Thursday, May 25, 2017


Lieve Donnellan, Valentino Nizzo, Gert-Jan Burgers (ed.), Conceptualising Early Colonisation. Artes, 6. Bruxelles: Belgisch Historisch Insituut te Rome, 2016. Pp. 246. ISBN 9789074461825. €75.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Stefanos Gimatzidis, Austrian Academy of Sciences (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]
[The review of the first volume of essays from the "Contextualizing early Colonization" conference is at BMCR 2017.05.42.]

This is the second volume presenting the papers given in the international conference 'Contextualising early Colonisation: Archaeology, Sources, and Interpretative Models between Italy and the Mediterranean', which was held in Rome from 21–23 June 2012. The editors saved the theoretical part of that discussion for this book after having published a first volume of papers that treat material culture and related issues such as chronology; a third online volume presents the posters from the conference. Lieve Donnellan and Valentino Nizzo, two of the editors, elaborate in the introduction of the book on the theoretical perspectives of Greek colonisation. They put forward the goal of their endeavour, which is to contextualise 'colonisation' archaeologically, historically, and methodologically. The grouping of the more interpretative treatments of Greek colonisation into the categories of 'revisionist' and 'traditionalist' approaches in this volume makes it immediately clear what this book is about.

Scholars familiar with the topic know that during the last two decades, the traditional perception of early Greek colonisation has been called into question. Some of the main disputed issues have been the structure and organisation—if any—of the early "colonial" enterprises and the sociopolitical organisation of the early colonial settlements, which mainly includes the relationship between what have been indiscriminately called 'Greeks' and 'Natives'. Terminology was put under scrutiny, and biases that emerged due to the perception of that phenomenon through a modern European colonialist perspective were highlighted. On the one hand, I think there is by now a consensus that the traditional perception of Greek colonisation as it has been established in European historiography is at least partly a projection of modern ideologies, purposes, and desires. On the other hand, the feeling is that in some cases the 'c' phenomenon of Greek history is being perceived and criticised as an epitome of European colonialism and imperialism. It is usually overlooked that the study of Greek colonisation relates to the Zeitgeist—as in the case of other topics of human history—that defines scholarly methods and approaches. For this reason, I think that although labels such as 'revisionist' and 'traditionalist' help newcomers orient themselves in this debate, they ultimately obscure rather than facilitate the reader's appreciation of this book and its valuable outcomes.

The debate opens with the papers of Robin Osborne and Irad Malkin, two historians who have made major contributions to the topic. Robin Osborne keeps pace with his 'revisionist' perception of Greek colonisation already expressed in a groundbreaking paper almost two decades ago and rejects the term 'colonisation' for the early Greek enterprises.1 He attributes the modern scholarly practice of referring to 'Greek colonisation' instead, for example, to 'Sicilian colonists of Corinth' to notions of cultural superiority and makes a plea for the use of the more neutral term migration instead of colonisation, which implies state organised missions.

Irad Malkin, on the other hand, presents in a theoretically robust paper a revision of this 'revisionist' approach. He calls for a careful reading of all available data, comprising archaeological evidence, ancient literature, and nomima, towards the interpretation of Greek colonisation. The corpus of data is enormous and demands an interdisciplinary approach. Malkin's criticism about earlier revisions is quite harsh, but appropriate in the sense that some of them are far from having drawn their outcomes from a comprehensive data analysis and systematic argumentation. Malkin defends organised colonisation, which he has studied in the past though several perspectives, most recently by means of network theory; he perceives colonisation as a continuum from individual enterprises to politically organised communities already in the 8th century BC. Most interesting is the conceptualisation of apoikia not as migration, but rather as organised emigration with emphasis on the departure from the oikos—the household —that connects the Archaic period with the Early Iron Age.

Jonathan Hall discusses Greek ethnic identity, a favorite and previously much discussed issue of his. He presents a new synthesis that restrains the colonial movement's role in the development of the Greek consciousness, which he largely dates to the 6th century BC. Hall concludes that the name Hellenes was not used as an ethnic before the 6th century BC and regards the earlier appearance of the name Panhellenes as an indicator of diversity rather than unity. He further downplays the role of Delphi in Greek colonisation and rejects the existence of the altar for Apollo Archegetes next to Naxos as a focus and expression of the early Greek colonial network.

