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L’architecture monumentale grecque au IIIe siècle a.C.

April 2017 (121.2)

Book Review

L’architecture monumentale grecque au IIIe siècle a.C.

Edited by Jacques des Courtils (Mémoires 40). Pp. 357, figs. 311. Ausonius Éditions, Bordeaux 2015. €60. ISBN 978-2-35613-144-7 (cloth).

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This volume, derived from three workshops held in France in 2011 through 2013, was generated by the editor’s desire to reconsider the official date assigned to Temple A of Leto at the Letoon in Xanthos. His original agenda receives little explication here, but the project led to this thorough exploration of a phase that is customarily paired with the subsequent century or so as Hellenistic. The challenge here, to characterize public architecture of the third century B.C.E., demonstrates diverse, diachronic developments in public architecture after the Carian Hekatomnid and especially the Macedonian Argead dynasties of the fourth century B.C.E. brought about profound social, economic, and political changes throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

The 14 chapters (seven in French, six in English, one in German), preceded by the editor’s excellent introduction, are divided into three segments: sites, regions, and technique and ornament. The sites, whose third-century monuments are treated in detail, include: Delphi (Laroche, Partida), Sicyon (Lolos), Delos (Moretti), Samothrace (Wescoat), Kos (Pedersen), and Limyra (Stanzl). Regions include the Peloponnesus (Sioumpara), the Dodecanese (Caliò), and Egypt (Étienne, Fragaki). Under the heading of “Techniques and Ornament” are papers on assembly marks (Weber), Corinthian capitals (Cavalier), and building forms and spatial arrangement (Marc). Inevitably there is overlap, which enriches the conversation, especially in interpretive discussions. Bibliographies for each chapter are helpful and up-to-date. Worth special commendation are the numerous photographs (complemented by ample line drawings), most in color, of a quality and specificity rarely encountered; details of clamps, cuttings, lines, and surfaces in blocks, as well as larger and more conventional views of structures and their components, are all exceptionally clear.

Defining third-century architecture encompasses a range of scales, from a fine-grained analysis of ornament (Cavalier on Corinthian capitals) and building techniques (Weber on assembly marks) to broad conceptual assessments of urban spatial arrangements (Caliò on sites in the Dodecanese; Marc on Thasos). Although most contributions in this volume are closely focused, several broad themes addressed here express significant changes in the Aegean and points east after Alexander. The selection of sites discussed indicates that along with continued interest in major sanctuaries such as Olympia, Didyma, Delphi, and Delos, there is extensive building in newer sanctuaries such as Samothrace and Kos. Brand new and established sites in Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Egypt were created and embellished with more and larger structures than we see in older centers on the Greek mainland. In this altered geography, there emerge patterns of patronage, new building types and arrangements, and workshop practices that represent third-century B.C.E. innovations in response to changed circumstances.

Patronage by and for kings distinguishes this period, and there is more evidence of euergetism by private donors. At least five buildings at Samothrace were inscribed with donors’ names, including Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, but that is the exception. Such epigraphical evidence, together with information in textual sources, leads contributors to seek overt indicators of Lagid benefaction. However, with little extant third-century architecture in Egypt, identifying Ptolemaic dedications stylistically is a challenge. More fundamentally, a dedicated structure need not reflect styles of the patron’s homeland or domain. As many authors in this volume note (unlike with later Attalid donations), attributing a distinctive style to an individual ruler or dynasty cannot fully explain complexities of design and execution. Inscribed accounts from Delos offer a valuable reminder that building projects were financed from the sacred treasury, the public treasury, and Delian citizens, as well as kings. The third century also saw a vast expansion of private beneficence in public places, as described here at Delphi, Delos, and Thasos.

Besides new donors, in the third century we encounter entirely new types of buildings, including royal palaces in Macedonia and presumably Egypt, bicolumnar monuments at Delphi, and neoria (elongated structures housing dedicated ships) at Delos and Samothrace. Ostentatiously communal facilities for social purposes, such as theaters and gymnasia, punctuated planned settings as public statements at sites such as Delos and Sicyon. In cities and sanctuaries—for example at Sicyon, Delos, Thasos, and Kos—terraces, stoas, and squares gave monumental form to public practices, creating intentional, regularized spaces for interaction in processions, festivals, and other modes of community engagement, reflecting an increased appreciation of the built environment as a social venue.

While monumental architecture is intrinsically expressive of social, economic, and political values and behaviors, details of ornament and construction shed light on who did the actual making and building. Limyra’s Ptolemaion and structures elsewhere display Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian decorative forms in untraditional proportions, combinations, and locations. Details of Corinthian capitals offer clues to workshops. In addition to styles of ornament, close scrutiny of materials and techniques at Delphi, Delos, and Samothrace reveals combinations of local and imported stone handled by composite workforces of resident and visiting craftsmen, as indicated by, for example, units of measure employed and building methods. Studies of cuttings for lifting blocks, assembly marks, and varying uses of particular types of stone suggest significant differentiation of tasks not only among laborers, artisans, supervisors, and patrons, raising important questions about the effect of each on the final presentation of monumental structures. Such composite agency, together with the multiplicity of benefactors and variety of building types and scales, attest to the increased complexity of third-century architecture.

In a volume with such high production values, it is disconcerting to encounter inconsistency of transliterating Greek names and terms. In addition, given the importance of geography and mobility to many of these studies, a general map of the eastern Mediterranean would remind readers of the spatial relationships of sites discussed. Such criticisms are minor, however, compared with the quality of scholarship and its visual presentation in this compendium. Although there is not a comprehensive narrative for the appearance and construction of public buildings across the post-Alexandrian world, these studies enable us to observe specific traits and to parse multiperiod sites more effectively. Rich in detail, the contributions to this volume on third-century architecture offer fine analyses of key characteristics of this incipient phase of the period we call Hellenistic.

Mary B. Hollinshead

Book Review of L’architecture monumentale grecque au IIIe siècle a.C., edited by Jacques des Courtils

Reviewed by Mary B. Hollinshead

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 2 (April 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1212.Hollinshead

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