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The Aphrodisias Regional Survey

July 2014 (118.3)

Book Review

The Aphrodisias Regional Survey

Edited by Christopher Ratté and Peter D. De Staebler (Aphrodisias 5). Pp. xii + 434, figs. 358, maps 2. Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2012.  €89.90. ISBN 978-3-8053-4560-6 (cloth).

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It is a truism, as the editors note on the first page of their preface (ix), that a city and its territory formed an inseparable unit in the Graeco-Roman world. Cities such as Aphrodisias, in southwest Turkey, with a population of perhaps 12,500 in its Roman heyday (30), depended crucially on food, water, fuel, and other resources (e.g., the marble that made this city’s architects and sculptors famous) drawn from its hinterland. In the long run, meeting those ongoing requirements leads inevitably to damage to the regional environment, primarily by soil exhaustion, resource depletion, deforestation, and the exposure of land surfaces to accelerated erosion rates. Sites are parts of larger ecological wholes, and the history of the city as a place is inevitably also the history of the landscapes outside it, for better or worse.

This being so, it is notable how long it has taken for long-term, urban excavation projects to show much interest in their surrounding landscapes. In the case of Aphrodisias, where major excavations have been underway almost continuously since 1961, it was not until 44 years later that systematic reconnaissance beyond its walls commenced. One might have supposed that, after more than four decades of excavations within the city, it was rural survey’s turn to become the center of attention in a sustained, lengthy fieldwork endeavor; but in fact this survey lasted only three years (2006–2008), prefaced by a modest preliminary season (2005) and concluding with some small-scale wrap-up work (2009). Overall, less than two dozen weeks of fieldwork were involved (16)—although, as always, vastly more person-days were doubtless expended on the study of material, database entry, GIS analysis, and all the other myriad tasks required to bring such a project to fruition in final publication. Permit factors may well have limited the duration of the survey, but one nonetheless regrets its brevity.

These remarks are not intended to diminish the real achievement represented by Aphrodisias 5, the first volume in the series not devoted solely to sculpture and architecture from the city. It is a lavish book of 434 large, double-column pages, 358 figures (many in color), a number of tables, and two key distribution maps in a slip pocket. One stands in awe at the speed with which such a monumental volume was brought to press, only three years after conclusion of fieldwork. To a considerable extent, this must reflect delegation of responsibilities for the individual chapters that make up the bulk of the book. I regret that the space constraints of this review do not allow any detailed account of the fascinating data and thoughtful conclusions that emerge from these chapters.

The sequence of the first several chapters is puzzling. They begin with a long introduction (1–38) by Ratté—which not only presents the geographical and historical setting of the survey and recounts its yearly activities but also summarizes its principal results on a period-by-period basis and even embarks on detailed interpretative and synthetic discussion of such topics as demography, the emergence of towns, territorial boundaries, road systems, and natural resources. The chapter thus anticipates the conclusions to be drawn from the detailed data set out only later in the book, which as a result lacks any concluding chapter. The project had three distinct fieldwork components: an extensive survey of the Morsynus River valley (an extension, really, of the informal explorations of the city’s hinterlands that had been going on for decades); a so-called donut survey of architectural remains within a circle 1 km from the city center; and an intensive pedestrian survey of four 40 m wide transects radiating out 5 km from the center. The last was certainly a sophisticated operation (described by Adkins [87–134]), but its very intensity resulted in coverage of only 0.5 km² of the 78 km² intensive survey area, and it is not clear how far it has revealed patterns that can be extrapolated more widely. Why this methodological chapter was not placed earlier in the book is puzzling.

Before Adkin’s chapter comes Ratté’s concise, well-illustrated description (39–58) of the tumulus tombs outside the city, which provide the “best evidence for the social organization and cultural identity of the occupants of this region before the establishment of a Greek polis at Aphrodisias in or before the late second century B.C.” (39); no explanation is offered for why survey data seem to provide little information on the populations whose tombs these were. De Staebler’s chapter on Roman pottery (59–86) purports to present the ceramics collected in the survey, although this is of course only a portion of all the material that must have been found. This chapter, useful as it is, reveals the project’s bias toward the centuries of Aphrodisias’ florescence. For example, in so large a volume, only two short paragraphs (21–2) are devoted to prehistory, even though Joukowsky’s two-volume study of material from excavations in the 1960s and 1970s (Prehistoric Aphrodisias: An Account of the Excavations and Artifact Studies [Providence, R.I. 1986]) reported rich prehistoric material at the site, for which there must surely be some counterpart in the wider region.

The book moves on to Stearns’ chapter (135–64) on geoarchaeological investigations, focusing on bedrock geology, hydrology, and natural resources. Long’s admirable exploration of eight newly discovered marble quarries in Aphrodisias’ territory (165–201) demonstrates rather clearly that the city was never an exporter and that Aphrodisian marble was largely reserved for local use; this is an account that should be read in conjunction with Sekedat’s recent parallel study of marble exploitation in the area being investigated by the Central Lydian Archaeological Survey (“Rethinking Resources: The Material and Social Networks of Eastern Mediterranean Quarries in the Roman Period,” Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan [2012]).

Lockley’s sophisticated analysis of olive oil production and rural settlement (203–37) is a useful contribution to an emerging literature on this topic and has important things to say about the context for the development of agricultural technology in this region. The impressively long and detailed chapter on the aqueducts of Aphrodisias by Commito and Rojas (239–307) documents six separate systems, arguably serving the city’s civic infrastructure, as well as the development of the countryside, over a very long period. There follow contributions on the abundant evidence for fragments of Roman sarcophagi, both within and outside the city, by Turnbow (309–45); on inscriptions, by Chaniotis (347–66); and on the rich data for suburban and rural Early Christian and Byzantine churches, by Dalgiç (367–96).

This is a huge book; even so, much basic evidence could not be presented. Admirably, however, the project has placed all of its primary data in the digital archive of the University of Michigan (

John F. Cherry
Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island 02912

Book Review of The Aphrodisias Regional Survey, edited by Christopher Ratté and Peter D. De Staebler

Reviewed by John F. Cherry

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 3 (July 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1183.Cherry

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