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Morgantina Studies. Vol. 6, The Hellenistic and Roman Fine Pottery

Morgantina Studies. Vol. 6, The Hellenistic and Roman Fine Pottery

By Shelley C. Stone. Pp. xxxvi + 485, figs. 9, b&w pls. 143, charts 4, tables 11. Princeton University Press, Princeton 2014. $175. ISBN 978-0-691-15672-9 (cloth).

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In the latest volume in the Morgantina Studies series, Stone presents a meticulously constructed typology of the Hellenistic and Roman tablewares from Morgantina. It is a beautiful book of a type that we are not likely to see published for much longer. The binding, paper, illustrations, and photographs are all excellent, and their styles look back to another era of academic publication. In this regard, the book is reminiscent of the Athenian Agora series, after which it is partly modeled, as Stone tells us in the preface.

Beyond the aesthetics of the physical volume, Stone’s study is a powerhouse of careful scholarship that brings the reader deep into the ceramic issues of Morgantina and the greater Sicilian context. It has generally become unfashionable in ceramic studies to take on large site-specific typologies. However, Stone’s work proves that not only are such typologies still useful, they are still essential. It seems inevitable that the book will serve as a unifying piece of scholarship for future publications on the pottery of Hellenistic and Early Roman Sicily and southern Italy.

Stone presents three goals for the volume: to develop a typology for the Hellenistic and Roman fine wares at Morgantina; to establish a chronological framework for the typology; and to contextualize the typology to the history of the site from the fourth century B.C.E. to the mid first century C.E. Each of these goals is ultimately met, with much satisfaction to the reader. The author builds the typology from datable deposits of pottery from a variety of contexts. The datable deposits provide chronological benchmarks that Stone links to historical events (e.g., the Roman capture of Morgantina in 211 B.C.E.), which he groups into three historical phases: (1) Hellenistic (ca. 340–211 B.C.E.), (2) Roman Republic (after 211 B.C.E. to ca. 35–25 B.C.E.), and (3) Roman empire (late first century B.C.E.–first half of the first century C.E.). This historical division is precisely that: a historical division with no real break in the ceramic culture, especially between the Hellenistic and republican phases (from the late third through early second century B.C.E.). Change in the ceramic assemblage occurred more gradually, such as the change in the relative proportion of bowls and plates over time (14). The ability to track this transformation within a site assemblage is significant, although a figure presenting table assemblages from dated deposits that highlight changes would have been helpful.

Following the introduction, Stone narrates a series of “Historical Sketches of Morgantina.” Readers will appreciate the accessible historical overviews these provide. The sketches serve to develop the author’s phasing for the typology, and they helpfully include histories of the archaeological exploration of the site. The footnotes should not be ignored and will prove useful for anyone wishing to explore this history of Morgantina to its fullest.

Following the sketches, Stone summarizes the deposits that yielded pottery used to build the typology. The presentation of the deposits complements the historical sketches that preceded them. This section is admirable for the consistency with which each deposit is described, allowing for easy comparisons. Each description includes the location of the deposit, the excavation history, relevant bibliography, an overview of the stratigraphy, and an assessment of the deposit context. A list of the vessels used in the typology is provided at the end of each description. A very nice site plan (fig. 1) accompanies the descriptions so that readers can easily visualize the deposits in their urban environment.

As helpful as Stone’s presentation of the deposits is, there are problems with terminology that readers may find distracting. There is a fluidity with which the terms “fill,” “deposit,” “dump,” and “context” are used throughout the discussion. An example of the ambiguity created by a lack of terminological precision is found in the discussion of the republican “Deposits and Contexts” (47): “Only one fill (deposit IIA) can be dated to the first half of the 2nd century B.C.E., and it is a very small dumped fill that includes only eight fragments of tableware” (47 [emphasis added]). In one sentence the archaeological context is referred to as a fill, a deposit, and a dump.

