Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Eckart Olshausen, Vera Sauer (ed.), Mobilität in den Kulturen der antiken Mittelmeerwelt: Stuttgarter Kolloquium zur Historischen Geographie des Altertums 11, 2011. Geographica Historica, Bd 31. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. Pp. 565. ISBN 9783515108836. €79.00.

Reviewed by Frederick G. Naerebout, Leiden University (f.g.naerebout@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The Stuttgarter Kolloquia zur Historischen Geographie des Altertums, organized over the years by Eckart Olshausen, Vera Sauer, and Holger Sonnabend, are by now an old and established institution: the series started 35 years ago and the proceedings have been published since 1987 in the equally venerable series Geographica Historica. This volume consists of the proceedings of the 11th Stuttgart conference, held from the 23rd to the 26th of June 2011. There are 38 papers: 37 out of the 42 presented at the conference and a single paper that is not mentioned in the conference program (by Josef Fischer).

There is a broad theme to every conference and volume, but no attempt is made to turn the individual contributions into a coherent whole. There is not even an introduction expounding (or creating) some thematic unity. Here reigns freedom, if not anarchy. Depending on the individual reader, that is a weakness or a strength: if you have an interest in a particular topic or methodology, you might find one or two of the papers worthwhile, and you get a whole sheaf of others that are of no use; if you want to get acquainted with a wide range of subjects that might be included under a particular heading, and want to have a broad initiation into the relevant bibliography, then of course the volumes are a great starting point.

The present volume on mobility is again kaleidoscopic. Olshausen and Sauer acknowledge its heterogeneity by arranging the papers in alphabetical sequence, though in the program of the original conference they were arranged more or less thematically in seven sections. Alas, an author's family name is quite uninformative if one is looking for specific information, so I have re-arranged the papers according to such criteria as seemed helpful.

Before addressing the individual papers we might ask what is understood by mobility here. There is no definition in the introduction, and most authors hardly even mention the concept, let alone explain what they understand by it (Angela Pabst excepted). Considering the contents of the majority of the contributions here, I think that, for the purpose of this conference and book, mobility should as defined as, in the words of Gisela Welz, "overcoming geographic distance by way of movement", that is, human movement over time and across space. Or rather, this is what the volume should have been about, because the lack of any definition has left room for papers where mobility is understood in different ways, or appears only tangentially. Some of these subjects still might have found a place here, if only there had been some discussion about what (im)mobility entails.1 Others definitely do not belong: social mobility is not what one expects in a volume on mobility that is part of a series on historical geography.

For the reasons just outlined, I have excluded from my review the papers by Veronica Bucciantini, Floriana Cantarelli, Josef Fischer, Linda-Marie Günther, Andreas Klingenberg, Peter Kritzinger, and Ergün Laflı and Eva Christof. While some of these papers were excellent (Cantarelli, Fischer), I felt that none of them dealt with mobility in the above sense as their main subject. The 31 papers that are left I have grouped in three sections and some subsections.

1 Infrastructure, means of transport, guides and tools

Michael Rathmann has maps and guides as his subject, with interesting discussions of mental maps and local knowledge, and the differential perceptions of space and speed. Mariachiara Angelucci argues that writings that might seem, or claim, to be travel literature (the genre of periegesis) are in fact examples of local history writing. Giuseppe Mariotta shows that mythical travels (here Hercules' tenth labour) are based on knowledge of real itineraries from the colonial and pre-colonial period, and themselves become paradigmatic. Michele Cataudella analyses Hittite and other early sources indicating Greek travel in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age. Peter Emberger goes into the use of different types of shipping by the Romans to transport troops and army engineers, including the cavalry. Hélène Roelens-Flouneau describes the different techniques used by armies on the march for crossing rivers. She also shows how ancient authors use the topos of crossing rivers to illustrate either the hybris or the piety of army leaders. Heinz Warnecke looks at the speed of travel as described in the Odyssey. On land this is up to 75 km per day, on sea up to 200 km. Technological innovations made this possible, and the author of the Odyssey seems much intrigued by them.

2 Categories and modalities of mobility

2.1 Pilgrimage

Nicola Zwingmann looks at Christian women in the 4th and 5th centuries. They are a new kind of traveler, a kind that gets reported in new literary genres. Maria Theotikou discusses ekecheiria, meaning a condition under which a sanctuary (or polis) is inviolate, as are envoys and pilgrims, and no aggression of any kind between participating poleis is allowed. Mainly the arrangements for panhellenic sanctuaries are described in detail.

2.2 Military, administrative

Matthäus Heil looks at senators on the job – and more. The frequent change of administrators and the visitors that elites brought to their hometowns imply a very high level of mobility. Heil provides a lot of detail concerning these official travels and interesting figures: his example, L. Iulius Marinus Caecilius Simplex, travelled 20,000 km to and from the places where he was stationed. There were hundreds of movements to and from Rome every year: we have to reckon with 50 senatorial travel parties, 37 equestrian and 300 military plus emperor and entourage. The average speed of travel was 30 km per day on land, while ships did 9 km per hour. Eckart Olshausen analyses Cicero's letters for the period 68-43: interesting, if only because it shows that Cicero under normal circumstances traveled 400-500 kilometers every year to inspect his properties. When crisis strikes, his journeys become incredibly extensive.

