Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Platon Pétridis, La céramique protobyzantine de Delphes: une production et son contexte. Fouilles de Delphes, V, 4. Athens: École Française d'Athènes, 2010. Pp. 237. ISBN 9782869582033. €40.00.

Reviewed by Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University (sgallimore@wlu.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

In this volume, Platon Pétridis presents a study of pottery from Protobyzantine (fourth to seventh century CE) deposits at Delphi, with emphasis on locally produced wares. He strives to underline the variety of wares produced at the site and to employ this material in refining our knowledge of Delphi's later history by situating his findings within the social and economic contexts of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

This book developed from Pétridis' long-standing interest in the history of Protobyzantine Delphi, including first- hand experience with the site's ceramic record.1 It is organized into three main parts, which examine Delphi's Protobyzantine history, locally-produced wares, and imported ceramics respectively. An appendix, by Calliope Kouzéli, outlines the results of chemical and mineralogical testing, including x-ray diffraction, atomic absorption spectroscopy, optical microscopy, and petrography, performed on 41 samples of local and imported wares. Overall, the organization is standard for a pottery volume, and Pétridis succeeds in tying all of the sections together into a single, coherent study.

Pétridis' aim is to provide a more comprehensive overview of pottery from this period than comparable ceramic volumes tend to offer. He points out that most studies focus on specific types of pottery (e.g. amphorae) rather than regional productions as a whole. His own emphasis is on a diverse category of ceramics produced by workshops at Delphi. Most of this analyzed material, which dates from either the fourth century CE or the sixth/seventh centuries CE, derives from the excavations of l'École française d'Athènes in the areas of "l'Agora romaine" and "le Secteur au Sud-Est du Péribole". Supplemental finds from other French and local Archaeological Service excavations are also presented.

A description of the history and archaeology of Delphi between the fourth and seventh centuries CE occupies part one of the book and is divided into two chapters. The first examines the evidence for Protobyzantine settlement at the site. Pétridis resists the standard account—that Delphi fell into ruin after the closing of the Oracle in the late fourth century CE—, arguing that the site was more prosperous than has previously been acknowledged and may even have expanded during this period. He supports this hypothesis with several types of evidence, including written sources, small finds such as coins and ceramics, careful analysis of stratigraphy, and a description of preserved monuments. The second chapter focuses on "l'Agora romaine" and "le Secteur au Sud-Est du Péribole", the areas where most of Pétridis' ceramic material was unearthed. Excavations at both sites were conducted over the course of several decades, with the most intensive investigations occurring in the 1990s. Evidence from "l'Agora romaine", located at the southeast corner of the Peribolos wall surrounding the sanctuary, shows that its plan changed little after its initial construction in the first half of the second century CE. This site produced a small number of fourth-century deposits, including several associated with an earthquake between 365 and 371 CE, containing a large number of ceramics of different types. In "le Secteur au Sud-Est du Péribole", lying directly southwest of the Agora, two primary phases of occupation were identified, the first of which, dating from the late fourth/early fifth century until around 580, comprised several private structures including a house. Following the abandonment of this house around 580, an artisanal quarter was established in which pottery production was an important enterprise. This second phase lasted only from approximately 590 to 620 CE, but produced a significant assemblage of local and imported wares.

The second and largest part of the book consists of two chapters dedicated to locally produced pottery. The first is a discussion of the evidence for ceramic production at the site (including kilns, wasters, moulds, kiln supports) and of the abundance of certain forms and a description of the fabric and decoration of local vessels. Much of the evidence derives from the late sixth/early seventh century CE artisanal quarter in "le Secteur au Sud-Est du Péribole". Information on production in the fourth century comes mainly from kilns identified in the Gymnasium, to the southeast of the sanctuary, and from finds in "l'Agora romaine". A diverse array of types was produced at Delphi, all of which may be divided into two fabric categories, designated by Pétridis as A and B and distinguished by the absence or presence of mica and calcite.

A lengthy catalogue of local wares comprises the second chapter of part two. Pétridis divides the material into storage wares, cook wares, table wares, lamps, ceramics for artisanal use, and miscellaneous finds, with further subdivisions based on form. For each distinct ceramic type, he provides an introduction with a detailed discussion of the nature of the finds, their method of fabrication, their characteristics, and their use. Throughout the catalogue, Pétridis demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of Roman pottery, including relatively obscure types such as bread stamps. His discussions are rich in detail, and often he provides intriguing critical assessments. When discussing weights, for instance, he includes several paragraphs dedicated to examining the many different functions these items may have had in antiquity.

A single chapter dedicated to imported pottery types identified at Delphi comprises the third part of the book. This material is important for its insight into the site's economic relations and for its ability to refine the chronology of local wares found in associated deposits. Pétridis does not include a catalogue for these finds but instead provides a brief summary of the various types encountered. This is in striking contrast to the pre-eminence that imported wares tend to have in pottery volumes, and it emphasizes Pétridis' focus on the local pottery. Most of the imports are Red- Slipped table wares, with African Red-Slip by far the most common. Amphorae, while rare, demonstrate diverse provenances, including the Aegean, Asia Minor, Egypt, Italy, and North Africa. Lamps from Corinth, Attica, and Africa were also identified.

