Thursday, October 20, 2016


Ute Kelp, Grabdenkmal und locale Identität. Ein Bild der Landschaft Phrygien in der römischen Kaiserzeit. Asia Minor Studien Band 74. Bonn: Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2015. Pp. x, 318; 67 plates. ISBN 9783774938090. €89.00.

Reviewed by Lynn E. Roller, University of California, Davis (

Version at BMCR home site

Phrygians formed the largest ethnic group in central Anatolia, yet their culture is still imperfectly known and their contributions remain undervalued. Phrygian sites and monuments from the first half of the first millennium BCE have received considerable attention, as excavations at Gordion, Midas City, Daskyleion, and other Phrygian centers have revealed the significant accomplishments in architecture and the visual arts achieved by the Paleo-Phrygians (using the terminology of Claude Brixhe, the major scholar working on Phrygian language and epigraphy). The culture and social organization of the Phrygians during the Roman period, in contrast, have received much less attention. Historical and archaeological studies of Roman Asia Minor have focused largely on the Greek cities near the Mediterranean coast, and much earlier scholarship tended to replicate unquestioningly the negative opinions of ancient Greek and Roman authors, most of whom looked down on the occupants of the rural hinterland of Anatolia as inferior peasants. Fortunately this picture has changed somewhat in recent years, as scholars like Stephen Mitchell and Peter Thoneman have delved into the rich trove of epigraphical and topographical material from this region to offer a more balanced and nuanced approach to the land, people, and customs of Roman Phrygia.1

Ute Kelp's book on grave monuments and local identity in Phrygia during the Roman Imperial period builds on this tradition. The work, a revision of the author's 2010 dissertation for the University of Tübingen, presents an analysis of Phrygian funerary monuments from the first three centuries CE and uses this material to address a number of questions: how to identify the territory of Roman-period Asia Minor that can be considered Phrygian; how to assess the degree of Hellenization among the local population, and how to define the extent to which the people and culture of this region identified themselves as Phrygians. These are large and difficult questions, and Kelp does not claim to answer all of them. Rather, she uses one of the most abundant artifact types known from Roman Phrygia, the stone grave monument carved in the shape of a false door (doorstones, as they are often called), to address these points. Her discussion of door façade grave monuments moves beyond the typological studies of earlier scholars such as Waelkens and Lochman to examine their distribution, their relationship to Greek grave artifacts such as stelai and sarcophagi, and the information they provide about the identity of the inhabitants of Roman-period Phrygia.2

The first part of the book summarizes previous scholarship on Roman Phrygia and discusses some of the problems inherent in studying the Roman-period material from this region. A key question is how to define what constitutes 'Phrygia' during the first centuries CE. There is no identifiable political entity, since territory with Phrygian cultural forms extended across several Roman provinces in Asia Minor. Moreover, Roman-period Phrygia does not coincide with the territory of the Paleo-Phrygian zone, given that several important Phrygian centers of the first millennium BCE such as Gordion lay outside the heartland of Roman Phrygia. In addition, several new cities were founded on Phrygian territory during the Hellenistic and early Roman eras, as part of the policy of Hellenistic monarchs to bring this region into the Greek cultural sphere. In new urban centers like Hierapolis and Aizanoi, Greek civic forms such as the theater and the gymnasium are prominent, yet these cities considered themselves Phrygian. In the absence of political classifications and geographical continuity, the definition of Phrygian territory remains problematic. One marker used by other scholars is the presence of Neo-Phrygian texts—inscriptions of the first through third centuries CE written in the Phrygian language but using the Greek alphabet—although these are rare or absent altogether in many new foundations. This lack of clear boundaries helps explain Kelp's choice of funerary monuments for analysis as a distinctive Phrygian cultural marker. To her credit, Kelp recognizes that the concept of 'cultural markers' is vague and often runs the risk of creating a self-referential argument.

The next section presents an overview of grave types found in Phrygia during the Imperial era. Some burial forms such as tumuli and rock-cut chamber tombs that were frequent during the Paleo-Phrygian period continued to be used, although less frequently, while other grave forms such as the sarcophagus become more common, reflecting the influence of Greek and Roman burial practices. Kelp then turns her attention to the most common feature of local funerary architecture, the door façade monument. This could cover the entrance to a rock-cut chamber tomb or built stone tomb, serving as a functional cover, or be carved onto the wall of a sarcophagus, where the form was largely ornamental. Kelp reviews the evidence for the door façade gravestones in various regions of Phrygia and discusses their individual features. They range from simple to elaborately carved forms that included attached half-columns and moldings. Many were decorated with symbols pertinent to the deceased: lions or eagles were often used for men; for women, symbols of domesticity or beauty such as a spindle or mirror appear frequently. More richly decorated examples can include portraits of the deceased, often a married couple. Other decorations advertise the social class of the deceased, such as a scroll or stylus to proclaim literacy. Door façade monuments from rural areas, in contrast, often address the agricultural nature of the region through depictions of oxen or agricultural implements. The variety of door facades can reflect several factors: economic status, with more elaborate monuments favored by wealthier individuals; degree of Hellenization, since individuals who wished to identify more strongly with Graeco-Roman culture might be more likely to choose Hellenizing details to decorate the door façade; and geographical location, whether urban or rural.

