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Principi, Pelasgi e pescatori: L’Attica nella Tarda Età del bronzo

Principi, Pelasgi e pescatori: L’Attica nella Tarda Età del bronzo

By Santo Privitera (Studi di Archeologia e Topografia di Atene e dell’Attica 7). Pp. 174, figs. 98, tables 7. Pandemos, Paestum 2013. €60. ISBN 978-88-87744-48-4 (cloth).

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Many excellent studies, including monographs, gazetteers, Ph.D. dissertations, and articles, have dealt with aspects of the prehistoric archaeology of Attica, Athens, and of the Athenian Acropolis since the end of the 19th century. Yet, from the first syntheses of the evidence by Stais (“Προϊστορικοὶ συνοικισμοὶ ἐν Ἀττικῇ καὶ Αἰγίνῃ,” ArchEph [Athens 1895] 235–64) and Gropengiesser (Die Gräber von Attika [Athens 1907]) to the broader studies of Spyridon Iakovidis, Sara Immerwahr, Mario Benzi, Maria Pantelidou, and Penelope Mountjoy—to name but a few of the numerous scholars who have worked in the area—the pace of urban development in recent years has deemed the updating of existing scholarship necessary. Although many discoveries of the last 30 years are still provisionally known and await full publication, Privitera’s new study offers the first major update since the 1980s and the first comprehensive synthesis of the available published data on Late Bronze Age Attica.

The book is divided into two main parts: the first comprises four brief chapters that provide an introduction to, and a chronological overview of, the Late Bronze Age archaeology of Attica. The second, more substantial, section (100 pages) offers a topographical survey of the known archaeological sites grouped into 40 entries. The volume is generously illustrated throughout with clear line drawings (mainly topographical and architectural), aerial photographs, maps and tables, and a few images of objects (the illustration of material culture is indeed thin and no pottery is shown, perhaps also as part of the author's attempt to shift readers’ attention away from the ceramocentrism of past studies on “Mycenaean Attica”). Privitera’s emphasis is on the topography and architecture of Late Bronze Age settlements and tombs (a study of site location, using GIS, would have enhanced this work further). Overall, this is a handsomely produced volume with an up-to-date bibliography (to 2012) that manages to integrate successfully a vast scholarship across several languages. A useful English summary of the key points is also included (173–74).

In chapter 1, Privitera sets the historiographical, geographical, chronological, and terminological framework of his work. For this study, Late Bronze Age Attica (from ca. 1600 to the middle of the 11th century B.C.E.) is the triangular peninsula extending from Cape Sounion to Mount Parnes and from the Thriasion Plain to the Plain of Marathon. Makronisos and some of the islets around Attica are included in this study, while Salamis is excluded. Within this area, Privitera identifies four distinct regions that form the basis of his historical overview in chapters 2–4: the plain of Athens (Lekanopedio), the plain of Eleusis, Mesogeia, and the coast. A division between “western” and “eastern” Attica is also observed, with Mount Hymettos serving as a “boundary.”

Chapters 2–4 discuss the available archaeological data in three periods of uneven duration: “Shaft Graves” (ch. 2); Late Helladic (LH) IIB–IIIA2 early (ch. 3); and LH IIIA2 late–IIIC late (ch. 4). The division between LH IIIA2 early and late appears to reflect the author’s attempt to correlate events in Attica with developments in Crete and thus should be used with caution.

With fewer than 10 sites, we still have relatively limited knowledge of the “Shaft Graves” period in Attica. The continuation of Middle Bronze Age (mainly funerary) practices in this period further blurs our understanding of social developments. The differences observed at this time between western (Eleusis, Athens) and eastern Attica (Kiapha Thiti, Brauron), with the first situated in seemingly empty plains and the latter within a network of fortified settlements, may be a result of archaeological investigation; but it could also be, as Privitera suggests, a reflection of different political practices.

A shift is observed between the “Shaft Graves” period and LH IIB–IIIA2 early (c. 1450–1360 B.C.E.), during which Thorikos and Kiapha Thiti were apparently abandoned. The cemeteries in the Agora and around the Koukaki district of downtown Athens, with their burials and assemblages, suggest that this area, along with a few other key sites (e.g., Eleusis, Marathon), formed a major center in Attica—a center that, judging by the material remains, was entangled with the (“Mycenaeanized”) elite networks of southern Greece (the latter probably stimulated further by developments in Crete). New cemeteries were formed during this period in Mesogeia and the west coast, with Athens, Eleusis, Alyki, Glyka Nera, and Chamolia-Lapoutsi having so far yielded the largest clusters (more than 40 tombs).

