Friday, March 29, 2019


Delphine Dixneuf (ed.), LRCW 5: La céramique commune, la céramique culinaire et les amphores de l'Antiquité tardive en Méditerranée / Late Roman Coarse Wares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean: Archaeology and Archaeometry. (2 vols.) Études alexandrines, 42-43​. Alexandria: Centre d'Études Alexandrines​, 2017. Pp. 1056. ISBN 9782111390294; 9782111390300. €80,00.

Reviewed by J. Theodore Peña​, University of California, Berkeley (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This publication presents the proceedings of the fifth triennial Late Roman Coarsewares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean conference, held in Alexandria, Egypt in April, 2014. These conferences—referred to by the organizers as LRCW—are intended to provide students of pottery in the late Roman world (understood as extending from the fourth to the seventh century CE) the opportunity to come together on a regular basis to present their research results and to discuss materials and methods. LRCW 1-4 were held in Barcelona in 2002, Aix-en-Provence in 2005, Pisa in 2008, and Thessaloniki in 2011. Proceedings for these appeared in the British Archaeological Reports International Series.1 LRCW 6 was held in Agrigento in May, 2017, and the proceedings publication is currently in production.2 (n.b.: The reviewer has modified slightly the table of contents as it appears at the end of this review, numbering the contributions so that he can refer to these in a convenient fashion. All numbers in square brackets that follow in the text refer to this numbering scheme.)

The work under review is a two-volume set (as are those for LRCW 2-4) produced as part of the Études alexandrines series of the Centre d'Études Alexandrines, which hosted the conference. It includes a brief introduction by the editor followed by 54 contributions in English (21), French (15), Italian (15), Spanish (2), and German (1), grouped by geographical region. The quality of editing and production is excellent throughout, with the judicious use of color images—for the most part for photomicrographs of ceramic thin sections. To be lamented are the lack of an abstract and keywords for the contributions and the absence of a concluding essay offering a synthesis of some kind, as was done for LRCW 2-4. Works cited in multiple contributions are grouped in a general bibliography that appears at the back of both volumes. Other works cited are listed at the end of the contribution. This is somewhat inconvenient, as the user does not know in which location to search for a reference and reproductions of individual contributions in most cases will not list all of the works cited in them.

The contributions report on programs of analysis involving pottery recovered at locales ranging from the coast of Galicia in the west to the west bank of the Euphrates in the east, and from Chersonesus in the north to Aswan in the south—thus from literally the length and breadth of the greater Mediterranean world. The number of contributions by the country or countries in which the site or sites at which the materials considered were recovered are as follows: Portugal (1), Spain (4), France (1), Italy (16), Tunisia (1), Libya (1), Croatia (1), Bulgaria (1), Romania (1), Ukraine (1), Greece (4), Turkey (1), Syria (2), Turkey and Egypt (1), and Egypt (13). Additionally, one contribution considers materials from a number of sites along the Lower Danube and Black Sea littoral, and one materials from several sites along both the Mediterranean and Black Sea littorals. The contributions vary in length from as few as eight to as many as 46 pages, with some of the shorter ones representing brief, preliminary reports and some of the longer offering detailed presentations of substantial sets of materials. The various installments of LRCW—which from LRCW 1 through LRCW 5 were deliberately located in venues that progressed across the Mediterranean from west to east— have tended to showcase studies that focus on the region in which the conference was held, and the large set of contributions concerning materials from Egypt is particularly worthy of note.

Probably the most widely appreciated value of pottery from the late Roman period is the opportunity that it presents to document the persistence/non-persistence of the systems for the distribution of craft goods and foodstuffs characteristic of the Roman world in specific locales and regions at more or less specific points in time. It is thus not surprising that the lion's share of the contributions—43—are concerned with the classification, quantification, dating, epigraphy, and/or compositional characterization of sets of materials from single consumption sites or sets of consumption sites within a particular region. Five contributions treat pottery production workshops and materials recovered at these [6, 26, 43, 48, 49], while one contribution discusses pottery from a shipwreck site that was being transported as cargo [28]. Four contributions focus in a substantial way on ceramic technology [17, 18, 52, 54], only one aims to make an original methodological contribution to pottery studies[2], and just three present close analyses of pottery assemblages aimed at the elucidation of issues such as vessel function and life history [36, 50, 53]. With regard to methodology, most quantitative studies employ sherd count and/or minimum number of vessels measures, with but one instance of the use of the estimated vessel equivalents measure [43]. Twelve studies present the results of the petrographic analysis of materials [3, 5, 7, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 26, 43, 44, 54]. In three cases this was undertaken in combination with X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis with a view to determining the crypto-/micro-crystalline components of the fabric [5, 18, 19] and in five cases in combination with X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis for the determination of fabric chemistry [5, 7, 18, 20, 43]. In one contribution xeroradiography is employed to evaluate forming technique[17], and in one study Raman analysis is utilized to determine slipping technique [18]. With but two exceptions [43, 54], all of these analyses were undertaken by just three laboratories, one in Barcelona, one in Genoa, and one in Naples, a fact that underscores the narrow base of archaeometric research in the study of late Roman pottery. A few contributions make passing reference to items in glass, pietra ollare (steatite), leather, or wood, though none aims to integrate pottery evidence with that for one or more other categories of artifact. One contribution considers (separately) both pottery and faunal remains [30]. It is interesting to note the analytical methods and approaches that are not represented in the volumes under review, as this provides some idea of the current state of the field of late-Roman pottery studies. To this point, none of the contributions involves the 3D scanning of vessels, aims to measure vessel capacity or identify residues of vessel content, considers vessel use alterations, or provides a link to an on-line dataset or research tool.3

Limitations of space preclude the consideration here of individual contributions, and readers can consult the table of contents presented at the end of this review to gain an idea of the specific nature of these. In the reviewer's estimation, the most important and/or interesting are the following: Fernández and Morais' presentation of an amphora production workshop at San Martiño de Breu, on the coast of Galicia, in northwestern Spain that was active from the late second to the fourth century CE [5]; Amorós Ruiz and collaborators' presentation of materials from a seventh-century CE extramural midden at Tolmo de Minateda, in Albacete [8]; Mukai and collaborators' presentation of materials from three warehouse contexts at Arles dating from the mid-seventh to the early eighth century CE [9]; Martucci and collaborators' technical study of color-coat wares dating from the third to the sixth century CE from the villa at Pollena Trocchia, on the north slope of Mount Vesuvius [18]; Santoriello and Siano's presentation of fourth- to early sixth-century CE materials from UT 0466, a surface site along the route of the Via Appia in the Province of Benevento [19]; Opaiț's survey of amphorae dating from the first to the seventh century CE from sites on the Lower Danube and Black Sea littoral [28]; Sazanov's morphological study of Late Roman 4 amphoras dating from the second to the seventh century CE from several sites on the Mediterranean and Black Sea littorals [31]; Haidar Vela's presentation of a seventh-century CE pottery assemblage from Halabiyye-Zenobia, on the west bank of the Euphrates, in Syria [40]; Vokaer's presentation of fifth- to seventh-century CE amphorae from Apamea [41]; Ballet's survey of the production and consumption of pottery in Egypt during the Roman and Byzantine periods [42]; and Wininger's presentation of a seventh-century CE deposit of pottery from a storeroom in a house at Syene [53].

LRCW 1-4 radically expanded the horizons of the study of late Roman pottery by providing a central venue for the discussion of research aims and methods and the presentation of research results. Collectively, the studies published in LRCW 5 do an admirable job of carrying this work forward, making a sizable and significant contribution to the body of empirical evidence available regarding the manufacture and distribution of pottery in the late Roman world.

Table of Contents

Volume 1
1. Delphine Dixneuf "Avant-propos" 11

Considérations générales et méthodologie
2. Stefano Costa "Shard weight. A new look at the numbers" 15
3. Josep Torres Costa, Alejandro Quevedo, Claudio Capelli, Xavier Aquilué "Inscriptions sur les amphores africaines tardives. Le cas des Keay 35" 25

La Méditerranée occidentale
4. José Carlos Quaresma "Quinta da Bolacha (Amadora, Lisbonne). La céramique de la villa (dernier tiers du iiie siècle au premier quart du vie siècle)" 43

5. Leandro Fantuzzi, Miguel Ángel Cau Ontiveros, Paul Reynolds "Archaeometric characterisation of Late Roman Amphora 1 imports in north-eastern Spain" 93
6. Adolfo Fernández Fernández, Rui Morais "Las ánforas tardoantiguas de San Martiño de Bueu (MR 7). El primer centro de producción de ánforas del noroeste de Hispania" 117
7. Jeronima Riutort, Miguel Ángel Cau Ontiveros, Leandro Fantuzzi, Jordi Roig "Late Roman common and cooking wares from the site of Can Gambús, Catalonia, Spain. Interim archaeometric results" 131
8. Victoria Amorós Ruiz, Sonia Gutiérrez Lloret, Gabriel Lara Vives "El basurero extramuros del Tolmo de Minateda. Un contexto cerámico del siglo VII" 149

9. Tomoo Mukai, Jean-Christophe Tréglia, Erwan Dantec, Marc Heijmans "Arles, enclos Saint-Césaire. La céramique d'un dépotoir urbain du Haut Moyen Âge. Milieu du viie -début du viiie siècle apr. J.-C." 171

