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Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece

Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece

By Anthony M. Snodgrass. Pp. ix + 485, figs. 55, tables 4. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y. 2006. $39.95. ISBN 978-0-8014-7354-8 (paper).


In his recent survey of Greek archaeology in this journal, Robin Osborne made four substantial points (AJA 108 [2004] 87–102): survey archaeology has delivered less than one might have hoped but still has huge potential; issues of community development and deposition practice have left arguments about state formation behind; the reengagement with iconography and visual representation has brought new insights to the field; and major overviews and interpretations are a desideratum of new scholarship. The volume under review, a collection of 25 previously published papers by Snodgrass, covering more than 40 years of scholarship, has an interesting relationship with this critique. Snodgrass anticipates much of Osborne’s commentary, and indeed the introduction to one chapter (4) quotes from Osborne; setting the two side by side encourages the question, why does this programmatic approach still have so much ground to cover?

The volume is divided into six sections. Each has an introduction explaining linkages among the papers, and each paper also has a brief preamble indicating issues that have since emerged, changes of interpretation and occasionally retractions, and occasionally restatements of the position. The first section is methodologically driven and returns repeatedly to the demand for the emancipation of archaeology from classical philology and its demands. The second focuses on the Early Iron Age in Greece, with papers that draw on the full range of European prehistory, and in his now famous account of “an historical Homeric society,” the legal and literary problems that beset the juxtaposition of the written versions of oral poetry and the archaeological record. In section 3, the polis comes under scrutiny from a variety of directions—trade, architecture, peer polity interaction, sanctuary dedications, and colonization. Section 4 looks at warfare: two papers on hoplites and a less well-known piece on the historical significance of fortifications, advancing the claim that there were two phases: the first producing local temporary responses to particular circumstance, the second creating more permanent structures, and these with a stronger influence from the east. The fifth section exemplifies the interest in iconography, to which Snodgrass’ own Homer and the Artists: Text and Picture in Early Greek Art (Cambridge 1998) contributed. The final section reflects on field survey. Some of the papers are now very well known, but others are either lesser known or in less accessible edited collections.

As one would expect, the contributions are unfailingly lively and challenging, and the new comments are interesting. Although brief, and occasionally wryly humorous, they do contain some important thoughts and rebuttals. In the introduction to chapter 7 on the coming of the Iron Age to Greece, Snodgrass holds out against Morris’ argument (Man 24 [1989] 505–19) that the deposition of iron was a social choice and driven by its new prestige, whereas Snodgrass emphasizes hard economic necessity and the difficulty of rationing a widely available metal. (Morris is the most frequent interlocutor, as it were, in the volume, in particular his revision of Snodgrass’ account of demographic change.) With reference to the rather different challenges of Latacz, who saw a long prehistory of hoplite warfare, and van Wees, who is unconvinced that we can see a fully developed hoplite phalanx even by 600 B.C.E., Snodgrass holds to his position on the central importance of the seventh-century material record of armor dedication in sanctuaries for his view of the development of “classic” items of hoplite armor.

The collection is convenient and well presented. One could give the whole to any aspiring graduate as a model of how to construct arguments; in every case, there is a question, the deployment of evidence, and the arrival at an answer. Snodgrass describes himself as a “converger,” one of those who excels at “getting the right answer where there is a right answer” (200–1). He is of course far more than this, but the essay form in his hands is a tool for asking and answering questions. It is striking that in the three areas of success that Osborne identified—survey, the deployment of arguments from deposition practices, and the analysis of iconography—Snodgrass was often one of the first to argue the case and to exemplify the possibilities.

Does the book add up to more than a useful collection? Osborne lamented the absence of the grand synthesis, and while this book is more coherent than many conference proceedings, it has no pretensions. Oddly, despite that few scholars have Snodgrass’ range (ch. 5 demonstrates a knowledge of the politics of the archaeology of Roman Britain and Roman Germany that is keen and critical), one might argue that there is much more to say now. The sophistication of regional study in Italy is now so considerable, for instance, and the complexity of the picture revealed is so great, that we could profitably do more to juxtapose evidence and models from both countries and not just in the areas of Greek colonization. Italy from the Late Bronze Age to the Archaic period offers a plethora of points of contact; the use of radiocarbon and dendrochronological data is challenging our chronological models; sanctuary and burial evidence is abundant and open to subtle reading; survey in Italy has been revelatory—Snodgrass himself draws attention to Metaponto. Inevitably, this collection leaves one wanting more.

Nevertheless, the need for the kinds of archaeological synthesis that Osborne identified requires not just the accumulation of information but also the perception of the relationships between people and processes. It is in the construction of a wise and fundamentally humane archaeology that this book achieves more than simple convenience. It is the intellectual challenge—the exemplification of how to argue a case, to explain, and to remain open to new ideas and new discoveries—that constitutes the value of this book.

Christopher Smith
School of Classics
University of St. Andrews
Fife KY16 9AL
United Kingdom

Book Review of Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece, by Anthony M. Snodgrass

Reviewed by Christopher Smith

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 4 (October 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1114.Smith

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