Online Review: Book

The Greeks Beyond the Aegean: From Marseilles to Bactria. Papers Presented at an International Symposium held at the Onassis Cultural Center, New York, 12 October 2002

Franco De Angelis


Edited by V. Karageorghis. Pp. x + 207, b&w figs. 59, color figs. 72. Alexander S. Onassis Foundation, New York 2002. ISBN 9963-8885-0-X (cloth).

In 1999 John Boardman noted the recent reinvigoration of the study of the Greeks outside Greece and credited it to a number of scholarly and global developments (The Greeks Overseas, 4th ed. [London 1999] 267–82). According to this volume’s introduction (viii), yet another development has emerged for the study of these Greeks: the destruction of Afghanistan’s cultural and archaeological heritage. The Alexander S. Onassis Foundation in New York City responded by organizing a symposium on the ancient Greeks outside Greece, with two stated goals: to increase public awareness of these Greeks, and, above all, to use them in a relevant way in today’s world (viii). Stelio Papadimitriou, the foundation’s president, elaborates on the second goal in his brief preface: “Hellenic culture, with its universal and diachronic values and ideals, has become the backbone of Western culture and to a large extent of the whole civilized world” (vii).

This volume, therefore, seeks to grapple with an increasingly interconnected world and the different ways diverse peoples appeal to the ancient Greeks outside Greece. Of the nine distinguished scholars contributing to this volume, one notes a particular enthusiasm for this endeavor on the part of the Greeks themselves. In general, all the contributors proceed along traditional lines, both in terms of their questions and approaches. Postcolonialism and other applicable advances in theory are not to be found here. Nevertheless, the volume contains handy overviews of some main areas settled by the Greeks; some of these studies are more narrowly focused than others, and almost all are written in English (one is in French). The gaps in coverage are noteworthy; southern Italy, Sicily, Cyrene, the northern Aegean, and the Propontis receive no direct treatment. Even so, students and scholars alike will find this handsomely produced and lavishly illustrated volume a welcome addition to their reading.

Chapter 1 (1–5) by Nikolaos Stampolidis provides a very brief summary of the Aegean Greeks before their settlement overseas. Here the author sketches out the movements of people during the 12th and 11th centuries, as well as the nature of Greek culture in the so-called Dark Age. Developments in eighth-century Greece are thought to have led to the creation of a “national conscience” (2–3), and a few lines later we read that Greece disseminated this national culture to her “colonies.” This notion of a fully fledged homeland culture exported to the periphery is an old one that has been rightly questioned in recent scholarship (130).

The next two chapters concentrate on Near Eastern regions. The first, written by Vassos Karageorghis, deals with the Greeks in Cyprus (6–22). It begins by touching very lightly on the complex question of approaching the history of a strategically located island containing diverse cultural elements. Karageorghis recognizes the political situation in which he works, making no excuses for his Greek patriotism, but at the same time he is careful not to discard the role of the Phoenicians and other cultures in the development of early historic Cyprus. Politics aside, this is a detailed and valuable roundup of the evidence for the Greeks in pre-Hellenistic Cyprus. Karageorghis discusses in particular the arrival of the Mycenaeans to the island and how they went on to create kingdoms in the 11th century B.C. and to resist successfully foreign cultural elements. He concludes that Cyprus may again become the bridge it was in antiquity between East and West, when it joins the European Union (cf. his Early Cyprus: Crossroads of the Mediterranean [Los Angeles 2002]).

The third chapter is by Jean-Yves Empereur (23–42) and focuses on the Greeks in Egypt, from later prehistory to the Graeco-Roman period. He sketches out in his native French a topic that, as he admits, deserves a thick volume unto itself. The discussion is divided into four phases: “le temps des objets” (Bronze Age), “le temps des soldats, des marchands et des savants” (Archaic and Classical periods), “le temps de l’Égypte macédonienne” (Alexander the Great and Ptolemaic periods), and “période gréco-égyptienne” (early imperial Rome). Empereur succeeds in giving a coherent and valuable account of both recent discoveries and the restudy of older material for new insights.

Chapters 4 and 5 take us into the central and western Mediterranean. In chapter 4 (43–58), Larissa Bonfante addresses the Greeks in Etruria. This is one of the more narrowly focused contributions, concentrating on the influence of Greek culture and myths in Etruscan orientalizing and Archaic iconography. She concludes that the Etruscans expressed their own local traditions through Greek artistic and iconographic conventions. While this is a conclusion that most scholars would find acceptable, less pleasing to some will be a number of Bonfante’s statements regarding Etruscan development. For instance, we are told that the Phoenicians in Sardinia taught the Etruscans how to use metals and that the Greeks brought the Etruscans civilization, here defined as the culture of cities, in spite of their own early start in this regard: “The early Etruscan inhabitants of the area were already clustering their settlements into larger nuclei in the Villanovan period, and these were ready to develop into cities when the Greeks came west” (44). Bonfante’s piece reflects the ongoing tensions of internal versus external explanations in Etruscan history.