10. Simonetta Menchelli "Late Roman coarse wares, cooking wares and amphorae. A survey of current research in Italy" 203
11. Elena Quiri "Anfore tardo romane nell'arco alpino occidentale (Piemonte, Italia)" 223
12. Elisa Panero "La valle della Sesia nella Tarda Antichità tra produzioni locali e importazioni ad ampio raggio" 239
13. Angela Deodato "Ceramica comune tardoromana nel territorio di Biella. Riflessioni sul servizio da cucina e da dispensa (Piemonte, Italia)" 259
14. Massimo Dadà, Fabio Fabiani, Antonio Fornaciari, Maria Cristina Mileti, Emanuela Paribeni, Claudia Rizzitelli "Un insediamento tardo-antico e alto-medievale nell'ager Lunensis. Gli scavi di Piazza Mercurio a Massa" 273
15. Simonetta Menchelli, Alberto Cafaro, Claudio Capelli, Stefano Genovesi, Paolo Sangriso "Vada Volaterrana (Vada, Livorno). Un contesto tardo-antico dalle Piccole Terme. Anfore e vasi comuni e da fuoco" 287
16. Paola Ventura, Elena Braidotti "Aquileia (UD). Le anfore tardoantiche dal pozzo di via dei Patriarchi" 313
17. Diana Dobreva, Anna Riccato, Claudio Capelli "Late Roman coarse ware at Aquileia, northern Italy. Between economic crisis and revival of tradition" 331
18. Caterina Serena Martucci, Chiara Germinario, Celestino Grifa, Girolamo Ferdinando De Simone, Alessio Langella, Piergiulio Cappelletti, Vincenzo Morra "Late Roman slipped or painted ware? Technology and chronology of some Campanian productions" 347
19. Alfonso Santoriello, Stefania Siano "Late Roman tableware and cooking ware from the Ancient Appia Landscapes Survey, Benevento, Italy" 363
20. Laëtitia Cavassa, Priscilla Munzi, Jean-Pierre Brun, Emmanuel Botte, Chiara Germinario, Celestino Grifa, Mariano Mercurio, Alessio Langella, Vincenzo Morra "Cumes. Le matériel tardo-antique découvert dans un puits. Entre données typologiques et analyses archéométriques" 385
21. Vittoria Carsana, Franca Del Vecchio "Le anfore di V secolo d.C. dai contesti di edifici prossimi al porto di Neapolis" 407
22. Rosa Conte, Vito Giannico, Daniela Palmisano, Mariangela Pignataro "Il contesto ceramico tardoantico del quartiere produttivo e residenziale di Egnazia (Fasano, Italia)" 419
23. Cristina Nervi "La ceramica africana di periodo vandalico in Sardegna" 439
24. Valentina Caminneci "Nuovi dati dall'Emporion tardo antico e bizantino di Agrigento (Sicilia, Italia)" 465
25. Patrizio Pensabene, Eleonora Maria Cirrone, Lourdes Girón Anguiozar "La Villa di Piazza Armerina (Enna, Sicilia). Dati preliminari sulle ceramiche tardoantiche dalle Terme Meridionali" 477

Tunisie & Libye
26. Jihen Nacef (avec une contribution de Claudio Capelli) "Moknine 2 (Tunisie). Nouvelles données sur un atelier de potier d'époque tardive en Byzacène" 491
27. Francesca Dell'Era "Leptis Magna, «Tempio flavio». Prime considerazioni sulle produzioni locali di ceramica da cucina africana" 517

28. Mladen Pešic´ Babuljaš "A shipwreck with a cargo of North African pottery and amphorae near Pakoštane, Croatia" 527
Abréviations 537
Bibliographie générale des volumes 1 et 2 541

Volume 2

Europe orientale et mer Noire
29. Andrei Opaiț "On the local production and imports of wine in the Pontic and Lower Danube regions (1st century BC to 7th century AD). An overview" 579
30. George Nuțu, Simina Stanc "Cooking ware and dietary reconstruction from two north Scythian sites. Aegyssus and Enisala Peștera" 613
31. Andrei Sazanov "Les amphores LRA 4. Problèmes de typologie et de chronologie" 629
32. Andrei Sazanov "Un ensemble de la fin du VIe siècle. Secteur nord de Chersonèse (Crimée)" 651
33. Petra Tušlová "Late Roman amphorae from a 6th century AD house on the Dodoparon site in south-eastern Bulgaria" 671
34. Piotr Dyczek "Amphorae from Late Roman structures on the site of the legionary barracks in Novae (Moesia Inferior)" 683

Méditerranée orientale

35. Gelly Fragou, Aris Tsaravopoulos "Late Roman amphorae from the settlement of Kyparissia, Messenia, Greece" 697
36. Stefano Costa "An archaeology of domestic life in Early Byzantine Gortyna. Stratigraphy, pots and contexts" 711
37. Jacopo Bonetto, Marianna Bressan, Denis Francisci, Stefania Mazzocchin, Eleni Schindler Kaudelka "Spoglio e riuso del teatro del Pythion di Gortyna tra 300 e 365 d.C. I contesti ceramici" 723
38. Jacopo Bonetto, Giovanna Falezza, Stefania Mazzocchin "La ceramica con ingobbio rosso dallo scavo del Teatro del Pythion a Gortyna (Creta)" 733

39. Bahadır Duman "A typo-chronological table of Late Roman amphorae from Lydian Tripolis" 743

40. Nairusz Haidar Vela "New insights from the 7th century ceramics in Halabiyye-Zenobia, Syria" 759
41. Agnès Vokaer "Late Roman amphorae from Apamea, Syria" 779

42. Pascale Ballet "État des recherches sur la production et la consommation des céramiques « communes » dans l'Égypte romaine et byzantine" 807
43. Ahmet Kaan Șenol, Erkan Alkaç "The rediscovery of an LR 1 workshop in Cilicia and the presence of LRA 1 in Alexandria in the light of new evidence" 831
44. Michel Bonifay, Claudio Capelli, Ahmet Kaan Șenol "Amphores africaines tardives à Alexandrie. Archéologie et archéométrie" 845
45. Archer Martin "Products of Aswan at Schedia, western Delta, Egypt" 859
46. Mohamed Kenawi, Cristina Mondin "Commerci in epoca tardo romana-bizantina a Kom al-Ahmer, vicino ad Alessandria (Egitto)" 869
47. Loïc Mazou "Nouvelles données sur les amphores d'Afrique vers la Cyrénaïque et l'Égypte. De la fin de l'époque romaine aux premiers temps de la conquête arabe" 881
48. Guy Lecuyot "Une production de vaisselle commune dans le Delta occidental aux environs du IIIe siècle apr. J.-C. Marmites et autres récipients de Tell el Fara'in/ Bouto" 901
49. Julie Marchand, Aude Simony "Nouvelles recherches sur le site de Kôm Abou Billou (Delta occidental). La céramique de la période byzantine et du début de l'époque islamique" 909
50. Roland-Pierre Gayraud, Jean-Christophe Tréglia "La céramique culinaire des niveaux omeyyades d'Istabl 'Antar - Fustat (642-750 apr. J.-C.)" 931
51. Delphine Dixneuf "Amphores et céramiques communes en Moyenne-Égypte au VIIe siècle apr. J.-C. L'exemple de Baouît" 947
52. Romain David "Karnak au début de la période byzantine. Caractérisation d'une production locale" 963
53. Jacqueline Wininger "Syene (Aswan). Ein geschlossenes Keramikensemble aus einem um 650 AD verstürzten Haus" 975
54. Lisa Peloschek, Denise Katzjäger "Archaeological and mineralogical profile of Aswan pink clay-pottery from Late Antique Elephantine (Upper Egypt)" 997
55. Clementina Caputo, Julie Marchand, Irene Soto "Pottery from the fourth century house of Serenos in Trimithis/Amheida (Dakhla oasis)" 1011
Abréviations 1027
Bibliographie générale des volumes 1 et 2 1031


1.   These are: J. M. Gurt i Esparraguera, J. Buxeda i Garrigós, M. A. Cau Ontiveros (eds.). LRCW 1. Late Roman coarse wares, cooking wares and amphorae in the Mediterranean: archaeology and archaeometry. British archaeological reports international series, 1340, 2005; Michel Bonifay, Jean-Christophe Tréglia (eds.). LRCW 2. Late Roman coarse wares, cooking wares and amphorae in the Mediterranean: archaeology and archaeometry (2 vols.). British archaeological reports international series 1662, 2007; Simonetta Menchelli, Sara Santoro, Marinella Pasquinucci, Gabriella Guiducci (eds.). LRCW 3. Late Roman coarse wares, cooking wares and amphorae in the Mediterranean: archaeology and archaeometry. Comparison between western and eastern Mediterranean (2 vols.). British archaeological reports international series 2185, 2010; Natalia Poulou-Papadimitrou, Eleni Nodarou, Vassilis Kilikoglou (eds.). LRCW 4. Late Roman coarse wares, cooking wares and amphorae in the Mediterranean: archaeology and archaeometry. The Mediterranean: a market without frontiers (2 vols.). British archaeological reports international series 2616, 2014.
2.   For LRCW 6 see
3., a website consisting of a virtual laboratory devoted to the study of coarse and cooking wares in the Late Antique Mediterranean announced in LRCW 4, has not gone live at the time of the writing of this review. ​

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Nathanael J. Andrade, The Journey of Christianity to India in Late Antiquity. Networks and the Movement of Culture. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xvii, 296. ISBN 9781108419123. £75.00.

Reviewed by Andrea Sterk, University of Minnesota (

Version at BMCR home site

Nathanael Andrade's new book makes an important contribution to scholarship examining diverse cultures, identities, and religious communities on and beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. Focusing on the transmission of culture across frontiers, he proposes to examine "how the religion of Christianity traveled from the Mediterranean to India" (ix). The book's three parts comprise six chapters, followed by two appendices. The Preface introduces some of the challenging concepts used throughout the book. Oddly, however, Andrade does not discuss the term "India," forcing readers to wait until Chapter 2 to tease out the meanings of this complicated term in the book's title.

The Introduction presents Andrade's methodology and main arguments. Drawing from recent trends in world history, especially the use of social network analysis, he sets out to reassess the Acts of Thomas and other "dubious literary sources" that scholars have mistakenly used to support the movement of early Christianity to India. He acknowledges diverse meanings of "conversion" before defining it as "the adoption of new social alignments, network affiliations, and practices in ways that facilitated the transfer of religious culture among bodies" (12). He also introduces the terms "evangelize" and "evangelizer," but without any comparable definitions or discussion. In contrast to the radical itinerant preachers represented in the literature, Andrade affirms that evangelizers "followed well-laid social pathways blazed by socio-commercial networks" to conduct "evangelizing efforts at their residential settlements" (15). He claims his approach is the reverse of most previous scholarship: "socio-commercial networks should provide the context for the Acts of Thomas and problematic literary narratives, not vice versa" (21). Social networks, he argues, were key to Christianity's travels from the Mediterranean world throughout Afro-Eurasia in Late Antiquity.

