Online Review: Book

Roman Sculpture in Asia Minor: Proceedings of the International Conference to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Italian Excavations at Hierapolis in Phrygia, Held on May 24–26, 2007, in Cavallino (Lecce)

Felipe Rojas

116.1

Edited by F. D’Andria and I. Romeo (JRA Suppl. 80). Pp. 385, figs. 340. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Portsmouth, R.I. 2011. $149. ISBN 978-1-887829-80-9 (cloth).

Why were the cities of Roman Asia Minor so conspicuously adorned with sculpture? What did those sculptures mean to ancient viewers? And who decided what those sculptures would look like or where they would be set up? Anyone who has asked themselves these or similar questions will find much that is stimulating in this volume. It collects essays by specialists working on Roman sculpture in Asia Minor who, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Italian excavations in Hierapolis, were invited to discuss “key aspects of the discipline, present new data, and explore recent scholarly trends” (7). All but one of the articles gathered here deal primarily or exclusively with western Anatolian material, but many of the contributors address issues that have resonance beyond their specific regional scope. Apart from the general spatial and temporal limits implicit in the title, there is no single overarching theme linking all the various pieces. Like most conference proceedings, the collection is a mixed bag; there are some detailed presentations of individual monuments, some surveys of statuary in entire cities or in parts of cities, and some contributions exploring methodological issues. Since restrictions of space preclude detailed analysis of individual articles, I limit this review to outlining three key topics that are central to current research and that are addressed repeatedly throughout.

First, many of the contributors make a deliberate effort to contextualize sculpture in its urban landscape. The remarkable state of preservation of numerous Roman cities in Asia Minor makes such endeavors desirable and potentially very rewarding. In addition to treating the topographical disposition of statuary, several of the essays deal, rather more ambitiously and interestingly, with the role that sculpture played in the cultural life of Roman cities. Hierapolis is particularly well served, since it is the exclusive focus of seven articles—nearly one-fourth of the volume—which provide a general overview of the uses of statuary and sculptural reliefs in various locales, including nymphaea, a stoa, and a heroon, as well as residential quarters. Aphrodisias and Ephesos are the focus of three articles each. Individual essays on Troy (Rose), Perge (Bravi), and, in particular, the article on Sagalassos (Mägele) also present much useful material about the urban context and social meaning of sculpture in these cities.

The most stimulating articles in this volume are those that combine strictly sculptural material with relevant epigraphic, numismatic, literary, and other archaeological evidence. Growing interest in the context of statuary in Roman society has had the welcome effect of inciting collaborations between scholars dedicated primarily to the art historical study of sculpture and specialists working in other fields. For example, geologists conducting technical studies on quarries have made important contributions to our understanding of production and distribution. Parallel investigations by other specialists will help elucidate not only how statues were made and transported but also how they were experienced and understood in antiquity, as the two thought-provoking essays written by epigraphists show: Ritti surveys ways in which inscriptions can be used to shed light on the role of statues in the religious and cultural life of Hierapolis, while Roueché discusses the potential of epigraphic and literary texts as well as figurative graffiti to explain ancient viewers’ response to statues—a topic to which she has already made distinguished contributions.

One of the greatest merits of virtual and actual reconstructions of monumental architecture in Roman Asia Minor is their ability to show how sculptural programs were integrated into the larger infrastructure of a city, both at the moment of initial erection and after successive uses and reuses. Overall, the entire volume is carefully illustrated; however, this reviewer would like to see more imaginative depictions of statuary in its greater architectural context—not only sober reconstructions, such as the elevation of the principal facade of the nymphaeum of C. Laecanius Bassus in Ephesos with photographs of the extant pieces inserted in place (Rathmayr [fig. 9.7]), but also bolder illustrations, such as the virtual rendering of the nymphaeum of the Tritons in Hierapolis (D’Andria [fig. 10.2]), one of several convincing digital models that the architectural team in Hierapolis has produced over the past decade. Such models are not merely pleasing to the eye, they are also powerful tools for investigating how sculptures were conceived and perceived in ancient cities. I, for one, hope that continued interest in the urban context of Roman sculpture can incite closer collaborative work between architectural historians and sculpture specialists.

Attention to the redeployment and reinterpretation of statuary relates to the second key topic: the role of sculpture in the construction of local memory and identity—a complex issue that also deserves more interdisciplinary work, in particular collaborations between philologists and archaeologists or art historians. Roman Asia Minor is an exceptionally exciting territory for the investigation of the interaction between indigenous communities and Rome, especially because of the wealth of relevant textual and material evidence. Rose’s article on Troy and Romeo’s on Hierapolis are welcome additions to the discussion of how statuary worked to conceptualize and articulate the local past, as well as of its involvement in the construction of communal identities. The role of statuary in the private sphere is treated by Kiilerich in a perceptive article dealing with the continued production of high-quality private portraits into the fifth century C.E.

Several contributors address directly a third key topic: the role of workshops and schools in the production of Roman sculpture. Three articles here study it directly: Bejor provides a synthetic overview of the question; Pensabene compares aspects of production in the “schools” of Dokimeion, Aphrodisias, and Nikomedia; and Smith concentrates almost entirely on Aphrodisias. Although Smith’s essay has the narrowest geographic focus, his discussion has broad implications on a notoriously thorny topic, both because of the especially rich primary material from Aphrodisias and because his contribution serves as a programmatic invitation to incorporate, alongside purely stylistic and chronological considerations, the evidence of workshops and schools in the assessment of Roman sculpture.

This volume contains many other stimulating essays, ranging from Auinger’s discussion of the function of the Kaisersaal in Ephesian baths to Simsek’s survey of recent finds from Laodikeia. One final contribution that deserves mention is Koch’s discussion of key questions concerning imperial sarcophagi from Asia Minor; this article includes a handy bibliography on the topic organized thematically and geographically, which brings to date that published by Koch and Sichtermann in Römische Sarkophage (Munich 1982).

This publication amounts to a useful survey of current research on Roman sculpture in Asia Minor and can be read with interest and profit by a wide range of scholars, especially those investigating the production, display, context, and function of Roman art. While the specialist will appreciate the presentation of recently excavated or previously unpublished material as well as the treatment of several controversial topics, all readers will benefit from the general discussion of this fascinating material.

Felipe Rojas
Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island 02912
felipe_rojas@brown.edu

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1161.Rojas

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