Online Review: Book

Mεθώνη Πιερίας I: Επιγραφές, χαράγματα και εμπορικά σύμβολα στη γεωμετρική και αρχαϊκή κεραμική από το "Υπόγειο" της Μεθώνης Πιερίας στη Μακεδονία

Konstantina Chavela

117.3

By Besios Mathaios, Iannis Z. Tziphopoulos, and Antonis Kotsonas (Υ.Π.Δ.Β.Μ.Θ.). Pp. 560, figs. 328, graphs 6. Center for the Greek Language, Thessaloniki 2012. Price not available. ISBN 978-960-7779-51-9 (paper).

According to the literary tradition, ancient Methone is the oldest colony on the north Aegean coast. Recent excavations indicate that the site was inhabited from the Late Neolithic until 354 B.C.E., when it was finally occupied by Philip II. A deep quadrilateral trench was identified that was given the conventional name “Hypogeum” (“underground”) during the excavations that were carried out by the local Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in 2003–2004, led by Besios. Its construction dates back to the late eighth century B.C.E., while its embankment dates to the late eighth and early seventh centuries. Presented in this volume are 191 inscribed pots/sherds that stand out from the abundance of pottery.

The book is divided into five chapters. Tzifopoulos provides a historical diagram of ancient Methone in the first chapter. Besios then presents the excavation data from the Hypogeum; this data is accompanied by an indicative catalogue of the characteristic pottery that provides a specific time frame. Kotsonas conducts a very detailed presentation of the inscribed pottery in chapter 3, which is also the key focus of this publication. In chapter 4, Tzifopoulos presents the inscriptions, engravings, and trade symbols that are encountered in the pottery of the Hypogeum. In the last chapter, all three authors make a brief summary of the data that was presented in the volume and conclude that from the late eighth century B.C.E., if not earlier, Macedonia was an integral part of the uniform Aegean area of Archilochos’ Panhellenes (“ως Πανελλήνων οϊζύς ες Θάσον συνέδραμεν” [fr. 102 West]; see Strabo 8.6.6 for his discussion of the word “Panhellenes”). This is followed by a detailed catalogue of the inscribed pottery. The catalogue is supported by numerous color photographs and black-and-white drawings. Unfortunately, the latter are sometimes inaccurate (e.g., 345, cat. no. 4; 365, cat. no. 18; 465, cat. no. 132), and some photographs are poorly reproduced (e.g., 377, cat. no. 27; 380, cat. no. 29; 459, cat. no. 125).

The material is without doubt impressive, and the objectives set out by the authors in the preface are grandiose. They have made a commendable effort in rapidly making this work available to the scientific community. However, we cannot avoid proposing some objections in the hope that they will provide an opportunity for constructive discussion and rapprochement.

There are three points that I would like to concentrate on. The first relates to the stratigraphy for the Hypogeum, which is identified in three phases: phase I is dated to 730–690 B.C.E.; phase ΙΙ to the first half of the seventh century B.C.E.; and phase III, which is designated as a settlement phase, to the seventh to sixth centuries B.C.E. When one reads the excavation data and notes the mapping for the stratigraphic section (49), there is a feeling that phase I and phase II are in fact one phase. This is accentuated by the presence of late eighth-century pottery also in phase II (123) and because sherds from the same vessel have been detected in layers at great distances in depth. In this case, it is more probable that there has been a backfilling of the area, which I would not have defined as a hypogeum but rather a “dump,” which would have occurred at some time during the first half of the seventh century B.C.E. This would overturn fundamental conclusions in the book, such as those relating to the production of certain types of commercial amphoras from the eighth century B.C.E. Furthermore, Kotsonas has noted that there are few samples from the Aegean and that these have been dated to the late eighth century B.C.E. (230). It is also no coincidence that in his reports on similar material derived from the north Aegean or the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions, he refers to amphoras that have been dated after the mid seventh century B.C.E. I note, for example, the Samian amphoras, which Kotsonas ultimately attributed to the Dupont Types I and II, that have been dated to the late seventh and early sixth centuries and the Lesbian amphora (no. 132) dated to the late eighth century, even though a parallel is found with an amphora from Antissa on Lesbos dated to the seventh/early sixth century B.C.E. Inevitably, if the backfilling of the Hypogeum dates to the first half of the seventh century, it should cause a reassessment of the epigraphical and literary issues of chapter 4, such as in the case of the early coexistence of the sinistrorsum and dextrorsum directions of alphabet (311).