Part I, "The Acts of Thomas," consists of one chapter focusing on this literary text that has been foundational for assumptions about Christianity in India from Late Antiquity to the present. Andrade first discusses the complexity of the text, the identity of the protagonist, Judas Thomas, its translation into different languages, and its adaptation by diverse Christian communities who aligned the text with their particular theological visions. His very brief outline of its content focuses on Acts I and II, which introduce Judas Thomas, the Indian merchant Habban to whom Jesus sells him, and the beginning of the apostle's journey and converting activity in India. He also describes the layering of the text, for example, the insertion of the influential yet controversial Hymn of the Pearl, commonly believed to have been added by Manichaeans; yet he says nothing about the Hymn's content until p.193. He then discusses the Acts' integration of themes from the gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and ancient novels as well as Manichaean and Zoroastrian traditions. In this regard he cites Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint Laurent's recent work, Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches (Berkeley, 2015). Andrade's scattered summaries of the Acts of Thomas would have benefitted from the model of clarity with which Saint-Laurent presents a concise overview of the narrative, Act by Act, before addressing its complicated redaction history.

Compounding the confusion in Chapter 1, Andrade refers to two traditions of the Acts of Thomas as the "Parthian" and the "Indian" Acts, phrases he repeats throughout the book with no clear explanation of which Acts belong in which category. He first suggests that a "tradition" (paradosis) regarding Thomas's evangelization of Parthia, referred to by Origen, was "most probably" not an oral tradition but a text circulating under anonymous authorship. By the next page this tradition has become "the text celebrating Thomas's Parthian ministry" or simply "this Parthian Acts of Thomas" (51-52). Later in Chapters 1 and 4 Andrade refers to "the lost Parthian Acts of Thomas" (59, 162), not merely a "tradition" known to third- and fourth-century authors but a definitive text, now lost. He reiterates his main point in the chapter's conclusion: while the Acts of Thomas shaped late antique beliefs about Thomas's evangelization of Parthia or India, its narrative has no historical validity regarding the arrival of early Christianity in India.

Part II, "Christianity, Networks, and the Red Sea," brings us to Andrade's main interests and the heart of the book, namely the role of trade networks in transmitting culture. Chapter 2 examines the many "Indias" that appear in late antique sources. Ecclesiastical historians narrate the travels of diverse charismatic figures credited with evangelizing places called "India": the second-century Alexandrian Pantaenus; Theophilus "the Indian," sent by Emperor Constantius to build churches for Roman merchants in south Arabia; and Frumentius, who evangelized "inner" or "farther India" and was ordained bishop of Aksum. While classical writers distinguished between east Africa, South Arabia, and the Indian subcontinent with some precision, later Romans increasingly used the term "Indian" for "any population that inhabited regions south of Egypt" or whose merchants engaged in Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade (73-74). Ecclesiastical historians provide no reliable evidence for the movement of Christianity to India, Andrade summarizes, but rather describe the putative evangelization of areas in east Africa and Arabia.

Chapter 3 traces the Roman Egyptian socio-commercial network across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean from the first century BCE to the fourth century CE, emphasizing Alexandria's importance as a hub in Indo-Mediterranean trade. Andrade draws from diverse epigraphic, numismatic, and archaeological evidence that coincides with contemporary literary texts and papyri, for example, the "Muziris papyrus," a fragmentary second-century document illuminating social relations involved in transporting a ship's cargo between Alexandria and the Red Sea. Evidence of trans-imperial commerce and diplomatic exchanges, bolstered by the Acts of Thomas and other traditions of apostolic travel, strengthened the premise that Christianity had been transported to India before the fourth century. However, Andrade quickly dismisses such assumptions, because Christian culture did not become established beyond Alexandria until at least the late third century; meanwhile the Roman Egyptian network experienced a hiatus in commercial activity that disrupted direct contact with India for centuries. When the network revived in the fourth century, he explains, Alexandrian churchmen like Athanasius sought to use it for their own purposes. Yet ecclesiastical activity was "not the primary motor" for Christianity's anchorage beyond Egypt. Rather, the Roman Egyptian network transmitted Christian culture to Aksumite Ethiopia, Arabia, and other parts of the Red Sea—"the 'Indias' whose evangelization the late antique ecclesiastical historians narrated" (130-131).

Part III shifts focus to the Middle East, where other traditions about Thomas's travels emerged. Chapter 4 surveys evidence of Christianity's movement into Sasanian Persia. Unfortunately, the absence of maps or explanatory information to help readers navigate such locations as Upper Mesopotamia, the Parthian lowlands, Sasanian highlands, the Iranian plateau, Khuzistan, lowland Iraq, and the Roman Levant will leave even the most conscientious non-specialist bewildered. Late antique chronicles and hagiographies describe Christianity's movement through lowland "Parthian/Sasanian territory" to the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, and India, connecting this movement with first-century itinerant apostles and linking their missionary success with merchants and trade. Yet Andrade emphasizes the dubious reliability of these accounts which, like the Acts of Thomas, "bear the hallmarks of contrived literary elements that circulated widely in Late Antiquity" (148). Though sources show that diverse Christian communities populated Parthian territory by around 200 CE, we have no reliable evidence of such communities in the Iranian plateau or central Asia before 350. The "culture of Christianity" was transported to those regions only in the later fourth century. Chapter 5 traces Levantine socio-commercial networks into Central Asia. In an effort to assess "social connectivity," Andrade devotes much of this chapter to the alleged commercial activity of the Roman Syrian merchant Maes Titianos. Reproducing much of his earlier article (164n1), he demonstrates that Maes likely did not travel as far as the Iranian plateau, much less send an embassy to the farthest reaches of Asia, as many have assumed. Since this early second-century merchant was in no way connected with Christianity or the transmission of Christian culture to India, it seems excessive to spend 30 pages analyzing his travels. More valuable in Chapters 4 and 5 is Andrade's discussion of Manichaeism and comparison with the slower spread of Christianity, which followed the same pathways but "had a longer gestation period" (202).

Chapter 6 returns to the Acts of Thomas and its impact, such that late antique Christians from Mediterranean and Upper Mesopotamian regions mistakenly came to believe their co-religionists lived in India. Andrade ends by explaining how the lowland Sasanian socio-commercial network finally transported and anchored Christianity in south Indian ports; but this did not occur until the fifth century, aided by the organization of the Church of the East. Summarizing the chapter and one of the book's main arguments, he concludes that the Acts functioned as "an article of Christian culture," and that late antique Christians "created a historical experience of Christianity in India even before Christianity had arrived and found anchorage there" (231).

This is a very learned monograph. To support his thesis about the transmission of culture, Andrade incorporates an impressive breadth of sources, both textual and material, from Greek papyri to Chinese histories and Tamil poems. He is at his best when tracking the development and disruption of socio-commercial networks that connected various regions of the ancient Afro-Eurasian world system. He shows how these networks cohered and created pathways by which religious cultures traveled, and how they facilitated the spread of late antique literature about Christianity's movement. Specifically, they carried "invented narratives" of Thomas's apostolic travels that shaped the way Christians viewed the spread of their religion, and eventually how Christians in India understood their Christian past.

Unfortunately, the book is very confusing, assuming a high level of geographical, historical, and literary knowledge of the late antique Near East. Andrade introduces important people, places, works, and concepts without explanation. For example, the first mention of Parthia occurs in connection with the "Parthian Acts" (51), but nowhere does he explain that "Parthian" and "Sasanian" refer to subsequent Persian dynasties, or that their empires encompassed largely the same territory. The book's three maps do not include many of the regions or kingdoms he mentions. Meroitic, Aksumite, and Nubian Ethiopia are discussed in connection with the Roman Egyptian network, but Andrade indicates neither their location nor their historical relationship; and neither Meroë nor Meroitic Ethiopia appears in the index. Other editing deficiencies include an amusing typo, "martial intercourse" (35), syntactical errors (Mani's religious "cultural" rather than "culture") (206), and excessive repetition.

Andrade's approach and analysis are also problematic. He draws from the methods and terminology of social network analysis—networks, anchor points, circulation society, etc.—but in the absence of adequate maps, charts, a glossary, or clear explanations of terms, his dense prose tends to complicate rather than clarify. More vexing is his treatment of Christianity. Andrade speaks repeatedly of networks "transporting Christianity" or "carrying the culture of Christianity" to ports in the Red Sea, south Arabia, and Central Asia—if not to India. Yet he barely acknowledges different "strands" of Christianity and says almost nothing about what constituted "Christian culture." Nor does he discuss the specific personnel involved in its transmission, referring only vaguely to the "bodies [who] carried Christian culture…and anchored it in expatriate residential settlements" (205). Despite two appendices with the beginning of the Syriac and Greek Acts of Thomas, Andrade offers no substantial analysis of the role of languages, liturgies, or translation in transmitting and embedding Christianity in "residential communities." He occasionally mentions preaching or the "missionary activities" of evangelists, but the nature of such activity is nowhere discussed.

For specialists interested in late antique trade networks and the geographical "movement of culture" indicated by its subtitle, this book has a great deal to offer. Scholars of late antique religion, particularly those attracted by its title, may be disappointed. This is not primarily a book about "the journey of Christianity to India" but rather about the socio- commercial networks that carried an ill-defined "Christian culture" from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean worlds, and Central Asia. It is a fascinating study, but not what most readers would expect from the book's title.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019


David W. J. Gill, Winifred Lamb: Aegean Prehistorian and Museum Curator. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2018. Pp. vi, 276. ISBN 9781784918798. £30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Natalia Vogeikoff Brogan, American School of Classical Studies at Athens (

Version at BMCR home site

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David Gill's long-awaited biography of pioneer British archaeologist Winifred Lamb (1894-1963) is finally out. It is the product of thorough and tireless research in the archives of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the British School of Athens (BSA), and the Lamb family archive; Gill also draws on reminiscences of people who had known Lamb personally. Gill's interest in Lamb dates from the time he was responsible for the Greek and Roman collections at the Fitzwilliam and developed an interest in the curatorial history of the collection. As Gill mentions in the acknowledgements, many of the book's themes have already appeared in other publications.

The volume is divided into eleven chapters, and an introduction where Gill spells out why Lamb deserved a biography: first, because she had a long and distinguished academic career both as a museum curator and as a field archaeologist; second, because she was involved with British archaeological initiatives through her association with the BSA and the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara; third, because her life and career intersected with those of many important men and women in the field of Classics and archaeology; and last, but not least, because she broke ground both by directing excavations in Greece and Turkey at a time when this privilege was reserved only for men and by holding an influential curatorial position in a British museum.

