BMCR 2021.07.08

Bronzes du haut-archaïsme à Delphes

, Bronzes du haut-archaïsme à Delphes. Trépieds, chaudrons et vaisselle de bronze (fin VIIIe-VIIe siècle). Fouilles de Delphes, 5. Athènes: École française d’Athènes, 2019. Pp. 218. ISBN 9782869583252 €68,00.

This volume has its origins in Hélène Aurigny’s doctoral dissertation, entitled “Delphes au VIIe siècle: Recherches sur les offrandes et la fréquentation du sanctuaire,” directed by Roland Etienne and defended at the University of Paris 1 in November 2009. The book under review, however, in the venerable Fouilles de Delphes series, does not include all the material covered in the dissertation, as it focuses largely, but not exclusively, on one category of bronze vessels, namely the larger tripods and cauldrons, together with their many protomai and related figural and non-figural bronze-work. The volume is essentially a continuation of Claude Rolley’s Fouilles de Delphes V:3 and follows the chronological sequence established there.[1] The study of other forms of bronze tableware from the Archaic and later periods will appear in a subsequent volume in the series by Valeria Meirano, which will complete the publication of all the bronze vessels from Delphi.

The book has several objectives, the main one to publish the bronze tripods and cauldrons, together with a few other vessels, of the “High Archaic” period (seventh century B.C.), some of which are unpublished, others published in one form or another, either by Paul Perdrizet or Rolley or both;[2] many of these objects have also appeared in numerous other volumes and articles by many scholars. Quite a few pieces were published, for example, in Emil Kunze’s 1931 study of Cretan bronze reliefs.[3] Although many of the vessels presented here have been published elsewhere, it is good to have them assembled in this volume. Each object is described in detail, illustrated with photographs (some in color, others black-and-white) and drawings, all generally of good quality. As an ensemble they show the variety of such objects at Delphi, and the panhellenic and, indeed, international, standing of the sanctuary of Apollo in terms of votive offerings and votive practices.

Following a brief “Avant-propos” (Foreword, p. 7), the Introduction (Chapter 1, pp. 9-32) begins with a bang, by providing an “histoire de la recherche.” This chapter is one of the most interesting, and important, of any volume in the Fouilles de Delphes series, beginning as it does with “la Grande Fouille” (1892-1901) and continuing through to the spectacular discoveries of the “fosses de l’Aire” in the 1930s. Along the way, the reader is treated to a vista of the expectations and perspectives of the early excavators, not least of Théophile Homolle, and especially the influence of the ancient Near East as a concept that emerges at this time and the rise of “Oriental” archaeology. But, to paraphrase in English a comment by Georges Radet in 1901, “like most human endeavors, Delphi was full of joys and disappointments” (the original French quoted on p. 12). The overview also brings into view the excavations of the Marmaria precinct, and the important roles played by early scholars like Perdrizet, for his study of the “small objects,” and Émile Bourguet and Frederik Poulsen, for their views on Greece and the Orient.

From the earliest days of the fieldwork at Delphi we move to the years of the 1920s and 1930s, and the work of Emil Kunze. But it is with the arrival of the so-called generation of 1936, when the plot thickens, as it were, with the contributions of Lucian Lerat, who was in charge of studying the Mycenaean and Geometric levels, culminating in Pierre Amandry’s discovery of the fosses de l’Aire and the chryselephantine statues of Artemis and Apollo, under the Sacred Way, which brought the eighth to sixth centuries B.C. into clearer focus. Together, Lerat and Amandry showed the importance of Delphi in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages. The next few pages (pp. 19-26) deal with Greece and the “School of the East,” bringing in many other scholars, from Hetty Goldman to Ekrem Akurgal and Pierre Demargne, while all along showcasing the important role of Amandry (whose longevity, 1912-2006, assured him a perpetual voice and prominent role). The chapter ends with more prosaic short overviews of recent work on the seventh century B.C., including the problems of periodization (pp. 26-29), and the designation and study of the Delphic material by categories (pp. 30-32).

Chapters 2-5 consist of the catalogue, so indispensable in Classical archaeology. Chapter 2 presents the “supports et trépieds à baguettes”—the rod stands and tripods—beginning with the “Chypro-Cretan” examples (nos. 1-14), before dealing with the various types of “supports de chaudron”—the cauldron supports—and other stands and tripods (nos. 15-30). Each category of bronzes, in this and the other chapters of the catalogue, is not only described, but followed by a full commentary and discussion. What is especially illuminating and useful are Aurigny’s distribution maps of the various categories of objects throughout the Mediterranean.

The bronze stands and tripods are followed by the impressive array of appliqués in the form of protomai: griffins, sirens, and bulls (nos. 31-90).[4] It is in this chapter that some of the choicest and most characteristic bronzes of the seventh century are presented. The discussion is full, as is the up-to-date bibliography (perhaps the only glaring omission being Adrienne Mayor’s delightful “archaeology” of griffins that adds an important element to the story of these fascinating and recurring creatures).[5]

As if this were not enough, Chapter 4, entitled “Appliques de vaisselle” (nos. 91-177), presents all manner of interesting attachments. The various categories include animals—that is, those that are bronzes of whole animals, not just heads in the form of protomai—the other human or animal attachments, the loop or arched handles with a lotus flower, as well as the more miscellaneous “non-figurative” attachments and other vases, which include what Aurigny refers to as “attaches d’anse en bobine,” which are the common handles attached to a plain or beaded reel. There are also handles in the form of bars, omega-shaped handles, as well as the triangular or crescent-shaped handle attachments, among others. The short chapter 5 presents a small number of phialai of various types, and a solitary aryballos of seventh-century date (nos. 178-185).

