Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Jesko Fildhuth, Das Byzantinische Priene: Stadt und Umland. Archäologische Forschungen, 37 (Priene 5). Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2017. Pp. xiii, 266; 4 p. of plates. ISBN 9783954902408. €78,00.

Reviewed by Benjamin Anderson, Cornell University (bwa32@cornell.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Perched on the southern slopes of Mount Mykale and overlooking the delta plain of the Maeander River, Priene is an urban (re-)foundation of the fourth century BC. The late nineteenth-century excavations led by Theodor Wiegand revealed the regular grid that has become a textbook example of Hellenistic city planning. If the Roman and Turkish periods remain little studied, Jesko Fildhuth's volume provides a thorough account of Byzantine Priene (ca. 400-1300 AD), demonstrating the site's relevance to broader issues in the medieval archaeology of Anatolia.

The study is divided into three main sections, of which the first provides a comprehensive overview of the textual sources (including a substantial dossier regarding middle Byzantine land use), the second addresses the urban core, and the third treats the surrounding countryside. Fildhuth's equal attention to rural and urban landscapes is unique among monographic treatments of Byzantine cities.

The presentation of the city is based on fieldwork (including targeted excavation) conducted by the author. Public buildings include the sacred (alongside the synagogue and five churches already known, four churches are documented here for the first time) and the secular (including, in addition to agora and city walls, the "bishop's residence" adjacent to, and communicating with, the central church). The so-called "Byzantine castle" carved out of the agora is shown to be early Turkish. Domestic complexes, within and on top of the old insulae, receive a separate section ("weitere Baustrukturen im Stadtgebiet"), as do the two necropoleis. The acropolis is treated separately from the lower city; while the fortifications have been studied before, Fildhuth demonstrates that the interior was also densely built.

As the silting up of the delta plain hinders archaeological study, "Umland" means in practice the slopes of Mykale, accessed here both through autopsy and the extensive survey directed by Hans Lohmann.1 Sites are presented according to a mixed emic-etic typology, which includes farmsteads, settlements both unfortified (komai or choria) and fortified (kastra), defensive structures (kastra again, or phrouria), and sacral buildings (churches and monasteries). Of particular interest is the hypothetical reconstruction of the Byzantine road network, which leads into synthetic treatments of each of the three valleys to the west of Priene. These accounts, which are enriched by Fildhuth's sensitive and precise accounts of the physical topography, reward close reading.

On the basis of such diverse materials, Fildhuth divides the history of Byzantine Priene into three periods. In the first, which embraces the fifth through the seventh centuries, the construction of the bishop's residence creates a new city center, while an increase in the number of individual farmsteads indicates intensified agricultural production. In the second period, from the late seventh century to ca. 1100, Fildhuth detects a decline in the significance of the urban core, which he expresses sometimes in drastic terms (e.g., p. 147, "Die zweite Phase ist gekennzeichnet vom Abbruch der Nutzung aller Altbauten in der Innenstadt"), sometimes more moderately (e.g., at p. 87, continued use of the lower city cannot be ruled out). This is accompanied by the establishment of fortified settlements (especially the acropolis of Priene and the site known as Fındıklı Kale), abandonment of farmhouses, and construction of a "sacral infrastructure" in the countryside, with the monasteries assuming a significant role as landholders. The third period, which includes the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is characterized by the further development of this infrastructure, emergence of smaller unfortified settlements in the countryside, and resettlement of portions of the urban core.

The greatest strength of this volume, beyond provision of a reliable guide to all evidence relating to a single Byzantine city, is the lucid presentation of the rural settlement pattern in the middle Byzantine period. Of particular note is Fildhuth's reconstruction of a "Ringstrasse" linking the acropolis of Priene to the three monasteries that stand, at roughly equal elevations, above each of the three valleys to the west. The consistent placement is striking, especially as the monasteries may well have owned the agricultural lands below. "Von den Klöstern aus wären somit auch die Aktivitäten der Bauern kontrolliert worden, gleichzeitig hätten die Anlagen den monastichen Landbesitz markiert" (110). The topic could be explored further through comparison of the archaeological remains on Mykale with the textual evidence for medieval land use, which relates primarily to the delta plain.

Fildhuth's proposed periodization is so clear-cut as to invite push-back—here three potential ambiguities may be noted. First, the shift of the urban center from the agora to the bishop's residence. This requires dismissal of numismatic evidence for continued use of the prytaneion into the seventh century; Fildhuth simply assumes that its function must have changed (pp. 52, 53, 86). One might as easily argue for the emergence of two distinct centers, especially as the "Kranz" (145) of settlement that Fildhuth traces around the bishop's residence embraces the agora as well.

Second, the break in the settlement of the lower city. This rests in part on a general absence of evidence (e.g., at p. 64, "keine Hinweise auf eine Nutzung"), and in part on an assumption that absence of coins means absence of settlement (e.g., at p. 72)—whereby the latter circumstance might rather indicate a decline in monetization.2 Without a reliable chronology of the local coarse wares—a fundamental constraint on interpretation addressed in a footnote (pp. 6-7 fn. 44) —it seems wiser to withhold judgment on the early medieval occupation of the lower city.

Third, the dating of the fortified settlements on the acropolis of Priene and at Fındıklı Kale. Fildhuth notes ceramic evidence for fifth-century occupation of both sites, but relies on historical circumstances (Arab invasions) to postdate the establishment of concentrated settlements into the late seventh and eighth centuries (see p. 88 on the acropolis; and p. 98, on Fındıklı Kale: "Die frühbyzantinische Keramik weist nach den vorläufigen Ergebnissen des Surveys auf eine Nutzung vom 5. bis 7. Jh., doch ist aus historischen Gründen die Errichtung der befestigten Siedlung vor den arabischen Einfällen in Kleinasien nicht vorstellbar [!] und fällt somit frühestens in die zweite Hälfte des 7. Jhs..."). It is odd for an archaeologist to deny the ability of archaeological evidence to complicate a received historical narrative.3

Richly illustrated and well produced, this volume is a worthy contribution to the medieval archaeology of Anatolia. If the periodization that Fildhuth proposes is perhaps too rigid, his joint presentation of urban and rural developments is salutary and should stimulate further study. His book also contains at least one treasure buried in a footnote—the first Aksumite coin discovered in Asia Minor (p. 39, fn. 281).


1.   See now Hans Lohmann, Georg Kalaitzoglou, and Gundula Lüdorf, eds., Forschungen in der Mykale I,1: Survey in der Mykale (Dilek Daglan / Aydin) 2001-2009. Asia Minor Studien 77 (Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 2017). Fildhuth's interpretations of sites (e.g., at pp. 103, 119, 121, and 127) sometimes diverge from those of the investigators.
2.   Cécile Morrisson, "Coins," in Philipp Niewöhner, ed., The Archaeology of Byzantine Anatolia: From the End of Late Antiquity Until the Coming of the Turks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), here at 76.
3.   Equally peculiar is Fildhuth's use of the 500 cavalry of Πρίνη (Prine), mentioned in a tenth-century source, to date a long-gone set of walls to the south of the city mentioned in passing by Wiegand (pp. 65 and 87). This conjecture even finds its way onto the phase plan (Falttafel 2b). But Πρίνη may have been in Pontos: John F. Haldon, "Theory and Practice in 10th-Century Military Administration," Travaux et Mémoires 13 (2000): 201-352, here at 251-52, fn. 50.

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