Saturday, December 22, 2012


Irad Malkin, A Small Greek World: Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean. Greeks Overseas. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xviii, 284. ISBN 9780199734818. $60.00.

Reviewed by Danielle L. Kellogg, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Version at BMCR home site


[The reviewer sincerely apologizes for the lateness of this review.]

Irad Malkin's latest book, A Small Greek World, views the phenomenon of Greek colonization from the perspective of network theory, one of the new theoretical models finding traction amongst scholars of the ancient world. It is the first volume in a new series from Oxford, Greeks Overseas, which, according to the editors, "is dedicated to reconceptualizing the emergence of Greek communities all around the Mediterranean during the late Iron Age and the Archaic period…encompass[ing] archaeological and literary perspectives, applying new methods and theoretical approaches and bringing together old and new evidence…"(ix). Malkin's work meets and exceeds these lofty goals, making it a worthy volume to inaugurate what promises to be an important series.

The first chapter is devoted to an overview of network theory with particular attention to those themes and ideas that are being utilized within the discipline of Classics. The concept of the network, for Malkin, "is not just a metaphor but a descriptive and heuristic term…the first goal of this book is to identify the phenomenon of network formation. Its second, and more suggestive one is an interpretation of its implications. Identifying networks and their overlaps involves much of the more familiar historical research and reconstruction, well known to historians of antiquity" (16). This chapter is, in my opinion, the most valuable part of the book. This chapter should be consulted by anyone interested in the use of network analysis in studies of the ancient world. I think, however, that Malkin is too quick to dismiss other theoretical models and frameworks in this chapter. Hybridity, for example, a concept which other archaeologists and ancient historians have used with some profit, is set aside because it "has too many biological connotations and, again, is obscure and as such means little" (47). I would have preferred that Malkin engaged more directly with such alternative models, not necessarily because I was unconvinced by his conceptual model, but because elucidating the relative strengths and weaknesses of the alternatives would have very explicitly underlined the benefits of the model he espouses here. In emphasizing the significance of Chapter 1, I do not mean to detract from the rest of the text, which is devoted to case studies of various aspects of ancient colonization, and which contains much of value. In particular, the case studies do add significant nuance to the center-periphery model, which has been somewhat overworked. The particular cases Malkin presents are ones which involve "linking network dynamics and actual space" and which "revolve around the creation of the permanent nodes that allowed for network connectivity, namely, Greek colonies" (17).

Chapter 2, "Island Networking and Hellenic Convergence," focuses on the island of Rhodes and the Greek settlement of Naukratis in Egypt. Malkin analyzes the influences that impacted the development of shared identities on both the regional and the larger Hellenic levels. He argues that a coherent Rhodian identity emerged as a result of interactions with overseas settlements populated by Rhodians, an effect he terms a "back-ripple". One place at which this effect was specifically articulated was the colony of Naukratis, a settlement in which the three Rhodian poleis were tied together into the larger category of "Rhodian". Thus, at the same time as Rhodian identity was being influenced at home by the effects of the "back-ripple", Greek colonial efforts overseas led to the emergence of a shared Hellenic identity that was most explicitly articulated in colonies such as Naukratis. Malkin does occasionally push the evidence too far, however; I was unconvinced by his claim that the port site at Vroulia "could easily" have served all three Rhodian poleis. Asserting that it was possible does not make it so, and no specific archaeological evidence is cited to support the claim (76-77).

The idea of convergence – albeit in a reversed fashion – continues into the next chapter, "Sicily and the Greeks." Malkin convincingly claims that the emergence of a Sikeliote identity was the result of the presence of Greeks from many different poleis on the island and their interactions with one another in this colonial context. In Malkin's view, the altar of Apollo Archegetes at the site of the destroyed city of Naxos in Sicily played a pivotal role in the development of a distinctive Sikeliote identity, and Naxos thus emerges as a point of convergence for the inhabitants of the Greek colonies on Sicily. This Sikeliote identity was then, according to Malkin, reinforced in an ongoing dialogue between the Greek cities of Sicily and the great Panhellenic centers of Olympia and Delphi, with the Sicilian theoroi acting as a "ritual intermediary" (110). Malkin views Delphi as being of particular significance in this formulation, due to the significance of the Delphic oracle as a topos in so many of the foundation stories of the Greek colonies (114).

Chapter 4, "Herakles and Melqart," continues the focus on Sicily, and is an updated version of an earlier article by Malkin on the same topic.1 Here Malkin undertakes an analysis of the cults of the Greek hero/god Herakles and the Tyrian Phoenician Melqart with particular reference to western Sicily. In Malkin's framework the syncretic Herakles/Melqart acts as a mediating figure not only between the Greeks and Phoenicians but also between these groups and the indigenous peoples of western Sicily. According to Malkin, this mythical framework provides a medium by which a level of acculturation is reached between the indigenous inhabitants of a region and more recent immigrants in the disputed geographical area of western Sicily. As such, western Sicily functioned as a "middle ground," defined as "a field with some balance of power in which each side plays a role dictated by what it perceives to be the other's perception of it, resulting from mutual misrepresentation of values and practices" (46).

