BMCR 2022.09.02

Hellenistic and Roman terracottas

, , , Hellenistic and Roman terracottas. Monumenta Graeca et Romana, Volume 23. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019. Pp. xxviii, 424. ISBN 9789004384699. $238.00.

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This volume emerged from the conference “Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas: Mediterranean Networks and Cyprus” held in Nicosia/Cyprus in 2013 and presents recent discoveries, old museum collections and innovative methodological approaches to the study of Hellenistic and Roman terracottas. The 29 papers are divided into five geographical parts: Cyprus; Greece and Asia Minor; Italy; North Africa; the Levant and Mesopotamia. Some essays present material studies from a single site while others provide general overviews and iconographic studies. The latter group do not fall within any of the volume’s geographical headings, and are curiously assigned to “Greece and Asia Minor”.

Part 1 Cyprus opens with an extensive chapter by the editors presenting preliminary results of an ongoing research project on the terracotta finds from the House of Orpheus in Nea Paphos. The project aims to contextualize the mostly fragmentary terracottas through study of typology, style and spatial distribution. What seems to be clear is that the coroplastic production in Cyprus belonged to the “broader Mediterranean cultural koine” (38). Gabriele Koiner and Nicole Reitinger raise an interesting point, emphasizing the correspondence between Hellenistic terracottas and limestone sculptures from Cypriot sanctuaries. Due to poorly documented pieces in the collections of the Cyprus Museum, the picture of the distribution of Hellenistic terracottas in the sanctuaries appears uneven, particularly in sanctuaries of Eastern Cyprus. Pauline Maillard recontextualizes hundreds of terracottas discovered in the 19th century at the hilltop sanctuary of Artemis Paralia (by the Salt Lake of Larnaca), and today housed in several museums.  Eustathios Raptou evaluates the terracotta figurines that were brought to light by the Department of Antiquities over the last decade in the area of Hellenistic Arsinoe (modern Polis Chrysochous). Limited as their quantity is, they attest to the variety of types used in the city. The rural sanctuary in Yialia with statuettes found in-situ—among others, Apollo Kitharoidos, Eros holding a kithara, and Artemis Dadophoros—deserves particular attention. In Chapter 5, Nancy Serwint notes the striking difference between the extensive coroplastic evidence of Archaic/Classical Marion and the small number of pieces from Hellenistic/Roman Arsinoe. Among the material from different sites in and around Arsinoe a terracotta workshop discovered in Polis-Petrerades is a welcome addition to the evidence of coroplastic manufacture in Cyprus. Isabelle Tassignon, in Chapter 6, underlines the close relationship between local coroplastic art and sculpture in Amathous through the example of Aphrodite and Eros. Elisavet Stephani also examines Amathous in Chapter 7 focusing the terracotta offerings found in Tomb 916 in the Eastern Necropolis of Amathous during the excavations by the Department of Antiquities in 2008. The tomb was cut into the bedrock with a stepped dromos, and was in continuous use from the Cypro-Archaic to the Roman period. A dozen of statuettes survived from one burial, coin-dated to 137/6 BCE. These almost completely preserved large-scale statuettes of Tanagra-style and other small-scale masks, isolated heads and body parts attest once again that Cyprus was embedded in the Hellenistic koine. A small assemblage of fragmentary Classical and Hellenistic terracottas that were curiously found on the floor of a Chalcolithic building is the focus of Chapter 8 by Polina Christofi. The author believes that the Classical terracottas were heirlooms and deposited together with the Hellenistic terracottas to venerate the prehistoric site. Anja Ulbrich presents unpublished terracottas kept in the Ashmolean Museum, which stem from British-Cypriot excavations and surveys from 1888 to the early 1970s. They are generally tied to Cypriot tradition, but also combine iconographic and stylistic features from the Aegean and Asia Minor.

