Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Enzo Lippolis, Giorgio Rocco, Archeologia greca: cultura, società, politica e produzione. Sintesi. Milano: Bruno, Mondadori, 2011. Pp. xii, 546. ISBN 9788861594883. €39.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Kostas Vlassopoulos, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site

Until a few decades ago a manual on Greek archaeology would be effectively tantamount to a traditional account of art history devoted to sculpture, architecture and vase-painting and focusing on the objects and the artists that created them. In the last thirty years an intellectual revolution with a number of different sources has truly revolutionised the field. The study of Greek archaeology has been in significant ways emancipated from a narrow, nineteenth-century version of art history and incorporated within a wider perspective on Greek material culture which is interested in the social, economic and cultural processes of the production, distribution and consumption of Greek objects as well as in the objects themselves. The volume under review is a good illustration of these changes in the field of Greek archaeology, and reflects in many ways both the strengths and weaknesses of these new approaches. Apart from the two main authors, the volume includes contributions by R. Belli Pasqua, L. M. Caliò, S. Guidone, M. Livadiotti, M. Micozzi, V. Parisi, R. Sassu and G. Vallarino.

Before discussing the book as a whole and the extent of its success, it is essential to provide a brief summary of the immense range of subjects covered in this large volume. Unfortunately, the title chapters are not a very good indication of the contents of each chapter, so I have omitted them from the discussion below. Chapter one provides an introduction to the topic, discussing the utilisation of the various written and material sources, the prehistoric period of Greek archaeology and the location of Greek archaeology in space and time. Chapters two to six are devoted to the Protogeometric, Geometric and Archaic periods. Chapter two examines the formation of Greek culture until 700 BCE, discussing population increase, the formation of the, polis, the emergence of the sacred as a distinct field of material culture, the development of Greek pottery styles, and archaic colonisation. Chapter three is devoted to the Orientalising period of the seventh century. It examines the development of Greek temples as specialised buildings with their own architecture and decoration, as well as the employment of Orientalising styles in pottery and sculpture. Chapter four is a thematic chapter that explores the material aspects of Greek religion of the archaic period in its various manifestations. It discusses the archaeological evidence for religious rituals, the diverse forms of sacred architecture, the form and role of votive deposits, the emergence of specialised production for religious purposes and the diverse forms of funerary rituals. Chapter five examines the world of the poleis during the archaic period. The chapter includes both thematic discussion of the nature of archaic aristocratic culture, the archaeological impact of Greek tyrannies, the urban development of archaic poleis and their housing forms and the emergence of Panhellenic sanctuaries, as well as discussion of the chronological development of Greek architecture and sculpture during the sixth century BCE. Finally, chapter six concludes the archaic section by examining the development of archaic black- and red-figure pottery within the wider context of a thematic discussion of visual communication.

Chapters seven to nine constitute the second part, covering the classical period. Chapter five is devoted to the fifth century, examining the development of architecture, sculpture and vase-painting, as well as the changing forms of urban layouts and private housing. Chapter eight is a thematic discussion of the political culture of classical Greece, including the development of public buildings and spaces such as assembly-places, theatres and gymnasia, the intervention of the political community in communication through public inscriptions and in the economy through coinage, and the development of the archaeology of warfare in armour and fortifications. Chapter nine is devoted to changes in the fourth century, discussing the evolution of urban layouts, the material culture of the Macedonian kingdom and its aristocracy, the development of Greek architecture, sculpture and vase-painting and the emergence of novel forms of funerary architecture and sculpture.

Chapters ten to sixteen represent the Hellenistic section of the book. Chapter ten explores the ways in which Hellenistic material culture was shaped by the desire to enhance its spectacular appeal to a mass audience, including the novel importance of ephemeral structures for particular festival and ritual occasions and of technological inventions used for public spectacles. Chapter eleven is largely focused on the early Hellenistic period and combines a panoramic tour of Hellenistic cities, royal capitals and sanctuaries from Athens and the Aegean to Syria and Mesopotamia, with a discussion of the development of early Hellenistic sculpture, architecture and painting. Chapter twelve examines the later Hellenistic period by combining a detailed look at the dynastic capitals of Pergamon and Alexandria with a discussion of the developing interaction between Hellenistic Italy and the eastern Mediterranean; the chapter also includes an exploration of later Hellenistic sculpture. Chapter thirteen is devoted to the development of an elite culture as expressed in the emergence of elaborate architectural forms of houses and palaces and impressive techniques to decorate them through mosaics and wall paintings, and the development of sumptuous funerary monuments and of material production dedicated to cult activities. Chapter fourteen discusses Hellenistic production and commerce, including topics such as the circulation of precious metals and objects, the development of glass manufacture, the production and distribution of local and regional amphora types and their forms of stamping, as well as tableware and perfume vases. Chapter fifteen focuses on the archaeology of Italy in the late republican period, exploring the role of booty, importations and production of Greek-style objects for the development of Italian art, the diffusion of Hellenistic architecture in Italy, and the range and mixture of styles employed concurrently in Rome and the rest of Italy. Chapter sixteen provides a short conclusion by briefly examining the impact of Roman conquest and rule on the material culture of Greek communities in the late republican and early imperial periods. The book finally includes two appendices devoted to Greek architectural orders and to the main shapes of Greek pottery, alongside a bibliographical guide.

