Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014.12.26

Yuri V. Andreyev, From Eurasia to Europe: Crete and the Aegean World in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages (3rd - early 1st millennia BC). Monographs on antiquity, 6. Louvain; Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2013. Pp. xiv, 553. ISBN 9789042927230. €105.00.

Reviewed by Manolis Mikrakis, National Technical University of Athens (emikrakis@arch.ntua.gr)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This voluminous, richly illustrated book is the English edition of Professor Yuri Viktorovich Andreyev's swan song, first published in Russian in 2002 (От Евразии к Европе: Крит и Эгейский мир в эпоху бронзы и раннего железа, St. Petersburg: Dmitry Bulanin). The book was the outcome of a project carried out at the Department of Classical Archaeology (now Department of History of Ancient Culture) at the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, headed by Andreyev from 1986 to 1998. Due to the author's untimely death in February 1998, just short of finishing the book, From Eurasia to Europe does not go beyond the state of research of that year. Up-to-date overviews of the Aegean Bronze Age (BA) and Early Iron Age (EIA) are now provided by a number of handbooks,1 but From Eurasia to Europe is still rare in covering both periods. The wide temporal scope of the book, which makes the task undertaken by Andreyev truly gigantic, fits with an approach to the Aegean as a "complex macrosystem" (p. xiii). Ultimately, it is for its distinctive approach and for its place in the intellectual history of Aegean archaeology that the book could be read with profit, probably by a rather specialized audience with interest in the history of the discipline and its East European tradition.

The Marxist heritage of this tradition is immediately obvious in the centrality given to issues of socio-political organization and ideology as well as in the evolutionistic approach to these issues. Andreyev's argument, running through two first-level sections, four second-level parts, thirteen third-level chapters and several scattered appendices, is clear enough: A long-term, though discontinuous, historical process led from the emergence of social complexity and early statehood in the Early BA Aegean to the formation of palatial states in Middle BA Crete and Late BA Greece to the return to small-scale farming communities after the collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms and, finally, to the emergence of the Greek polis. Part of this process was also the ethnogenesis of the Greeks from the rich mosaic of peoples that lived in, or passed through, the Aegean during the two and a half millennia covered by the book. Developments in the Aegean were part of the wider formative process through which the culture of Europe branched off from a culturally homogenous Eurasia.

After a short introduction (pp. 3–6), the large BA section (pp. 7–411) begins with the third millennium BC (Part 1, pp. 7–75), during which a series of "unsuccessful civilizations" (p. 22) emerged on the North-East Aegean/North-West Anatolia, the Greek mainland and the Cyclades. Only in Crete did a culture that eventually became a palatial civilization of unusual dynamism emerge. The core of the book provides an extensive treatment of Minoan Crete focused on its palatial architecture, settlements, socio-political organization and Aegean interactions (Part 2, Chapters 1–3, pp. 76–154); on its place among ancient Mediterranean civilizations (Part 4, Chapters 1–2, pp. 362–411); and, above all, on its mythology, religion and afterlife beliefs (Part 3, Chapters 1–5, pp. 155–361). In Andreyev's view, Minoan religion is a kind of primitive syncretism or pandemonism, a transitional stage from animism to polytheism, in which individual deities and their spheres of influence exist but are not yet fully distinguished from each other. Central figures include the Goddess of Vegetation, which usually appears in scenes of ritual action; the Mistress of the Animals, mostly seen in static, emblematic representations; and the Snake Goddess, best known from the faience figurines from the so-called Temple Repositories of the Knossos palace but also from such early artifacts as the Early Minoan II anthropomorphic rhyton from Koumasa.

The examination of Mycenaean culture, regarded as the "finale of the Bronze Age" (p. 379) and "a kind of 'unsuccessful rough draft'" of Classical Greek civilization" (p. 410), is disproportionally shorter, merely occupying the final chapter of Part 4 (pp. 379–411). Here, the focus is on the emergence, artistic production and religious beliefs of that culture.

