Friday, May 31, 2019


Martin Eckert, Die Aphrodite der Seefahrer und ihre Heiligtümer am Mittelmeer: archäologische Untersuchungen zu interkulturellen Kontaktzonen am Mittelmeer in der späten Bronzezeit und frühen Eisenzeit. Münster: LIT, 2016. Pp. x, 589. ISBN 9783643135100. €79,90 (pb).

Reviewed by Alan Johnston, Institute of Archaeology, University College London (

Version at BMCR home site

This substantial volume aims at shedding new light on those cults of, or associated with, Aphrodite in which there is evidence of participation by seafarers. The introduction, among other matters, outlines the criteria used in the selection of the 172 sites included in the catalogue, basically those within reasonable distance of the sea, and of late Bronze Age to early Hellenistic date, when syncretism of cults becomes frequent. The introduction takes up 70 pages, the catalogue 320 and further discussion and conclusions 140.

The introduction ranges widely over topics associated with seafaring and Aphrodite, from the efficiency of brailed sails on square-rigged boats (perhaps underestimated here) to the treatment of non-locals in port and the criteria for judging the nature of a site as a cult place. A methodological approach that privileges the details of each cult site and then turns to comparisons among them is chosen.

The catalogue includes cults of Aphrodite known from either textual evidence or archaeological material or both. The texts are placed on the verso, commentary on them and archaeological evidence on the recto, each with a separate series of footnotes, though there is a hiatus during a passage where landing-places and harbours on Cyprus are listed, and the system is abandoned half-way through the treatment of the Cypriot sanctuaries. The texts are mostly given in the original, with translations randomly into English, German or French.

There follows a section offering an overview of the major female deities found in areas ranging from Mesopotamia via Egypt and Anatolia to Greece, together with their male 'consorts'. Matters arising on the catalogue are then discussed in the Conclusions, where the main themes are the depth of Phoenician input into Aphrodite cults, the sexual and aggressive nature of (armed) Aphrodite and her predecessors, the lack of pig bones in the relevant sanctuaries, and the hunter-gatherer origins of an aggressive female deity and her transition through the millennia.

While this is a tasty menu, there is much that is difficult to savour, and a review cannot cover it all. There are major defects in both the text and its presentation, the latter seemingly out of the author's control. The book is well illustrated, but it is rare that a text figure appears on the relevant page; references to the illustrations are sporadic; cross-references in the text are virtually absent; there is no index. The system of having ancient texts and commentary on verso and recto breaks down, so that they become up to fifteen pages out of kilter; strategic placement of illustrations could have obviated most of this discord.

Referencing is at best poor; references tend to be clumped together, so that it is normally unclear which statement in the text goes with which reference. There is a mix of styles too—normally 'Bloggs 1989' but sometimes 'BCH 1989 232-40'. Statements like BCH opines a view (429) (rather than Baurain opines) suggest that these notes are little more than the author's aides-memoire ('contra' appears often with no further clue as to the character of the objection), with odd numbers and lettering and one simple 'Mitteilungen 2012' that should have been deleted from the submitted version. Extensive use of unusual or rare abbreviations (which occasionally escape this reviewer), with no listing, will not help the more general readership of the book who seem to be the target of some full page colour illustrations, including a Cycladic figurine and the Artemision Zeus, and very lengthy texts concerning various Aphrodisian adventures, almost all to be dated after the stated Hellenistic cut-off point for the material under discussion. In addition, many observations in the text require references not obviously contained in the bibliography presented.

The methodology outlined in the initial chapters is followed to an extent; restrained responses are given to a range of the topics mentioned above, after suitable discussion of the evidence, and a peroration asks for more evidence to be found. However, one aspect certainly does not get such treatment: while a Greek pot does not equal Greek presence, any whiff of a Phoenician does constitute at least a way-station. This includes all place-names derived from the root phoin-, most mythological foundation legends (e.g. Seriphos), presence of murex shells (Gytheion), and the location of a temenos of Aphrodite near the port (e.g. Aegina, which 'may have had a Phoenician settlement' [467]). This alternative methodology provides a Phoenician trade-route from the Saronic Gulf through the Corinthian Gulf and on to Italian shores, deliberately avoiding Cape Malea, although here the alleged early and important presence of Aphrodite on Kythera seems to have been temporarily forgotten.

An avenue that is patiently explored is the genesis of the armed Aphrodite, well attested in the Greek world; Eckert argues for an origin in the Near Eastern 'powerful goddess' with overtly sexual aspects, a successor to the 'divinities' of hunter-gatherers, before human females were relegated to familiar roles in sedentary communities. The section on 'pre-Aphrodites' is largely concerned with this aspect, though includes other deities who at some point have a marine connection. The topic of 'sacred prostitution' emerges here, and later in the book is given yet another treatment, with the addition of a slew of ancient texts; Eckert treats it carefully, without the total distrust held by others. The requirements of sailors coming to port have some relevance here (e.g. at Lokroi), though the notion that sex (with whoever?) on board ship was tabu because all ships were feminine is odd; not on the good ship Venus, but sex on the beach. Or on Acrocorinth?—a long haul for the storm-battered.

