Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen (ed.), Space, Place and Identity in Northern Anatolia. Geographica Historica, Bd 29. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. Pp. 271. ISBN 9783515107488. €49.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ryan Boehm, Tulane University (rboehm@tulane.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The present volume grew out of a conference held at the University of Southern Denmark in 2012, as part of the project "Where East meets West: Urbanisation, provincialisation and cultural interaction in Roman Anatolia," sponsored by the Danish Council for Independent Research. Thirteen of the sixteen papers read at the conference have been collected here, along with a brief introduction by the editor, Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen. Ten of the thirteen deal specifically with northern Anatolia, especially Pontos; the remaining chapters treat other regions of Anatolia and beyond.

The volume joins a growing number of studies that employ the relationship between space and society as an analytical framework for exploring historical processes.1 The broad unifying themes, "space, place, and identity," are rooted in the more precise context of the urban history of Pontos, specifically in the question of how the urban identities of cities founded by Pompey in inland Pontos evolved through the period of Roman rule. In a region where, throughout the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the primary units of settlement organization were the village, the royal fortress, and the temple-state, the rapid urbanization of the interior entailed wide-ranging political and cultural transformations. Accordingly, the essays collected here primarily focus on this region, which has traditionally attracted less attention than the Pontic coast, where old Greek poleis like Sinope and Trapezous operated in a fundamentally different geographic and cultural zone. The chronological scope of the papers extends from the Persian to the Byzantine periods, but the main focus is on the Roman era. A real strength of the volume is its comparative perspective, investigating how issues of urbanism, imperialism, and identity can be explored in Pontos and compared to other regions in Roman Anatolia. Still, state power plays a secondary role here, and the primary goal of these contributions, in the words of the editor, is to "attempt to provide a deeper (in more than one sense of the word) understanding of a landscape, of the ways in which time and space intermesh in human life, defining places and creating identities" (20).

The first three chapters serve as a useful orientation to the Pontic landscape and the cultural background of the region, from the Hellenistic to the Roman periods. Brian C. McGing ("Iranian kings in Greek dress? Cultural identity in the Mithradatid kingdom of Pontos"), in the only chapter specifically devoted to the Hellenistic kingdom of Pontos, explores the many "faces" (36) of the ruling dynasty: Anatolian, Achaemenid, and Greek. This flexible royal self-representation of course reflected the pluralism of the kingdom itself, a patchwork of different geographic and cultural zones. The importance of understanding the geography of Pontos is sensitively detailed by Eckart Olshausen, whose contribution ("Pontos: Profile of a landscape") offers a convenient introduction to and cross-reference for many of the other case studies of the volume that examine specific regions, landscapes, or cities. Finally, Marco Vitale ("'Pontic' communities under Roman rule: polis self-representation, provincialisation and the koina) 'of Pontus'") argues for the emergence of a "Pontic consciousness" (61) rooted not in the administrative apparatus of Roman rule, whether in the form of the original Pompeian province or in the subsequent Pontic koina or eparchies, but rather in a wider and less definable sense of belonging.

The majority of the remaining studies focus generally on questions of local identities and urban life under Roman rule and more directly engage the issue of urbanization as a consequence of Roman policy.

Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen ("To be or not to be Paphlagonian? A question of identity") addresses the more focused question of whether Neapolis-Neoklaudiopolis belonged to the region of Paphlagonia or Pontos. The city was founded by Pompey in 63 BCE but part of the region was handed over to local dynasts by Mark Antony after the dissolution of the province of Bithynia et Pontus and ultimately reintegrated into the Roman Empire and placed under the jurisdiction of the province of Galatia. Here the literary sources are contradictory, with Ptolemy indicating that Neapolis was situated in Paphlagonia and Strabo assigning it to Pontos. The traditional view locates Neapolis in Paphlagoina, but following a review of the available evidence, Bekker-Nielsen finds no compelling reason not to follow Strabo, the closer contemporary and Pontic native.

Jesper Majbom Madsen ("An insider's view: Strabo of Amaseia on Pompey's Pontic cities") uses Pontos as a case study for addressing the old question of whether the city foundations of Pompey the great in Asia Minor were organized strictly as Greek poleis or bore timocratic features more typical of cities in the Roman west. While the evidence of institutions, coinage, cults, architecture and other forms of civic self-expression (mostly of imperial date) advertised a Greek polis identity, Madsen argues that Strabo's description of Pompey's foundations preserves an insider's perspective, from a period shortly after the formation of these communities, that does not view them as fully Greek.

