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Acropoli di Atene: Un microcosmo della produzione e distribuzione della ceramica attica

Acropoli di Atene: Un microcosmo della produzione e distribuzione della ceramica attica

By Elisabetta Pala (Supplementi e monografie della rivista Archeologica Classica 8). Pp. 430, figs. 137, b&w pls. 31. L'Erma di Bretschneider, Rome 2012. €160. ISBN 978-88-8265-625-6 (paper).


Pala's study examines the published Athenian black- and red-figure pottery excavated in various campaigns during the 19th century on the Athenian Acropolis. The pottery studied, largely consisting of fragments, was originally published by Graef and Langlotz (Die antiken Vasen von der Akropolis zu Athen [Berlin 1909–1933]). The goal of Pala's study is to place the Acropolis fragments back into a cultural context in order to illuminate aspects of worship and dedication at ancient Athens' most important cult site. In addition, she considers how the choices of shape, image, and even artist made by dedicants reflected ideology. The book began as her 2007 doctoral thesis at the University of Perugia, and her advisor, Torelli, offers a candid view of Italian education in an unorthodox preface.

The book is divided into two parts: the first considers the archaeological and scholarly history of the fragments, what they can tell us about ritual practice, and how the imagery relates to the cults on the Acropolis. The second part focuses on the vase painters and painting workshops represented among the fragments and includes a conclusion. There are two appendices: a chart summarizing the mythological themes present, which is the subject of a chapter in part 1, and an essay discussing the nonmythological imagery. A catalogue reproduces much of Die antiken Vasen in summary form, and additional images selected from the German Archaeological Institute photograph archive of black-figure fragments catalogued but not illustrated in Die antiken Vasen form a set of 31 plates. New photographs taken by the author of the Acropolis fragments on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the New Acropolis Museum also appear as figures in the text.

The book is probably most useful for a non–vase painting specialist or an Italian student looking for an introduction to the only published pottery from the Athenian Acropolis. It does not supplant Die antiken Vasen, but it provides a limited commentary on it. For those with Italian but not German reading ability, the book also provides a back door to the catalogue in Die antiken Vasen. Serious readers will want to have Die antiken Vasen with them anyway because many fragments are referenced but not illustrated by Pala, and some new photographs do not contain sub-fragments essential for her iconographic interpretation. Many long discussions summarize previous scholarship and ancient literary sources as background to images or topics. For advanced scholars, these discussions present basic details and offer few new insights.

It is true that no one has quite written a book like this before, but Wagner came to many similar conclusions in her 1997 dissertation ("Dedication Practices on the Athenian Acropolis," Oxford University) and in two articles ("The Worship of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis: Dedications of Plaques and Plates," in S. Deacy and A. Villing, eds., Athena in the Classical World [Leiden 2001] 95–104; "Des Vases pour Athéna: Quelques réflexions sur l'Acropole d'Athènes comme contexte," in P. Rouillard and A. Verbanck-Piérard, eds., Le vase grec et ses destins [Munich 2003] 49–56). Scholars have mined Die antiken Vasen for statistical studies (e.g., L. Hannestad, "The Athenian Painter and the Home Market," in J. Christiansen and T. Melander, eds., Ancient Greek and Related Pottery [Copenhagen 1988] 222–30), and others have characterized its contents without statistical analysis. For example, it is generally accepted that the Acropolis fragments include exceptional examples of vase painting and that the iconography of many fragments reflects cult activities. Pala addresses some of these assumptions and supports them with evidence and analysis. In addition to Wagner's works, this book will be convenient for scholars to cite when referring to the character of the Acropolis figured pottery. However, Pala herself reveals the limitations of this study. She states, "For bureaucratic reasons, I only had access to a small number of fragments in the storerooms of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, but I have examined and photographed all the fragments on exhibit there in addition to those moved to the New Acropolis Museum" (28 n. 64). Die antiken Vasen itself is a selection of the pottery found in the Acropolis excavations, thus the author's personal autopsy was limited to a subset of a subset. Pala views the fragments in Die antiken Vasen, her dataset, as representative and uses quantification and statistics to support interpretations. Regrettably, there is no way to know how representative the pottery in Die antiken Vasen is of the whole, since the selection criteria were not stated in that publication. Thus, interpreting changes in dedicatory behavior based on the number of fragments in Die antiken Vasen by quarter-century may be impressionistic rather than authoritative.

Pala also assumes that all the pottery originated as dedications on the Athenian Acropolis, although in reviewing scholarship on the excavations, she notes that much of the pottery came from fills—not primary deposits such as debris from cleanup after the Persian destruction of Athens in 479 B.C.E. Stewart calculated that fifth-century B.C.E. construction projects on the Acropolis required more than 50,000 m3 of fill ("The Persian and Carthaginian Invasions of 480 B.C.E. and the Beginning of the Classical Style: Part 1, the Stratigraphy, Chronology, and Significance of the Acropolis Deposits," AJA 108 [2008] 377–412, esp. 389). Much of the fill came from the slopes of the Acropolis and the city below. Stewart noted that several white-ground funerary lekythoi and ostraka excavated on the Acropolis indicate the secular origin of some of the fill. Nevertheless, dedicatory inscriptions, specific cultic iconography, and excellent-quality pottery do indicate that many of the fragments in Die antiken Vasen were offerings in sanctuaries. Pala's discussion is most convincing when discussing imagery suitable for Athena Polias (also covered by Wagner [2001, 2003]), but, for example, some of the numerous scenes of Herakles may have come from elsewhere, including the houses of Athens, and do not necessarily contribute to evidence for the presence of a shrine of Herakles on the Acropolis.

The book is not easy to use. It has no index. The plates are not referenced in the text, only in the catalogue. Conversely, the figures are not referenced in the catalogue, and figures that appear in early chapters are not always cited when the same fragment is discussed in a later chapter. Some new photographs are not well lit or are out of focus. The few color images, as printed in the review copy, are strongly orange. ABV and ARV2 references are not consistently given, and when non-Acropolis vases are mentioned, rarely is an image source given. As noted, the catalogue unfortunately is not a replacement for Die antiken Vasen but needs to be used with it, if you have a copy at your disposal. It provides a summary of the entries in Die antiken Vasen, though eliminates Graef and Langlotz's occasional, precious comment on findspot, but it does add Beazley references and dates when the author or others have given them. The Italian is nicely written by a person passionate about the beauty of vase painting, but there are typographical errors, including the spelling of Oscar Broneer's name throughout.

Wagner (2003, 53) noted that she saw in a corner of the storerooms of the National Archaeological Museum "a cardboard box with tantalizing contents of particular interest: it was filled with about 0.5 m2 of unpublished [Acropolis] fragments." I had hoped that Pala had access to new fragments, but that is not the case. This is a study of a study and thus reflects the idiosyncrasies of the original selections in Die antiken Vasen, and the data set is not robust enough to characterize what was promised by the book's subtitle, "A Microcosm of the Production and Distribution of Athenian Ceramics." Rather, a "snapshot" would be a more accurate description of the study, because snapshots do not always give the full picture.

Department of Classics
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio 45221

Book Review of Acropoli di Atene: Un microcosmo della produzione e distribuzione della ceramica attica, by Elisabetta Pala

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Lynch

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Lynch

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