Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Andreas Hartmann, Zwischen Relikt und Reliquie, Objektbezogene Erinnerungspraktiken in Antiken Gesellschaften. Studien zur Alten Geschichte 11. Berlin: Verlag Antike, 2010. Pp. 846. ISBN 9783938032350. €109.90.
Reviewed by Silke Knippschild, University of Bristol

Table of Contents

Andreas Hartmann's ambitious book, the revised version of an Eichstaett PhD thesis, investigates memory and sacred as well as secular material culture in the ancient world. While his sources stem mostly from the era of the Roman principate, his discussion ranges from the fall of the Mycenaean palaces to Late Antiquity. Although Hartmann repeatedly claims that he does not aim at a complete coverage of the material available—hardly feasible in a study of this breadth—the amount of data he compiles and analyses is nevertheless staggering.

Hartmann's substantial study begins commendably with a very detailed list of contents (5-8), which is of vital importance in a book this size.

After an introduction (chapter 1) Hartmann opens with a discussion of terminology and concepts, focussing on memory, objects linked to it, and relics (chapter 2).

Chapter 3, by far the most substantial section of the book, studies dealings with relics in antiquity. Hartmann analyses how relics were identified, validated and explained once their original significance, meaning or function had been forgotten. He goes on to discuss amongst other aspects the collecting, exhibiting, trading and conserving of artefacts. The grand tour, especially when undertaken by Romans, and the role of the sites visited feature in this section. The veneration of heroes, emperors and others at tombs attributed to them or places linked to them are also discussed.

The fourth chapter investigates relics in the literary and written tradition, focussing especially on myths and historiography. This section further includes two case studies, the journey of Aeneas according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the discussions involving the spolia opima.

The meaning and function of relics are the subject matter of chapter 5. After addressing the Athenian Acropolis and the Anagraphe of Lindos, a substantial part of this chapter centres on early Rome before moving on to the relics of emperors and keimelia. Hartmann emphasises the importance of relics in the creation of identity and legitimacy.

Chapter 6 deals with Christianity and memory. Here Hartmann emphasises continuity, highlighting how Christians took over and adapted established customs and practices, both Jewish and pagan. He considers e.g. the veneration of tombs of prophets and the emperor cult to be important examples of this continuity.

Unfortunately, Hartmann does not end his book with a conclusion, which would have provided a very welcome guideline through the findings of his study. Chapter 7, "Ergebnisse und Kontexte", is surprisingly brief and mostly aims at embedding his findings in their context, drawing lines from the cultures of memory in antiquity to the ones of our day and age.

The book closes with an extensive bibliography and an index of places and persons, which are linked to relevant relics.

While Hartmann emphasises that he does not aim at a complete collection and analysis of relics or places and objects connected to memoria (23), the vast collection of evidence he presents is quite extraordinary and rather useful. On the other hand, the huge extent of the material covered explains some of the drawbacks of this book. Because of its magnitude, there are no conclusions at the end of chapters or even at the end of the book. The introduction likewise offers no guidance to the reader, who is left to either rely on the table of contents or to read cover to cover. Theories and methods fall somewhat short, being often relegated to the naming of sources in the footnotes. It might perhaps have been worthwhile either sacrificing some evidence for the sake of greater clarity of argument and presentation or going for the two-book approach. The book is without doubt aimed at scholars and in my opinion not a work to foist on an unsuspecting undergraduate.

Nevertheless, the study is characterised by insightful discussion of wide ranging evidence and by scholarly rigour. It is certainly a welcome addition to scholarship focusing on memory and material culture.

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