Louise Revell ("Urbanism and imperialism: Living and urban ideal") and Arjan Zuiderhoek ("Controlling urban public space in Roman Asia Minor") turn to one of the central issues of the book: the widespread foundation of towns in the west of the empire and the reconfiguration of populations in the east as a central element of Roman imperialism. Revell outlines the contributions of what she calls "the new architectural history" (87) as a way to relate civic monuments to new work on identity and explore the reflexive relationship between people and places. In a region rapidly urbanized by the foundations of the Mithridatid kings and Pompey, Pontos is ripe for such analysis but Revell's chapter focuses instead on the west, using Clunia Sulpicia in Hispania Tarraconensis as a case study. This provides a counterpoint to the urban life of eastern cities, but the long excursus on Clunia feels somewhat out of place in a volume dedicated to Northern Anatolia. In a similar vein, Zuiderhoek explores the "materialisation of ideology" in the assemblage of monumental public buildings in Roman cities. If the Greek cities of the East were monopolized by a narrow group of elites in the Roman period, as much of the scholarship argues, Zuiderhoek suggests that we should see the ideological concerns of this elite manifested in the public architecture of the city. Reviewing the evidence of epigraphically-attested elite benefactions across Roman Anatolia, Zuiderhoek instead identifies a focus on a "collectivist architecture" (temples, theaters, gymnasia, agoras, stoas, etc.) that is in line with traditional, participative politics of the classical Greek polis. This argument is supported by a review of literary and epigraphic evidence that shows the continued vitality of the ekklesia in the Imperial period.

Vera Sauer ("Urban space: the evidence of coins") and Julie Dalaison ("Civic pride and local identities: the Pontic cities and their coinage") exploit the numismatic evidence to examine the issue of the urban identities of the cities (new and old) in the region reorganized by Pompey. Sauer examines reflections of urban space – local monuments, landmarks, myths – on the issues of 15 cities of Pontos, exploring the image each chose to project. Dalaison, on the other hand, focuses on the rivalry between cities and the competition for titles within the wider Roman empire (neokoros, metropolis, etc.) evident on civic coinage. The result is more catalog-like than interpretive, but both contributions assemble a wealth of data concerning the coinage of the Pontic cities.

Three studies consider the cultic landscape of Anatolia, which explore the role of religious space and local myth in constituting civic communities.

Nicola Zwingmann ("Space, place and Identity: Kelainai-Apameia Kibotos in Phrygia as an Anatolian case study") traces the nomenclature of this important Phrygian city from the Persian and early Hellenistic periods, when Kelainai served as a palace center, satrapal capital, and trade hub for central Anatolia, to the refoundation of the city as Apameia under Antiochos I, to the point of the accretion of the epithet Kibotos, first attested by Strabo. Zwingmann then explores the "commemorative landscapes" (167) associated with two important myths of the city: the competition of Apollo and Marsyas and the ark (kibotos) of Noah. These myths both advertised the antiquity and importance of the city, while also unifying a diverse population through myths that spanned the community's cultural divides.

Christina G. Williamson ("Power, politics, and panoramas: Viewing the sacred landscape of Zeus Stratios near Amaseia") examines the viewshed of the mountaintop sanctuary of Zeus Stratios. The sanctuary, possibly the site of Mithradates VI's dramatic victory sacrifices in 82 and 73 BCE, served to link the civic territory of Amaseia, and Williamson's viewshed analysis demonstrates that the smoke column rising from the altar would have been visible throughout the chora of Amaseia. In the imperial period, the sanctuary was the site of some kind of assembly, as a series of 34 inscribed blocks corresponding to the names of villages and regions within the territory of Amaseia demonstrate. Visually, and administratively, the sanctuary served as a way of linking the vast territory of the polis. In a lavishly illustrated essay, Williamson offers a compelling example of the value of spatial analysis for asking new questions about the role of visibility in the ritual life of cities.

Lâtife Summerer ("Topographies of worship in northern Anatolia") provides a wide-ranging overview of the religious "map" of the region from the Iron Age to the Roman period, focusing on material with secure archaeological context. The study includes thirteen sites across the region. Among the more interesting items are the revision of the attribution of a second-century CE temple recently revealed at Trapezous from Hermes to Dionysos Tauromorphos, as well as the discussion of a cult to Kybele in Amisos dating from the 6th-4th c. CE, which Summerer connects to Lynn Roller's thesis that the cult of Kybele was transferred to Ionia via the Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast. The survey and conclusions are preliminary, as the author admits, but it offers a useful review of the current evidence.

The final chapter shifts the focus to late antiquity. Deniz Burcu Erciyas ("A middle Byzantine citadel at Komana") examines Komana, a citadel and town that found itself in the midst of the conflicts between Christian and Turkish armies in the eleventh century. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, Komana was an important temple-state dedicated to the indigenous Anatolian goddess Ma. By 1101 the region came under Turkish rule and was the site of a fort mentioned in the literary sources. On the basis of new survey and excavation data, the author here reverses his previous theory that the settlements in the plains of inland Pontos were mainly abandoned in during the Byzantine period due to concerns of defense, in favor of more fortified sites.

While the degree to which the individual essays address the question of the impact of urbanization as Roman policy or fully engage with the framework of "space, place, and identity" is somewhat uneven, the result is an important contribution to Pontic studies and Roman urbanism. One notable absence in this volume is consideration of the Hellenistic background. For example, Amaseia, the main city of inland Pontos and the subject of many of the volume's contributions, was after all a Mithradatid foundation of the early Hellenistic period. Likewise, the foundations of Eupator are also largely overlooked here. Overall, however, the studies collected in this volume provide a rich portrait of urban culture in Roman Pontos. The volume is beautifully produced, and the large number of high-quality images, plans, and original maps is a real asset to a study devoted to space and geography.


1.   For a recent overview, see M. Scott, Space and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds , Cambridge, 2013.

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