Online Review: Book

L'architecture grecque. Vol. 3, Habitat, urbanisme et fortifications

Lisa Nevett


By M.C. Hellmann (Manuels d'art et d'archéologie antiques). Pp. 400, figs. 541, color pls. 17. Picard, Paris 2010. €90. ISBN 978-2-7084-0863-0 (cloth).

This book is the third in a comprehensive series on Greek architecture, all by the same author, Hellmann, who is known especially for her research on the architecture of the archaic Cyclades and on the architectural vocabulary used in the epigraphic sources from Delos. The series as a whole covers the principles of construction (vol. 1 [Paris 2002]; reviewed by B. Barletta in AJA 107 [2003] 309–10), religious and funerary architecture (vol. 2 [Paris 2006]), and the housing, urban form, and fortifications that are the subject of this volume. Although the material is arranged differently, the series represents a companion to Gros' two-volume L'architecture romaine: Du début du IIIe siècle av. J.-C. à la fin du Haut-Empire (vol. 1 [Paris 1996]; reviewed by W.L. MacDonald in AJA 102 [1998] 614–17; vol. 2 [Paris 2001]). The intended audience of these manuals includes interested readers and students, and the stated aim is to address a wide variety of monuments within a historical framework, using an accessible written style.

The volume under review opens with a short introduction setting out the history of research on relevant topics and raising some major issues. In relation to housing, these include the influence of Vitruvius' description of Greek housing on archaeological research; the use of the terms pastas and prostas; and the recent adoption by Greek archaeologists of questions and methods influenced by "household archaeology" (as practiced by anthropological archaeologists). Issues concerning urban form and fortifications are treated more briefly, focusing on the origins of the "Hippodamian" city plan. The remainder of the book covers three categories of architecture individually in separate parts. The first part, devoted to housing, is the longest, with the majority of space given to the development of urban house forms. (Palaces and the role played by craft production and trade in relation to domestic buildings are considered separately.) This is followed by shorter sections devoted to rural housing and to more technical matters such as construction methods and materials, water supply, and drainage. Part 2 explores the topics of urbanism (its definition, origins, and infrastructure) and the role and development of the agora, along with associated buildings. Part three covers city walls, extra-urban fortifications, and military harbors.

In each case, the main purpose is to explore a wide range of archaeological examples that are arranged in sections and subsections that deal with specific groups of material or with particular topics. Most of the discussion is descriptive and highlights change through time, with the individual sites and monuments considered against a broadly historical backdrop. (As well as passing references in the text to historical figures and events, a detailed chronological table and an index of historical figures are provided.) Organization of the material is generally clear and logical, although certain topics, such as the location of windows in residential buildings or arrangements made for water supply and drainage, are touched on in more than one place. The reader also has to track down discussion of civic buildings such as bouleuteria within the section on the agora, although this can easily be done with the aid of the glossary, which gives page references to key discussions of technical terms and complements similar glossaries included in volumes 1 and 2 of the series. In addition to setting out the evidence in detail, Hellmann engages to some degree with the work of previous scholars. For example, she critically evaluates the main thrust of Hoepfner and Schwandner's revolutionary Haus und Stadt in klassischen Griechenland (2nd ed. [Munich 1994]). She also raises some interpretative problems relevant to her material, such as possible gender associations of different areas of classical houses, how to define an "urban" settlement, or the roles played by extra-urban towers. These discussions are not indexed, however, reinforcing that the main emphasis is on the primary evidence.

Coverage in all three parts is impressive in its breadth and thoroughness, taking in sites from the 10th century B.C.E. (and even comparanda from the Late Bronze Age) through to the Roman period. The geographical extent of the volume is equally comprehensive, encompassing sites not only in present-day Greece, Turkey, and southern Italy but also from as far afield as Libya, Syria, and the Black Sea coast. As might be expected, certain well-preserved and/or extensively excavated examples, particularly Delos, crop up repeatedly in different contexts. However, discussion of the archaeological material is appropriately free of the Athenocentrism that necessarily dominates so much of our modern view of the classical Greek world. Instead, what emerges is a densely textured conspectus of a wide variety of archaeological evidence in which examples that are usually less extensively cited, such as the houses of Orraon/Ammotopos (Epiros) or the harbor installations at Apollonia (Cyrenaica), are given full consideration. Readers interested in a variety of dimensions of a specific site will find it possible to locate relevant discussion using the index of place names, which is subdivided by topic and includes references to illustrations as well as text. Maps of Greece and Asia Minor, and of Italy and Sicily, enable many of the sites to be located, although maps of the Black Sea, the Near East, and North Africa are not included.

Hellmann's text is supported by numerous high-quality illustrations comprising photographs and line drawings offering plans and elevations. Most of this material is reproduced from other publications. That the plans and elevations have not been redrawn superficially lends a somewhat eclectic feel but is in fact an advantage, bringing the reader more directly into contact with the original publications of numerous field projects. Detailed captions offer full references to the sources of the individual images. Extensive footnotes also trace previous treatments of specific issues, and these notes are supplemented by a short additional bibliography at the end of the volume. References are impressively up-to-date (even including a couple of works published in 2010) and draw on a range of scholarship that includes works in Greek, German, Italian, and English, as well as in French. In addition to the illustrations, discussion of the archaeological evidence is also supplemented by reproducing occasional images from painted pottery (e.g., representations of house doors) and, especially, by quotations (in translation) from a wide range of relevant ancient literary texts and inscriptions, in Latin and Greek, which are listed in a separate index.

In sum, taken alongside its companion volumes, this is a useful reference work. The detailed discussion and numerous illustrations offer a convenient resource for scholars or students wanting, for instance, to resolve a quick factual question, look for examples of a particular type of building, or find an outline of the historical development of a specific form of structure. The generous and up-to-date references also provide a helpful entry into the specialist literature for anyone beginning research on a particular site or type of structure. It would be helpful to have a comparable resource available in English for use with Anglophone students. Nevertheless, those with a limited knowledge of French should not be deterred from consulting this volume: its accessible format and straightforward language make it approachable by such an audience.

Lisa Nevett
Department of Classical Studies
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1003

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1154.Nevett

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