Part 2 titled “Greece and Asia Minor” includes 10 chapters of which six deal with material from different sites of the Greek mainland, while only one represents Asia Minor. Chapters 14, 15, and 18 are concerned with general iconographic studies. In Chapter 10, Erin Walcek Averett discusses theriomorphic figures from Arcadia and argues that the masked dancing figures were linked with the initiation rites of the cult of Despoina in Lycosura. The next two chapters examine terracottas recently excavated in the Thessalian city Phaere: Argyroula Doulgeri-Intzesiloglou and Polyxeni Arachoviti explore in Chapter 11 techniques of production while in Chapter 12, the same authors together with Eleni Asderaki-Tzoumerkioti and Manos Dionyssiou present the results of archaeometric analyses which detected a number of color pigments as well as the presence of tin metal foil which was used to emphasize figures’ jewelry and accessories. Constantina Benissi tackles in Chapter 13 the ex-voto figurines from the sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia in Euboea, investigating their links with rites de passage. Chapter 14 by Frauke Gutschke discusses the controversy on the interpretation of figurines with movable limbs and argue against either toy-or-votive interpretations, but rather for a right balance between these two functions. In Chapter 15, Natalie Martin analyses the iconography of veiled women, investigating numerous textual and iconographic sources, and concludes that veiling played an important role in the veneration of fertility goddesses such as Demeter, Cybele and Anatolian Artemis, especially for female worshippers in transition from nymphe to gyne.

Angele Rosenberg-Dimitracopoulou analyses the standing male figures with softly articulated musculature which emerge in Boeotian coroplasty in the middle of the 5th century and argues that the “soft youth” was a general visual trend in the Classical period, in contrast to the prevailing belief that this was Praxiteles’ personal style. Focusing on the terracottas from the Artemision at Thasos and the Artemision at Epidamnos/Dyrrachion, Arthur Muller argues for the interpretation of female figures as mortal women, brides or votaries, rather than as representations of Aphrodite. In Chapter 18 Stéphanie Huysecom-Haxhi investigates terracotta figurines showing a nude kneeling woman in a shell, which are attested mainly in Greece and Italy; the author argues, based on the presence of such figurines in tombs of young girls and in sanctuaries of goddesses with kourotrophos functions, that they should not be understood as mere representations of the “birth of Aphrodite”, but also as metaphors for the transition from nymphe to gyne. Kielau’s contribution on the terracottas from the “Stadtgrabung” of Pergamon is a summary of his dissertation published in 2018 and already reviewed in BMCR 2020.03.41.

Part 3 Italy comprises three chapters. Rebecca Miller Ammerman deals in Chapter 20 with the early Hellenistic coroplastic workshop in Sant’Angelo Vecchio which specialized in figurines and plaques and also investigates their distribution in houses and sanctuaries in Metaponto, including its chora. Alessandro Russo presents in Chapter 21 the fragmentary votive figurines from the garden of the House of Marcus Fabius in Pompeii that attest religious function of the place as a sanctuary between 4th and 1st century BCE. In Chapter 22, Elena Martelli presents a group of male figurines, wearing tunics and holding scrolls (togati), whose production was limited in both period/time (late 2nd/ and early1st century CE) and quantity; these figurines were used in domestic, funerary and commercial contexts of harbors of river cities, including Taranto, Puteoli, Ostia and Pompeii. Martelli argues that these clay statuettes of togati with portrait-like heads represented the genii of professional associations.

Part 4 entitled North Africa consists of two papers. In Chapter 23, Solenn de Larminat presents a study based on 850 terracotta figurines from Roman Africa, dated between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE, and concludes that deities and other mythological figures were used mostly in funerary contexts in association with ritual treatment (breakage and turned upside-down), while figurines with offerings and those inscribed with names appear in sanctuaries. Chapter 24 by Lara Weiss examines the female figures from Roman Karanis in Egypt. Not unlike Gutschke in Chapter 14, the author concludes that such figurines should not be interpreted either as toys or as votives, but could have different functions depending on their use by agents that define their meaning.

