Monday, February 19, 2018


Yasemin Er Scarborough, The Funerary Monuments of Rough Cilicia and Isauria. BAR international series, S2846. Oxford: BAR Publishing, 2017. Pp. xvi, 292. ISBN 9781407315287. $94.00.

Reviewed by Anja Slawisch, University of Cambridge (

Version at BMCR home site

The corpus of funerary monuments collected in this book derives from the author's many research visits to Rough Cilicia and Isauria, and an archaeological field survey Er Scarborough conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It also builds on her PhD thesis, Funerary Monuments of Cilicia Tracheia, submitted to Cornell University in 1991. Rough Cilicia (or Cilicia Tracheia) and Isauria are defined in the book as an area of the central Taurus mountains of southeast Turkey with the associated coastal strip along the Mediterranean, from Coracesium (modern Alanya) in the west to the Lamus river (modern Limonlu Çayı) in the east. The book is effectively an inventory of the extant, surviving funerary monuments in this region, with commentary devoted to their type, architectural or formal features and, when possible, likely date of construction. Assembled are a plethora of different types of funerary monuments, including rock-cut tombs, temple tombs, tower tombs, grave houses, barrel-vaulted aedicula tombs, tombs with monumental columns, sarcophagoi, larnaces, altars and stelae. The sheer variety is very striking, and inevitably presents particular problems both for selection and organisation of material. Monuments no longer extant in the landscape (e.g. those that have been destroyed, or grave stelae now moved to local museums) are excluded from the book. Despite its laudable aims, effort and ambition, the book has serious structural flaws that unfortunately make it difficult for the general reader to gain useful insights or information without considerable effort.

The book is organised into six chapters plus a bibliography, the latest references being from 2013. The table of contents is sparse, with only chapter titles listed. Sub-headings, which appear in the chapters themselves and might help guide readers, are not included here. Thus, the limited internal page cross-referencing, combined with the lack of index or even some sort of cross-linked gazetteer or tables, makes navigation of the book extremely difficult. The result represents neither a convenient catalogue nor a strong linear narrative.

Chapter 1, "Preliminaries" (pp. 2–9), gives an introduction to the physical geography, cites the well-known historical sources that discuss the area (e.g. Strabo), and finishes with a brief history of geographic and archaeological interest in the region. The chapter includes descriptions of major geological features and local infrastructure (routes, roads and rivers). Er Scarborough argues that the distinctive cultural identity of the region derives from the relative isolation of its mountainous communities. The final section ranges eclectically from the writings of a late 4th c. A.D. pilgrim to the recent archaeological survey activities, including the Göksu Archaeological Project (GAP) and the Rough Cilician Survey Project (RCSP).1

Chapter 2, "Some Notes on the History of Rough Cilicia and Isauria" (pp. 10–18), provides a broad-brushed summary of the region's place within major historical periods and its degree of integration into or under large political entities (subheadings: the Hittites, the [Neo-]Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, The Persians, After Alexander). The final section (The Mountainous North: Historical Developments), which seems to have been appended to this chapter perhaps later, backtracks to the Hellenistic period before examining the Roman influence and administration of the region up to the 5th c. A.D.

Chapters 3, "Rock-cut Tombs and Sarcophagi of Rough Cilicia" (pp. 19–129) and 4, "Monumental and Built Tombs of Rough Cilicia" (pp. 130–198) contain the core discussions of monuments in Rough Cilicia, while Chapter 5, "Funerary Monuments of Isauria" (p. 199–270), combines all types from Isauria. Figures (predominantly photographs rather than plans or drawings) relating to the monuments are grouped together at the end of each chapter; in general the photographs are clear and comprehensive. Overall there is an immense amount of detail about individual monuments, often including dimensions, shape, type and decorative details, as well as the presence of any inscriptions (although they are rarely transcribed). Footnotes with references allow the reader to follow up on particular details. These critical chapters are unfortunately marred by a lack of structural clarity. First, the author does not explain why the material is arranged the way it is. Second, the hierarchy of the sub-headings is opaque (or has somehow been lost in typesetting): sometimes monument type seems to be the important organising scheme, sometimes geographical location. The same subheading (e.g. "Tomb No. 3") can appear multiple times. The richness of detail and potential usefulness of the work behind it is therefore lost since the reader must wade through entire chapters if not the whole volume to make sense of things. Simple quantitative pointers, e.g. the total number of monuments considered in each area, are lacking, and this makes it difficult to assess the implications of the descriptions of the monuments in context compared to other regions.