Chapter One, the result of thorough genealogical research, focuses on the origins of Lamb's family which offered an affluent environment with political connections and was supportive of women's education. She was also raised as a Roman Catholic and, although there are very few manifestations of religious expression in her diaries, it explains her decision to finance the construction of a Catholic church late in her life. In 1913, just before the outbreak of WW I, Lamb was admitted to Newnham College at Cambridge, the school that both Lamb's mother, and Jane Harrison, had attended.

Chapter Two explores Lamb's years at Cambridge, the people who influenced her academic thought, and the friendships she made. Because of war, these were carefree years; for Lamb they were marred by family casualties. In addition to offering relief to the wounded, Lamb did not hesitate to voice concerns about conscription, defending the conscientious objectors on several occasions. For her political beliefs, she was excluded from the classes of William Ridgeway, who considered her stance unpatriotic. Gill traces her future interest in iconographic studies back to the classes she took with Arthur Bernard Cook. The person, however, who must have influenced Lamb more than any other in developing an interest in Greek figured pottery was John Beazley, with whom she worked closely in what was known as Room 40 of Naval Intelligence (1917-1918).

In Chapter Three, Gill explores Lamb's service at Naval Intelligence where, in addition to Beazley, she met several other archaeologists, among them Richard Dawkins, John Myres, and Alan Wace; it was also at this time that she became friends with Sydney Cockerell, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Cockerell would invite Lamb to become the Honorary Keeper of the museum in 1920.

Chapter Four is devoted to Lamb's year in Athens as a student at the BSA in 1920-1921, her travels throughout Greece, and her participation in the excavations at Mycenae, directed by Wace. There, excavating side by side with Carl W. Blegen and Axel Boethius, she learned archaeological methodology. Until then it was rare for women to participate in fieldwork. Gill hints that she may have been allowed to do so because her family contributed financially to the dig. Even so, the fact is that she inspired confidence in Wace. In this chapter Gill also briefly introduces the reader to the intellectual war that had broken out around this time between "islanders," such as Arthur Evans, and "mainlanders," such as Wace and Blegen, over the supremacy of mainland Greece in the Late Bronze Age. Lamb's positive experience at Mycenae led to a lifelong interest in Aegean prehistory.

In the fifth chapter, Gill focuses on the history of the formation of the Classical collections at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Cockerell's role in creating the position of the Honorary Keeper. Lamb, as soon as she was invited to fill that position, took it upon herself to create a prehistoric gallery and to display the collection of Cypriot antiquities. Gill explains at length the interest at Cambridge in prehistory, first through the influence of William Ridgeway, whose pupils included Alan Wace, and second through the fieldwork of the BSA on Crete, Melos, Thessaly, and Macedonia during the first two decades of the 20th century. With the opening of the Mycenae excavations in 1920 there was one more reason for Lamb to concentrate on the prehistoric gallery, which she embellished with many new cases. For support she enlisted many subscribers, which suggests that her ability to attract donors was one of the reasons she was offered the Honorary Keepership. Gill discusses several of Lamb's new acquisitions in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Fitzwilliam Goddess (1926), which she later came to regret.

In Chapter Six we find Lamb digging for two more seasons at Mycenae, co-signing excavation reports with Wace, and giving lectures about Mycenaean architecture when in England. However, the termination of Wace's directorship at the BSA in 1923 would bring an end to the Mycenae excavation. Gill attributes the end of Wace's term to his antagonism with Evans, although in a recent article Yannis Galanakis argues, based on his study of the Wace archive, that this is a false premise.1 Wace's departure coincided with a change of focus at the BSA. For the next two decades or so the School would direct its energy and resources to the excavation of Archaic and Classical sites, particularly Sparta. After one season at Sparta (1924), Lamb, a committed prehistorian by now, joined Walter Abel Heurtley's dig at Vardaroftsa (Axiohori) near Kilkis (1925). To Gill, her experience in Macedonia prepared Lamb for her later work on Lesvos and at Kusura, as she was looking for links between Macedonia, the northern Aegean, and western Anatolia. After a brief search of potential dig sites in Epirus and Aitolia (1928), Lamb decided to start her own excavation on the island of Lesvos.

In Chapter Seven Gill returns to the Fitzwilliam Museum with a detailed account of the development of its Classical collections based on Lamb's scholarly interests, as well as her goal to fill the gaps in the collections. For example, her work on Classical sites such as Sparta (1924) and later Chios (1934) coincided with her interest in building the bronze collections of the museum. Following Beazley's publication of the Greek vases at the Ashmolean, Lamb published the pottery from the collections of the Fitzwilliam in two highly praised fascicules of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (1930, 1936). Gill's review of her scholarship in the 1920s and 1930s shows the extent of Lamb's knowledge and expertise.

Chapter Eight focuses on Lamb's excavations on the island of Lesvos. Having acquired field experience at Mycenae, Sparta, and Macedonia, and having become independently wealthy after her father's death (1925), Lamb felt ready to direct her own excavation. Seeking connections between Greece and Anatolia, Lamb chose the island of Lesvos in the northern Aegean. From 1929 until 1932 she and Richard W. Hutchinson dug the site of Thermi, where she discovered an Early Bronze Age settlement contemporary to that of Troy I. In addition to the importance of her finds, Lamb acquired a reputation for being a meticulous excavator by paying attention to the stratigraphy, as well as collecting and analyzing organic and inorganic remains. Her final publication in 1936 was praised by several reviewers including Gordon V. Childe, Alan Wace, and George Mylonas. While digging at Thermi, Lamb also sank trenches at Antissa (1931-1933) to explore the post-Mycenaean and Early Iron Age occupation of the island. Lamb personally funded both excavations since she could not get the formal support of the BSA which was then funding Humphrey Payne's excavations at Perachora and Heurtley's new project on Homeric Ithaca.

Between 1932 and 1935 Lamb made exploratory trips in Turkey in search of a new site. The subject of Chapter Nine is Lamb's excavations at the site of Kusura, near Afyon Karahisar, which was situated at one of the three major routes connecting the Aegean with Anatolia. Looking for parallels with Thermi and Troy I, Lamb dug there for two seasons (1936-1937), discovering a town and a cemetery spanning three periods from the Early to the Late Bronze Age. Again the importance of Lamb's excavations in understanding the links between the Aegean and western Anatolia was duly recognized by her peers.

WW II put an end to her fieldwork in Anatolia. The last two chapters relate Lamb's life during WW II and after. As she had done in WW I, she made her knowledge and expertise available to her country. From 1942 until 1946 Lamb worked in the Near Eastern department of the BBC, preparing intelligence reports on Axis propaganda in Turkey. Unfortunately, she was injured by a German rocket during the last days of the war. Although she eventually recovered, the incident had lasting effects, which caused her not to undertake new fieldwork. In the following years she would direct her energy towards the establishment of the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara and continued writing about the connections between Aegean and Anatolia, all while also taking care of the collections at the Fitzwilliam. Nevertheless, after WWII she tried to resign from the Keepership three times; her resignation was finally accepted in 1957, after 39 years of service. Gill concludes Lamb's biography by reviewing her role as a benefactor of the Fitzwilliam, and her legacy as a curator, scholar, and a pioneering woman archaeologist.

Gill has produced a solid biography about one of the most important women in the history of British archaeology in Greece and Turkey during the first half of the 20th century. Lamb's curatorial work at the Fitzwilliam can only be compared with that of Gisela Richter at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, while her fieldwork is on par with that of Hetty Goldman with whom she shared many similarities. They both came from privileged backgrounds and used their personal wealth to finance their own excavations at a time when neither the BSA nor the American School of Classical Studies at Athens would appoint women as directors of field projects. Gill is also good at following Lamb's intellectual development and the respect she acquired from her academic colleagues, not only because of the work she did in the field and at the Fitzwilliam, but also because of her publications and public presentations. The lack of a seamless narrative, however, makes it difficult to read Lamb's biography from cover to cover. The fact that some of the book's chapters have appeared before creates a degree of repetition and disrupts the flow. The book would also have benefitted from a careful editing (e.g., use of adverb "formerly," instead of "formally," pp. 115 and 215). Another serious flaw in this biography is the lack of photos. As a reader I had a hard time visualizing Lamb and her work, although she was an accomplished photographer and there are excellent photos of her excavations in the BSA Archives. Finally, the reader is left to wonder about Lamb's personal life and what else she did besides being an "Aegean prehistorian and museum curator." Archaeologists do not live in a vacuum: friendships, lovers, and family relationships shape people's lives and careers.

Despite some minor flaws, the result is a well-researched book which is destined to become a reference work for anyone studying the development of Classical studies at one of England's premier universities or the history of British archaeology in the eastern Mediterranean.


1.   Galanakis, Y. 2015. " 'Islanders vs. Mainlanders,' 'The Mycenae Wars,' and other short stories: an archival visit to an old debate," in Carl W. Blegen: personal & archaeological narratives, N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, J. L. Davis, V. Florou (eds.), Atlanta, pp. 99-120.

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Diederik Burgersdijk, Alan J. Ross (ed.), Imagining Emperors in the Later Roman Empire. Cultural interactions in the Mediterranean, Volume 1. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. xi, 353. ISBN 9789004370890. €129,00.

Reviewed by Muriel Moser, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Imagining Emperors in the Later Roman Empire is a fine collection of expert discussions on imperial representation in late antiquity. Following a general introduction, it assembles fourteen case studies of the construction of imperial figures in late-antique texts (panegyrics and historiography, but also law and papyri), coinage, and inscriptions, covering emperors from Decius in the third century to Stilicho's consulate in AD 400. As the editors point out in their introduction, the volume does not seek to explain the nature or construction of imperial legitimacy.1 Rather, in tune with the 'representational turn', its contributions investigate how late-antique imperial figures were represented in different media during their lifetime and thereafter, and why. In addition to the time-span under consideration, which is larger than usual, the volume also attractively examines some less popular imperial figures of the long fourth century AD, some of whom were branded 'tyrants,' i.e. illegitimate, after their death, including Decius, Valerian, Maximian, Maxentius, Constantine's sons Crispus and Constans, and Jovian. They are discussed alongside Diocletian, Constantine, Constantius II, Julian, Valentinian, Gratian, Theodosius I, and Stilicho.

