Online Review: Book

The Lower City of Olbia (Sector NGS) in the 6th Century BC to the 4th Century AD

Valeriya Kozlovskaya


Edited by Nina A. Lejpunskaja, Pia Guldager Bilde, Jakob Munk Højte, Valentina V. Krapivina, and Sergej Kryžickij (Black Sea Studies 13). 2 vols. Vol. 1, Text. Pp. 657, tables 32; vol. 2, Plates. Pp. 407, b&w and color pls. 407. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus 2010. $110. ISBN 978-87-7934-523-2 (cloth).

This two-volume book is the final (13th) part of the Black Sea Studies series that has been published by the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Black Sea Studies since the center’s foundation in 2002. (The BBS acronym on the spine, instead of BSS, for Black Sea Studies, is probably a misprint.) It is also the most substantial contribution to the series in terms of both its size and format, so that while the other 12 volumes are certainly of high quality, this final one probably required the most effort on the part of the editors and everyone else involved. It can therefore be viewed as a perfect conclusion to the series (it is not likely that more volumes will come out, at least for the time being, since currently the center has no funding to support its work beyond 2010). As is evident from the title, the subject of the book is the Lower City of Olbia—the site of the ancient Greek colony on the northern coast of the Black Sea, located in the territory of modern Ukraine. In general, Olbia is one of the best-excavated north Pontic sites, and, without any doubt, the best-published one, both in Ukraine and abroad. In the Black Sea Studies series alone, six of the volumes include at least one article on Olbia and its vicinities, and several articles in the rest of the volumes feature the site in a more general context. Outside the Danish Centre for Black Sea Studies, the most recent publications on Olbia are Classical Olbia and the Scythian World (D. Braund and S.D. Kryzhitskiy, eds. [Oxford 2007]); several chapters in Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea (D.V. Grammenos and E.K. Petropoulos, eds. [Thessaloniki 2003]) and Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2 (D.V. Grammenos and E.K. Petropoulos, eds. [Oxford 2007]); in the volumes of the Colloquia Pontica series, published by Brill; and numerous articles in specialized periodicals such as Ancient West and East, Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, and Eurasia Antiqua. It is, however, the first time that a publication of such a scale is devoted entirely to a particular sector in the Lower City of Olbia. This is significant because, for a number of reasons, we have much less information about the Lower City than about the Upper City.

Over many centuries, this part of the site seems to have suffered more than any other. First of all, in antiquity the territory of the Lower City must have been much bigger, but now a considerable part of it is located underwater. Secondly, during later periods, it was convenient to remove stones from the site of Olbia to be used in the construction of other structures, since they could be transported by water, as was the case, for example, with the Turkish fortresses built in the vicinity—with the result that the ancient ruins located in the Lower City suffered most. Furthermore, the Lower City endured the most severe damage during the occupation of this area in World War II. Finally, until recently, illicit excavations presented yet another major threat to the site in general and to this area in particular. It must also be added that archaeological work undertaken in this part of Olbia was less intense than the work in the Upper City. Although the first investigations of the former started in the early 19th century, the excavations that followed were more or less sporadic and covered only certain areas of the Lower City, mostly in its southern and central parts, as well as some of the submerged territory. In 1985, regular excavations began in the northern part of the Lower City, in the area referred to as sector NGS (the acronym comes from the Russian Nizhnii Gorod Sever, which means “Lower City North”).

The book under review presents the finds from the excavations in sector NGS in the fullest possible detail. Apart from a short introduction, containing a brief history of the archaeological work in the Lower City (13–15) in general and in sector NGS (15–18) in particular, as well as a stage-by-stage summary of the architectural development of the Lower City (19–24), the publication features all the finds, with the second volume’s excellent illustrations—drawings, photographs, and plans—accompanying the text of the first volume. It has to be noted that not only are many artifacts published here for the first time but also that the plans of the excavated areas, as well as many architectural reconstruction drawings, were prepared specifically for this edition. Building remains are discussed at length (27–114), followed by a description and some analysis of various categories of finds, with a catalogue of artifacts for each category, and a context list (525–87) and numerous tables with data for statistical considerations (589–627) at the end of the first volume. The largest group of finds comprises ceramic objects (121–437), including various categories of pottery, such as Late Archaic painted tableware, black-figure and red-figure pottery, moldmade bowls, gray ware and red ware pottery, cooking ware, glossed pottery, transport amphoras, handmade and thick-walled pottery, and louteria, as well as lamps. Other categories of finds are terracottas (439–63), sculpture (465–67), molds (473–77), small stone objects (469–71), and objects made out of metal (479–82), bone (483–86), and glass (487–97), followed by graffiti (499–517), weights (519–20), tiles (521–22), and architectural details (523–24). Such abundance of material makes this publication extremely useful not only to scholars interested in the Greek colonies on the northern coast of the Black Sea and in Olbia in particular but also to specialists in many other fields of ancient studies, including pottery and ceramic production, trade, and art and architecture. The extensive bibliography at the end of the first volume is of great interest to an even broader scholarly audience, since it contains references to a wide range of publications on a variety of relevant topics.

Valeriya Kozlovskaya

Book Review of The Lower City of Olbia (Sector NGS) in the 6th Century BC to the 4th Century AD, edited by Nina A. Lejpunskaja et al.

Reviewed by Valeriya Kozlovskaya

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 2 (April 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1152.Kozlovskaya

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