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On Sea and Ocean: New Research in Phoenician Seafaring. Proceedings of the Symposion Held in Marburg, June 23–25, 2011 at Archäologisches Seminar, Philipps-Universität Marburg

On Sea and Ocean: New Research in Phoenician Seafaring. Proceedings of the Symposion Held in Marburg, June 23–25, 2011 at Archäologisches Seminar, Philipps-Universität Marburg

Edited by Ralph K. Pedersen (Marburger Beiträge zur Archäologie 2). Pp. ix + 129, figs. 124. Eigenverlag des Archäologisches Seminar der Philipps-Universität, Marburg 2015. €69. ISBN 978-3-8185-0516-5 (cloth).

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Like the ongoing repairs to a seagoing ship, our knowledge of the Phoenicians is a work in progress. Initially due to the Iron Age texts, the Phoenicians garnered a reputation for seafaring prowess. With excavations of suspected Phoenician colonies or trading posts extending to and beyond Gibraltar, archaeology has attested to a Levantine waterborne expansion westward. And with continuing developments in underwater archaeology, the fact that Phoenicians (however they may be defined) were building ships capable of long-distance sea travel and adapting their skills to newly encountered waterways has likewise been confirmed. This edited volume collects 10 papers presented at a 2011 seminar in Marburg, each of which contributes to current knowledge of Phoenician seafaring, shipbuilding, and shipwrecking. The papers also address related issues of resource acquisition, extent of and processes behind colonization, and systems and networks of trade as seen through excavations on land and under water.

In his succinct introduction to the volume, the editor highlights some of the persistent questions about the comparatively obscure Phoenicians that have prompted the research to follow. The papers are noted as being diverse in geographic and methodological scope, and, perhaps because of this diversity, they appear to follow no specific thematic, geographical, or chronological order, but rather an alphabetical one.

The volume appropriately opens with Abdelhamid’s brief overview of the known shipwrecks confidently identified as Phoenician. Providing valuable if laconic summaries and relevant comparisons, she works chronologically and westward beginning with the eighth-century “Tanit” and “Elissa” before moving to the later vessels wrecked at Mazzarón, Bajo de la Campana, and Rochelongues. (The chapter covers wrecks known as of 2013 and thus excludes the Xlendi wreck, which was only discovered in 2014 and published in 2015.)

Pinheiro Blot’s paper considers Phoenician and Punic (or pre-Roman, or easternizing) material evidence along the southern Portuguese coast from the perspective of sailing in a tidal environment. Building on her own previous research, she uses geomorphological data to support hypotheses of Phoenician presence, if not settlements, at every major Atlantic estuary from the Guadiana (Anas) north to the Minho (Minius). She works under the assumption that these estuaries would have been more navigable in antiquity and that, in order to prosper, seafarers from the East would have adapted skills established in the Mediterranean to the challenges of the Atlantic coastal environment.

Friedman’s paper catalogues the iconography of hippoi on vessels, including the oft-cited Balawat Gates and Khorsabad reliefs but also lesser-known examples at Karatepe and Nineveh, covering nearly 1,000 years of hippos imagery, although the latest examples are not entirely convincing. Because known vessel remains are far too fragmentary to be suggestive of decorated protomes or sternposts, this section of the paper does not contribute to the author’s argument, which would have benefited instead from a more focused theoretical approach to the equine iconography, as is suggested by the abstract.

Galasso’s paper attempts to provide context to an anthropomorphic figurine found out of context on the Sardinian coast. Given the task of attestation, a selection of scale drawings might have helped the reader better interpret the object’s enigmatic features, which are difficult to discern in the color photographs provided. To attribute chronological or cultural production, the author considers the material (trachyte), coastal geomorphology, and comparative iconography. Any conclusion is speculative, but he leans toward an origin outside Sardinia but contemporary with the ninth- to sixth-century Nuragic population.

In the only paper to address problems of navigation among Phoenicians, Giardina discusses the possibility that lighthouses were constructed at coastal promontories frequented by Phoenician seafarers. Despite the suggestive nature of literary, epigraphic, iconographic, and architectural evidence in favor of Phoenician or Punic lighthouses, the author concludes that underwater archaeology is more likely to provide a definitive answer regarding who constructed the first lighthouses in the Mediterranean.

Using the harbor at Atlit as a case study, Haggi’s paper considers typological features identifying harbor installations as decidedly Phoenician or not. At Atlit, the movement of “pier and rubble” construction from land to under water provides a key typological component of Iron Age II harbor installations. A preliminary “Phoenician” set of features is established through comparison with Tabat el-Hammam, Sidon, and Tyre, which could certainly prove helpful in dating and identifying other harbors and their structures, especially those farther to the west.

Hermanns relates the results of an isotopic provenance study that seeks to answer the question of whether lead, silver, and galena were of local Ibizan origin or imported from the mainland; not surprisingly, the answer is both, and simultaneously. Hermanns also considers the evidence for a division of metallurgical labor based on class and ethnicity and the way lead imports led to greater control over how resources were distributed and labor divided. These principles seem to be materialized in the fascinating lead statuette from Ibiza whose ore stems from mainland Cartagena but whose “smiting god” pose hails from much farther east.

Delving further into the complexities of identity and hybridity in the western Mediterranean, Pappa’s in-depth paper is peppered with questions posed like riddles. By addressing the heterogeneity of settlement types, the often-oversimplified narratives of colonization and ethnicity, and the effects of regional archaeological biases on the production of knowledge, she creates room for productive discourse regarding the search for the “Phoenician on the Atlantic.”

One of the products that has undoubtedly contributed to a modern, and presumably ancient, construct of Phoenician identity is timber. Semaan’s paper is a thorough investigation into the motivations and processes behind timber transport from mountain forests in the Lebanon to coastal cities, particularly Byblos, in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Using ethnographic comparisons, she considers the logistics of terrestrial and riverine transport, taking into account the logging season and the size of the trees being felled in relation to local topography and hydrography.

In his assessment of watercraft typologies, Tilley asserts a series of counterpoints to the most commonly accepted conceptions of how triremes were operated. This is followed by a bold discussion of Phoenician boats and their possible progeny, suggesting a genetic relationship between the Phoenician hippos and Maltese dgħajsa and, more controversially, the Venetian gondola. After lamenting the still-underestimated effect of Phoenician boatbuilding and seafaring skills on their European contemporaries, he concludes the paper in an unexpectedly Eurocentric manner, placing the child-sacrificing Asians at odds with the urban grandeur of civilized Venice.

As is usual for edited volumes, approaches to the subject matter vary more than the topics under discussion. Yet, much like its subject seafarers, this volume’s contributions stretch between shores, seas, and the span of a millennium. At the fringes of history and terra firma alike, there is still a great deal for the Phoenicians and their material remains to teach us about the past, as well as how we approach its reconstruction. Particularly for students and scholars investigating Iron Age trade networks and postcolonial maritime history, this volume presents what one hopes to be the first of such a collection of papers on the fascinating world of Phoenician seafaring, the epistemology of which remains perpetually under construction.

Sara Rich
Maritime Archaeology Ltd.

Book Review of On Sea and Ocean: New Research in Phoenician Seafaring, edited by Ralph K. Pedersen

Reviewed by Sara Rich

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 1 (January 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1211.Rich

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