Chapter 6, "Conclusions", (pp. 271–273) in over two-and-a-half pages provides a very brief synopsis of the book's take-away points (unfortunately not cross-referenced), which include:

• The dominant tomb type in Rough Cilicia was the plain undecorated rock-cut tomb with a single chamber.
• The widespread inclusion of protective curses in tomb inscriptions (examples given on pp. 49, 57 and 149), should be taken as evidence of the fact that unsanctioned grave re-use was a regular practice.
• Sarcophagoi appear earlier in western Rough Cilicia (from the late Hellenistic to early Imperial periods), compared to eastern Rough Cilicia, where their "production came with the Romans".
• The different levels of effort, size and settings are interpreted as reflections of wealth and power, and thus as attributes of different social classes.
• Certain types (e.g. barrel-vaulted tombs seem to occur only in eastern Rough Cilica) and manufacturing techniques (e.g. usage of mortared rubble in western Rough Cilicia) are distributed unevenly.
• The period between the late 2nd and early 3rd century A.D. is singled out as showing the most obvious evidence of Roman presence by the introduction of barrel-vaulted aedicula and temple tombs.
• Larnaces (diminutive sarcophagoi) are the "characteristic type" for Isauria (pp. 204–205).
• There is some epigraphical evidence for wandering stone-cutters (see pp. 54 and 61) from both Rough Cilicia and Isauria.2
• The dating of rock-cut tombs is difficult; all the examined monuments have been robbed, often in antiquity, with illegal excavation sadly continuing into the present.

Some of these conclusions will be unsurprising to those who know the region or who have studied funerary monuments in other parts of the Greek and Roman worlds; others (e.g. the dominance of certain tomb types in certain regions) may be novel, useful and/or surprising, and certainly worth further analysis, but are not adequately supported by comparative frequencies (e.g. graphs) or cross-referencing to the discussion of the data itself. Sorely lacking are any summary distribution maps (e.g. by type or date), which might provide insights or support for Er Scarborough's discussions of the degree of integration of the region with the wider world (e.g. level of Romanization). There is only one map in the entire book (fig 1.1), whose scale is too large to get an idea of the location of individual monuments; ancient settlement names are shown but not the modern Turkish villages by which most monuments and their locations are referred to in the book.

Overall, the work suffers from a lack of clearly defined research questions or explanatory frameworks. It is therefore difficult to see how the materials presented contribute to a wider social history of the region; the monuments are merely passive illustrations of relative integration into larger political entities, e.g. the Roman world. Er Scarborough frequently bemoans the difficulty of assigning precise dates to rock-cut tombs, especially plain tombs where there are no artefacts or human remains (which form the vast majority). This is a well-known problem. But no suggestions of how this might be overcome or modelled in the future (e.g. macro- or micro-scopic examination of construction marks or statistical models of date uncertainty and spatial distribution) are considered.

The goal of this volume, though never stated explicitly, appears to have been to make the monuments of Cilicia and Isauria accessible to an international audience. In this regard it is at least broadly successful, even if many readers may, like this reviewer, be frustrated by the presentation and lack of wider context. It is obvious that an enormous amount of time and work has been put into the collection and rich illustration of material, for which there is no obvious predecessor. Specialists familiar with the landscape may well find it a very useful starting point to access literature, examine photographs of the monuments or as a launching point for further work, e.g., on the details of the monuments' spatial distribution, the potential for which is so far untapped.


1.   More information on the Göksu Archaeological Project can be found here BIAA Göksu Archaeological Project. For the data release of the Rough Cilician Survey Project see here Open Context Project Rough Cilicia.
2.   For the monument from the village Fet (Işıklı) with an inscription mentioning the stone cutter Kyrikos, son of Papias, see O. Doğanay, Isauria Bölgesi Kaya Mezarları ve Ölü Gömme Gelenekleri (Konya) p. 339 with fig. 119–120. For the English version see O. Doğanay, "Craftsmen working in the Isauria Region", in: Ç. Özkan Aygün (ed.) SOMA 2007, Proceedings of the XI Symposium on Mediterranean Archaeology, Istanbul Technical University 24–29 April 2007, BAR International Series, 2009, pp. 90–97.

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