During LH IIIA2 late–IIIB1, Privitera observes that Athens may have undergone a progressive decline, unlike the majority of settlements in Attica, at least until the end of the 13th century B.C.E., when the “Pelasgian” fortifications on the Acropolis were built. Although one can envisage, as scholars have in the past, a possible transition of power from Athens to other parts of the Lekanopedio (mainly Menidi/Acharnai, where an impressive tholos tomb was constructed at this stage), caution should again be exercised not to see (at least a priori) tombs and burials as reflecting “political power” without taking into account the settlement evidence. Although Privitera is right in pointing out that during the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.E. there is still no evidence to suggest that Attica operated as a unified political entity under the control of Athens, our knowledge on the habitation layers of the latter is deplorably limited.

This book makes numerous, and occasionally challenging, contributions, but perhaps the most intriguing is the one already picked up by Rutter (10) in the preface: the redating to 1200/1185 B.C.E. (LH IIIC early) of at least two of the five Late Bronze Age terraces (Terraces IV and V) on the Athenian Acropolis that Iakovidis some 50 years ago assigned to the early 13th century B.C.E. (60–5). This undoubtedly provocative new reading is based on a single, now apparently lost, sherd from a deep bowl dated to the end of LH IIIB2 or LH IIIC early, which until now was largely discounted as intrusive. The sherd appears to provide a terminus post quem for the construction of these two terraces, as it was said to have come (as part of a group of sherds) from between and beneath the stones of the north-supporting wall of Terrace V at the point where it meets the east-supporting wall of Terrace IV. This sherd is taken by Privitera as providing the most accurate latest fixed point for the date of construction of these two terraces (if not of all five terraces, as the author suggests [63, 174]).

It was on Iakovidis’ earlier dating that all previous theories regarding the existence of a “Mycenaean palace” on the Acropolis were based. If Privitera’s suggestion holds, then an extensive terracing operation at the beginning of the 12th century B.C.E. could add weight to a picture of a decentralized Attica (52, 174) during the preceding phase, with Athens regaining power (at least within the Lekanopedio) at the end of LH IIIB, when most of the other sites are abandoned (the only LH IIIB2 pottery known to date from Attica comes from Athens, especially from the subterranean fountain house on the Acropolis, which was built during this period and used until LH IIIC early [68–9]). It could highlight further the different trajectories in the construction of fortification walls across Late Bronze Age southern Greece and provide additional evidence for the Postpalatial period in the Aegean. For Privitera, Homer’s “mighty house of Erechtheus” (Od. 7.81) could refer to the local chief's residence that might have stood on the Acropolis in the 12th rather than the 13th century B.C.E.

At the same time, the cemeteries in Chamolia-Lapoutsi at Brauron (the only one in Attica apparently in continuous use from the end of the Middle Bronze Age to LH IIIC late) and nearby Perati highlight the participation of this part of Attica in the LH IIIC exchange networks, attesting once more to different practices across space and time within this region. It is the plurality and dynamism of the districts within Attica that this study highlights best. A brief epilogue follows chapter 4, offering some concluding remarks before the reader moves to the gazetteer (with the entry on Athens alone taking up, justifiably, some 40 pages).

This book makes a valuable contribution to regional studies. It will be undoubtedly a major introduction and a starting point for anyone who wishes to learn more about the archaeology of Attica during the Late Bronze Age. It is well-written and highly accessible to students and specialists alike. If there is something to be desired, not just in this work but more generally, it is a systematic move beyond “Mycenaeanization” toward a better and deeper understanding of social and political networks within and between regions and their contribution in shaping material culture and distinct social practices. In the meantime, Privitera has offered us many fascinating ideas to sustain debates and an excellent gazetteer to orientate and guide us through the archaeologies of Late Bronze Age Attica.

Yannis Galanakis
Faculty of Classics
University of Cambridge
Cambridge CB3 9DA
United Kingdom

Book Review of Principi, Pelasgi e pescatori: LAttica nella Tarda Età del bronzo, by Santo Privitera

Reviewed by Yannis Galanakis

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Galanakis

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