Sunday, May 6, 2012


Rune Frederiksen, Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period, 900-480 BC. Oxford monographs on classical archaeology. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xxx, 238. ISBN 9780199578122. $170.00.

Reviewed by John K. Papadopoulos, University of California, Los Angeles (

Version at BMCR home site

When first confronted with this book, my immediate reaction was: why has it taken so long for someone to write this book? This was a topic begging for synthesis, and for anyone interested in Greek fortifications, as well as the Early Iron Age and Archaic periods more generally, this is a "must-have" book, and for this reason we are grateful to Rune Frederiksen for taking on this challenging subject.

The book is based on Frederiksen's 2003 doctoral dissertation at the University of Copenhagen entitled "Walled poleis of the Archaic period: architecture, distribution and significance of ancient Greek city walls". Neither the title of the dissertation or that of the printed volume is totally accurate, as the study includes much that is pre-Archaic. In his study, Frederiksen musters together both the philological and archaeological evidence for settlement or town walls in the Greek world before ca. 480 BC (I do not think that we can speak of "cities" in this period). His basic argument is straightforward: that the widespread fortification of settlements in Greece did not begin in the Classical period, as is sometimes considered, but much earlier. More than this, Frederiksen argues that the development of monumental architecture in the form of fortification walls is every bit as important as the development of monumental early temples, and that the two go hand in hand. The volume is well illustrated with concise but clear plans of sites, as well as photographs and maps.

A short introduction (pp. 1-7) lays out the aims of the volume, the history of research on early fortifications, and a brief note on the organization of the book. Chapter 2 (pp. 8-19) deals with the types of fortification, beginning with those of the Early Iron Age—including "refuges," such as Emporio on Chios, which consisted of 2.4 hectares of uninhabited space surrounded by a fortification wall—before dealing with Archaic fortifications. As a student of Mogens Herman Hansen, Frederiksen has to deal with the polis, and so fortification walls are contextualized within the framework of the polis. Frederiksen also looks at the evidence that exists for the fortification of harbors, as well as the scanty evidence for fortified villages, or what he refers to as "second-order settlements" (p. 11). Private estates or farms with towers are also discussed here, but are better dealt with together with "towers," which appear slightly later in the chapter. Another heading deals with the "Fortification of polis territory," and it is here where forts and towers are discussed. Bona fide "forts" of the Archaic period are, as Frederiksen says, "few and far between" and there is much more evidence for Classical forts than for the Archaic period. The examples that Frederiksen assembles of Archaic forts do not inspire confidence, and among the handful included is the site of Agathe, located in non-Greek territory more than 200 kilometers west of Massalia (mentioned by Strabo as an epiteichisma of Massalia). As for "towers," the evidence of their existence in the pre-Classical period is, at best, paltry. First and foremost, few of these towers are clearly defensive;1 secondly, as far as I know, not one can be clearly assigned to the Archaic period by means of straightforward archaeological evidence. The chapter ends with regional defenses, that is, fortifications beyond the polis, and a discussion of nucleated settlements as opposed to urban centers.

Chapter 3 (pp. 20-40) is entitled "City Walls in the Written Record and the Visual Arts." Frederiksen begins with the meaning of the word "teichos," as well as teichos as a settlement, and other terms implying fortifications. This is followed by attestations of actual fortified poleis in the extant literary record, as well as indirect attestations, and attestations of groups of walled poleis. The broader concept of teichos is also broached, including city walls in Homer and other Archaic poetry. As for fortification walls in the visual arts, Frederiksen's brief overview adds little of any consequence to William Childs' 1991 paper on the subject.2 The only illustrated example is a detail of the celebrated François Vase, though Frederiksen here provides an interesting discussion of why Kleitias (the painter of the vase) depicted the walls of Troy in the manner in which he did. Frederiksen concludes, correctly I think, that Kleitias was probably inspired by Homer, and here we enter the realm of iconographical "reality" vs. "fantasy."

"The preservation of city walls" is the title of Chapter 4 (pp. 41-49), in which Frederiksen reviews the evidence for the destruction of walls, including: destruction in modern times; destruction in antiquity and the middle ages; war- related destruction; destruction due to expansion or reconstruction; disrepair; and, finally, natural causes, not least erosion. Chapter 5 is entitled "The archaeology of city walls" (pp. 50-61). This short chapter reviews the types of fortifications; what constitutes a wall and its elements, like gates, towers, bastions, and so on. The various elements are all crucial for the identification of any wall as a fortification wall. The thorny issue of dating walls is tackled in Chapter 6 (pp. 62-69). Here dating by masonry style—as in polygonal or Lesbian—features prominently, and I remain highly skeptical of this as a failsafe avenue of dating any wall. I favor the motto on sundials in old English gardens: "it is later than you think." But Frederiksen is careful to look for other means of dating walls, especially the evidence of walls in our literary sources, but this, too, is not infallible. Frederiksen concludes (p. 69) that "the last word on masonry style and building technique has not been said…". This is true. But I would insist that the only failsafe method of dating any wall is by good old dirt archaeology.