The papers can be subdivided into three thematic groups. Four contributions illuminate Tetrarchic imperial representation. Following Jürgen K. Zangenberg's discussion of Lactantius' presentation of Diocletian and his fellow emperors, Alessandro Maranesi's paper canvasses panegyrics and coinage to trace the establishment of Maximian's image in pagan sources and its destruction in Lactantius and Constantinian material. His contribution highlights the influence of local interests on the Rhine border in Trier on the construction of Maximian as defender of Rome and defeater of barbarians. In a similar vein, Catherine Ware's comparison of the presentation of Constantine in Pan. Lat. VII (6) and in Pan. Lat. VI (7) contextualizes the latter within both Constantine's political agenda in 310 and the expectations of his audience in Gaul. With reference to local resonances (or the lack thereof), Ware is able to explain why so little attention is given to Constantine's fictive descent from Claudius II, while the Augustan image of Constantine and the emphasis on Apollo rather than Sol is so carefully constructed in this speech. Raphael G.R. Hunsucker discusses the construction of the image of Maxentius as founder of Rome and contrasts it with the ktistic traditions of Maximian and Constantine. His discussion of the importance of Rome in Maximian's imperial representation and his careful reading of a key inscription in Rome (CIL VI 33856a = ILS 8935) are particularly noteworthy.2

Then follows a group of five papers that look at the sons and successors of Constantine. Diederik Burgersdijk traces the image of Crispus before his damnatio memoriae in 326 and admits that hardly any individual character traits can be extracted from the sources. George Woudhuysen's eloquent paper looks at Constans' image in legal and literary sources (including Libanius). Woudhuysen identifies Firmicus Maternus' De errore profanarum religionum as a panegyrical text written in justification of Constans' laws against pagan cults and also observes the emphasis on dynastic descent in his imperial legislation.3 He convincingly concludes that the negative image of Constans is largely due to Magnentian propaganda, yet there remains the question of why Magnentius' short reign was able to have such a persistent effect on Constans' image. Another understudied emperor receives attention in Jan Willem Drijvers's discussion of Jovian's image. Drawing on a wide range of sources – inscriptions, coinage, and legislation as well as literary evidence – Drijvers reconstructs an emperor who was keen to present himself as a new Constantine. This is explicit in the Syriac Julian Romance, which is discussed in some detail. Alan J. Ross's close reading of Julian's Oration 1 is another key contribution to this volume. Ross is interested in Julian's selection of his material for the speech and demonstrates that Julian uses an earlier panegyric by Libanius as a springboard to construct his image of Constantius II. He concludes that the emphasis on Constantius' eastern military achievements are to be explained by Julian's wish to present his cousin as a liberator of the West, and himself as his powerful aide in Gaul. The fifth contribution is María Pilar García Ruiz's investigation of the shifts in Julian's image on coinage, which is illustrated by nine color images of high quality.

Finally, there are five papers on emperors from earlier or later periods. Daniël den Hengst offers a close reading of three crucial passages in Ammianus (Amm. 29.1-4, 30.5, 30.9), which highlight the eclectic image Ammianus constructs of Valentinian I. In his expert discussion, he investigates several themes of Ammianus' image of Valentinian (anger and ruthlessness, dispensation of justice, fiscal and religious policy, education), and shows that the presentation is often contradictory, and also how Ammianus repeatedly introduces scapegoats to exculpate Valentinian's behavior. To Den Hengst, this is Ammianus' attempt to provide readers with a range of impressions from which they could form their own image of the emperor. Note also that Den Hengst argues that allusion is made to Valentinian's passive knowledge of Greek and his active knowledge of Pannonian. Bruce Gibson's case-study of Ausonius' Speech of Thanks to Gratian delivered in Trier traces its indebtedness to Pliny's panegyric for Trajan, in particular in its use of the notion optimus (imperator). Like Ross, Gibson thus investigates the relationship between the construction of imperial images in two panegyrics and the inherent competition (between the emperors and between the panegyrists) this implies. Further, he attractively suggests that the emphasis on Gratian's actions in the private sphere (including the quotation of letters) allows Ausonius to elaborate on his close ties to Gratian and on the emperor's special relationship to God, and so to construct a positive image of the emperor in a period of political turmoil. Claudian's construction of Stilicho in his Liber Tertius De consulatu Stilichonis is the topic of Álvaro Sánchez-Ostiz's paper. He analyzes the Roman (Republican) traditions and other literary topoi, such as traditional depictions of barbarian, employed in the speech and suggests that the detailed description of the beast hunt aimed to underline the general's liberality.

Roger Rees looks into the recurring references to 'freedom of speech' (libertas dicendi) in two Latin speeches addressed to Theodosius I in 388-389, Ambrose's Letter 74 and Pacatus' panegyric (Pan. Lat. 11 (12)). It is interesting that they use the term libertas dicendi to describe freedom of speech, a formulation that is uncommon in Classical Latin, where one would expect licentia. Also, their idea of free speech is not part of the parrhésia-discourse of Greek philosophers such as Themistius (e.g. in Or. 15, 190a-b, which is also analyzed by Rees). Rather, Ambrose uses it to construct episcopal religious and spiritual authority (over the emperor), while to Pacatus the possibility of speaking freely under Theodosius reveals that he was not a tyrant like his predecessor Maximus. In both, libertas dicendi is contrasted with silence that is dangerous (periculum silentii) because it characterizes, or leads to, tyrannical government. Ambrose and Pacatus thus construct freedom of speech as a key element of the imperial ideology of Theodosius, whose role is relegated to that of an audience.

In closing, I consider the first paper of the collection, David Potter's masterly investigation of the depiction of Decius and Valerian from the third to the fifth century. Potter begins by examining the reflections of their religious and military policies in contemporary sources, including in papyri (libelli) and inscriptions, as well as in the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle and the writings of Dexippus. In later sources, Decius and Valerian are increasingly discussed in the context of Romano-Persian relations; in particular Valerian's fate at the hands of the Persians sparks the imagination of various authors. His capture is reinterpreted as evidence for Persian treachery, for the wrath and power of God (by Constantine), and for his degenerate lifestyle; in turn, Decius' death is resettled in Gothic (or other barbarian) territory, and his fight is seen as heroic. Together, the study of their changing reflections in the sources reveals how later generations dealt with Roman military defeats and how reality is progressively dissolved into stereotypes in the process.

A particular strength of the collection is its interest in the relation between sources, and in particular between panegyrics and historiography. Several papers (Maranesi, Rees, Woudhuysen, Zangenberg) show how imperial images constructed in panegyrics can influence the representation of emperors in historiography; others trace the influence of panegyrics on later laudatory speeches (Gibson, Ross, Ware), yet others the impact of Classical texts (Ennius, Vergil) on late-antique texts (Gibson, Hunsucker, Rees, Ware), while two papers underline how two authors endow Classical terminology with new meanings (pestifer in Lactantius, Maranesi) or create new terminology to denote a new concept (libertas dicendi instead of licentia in Ambrose, Rees). One examines the interplay between words and coinage (García Ruiz). Another strong point is the contributors' refusal to take their sources at face value: each imperial image analyzed is being understood as one possible presentation or interpretation of the respective emperor rather than as a reliable source for his characterization. The subjectivity of the source material is thus constantly underlined. Also, many papers address the question of the origin of certain images (the emperor himself, or the panegyrists?), and some furnish insightful suggestions on the possible motivations behind these images. Altogether, the volume powerfully demonstrates that imperial images were constantly being adapted to (new) needs by later emperors or authors, that even within the span of an emperor's reign his image could be constructed in very different ways, and that earlier images (of other emperors or of the same one) were consciously recycled in the process.4

The volume comes without a general conclusion. Some patterns can nonetheless be observed. For instance, all papers are concerned with some sort of competition. Some discuss competing images of individual emperors in different texts and media. Others trace how 'their' emperors compete with other (earlier or future) emperors; note that Augustus, Trajan, and Constantine occur repeatedly as models. And yet others deal with the competition between the non-imperial 'constructors' of imperial images, i.e. the authors of literary depictions of emperors, concerning in particular, but not only, the competition between Christian and pagan sources. What this means is that imperial representation, whether literary or material, should never be conceived as self-contained, but always as relational. This holds in particular for the late-antique period with its manifold (religious and other) audiences. A number of contributions then highlight how those involved in the construction of imperial images were aware of this challenge, and responded accordingly or even used it to their advantage.5

In sum, this is a highly successful collection of papers which furnishes many new insights into the construction and modification of late-antique imperial images. Its discussions reveal that imperial images were subjective, dynamic, and kaleidoscopic. Its particular strength lies in the attention paid to several 'understudied' imperial figures, as well as in the many contributions that discuss the cross-fertilization of texts, in particular panegyric and historiography. Instead of a general bibliography, each chapter comes with its own list of sources cited. However, there is an index locorum and an index nominum. To conclude, any scholar of the representation of late Roman emperorship and its reflections in literary and material sources will find that Imagining Emperors is a highly instructive, enlightening, and enjoyable read.

Authors and titles

Introduction – Diederik Burgersdijk, Alan J. Ross
1 Decius and Valerian – David Potter
2 Scelerum inventor et malorum machinator. Diocletian and the Tetrarchy in Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum – Jürgen K. Zangenberg
3 An Emperor for all Seasons – Maximian and the Transformation of His Political Representation – Alessandro Maranesi
4 Maxentius and the aeternae urbis suae conditores: Rome and Its Founders from Maximian to Constantine (289–313) – Raphael G.R. Hunsucker
5 Constantine, the Tetrarchy, and the Emperor Augustus – Catherine Ware
6 Constantine's Son Crispus and His Image in Contemporary Panegyrical Accounts – Diederik Burgersdijk
7 Uncovering Constans' Image – George Woudhuysen
8 The Constantinians' Return to the West: Julian's Depiction of Constantius II in Oration 1 – Alan J. Ross
9 Julian's Self-Representation in Coins and Texts – María Pilar García Ruiz
10 Jovian between History and Myth – Jan Willem Drijvers
11 Valentinian as Portrayed by Ammianus: A Kaleidoscopic Image – Daniël den Hengst
12 Gratitude to Gratian: Ausonius' Thanksgiving for His Consulship – Bruce Gibson
13 Authorising Freedom of Speech under Theodosius – Roger Rees
14 Claudian's Stilicho at the Urbs: Roman Legitimacy for the Half-Barbarian Regent – Álvaro Sánches-Ostiz


1.   As does e.g. J. Wienand (ed.), Contested Monarchy. Integrating the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century AD. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015: BMCR 2015.11.34.
2.   On the importance of Rome in late-antique imperial rule and ideology, see now also the papers in AnTard 25 (2017), introduced by M. McEvoy and M. Moser, 'Imperial presence in late-antique Rome, 2nd to 6th centuries AD', AnTard 25, 15-21.
3.   On Constans' rule and image, see also M. Moser, 'Ein Kaiser geht auf Distanz: Zur Rompolitik Constans' I.' AnTard 25 (2017), 41-58.
4.   This complements the results of M.S. Bjornlie (ed.) The Life and Legacy of Constantine: Traditions through the Ages. London: Routledge, 2017, on Constantine's image.
5.   On the (ab)use of the communication between emperor and subjects, see also N. Lenski, Constantine and the Cities. Imperial Authority and Civic Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016: BMCR 2016.09.39.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Odette Boivin, The First Dynasty of the Sealand in Mesopotamia. Studies in ancient Near Eastern records, 20. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xii, 292. ISBN 9781501507823. €86,95.