The EIA section (pp. 413–502) is considerably shorter than the BA one, divided into three chapters, one for each of the three phases into which Andreyev divides the "Dark Ages" (a term that now tends to be confined to the 11th and 10th centuries BC). The "first phase" (12th–mid-11th century BC, roughly corresponding to Late Helladic/Late Minoan IIIC and Subminoan/Submycenaean in current terminology), is the period of regression, instability and depopulation following the collapse of the Mycenaean states.2 The "middle phase" (Protogeometric to early Middle Geometric, mid-11th–9th century BC) is still a period of decline, although the emergence of a few compact settlements, progress in metallurgical and ceramic technologies, and the gradual opening to the East increasingly herald the beginning of a new era of prosperity. The "final phase" (later Middle Geometric to Late Geometric, 8th century BC) is a dynamic period of demographic explosion and urban development that culminates in the emergence of the Greek polis.

The main text ends with two alternate versions of a conclusion, one found in the rest of the manuscript but not finalized by the author ("Conclusion", pp. 503–506), and another one found in the author's handwritten notes ("Appendix", pp. 506–512). The former presents a more down-to-earth summary of the argument, whereas the latter, in an obviously unfinished state, throws a twist of mysticism, approaching historical developments in the Aegean as a gradual and painful struggle to rise out of a primeval chaos into the social, political, ethical and aesthetic harmony of the civilized polis. The bibliography (pp. 513–534) is extensive, including many titles in Russian, but stops at 2000. A list of illustrations (pp. 535–540) provides useful information on the depicted items, and there is also an index of [literary] sources (p. 541), an index of mythology (pp. 542–544) with personal names of mythological and religious figures, and an index of archaeological remains (pp. 542–544) with geographical names of archaeological sites.

Taken as a whole, the book offers a grand narrative of the kind rarely attempted in Aegean archeology in the West after the revolution of archeological theory and practice in the 1960s. Most narratives of this sort engage with their breadth and inclusivity but fail to pay close attention to empirical evidence and, whenever necessary, to acknowledge the fragmentary, accidental and disparate nature of the archaeological record. The book under review is hardly an exception. The reconstruction of belief systems, for example, a key concern of Andreyev's two-hundred-page discussion of Minoan religion, seems to be a less productive endeavor due to the lack of eloquent textual sources—not to mention the vagueness of notions such as "religion" or "god". Spatial, architectural, ritual and visual manifestations of religious behavior that can be detected in the material record have long been recognized as more rewarding focal topics of archaeological research.3

Andreyev's persistence on the semantics of Minoan religion stands in the Marxist tradition of interest in ideology as well as in the tradition of cognitive archaeology of the 1990s, but is not free of mentalistic overtones. Notions such as "the mentality of ethnic groups" (p. 256), "mental lethargy" (p. 75) and "the cast of mind" (p. 505) feature prominently as causes of cultural diversity and change. Evolutionism is pushed to its limits too, although accidental circumstances and gaps in continuity are occasionally recognized. Cultural processes in the Aegean are described as a gradual development "from barbarism to civilization" (p. 15, 16, 75, 361, 440, 442 etc.); cultural continuity is a matter of "purely biological inheritance of certain mental features", which are "solidly anchored in the genotype of the ethnos" (p. 505); continuity from the BA to the EIA, indeed a much debated issue in Aegean archaeology, is addressed by searching for "the Greek artistic genius" in an Early Helladic II amphora, the Geometric Dipylon amphorae and the Archaic Doric column (p. 46), just to give an example.

The overall picture of a matriarchal, theocratic and peace-loving center of the Aegean world drawn for Minoan Crete by Andreyev depends entirely on the once fascinating but now long discarded theories of Evans, Schachermeyr, Gimbutas and other pioneers. Andreyev's discussion is even more stereotypical when he claims that, "as in any other ancient society, Cretan men constituted the most active and enterprising part of the society" (p. 134), speaking of "natural male aggressiveness and adventurousness" (p. 138) and of "women… the more conservative, traditional part of society… tied to their households and children, and even physiologically limited in their activities" (p. 141). As another stereotype holds, the Mycenaean civilization was founded by "bellicose cattle breeders and hunters" (p. 384) who continued to practice "the cult of brute power" (p. 407), whereas the Minoan civilization was founded by "peaceful farmers and fishermen" (p. 384).