Chapters 7 and 8 are, respectively, a synthesis of the data presented in the catalogue (Chapter 7: "Topographical and architectural analysis," pp. 70-102), and an analysis and discussion of the occurrence and distribution of fortification walls in the Early Iron Age and the Archaic period (Chapter 8: "The prevalence of city walls in the Early Iron Age and Archaic Greece," pp. 103-120). It may seem that these two chapters form the meat of the volume, but both are firmly based on the "Catalogue of city walls" (pp. 121-200), which, I would argue, is the section that warrants closest scrutiny.

The Catalogue of city walls forms the part of the volume that will be most read by archaeologists. Individual sites are presented alphabetically and each is followed by a designation: A, B, C. Category A are those fortifications dated by archaeological evidence, mainly stratified material found in relation to a wall or to structures near it; B are walls dated by masonry style, or other less secure means; and C are pre-Classical fortifications mentioned in the literary testimonia. I will look closely only at those sites beginning with the letter A—such as Abai, Athens, and so on—as these can serve as a proxy for the entire catalogue. Sites in the B category include: Abai, Alope (east Lokris), Arisbe (Lesbos), Assos (Troad), and Atrax in Thessaly. Most of these are dated by masonry style. Whether or not they are Archaic, it is important that Frederiksen has included them, so scholars can make up their own mind and in the hope that future excavations might clinch the question of chronology.

The only sites fully in the C category are Andros (Palaiopolis) and Athens. The former is dated by the reference, in Herodotos 8.112.1, to an unsuccessful siege of the polis by Themistokles in 480 BC, so we are really at the cusp of the Classical period, and as far as I know, none of the standing fortification walls of Andros are pre-Classical. As for Athens, the literary sources are, at best, slippery. The passage in Thucydides 6.57.1, 3, placing the "Kerameikos" outside the walls, in connection with the murder of Hipparchos in 514 BC, refers to the area of the Classical Agora, which was the Archaic Kerameikos.3 As for the Kylon affair of ca. 632 BC, the besieged walls referred to on the Acropolis are presumably those of the Mycenaean period, including the Pelargikon, and despite well over a century of excavations in and around Athens, there is absolutely no evidence for a fortification wall of the Archaic period other than the Mycenaean fortifications, until the construction of the Themistoklean wall.4

Of the A category, there is no shortage of problem sites. For example, it seems reasonably clear, on the evidence presented by the excavator, that the wall circuit at Agios Andreas on Siphnos is Mycenaean, though it is likely that the wall was reinforced—or just reused—in the Late Geometric period. Aigina is stated to be "likely 490-480," but the argument is circumstantial, based as it is on the latest objects found in graves outside the wall. Moreover, Aigina, like Andros already discussed, only just falls into the Archaic period. Then there is Alalie on Corsica, and without belaboring the point, is there anything Greek about this site? For the Corinthian colony of Ambrakia, the early walls are only dated indirectly by dated structures of the late 6th and early 5th century BC oriented after the wall. For Antissa on Lesbos the date is based on a "possible association between the wall and a (not stratified) horizon of the 6th century (or earlier) bucchero fragments, documented in the area." The 7th century date of the fortification of Illyrian Apollonia, stated by Neritan Ceka, is not based on archaeological evidence, and thus best belongs, at least for now, to Frederiksen's Category C. As for Argos, the 6th century BC date often assumed is "based on an association between the wall and an Archaic votive deposit. The association is, however, not completely clear."

Of the A category sites beginning with the letter A, there is reasonable archaeological evidence for a pre-Classical date at Abdera, Achilleion (Beşik-Yassıtepe), Akragas, Amathous on Cyprus, and Asine. At some of these sites the evidence is more robust than at others. As for omissions, the only major site that I could not find in the catalogue was Lagomandra in Chalkidike, which has only been noted in brief preliminary reports, and which is clearly Early Iron Age, perhaps Protogeometric rather than Geometric. And I would like to have read what Frederiksen had to say about the walls of Agios Georgios and the acropolis of Ismara at Maroneia in Thrace. Several other sites are not provided with adequate coverage: for example, anyone who has visited the recent excavations by Yaşar Ersoy at Klazomenai will be disappointed by Frederiksen's coverage of the site. The volume ends with the tables and maps (pp. 201-220), Addenda (pp. 221-222), and Indices of Ancient Writers (p. 223), Names and Places (pp. 224-229), and Subject Index (pp. 230-238).

My comments in the preceding paragraphs are not meant as criticism. Frederiksen has done a masterful job in assembling all this information in a single place, and for this the book is already seminal. Frederiksen's book is not the last word on Archaic fortification walls, but it does provide the starting point for all future research on the subject.


1.   See S.P. Morris and J.K. Papadopoulos, "Greek Towers and Slaves: An Archaeology of Exploitation," American Journal of Archaeology 109 (2005), 155-225.
2.   W.A.P. Childs, "A New Representation of a City on an Attic Red-Figured Kylix," in Greek Vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum vol. 5 (1991), 27-40.
3.   J.K. Papadopoulos, Ceramicus Redivivus: The Early Iron Age Potters' Field in the Area of the Classical Athenian Agora (Hesperia Supplement 31), Princeton 2003.
4.   Fully discussed in J.K. Papadopoulos, "The Archaic Walls of Athens: Reality or Myth?" Opuscula 1, 2008, pp. 31-46. The stretch of wall noted as Archaic in the Classical Agora in V. Capozzoli, "Le mura arcaiche di Atene. Un riesame della questione," Siris 5 (2004), 5-22, is clearly not a wall, as excavations in 2010 have shown.

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