BMCR 2022.01.09

The archaeology of the Mediterranean Iron age: a globalising world, c. 1100-600 BCE

, The archaeology of the Mediterranean Iron age: a globalising world, c. 1100-600 BCE. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp. xxi, 318. ISBN 9780521199575 $110.00.

Tamar Hodos is a specialist in the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Mediterranean, encompassing not only the Greeks but also the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the societies of the western Mediterranean. She is also a specialist in the epistemology of archaeology. Her fine analysis of the concepts and intellectual tools—that allow us to identify the interactions among multiple communities and cultures of the Mediterranean during this period—is present in all her publications, emphasising the important role played by global and local practices. Her latest work is a culmination of this theoretical perspective, adopting the analytical framework of globalisation as she had previously done in a book published in 2017.[1]

In order to identify the issues at stake in this approach, Chapter 1 reviews numerous concepts which, from Braudel’s Mediterranean to Morris’ notion of Mediterraneanization, have marked the history of Mediterranean archaeological studies. After defining the Mediterranean Iron Age as a historical object, Hodos presents a picture of the emergence of archaeological interest in Mediterranean civilizations in the modern period up to the end of the 19th century. She then sets out to examine in detail some examples and consider the various concepts used in contemporary archaeology, from the notion of “longue durée” to “middle ground”, “agency”, “connectivity”, “hybridisation”, etc. Hodos posits that globalisation involves eight main characteristics that can be studied through social analysis (p. 29–32): time-space compression, where interaction often results in a temporal and spatial collapse between different communities; deterritorialization, which can occur when a culture adopts goods and ideas from a wider network; standardisation, which arises from the need to facilitate communication and cultural interaction; unevenness, “in the sense that not everyone is globally engaged to the same extent” (p. 29); and cultural homogenisation, produced, for example, by shared practices between communities in a global network. However, cultural heterogeneity shows how cultures interpret differently shared practices and material culture. Hodos points out that some cultures respond to inclusion in a global network by intensifying practices that express their individuality.[2] Finally, vulnerability can arise when a system is negatively affected by its links to other areas of the global network.

Chapter 2 addresses the problematic issue of chronologies for the period under study from its outset, drawing on the debate between high and low chronologies and focusing on the usefulness of new carbon-14 dating for Phoenician sites such as Carthage. The chapter concludes with a critical presentation of various written sources which concern this timespan.

Chapter 3 focuses mainly on the migration and colonisation phenomena of the Greeks and Phoenicians around the Mediterranean. Recent literature has shown us how problematic the characterization of these migrations had been: it often revolved around competition or cooperation between Greeks and Phoenicians. Hodos engages with this debate using specific case studies.

In Chapter 4, Hodos analyses the material evidence for trade and reflects on the issue of globalisation and ancient economies: “the Iron Age was a period of tremendous economic evolution, with small-scale, perhaps individual, transactions developing into wide-reaching trade” (p. 96). Levantine and Cypriot objects provide a starting point for this analysis. Hodos then turns to Greek ceramics (p. 109) and discusses the case of Nikosthenes in particular. Material exchanges underlie the transfer of practices and ideas (p. 122). Here Hodos takes up a theme that has already been central to her research: the question of the imitation of certain ceramic shapes or types of decoration. An excellent example of these local adaptations is offered by the Sabucina crater (p. 123): its study makes it possible to highlight the change in the way archaeologists looked at these hybrid productions, considering them at first as efforts to copy foreign prototypes. The chapter ends with a particularly well conducted analysis of certain products by Mediterranean cultures (p. 125), underlining the importance of understanding the incessant interplay between shared and local practices (p. 133), between imitation, adoption, and adaptation: “the point about alien object use during this era is that they highlight the balance between shared and divergent practices between competing cultures in a globalising world”. Consumption of wine is an eloquent example; alongside wine, olive oil, grain, textiles, slaves, and precious metals illustrate these dynamics and shed new light on the nature of these interactions and their variability.

In chapter 5, Hodos addresses another central issue: urbanisation in the Mediterranean and its characteristics. The chapter begins with a discussion of how urbanism and urbanisation have been defined by archaeologists. Drawing from the same comparative and analytical approach, Hodos tries to identify the main characteristics of urbanisation through the analysis of monumental architecture, population concentration, social stratification, craft specialisation and writing. In particular, she highlights the development of the tophet in Phoenician settlements of the western Mediterranean, but not in the Phoenician communities of the Levant (p. 161–162). For the Greek world, she stresses the importance of urban development in close relation to territorial control: “since both are related to resource access and social communication flows” (p. 169). She concludes by pointing out several key elements that illustrate the importance of context; even in a comparative analysis, one should never forget the specificities of each case study: “The significance of social context highlights the mechanisms of Mediterranean engagement” (p. xviii).

The author then turns to the invention and spread of writing (ch. 6). The chapter discusses different scripts—Phoenician, Greek, Cypriot—and raises the questions of when, where, and why. An important piece of the analysis is the famous Nestor’s cup, a key document that is discussed several times in this book. Although writing is a shared practice, Hodos importantly argues that the “development of alphabetic writing, with variations within cultural groups and between cultural groups, represents the participation in global concepts while concurrently articulating local identities” (p. xix).

Competition between groups within a community, or between several communities, is one of the keys to understanding the book’s interpretation. Competition thus seems to explain well the case studies addressed in the perspective of a connected Mediterranean: “It is interesting to note that the most prolific users of written word were the Phoenicians, Greeks, Etruscans, Iberians, and Sicilians. These were also the most closely involved communities in terms of sea-faring, long-distance exchange and intensive commercial interactions” (p. 205).

The last chapter returns to the question of globalisation during the Iron Age to show how this concept has been applied to different case studies. The number of topics is deliberately limited to systematically highlight aspects that are shared, or those that produce different practices according to contexts. From this point of view, the globalisation approach offers a valuable model to identify and understand cross-cultural interactions in the Mediterranean Iron Age: “In short, the widely shared common characteristics that developed across the Mediterranean during the Iron Age are best broadly understood as Mediterranean-wide shared relations and practices tempered by strongly articulated localised expressions that were used to demarcate identities externally and internally” (p. 221).

The book is methodically organised, shows good editorial quality, and several illustrations enrich the author’s words throughout the book. The bibliography (p. 253–311) is dense and useful: even if it cannot include everything, it is comprehensive enough to highlight important points of the analysis. Not only do we find here the results of new investigations carried out on the field but also the synthetic reappraisal of an extensive and thorough documentation. Tamar Hodos’ approach is archaeological. The author addresses complex theoretical questions, but her analysis is based on a careful study of material culture and contexts: indeed, all components—Greeks, Phoenicians, several local communities—are placed on the same level and each is recognised as having an active and reactive role in connectivity network(s). In sum, this book is the result of a broad and ambitious work, carefully argued: it will undoubtedly become an important reference.


[1] The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization. Edited by Tamar Hodos. London, UK: Routledge, 2017.

[2] See also Tamar Hodos, Local Responses to Colonization in the Iron Age Mediterranean. London; New York, Routledge, 2006: BMCR 2008.08.29.