Arianna Esposito and Airton Pollini undertake a short review of studies of colonial encounters and related postcolonial concepts and discuss modern scholarly biases and divides, especially between English- and French-speaking scholarship. They comment on alternative terms to 'colonisation' and conclude that although anachronistic, comparison between ancient and modern colonisation is important for historians.

Guilia Saltini Semerari discusses intermarriages—a hot issue in Greek colonisation. She challenges the traditional culture-historical perspective that oversimplified the archaeological record by recognizing intermarriages in the local pottery and fibulae types in 'colonial' necropolises and instead undertakes a study based on gender theory. Three possible scenarios with emphasis on variability are addressed for the development of intermarriages and their social implications. I would add that what is still missing from 'colonial' necropolises are bio-archaeological data including strontium isotope analyses, which could highlight exogamies, intermarriages between different communities etc.

Roland Étienne comments on two mainstream concepts that emerged out of a recent debate over long-term historical processes in the Mediterranean: 'connectivity' by Peregrine Horden and Nicolas Purcell, and 'growth' by Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris and Richard Saller. After having critically examined their applicability to the colonial setting as it was conceived by the scholars who introduced them, he questions their significance for the current debate and reminds us of the original multi-dimensional, long-term perspective of the great historian Fernand Braudel.

Franco De Angelis argues for a more holistic approach to ancient colonisation that would bridge different disciplines such as classical and prehistoric archaeology, which traditionally focus on different topics (the colonial and colonised factor respectively), and would bring together different scholarly traditions and methods. De Angelis proposes the creation of a third field that would be neither 'Greek' nor 'Native', following the North American example of frontier history; he further stresses the need for a broader theoretical perspective and introduces the economic take-off theory as most suitable for the interpretation of the development of the Western Greek cities.

The crucial issue of chronology and its implications for Greek colonisation are further examined by Valentino Nizzo. The Thucydidian chronology of the Greek foundations in Italy has formed the basis of Greek chronology for the Late Geometric and early Archaic periods, which was consequently established as the mainstream chronological system in the Mediterranean. However, this well-established Greek chronology barely takes into consideration the developments—by means of radiocarbon dating for the periods not affected by the so-called Hallstatt Plateau and dendrochronology—in Central Europe and the correlations with the 'native' northern and central Italy chronological systems, or the revisions of chronology in the Near East.

Mariassunta Cuozzo and Carmine Pellegrino examine the material culture of the site at Monte Vetrano in Campania through a subaltern perspective. In their attempt to trace cultural strategies of resistance or reception, they try to avoid the trap of cultural-historical reasoning by undertaking a holistic study of the material culture.

Looking for 'Greeks' and 'Natives' by means of artefact types in the excavated domestic or mortuary material culture in the Mediterranean 'colonial' landscapes has always been tempting and is still a starting point for some studies applying network analyses. Owain Morris engages a network type that focuses on the strength of ties and concludes that in the colonial network the Greeks were the 'weak ties' in Italy that bridged the local 'cliques', i.e. communities connected via strong ties.

Lieve Donnellan undertakes a thorough analysis of the Pithekoussan necropolis after a comprehensive discussion of network theory. She applies a type of two-mode network, the 'affiliation network', and uses it to evaluate a large databank comprising all burial goods from the already-published part of the Pithekoussai necropolis. There are several interesting results presented regarding the Tyrrhenian, Euboean, Corinthian, Syrian etc. cultural implications of the necropolis; most intriguing is the historical appraisal of the earliest phases of the necropolis that speaks for an original indigenous community, which attracted, soon after its foundation, people of Levantine and Aegean origin.

After so many years of archaeological research in the so-called protohistoric Italian landscape, we are still largely missing the domestic part of early colonial material culture. With a few exceptions in Sicily and even fewer around the Gulf of Taranto and in Campania, early colonies are mainly known through their necropolises. The city of Megara Hyblaea is one of the very few well-excavated and published settlements. Henri Trésiny offers a concise overview of the earlier phases of the urban development of that city. If its urban development really began at the end of the 8th century and was in some part completed in the 7th century BC, as the French scholars and excavators suggest, then it may be that Greek urbanisation actually began at what one may regard as the Greek 'periphery', that is the Western Greek cities as well as the Ionian cities on the western coast of Asia Minor.

The secondary colonization at the Straights of Messina, referring to colonies founded according to the literary evidence by or with the involvement of earlier colonial establishments, such as Zancle and Rhegion, are the focus of the paper by Flavia Frisone. The conclusion of her study on the Chalcidian colonisation in Sicily points to organised and structured, but also variable colonial processes.