Similar lack of specificity is present in the presentation of “Fabrics and Gloss” at the end of chapter 1. This section lays out the visual fabric classification system employed at Morgantina. In general, there is a casual conflation of the terms “fabric” and “ware.” Beyond the lack of terminological precision, Stone’s classification defines three fabrics (Fabric I, II, and III), which he identifies in each of the historical phase assemblages. The working premise of this classification is that Fabric I is a local production, basing the assumption on the high proportion of the fabric in assemblages (up to 80% of the assemblage [72]). Appendix 2, a geochemical provenance study of the pottery by Johnson and Morgenstein, goes far to confirm Stone’s assumption. The same provenance study also validates Stone’s macroscopic classification system in general terms, though it also produced evidence of greater regional variation among the three fabric groups than the current system is able to acknowledge. Given the way the geochemical study provides scientific support for the fabric classification system, it is surprising Stone does not incorporate the findings more productively. The appendix is acknowledged occasionally, but mostly as a way to illustrate the general effectiveness of the visual fabric classification system. Readers are encouraged to read appendix 2 to better contextualize ceramic production at Morgantina.

Chapters 2 (“The Later 4th and 3rd Centuries B.C.E.”), 3 (“Republican Morgantina: Black- and Red-Gloss Wares after 211 B.C.E. to ca. 35–25 B.C.E.”), and 4 (“Imported Early Italian Sigillata and South Italian Regional Sigillatas”) admirably lay out the wares and shapes of vessels that make up the fine ware assemblages of the three major periods outlined in chapter 1. The overviews of vessel shapes are especially useful, providing detailed histories of shapes along with rich bibliographies in the footnotes. The three chapters form the heart of the typology and follow the Athenian Agora volumes in style and scope. The familiarity of the format, which is carefully tracked by the table of contents, allows readers to access information easily.

Chapters 5 (“Pottery with Moldmade Decoration”) and 6 (“Thin-Walled Pottery”) deviate from the chronological presentation of the fine wares in order to present two separate classes of vessels. Stone gives special deference to moldmade decoration (229), which is why he includes nearly every example of the class found at Morgantina in the catalogue. Stone rightly points out that the inclusion of all moldmade decoration could give the impression such vessels were more common than they truly were. In an effort to curb this he suggests moldmade fine wares made up between 10% and 15% of the fine ware assemblage, though the reasoning he follows to reach those numbers is problematic, and it seems more likely the percentages should be significantly smaller. The decision to isolate vessels with moldmade decoration and thin-walled pottery from the rest of the fine wares makes it difficult for readers to construct site-wide period assemblages. It is easy to understand why Stone presented these categories separately; moldmade decoration offers rich narrative possibilities, and by tradition thin-walled pottery is treated independently from fine wares. But the separate treatment detracts from his overall goal of constructing chronologically linked typologies. The organization of the catalogue (ch. 7) somewhat addresses this problem, but the discussion of the assemblages remains fractured by the division.

Four appendices follow the vessel catalogue in chapter 7. Appendix 1 provides a succinct summary of the evidence in support of pottery production at Morgantina, most of which was first presented in volume 3 of Morgantina Studies. The second appendix is the geochemical study by Johnson and Morgenstein mentioned earlier. Appendix 3 is a simple concordance of inventoried shapes found in Liparian tombs with the Morgantina typology. The fourth appendix summarizes the history and morphology of the Morgantina silver hoard (ca. 211 B.C.E.) and attempts to provide source evidence for the shapes and styles of third-century ceramic fine wares, though it does so uncritically.

Whatever issues may exist with the volume, none will prevent Stone’s contribution from becoming the definitive reference for the Hellenistic and Roman pottery at Morgantina and a valuable resource for archaeologists working on Hellenistic and Early Roman sites in Sicily and southern Italy. And while there is occasional inconsistency in the quality of the pottery drawings (e.g., pl. 25), generally the quality of the illustrations is excellent and will serve readers well if they are skimming through the plates looking for parallels. The most important contribution Stone has made here, however, is the detailed contextualization of the fine wares at Morgantina that includes both significant local production and imported wares. His carefully constructed historical narratives provide readers with much meat to enjoy, and his systematic presentation of the data will allow the careful reader opportunities to ruminate on his conclusions. We can look forward to a second volume by Stone that presents the Hellenistic and Roman plain pottery, cooking wares, and lamps.

Nicholas F. Hudson
Department of Art and Art History
University of North Carolina Wilmington

Book Review of Morgantina Studies. Vol. 6, The Hellenistic and Roman Fine Pottery, by Shelley C. Stone

Reviewed by Nicholas F. Hudson

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1211.Hudson

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