Reviewed by Marc Van De Mieroop, Columbia University (

Version at BMCR home site


Anyone even slightly familiar with the ancient history of Mesopotamia knows the name of Hammurabi whose "empire" (a misnomer) bringing together the city-states of Babylonia was one of the first territorial states in world history. His famous code is often portrayed as the earliest example of a legal system created for the benefit of the population of a large and diverse region. Less discussed is what happened afterwards to his kingdom, and probably few outside the group of ancient Near East historians are aware that this is one of the great mysteries in the discipline. By 1712, thirty years after Hammurabi's death, northern and southern Babylonia were discrete countries with very different histories. Whereas Hammurabi's dynasty continued to govern the north, which seems to have flourished economically and culturally until around 1600, the south, now independent, suffered massive decline. Its age-old cities were abandoned with its educated elites fleeing north, and because the remaining people more or less stopped writing, the region's history cannot be reconstructed. Dominique Charpin's thorough and authoritative overview of Babylonia's political history from 2002 to 1595, published in 2004, essentially no longer mentions the south after 1712.1 My own chapter on southern Mesopotamia in the Old Babylonian period, submitted to De Gruyter's Handbook of Ancient Mesopotamia as requested in early 2012 but still not published, likewise states that the south became de-urbanized and that its religious and cultural elites emigrated. Both surveys do mention an enigmatic "Sealand Dynasty," which until recently was essentially only known from later chronographic sources, some references in Babylonian year names of military actions against it, and a handful of other documents. The brief article J. A. Brinkman published in the Reallexikon der Assyriologie in the early 1990s2 provides all the relevant information.

This situation changed dramatically in the last decade. The looting of archaeological sites in Iraq triggered by the first and second Gulf Wars and their catastrophic aftermaths supplied various private collections with batches of tablets that were written under the Sealand Dynasty, as the date formulae or other internal evidence revealed. These include about 500 administrative tablets, mostly published in 2009, and a couple dozen literary and scholarly tablets published more haphazardly starting around the same time. Importantly, after 2013 it became possible to put these in context because of excavations at a site in southern Iraq near Ur, Tell Khaiber, which revealed an administrative center connected to the dynasty and containing more than 150 tablets and fragments.3 What previously had been a phantom dynasty suddenly became more real with details of its geographic whereabouts and its economic and cultural activities. While its history still cannot be written in detail, there is now a lot of information about it that has to be synthesized. That is what Odette Boivin attempts to do.

The book is a revision of a 2016 doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Toronto and still displays the characteristics of that genre of writing in that it seeks to be comprehensive on selected topics and studies all evidence in detail while sometimes ignoring broader questions. After an overview of previous scholarship, it addresses five topics, each one methodically explored. Chapter 2 discusses the first-millennium Mesopotamian historiographic traditions about the Sealand, mostly based on information that has been long known but analyzed anew in light of the new source material. It shows that later Mesopotamians acknowledged the existence of a Sealand dynasty on par with others in the region (the first dynasty of Babylon, the Kassites, and so on).4 There is no need to assume that a Sealand king ever sat on the throne of Babylon — the dynasty ruled southern Babylonia at the same time that others ruled the north. Chapter 3 investigates the thorny issue of where the Sealand of this dynasty was. Because some tablets with Sealand year names had been excavated at Nippur, a central Babylonian presence was presumed, even if possibly only ephemeral. The marshy regions in the south of Iraq were considered the unlikely setting for a Sealand capital, while archaeological evidence (or lack thereof) showed the abandonment of earlier cities in that region, such as Ur, Uruk, and Nippur. The excavations at Tell Khaiber and other unpublished archaeological work in the southernmost part of Iraq now show that the Sealand dynasty was well established there, albeit outside the old urban centers. Tell Khaiber was settled after Ur was abandoned, and displays military features; it was a fortress in the marshes. Now that we know from the tablets from Dur-Abiešuḫ (also looted and therefore of uncertain provenance) that the successors of Hammurabi of Babylon had control over the central Babylonian Nippur region and maintained a string of forts along the Euphrates down to Uruk (less than 50 km north of Tell Khaiber),5 it seems that the Sealand dynasty's core domain was farther south in the marshes — and still-unpublished material shows it was acknowledged on the island of Bahrain as well. The geography of this area does not seem conducive to centralization, but it is possible that a political structure resembling a dynasty claimed power over the marsh populations and resided in settlements like Tell Khaiber. Tell Khaiber was not necessarily the dynastic capital, but its central building does look like a palace.

If we see the Sealand as another entity in the patchwork of the kingdoms of greater Babylonia in the first half of the second millennium, we can attempt to write its political history like those of Babylon, Eshnunna, Mari and so on. That is the aim of Chapter 4, which presents a survey from the rise of the dynasty at the time when Samsuiluna ruled Babylon (1749–1712) to its demise at the hands of the Kassite Babylonians early in their history (ca. 1475). Absolute dates are hard to establish and depend on synchronisms with the history of Babylon, which itself is hard to date because of the uncertainties about the length of the so-called Dark Age of the mid-second millennium. Boivin hardly mentions absolute dates BC, which makes the discussion difficult to follow for those not that familiar with the sequence of Hammurabi's successors and early Kassite rulers. If we hold on to the so-called Middle Chronology (that dates Hammurabi's reign from 1792–1750 BC) the Sealand dynasty lasted for some 300 years from the late 18th to the early 15th centuries. The mostly hostile relations with Babylon are best known and define its history. An interesting addition to the evidence is an epic in honor of the Sealand ruler Gulkišar, which shows him preparing to do battle against Hammurabi's last successor Samsuditana (r. 1625–1595). Boivin cannot quote passages from the text as it remains to be published,6 but its mere existence certainly makes the narrative more exciting. With the recent renewed interest in the Kassites and their emergence on the scene at the time the Sealand dynasty existed,7 Babylonian history of the 17th to 15th centuries is becoming clearer.

The some-500 looted administrative tablets derive from a palace archive, and in chapter 5 Boivin analyzes very carefully what economic activities they record. They mostly administer products both from animal husbandry and farming and how these were turned into consumable items. Beer is prominent as is the case in many other Mesopotamian archives. The review is systematic and includes references to the Tell Khaiber tablets (preliminary editions of which used to be accessible online but now no longer seem to be). It is interesting that both groups of records were produced by palace administrators who directly managed agricultural goods. While a few palace archives have survived from the earlier Old Babylonian period, the involvement of private entrepreneurs in these activities was the norm then. Since the evidentiary base on the Sealand dynasty is still so limited it is dangerous to draw conclusions, but there may have been a shift in practices with the central political institution assuming direct control. Likewise, scribal education may have moved from private instructors to the palace, as at Tell Khaiber, where fragments of elementary exercise tablets were excavated in the official building.8 Schooling was perhaps no longer done in private houses. These observations may elucidate why urban life flourished in Babylonia in earlier times. It was not the presence of a palace that was important but the fact that private entrepreneurs had great opportunities to do business.

Chapter 6 seeks to reconstruct religious life and cult practices primarily by identifying the deities who appear in the administrative texts. Boivin hopes to find out the main inspiration for the composition of the pantheon by comparison with earlier urban systems, especially those from Larsa and Nippur, and concludes it was an amalgamation. She makes brief references to the sundry literary tablets connected to the Sealand dynasty, which include hymns and prayers. These may or may not have been looted from the same site as the administrative documents. In the former case the southern marshes would have been home to literati who preserved and modified the materials created earlier on in cities such as Nippur. These tablets are important for the history of Sumerian literature after its heyday (if we take number of manuscripts as a standard) in the 19th and 18th centuries. We may have to revive the idea of earlier scholars, based on flimsy evidence at best, that the Sealand was the haven for Sumerian literary scribes after the abandonment of Nippur and other central and southern Babylonian cities.9 These writers were also important for the development of Akkadian literature: they seem to have produced a unique version of a passage from the Gilgamesh Epic in which the gods Sin and Ea stand in for the heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and the city Ur for Uruk.10

The Dark Age in the mid-second millennium BC is still very dark but some aspects of it have become clearer in the last decade. This book provides an excellent collection and analysis of the newly-published Sealand materials, which now ongoing archaeological research in southern Iraq will hopefully further contextualize. The author of any new history of Hammurabi's dynasty will have to take it into account and will be grateful to Boivin for her careful and systematic work.


