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Delphi and Olympia: The Spatial Politics of Panhellenism in the Archaic and Classical Periods

Delphi and Olympia: The Spatial Politics of Panhellenism in the Archaic and Classical Periods

By Michael Scott. Pp. xix + 356, figs. 60. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010. $95. ISBN 978-0-521-19126-5 (cloth).

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Of all the famous ancient sites in the Greek world, Delphi and Olympia have arguably attracted the most scholarly attention. As Scott states in his introduction, a reader might pick up his new book and think, “not another book on Delphi and Olympia!” But this new volume is different. Scott emphasizes that Delphi is much more than the site of the oracle, and that Olympia is much more than the place of the athletic games. He focuses on the “dynamic, complicated, and vital roles played by these sanctuaries in the wider Greek world” (1) by examining how each site developed—and the spatial politics involved in their growth—during the Archaic and Classical periods. Scott explains that the theoretical approach of spatial analysis has been growing in popularity in the last 30 years (12–15) but has tended to focus on the micro and macro levels. At the micro level, individual structures have been examined without considering their broader spatial contexts. At the macro level, the wider landscape has been studied. For Delphi and Olympia, however, their status simply as Panhellenic sites within the larger landscape has been seen as sufficient to understand them. Scott proposes a middle-level analysis, with the goal of examining how multiple levels of space interact and are perceived and experienced by different users at both sites. He argues that his approach offers greater insights into the place of these sanctuaries within the wider Greek world.

In his discussion of Delphi, Scott reviews developments in three separate chapters corresponding to three time periods: 650–500 B.C.E.; 500–400 B.C.E.; and 400–300 B.C.E. He provides multiple plans to illustrate his points, focusing on the Apollo sanctuary, but with some discussion of the Athena precinct as well. Scott briefly acknowledges the scholarship dealing with earlier phases (i.e., C. Morgan, Athletes and Oracles: The Transformation of Olympia and Delphi in the Eighth Century B.C. [Cambridge 1990]) but notes that it is in the period 650–500 B.C.E. that Delphi became one of the richest, most elaborate, and active oracular sanctuaries in Greece. No temples were built until the mid seventh century B.C.E., and in the second half of the seventh century, the first treasury was dedicated (by Corinth), followed by many dedications made in precious metals from eastern sites. In the first half of the sixth century, many more buildings and a peribolos wall were constructed. The sanctuary was then enlarged and reconfigured in the middle of the sixth century B.C.E. after the Apollo temple burned down. Numerous statues were dedicated (by poleis and by individuals) in the second half of the sixth century and placed on the new temple terrace. Most of the monumental offerings were erected by eastern and western dedicators, rather than poleis near Delphi. The western dedicators offered a string of impressive treasury buildings of great variety on the west side of the sanctuary. In the 500–400 B.C.E. phase, there was a move toward dedications honoring military victories. The site was frequented primarily by poleis of Magna Graecia but also Athens. Spatial changes occurred, such as trends toward spatial domination as well as spatial association of dedications. In the last phase (the fourth century B.C.E.), honorific statues as well as statues for Pythian victors became popular. A new Temple of Apollo, new paths, and new dedications were built. Old dedications were repositioned and new inscriptions were often added to update them, in both the lower and upper parts of the sanctuary. Scott shows how individuals, poleis, and administrative bodies continually tried to manipulate their story and Delphi’s story in this last phase.

In his analysis of Olympia, Scott discusses the developments in two different chapters and also illustrates them with multiple plans: one phase covers 650–479 B.C.E. and the other 479–300 B.C.E. Once again, he briefly acknowledges scholarship on earlier phases but begins his analysis ca. 650 B.C.E., when, he argues, a vital change to the spatial dynamics occurs: the sanctuary was enlarged. As a result, many dedications were buried, and so were not visible for Olympia’s monumental period in the Greek world. In the years following, the Hera temple was built, as was the stadium, the Pelopeion, and the House of Oenomaus to the south. The stadium held many dedications from powerful poleis for athletic and military victories; the House of Oenomaus, as well as the area to the north of the bouleuterion structure, received many athletic statues from local poleis and Magna Graecia. Statues of Zeus became increasingly popular. The treasuries at the foot of Kronos Hill were built in a line, mostly from colonies, without the play of spatial dynamics seen at Delphi. The second phase is important mainly because of the building of the huge temple of Zeus as a military commemoration by the Eleians for their victory over the Pisans. Dedications of military and athletic statues continued, and new structures were also built (the Metroon and Philippeion). The famous monumental ash altar of Zeus is mentioned in one sentence only (214), yet this altar must have been a focus of the sanctuary and no doubt governed its layout.

Scott compares the developments at Delphi and Olympia in a separate chapter and shows how the sacred space of each offered a wide range of activities, each with its own trajectory, to a variety of individuals and groups. He demonstrates the complexity of the sites and their significant changes through time. But in all the discussion about spatial politics, there is a sense that the fundamental nature and function of Delphi and Olympia take secondary importance to their spatial organization. These key sanctuary sites attracted pilgrims, athletes, and emissaries from many parts of the Greek world precisely because of their extraordinary religious importance and the powerful draw of the athletic games (at Olympia) and the oracle (at Delphi). By focusing on the spatial dynamics, Scott essentially avoids incorporating these fundamental functions and the roles they played into his analysis of the growth of these sites.

Scott’s scholarship seems uneven and even cursory in some cases. For instance, he credits Marinatos (“What Were Greek Sanctuaries: A Synthesis,” in N. Marinatos and R. Hagg, eds., Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches [London 1993] 229–30) with the idea of categorizing sanctuaries into urban, extra-urban, and inter-urban sites (254), a categorization he argues influenced other scholars, such as de Polignac, when in fact Marinatos is simply providing a synopsis of de Polignac’s earlier scholarship (F. de Polignac, La naissance de la cité grecque: Cultes, espace et société VIIIe–VIIe siècles avant J.-C. [Paris 1984]). Scott accurately acknowledges some of the problems with the term “Panhellenic sanctuary,” and the baggage it carries, but the definition he provides (and then refutes)—“everyone was there all the time” (180, 256)—is simplistic and not widely held. In his discussion of the Hera temple at Olympia, Scott suggests that the date and phasing of the temple are still debated, and he builds his arguments on the old view that it had various building phases, beginning in 650 B.C.E. (149, 150, 155). This idea has been shown to be incorrect by Mallwitz (A. Mallwitz, Olympia und siene Bauten [Munich 1972] 85, 138; see also H. Kyrieleis, Anfange und Fruhzeit des Heiligtums von Olympia: Die Ausgrabungen am Pelopion 1987–1996 [Berlin and New York 2006] 51 n. 182 [for full references]), and it is now accepted that there was one building phase for the temple, ca. 600 B.C.E. Although Scott’s brief mention of the developments at Delphi and Olympia prior to the mid seventh century is appropriate given the parameters of the book, one has the sense that he does not fully appreciate the earlier dynamics taking place at the sites and their significance. In sum, the book has much potential, but ultimately falls short of its promise. If Scott had better integrated the functions of the sites into his discussion of the spatial dynamics, if he had been more precise in his scholarship, and if he had built his arguments on more solid foundations with regard to earlier developments at the sites, I believe his case would be more compelling to the reader.

Mary Voyatzis
School of Anthropology and Department of Classics
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0030

Book Review of Delphi and Olympia: The Spatial Politics of Panhellenism in the Archaic and Classical Periods, by Michael Scott

Reviewed by Mary Voyatzis

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 4 (October 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1154.Voyatzis

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