Kelp reviews some of the controversies connected with the interpretation of the door façade grave monuments, including questions about their origins and chronology. The debate on the originhas focused on whether the type was indigenous to Anatolia (following Waelkens) or imported from Italy (Lochman). Chronology is also problematic, since many door façades were reused on later graves. Some earlier scholars, especially Lochman, argued that the type was introduced into Anatolia from the west during the second century CE. However, more recent studies of the grave monuments from Aizanoi have shown that the door façade was found there in the mid-first century CE, and Kelp uses this evidence to argue that the fashion begins with the foundation of new cities in the early Imperial era. In her view, the type appeared first in the western regions of Phrygia as a revival of the Paleo-Phrygian door facades and then spread from west to east, eventually becoming common in rural as well as urban areas and among poorer people with few pretensions of Hellenism.

I agree with Kelp's argument in favor of an Anatolian origin, although I am not fully persuaded by her efforts to derive the door façade burial monument from the earlier Phrygian tradition. While several of these façades, well documented by Emilie Haspels and Susanne Berndt-Ersöz, do illustrate doorways, they were part of cult practice, not funerary rites.3 They are frequently (but not always) connected with the Phrygian Mother goddess (always called Matar in Phrygia, never Kybele, a word that was only occasionally used as an epithet). The great majority of the chamber tombs from Paleo-Phrygian sites in the Phrygian Highlands do not use a door façade. Kelp also draws attention to the use of the lion in both Paleo- and later Phrygian grave monuments, although it is uncertain whether this is a survival from older Phrygian traditions or an independently occurring use of the lion as a symbol of power and protection. The question of the origins of the door façade funerary monument is complex and cannot be reduced to a single cause. The type appears first in the urban centers of western Phrygia that were most heavily influenced by the Hellenism of the coastal cities, and the influence of Greek forms is certainly evident in the use of floral ornaments, mouldings, and attached half-columns in the Greek architectural orders. These factors might suggest a Greek origin. Yet the Hellenizing elements are applied to a grave monument that is widespread in central Anatolia, but rare elsewhere. Moreover, the distribution of the doorstone type corresponds to a high degree with the appearance of Neo-Phrygian inscriptions, almost all of which consist of a curse formula intended to protect the grave. Whatever its origin, the door façade funerary monument clearly had special resonance to the peoples in central Asia Minor. Kelp's maps recording the distribution of the door façade reinforce this point effectively.

The third section of the book places the door façade in the context of other Phrygian cultural features in Roman Asia Minor. That type of grave monument is only one of a number of distinctive regional traits that show a renewed sense of Phrygian identity and cultural awareness among the people of central Anatolia during the first two centuries of the Imperial era. The reappearance of inscriptions in the Phrygian language, as noted above, is one. Another is the presence of regionally minted coins with the notation 'Phrygian' in the legend (e.g., from Apameia) or of figures from indigenous mythical traditions such as Marsyas, Otrous (a Phrygian hero in the Trojan War), and even Phrygia, a personification of the region itself. Yet another is the presence of distinctive regional cults in Roman Imperial Phrygia. These can include revivals of the cults of Paleo-Phrygian deities such as Agdistis, a form of the Phrygian goddess Matar (Mother), at Midas City, or cults of newly attested deities such as Men, that had a strong local following in central Anatolia. There is also evidence for literary interest in the history of Phrygia, both among Greek authors and at least one local writer, Metrophanes of Eukarpeia, who composed a history of Phrygia (now lost). Kelp attributes this growing self-consciousness of, and indeed greater pride in, regional identity to the process of urbanization in the region. As she emphasized earlier in her work, most of the cities were new foundations in the Hellenistic and early Imperial periods and so regional pride could not be a matter of long standing. Rather, the citizens of the new cities, especially the local elite, absorbed Greek attitudes of pride in their identity as polis citizens. The phenomenon is all the more striking in the face of the continuing negative images of Phrygia and the Phrygians evident in contemporary Greek and Roman authors. Reaction against this negative stereotype, together with the increased urbanization and the resulting prosperity of Roman-era Phrygians, may even have been a factor contributing to the renewed sense of Phrygian ethnic consciousness.

In the last analysis, Kelp does not really explain why the door façade type became so popular as a grave monument among the Roman-period Phrygians. Her suggested interpretations—that they reflect a growing strength of Hellenizing urbanism among the elite of Phrygian cities and a sense of local Phrygian identity and pride in Phrygian heritage—seem to pull in two opposite directions. The absence of written sources for most of the region during the Roman period may make a definite answer to this question impossible. However, by interrogating a large and well documented body of archaeological data, Kelp's book performs a valuable service. Her work brings new focus to the unique character of the people and the region of central Asia Minor during the Imperial era.


1.   Mitchell, Stephen. Anatolia. Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993. Thonemann, Peter, ed. Roman Phrygia. Culture and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2013.
2.   Waelkens, Marc. Die kleinasiatischen Türsteine: Typologische und epigraphische Untersuchungen der kleinasiatischen Grabreliefs mit Scheintür. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1986. Lochman, Tomas. Studien zu kaiserzeitlichen Grab- und Votivreliefs aus Phrygien. Basel: Skulpturhalle 2003.
3.   Haspels, C. H. E. The Highlands of Phrygia. Princeton: Princeton University Press 1971. Berndt-Ersöz, Susanne. Phrygian Rock-cut Shrines. Structure, Function, and Cult Practice. Leiden: Brill 2006.

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