The Greeks of Massalia in the Mediterranean’s “Far West” are the subject of Antoine Hermary’s contribution (59–77). This is a focused and wide-ranging piece with four particular aims: to trace Massalia’s urban development between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C., to investigate the participation of other Ionians in its foundation, to estimate Massalia’s economic and political sphere of involvement, and to discuss the various players involved in Archaic maritime trade. Hermary duly proceeds to expound current views on all these matters, especially in regard to synthesizing recent developments at Marseilles and environs in land and maritime archaeology, including the discovery of four late sixth-century B.C. shipwrecks.

The volume’s two longest contributions follow in chapters 6 and 7. In the first of these, Pierre Leriche provides a wonderfully colorful and detailed overview of the Hellenistic Near East, from Syria to Bactria (78–128). Among Leriche’s themes are the importance of archaeology in studying these regions in this period, the relations between native and incoming populations (involving, at times, confrontation but usually peaceful coexistence and intermarriage), the mixed nature of material culture, and the dating and nature of Hellenistic urbanism. In the case of urbanism, Leriche discusses recent changes in the dating of previously supposed Hellenistic settlements and monuments, as well as the commonplace assumption that Hellenistic settlements, such as Dura-Europos, were laid out entirely at the time of their foundation.

Chapter 7, by Gocha Tsetskhladze, is devoted to the Greeks beyond the Bosporus (129–66). This piece begins by outlining its conceptual framework, a very laudable but all too rare occasion in the volume. Like Leriche, Tsetskhladze directs his efforts to the physical development of settlements and native Greek relations, but he also includes welcome discussions of the rural and economic dimensions of his material. He observes that “not everything looked particularly Greek owing to demographic considerations and the presence of a local population” (131), with whom (it is frequently emphasized) the Greeks integrated from the outset. Some of the settlements that the Greeks helped to establish only took on a recognizably Greek character a century to a century and a half later, and many remained completely irregular or only partially planned throughout their existence.

The volume’s last two chapters deal with religious matters. In chapter 8, Elizabeth Stone explores the artistic inspiration for a series of stone pillars in Mauryan India (167–88). She begins by considering the interaction between India and Greece before and after Alexander the Great, including the possibility of Indians traveling to the Greek world. Against this backdrop she examines the highly polished sandstone pillars, some more than 50 ft. high, that accompanied funerary mounds symbolizing the death and final enlightenment of the Buddha. These pillars contain a mix of Indian and Greek artistic elements, some of the latter out of fashion among the Greeks by this point. Stone argues that there were few, if any, intermediaries between the Greek sources and their Indian translation.

In the final chapter, Polymnia Athanassiadi discusses religious diversity and unity in late antiquity (189–207). She follows Julian in seeing Hellenism as providing the conditions for a global theological Koine. Christianity was at odds with such a world view, and Athanassiadi traces the tensions between these two religious visions in the “war of images” that ensued, in which Christianity obliterated pagan scenes and marginalized regional branches. The last word is given to Hellenism’s theological legacy: “by integrating into one pyramidal structure all local pieties through the complementary processes of syncretism and hiearchization, Hellenism did pave the way for the reception of the hardest of all monotheisms—Islam” (205).

The various contributions that make up this volume will be useful to students and scholars interested in the ancient Greeks outside Greece, even though the volume itself does not live up to the goals expressed in the preface and introduction. And there is no concluding chapter to help us comprehend how understanding the ancient Greeks outside Greece can enlighten us about today’s world. Part of the problem undoubtedly lies in the fact that some contributors were more interested in openly pursuing this goal than others. But leaving such a potentially ingenious thread loose is hazardous. Otherwise, such talk is best avoided, or at least left to those scholars, such as Salvatore Settis (Futuro del “classico” [Turin 2004]), who seriously discuss the encounter between classicism and the present-day civilizations of the Middle and Far East. Nonetheless, the volume makes material accessible, especially through its individualized bibliographies and high level of illustration, and should find a place on the reading lists of students and scholars alike.

Franco De Angelis
Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies
The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z1

Book Review of The Greeks beyond the Aegean: From Marseilles to Bactria, edited by V. Karageorghis

Reviewed by Franco De Angelis

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 110, Number 2 (April 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1102.DeAngelis

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