland and the spheres of influence, economic relations, and ensuing material koinai that developed via exchange networks. Such considerations, Domínguez warns, cannot necessarily be extrapolated to all South Italy, with its distinct material record of increasingly intensive interactions with local populations and other Greek colonies. He concludes that Locri Epizephyrii’s foundation may have been conditioned by contemporaneous Corinthian and Euboean colonization, with Locrians mediating between the two groups. Tusa, to whose memory the volume is posthumously dedicated, provides a valuable overview of protohistoric dynamics among Sicilian populations and the complex processes of change, migration, displacement and interaction before and during the Geometric period, examining dynamics among Phoenician and Greek newcomers to Sicily and the power play that ensued alongside a rise to dominance of indigenous Elymian populations in western Sicily. The discussion of Sicily’s external contacts beginning in the Bronze Age contextualizes the complexity of trade and colonization during the later “historical period,” noting that the island’s complex dynamics must be analyzed case-by-case and region-by-region.

Moving to the Celtic world, Lucas examines the impact of Greek trade and the foundation of Massalia in southeast France, noting how imported (and, eventually, locally made) wine and associated wares accelerated changes in the economy, settlement structure and landscape among EIA populations. Settlement-distribution maps, gleaned from extensive excavation and survey data, illustrate landscape use and population density patterns before and after Massalia’s foundation from the 9th through 4th centuries BCE. He concludes that local agency played a vital role in producing a distinct material culture in Massalia’s region: local populations rapidly incorporated imported, colonial Greek, and hybrid wares into traditional ceramic assemblages, mainly utilizing shapes and decorations fitting existing cultural norms. The permanent establishment of Greek communities in the region modified social relations, although a hybrid, mutable cultural landscape continued long after Massalia’s foundation. Of all papers in this section, this probably comes closest to the volume’s stated intention of providing contextual analyses utilizing the archaeological record, through in-depth analysis of a site’s impact on its wider region. Miró i Alaix focuses on a particular object type (red-figured pottery), its distribution within the Greek settlement Emporion, and Emporion’s role as a redistribution center for Attic pottery throughout Iberia. Not theorizing on cultural change and identity, she empirically analyzes the distribution of Attic red-figure pottery and variations (geographic and temporal) in its shape and style. She emphasizes the way habitation and burial assemblages at Emporion can be generalized to make inferences about nearby Iberian towns, as active local populations may have controlled differential access to trade, explaining discrepancies in stylistic preferences between local settlements and Emporion. The author concludes that the evolution of local markets (especially the expansion of Punic influence) explains changes over time in use and distribution of imported wares.

The next section focuses on the north Aegean and Greco-Thracian relations. Gotzev compares extensive published data from several main settlement sites, identifying patterns of Thracian settlement development in the first millennium BCE; Pistiros, unique as a major metal-trade node through which Greeks interacted with local populations, is his case-study. He also attempts to define the nature and evolution of settlement at Pistiros, looking at burial evidence, settlement structure, cult activity, and interactions within the wider landscape (primarily nearby metallurgical workshops and cult centers, both of which were intermediary spaces and centers of integration between Greeks and locals). Triandaphyllos takes a wider perspective, looking at the roles of the Greek settlements Abdera, Stryme, Maroneia, and Zone in exploiting and transforming the surrounding landscape. Archaeological surveys provide evidence — such as rock-cut tombs and sanctuaries, road networks, mines, and shelters — for local resource management and its impact on local economies; the author argues that these traces illustrate developing economic relationships between Greeks and Thracians in the hinterland, as continued Thracian exploitation of the area combined with rapid economic developmentfrom the entry of Greek colonies into local networks led to intensive exploitation of wealth-producing resources such as minerals and agricultural products. Lungu takes a straightforward approach to broad diachronic change in burial customs and establishment of funerary areas at a single settlement, Orgame on the Black Sea. The settlement’s distinct local identity developed through interactions with local communities, the new community inserting itself into preexisting trade and affiliation networks while simultaneously legitimizing its presence and exercising influence on existing social systems through implementation of a hero cult and status-linked hierarchies of burial practices.