As should be obvious from this brief list of contents, this volume is an impressive panorama of the history of Greek archaeology during the first millennium BCE. The panorama is impressive because it makes a consistent effort to cover the whole of the Greek world, rather than the more traditional Athenocentric perspective. Athens gets its due share of course, but in all chapters the authors have strived to incorporate Athenian developments alongside developments in the rest of the Aegean and the western and eastern Mediterranean. Not everything is of course included, and some readers may regret the almost complete silence as regards the Black Sea and Cyrenaica, but one has to be selective even in a work of such length. One of the strongest appeals of the work is the result of its lavish illustration: I have not tried to calculate, but one gets the impression that the overwhelming majority of all objects and monuments mentioned are illustrated with a figure or plan. There is also a very successful integration between text and image, which makes following the argument easy and straightforward. Equally important is that the volume includes the Hellenistic period and accords equal space to all three periods of Greek history.

The authors have made a valiant effort to incorporate the history of Greek archaeology within the wider context of Greek economic, social and political history. It is rather unfortunate therefore that the organisation and arrangement of the book does not often help the reader to appreciate the value of the volume. I have already commented that the chapter titles do not reflect very well their contents: chapter ten for example is titled 'The multi-ethnic societies: the Greeks and the Others', but is rather devoted to the spectacular nature of Hellenistic culture and architecture. The lack of an index further exacerbates the problem of following the discussion of particular subjects which are widely dispersed in different chapters. This also applies to notes and bibliography: there are no notes and the bibliographical guide is divided thematically into different forms of objects (sculpture, architecture, vase-painting, etc), rather than following the chapter arrangement. Accordingly, it is often very difficult, if not impossible, for the non-specialist to identify the works on which the book's account is based.

The authors have tried to combine thematic chapters devoted to a particular aspect with chapters devoted to developments in sculpture, architecture and vase-painting within a particular period of time. In my view some of the thematic chapters are among the most successful in the book, in particular chapter four on the archaeology of religious life and chapter thirteen on the archaeology of Hellenistic elite practices. Other chapters are less successful: it was an excellent idea to incorporate the treatment of black- and red-figure pottery within a wider discussion of communication through images, but one wonders why previous and later pottery styles are not examined in the same way, as well as why sculpture and the figural programmes of Greek temples could not be examined in the same context. The same also applies to the discussion of production and trade: the relevant chapter covers only the Hellenistic period, and the reader is left wondering about similar issues in the archaic and classical periods. The chronologically-arranged chapters are less successful, primarily because they compartmentalise discussion of Greek material culture in separate sections on sculpture, architecture and painting. We get excellent discussions of developments in each field, but little sense of how all these aspects fit together in a single whole. A thematic chapter presenting a snapshot of the interconnected totality of the material culture of a Greek community at a single point in time would have been particularly helpful, but is sadly missing. There are many other cases where the choices of the authors about what to include and where appear problematic and in danger of creating a misleading impression. The authors' discussion of the diffusion and transformation of Hellenistic culture in republican Italy is particularly interesting, but one wonders why the similar phenomenon of the influence of Greek art in archaic and classical Etruria is almost completely elided, while the equivalent phenomenon in Asia Minor is presented as a process of Hellenisation. In reality, we are dealing with a single if complex phenomenon, that of the adoption and adaptation of Greek material culture by non-Greek societies, but the book's arrangement does not help the reader in understanding the phenomenon in its wider ramifications or in providing explanations.

This is generally the biggest problem with this volume. It is a very good description of a great range of aspects of Greek material culture, but it largely avoids explanation and interpretation. To give one example among many, we never get any explanation for the manifold changes in figural representation in Greek art: neither the emergence of the 'Orientalising' phenomenon, nor the appearance of 'naturalism' during the classical period are explained or interpreted. The authors have made a welcome effort to present the history of Greek archaeology within the wider context of the social, economic, political and cultural history of the Greek world; but their avoidance of explanation in favour of description means that the work is a mixed success. In that respect it is particularly puzzling why the authors have completely eschewed one of the most significant developments in Greek archaeology in the last thirty years: the archaeology of the landscape and land use. Intensive field surveys have transformed our understanding of Greek history in so many ways, but the book is inexplicably restricted to the urban setting of Greek history with its temples and public spaces, leaving the countryside and the landscape largely invisible.

To conclude: as a single-volume manual of Greek archaeology read cover-to-cover this is one of the most informative accounts we currently have. It is a promising attempt to examine the history of Greek material culture from a wider perspective; although its success is often mixed or circumscribed, for the various reasons mentioned above, its wealth of illustrations and encyclopaedic coverage in space and time will make it a useful work to consult.

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