The book ends with Part 5 and five papers devoted to the Levant and Mesopotamia. Chapter 25 by Marianna Castiglione discusses the Egyptianizing terracotta figurines from Kharayeb which do not suggest the presence of Egyptian cults in the Levant, but rather their adoption to local religious practices. Adi Erlich in Chapter 26 draws parallels between the Hellenistic terracottas from Coele Syria and Amathous, which she attributes to the Levantine koine. Chapter 27 by Heather Jackson deals with the “Persian riders” from Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates and draws parallels with the earlier horsemen figurines from Cyprus in order to show how this motif changed over centuries. In Chapter 28, Roberta Menegazzi tackles the terracottas from Seleucia on the Tigris and investigates their rich repertoire that was shaped by the interplay between old Mesopotamian traditions and influences from the eastern Mediterranean area. Chapter 29 by Abdalla Nabulsi falls out of the frame of the volume´s theme for it presents no Hellenistic/Roman terracottas, but the plaster figurines from the Byzantine cemetery in Khirbet es-Samra (Jordan).

The volume concludes with extensive indices. Each contribution is richly illustrated, primarily black and white. Color illustrations are inconsistent: chapter 1 is entirely illustrated with color photos, but chapter 12, though its subject is polychromy, contains only a few color images. One may also wonder about the purpose of numerous full-page illustrations of fragmentary terracottas with worn surfaces (see for example p.140).

To sum up, the volume provides several interesting discussions and insights, but it leaves the impression of an ill-designed book. A thread running through all of these chapters is not recognizable, either in terms of content or methodology. The chapters treat materials primarily from Cyprus and other marginal regions rather than from leading centers of Hellenistic and Roman terracotta production. While this in and of itself is not an issue, they appear to be randomly selected independent of their thematic relevance or quality. Although the editors seem to commit to cover a wide area, it is not well balanced in geography. A single paper represents Asia Minor, which is astonishing given the importance of Hellenistic/Roman coroplastic production centers there, including several new discoveries n Turkey over the last two decades Worth mentioning here are the Hellenistic and Roman terracotta figurines from Tralleis[1], and new datasets from Aigai, Myrina, Smyrna, Patara and Parion.[2]  The Late Hellenistic terracottas recently excavated at the Mithridatic hilltop site Kurul, near Kotyora at the Black Sea, which comprise mostly large-size Dionysian statuettes, protomes and masks with expressive features—all produced in high quality—have the potential to change perspectives in coroplastic studies regarding manufacturing centers.[3]

Consequently, the present volume is not, as claimed, an up-to-date reference book on Hellenistic and Roman terracottas. Nevertheless, it is a well-edited and well-produced book and an important contribution to coroplastic studies. Its high price, however, may make it inaccessible for many scholars and students.

Table of Contents

Giorgos Papantoniou, Demetrios Michaelides, and Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou, Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas: An Introduction 1–4

Part 1 Cyprus
Giorgos Papantoniou, Demetrios Michaelides, and Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou, Terracottas in a Domestic Context: The Case of the House of Orpheus in Nea Paphos, Cyprus, 7–43.
Gabriele Koiner and Nicole Reitinger, Hellenistic Terracottas and Limestone Sculptures in Cypriot Sanctuaries: On the Search for Types and Votive Habits, 44–59.
Pauline Maillard, The Terracottas from the Kitian Sanctuary of Artemis Paralia: A Snapshot, 60–70.
Eustathios Raptou, Terracotta Figurines of Hellenistic Arsinoe and Environs, 71–87.
Nancy Serwint, Hellenistic Terracottas: The Evidence from Ancient Arsinoe, 88–100.
Isabelle Tassignon,  About Aphrodite and Eros at Amathous: Terracotta and Sculpture, 101–111
Elisavet Stefani, Underneath the Veil: Terracotta Figurines from the Amathous Eastern Necropolis, 112–130.
Polina Christofi, Contemplating Issues of Historical Continuity: The Case of the Figurines from Erimi-Bamboula, Cyprus, 131–145.
Anja Ulbrich, Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas in the Cypriot Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: Contexts, Iconography, Meaning and Mediterranean Connections, 146–162.