The third section explores the northern Black Sea region and interactions with Scythian populations. Almost all papers reference the tradition of dugout houses — semi-subterranean dwellings with superstructures of perishable materials — and the unique material culture that developed through extensive Greek-local contacts. The authors draw conclusions about the nature of the dwellings, their origins, purpose, and tentative ties to ethnic or cultural groups, using archaeological assemblages as evidence. Bylkova discusses broadly the nature of contacts along the Dnieper River, tracing development of inland and coastal settlements through gradual culture contact and reflecting on how Greeks incorporated themselves into existing landscapes. Like Triandaphyllos, she looks at archaeological traces of Greek settlement composition, cult visibility, landscape use, and resource management within the broader region and the impact on local economies. But her emphasis is the dominance of Greek cultural attributes on the landscape, arguing that Greek settlement in the coastal region and river valley explains changes in landscape and way of life, increasing sedentism among local nomadic Scythians. Solovyov also focuses on culture contact, arguing for greater visibility and continuity of indigenous culture in and around Greek Berezan and Olbia. Indigenous influence is reflected in the variety of ceramic assemblages (even along the coast) and in the mix of traditions in settlement structure, craft production, and construction (Solovyov describes dugout houses as an indigenous cultural feature). At first Greeks may have operated as small enclaves of traders and craftsmen within local landscapes, creating a heterogenous culture, especially as indigenous groups were drawn to occupy the lower Bug River; eventually, as Greek populations grew, their settlements evolved into fully fledged poleis, although the trajectories of Berezan and Olbia differ. Here we encounter the much-debated terminology of apoikia versus emporion, one of the main themes of the contribution of Bujskikh and Bujskikh. These authors also discuss the foundation of Berezan and Olbia, arguing that the former was an emporion but with extensive craft production early on. Intensive natural resource exploitation and the gradual expansion of Berezan’s chora eventually led to the establishment of Olbia, formalized architecturally from its beginning with both cult structures and habitations (largely dugouts), which in turn evolved into a state that absorbed Berezan by the end of the Archaic period. Petropoulos explores more indigenous perspectives, investigating native responses to the first Ionian settlers and questioning the assertion that coastal areas had theretofore been largely uninhabited. Petropoulos also suggests, interestingly, that “non-Greek” architectural ensembles (dugout houses at Histria) may not belong to a particular cultural group, but are rather an adaptation to colder climates. He acknowledges that, although it may be a stretch to trace “patterns” among Greek responses to colonization, one can nevertheless track some commonalities as a Greek modus operandi across varying settlement locations, such as the presence of similar dugouts in Metaponto in Magna Graecia. Braund’s more historical and linguistic approach to the Greeks’ location of settlements examines the reasoning behind Olbia’s establishment on the Bug rather than the Dnieper River, and how discussions of the latter entered Greek discourse on the region’s geography. Ultimately, the presence of indigenous populations and local networks was significant in the choice of initial settlement locations, the spread of new communities along the Bug and Dnieper, and the subsequent formation of complex identities among early Greek newcomers and more sedentary Scythian populations also settling the region. Finally, Greaves focuses on Ionian colonization, decentering metropoleis as main sources of cultural attributes for colonial foundations and shifting the emphasis to the complex cultural dynamics characterizing even foundations within Ionia itself before the wave of Archaic-period settlement. The author outlines six themes of Ionian overseas settlement, emphasizing the multiplicity of cultures, landscape, climate, and resources in shaping unique, hybrid local identities for settlements that, consistently transforming over time, cannot be easily generalized. Overall, Greaves provides a more nuanced understanding of Greek colonies’ relationships to metropoleis, challenging traditional “hard-line” narratives about the transfer of cultural forms.