1.   "Histoire politique du Proche-Orient Amorrite (2002-1595)." In D. Charpin, D. O. Edzard, and M. Stol, Mesopotamien. Die altbabylonische Zeit, 23–480. OBO 160/4, Fribourg: Academic Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
2.   J. A. Brinkman, "Meerland." Reallexikon der Assyriologie 8 (1993-97): 6–10. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.
3.   See Stuart Campbell, et al. "Tell Khaiber: An administrative centre of the Sealand Period." Iraq 79 (2017): 21–46.
4.   For a representation of successive Babylonian dynasties from 1814 to 331 BC through the perspective of the first-millennium King Lists see the fascinating figure in W. W. Hallo and W. K. Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History 2nd edition, Fort Worth, 1998: 102.
5.   Kathleen Abraham and Karel Van Lerberghe, A Late Old Babylonian temple archive from Dūr-Abiešuh: the sequel, Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press, 2017: 1–8.
6.   We get a taste of it from the Dutch article by its editor, Elyze Zomer, "Game of Thrones: Koningen in strijd in de Laat Oud-Babylonische periode." Phoenix 62.2 (2016): 52–63.
7.   As shown by the two volume Karduniaš. Babylonia under the Kassites: the proceedings of the symposium held in Munich, 30 June to 2 July 2011 = Tagungsbericht des Münchener Symposiums, 30. Juni bis 2. Juli 2011, edited by Alexa Bartelmus and Katja Sternitzke, Boston and Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017 (reviewed by G. Beckman BMCR 2018.02.05), especially the article by F. van Koppen.
8.   Stuart Campbell, et al. "Tell Khaiber: An administrative centre of the Sealand Period." Iraq 79 (2017): 30.
9.   Benno Landsberger, "Assyrische Königsliste und 'Dunkles Zeitalter' (Continued)." Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8 (1954): 70, note 181; William W. Hallo, "Royal Hymns and Mesopotamian Unity." Journal of Cuneiform Studies 17 (1963): 116–17.
10.   A. R. George, "The civilizing of Ea-Enkidu: an unusual tablet of the Babylonian Gilgameš epic." Revue d'assyriologie 101 (2007): 59–80. Also looted, the tablet is of unknown provenance.

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Iris von Bredow, Kontaktzone Vorderer Orient und Ägypten: Orte, Situationen und Bedingungen für primäre griechisch-orientalische Kontakte vom 10. bis zum 6. Jahrhundert v. Chr. Geographica Historica, 38. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2017. Pp. 394. ISBN 9783515118606. €44,00.

Reviewed by Alexander Vacek, Bursa Uludağ University (

Version at BMCR home site

In her book, von Bredow tries to identify places, situations and preconditions, which led to the broadly acknowledged cultural and economic contacts between Greece and the Near East (including Egypt) from the 10th to the 6th century BC, through two main methodological approaches: first, by applying theoretical concepts of the communication sciences and, secondly, by utilizing socio-cultural and socio-technological theories and explanations. The focus is only on contact zones in the Near East itself, a phenomenon von Bredow calls "primary contacts" as opposed to "secondary contacts", which are placed within the Greek sphere.

The book contains five main parts heralded by a short introduction. A history of research is missing, a shortcoming, since von Bredow ignores substantial recent contributions in her discussion.1 In the first section, von Bredow offers a historical overview of Greece, Egypt (from the Third Intermediate period until 525 BC) and the whole Levant, including the Neo-Assyrian Empire and Babylon but omitting Cyprus, a major deficiency. The historical summary suffers slightly from its problematical treatment of the archaeological sources, most notably the "positivistic" approach to Greek pottery, which is consistently interpreted as personal belongings of Greeks (e.g. p. 105. 133) while their role as a commodity is neglected, at least until the late 7th century BC, which leads to some questionable conclusions.2 Also, the overview of the Near Eastern historical sources is not without gaps. For instance, her suggestion that Assyria, whose influence she judges as marginal, should be ruled out as direct contact zone (p. 53) neglects important sources.3 The outcome concerning the remaining regions is less surprising: they all were important to various degrees although it is hard to follow von Bredow's argument that e.g. Phoenicia was less vital as a direct contact zone because Homer only rarely mentions the Phoenician coast (p. 125).4 Babylon as a possible contact zone is ruled out as well on the basis that direct Ionian Babylonian relations should be excluded despite written (contested) sources suggesting otherwise (p. 58).

The next part discusses the material and written sources as media within the context of their time in order to define their "Sitz im Leben" by utilizing a praxeological instead of a structural approach to material analysis (p. 141). According to von Bredow, the culture-specific "Handlungspraxis" related to objects and texts needs to be understood in order to define their role and significance as a transmitter of cultural knowledge (p. 155). The focus is particularly on the communicative aspects of objects and texts (p. 141). Among the archaeological material, the emphasis is given to pottery, monumental architecture and to depictions of sculpture and reliefs. Although these three categories have received much attention in scholarship already, von Bredow's approach should definitely offer new insights but unfortunately, she only touches on the issue and ignores significant theoretical discussions.5 Less attention has been paid so far to profane architectural and religious landscapes as possible role models for Greece and von Bredow rightly mentions this aspect (p. 145). Noteworthy is also her analysis of written sources and inscriptions, which according to her are not only important due to their content but also deserve consideration as non-verbal communicative media.

Part three is the most stimulating chapter. First, von Bredow offers a short overview of previous approaches to and models of contact types.6 Contact types are then discussed by putting the focus on the agents of communication while distinguishing between verbal and non-verbal contacts. While the former was more significant for the transmission of culture, the latter played an important role during the initial stage of contacts (195). After that, she considers the conditions "surrounding" contacts, including political and cultural dominance and the effects of social differences on contacts, mostly by means of Homer.7 Social practices are given major importance in von Bredow's analysis of the different stages of reception, which are divided into three levels: borrowing, adaption and acculturation. Each of them represents a higher degree of understanding of the local culture by the foreigner. The following chapter looks at the reception of literary genres and their content. While the conclusion that only the Greek aristocracy could be responsible for the circulation of writing and literature including the social practices surrounding their performance might not seem surprising, von Bredow's attempt to trace the precise mechanisms and the cultural context of the transmission (e.g. education in local schools and recitals of songs in the Near Eastern palaces or sanctuaries) deserves notice (p. 210-2). The part ends with a discussion of the reception of belief systems and cult. Here von Bredow distinguishes between basic conceptions, social practices and religious emotions. The results are not always convincing, though this is partly related to the lack of sources.8

In her fourth part, von Bredow examines contact situations, which are divided into long-term/short-term verbal and non-verbal contacts. Within the first category, mercenaries, traders, high officials, craftsmen/technology and slaves, are discussed. Under the second category, she lists pirates, envoys and persons on an educational journey. The division may not seem obvious to everybody. Trading contacts e.g. may in many cases be confined to a short-term non-verbal situations. That said, the examination of the known sources and main potential contact points (e.g. Naukratis) is detailed and offers a refinement of existing explanations without radically changing the picture. In von Bredow's view, envoys and mercenaries belonging to the aristocracy play a major role as agents in the initial stages of cultural transfer (p. 248. 335) while traders become important only after ca. 650 BC (p. 297).9

There are some problems here. Scholars with an interest in the ancient economy may disagree with her assumption that trade at that time was primarily driven by supply and demand. Equally contestable is the statement that the East did not provide a market for many Greek commodities (p. 291-2), a view that not only ignores the role of foreign commodities within elitist strategies to establish or affirm hierarchies but also stands in contrast to the archaeological record. Also, von Bredow is remarkably sceptical regarding the potential of craftsmen to act as cultural transmitters since, according to her argument, socio-technological aspects, in which technology is embedded, constitute an important barrier for the transmission of knowledge (p. 312). Instead, she puts the main emphasis on the aristocratic sponsor as the potential responsible source for technological transfer (p. 319).

In her final part, von Bredow provides a summary of the results obtained in the previous sections and defines again possible contact zones in the East. Of particular importance up to ca. 650 BC were mercenaries, who were employed in North Syria, in the Phoenician city-states, Judea and Israel before the Philistine cities and Egypt became their main hunting grounds. From the end of the 7th century BC, Greek traders in Egypt but also other groups such as Greek envoys or high officials employed by the Egyptian court were the major driving forces of cultural transfer.

Von Bredow's contribution has to be judged by the usefulness of her approach to generate new input for the debate and by the way she treats and interprets the available sources. On these terms, the book has virtues and defects. On the positive side is von Bredow's new methodological approach for investigating the available written and archaeological sources. Particularly stimulating was her section three with its emphasis on the communicative aspects of objects and texts and her section four on the social practices surrounding the objects, inscriptions, literature etc. and the way they restrict or facilitate cultural and technological transfers. Both parts constitute a significant contribution to scholarship and alone make the book worth reading. However, the generally positive assessment of the book is hindered by its less careful consideration of the archaeological evidence and, to some extent, also parts of the secondary literature. Nevertheless, scholars interested in the relationships between Greece and the Near East should not ignore von Bredow's contribution.

Factual errors are rare, mostly resulting from typing errors.10 The reader will also discover that some of the literature cited in the text is missing in the bibliography.11 Simple misprints are few, indicating the generally good editorial work.12


