Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Vyron Antoniadis, Knossos and the Near East: A Contextual Approach to Imports and Imitations in Early Iron Age Tombs. Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing, 2017. Pp. xii, 170 pp., 14 pp. of plates. ISBN 9781784916404. £30.00​.

Reviewed by Sarah C. Murray, University of Toronto (sc.murray@utoronto.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This book represents the lightly revised publication of the author's Ph.D. dissertation, completed at the Pompeu Fabra University in 2012.1 As the book's title indicates, the purpose of the study is to investigate the consumption of Near Eastern imports and their imitations in the Early Iron Age (EIA) cemeteries of Knossos. Specialists in the EIA of Crete will be aware that there exists a considerable body of evidence regarding imports from this period at Knossos specifically and on Crete in general.2 This work's original contribution to the topic is stated to encompass (a) an emphasis on the context of consumption, instead of what the author feels has been a scholarly conversation weighted too heavily towards the potential identity of the producers of crafts considered to be of eastern derivation, and (b) a new consideration of the relationship between imported objects and their local imitations in EIA mortuary contexts.

The book contains an introduction, four chapters of substance, a conclusion, and two appendices. The first three chapters serve to review literature, present data, and generally set the stage for Chapter 4, which contains the book's most significant and original analysis. Chapter 1 provides a brief theoretical and methodological framework for the study. Allotted only ten pages, the chapter makes cursory forays into a number of relatively knotty and venerable cruxes in archaeological research. Antoniadis reviews archaeological approaches to mortuary evidence, then discusses the issue of burial rites during the Bronze to Iron Age transition in Crete, specifically considering the cremation or inhumation of remains. In addition, he provides brief treatments of archaeological approaches to imports and the historiography of the Greek EIA. Several sections of this chapter might have been improved by consultation with a broader range of literature. For example, the citations regarding the appearance of cremation burials in the Aegean at the end of the Bronze Age rely heavily on general overviews by Snodgrass and Dickinson3 and the sources they cite, despite the recent appearance of several important publications on the subject.4 Likewise, citing only one, marginally relevant, source in the context of a discussion of EIA and Homeric gift exchange does not seem adequate considering the large volume of extant work on the topic.5 Chapter 2 presents a review of the evidence, in the form of an up-to-date description of the EIA mortuary remains excavated and published in the Knossos area. Chapter 3 comprises a catalogue of Knossian EIA tombs that contained imports or imitations of imports, organized by location.

Finally, in Chapter 4 Antoniadis sets out the results of his contextual analysis of the imported objects. The discussion is divided into three parts, proceeding from a close study of the finds themselves (the imports and their imitations), to the finds in relation to the spatial organization of the tombs and other grave goods, then to a "cluster analysis of all available evidence" (p. 91). In the first level of analysis, Antoniadis outlines the provenance of imported objects in the Knossian tombs, as well as the characteristics of objects that imitate imported items. Although imports found at Knossos can be traced to a variety of regions in the eastern and western Mediterranean, the majority are identified as Levantine, and Antoniadis suggests that most of these should be associated with Phoenician activity. In addition, Cypriot Black-on-Red pottery is abundant, and is in turn abundantly copied in the local ceramic repertoire. The author equates the presence of scarabs not with elite consumption or prestige but with practices associated with ritual beliefs, a finding that intersects with Arrington's recent analysis of faience and glass 'trinkets' at Lefkandi.6 A discussion of imported firedogs in mortuary contexts could have benefited from a fuller engagement with the extensive literature on these objects in prestige and economic networks in the wider EIA Aegean.7

Antoniadis's analysis is at its best and most original when he turns to the question of imitations of imports, specifically ceramic imports, in the mortuary record at Knossos. He distinguishes between types of pottery that were imported to Knossos and imitated by local potters, imported but never imitated, and never imported but apparently imitated (p. 100). Dividing up the evidence this way makes it clear that Cypriot Black-on-Red juglets were by far the most frequently imitated class of imported ceramic vessel among finds from EIA Knossian mortuary contexts. Such vessels are found most frequently in mortuary contexts on Cyprus and at Knossos. This leads Antoniadis to suggest (partly by analogy with vessels used to store and decant particular types of liquid in modern Greek tavernae) that the vessels were used to decant special liquids in funerary rituals, and that the use of these vessels may indicate a shared funerary practice among Knossians and Cypriots. The subsequent consideration of imports and imitations in the funerary landscape produces the surprising conclusion that imitations of imports and genuine imports appear in the same sorts of mortuary contexts, in terms of tomb architecture and quantity and abundance of finds.

The final part of Chapter 4—at only three pages (pp. 131–134)—is very brief, and presents the author's "cluster analysis" of tombs containing imports. Eight variables are assigned to each tomb, and these variables are used to generate a dendrogram that separates the tombs into four categories, though it is not made clear whether the author thinks these groupings are significant for our interpretation of the evidence presented in the rest of the chapter. The implications and methodology employed in this section could have used more explication.

In a concluding chapter, Antoniadis returns to his core question: how does a contextual study of the mortuary consumption of imports shed light on EIA Knossian society? His most important answer on this front is that Knossian elites did not only consume eastern imports because they were exotic or prestigious, but because they had a use for them, as attested by the local imitation and consumption of certain forms of imported ceramics. This conclusion is compelling and convincing, as far as it goes. One wonders, however, whether the material presented, which was limited to objects and contexts from one site, and the data aggregated from only a handful of existing publications8, might have been deployed just as effectively in an article-length study. This seems especially true given the relatively aggressive tightening and editing that the preparation of a study for publication in a peer-reviewed journal generally requires.