Regarding the catalogue, which Eckert admits is not an ideally bounded collection, one would have been better off with a list of Aphrodite sanctuaries not included because of their distance from the sea; as land-locked Psophis and Orchomenos make the cut, it is difficult to imagine any that don't (see my comments on Axos below). The resumés of architecture and finds are generally useful, especially for the German reader. Beyond typos and poor referencing, some corrigenda and addenda are needed (Eckert's catalogue numbers):

1.1. There is no evidence that Portus Veneris (Vendres) ever had a Phoenician settlement. The bilingual bronze text from Pech Maho is confused with a Greek text from Emporion.
1.11. The corpus of inscriptions of Lokri, by Lavinio del Monaco, is missing; it would have confirmed the attribution of the Marasa temple to Aphrodite and shown that there are no assured Ionian dedications (and 'Ionian' cups in the West are generally not of Ionian provenance).
1.12. Aphrodite's name is not preserved in the dedication to Basilis at Satyrion.
1.13. Capo, not Cabo Colonna.
2.4. The dioruktos at Leukas is surely the canal between mainland and island.
2.9. Mythology does not place the Phoenician founding of Thebes in the eighth century.
2.23. Kainepolis is not on Cape Matapan.
2.24. There is no evidence of a Phoenician harbour at Gytheion.
2.31. While indeed Scranton does not go into details of any Classical remains at Kenchreai, he does say how scrappy they were.
2.43. Wrong translation of IG II2 2798 on Aphrodite Hegemone at Athens. While the temple of Ares in the Agora is architecturally Classical, it is of course a Roman incomer.
3.1. Palaiokastro is near the east, not west coast of Kythera, and the 'Babylonian dedicatory inscription' was cut on what seems a plain Cycladic marble bowl.
3.4. Axos is included in the catalogue, but then on 470 it is judged to be too far from the sea, 20 km, to be a sailor's sanctuary.
3.5. Kommos is described at length, not because of Aphrodite, but because of the strong Phoenician connections c. 900- 750 BC. These later in the volume become a 'Phoenician period', but the overwhelming proportion of pottery discovered is Cretan. A SM dating of temple A rests on just one bowl fragment. Lamps are very rare in the pre-classical levels. Using 'readings' from the Phaistos disc is always a bad sign.
3.9. The citing under Aegina of a Chian kantharos dedicated to Aphrodite at Naukratis is confusing.
3.16. The reading of the text on the roof tile from Histria is apargma, not agallma.
3.24. The harbour sanctuary of Emporio scarcely 'überblickte' the harbour itself. Eckert has not noted the more recently discovered graffito dedication to Apollo. The slave's dedication can hardly have been of the cult statue. Lion's paw architectural mouldings are a commonplace in the archaic period in the area, by no means specifically 'Kybelian'.
3.27. Samos is not in the Southern Sporades. The cheekpiece, Abb. 73, is not 'undatiert', as it belongs with the frontlet(s) dated c. 830-810 BC.
3.28. The Zeytintepe sanctuary at Miletus has only one dedication by a woman and one by a non-Greek individual (see Ehrhardt, Milet V, 3, 37).
3.31. Kos is scarcely a Spartan foundation.
3.33. A footnote (237, n. 89) regarding Rhodes illustrates typical problems; after the plethora of Aegyptiaca of the seventh century 'Im 6. Jh began der griechische Einfluss zu überwiegen; anekdotische Geschichte des 4. Jhs. spiegeln die Versuche der Griechen wider, die Phönizier von der Insel zu vertreiben'; no reference for the latter, most curious phrasing for the former.
3.36. For Naukratis Eckert erroneously follows the course of the river posited by the American team. There is no pottery of the first half of the seventh century, and that from the Aphrodite sanctuary is more or less contemporary with that from Apollo's. The dedications to Aphrodite Pandemos, all of the late Archaic period, are from the cult site in or near the Hellenion.

Cypriot sites, published already in corpore by Webb, Karageorghis (J.) and Ulbrich are competently treated, though at 4.11 (Amathous) Eckert misses entirely the Attic pottery published by Martin Robertson. Missing, inter alia, are the volume of imported pottery by Gjerstad and several of the volumes edited by Stampolides, such as Eastern Mediterranean; Cyprus, Dodecanese and Crete 16th-6th centuries B.C. (1998).

Although literary texts and translations are cited in full, inscriptions are often merely given a reference without text, and often an outdated one; the example from Pharsalos (168), another scarcely coastal site, cited from Roehl, IGA, has at least three later publications, as noted in LGPN III under Dawon, and there are two for the sailors' texts at Pili (42) = Grammata in Akrokeraunia. Citation of texts is otherwise tolerable, though Greek does not use ':' and an added 'not' in the translation of Athenaios on p.152 is curious.

Coins, too, fair badly; the Aeginetan standard is used widely after 458 B.C., pace 195, n.29; coins are omitted in the discussion of Aphrodite at Knidos, and their appearance in Greece is given far too early a date (523, n.170).

Among the solecisms I note extensive mismatches of colony and mother-city in the list on p. 62, as well as (57 and passim) 'Barrington' as the editor of the Atlas. The overall bibliography, despite citation of two publications of 2016, is somewhat outdated and omits important material.

Forays into symbolism are dubious; the double-axe by the ship on the British Museum LG krater from Thebes is said to signify a goddess's epiphany—as in all other appearances on LG pots? And while the lotus flower has significance in the Near East, it surely loses it by the time of its omnipresence on sixth century Greek pots, if not before.

More generally, there are many places in the text where one leaps from millennium to millennium or century to century; Eckert would probably justify this by his reasonable assertion, rather late in the day on p.397, that 'popular religion' can go underground and emerge centuries if not millennia later, but the reader is continually confused. This is a selection of comment, but gives a suitable taste of the problems with this volume. The overall aim is admirable, the execution deficient in virtually all respects save for some sections of useful reportage and thought-provoking speculation, which, however, a reader would have difficulties in finding.

[For a response to this review by Martin Eckert, please see BMCR 2019.07.08.]

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