Online Review: Book

Die "Agora des Italiens" in Delos: Baugeschichte, Architektur, Ausstattung und Funktion einer späthellenistischen Porticus-Anlage

Burkhard Emme

116.1

By Monika Trümper (Internationale Archäologie 104). 2 vols. Pp. xv + 531, figs. 162,  pls. 222, charts 11, plan 1. Marie Leidorf, Rahden 2008. €129.80. ISBN 978-3-89646-376-0 (cloth).

The Agora of the Italians at Delos is an outstanding example of Hellenistic architecture. The architectural features of the building were published in 1939 by Lapalus (L’Agora des Italiens. Délos 19 [Paris]), but its function is still under discussion among scholars. The building has previously been considered a “clubhouse” of the Italian tradesmen in Delos, a palaestra, or a slave market. On the basis of a comprehensive study of the site as well as all the relevant material, Trümper now offers a new interpretation of the building complex.

The Agora of the Italians was erected in the late second century B.C.E. In this time, the island of Delos flourished as an international marketplace between the eastern Mediterranean and Italy. The society of the island was multiethnic: Greeks, Phoenicians, Italians, and Romans were living side by side, often organized in societies according to their origin. In 88 B.C.E., and again in 69 B.C.E., the island was devastated by Mithridates VI and his allies in their fight against Rome. As it never recovered from this incident, the latter date marks the end of Delos’ Late Hellenistic prosperity.

It is against this background that Trümper poses the question of how the Agora of the Italians was used. To answer this, the author undertakes a variety of approaches. Accordingly, the book consists of six chapters treating the relative chronology (13–50), the architectural details (51–292), the visitors to the building (293–350), its date (352–60), name (361–64), and an overall conclusion of the results (365–406).

Following the above-mentioned question, Trümper seeks to reconsider all the heterogeneous material related to the building. This includes its architectural features but also statues and inscriptions that are related to it. The material is treated by literary research but also, more importantly, by an extensive survey of the remains on the site. Thus, Trümper can present a number of new results concerning the function of the building as well as its chronological development. The latter, for example, is precisely analyzed as well as clearly illustrated in several color phase plans (figs. 20–4). Trümper demonstrates that in its original form, the Agora of the Italians consisted of a peristylar courtyard with a propylon and only three large exedrae opening onto the square. Later additions consist of a bath complex at the northwestern corner as well as many niches at the back side of the porticoes. Although Trümper has to admit that an absolute chronology of these building activities cannot be established (46), her detailed discussion of the relative chronology proves helpful for the understanding of the primary conception of the building. Regarding its relative size, Trümper considers the central court surrounded by porticoes as the most dominant feature of the complex, especially at this early stage. But what was its function?

Since neither drainage nor pavement was found within the central court, Trümper argues that it was used as a garden (61–104). The author concedes that archaeological evidence for such a use cannot be found, as it was presumably destroyed during the excavations. However, Trümper discusses a great number of possible parallels, such as gardens in Hellenistic palaces as well as those within the Porticus Pompei and the Porticus Liviae in Rome. The same approach proves successful when the author turns to the reconstruction of the porticoes and especially their upper story (104–33). In this regard, Trümper follows Lapalus’ assumption that the intercolumnia of the upper story were closed by screen walls. Consequently, according to Trümper, the upper story would have served as a cryptoporticus. Although this reconstruction seems rather unique within Hellenistic architecture, parallels can again be found in cases of cryptoportica in Italy. Therefore, beside the results of a careful autopsy of the building, it is this comparative character of the study that proves to be similarly productive.

With regard to the use of the porticoes, the author discusses the concept of “leisured walking” established by Macauley Lewis. In contrast to the exedrae, where benches offered places to sit and gather, the porticoes would have been used primarily for strolling around in contemplation. While the central court would have offered the prospect of a garden, a number of niches were successively erected at the back wall of the porticoes. While these served the exhibition of honorific sculptures, Trümper points out that other statues, such as a group of defeated Gauls or barbarians, were presumably placed within the porticoes or even in the central court. Trümper concludes that, regarding its architectural form as well as its embellishment with statues and similar equipment, the Agora of the Italians functioned primarily as a meeting place for informal gatherings. This function was not altered but rather differentiated by later additions, such as the luxurious bath complex at the northwestern corner and the many niches alongside the porticoes. This functional interpretation leads the author to question the exact identity of visitors to the building.

In her analysis of the social context of the complex, Trümper focuses on the epigraphic material (293–350). Whereas in earlier studies scholars supposed that the building served as an exclusive meeting point of the Italian society at Delos, Trümper argues that it must have been accessible to greater parts of the multiethnic Delian society. Since most of the inscriptions related to the building were either Greek or bilingual (340–50), this interpretation seems quite reasonable. According to Trümper, the Agora of the Italians therefore served the self-representation of the Italian merchants by offering a luxurious space for the multiethnic high society of Delos.

Accordingly, the author addresses the architectural typology of the building (361–64). Since the traditional name “Agora of the Italians” implies a function as a marketplace or a religious or civic center, Trümper proposes that it should instead be referred to as “Porticus Italica” or “Porticus Italicorum.” Such a designation would indeed fit the building’s architectural form as well as its functional analogy to similar complexes in Rome, such as the Porticus Pompei. Whether the proposed name will find its way into the traditionally conservative archaeological nomenclature remains to be seen.

In general, the book offers a detailed study of a major monument of Hellenistic architecture with reference to its specific social and architectural context (i.e., the multiethnic society of Late Hellenistic Delos). Furthermore, because of its comparative character, this book will prove valuable for further studies in related topics—for example, the development of baths in the Hellenistic world or the honorific monuments of Delos in general. Although the way arguments are repeated in several places can be tiring for those who read the book as a whole, the order of the chapters and especially the structuring of the text will make it easy to handle for those readers who are interested in only one or two particular aspects. The great number of plans and illustrations is very helpful for understanding the building discussed. A short summary in English lists the main results (407–10).

With her study, Trümper has put forward a new interpretation of a building that is based on scrupulous research and therefore can be considered as highly convincing.

Burkhard Emme
Department of Archaeology, Winckelmann Institute
Humboldt University of Berlin
10099 Berlin
Germany
burkhardemme@web.de

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1161.Emme

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Typographic refinements will be added.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.