Online Review: Book

Greek City Walls of the Archaic Period, 900–480 BC

Rune Frederiksen

117.1

Reviewed by Claire Balandier

Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology. Pp. xxx + 238, figs. 114, tables 15, maps 4. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011. $170. ISBN 978-0-19-957812-2 (cloth).


This book, based on a Ph.D. thesis defended at the University of Copenhagen in 2004, is a most welcome addition to the archaeological studies of city walls. Frederiksen tries to fill a gap in the studies on fortifications of the Archaic period, since almost nothing has been published on this topic. However, this elegant volume only partly fills the lacuna.

In fact, the material covered in the book is broader than its title. In the first half of the book, the author not only treats different aspects of fortification and city wall studies from the Iron Age to the Early Hellenistic period, he also devotes parts of the discussion to the relationship between poleis and city walls. The second half of the book is devoted to a catalogue of the fortified sites. After an introductory chapter (1–7) that summarizes the history of research on archaic walls, the second chapter inventories the different types of fortifications and raises the fundamental question of the relationship between polis and fortification. I prefer to use the Greek word "polis" instead of "city," since the latter's meaning is not the same in all languages. The English expression "city wall" itself raises a problem, and we should rather speak of "town walls" or "urban fortification" because these walls protected mainly the astu or urban center of a polis, or sometimes a secondary built-up area and even perioikoi agglomerations.

Although the author refers to Hansen's studies on the Greek polis, he makes some questionable statements. For example, it is difficult to conclude that "the polis emerges at the same time as these early walls" (e.g., Asine, Eretria, Megara Hyblaea, Old Smyrna) (9). Asking if the building of the first city walls is contemporaneous with the emergence of the polis (the institution) is not the same thing as asking if these first city walls were contemporaneous with the first urban agglomerations. Although recent studies in Sicily (H. Tréziny in M. Gras et al., Mégara Hyblaea. Vol. 5, La ville archaïque: L'espace urbain d'une cité grecque de Sicile orientale [Rome 2004] 237–301) have shown that some ancient towns were fortified probably already at the time of their foundation, this was not the case in all western Greek cities or in continental Greece, despite very rare examples. Moreover, in the Classical period, not all fortified inhabited areas were poleis: for example, Laconian or Thessalian perioikoi towns, which belonged to the polis of Sparta or Pharsale, were fortified but were not poleis themselves.

Chapter 3 (20–40) examines city walls and attestations of actual fortified poleis in the written records and the visual arts and gives a useful inventory of the different meanings of the words teichos and pyrgos, in addition to verbs and adjectives derived from teichos. Although the author acknowledges that Homeric references to walls are difficult to interpret, he believes that occurrences of the term teichos in the archaic and classical literature give a reliable picture of the situation in archaic times.

In the fourth chapter (41–9), the author deals with the preservation of city walls and the different methods of destruction (e.g., expansion, reconstruction, natural disaster) that occurred from antiquity to modern times. He suggests that the complete destruction of archaic city walls explains why it is commonly noted that Greek poleis were not protected by walls before classical and Hellenistic times; he believes that archaic fortifications could be found under all later remains of city walls.

The archaeology of city walls is presented in chapter 5 (50–61), which inventories the different types of urban fortifications and their components but says very little about towers and gates or building techniques. This chapter will thus not replace Winter's Greek Fortifications (London 1971) on the subject; nevertheless, the descriptions of several walls from the Classical period complements McNicolls' Hellenistic Fortifications from the Aegean to the Euphrates (Oxford 1997).

The sixth chapter (62–9) discusses the dating of city walls—a crucial problem in studies of fortifications. The author argues that walls can be dated by external evidence and by masonry style (to support this last claim, illustrations would have been useful). Here we find a serious methodological problem. The author rightly points out that "attempts to correlate developments in masonry styles to absolute dating have failed and that R.L. Scranton's book [Greek Walls (Cambridge 1941)] has been severely criticized" (64). And while comparisons among masonry styles can be useful to either establish relative chronology on one fortification circuit or to propose a date for a wall compared with another one already dated by excavations, it is difficult to concur that Scranton's "book remains a fundamental tool in the study of ancient Greek city wall architecture" (64). It should be kept in mind that the choice of masonry style is first of all a technical and economical one. Moreover, the style is adapted to the function of the portion of wall: for example, polygonal style is more efficient to sustain the pressure of soil and is more common in a terrace wall than on a two-faced curtain wall, which explains why this st

DOI: 
10.3764/ajaonline1171.Balandier

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