Pétridis concludes his volume in the traditional manner of pottery reports. After a summary of the various local pottery types identified, he turns to a brief outline of the implications of this material for understanding Delphi's economic connections and social character. He notes Delphi's apparent prosperity, ascribing this to the site's continued control over the fertile Kirrha Plain. In addition, most of the imported ceramics come from North Africa, a pattern seen at other archaeological sites of this period in south and central Greece. Commenting on Delphi's social life, Pétridis observes that Christian symbols on numerous vessels, particularly lamps, could be reflective of religious preference and that the large artisanal quarter in "le Secteur au Sud-Est du Péribole" suggests a vibrant artisan class. Following these assessments, Pétridis' final pages examine how this ceramic material can contribute to our knowledge of Protobyzantine Delphi. He concludes, after noting a lack of evidence for any disruption between the fourth and early seventh century CE in the ceramic record or otherwise, that Delphi was relatively peaceful during this period. With respect to the overall abandonment of Delphi around 620 CE, the ceramic record provides few indications as to why this happened.

This book was written by a scholar who clearly possesses a substantial knowledge of Roman ceramics. It offers a detailed account of a local ceramic industry deserving of consideration from scholars interested in the economic history of Roman Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. The volume is well organized and well illustrated. Plates at the end provide large, clear images that will facilitate further identification of the various vessel types presented. In addition, Pétridis has included several photographs of microscopic sections of pottery samples to illustrate differences in fabric. This will help scholars in other regions assess whether any Delphian products are part of their assemblages. There are, however, a few difficulties that render the book less useful than it might have been.

First, Pétridis expertly describes the ceramic material from several excavations at Delphi, but omits quantification data and could have improved the clarity of fabric descriptions. While he does offer some quantitative statements, such as noting that the proportion of local ceramics increases in later centuries, he provides no data to corroborate these statements. Quantified data sets are among the most effective means of comparing pottery assemblages from different sites. The lack of such evidence in this report will impede efforts to compare other local ceramic industries in the eastern Mediterranean with that of Delphi. With respect to fabric descriptions, in the first chapter of part two, Pétridis outlines two fabric categories, A and B, characteristic of local wares. His description of each is based primarily on results of chemical and mineralogical testing. Of great benefit would have been a systematic description of each based on macroscopic characteristics, perhaps modeled on the system used by G.D.R. Sanders, for example for material from Corinth.2 In addition, Pétridis provides a fabric description for each vessel presented in his catalogue, but these entries contain no mention of whether that vessel falls into category A or B. Instead, he includes this information in the introductory section for each ceramic type. A more efficient and unambiguous approach might have been to provide a detailed, systematic description of both fabric categories, mention in the catalogue entry which category a vessel belongs to, and then describe any variations in colour, inclusions, surface, etc. exhibited by specific pieces. This would have eliminated much of the redundancy in describing the fabric of each piece individually and would have facilitated the identification of fabric groups from Delphi at other sites.

An additional criticism is one that concerns pottery reports in general, and not only this specific volume. As described above, Pétridis follows the standard organization for a pottery volume, beginning with a contextual introduction, presenting the material in a detailed catalogue, and concluding with brief assessments of economic relationships. The final section, which in pottery reports tends to range from several paragraphs to several pages, can leave one unfulfilled since in-depth synthesis is left for scholars engaged in subsequent studies.3 One would suspect, however, that the scholars studying the pottery would be the best suited to undertake the initial, detailed synthesis, situating a site and its ceramic record in the broader context of the Roman economy. The brief forays into these topics given in pottery volumes often do provide important insights and avenues for future study, as is demonstrated by Pétridis' own conclusions, but they could be expanded upon to provide significant contributions to our knowledge of the ancient economy. While this would increase the length of a pottery report, one would hope that future authors of pottery studies will see the benefit of dedicating more time and effort to the synthetic portion of the text.

This book is an important addition to the corpus of ceramic publications from sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Pétridis' focus on local wares dating from the fourth to seventh century CE is laudable and offers a paradigm for other scholars hoping to carry out studies of a similar nature. While Pétridis has left it to future researchers to synthesize his data into discussions of the economy of the later Roman Empire fully, this volume will still serve as necessary reading for scholars of Roman Greece and for anyone interested in the presentation of a local ceramic tradition.


1.   Pétridis, P., La céramique paléochrétienne de Delphes, Unpubl. PhD Diss., Paris, 1995.
2.   Sanders, G.D.R., "A Late Roman Bath at Corinth: Excavations in the Panayia Field, 1995-1996," Hesperia 68.4 (1999) 477-478.
3.   For instance: Reynolds, P., Hispania and the Roman Mediterranean, AD 100-700: Ceramics and Trade, London, 2010; Wickham, C., Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800, Oxford, 2005.

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