In Chapter 5, "Networks and Middle Grounds in the Western Mediterranean," Malkin turns his attention to the settlements associated with the city of Phokaia in Asia Minor. The incredibly large number of settlements, the extent of the area settled, and the extended period of time in which these settlements were founded and flourished was a phenomenon that drew attention to these colonies even in ancient literary sources. Here once again Malkin sees the Phokaian colonies in southern France and eastern Spain functioning as a middle ground, "forming local, intensive clusters with a few significant links to long-distance Mediterranean networks" (45). The center of this Phokaian network, he argues, was not Phokaia nor any of the many colonies involving Phokaians, but rather the Mediterranean itself, an argument that forms a crucial part of the book as a whole: "The 'center' was the entire Archaic Mediterranean, free from any mare nostrum claims. It was multiethnic, multicultural, and, most important, multidirectional. 'Greece' was no central place radiating outward. The perspective needs to be reversed: the 'Greece' of our own abstraction had evolved from the network, the result of both outward and backward currents along the network lines" (164).

The Phokaian network explored in Chapter 5 serves as the basis for Chapter 6, "Cult and Identity in the Far West," in which Malkin explores the development of interrelated levels of identity in the western Mediterranean (most specifically in southern France and in Spain). Just as the syncretic relationship between Herakles and Melqart was of particular significance in the middle ground of western Sicily, Malkin notes the importance of the cult of Ephesian Artemis in the Phokaian colonies of the western Mediterranean. He identifies at least five levels of identity at work in this region, beginning with the polis and moving upwards through Phokaian, regional, Ionian, and finally Hellenic identities. The result of the interaction of these various levels of identity, as well as the interactions of Greek actors with the non-Greek peoples of the western Mediterranean, was the development of a "stabilizing, conservative dynamic of networks… While in other colonies and poleis emphasis and form could vary greatly, the reverse was true in the far west. It is precisely the 'missionary,' mediating function of the cult that kept the prominence, form, and customs associated with the goddess as conservative as possible…It is the network that solidifies the cult, a dynamic characteristic of decentralized networks in general" (202).

Malkin handles a wide variety of different types of evidence with aplomb, but while he does discuss some archaeological evidence the case studies are based primarily upon historical arguments. In particular, I wished for more specific figures concerning the trade in material objects in the areas under discussion, which would have enabled a detailed analysis of the spread of the networks on the ground, so to speak. For example, Malkin references a commercial network amongst the Phokaian colonies in eastern Spain and southern France, offering as evidence two inscribed lead tablets. He argues that the commercial network spans people of numerous different backgrounds, including Etruscans, Phokaian Greeks, and indigenous inhabitants of the area, amongst others. Given that Malkin has already characterized the area as a cultural middle ground, the inclusion here of specific archaeological data concerning what we know about goods being traded in the area would have enhanced the discussion.

In terms of production the book is generally well done. The maps that are included are quite useful, although one might have wished for a few more specific maps keyed to particular areas of analysis, rather than having to scour the more general ones for the relevant information. I noticed a few errors and inconsistencies in the text, but they do not detract from the overall structure of what is a well-written volume.

I did notice what seemed to be a level of uneasiness about the audience for the book, which might perhaps be a factor of it being the inaugural volume of the series. On the one hand, Malkin assumes a decent level of familiarity with various scholarly discourses in Classics surrounding the phenomenon of colonization, the formation of ethnic identities, and even some other, more specialized, debates such as that surrounding the gods of Naukratis in the postscript to chapter 2. On the other hand, he takes the time and effort to gloss basic terms and concepts with which I would expect most readers to be familiar.2 While not a major deterrent, this was occasionally distracting.

These quibbles aside, this book is a major achievement. It is thoughtful and stimulating, and will hopefully – as Malkin himself notes on page 224 – provide a useful conceptual framework for advancing studies of any number of specific areas of Greek history, language, and culture. Not only should this volume become essential reading for anyone interested in Greek colonization, the processes of identity formation, and the history of the Archaic Mediterranean, but students of the ancient Greek world in general should also find much of interest.


1.   Malkin, I. (2005), "Herakles and Melqart: Greeks and Phoenicians in the Middle Ground," in Cultural Borrowings and Ethnic Appropriations in Antiquity. Oriens et Occidens 8, E. Gruen (ed.), Stuttgart: 238-57. See, however, the criticisms of Carla Antonaccio (which, to be fair, were probably published too late for Malkin to respond to directly here): Antonaccio, C.M. (2010), "(Re)defining Ethnicity: Culture, Material Culture, and Identity," in Material Culture and Social Identities in the Ancient World, S. Hales and T. Hodos (eds.), Cambridge: pp. 32-53.
2.   For example: "temenos," "proxenos," and "apoikia", among other terms, and concepts such as Apollo being worshipped at Delphi and Zeus at Olympia (92) or the age of Sicilian tyrants being "mostly during the fifth century" (99).

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