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The Land of Ionia: Society and Economy in the Archaic Period

The Land of Ionia: Society and Economy in the Archaic Period

By Alan M. Greaves. Pp. xvi + 269, figs. 38, tables 6. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, England, and Malden, Mass. 2010. $110. ISBN 978-1-4051-9900-1 (cloth).

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The Land of Ionia is not merely a history of the cities of Ionia for the general audience. Though the book is definitely aimed at a wide audience, the methodology used has much to offer more specialized readers as well. Greaves sets out for an exercise in archaeological interpretation that aims to highlight socioeconomic themes and questions regarding the local practices and identities of those communities (xi). He explores his subject in 10 chapters, introducing his reader to various aspects of Ionian studies, starting from the landscape and archaeology (as opposed to the literary sources, notably Herodotus). Basically, Greaves explores long-term history, as formulated by the French Annales scholars such as Bloch, Febvre, and especially Braudel, rather than event-based history—the domain of the majority of textbooks (see 11, 28, and esp. 36–9).

In chapter 1, “Finding Ionia,” Greaves introduces his reader to the material evidence available to paint a picture of societies in Ionia during the Archaic period. He also explains why the literary material is not a suitable place to start for a history of Ionia: the source material is too scanty (esp. the epigraphic material), too fragmentary, as well as too Athenocentric. Already in this part, Greaves’ familiarity with the evidence becomes apparent. Although archaeological material is seemingly abundant, evidence for archaic Ionia is actually limited to a few key sites, as Greaves argues at the start of chapter 2, “Constructing Classical Archaeologies of Ionia.” A survey of the material shows that each community in Ionia developed its own expressions of identity, mixing Greek and Anatolian elements. To evaluate their relative contributions is more complex because several schools of archaeologists have their own views. In this chapter, Greaves discusses several of these schools, explaining why he favors the Annalist approach to Ionia.

Having explored evidence and method, Greaves takes a closer look at his subject. In his bottom-up approach, the first target is “The Dynamic Landscape,” the subject of chapter 3. As Greaves phrases it, “the importance of understanding landscape in relation to Classical cities is now widely recognized, even if the countryside itself is under-represented in ancient works of art and literature (45).” To understand this physical environment is not always easy because of the immense changes that have taken place since the Archaic period as a result of the influences of “dynamic elements” (46), including the silting-up of coastal inlets and the consequences of seismic events on the Ionian landscape. The changes may cloud our perceptions and, if incorrectly understood, affect our conclusions. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that the landscape is not a structure but a dynamic (though slow-changing) entity. The inclusion of some additional maps would have made it easier to follow the arguments, especially for those who are not intimately familiar with the region. Greaves argues in the fourth chapter, “The Wealth of Ionia,” that the diversity of the landscape was a source of economic strength for the Ionian poleis. The chora of each city consisted of arable land nearby, pockets of cultivable land in the vicinity, and grazing lands for the cattle. Moreover, the sea was rarely far away and provided opportunity for fishing. The dominant type of agriculture in the Archaic period produced three main crops, grapes, olives, and cereals, but naturally legumes and vegetables also were grown. The abundant yield allowed a surplus to be traded predominantly, but not exclusively, on a local scale.

Also in chapter 5, “The Cities of Ionia,” the inclusion of some good maps would have benefited the reader. This chapter deals with the 12 cities of this most urban region of archaic Greece (95). A brief survey of each city is followed by a discussion of other settlements in Ionia, the size and distribution of Ionian cities, and “The City and Ionian Identity” (115–18), showing again a very Annalist approach. The important topic of Ionian colonization is treated in chapter 6, “The Ionians Overseas.” In the tradition of the Annales school, Greaves focuses on the complex economic and social forces that drove the Ionians to such extensive and prodigious overseas settlement (120). One of the problems in assessing the available material is caused by insufficient or more or less inaccessible publication of it. New material shows distinct phases of colonization: a first emporion phase, sometimes followed by a second one, and the apoikia phase, meaning no longer merely a trading post, to some extent dependent on its mother city, but a settlement with distinct rights of its own, though retaining ties (e.g., religious ones) with the mother city. Greaves calls this the “two-stage model” (138–42).

In chapter 7, Greaves discusses “The Ionians at War,” treating warfare as an important expression of cultural identity (146). Again, his starting point is the geographical theater, followed by a survey of archaeological evidence and an assessment of the literary material. “The Cults of Ionia,” the subject of chapter 8, is a natural successor of the previous chapter, as religious practices of the Ionians provide us with perhaps the richest of all fields of source materials for study of their identity (171). Following the familiar pattern, the available source material is presented to illustrate the context needed to understand Ionian cult practice. The last thematic chapter is devoted to “The Ornaments of Ionia,” the visual arts, to understand the context within which art was produced as a means to consider what the Ionians’ art can tell us about their cultural identity (201). In this discussion, geography is hardly relevant: instead, Greaves pays attention to lost art treasures of Ionia before moving to painted pottery and the danger of judging Ionian art by Athenian or modern standards.

After constructing such a brilliant monument for a distinct Ionian identity, the discussion of the literary evidence in chapter 10, “Who Were the Ionians,” is disappointing. Greaves should, in my opinion, have done better—for example, by applying the techniques used in the study of oral history outlined by Vansina (Oral History: A Study in Historical Methodology [London 1965]; Oral Tradition as History [London and Nairobi 1985]) and Parry (as described by A. Lord in S. Mitchell and G. Nagy, The Singer of Tales [Cambridge, Mass., and London 2000]). As it is, the examples of Herodotus and the myth of the Ionian migration are insufficient. However, in spite of the few criticisms raised here, The Land of Ionia is to be highly recommended, both as an introduction to archaic Ionia and from a methodological perspective. The book is well produced, with an excellent binding and a minimum of typographical errors. A glossary of terms used in the text, an impressive bibliography, and a sufficient index add to the usefulness and user-friendliness of the book.

Jan P. Stronk
Department of Ancient History
University of Amsterdam
C/O Reestein 9, 2151 KB Nieuw-Vennep
The Netherlands

Book Review of The Land of Ionia: Society and Economy in the Archaic Period, by Alan M. Greaves

Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 1 (January 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1171.Stronk

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