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Archaeology and the Cities of Asia Minor in Late Antiquity

Archaeology and the Cities of Asia Minor in Late Antiquity

Edited by Ortwin Dally and Christopher Ratté (Kelsey Museum Publication 6). Pp. x + 310, figs. 159, graphs 2, tables 4. Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Ann Arbor, Mich. 2011. $45. ISBN 978-0-9714873-5-8 (cloth).

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The present volume is based on the eponymous conference that took place at the University of Michigan in 2008. It brought together representatives of the German-speaking traditions of Germany and Austria and the Anglophone traditions of Britain and North America, who have been working in Asia Minor for more than a century, to present recent research and fieldwork pertaining to the city between the early fourth and the early seventh centuries C.E. The volume includes 13 of the 22 original papers, a short introduction, and a concluding chapter.

One of the merits of the book is that it offers an overview of contemporary research strategies, with attention to long-term urban excavations and traditional art historical approaches but also highlighting the potential of survey archaeology, the importance of which will only increase in the following decades. Seven of the articles are based on urban and territorial surveys, adding to our knowledge of settlement organization and regional prosperity but also answering questions on economy, population shifts, and “de-urbanization.” Moreover, in addition to the much-studied imperial capital and provincial capitals, less prominent sites are given a central role in the discussion, although some can hardly be called “cities” anymore. In addition, English-only archaeologists will certainly welcome the translation of research previously available only in German. However, some will be disappointed to discover that a number of articles partially (Auinger, Niewöhner, Wulf-Rheidt, Posamentir, Baumeister) or almost entirely (Filges) reproduce the contents of German publications.

Originally, the roster of German-speaking and Anglophone teams ensured a relatively even coverage of Asia Minor, but as not all conference papers were included, the geographical focus of the volume has become somewhat unbalanced, with nine articles on the west (Ephesus and Miletus are the focus of two articles each) and four on the southeastern part of modern-day Turkey. It can be argued that the latter area primarily shared cultural features and developed in tandem with Syria, as it was separated from the rest of Asia Minor by the Taurus Mountains. That being said, these articles represent a welcome addition to the archaeological record of this area, which is primarily known for its church architecture.

As most cities in Asia Minor were largely or completely abandoned after antiquity and their state of preservation is truly remarkable, the region is exceptionally exciting for all those interested in the last centuries of classical urbanism. As noted in the publication’s introduction, prominent research topics include “conflicts over religious identity; urban decay and renewal; and the functioning of empire” (vii). But not all research strategies are equally qualified to address these topics, and the different contributors focus on diverse aspects and choose various approaches. Overview articles, useful for novices and experienced scholars alike, feature alongside less-accessible, detailed presentations of individual monuments, exposés on statuary and epigraphy, and territorial surveys in which the city plays merely a secondary role. Moreover, since not all contributors make an effort to contextualize within the wider urban landscape the subject(s) they address, and opportunities to cross-reference among articles are passed on, the volume is something of a mixed bag. The concluding article by Potter only partially rectifies this. A lack of coherence is also demonstrated by the editors not having established explicit and common definitions for time periods, so that “late antique” and “(early) byzantine” obviously hold different meanings for different authors.

Rautman opens the volume with a long-awaited synthesis of the research conducted at Sardis over the last 30 years, thus adding to and also partially supplanting Foss’ 30-year-old Byzantine and Turkish Sardis (Cambridge, Mass. [1976]). The next three contributions deal with statuary. Bassett uses contemporaneous rhetorical theory in a perceptive attempt to explain the appearance and appreciation of old and new statues introduced in Constantinople under the Constantinian and Theodosian houses. Aurenhammer and Sokolicek, as well as Auinger, contribute restudies of the statuary found during older excavations at Ephesus—around the Upper Agora (Aurenhammer and Sokolicek; Sokolicek also comments on the statuary bases on the Tetragonos agora) and in the bath buildings (Auinger). Their results are thought-provoking and could have broad implications beyond Ephesus, but the discussions are light.