Acknowledging the otherwise difficult endeavor undertaken by Kotsonas, I also have certain reservations about his typological approach. Especially in the case of pottery from the Thermaic Gulf, his choice to ignore the terminology relating to local pottery production that has been established for many years, despite his extensive arguments (117–21, 125–28), renders the typological classification that he proposes problematic and obscure, not only for specialists but also for those researching pottery production in the Thermaic Gulf region. This confusion is accentuated by the detachment of the examined whole from the context, despite claims to the contrary by the author (115). Furthermore, in some cases the author seems to lack familiarity with pottery production in this region: for example, he has confused the thick-walled monochrome pottery with egg-shelled pottery (139–40); in relation to the hook motif (142), he seeks to find parallel elements to the Cretan pottery tradition that is familiar to him, but he overlooked the extant long tradition in Protogeometric and sub-Protogeometric pottery in the wider region (Kastanas and the Toumba of Thessaloniki). However, Kotsonas’ decision to base his typology and attribution largely on the macroscopic observation of the fabric has led him to precarious conclusions. The so-called Methonaean amphoras are an indicative example (150–54). Even though all the morphological data suggest the region of Ionia and predominantly Miletus, Kotsonas attributes the “Methonaean” amphoras to a certain pottery workshop that was operating in the Methone region. It is no coincidence that he recently refuted this theory by ultimately attributing the specific amphoras to Miletus on the basis of petrography analyses (E. Kiriatzi et al., “Inscribed Transport Amphorae at Methone: Provenance and Content,” in Panhellenes at Methone: Graphê in Late Geometric and Protoarchaic Methone, Macedonia (ca 700 BCE) Thessaloniki, June 8–10, 2012 [forthcoming]).

The third and last point I would like to dwell on relates to the reference by authors to the presence of “Thracians” and “Macedonians” in the wider Methone region as far back as the eighth century B.C.E. Since “Thrace” defines the entire region of the north Aegean (thus having a more geographical than national significance), and since we are quite early in a period when cultural or ethnic identities are fluid and still in the process of their genesis, I would suggest more caution when formulating such conclusions. Tzifopoulos, for example, states that when the Eretrians arrived at the southern estuary of the Aliakmonas River in 733 B.C.E., they encountered both Thracians and Macedonians. While elsewhere, based on Pseudo-Scylax, he considers that Methone predates the Macedonian kingdom as a Greek colony. Kotsonas, on the other hand, has relied on Hammond, who himself does not have a clear position on the presence of the Thracians and Macedonians in the Methone regions (301 n. 1574). This leads to the conclusion that Macedonians were the ones who welcomed the first colonists and that this reception was in fact peaceful.

As noted above, the significance of the finds from the Hypogeum for early trade and the history of early writing in this region is great; nevertheless, in light of the wide-ranging objectives laid out in the introduction, one cannot help but feel unfulfilled at the end.

Konstantina Chavela
36th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
4 Agiou Athanassiou Street
302 00 Mesologhi
 Greece

Book Review of Mεθώνη Πιερίας I: Επιγραφές, χαράγματα και εμπορικά σύμβολα στη γεωμετρική και αρχαϊκή κεραμική από το “Υπόγειο” της Μεθώνης Πιερίας στη Μακεδονία, by Besios Mathaios, Iannis Z. Tziphopoulos, and Antonis Kotsonas
Reviewed by Konstantina Chavela
American Journal of Archaeology Volume 117, Number 3 (July 2013), published online at www.ajaonline.org/online-review-book/1619
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1173.Chavela

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.