The final four chapters are interpretative, beginning with Chapter 6 entitled “Contextualisation.” Here, the term contextualization refers to two aspects of the vessels: their place in the history of technology (pp. 143-144), and their manufacture and provenance (pp. 145-152). Especially useful are the two tables (Tables 6 and 7 on p. 145), which display assigned provenances for the various openwork supports, tripods and their protomai, as follows: North Syria (24), Phrygia (3), Cyprus (3), undetermined Levantine (12), East Greek (7), Samos (15, all griffins), Argos (perhaps 4), Corinth (2), Athens (1), Crete (14), Magna Grecia (1), and “Greece” (13). The remainder of the vessels, including figural and non-figural attachments, stem from Cyprus (13), Phrygia (4), Asia Minor (2), Italy (6), one each from Samos, Athens, and Argos, and another 59 from “Greece.” The numbers clearly reflect the importance of the East and the processes of Orientalization. In the production of small votive metalwork, one of the places that will emerge as a major industrial center in the eighth and seventh-century B.C. is Methone in Pieria.[6]

Chapter 7 can be translated as “votive practices at Delphi in the High Archaic period” (pp. 153-168). Among other things, it provides an overview of votive vessels in our literary sources, especially in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo and that to Hermes. Other aspects discussed include their provenance and chronology, the methods—“modalités”—of acquisition and their consecration as offerings, as well as the places of their discovery and their history after their consecration, what I would call their cultural biography. The latter begins with the primary contexts: the sanctuary of Apollo, including the fosse de l’Aire, and the sanctuary of Athena. Aurigny also asks: are there offerings specific to Apollo and Athena? And she also tackles the issue of the “politics” of dedication—public vs. private, as well as the value of the offerings.[7] There is a great deal to ponder here, and although Aurigny’s discussion may not be the last word, it is a discussion worth having, particularly for a site like Delphi.

Chapter 8 is no less bold, despite its title: “Les offrandes et l’histoire du sanctuaire de Delphes.” Aurigny quickly launches into the origins of the offerings and the origins of the dedicants, the first sub-heading dealing with “foreign offerings” and “foreigners” in Greek sanctuaries. Of course, we return to the Orient—the topos that looms large in this discussion—as well as the function of “exotica.” But it is more than this, because Aurigny asks “Quel Orient à Delphes?”—which East in Delphi? The discussion, however, does not focus just on Orientalia, but also on the Greek objects and the role of the sanctuary—especially this sanctuary—as a showcase for Greek city-states. Consequently, the story begins with foreigners and external relations at the shrine—the route from North Syria, “traffic via Cyprus” (Aurigny’s emphasis), the roles of Cyprus and Crete—before discussing the place of Delphi in the local, regional, Aegean, and Mediterranean context, and the international and panhellenic roots of the sanctuary of Apollo. This is followed by a brief Chapter 9: Conclusion, just over two pages, which serves as a useful summary.

This is an impressive volume, of interest to specialists in bronze vessels, as well as to those more interested in votive practices: a fitting volume in the prestigious Fouilles de Delphes series. It is much more than just a catalogue of objects; it is an original reflection on artisanal and votive practices in the service and context of early Greek religion. By way of conclusion, however, I want to return to the all-too-brief “Avant-propos” on p. 7, where Aurigny articulates an all-too-familiar French lament, one in which the documentation of the material in this volume “makes it possible to place Delphi on the same level as the great sites, such as Olympia and Samos [both German excavations], which have obviously delivered much larger quantities of bronzes…” In her own methodical way, Aurigny brings to the fore the real significance of Delphi: it is not just any panhellenic sanctuary, it deserves its ancient reputation as the omphalos gēs.


[1] C. Rolley, Fouilles des Delphes V:3. Les trépieds à cuve clouée, Paris 1977.

[2] P. Perdrizet, Fouilles des Delphes V:1. Monuments figures: Petit bronzes, terres-cuites, antiquités diverses, Paris 1908.

[3] E. Kunze, Kretische Bronzereliefs, Stuttgart 1931.

[4] One of the few errors that should have been picked up was the numbering of the pieces presented in this chapter: stated as nos. 30-90, but in reality nos. 31-90. The term “applique” in French is usually rendered as “appliqué” in English, and I conform to the respective English and French renderings throughout this review (other examples include “contextualisation/ contextualization,” “griffons/griffins”).

[5] A. Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters, Princeton 2000.

[6] See, in the meantime, S.P. Morris, J.K. Papadopoulos, M. Bessios, A. Athanassiadou, and K. Noulas, “The Ancient Methone Archaeological Project: A Preliminary Report on Fieldwork, 2014-2017,” Hesperia 89, 2020, pp. 659-723.

[7] See further J.K. Papadopoulos and G. Urton (eds.), The Construction of Value in the Ancient World, Los Angeles 2012.