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Die Bibliothek von Nysa am Mäander

Die Bibliothek von Nysa am Mäander

By Volker Michael Strocka, Simon Hoffmann, and Gerhard Heisel (Forschungen in Nysa am Mäander 2). Pp. v + 238, figs. 65, b&w pls. 102, plans 19. Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2012. €89.90. ISBN 978-3-8053-4588-0 (cloth).

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Since the studies on the Celsus Library in Ephesus, which opened new perspectives on the architecture of ancient libraries in general, several buildings had been identified as libraries based on specific features. The inscription names the function of the Celsus Library, and as a consequence the building provides fundamental information on the typology of ancient libraries in general: the main room has a rectangular form and three entrances and consists of a reading room, windows, a podium, and niches for bookcases, with access to the galleries and bookcases on the upper floor.

The book under review presents the results of excavation and research between 2002 and 2006 on the Roman library of Nysa ad Maeandrum and its surroundings. Chapters 1–3 introduce the reader to the results of the fieldwork and the studies on the building, the burials in the vestibule, and the surroundings. The first chapter addresses the building of the library itself and provides a detailed report covering the written sources, the topography, the excavation, and finally a comprehensive description of its history (erection of the library, restorations and technical additions, conversion of the building into a church, the installation of a cemetery in the vestibule area, and the use of the building in the Middle Ages). The text by Strocka and other authors is clear and illustrates how accurately every detail and construction phase has been documented and analyzed.

The only written source is an extract of a passage from the Chronographia by Iulius Africanus preserved on a papyrus scroll (1–2). The text refers to the library and the archeion of Nysa in the third century C.E., which is verified by the archaeological evidence. The next part gives a brief outline of the fieldwork, followed by the description of the surrounding area, especially the streets along the north and south sides of the building—which can be dated earlier than the library—and the whole insula where houses were located. The next chapter documents the excavations in the building itself and describes the seven phases of construction and restoration as distinguished by the excavators over a long period of time. Phase 1, which is not represented by architectural remains, consists of material that was used to fill in the earlier structures, dating from the second century B.C.E. up to the first century C.E. The library was erected ca. 130 C.E. and served as a multifunctional building, where the archive of the city was also kept (phase 2). This date corresponds to the decorated door lintel and door frames, as well as a marble sarcophagus that was placed outside the building in the vestibule below the floor. A middle-aged female and a young male individual were buried there.

Mosaic pavements in the vestibule signal renovations in late antiquity (fourth–fifth centuries C.E., phase 3), probably after an earthquake. Enlargements in the building and a totally new arrangement of the area can be dated between the sixth and seventh centuries C.E. (phase 4). The main hall was converted into a chapel in the ninth or 10th century C.E.; there is no concrete evidence whether the 34 graves in the vestibule date earlier or later than the chapel (phases 5 and 6). The building went out of use in the Medieval period (12th–14th centuries, phase 7), when the main hall of the library collapsed.

Chapter 2 (Hoffmann, Strocka, Großschmidt, and Kanz) is dedicated to the burials in the vestibule: the marble sarcophagus (an honorary grave for the founders of the library or their family members) and the Byzantine graves. An interesting analysis (48–55) of the two individuals in the sarcophagus proves the two were related. We also learn that the younger male individual had suffered from multiple “crises” in early infancy and that both individuals must have had visible physical handicaps. The persons could have died during the construction of the library and been buried there. More than 33% of the 34 individuals in the Byzantine graves were well-nourished infants who probably died of infectious diseases. The following chapter (ch. 3 [Hoffmann]) addresses the surroundings of the library and the different phases of its construction.

Chapter 4 is arranged as a catalogue and presents a wide range of findings, written by different authors: a close examination of the inscriptions, architectural ornaments, sculptures, fragments of sarcophagi, coins, pottery, glass, metal artifacts, and other small objects. Discussion of the splendid mosaic in the vestibule, dated to the end of the fourth century C.E., is missing here, since it was covered in the previous chapter. Finally, a detailed analysis on the typology of ancient Roman libraries is given in chapter 5; Strocka points to the Celsus Library, the quintessential example of a Roman urban library, which consisted of a reading room, a podium for authorized people to reach the wall niches with bookcases, and access to the galleries on the upper floor. The author then discusses other libraries in the Roman empire that provide similar architectural specifications (e.g., in Pergamum, Athens, Philippi, Pompeii, Thamugadi, and several libraries in Rome). Chapter 6 reviews the interpretation of buildings in different sites/places in the Roman empire, which have been misidentified as libraries (e.g., the agora at Apollonia, the Asklepieion at Pergamon, the baths at Como, the Serapeum at Ephesus, the agora at Corinth, Building M at Side, and various structures at Rome and Sagalassos). Chapter 7 comes full circle with an interpretation of the multifunctional building as both a library and an archive.

A summary in three languages (German, English, and Turkish) closes the publication and highlights the most important information and facts concerning the building and its function, the findings, and the interpretation. The black-and-white illustrations are of high quality, complemented by several drawings of objects (esp. pottery and glass) and plans referring to the different phases of the building. A proposed reconstruction of the library is also included. This volume should be considered a standard reference and an excellent example of the advantage of interdisciplinary research work by providing results on various aspects of the long-term use and reuse of the library of Nysa.

Alice Landskron
Institute of Classical Archaeology
University of Vienna

Book Review of Die Bibliothek von Nysa am Mäander, by Volker Michael Strocka, Simon Hoffmann, and Gerhard Heisel

Reviewed by Alice Landskron

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 2 (April 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1192.Landskron

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