The title of the first contribution on Miletus (“The Town Center of Miletus from Roman Imperial Times to Late Antiquity”) is somewhat misleading, as it mainly presents research pertaining to the famous Market Gate and the Baths of Faustina. Both monuments demonstrate that aesthetic concerns remained highly important in late antiquity, even though the statuary decoration of the baths had to be somewhat altered and updated (e.g., removal of genitals, cross carving). A comparison with Ephesus is left unexplored. The reader eventually learns more on Miletus in late antiquity in Niewöhner’s article on the Byzantine walls. His choice for a lengthy (uneven) discussion on “early byzantine” (in this case meaning late fourth- and early fifth-century C.E.) walls and only brief notes on later fortifications is somewhat odd, considering that the Miletus walls must belong to the latter category. Moreover, the connection made between the “flight of the curiales” and a cessation of urban embellishment in the fifth and sixth centuries (120) is not backed by the archeological evidence in Asia Minor and is obviously also not supported by the authors of the other Miletus article.

The focus then shifts to survey evidence. One of the discoveries of the Aphrodisias Regional Survey project that deserves mention is the presence of suburban (and rural) churches next to the solitary St. Michael’s Church in the city center. Ratté and De Staebler further inferred a significant reduction in population in the countryside from the second half of the sixth century onward, with almost no evidence for occupation in the early seventh century. Such precise dates are not available at Blaundos, a more isolated and much smaller settlement. Filges considers the new Late Antique city wall as highly decisive for its development and illuminative of its social topography. His hypothesis that the areas remaining outside the wall were of lower status, to be abandoned and dismantled, contradicts the evidence at other sites, but is not necessarily invalid. Rose’s excavations in the city of Troy and the Granicus River Valley Survey Project also suggest that the Troad region did not conform to general occupation patterns in Asia Minor, as earthquakes and changed water systems forced the populations of coastal cities to shift to the interior ca. 500 C.E., where settlements, religious complexes, and fortified citadels proliferated.

Varinlio─člu has quantified trades and crafts in the epigraphic record from western Cilicia and recorded remains of presses, mills, and threshing floors in the hinterland of Seleucia ad Calycadnum. Although, as it turns out, these epigraphic and archaeological lines of evidence cannot be connected, they do confirm that both city and countryside in the eastern provinces enjoyed considerable economic and cultural prosperity throughout the fifth and sixth centuries. The articles that follow reach similar conclusions. Wulf-Rheidt points to the continuity of settlement forms and patterns in two densely occupied and organized villages near modern Akören from the Hellenistic–Roman period into the sixth century. Posamentir stresses ongoing urban pride and civic maintenance at Anazarbos into the Justinianic period, expressed, among other things, by new arches and decorative churches. Only after the city received its second wall circuit did it descend into chaos. Finally, Baumeister’s recent research project, centered on the site of Kelosh Kale in Osrhoene, noted the appearance of monasteries and villages, but, significantly, no major fortifications, in the fifth and sixth centuries, with a general depopulation occurring only after the Arab invasion.

And yet, in his overview article, Potter speaks of an “evident urban decline of Asia Minor ... from the fifth to seventh centuries” (251–52), a comment that is not corroborated by most other articles in the volume. On the contrary, what this publication demonstrates once more is that we should refrain from defining a consistent pattern of urban devolution in Asia Minor.

This book amounts to a useful survey of stimulating current fieldwork and research carried out within the German-speaking and Anglophone traditions in modern Turkey. Scholars acquainted with urbanism in Asia Minor will find the contributions highly interesting and stimulating.

School of History, Classics and Archaeology
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh EH8 9AG

Book Review of Archaeology and the Cities of Asia Minor in Late Antiquity, edited by Ortwin Dally and Christopher Ratté

Reviewed by Ine Jacobs

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Jacobs

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