Despite serious objections to the overall interpretative framework and many individual positions adopted in the book, one cannot fail to admire the amount of archaeological material assembled, which is well above the average for synthetic overviews of that kind, as well as the wealth of color illustrations and line drawings of most of that material. However, the data are not always updated, even from a 1998 perspective, and the absence of the author's final edits is also manifested in some inconsistencies. In the case of the Early Helladic Rundbau at Tiryns, for example, the analysis seems to ignore Peter Haider's and Klaus Kilian's research of the 1980s, 4 and the building is often referred to as "the tholos tomb at Tiryns" (pp. 10, 13, 43, 379, caption of fig. 13 p. 42), although its more recent interpretation as a multifunctional public building or perhaps a large communal granary is accepted by the author (p. 43).

In conclusion, the book hardly fulfills its macro-historic intention.5 This is particularly unfortunate because the distinction between prehistoric and historical ("classical") archaeology chronologically around 1100–1050 BC rather than by method (determined by the availability of written sources) constitutes one of the most serious drawbacks of Aegean archaeology in the West. The chronological division is spatially, technologically, institutionally and ethnically essentialized through artificial dichotomies such as the Aegean and Greece, bronze and iron, wanax and basileus, Achaeans and Dorians. Such dividing lines hardly exist in the Russian (formerly Soviet) tradition of archaeological research from which Andreyev emanated. One can only hope that important achievements of this tradition will find wider resonance in scholarship and that the baby will not be thrown out with the bath water.



Notes:


1.   E.g. Eric H. Cline, The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, Oxford; New York 2010, BMCR 2011.05.04, Cynthia W. Shelmerdine (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, Cambridge; New York 2008, BMCR 2012.01.05, Susan H. Langdon, Art and Identity in Dark Age Greece, 1100–700 B.C.E., Cambridge; New York 2008, BMCR 2009.05.62 and Robin Osborne, Greece in the Making: 1200–479 BC, 2nd ed., London; New York 2009, BMCR 2009.06.37.
2.   As a result of research after 1998, an entirely different picture of partial recovery has begun to emerge for the 12th century BC. See, most recently, Guy D. Middleton, The Collapse of Palatial Society in LBA Greece and the Postpalatial Period, British Archaeological Reports, International Series 2110, Oxford 2010, 68–112; Manolis Mikrakis, "The destruction of the Mycenaean palaces and the construction of the epic world", in: Jan Driessen (ed.), Destruction: Archaeological, Philological and Historical Perspectives, Louvain-la-Neuve 2013, 221–242.
3.   For this approach, see already Peter Warren, Minoan Religion as Ritual Action, Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology Pocket-book 62, Gothenburg 1988. For the distinction of belief and practice in Aegean religious studies, see Helène Whittaker, Religion and Society in Middle Bronze Age Greece, Cambridge 2014, 29–32; this book also provides an excellent new look at the social and ideological functions of the Aegean religion in the first half of the second millennium BC.
4.   Peter Haider, "Zum frühhelladischen Rundbau in Tiryns", in: Forschungen und Funde: Festschrift Bernhard Neutsch, Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft 21, 1980, 157–172; Klaus Kilian, "The Circular Building at Tiryns", in: Robin Hägg and Dora Konsola (edd.), Early Helladic Architecture and Urbanization, Proceedings of a Seminar Held at the Swedish Institute in Athens, June 8, 1985, Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology 76, Gothenburg 1986, 65–71.
5.   For such an up-to-date overview on a much sounder theoretical basis, but wider in chronological scope, see John Bintliff, Archaeology of Greece: From Hunter-Gatherers to the 20th Century A.D., Oxford 2012, BMCR 2013.11.49.

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