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Haghia Triada III: The Late Minoan III Buildings in the Villaggio

Haghia Triada III: The Late Minoan III Buildings in the Villaggio

By Santo Privitera (Monografie della Scuola archeologica di Atene e delle missioni italiane in oriente 23). Pp. xviii + 184, figs. 52, pls. 52. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and Italian Archaeological School at Athens, Athens 2015. Price not available. ISBN 978-960-93-6863-6 (cloth).

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In assembling this monograph, Privitera has delved into a vast array of legacy data dating back to the beginning of the 20th century and up to the present day. The sources are scattered not only through time but also through space, from Crete to the Italian School in Athens and to Vatican City and Rovereto in Italy. In so doing, Privitera has put together a very detailed and illuminating account of this important and complex section of the site of  Ayia Triada during the Late Minoan (LM) III period.

Despite the proliferation of mortuary evidence from LM III Crete, the existence of substantial and well-published architectural complexes from the period is sadly limited. The Mesara, and in particular the sites of Kommos and Ayia Triada, preserves some of the most monumental and important structures from this period of Mycenaean influence on Crete. While the structures published in this volume are not as monumental as some of their neighbors at Ayia Triada, they nevertheless form an important element for our understanding of the site.

Chapter 1 introduces Ayia Triada and sets the scene with an overview of the site and the area of the Villaggio, which is located on the slope to the west of the Stoa dell’Agora and north of Megaron ABCD and the Neopalatial Villa Riale. The site of Ayia Triada is important in LM III not just for its monumental architecture but also for its possible connection to the site of da-wo from the Knossian Linear B tablets, a first-order center for the storage of cereals, and very possibly a part of the pa-i-to (Phaistos) district. In addition, the well-known Ayia Triada sarcophagus dates to an early phase of LM III and was found in a tomb just to the northeast of the Stoa dell’Agora and the Villaggio.

The Villagio is a confusing jumble of walls and stratigraphy on which Privitera does his best to impose some order. The area is divided into two halves by the Muraglione a Denti, the long wall running east–west that was built in LM I as a retaining wall for a terracing system. South of the wall are Edificio E and the Casa dei Vani Aggiunti Progressivamente (Casa VAP). North of the wall are Buildings X, Y, and Z, the Casa delle Camere Decapitate, and Edificio Ovest. Each of the structures is covered in detail in subsequent chapters. Since other LM III walls and structures also appear in the various plans (e.g., figs. 3, 52), some of which are mentioned by name (e.g., the Casa del Vano con Gourna), it is unclear why they are not given the same detailed treatment in later chapters.

Chapters 2 and 3 provide very detailed histories of excavation and interpretation at Ayia Triada. Federico Halbherr and Roberto Paribeni first excavated the site from 1902 to 1905. Halbherr described the architecturally and stratigraphically complex area of the Villaggio as a “tangle of walls” that made him “crazy” (24). Further campaigns were carried out from 1910 to 1914, in 1939 and 1958, from 1970 to 1975, and from 1977 to the present day. The variety of excavation campaigns and excavators has resulted in a diverse array of publication records as well as an uneven record of publication, which is well illustrated by the various archival maps and sketches the author uses to illustrate this early history of excavation. Despite the imbalanced evidence, Privitera aims to show how the Villaggio is “central to any holistic interpretation of Haghia Triada during some two centuries of its long life” (27).

Chapters 4 through 8 cover several of the main structures of the Villaggio, in the following order: Edificio E; Casa VAP; Buildings X, Y, and Z; the Casa delle Camere Decapitate; and Edificio Ovest. Each chapter is laid out in a similar, organized fashion, beginning with an introduction that covers the topography and history of excavation of the area, followed by very detailed description of the architecture, much less detailed descriptions of the stratigraphy and finds, and a synthesis that examines chronology and function. State plans and a variety of sections are provided, and a schematic plan numbers each feature and space and describes them in turn. The detail devoted to the architecture is at times exhaustive; one wonders, for example, if the height of each riser in a staircase is best described with prose.

Architectural discussion stands in sharp contrast to the limited and piecemeal descriptions of stratigraphy and finds. This is no doubt due to the vagaries of past excavation records with which Privitera has had to contend, since the stratigraphy and finds were not always well recorded and in some cases the finds have even been lost or misplaced. He remedies this with a detailed description of the excavation and recording history and is explicit about the quality of his data, including the fact that some of the spaces preserve few or no finds. From the entirety of Casa VAP, for example, which is “one of the largest buildings constructed at Haghia Triada in LM III” (35), come only a handful of reconstructable vases, which here are illustrated with photographs and line drawings in the plates. Some of these are also catalogued in the text, but why some finds are granted this distinction and others are not remains unclear. (Also, when skimming it can be difficult to spot these catalogue entries, since their formatting is not distinct from the rest of the text.) Not catalogued, or even described, are frescoes from the “Pit of the Frescoes” in Space A of the Casa VAP, although Privitera does provide illustrations of two reconstructed sections (figs. 26, 27) as well as a tentative reconstruction of Space A that indicates their positions on its walls (fig. 29). It is symptomatic of the difficulties that the author is dealing with that his discussion of Space B, from which no finds were reported (71), consists of an analysis of various archival notebooks and museum records to determine which, if any, frescoes might have come from this area. He tentatively concludes that the fragments reconstructed as the “Small Procession” (fig. 30) “in all probability” were found here (72). One is struck by the difficulty and his dedication to the cause of sorting through this material to make sense of it, but at times one also wishes for less about the process of his analysis and more on the conclusions revealed by his hard work.