2.3 Economic: trade, work

In an interesting but very short paper that would have benefitted from a comparative perspective, Herbert Grassl examines re-migration of migrants who for economic reasons have travelled to a peripheral province. Klaus Tausend also looks at labour migration. The Mycenean world has examples of migrating workers with specialist skills (while in times of labour shortage, unskilled workers may also be brought in). Kerstin Dross-Krüpe illustrates the mobility of traders in Egypt from the papyrus records, but she is more concerned to show that such information can be analysed by using models deriving from New Institutional Economics. Isabella Tsigarida describes the flourishing of the salt trade, with the Roman army as the most important catalyst. Sabine Tausend asks why people travel or migrate in the archaic world. While it has been stated often that a sense of adventure inspired the travelers, traders and colonizers, the sources do not support this. There is no longing for new horizons: rather, travel by sea is seen as a dangerous undertaking and leaving one's birthplace is a sad business. People travel because they are forced to, out of necessity, or, most importantly, because of extraordinary opportunities for making a profit.

2.4 Scholarship

Jan Dressler argues that travel is an inherent part of a philosopher's life. Enlarging one's horizon is a prerequisite, either seeking or spreading new knowledge. Travel also becomes a topos in philosophers' biographies: the itineraries, however, are made to fit the ideal, and are distorted, if not downright fictionalized. As an illustration of this, Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen demonstrates that Dio of Prusa did not travel nearly as widely as he said, or as was said about him. Christian Fron has only little to tell about Aelius Aristides' trip to Egypt, but a lot on the way in which Aristides drew on his travel experiences in his oratory and writings. Serena Bianchetti and Johannes Engels discuss, in well-documented papers, the well-known role of Alexandria, and in due course Rome, as magnets for scholars in general and historians in particular.

2.5 Restrictions on mobility

Frank Daubner argues that in the wake of the Third Macedonian War the Romans did not restrict free movement, as has often been claimed. Margit Linder demonstrates convincingly that artists could travel and work freely all across the Greek world without being held accountable in any way when their present domicile got into conflict with their place of origin. Ivan Ladynin analyses the Stele of Naples, the posthumous autobiography of the Egyptian priest Somtutefnakht, probably deported to Persia, and only allowed to return home after the defeat of the Achaemenids by Alexander. Klaus Geus, in an interesting paper, advocates attention to the preconditions for mobility, such as particular geographical features favouring or inhibiting mobility. Subsequently he shows that even where preconditions seem unfavourable, as in the inhospitable Red Sea area, there still might be a lot of mobility because of specific conditions, in this case the long-distance trade (and its desirable profits) for which the Red Sea is an obvious "Transit-Raum".

In its own category is the paper by Anna Ginestí Rosell on "Migrationslinguistik". She investigates the language or dialect of xenoi, strangers (surely she might have added metics and slaves) in Athens. There emerges no single pattern: according to the epigraphic evidence, a few Greeks seem to adhere to dialectical forms by choice, but other immigrants do not – either a positive choice, or the result of outside pressures. Non-Greeks put up Greek or bilingual texts; theophoric names got translated.

3 Mentality and mobility – open-mindedness, experience, memory

In this category I have placed a number of papers that I find the most interesting and most important of the volume: they have in common that they discuss what the societal consequences of (increasing) mobility might be, or how these can be coped with.

Iris von Bredow presents an incisive critique of the hypothesis that travelling craftsmen (and also priests, singers and the like, as argued by Burkert) are the initiators of the cultural revolution that produces "early archaic Greece". Von Bredow shows that it is much more complicated: she offers an appealing hypothesis about how by way of elite networks, longer term migration/re-migration, slave trafficking or sending out apprentices, new techniques and the associated knowledge base are acquired. John Bintliff argues that the scale of the Hellenistic kingdoms and of the Roman Empire breaks the existing mould of the small Greek city state and concomitant mentalities. The horizon is broadened, mobility increases, and the economy especially, but other aspects of society as well, undergo radical changes. Angela Pabst considers how Greece and the concept of Greekness change when Greece is incorporated into the Roman Empire. If you want to avail yourself of that imperial dimension by travel and by associating with that wider world, you become Roman and leave your Greekness behind; alternatively, you can try to shut the wider world out – and stay Greek. Jonas Scherr demonstrates that cultural contact and ensuing acculturative processes are largely dependent on a transport and communications infrastructure (roads and waterways). He shows this – taking his cue from Greg Woolf – by mapping Roman cultural phenomena across Gaul. Interestingly, he also brings up some anomalies, which imply that mobility should always be looked at in combination with other elements such as power structures or geographic preconditions. Andreas Hartmann, in a very rich paper, questions how tales of wandering heroes come about and how they function. Pausanias appears in this context not primarily as traveler, but as the chronicler of the travels of others, that is, the heroes of mythical times. Pausanias approaches the many disjunctions and contradictions not as a local historian, but as a truly universal one; his understanding of the heroes' peregrinations can be seen as helping towards interpreting an ever-widening world as part of one's own culture.

I admire the work that Olshausen has been doing over the years for the establishment of the historical geography of the ancient world as an important subject; I have experienced at first hand the welcoming atmosphere at the Stuttgart conferences; and I am impressed by the high editorial standards of the proceedings – standards maintained largely by Vera Sauer. The present volume has several interesting – and some excellent – papers. Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this book, or rather I would not know to whom to recommend it: it has no focus; it is even hard to tell what it is about. 'Mobility', it claims, but what is mobility? Authors and editors take the concept for granted when what we need is a theoretical take on the matter, and problematization all around.


1.   Nicholas Purcell, 'Fixity', in: Renate Schlesier and Ulrike Zellman (eds.), Mobility and Travel in the Mediterranean from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Münster 2004), 73-83.

1 comment:

  1. I take Frederick G. Naerebout's point about needing a 'theoretical take' on mobility, but I want to look at this publication. Perhaps some of the papers will stimulate a discussion about the definition of 'mobility' and development of a theoretical framework.