Monday, June 27, 2011


Olga Palagia, Bonna D. Wescoat (ed.), Samothracian Connections: Essays in Honor of James R. McCredie. Oxford/Oakville, CT: Oxbow Books, 2010. Pp. vi, 242. ISBN 9781842179703. $80.00.

Reviewed by Eva Winter, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This Festschrift is a varied collection of 18 articles which honour the outstanding work of James R. McCredie on Samothrace. During the course of nearly 50 years of activity at the site, McCredie has influenced our understanding of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods as much as Alexander Conze, Karl Lehmann-Hartleben and Phyllis Williams Lehmann before him. At the same time, McCredie has managed to guide three generations of researchers. The versatility of his qualities as an archaeologist, colleague and teacher is obvious throughout the volume.

The series of articles starts with a short contribution by Irene Bald Romano, remembering McCredie's service to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (starting in the late 1950s), and especially his duty as director from 1969 until 1977.

McCredie's work at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University is sketched in the article of Mariët Westerman and Patricia Rubin. They stress his contribution as director from 1983 to 2002, especially in bringing three important excavations – Abydos, Aphrodisias and Samothrace – under the aegis of the Institute. As a result, the Institute was able to offer its students practical training in the field as well as expert teaching in the classroom. A list of the Samothrace excavation staff at the end of the Festschrift impressively shows how intensively students have been involved in fieldwork there. The impact of this involvement is demonstrated by the composition of the book itself, which presents the contributions of different generations of researchers and correspondingly represents different thematic and methodological interests.

Bonna D. Wescoat demonstrates that in his almost 50 (!) years on the site, McCredie more than doubled the number of recognised architectural structures, and was able as well to elucidate many details of those buildings that were known before he took up the directorship. One salient characteristic of his own work on architectural structures – apart from the detailed documentation of the monuments – is the graphic representation of his interpretations in plans, sections, and reconstructions, mostly done in collaboration with John Kurtich. This approach has been especially important at a sanctuary where very few of the buildings could be described as canonical – in either a functional or a formal sense. The many impressive drawings which accompany the two contributions by Bonna D. Wescoat give us cause to hope for a continuation of this tradition. Wescoat's first article "J. R. McCredie and Samothracian Architecture" offers a good overview of the current state of research, followed by a complete bibliography of McCredie's publications. Her second contribution, "Up against the wall," is a detailed study of structural development of anta design within Samothracian architecture. The increasing importance of internal space, and a new configuration of anta and wall were both characteristic elements of Hellenistic architecture. Buildings at the sanctuary ranging in date from the late fourth to the mid-second century B. C. reflect the different stages of this development precisely.

In a tripartite contribution Dimitris Matsas, for many years the representative of the Greek Archaeological Service on Samothrace, looks at the impact of the island within the religious sphere. Using evidence from three different periods – Bronze Age sealings, the architectural development of the sanctuary under Macedonian patronage in Classical and Early Hellenistic times, and an eighteenth-century consecration agreement of several Samothracian monasteries, Matsas develops his thesis about the small island's far-reaching religious importance.

Mary B. Moore takes a fragment of an Attic red-figured krater as the starting point for an iconographical survey of Apollo holding the kithara within multifigured compositions. Found inside the sanctuary at Samothrace, this Attic import from around 470/460 B. C. shows the arrival of Apollo – probably not in a wedding scene with Kadmos and Harmonia, but in connection with Artemis and Leto (or Dionysos and Nike), although the fragment is too small to identify the scene precisely. The presence of luxury wares at Samothrace during late classical times is attested later in the volume by a small fragment of a marble krater published by Jasper Gaunt.

Some sherds of moldmade bowls from the excavation are the subject of Susan I. Rotroff's study. One of these bowls can be attributed by its signature KIPBEI to a workshop whose origin is widely disputed. On the basis of an extensive catalogue of the known pieces of the group, and considering the various arguments about distribution, chronology and iconography, Rotroff argues for an origin on the northwest coast of the Black Sea.