The ten-year publication delay has somewhat dated the papers; conferences and publications since have addressed similar topics along slightly different lines, especially the two-volume proceedings of the 2012 conference, “Contextualizing early colonization: Archaeology, sources, and interpretative models between Italy and the Mediterranean.”[1] Several authors invoke the concept of pre-colonization, now largely replaced in discussions of culture-contact by more indigenous-based perspectives. Notably absent from this volume is significant discussion of postcolonial theory, although recent research is less inclined to apply to diasporic Greek settlements a cultural-historical analysis more fit for discussions of the Roman Empire. Some papers do address the multiplicity of identities that emerged in this period, touching on such concepts as hybridity and local agency through the lens of contextual analysis.

This volume’s scope is, however, unique in looking (with few exceptions) solely at the archaeological evidence, decentering the dialogue surrounding Greek diasporic contexts from purely theoretical perspectives. Thus, the authors are less concerned with terminology (which has changed somewhat since the symposium)[2] or with models beyond distribution networks and proportion charts. We are left with data gleaned from excavated contexts, in almost every case interpreted conservatively regarding the original social and cultural circumstances of both local inhabitants and newcomers.

The volume remains an important contribution to discourses on culture contact in the Mediterranean, however, with nuanced, well-thought-out perspectives on the roles and agency of Greek settlements overseas, their interactions with local populations, and the complex dynamics of changes in ensuing relationships. The papers dealing with the Black Sea region are especially valuable, given the relative lack of publications on this topic in the anglophone world. The contributions do not attempt to discern overarching patterns applicable to all case-studies, but rather highlight some aspects of settlement location, planning, architectural expression, custom, and temporal change and outline the development of distinctly localizing communities through the lens of agency and locality.

Authors and Titles

Carrie Ann Murray and Jason Lucas, “Introduction”
Carrie Ann Murray, “Constructing colonies: Physical manifestations of social action within Greek colonization”
Adofo J. Domínguez, “Locrian colonization in Magna Graecia: Cities and territories”
Sebastiano Tusa, “Cultural and ethnic dynamics in Sicily during Greek colonization”
Jason Lucas, “Marseilles: Greek settlement on the fringes of Iron Age Provence”
M. Teresa Miró i Alaix, “The Attic red-figure pottery of the Greek city of Emporion”
Alexei Gotzev, “Pistiros: A Thracian emporion in its cultural and natural environment”
Diamandis Triandaphyllos, “The landscape in Aegean Thrace before and after Greek colonization”
Vasilica Lungu, “Orgame Necropolis in the Black Sea Area”
Valeria Bylkova, “Transformations of landscape use in the Lower Dnieper Region”
Sergey Solovyov, “Borysthenes and Olbia: Reflections on the character of contacts between Greeks and Natives during the initial stage of colonization”
Sergej Bujskikh and Alla Bujskikh, “Polis, Chora and the development of the colonial landscape in the Lower Bug Region”
Elias K. Petropoulos, “Colonial landscapes and colonial interactions in Skythia and the Euxeinos Pontos”
David Braund, “Colonial location: Olbia on the Hypanis”
Alan M. Greaves, “’Greek’ Colonization: The view from Ionia”


[1] Donnellan, L. et al. 2016a. Contexts of Early Colonization. Bruxelles; and Donnellan, L. et al. 2016b. Conceptualising Early Colonization. Bruxelles. Other recent publications include Convegno di studi sulla Magna Grecia Taranto, Italia. 2017. Ibridazione e integrazione in Magna Grecia: forme, modelli, dinamiche. Taranto; and Denti, M. and Clément, B. 2016. La céramique dans les espaces archéologiques « mixtes ». Autour de la Méditerranée antique. Rennes.

[2] See Osborne’s contribution to Donnellan, L. et al. 2016b, “Greek ‘colonisation’: what was, and what is, at stake?” which deconstructs the notion of “colonialism” in the Greek world altogether, arguing for more nuanced vocabulary.