Emanuele Greco focuses on two interesting aspects of the early material culture in the colonial landscape of Italy: the large dimension of public places and some conspicuous extra-urban sanctuaries with temples erected for Hera in the choras of each one of four major colonies (Sybaris, Croton, Metapontion and Poseidonia). The latter may have been perceived and functioned as markers of their common Achaean identity. The fact that the earliest indication of cult at these sanctuaries dates during the earlier colonial phases of the settlements indicates that this is an early cultural pattern rather than a forged feature of a later period for the construction of a new identity.

Despite the predominantly ceramic-based evidence from the colonies on the Basilicata coast and the Salento peninsula, Douwe Yntema successfully integrates all available evidence on burial rites and domestic architecture in a synthetic study that presents a tripartite reconstruction of early Greek colonisation. This begins with an early phase of random enterprises, which was followed by organised commodity exchange and eventual settlement—Yntema discerns two variants in this second phase on the basis of his case studies that I think may be applicable for other colonial landscapes beyond Italy—and finally by a third urbanisation phase.

The last paper of the volume, by Gert-Jan Burgers and Jan Paul Crielaard, is a balanced appraisal of the colonial phenomenon in Italy drawing evidence from systematic surveys on the Salento Isthmus and modern excavations at the settlement and necropolis of L'Amastuola, a native site of the 8th century BC, which in the beginning of the next century also shows Aegean influences in its material culture (architecture, burial rites, artefact types). The latter are well considered as markers of socio-cultural affiliations rather than ethnic identities—the Corinthian pottery for example is acknowledged as appropriate for furnishing not only Greek, but also native burials. This paper meticulously argues against the perception of ethnic identities as oppositional devices in early colonial encounters and for their construction in a later period.

Early Greek colonisation has been a popular topic in modern historiography since the 18th century. There are numerous monographs and collective essays treating the issue, most of them valuable in one way or another. This volume is a welcome contribution reflecting recent advances in archaeological theory and successful integration with studies of material culture. Concluding, I would like to quote Michael Gras, who summarises with Pier Giovanni Guzzo the final observations at the end of the book: 'trop d'Italie!'. Archaeological research in the northern Aegean as well as in the Black Sea has a significant contribution to the study of the early colonial encounters especially in settlement contexts, which we miss in Italy. It would have thus been more appropriate if the title of the book were 'Conceptualising Early Colonisation in Italy'.

Authors and Titles

L. Donnellan & V. Nizzo, Conceptualising early Greek colonisation. Introduction to the volume
R. Osborne, Greek 'colonisation': what was, and what is, at stake?
I. Malkin, Greek colonisation: The right to return
J. Hall, Quanto c'è di "greco" nella "colonizzazione greca"?
A. Esposito & A. Pollini, Postcolonialism from America to Magna Graecia
G. Saltini Semerari, Greek-Indigenous intermarriage: a gendered perspective
R. Étienne, Connectivité et croissance: deux clés pour le VIII e s.?
F. De Angelis, E pluribus unum: The multiplicity of models
V. Nizzo, Tempus fugit. Datare e interpretare la "prima colonizzazione": una riflessione "retrospettiva" e "prospettiva" su cronologie, culture e contesti
M. Cuozzo & C. Pellegrino, Culture meticce, identità etnica, dinamiche di conservatorismo e resistenza: questioni teoriche e casi di studio dalla Campania
O. Morris, Indigenous networks, hierarchies of connectivity and early colonisation in Iron Age Campania
L. Donnellan, A networked view on 'Euboean' colonisation
H. Tréziny, Archaeological data on the foundation of Megara Hyblaea. Certainties and hypotheses
F. Frisone, 'Sistemi' coloniali e definizioni identitarie: le 'colonie sorelle' della Sicilia orientale e della Calabria meridionale
E. Greco, Su alcune analogie (strutturali?) nell'organizzazione dello spazio: il caso delle città achee
D. Yntema, Greek groups in southeast Italy during the Iron Age
G.-J. Burgers & J.P. Crielaard, The Migrant's Identity. 'Greeks' and 'Natives' at L'Amastuola, Southern Italy
P.G. Guzzo, Osservazioni finali
M. Gras, Observations finales


1.   See the still-controversial paper of R. Osborne, 'Early Greek colonisation? The nature of Greek settlement in the West' in N. Fisher and H. van Wees ed. Archaic Greece: New Approaches and New Evidence (London, 1998) 251–70.

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