Alongside the problem of assigning functions to individual buildings within the sanctuary runs the general question of how exactly the mysteries at Samothrace worked. The building in the centre of the sanctuary – first named Alter Tempel, later Temenos and most recently Hall of the Choral Dancers – graphically demonstrates the uncertainties involved in the interpretation of uncanonical architecture. In his excellent article, Clemente Marconi tries to resolve some of these difficulties, starting with a full account of all known fragments of the 115 m long frieze of the building. He concludes that representations of choroi – choral dances, each composed of eight to nine dancers and a musician playing either the kithara, aulos or tympanon – once surrounded the entire building. He rejects earlier mythological interpretations of the frieze in favour of a more ritual reading of the great hall's figural decoration as "an allusion to the spectacle of the annual summer festival."

One of the big problems in dealing with ancient architecture is the reconstruction of a building's ceiling. Amy A. Sowder shows the extent to which Samothracian architecture helps us in understanding this important architectural element. Especially useful are her two reconstructions of the Hieron's porch, which used at least five different coffer sizes. Her study demonstrates the complex ways in which the ceiling influenced the appearance of the room and gave it a visual orientation.

The most famous monument of the sanctuary – the Victory of Samothrace – has until now been one of the most discussed among archaeologists: When was it erected and by whom? Olga Palagia offers answers to these questions, relating the monument to the last years of the Macedonian Kingdom and the establishment of the Roman province. Although we are unable to connect this donation with a particular individual, Palagia's contribution shows that there were both continuities and changes in the transition of power during this period. Sheila Dillon's article on votive statuettes of women supports the same conclusion.

The continuation cultic activity during the first century B. C. is supported by an inscription on a statue base found in secondary use inside the sanctuary, and published here by Kevin Clinton and Nora Dimitrova. It documents honours for Q. Lutatius Catulus as patron, benefactor and saviour, by the people of Maroneia, and it was probably set up in the course of the Mithridatic wars. The second article on Samothracian epigraphy, by Robert L. Pounder, provides evidence that even if most parts of the sanctuary were badly damaged by an earthquake at the end of the first century A. D. (p. 83), the sanctuary still played an important role in the later Roman empire: Pounder presents a badly worn, graffito-like inscription on the doorjamb of the Neorion which might refer to some kind of repair to the building in the 3rd century A. D.

One of the most difficult aspects of an archaeological excavation running as long as the one at Samothrace concerns conservation and restoration. Stephen P. Koob gives an important insider's overview of work on a variety of ancient materials. He outlines the challenges presented by limited space and difficult climatic conditions, as well as the support provided by close collaboration with the honorand.

In contrast to most of the articles of the Festschrift, which deal directly with material from the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, three of McCredie's colleagues choose a wider range for their studies. Carol C. Mattusch gives us an idea of the different ways in which Greek art was displayed in Roman republican villas by contrasting the ideologies of L. Calpurnius Piso and his opponent Cicero. R. R. R. Smith draws attention to a Fayum papyrus of the third century B. C. which most probably preserves a Fayum teacher's manual. The different columns of its text were framed by small architectural drawings, interpreted by Smith as a glimpse of the lost Alexandrian pavilion architecture which influenced the design of wall-paintings of the so called third style. Finally, Ioannis Akamatis introduces fragments of moldmade bowls from Florina, comparing them with other examples from Macedonia, all of which illustrate subjects inspired by the Homeric epics. He interprets the predominance of these themes as a consequence of the special social and political situation of this period.

Samothracian connections were manifold and multivalent in antiquity, and they continue to reach far beyond the small island at the northeastern edge of the Aegean. Those connections have been supported and stimulated for nearly half a century by James R. McCredie. This is the overriding impression that this well-printed and rich illustrated book communicates, thanks to the admirable work of the honorand and the two editors, Olga Palagia and Bonna D. Wescoat.

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