Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Trevor Bryce on Anthony Spalinger on Bryce. Response to 2012.05.38

Response by Trevor Bryce, University of Queensland, Australia (tbryce2@bigpond.com)

Version at BMCR home site

In May of this year, Dr A. Spalinger reviewed my book The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia in BMCR. I am afraid that the review provides so limited a coverage and contains so many factually incorrect or misleading statements that a response is called for.

I should firstly note that contrary to the impression given by the reviewer, I was the author of the entire work. The consultants whom I listed in the book certainly made significant contributions in terms of their advice, which led to my rewriting a number of entries substantially, but they wrote only a very few of the articles themselves, for which their authorship is specifically indicated in each case. All this was made clear on the Acknowledgements page at the beginning of the book. To call the consultants 'section writers' is manifestly wrong.

Most seriously, the reviewer has by his own admission based his review on only a very small proportion of its contents: ten per cent to be precise, and even this sampling was confined only to topics in which he himself had a 'keen interest', and even these concentrated only on Syria and Anatolia – just a fraction of the book's entire coverage. The book's Introduction and Historical Overview, which specifically address a number of the matters that the reviewer has raised, were evidently also excluded from his sampling.

Some specific points: The reviewer claims that Meluhha is outside the limits of the survey. This is not true. Map 1 shows the total area covered by the book, and map 12 shows that Meluhha is clearly within this area. This is further confirmed by details in the entry on Meluhha on pp. 467-468.

The book deals with the countries of ancient western Asia. Egypt is not part of western Asia, though the reviewer makes Egypt's alleged absence from the book one of his major criticisms. Of course, Egypt had many ties to western Asia, and in fact, there are dozens of references throughout the book to its cultural, political, commercial, and political interactions with the western Asian countries and civilizations. The reviewer's ten per cent sampling clearly failed to pick this up, though it was also pointed out in the book's Introduction, and would have been evident as well from many references to Egypt in the Historical Overview which precedes the book's entries.

The reviewer speaks of 'glaring inconsistencies', apparently in the length of various entries, but mentions only Tarsus and Tarhuntassa. Tarsus became prominent in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but these periods lie beyond the scope of the book, as is quite evident from its title (though a sentence or two is sometimes added at the end of an entry to indicate very briefly what follows in these later periods, as noted in the Introduction). The reviewer seems to have lost sight of this. Within the book's time-frame, specifically within the Late Bronze Age, Tarhuntassa was a far more important city, for a brief time the capital of the Hittite world, and henceforth a de facto vice-regal kingdom of the empire. The reviewer seems also to have lost sight of the fact that much of the history of Gaza, certainly an important place, falls outside the scope of the book.

Regarding the length of the entry on Marhashi and the brevity of the entry on Margiana: the former was a major Iranian kingdom throughout the Early and the Middle Bronze Ages, and is frequently attested in Mesopotamian texts. The latter was a small region (in Turkmenistan), which is only very briefly attested, in a couple of Achaemenid inscriptions, within the book's time-frame. The reviewer is obviously on unfamiliar ground here. The length of each entry in the book is determined by its significance and the information available about it.

The reviewer states that Mesopotamia receives only one-fifth of a page in the book. This is grossly misleading. In fact a substantial part of the book is devoted to Mesopotamia, under hundreds of entries. The entry on p. 469 is inserted purely to define Mesopotamia in geographical terms.

Again, the implication that only one entry is devoted to Sumer is simply wrong. In fact, there are fifteen entries on the Sumerians. A five-minute check of the place-names listed in the general entry would have made this clear to the reviewer. The same comment applies to Cyprus. There is a general entry on Cyprus, but there are many entries on the kingdoms and cities located in it throughout the periods covered by the book.

The reviewer criticises the book for containing 'only' twenty maps. This number far exceeds the number of maps found in comparable dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc. of the ancient Western Asian civilizations, as also in comparable Egyptian dictionaries like the British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. But that aside, the maps provide highly detailed coverages of the regions and periods dealt with. Every city, country, and kingdom that can be located with complete or reasonable certainty appear at least once on the maps.

Unfortunately, a reader who relies on the review for information on what this book is actually about will learn very little.


  1. "Tarsus became prominent in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but these periods lie beyond the scope of the book, as is quite evident from its title"

    Which word in the title, The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia, makes "quite evident" that "the Hellenistic and Roman periods" are "beyond the scope of the book"?

  2. The full title of the book is: "The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia: The Near East from the Early Bronze Age to the Fall of the Persian Empire."


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