Chapter 9 is devoted to a discussion of the LM III pottery from the Villaggio. The remains are not plentiful: from Ayia Triada there are only about 20 restorable vases and about 100 small fragments, dating from LM II to final LM IIIB, and most consist of decorated fragments and restorable vessels, indicating that early excavators were highly selective about the pottery they chose to keep. Discussion of the pottery is arranged by context. Privitera divides the pottery into eight groups, plus a miscellaneous category for vases with no information about their findspots. Since the contexts of the pottery do not match the previously discussed architectural areas exactly, owing to the uncertainty of the archival records, it would have been helpful to provide a plan that located these contexts on the site. Furthermore, there seems to be some inconsistency with regard to the cataloguing of the pottery. For example, some vessels have fabric descriptions while others do not, and in some cases multiple measurements are taken while in others only the vessel’s height is given. Since Privitera provides no conclusion for this chapter, it remains unclear how this pottery evidence (rather than the evidence of pottery and finds he discusses in previous chapters) adds to our broader understanding of the Villaggio.

Chapter 10 is a discussion of the Villaggio’s function and overall history, which begins in LM IIIA1 and continues into LM IIIB. It provides a period-by-period summary along with a coded plan of the site that indicates each architectural phase. One only wishes there were a single plan of the site that included the names of all the structures to which he refers. While much of the pottery from these early excavations has been lost, Privitera nevertheless believes that the low quantity and character of LM IIIB pottery from the site indicates that it was abandoned peacefully late in the period. Chapter 10 continues with a short section on building materials and techniques and concludes with a discussion of the Casa VAP as an elite residential and ceremonial center, as well as other ritual spaces in the Villaggio and the increasing evidence for storage in the later LM III period. It is the author’s opinion that the architecture of the Villaggio during the LM III period displays both Mycenaean and Minoan influences and thus exhibits a hybrid character.

The main portion of the text concludes with an epilogue that puts the Villaggio in context by tying its development to wider changes on the island—for example, at Knossos, as well as at Phaistos and Kommos, to which Ayia Triada is closely linked by geography. Privitera expands on the interpretation of the Casa VAP as an elite residence, possibly erected on behalf of the Knossian bureaucracy sometime around the transition from LM IIIA1 to IIIA2 (145). Based on iconographic similarities between the frescoes found here and the Ayia Triada sarcophagus, he suggests that this group also had priestly functions and was buried in Tomb 4, where the sarcophagus was found (144). After the demise of the palace at Knossos in LM IIIA2, Ayia Triada was most closely linked to the harbor site of Kommos, and they both saw major reorganizations in the LM IIIA2 to IIIB periods, in contrast to the considerable contraction of Phaistos. While Kommos provided the access to seaborne trade, Privitera sees Ayia Triada as “the major religious and political venue in the west Mesara” during the mature LM IIIA2 through IIIB periods (146). The Villaggio is, he contends, our best evidence for “the establishment in mature LM IIIA2 of a small agrarian state run by Haghia Triada in the west Mesara” (146).

After the volume’s epilogue comes a documentary appendix of relevant passages from Halbherr’s and Paribeni’s notebooks from 1902 to 1914 in the original Italian. An index is also provided, along with plates of photographs and drawings.

Overall, this is a worthwhile volume that brings to publication a very important and complex section of Ayia Triada. While at times it reads more like a field notebook than a final publication, owing to the often exhaustive detail (in particular with regard to the architecture), the language is generally clear, and the material is well organized. Some minor grammatical errors do exist, but they do not affect the general clarity of the prose. In the end, the author has succeeded in putting together a comprehensible—if not always eminently readable—volume that helps illuminate the stratigraphy and architecture of this very complicated section of LM III Ayia Triada. What Halbherr described as “a net of superimpositions and a quantity of dumps that turn us crazy” (24), Privitera has managed to untangle.

R. Angus K. Smith
Department of Classics
Brock University

Book Review of Haghia Triada III: The Late Minoan III Buildings in the Villaggio, by Santo Privitera

Reviewed by R. Angus K. Smith

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 4 (October 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1214.Smith

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