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Atene: Il Portico di Eumene, 1957

July 2013 (117.3)

Book Review

Atene: Il Portico di Eumene, 1957

By Enrica Fiandra (Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche, Antropologiche e Storiche 13). Pp. 271, numerous figs., CD-ROM 1. Centro Internazionale di Ricerche Archeologiche, Antropologiche e Storiche, Rome 2012. €135. ISBN 978-88-906243-4-6 (paper).

Reviewed by

Italian archaeologist Fiandra is best known for her contributions to Minoan archaeology, in particular her work on Bronze Age seals. An architect by training, she has also published on a wide range of architectural topics, from Minoan palace architecture to the Italian city (M. Perna, Studi in onore di Enrica Fiandra [Paris 2005]). From 1955 to 1957, Fiandra was associate architect at the Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene; she remained with the school until 1961. This publication presents her scholarly engagement with Athenian architecture, ranging from hands-on archaeological fieldwork to theoretical discourses on the contemporary city (a CD-ROM listed in WorldCat as part of this study could not be retrieved and is not considered in this review).

The book consists of three sections: Fiandra’s excavation diary on the Stoa of Eumenes, photographs (both archaeological and ethnographic in nature), and an appendix of her previously published articles on Athenian architecture and urbanism. By gathering together all her “Athenian studies,” the book assumes an autobiographical quality; it documents Fiandra’s engagement with 1950s Athens on two levels: the city as a static archaeological site and as the ever-morphing, dynamic contemporary metropolis.

The first part—Fiandra’s field notes from her excavation of the Stoa of Eumenes on the south slope of the Athenian Acropolis—provides a still shot of the author’s working method and unmediated access to her observations at the very moment she studied the site. It constitutes the volume’s most critical contribution and is therefore the focus of this review. In 1955, school director Doro Levi entrusted Fiandra and archaeologist Antonio Giuliano with the examination of the stoa remains. The aim of the project was both the full publication of the monument and to clarify whether the building was indeed Hellenistic in date or rather built contemporaneously with the adjoining Odeion of Herodes Atticus (160–170 C.E.). Fiandra did not commence work on the stoa until 1957 and, after a six-week excavation period (10 April–20 May 1957), does not appear to have returned to the site. In this study, Fiandra makes available the results of her work on the portico. The first part (5–167) offers photographic reproductions of her excavation diary—handwritten notes, photographs of the remains, and clarifying sketches. For easy reference, her notes are transcribed in a subsequent section. A short preface (“Premessa” [5–6]) and conclusions (“Osservazioni” [153–55]) along with 12 full-page color photographs (156–67) of the stoa’s remains frame the journal.

The publication of excavation material in this “raw” format is unusual but not without merits. From a scholarly perspective, it conclusively settles the date of the Stoa of Eumenes in relation to its neighboring monuments, especially the Odeion. Her research proves that the stoa preceded the Roman theater, as is evidenced through differences in building techniques (70, 154–55) and the way the two structures are joined (24–6, 153). Although it may seem that the stoa’s date has been established for some time, with its full publication still outstanding, dating was largely based on stylistic similarities to the much better preserved Stoa of Attalos II on the Athenian Agora and a reference in Vitruvius (5.9.1) to a portico built by Eumenes II next to the theater.

Fiandra’s observations on the stoa’s workmanship, materials, and building history, along with the photographs and drawings, provide critical data to any scholar of Attalid or Athenian architecture. Tracking down excavation records is a tedious, time-consuming, and often expensive enterprise; by publishing rather than archiving her records, Fiandra has made them accessible to anyone seeking information on the portico. She thus offers a solution to the question of how to deal with an abandoned or incomplete project, in terms of compensating for time, mental energy, and finances invested and claiming ownership of one’s research and scholarly contribution. Thanks to the exceptional clarity and neatness of her journal—her handwriting is immaculate and the individual entries are well organized and amply illustrated with photographs and drawings—she was able to publish her notes with minimal effort.

The undigested publication of an excavation diary, however, presents challenges and makes apparent its limitations. Published more than 50 years after her examination of the site, the author’s distance from the monument is notable. Introduction and conclusions are short and neither define the scope of the project nor place it within the existing scholarship on the stoa (esp. more recent studies by M. Korres). Thus, the journal lacks context; its scholarly contribution is not readily discernible but demands thorough engagement with the material at hand. Most notably missing is a site plan that identifies the location of her trenches, a small but critical omission.

The marked absence of context also characterizes the remainder of the book. The photographs in chapter 2 (of Mycenaean pottery sherds and Hellenistic[?] lamps) are devoid of any explanation as to their purpose in this study, lacking even the most basic captions. Without any context pertaining to the materials’ origin, current location, and relation to the broader scope of the book, its contribution to scholarship remains questionable. Similarly, the three papers collected in the appendix on various aspects of Athenian urban identity are not in a meaningful way connected to the other parts of the publication. (It may be worth noting, however, that their republication coincides with a historical moment as Athens is redefining itself as the Greek capital amid the country’s economic crisis.)

Overall, the publication would benefit from more thorough editing, both in terms of connecting its disparate parts and proofreading. The transcript is error-ridden, reducing its value to the publication. Images are often of poor quality and in some instances appear to be reprints. A final note on the publication’s hefty price tag: the book is printed on expensive high-gloss paper, a choice that contrasts with the low image quality and the fact that a large portion of the book consists of already published material. The high cost limits the publication’s distribution to a select group of specialized scholars and libraries, when the appendix in particular seems to target a much broader audience. While these shortcomings somewhat detract from the publication’s accessibility, Fiandra must nevertheless be applauded for her courage to publish her excavation notes with only minimal editing and for her wit to present them as part of her architectural interests in 1950s Athens. Finally, this publication may be read as an invitation to scholars to follow in her efforts to publish two major monuments of the ancient city, the Stoa of Eumenes and the Stoa of Attalos.

Cornelie Piok-Zanon

Book Review of Atene: Il Portico di Eumene, 1957, by Enrica Fiandra

Reviewed by Cornelie Piok-Zanon

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 3 (July 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1173.PiokZanon

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