1.   E.g. C. Ulf, "Rethinking Cultural Contacts", Ancient West & East 8 (2009), 81-132.
2.   E.g. her rejection of any Greek trading activities in North Syria until the 8th century BC since "trading relevant pottery forms" are missing (p. 90). Her assessment of the function of North Syrian ports within the East-West trading networks is contradictory: while she considers them to perform only a minor role (p. 102), the Greek pottery recovered there is understood as belonging to Greek seafarers who "frequently" visited these ports (p. 105).
3.   E.g. Sennacherib's Annals that list "Ionian" sailors as part of his Tigris fleet of 694/3 BC. See R. Rollinger, "The Ancient Greeks and the Impact of the Ancient Near East: Textual Evidence and Historical Perspective (ca. 750-650 BC)", in Mythology and Mythologies, edited by R. M. Whiting. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project (2001), 242. For reference concerning the capture of a possible Greek (mercenary?) during the time of Esarhaddon see R. Rollinger and M. Korenjak, "Addikritusu: Ein namentlich genannter Grieche aus der Zeit Asarhaddons (680- 669 v. Chr.). Überlegungen zu ABL 140*", Altorientalische Forschungen 8 (2001), 325-337.
4.   Interestingly, in this case the Greek pottery recovered at Tyre is not considered as evidence of direct contact.
5.   E.g. we are told that Greek pottery could not have been integrated into the local social practices (p. 144). The significant anthropological research regarding the process of "commodification" or the ability of foreign objects to act as diacritical tools in feasts are not mentioned. See A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (1986); M. Dietler, "Theorizing the Feasts: Rituals of Consumption, Commensal Politics, and Power in African Contexts", in Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, edited by M. Dietler and B. Hayden. Washington, D.C., London: Smithsonian Institution Press (2001) 85.
6.   She refrains from developing her own model but rather prefers to consider the historical and cultural circumstances of the time since the sources are abundant enough, an assessment which, at least for the period of the 10th to the late 8th century BC, one may disagree with.
7.   Although von Bredow's analysis highlights the importance of this topic for the Greeks of the late 8th/7th century BC, the historical value of her main written source, Homer, is controversially debated by scholars. Another contentious point is von Bredow's view that a Greek must have been looked like an uncultivated "barbarian" to the Easterners (p. 199) since it hardly finds support in the written sources.
8.   The discussion of the introduction of cremation in Greece reveals von Bredow's weakness regarding the archaeological literature. See e.g. the omission of LH IIIC middle/late cremation burials at Argos, which suggest a different or earlier way of transmission. O. Dickinson, The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age. London, New York: Routledge (2006) 180.
9.   In the case of northern Syria, where we do not possess any written sources or archaeological indications for Greek mercenaries, such a scenario is doubtful.
10.   E.g. Jerusalem was destroyed in 587/6 BC and not in 687/6 by Babylon (p. 173). The third western campaign by Assurbanipal could hardly have occurred in 622 BC (p. 49). The city referred to on p. 56 is Silifke and on p. 236 no. 58 is Megiddo.
11.   V. Parker, Untersuchungen zum Lelantischen Krieg und verwandten Problemen der frühgriechischen Geschichte. (Historia Einzelschriften 109). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997, cited e.g. on p. 249 no. 151. Also missing: Bosse 1936 (p. 153 no. 58)= K. Bosse, Die menschliche Figur in der Rundplastik von der XXII bis zur XXX Dynastie. (Ägyptologische Forschungen 1). Glückstadt: J. J. Augustin, 1936. Fugmann 195 (p. 99 no. 614) is unclear but could be the Sukas report in: Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes 8-9 (1958-59) 107-130. Schwemer 2000, 589 (p. 114 no. 728)= D. Schwemer, "Itti-Samas-balatu", in The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, edited by H. Baker. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project (2000).
12.   Woolley e.g. is consistently misspelt throughout the book.

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Monday, March 25, 2019


Philip Matyszak, Sparta: Fall of a Warrior Nation. Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018. Pp. 165. ISBN 9781473874725. £19.99.

Reviewed by Philip J. Smith, McGill University (

Version at BMCR home site

Philip Matyszak has published several volumes of ancient history geared primarily toward the general reader, and this volume fits quite well into that category. The book is well organized, his style is clear, vivid, and entertaining, and he ably draws his readers seductively down the path toward his rationale for the fall of the Spartan state.

That being said, it is somewhat discomforting that at the outset of the book, prior to any arguments being presented, he makes sweeping statements which may bias the less knowledgeable reader (e.g. "As we follow Sparta's attempts to maintain the hegemony of Greece after the Peloponnesian War, the intellectual sterility of the state is revealed as never before...", p. ix). This is followed by direct praise of the Athenian state.1

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the Spartan state after the battles of Plataea and Mycale in 479 BC. His first point concerns the "surprising" behaviour of the Spartans when they appeared, at the height of their reputation and military prowess, to reject the leadership of the Hellenic League (and hence of the Greeks). He then states that the Athenians, who were more "enterprising" were happy to accept the mantle of leadership. Matyszak does ask why they acted in this manner – and his answer is that Spartan domestic policy, specifically the resources and attention necessary for the continued subjugation of the Messenians, largely dictated its foreign policy. He goes on to note an interesting rationale for Sparta's creation of the Peloponnesian League: "basically formed to protect Sparta from those states which made up its membership…" (p. 6), rather than a form of Spartan imperialism. I am not convinced, however, that the Spartans lacked an imperialistic vision for the Peloponnesian League. Could it not rather be that Spartan imperialism was more localized – i.e., that the Spartans recognized the limitations of their sphere of influence? Control of the Hellenic League would have required an imperialistic involvement outside of this locale.

Chapter 2 attempts to identify the beginning of the end for the Spartans. One cause, according to Matyszak, concerned the civic structure at Sparta, which was basically a series of checks and balances – two kings from two different families, plus the Ephorate – designed to avoid autocracy. When there was instability among these parties, this contributed to tarnishing Sparta's reputation among Greeks after the Persian War. An example he provides is how the divergent avenues pursued by Pausanias (regent for the Agaid king Pleistarchus during his minority), and Leotychides (the Eurypontid king), together with the lackluster performance of the Ephors, all led to the Athenians being able to rebuild their city walls, despite Spartan opposition and without Spartan retribution.2 Chapter 3, which is a brief overview of the fall of Pausanias, serves as a concrete example: it illustrates that the actions of the two kings and the ephorate resulted in "irritated and confused" allies who had begun to view the Athenians as the better leaders, albeit with misgivings.

Chapters 4 through 7 discuss Spartan leadership before and during the Peloponnesian War. One of the author's first topics is the major earthquake throughout Laconia in 464 BC, which caused not only widespread economic damage, but also an "inevitable" helot revolt. During this period, according to Matyszak, the Spartan king Archidamos had introduced more diplomacy into the Spartan body politic, which resulted in the capture of Mt. Ithome from the helots via negotiation rather than military force. He subsequently spends some time outlining various battles, alliances, etc., which were drawing Spartan attention away from Laconia, employing titles such as "Battle of Tanagra, late 460s", "Congress of the Allies". His main source for this period is Thucydides, who was somewhat contemporary (e.g., he could at least have interviewed people who had participated in some of these activities). Also included in his discussion is the Spartan reaction to the Megarian Decree, which was perhaps more typical of them: "Sparta wants peace. Stop oppressing other Greeks, and peace will happen." (p. 42). Spartan diplomatic patience had expired.

The Archidamian War is described inasmuch as it relates to Spartan missteps, e.g., the unsuccessful siege of Plataea, Sparta's inability to counter the Athenian plan to avoid direct military confrontation and use their navy. The only partially bright spot in this period was Pylos, where Sparta managed to keep Athens to a stalemate. There was, however, one serious negative issue arising from the Pylos campaign – the stranding of some 400 Spartiates on the island of Sphacteria. Matyszak makes a major point that one of the main causes of the fall of the Spartan state was its constantly diminishing numbers of Spartiates – full Spartan citizen hoplites – which eventually reached the point of no return. I must admit to some puzzlement at the statement Matyszak makes concerning these "vanishing Spartiates": "The reasons why this should be so have been hotly disputed by academics in a debate which has lasted considerably longer than the Peloponnesian War itself. There is no space here to examine the various theories and counter-arguments." (p. 57). I would have expected at least a summary these hotly disputed reasons. Moreover, he then says that, since there is no space for that discussion, he will "take Plutarch at his word (while accepting that there are reasons for doubting him" (p. 57). This is an unsatisfactory solution. If Plutarch offers one of his major arguments for the outcome, the reader should have been presented with more detailed discussion.

Chapter 7 outlines the well-known stalemate between the superior Spartan army and the superior Athenian navy, as well as the vagaries of Persian funding for both sides. The War eventually ended, owing in part to the Spartan fort at Decelea preventing Athenian access to their silver mines, as well as the success of the single great Spartan admiral, Lysander (and the Spartans' Persian backers, which included Cyrus).

Chapters 8 through 10 describe in more detail the circumstances which led to the rather abrupt decline in the Spartan state after the end of the Peloponnesian War. Matyszak points out several reasons: decline in the number of Spartiates, 3; Spartan acceptance of Persian funds, which reduced their reputation for "unflinching honesty and integrity"; Spartan armies becoming paid mercenaries outside Laconia and the Peloponnese; their handing over of the Ionian cities to Persia; the unlawful seizing of the Cadmeia in Thebes by Phoibidas; the stunning Theban victory at Leuctra; the dismantling of the Peloponnesian League and the creation of the Arcadian and Achaean Leagues, which further curtailed Spartan influence; the invasion of Laconia in 370 BC; the Theban enforcement of the independence of Messenia; finally, Spartan misreading of the rise of the Macedonian kingdom. The Battle of Megalopolis in 331/30 BC accelerated the severe decline in the number of Spartiate hoplites available to the state. Indeed, he states that after the Lamian War of 323/22 BC, "Sparta was the last remaining fully independent state in Greece, although its people had to face up to the bitter fact that this was mainly because they were not deemed worth the effort of conquering" (p. 130).

Chapters 11 and 12 summarize the attempts made by Spartan kings in the late fourth and third centuries BC to reform the Spartan state, e.g., Agis IV, Cleomenes III, and finally Nabis. None of these efforts proved fruitful. One characteristic remained, however, since even though the Romans under Flamininus eventually defeated Sparta and, at the death of Nabis in 192 BC, the Spartan state ceased to exist in an independent manner, the Spartans still proved that Laconia was the home to "some of the best and most stubborn warriors in Greece".

There follows an Epilogue in which Spartan influence in modern media, including computer games, is noted, as is, Spartan influence on Nazi philosophy. I am unsure of the value of this Epilogue.

Overall, this book is a good introduction to this particular topic for a generalist audience and it is well written (indeed I applaud the fact that the author eschewed the use of endnotes), albeit with some orthographic errors, e.g. "Megaran". It is disappointing, however, that there is only a thin bibliography and that more detailed discussion of pertinent issues is omitted. Even though this book is directed to the general reader, it would have been beneficial for there to have been fuller discussion of some of the most important points, if not in the main text, then at least in explanatory footnotes.


1.   Other gratuitous examples, just from the Introduction, include: "…Sparta offered only a mindless conservatism combined with an amoral militarism…", p. x; and "…study of a downward social spiral and an object lesson in the dangers of short-sited chauvinism", p. x.
2.   "According to Thucydides, the Spartans showed no anger at [Themistocles'] speech. Instead they merely commented mildly that their suggestion had been intended as being in the best interests of Greece as a whole." (p. 17).
3.   He calculates the number of Spartiates after the Battle of Leuctra thusly "It has been estimated that before Leuctra there were around 1,400 Spartiates…Some 400 of these had fallen at Leuctra. If proper Spartan procedure were to be followed the surviving 300 in that army should now lose their citizenship…This would leave the city with a grand total of 700 Spartiates – somewhat less than the 10,000 that Sparta could field in its prime. This was so unacceptable that Agesilaus decreed that 'the laws should sleep for a day'. The 300 survivors kept their Spartiate status and the question of systemic reform to address the underlying problem was ducked yet again." (pp. 111-112).

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