In addition, the state in which the manuscript has been published by Archaeopress is simply unacceptable by professional standards with regard to its clarity of expression, editing, and proofreading. The reader wading into the text rapidly finds herself adrift in a sea of typos, inelegant and/or incorrect English usage, incomplete or garbled sentences, and other blatant editorial infelicities. There are too many of these in the book, on average at least one per page, to make the production of an exhaustive list worthwhile or necessary. While it is usually possible to discern the meaning of the argument despite these errors, the extremely poor state of the text ultimately creates distractions from the argument, a poor impression in terms of professionalism, and an unfortunate erosion of the authority of the author's voice. The production of the book's images and graphics likewise could have benefited from a sterner editorial hand. In many cases, bar charts are used to "visualize" extremely small datasets (e.g., p. 53, Graphs 5–6, of only four data points), where a table or list could have done the job just as well. Color illustrations appear throughout, but the use of color could have been more thoughtfully deployed. For example, the maps showing clusters of tombs and import frequency use blue and green to differentiate tombs with varying numbers of imported objects, but in print the shades in question are hard to distinguish from one another without very careful scrutiny. In other cases, (e.g., the chronological chart, p. 25, Table 1) it is not clear that color adds to the illustration's effectiveness.

In sum, this book presents an interesting and original study on the consumption of material objects in EIA tombs at Knossos. The most important conclusion reached is that imitations of imported objects seem to have been held in similar symbolic and economic esteem to imported objects in mortuary contexts. The production quality leaves a great deal to be desired, but the book is nonetheless worth a read for anyone interested in EIA mortuary practice or the role of exotica in a complex social and political environment. The book will likewise serve as a useful resource for Ph.D. students and researchers looking for a convenient presentation of imported objects and imitations from mortuary contexts at EIA Knossos.


1.   The original thesis is available online at www.tdx.cat. It downloads automatically.
2.   A few relatively recent publications related to this topic include: Boardman, J. 2005. "The Knossos Tekke Jewelry Hoards." In Megalai Nesoi: Studi dedicati a Giovanni Rizza per il suo ottantesimo compleanno, edited by R. Patane, 163–166. Catania; Kotsonas, A. 1997. "Phoenician Presence in Early Iron Age Crete Reconsidered." In Actas del IV Congreso internacional de estudios fenicios y púnicos, edited by E. Aubet and M. Barthélemy, 1067–1076. Cádiz; Jones, D. 1993. "Phoenician Unguent Factories in Dark Age Greece: Social Approaches to Evaluating the Archaeological Evidence." OJA 12:293–303; Markoe, G., 1998. "The Phoenicians on Crete: Transit Trade and the Search for Ores." In Eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus-Dodecanese-Crete 16th-6th Centuries BC, edited by V. Karageorghis and N. Stampolidis, 233–240. Heraklion.
3.   Dickinson, O. 2006. The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age: Continuity and Change between the Twelfth and Eighth Centuries BC. London and New York; Snodgrass, A. [1971] 2000. The Dark Age of Greece. An Archaeological Survey of the Eleventh to the Eighth Centuries BC. Edinburgh.
4.   Relevant literature not cited by the author includes but is not limited to: Dakoronia, Ph., S. Deger-Jalkotzy, and S. Fabrizii-Reuer. 2000–2001. "Beisetzungen mit Leichenbrand aus der Felskammernekropole von Elateia-Alonaki, Griechenland." ArchAustr 84–5:137–53; Jung, R. 2007. "ΔΩΣ ΜΟΥ ΦΩΤΙΑ: Woher Kamen die Brandbestattungensriten der Spätbronzezeitlichen Ägäis?" In Between the Aegean and Baltic Seas: Prehistory across Borders, edited by I. Galanaki, H. Tomas, Y. Galanakis, and R. Laffineur, 215–230. Aegaeum 27. Liège; Lewartowski, K. 1998. "Cremation and the End of Mycenaean Culture." Światowit 41 (Fasc.A):135–145; Piteros, C. 2001. "Ταφές και τεφροδόχα αγγεία τύμβου της ΥΕΙΙΙΓ στο Ἀργος." In Κάυσεις στην Εποχή του Χαλκού και την Πρώιμη Εποχή Σιδήρου, edited by N. Stampolidis, 99–120. Athens.
5.   The author cites only the English translation of M. Aubet's Tiro y las colonias fenicias de occidente, first published in 1994.
6.   Arrington, N. 2016. "Talismanic Practice at Lefkandi: Trinkets, Burials, and Belief in the Early Iron Age." Cambridge Classical Journal 62:1–30.
7.   Extensive discussion of firedogs in EIA burials appears in Saltz's 1978 study of Geometric Greek pottery in the Eastern Mediterranean (Saltz, D. 1978. "Greek Geometric Pottery in the East." Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University) and Tandy's work on traders in EIA Greece (Tandy, D. 1997. Warriors into Traders. The Power of the Market in Early Greece. Berkeley, 155-65). The most comprehensive treatment of the topic is Haarer's dissertation on obeloi (Haarer, P. 2000. "Ὀβελοί and Iron in Archaic Greece." Ph.D. dissertation, Oxford University).
8.   All but 30 of the 160 objects catalogued in Appendix I come from two publications. ​

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