Part 2 Greece and Asia Minor
Erin Walcek Averett, Theriomorphic Figures in Hellenistic and Roman Arcadia: Nostalgia and Ritual, 165–179.
Argyroula Doulgeri-Intzesiloglou and Polyxeni Arachoviti, Production of Terracotta Figurines in the Hellenistic Period at the Ancient City of Pherai, Thessaly, 180–190
Eleni Asderaki-Tzoumerkioti, Manos Dionyssiou, Argyroula Doulgeri-Intzesiloglou, and Polyxeni Arachoviti, Some New Insights into the Materials Used for the Decoration of Hellenistic Terracotta Figurines in the Pherai Workshops, Greece, 191–202.
Constantina Benissi, A Group of Terracotta Ex-Voto Figurines from Amarynthos, Euboea: A Case Study in Sanctuary Deposition Practices, 203–214.
Frauke Gutschke, Greek Terracotta Dolls: Between the Domestic and the Religious Sphere, 215–222.
Nathalie Martin, Terracotta Veiled Women: A Symbol of Transition from Nymphe to Gyne, 223–236.
Angele Rosenberg-Dimitracopoulou, The Soft Youth in Boeotian Coroplasty, 237–250.
Arthur Muller, “Visiting Gods” Revisited. Aphrodite Visiting Artemis, or Bride?, 251–258.
Stéphanie Huysecom-Haxhi, Aphrodite, Coming of Age and Marriage: Contextualisation and Reconsideration of the Nude Young Women Kneeling in a Shell, 259–271.
Sven Kielau, Terracottas from Pergamon’s Residential Area: Comments regarding Chronology and Relations to Other Sites, 272–285.

Part 3 Italy
Rebecca Miller Ammerman, Production and Consumption of Terracottas: A Case Study at Metapontion in Southern Italy, 289–304.
Alessandro Russo, Coroplastics from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus in Pompeii: Archaeological Artefacts from a Sacred Place, 305–314.
Elena Martelli, Clay Togati (Men Wearing a Tunic and Holding a Scroll) from Harbour and River Towns: Some Hypotheses Regarding Their Occurrence and Meaning, 315–325.

Part 4 North Africa
Solenn de Larminat, Sacred and Funeral Terracotta Figurines in Africa Proconsularis, Numidia and Mauretania Caesariensis between the First and Third Centuries CE, 329–341.
Lara Weiss, Female Figurines in Roman Karanis: An Agentive Approach

Part 5 The Levant and Mesopotamia
Marianna Castiglione, From Alexandria to Tyros: The Egyptian Character of the Hellenistic Figurines from Kharayeb, 359–370.
Adi Erlich, Toward a Levantine Koine: Ties between Hellenistic Terracottas from Coele Syria and Cyprus, 371–382.
Heather Jackson, The Case of the Persian Riders at Seleucid Jebel Khalid on the Euphrates: The Survival of Syrian Tradition in a Greek Settlement, 383–394.
Roberta Menegazzi, A Look from the Outside: Mediterranean Influences on the Terracotta Figurines from Seleucia on the Tigris, 395–401.
Abdalla Nabulsi, The Plaster Figurines of Khirbet es-Samrā Cemetery in Jordan, 402–412.
General Index 413.


[1] M. Çekilmez,  Tralleis Güney Nekropolis Terrakotta. PhDThesis (Aydın 2014); id., Terrakotta Figures from the Village of Mesutlu in Aydın, Cedrus 2013, 201-217.

[2] E. Dereboylu, Aigai Pişmiş Toprak Figürinleri – Les figurines en terres-cuites d’Aigai  PhDThesis (Izmir  2012). M. Çekilmez -A. Arınç – P. Taşpınar, Bergama Müzesindeki Myrina Terracotta Figürinleri (Izmir 2021); G. Işın, Patara Terrakottaları. Hellenistik ve Erken Roma Dönemleri (Istanbul 2007); H. Kasapoğlu, Parion Theater Terracotta Figurines, in: C. Başaran (ed.), Roman Theater of Parion (Çanakkale 2018) 237-276.

[3] Y. Şenyurt – A. Akçay, “Kralın Tanrısı Dionysos Kurul Kalesi’nden Sesleniyor,” Aktüel Arkeoloji 2020, 58–69.