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Hadrianopolis III: Ceramic Finds from Southwestern Paphlagonia

Hadrianopolis III: Ceramic Finds from Southwestern Paphlagonia

By Ergün Laflı and Gülseren Kan Şahin (BAR-IS 2786). Pp. xiii + 457. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford 2016. £64. ISBN 978-1-40731-436-5 (paper).

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Central northern Turkey has for more than 20 years received increasing archaeological attention. Excavations and surveys at sites such as Komana, Pompeiopolis, and Hadrianopolis in the ancient regions of Paphlagonia and Pontus redress somewhat the balance of archaeological fieldwork within modern-day Turkey, where sites such as Pergamon and Ephesos can look back on a long tradition of archaeological research stretching back into the 19th century.

The volume under review here is the third in a series of publications on Hadrianopolis, an ancient inland site in southwestern Paphlagonia. The authors present and discuss pottery finds from a series of excavations within the urban area of Hadrianopolis and from an extensive survey within its chora. The finds are considered chronologically, beginning with the Iron Age and through the Middle Byzantine period; older and more recent finds are merely highlighted. Most of the ceramic finds date from the Hellenistic to Early Byzantine periods. Thus, the volume will mostly find an audience among those studying pottery from central northern Turkey within that time frame.

The main body of the text is preceded by an introduction, which is at times a bit of an odd read, as the authors emphasize the near-unique content of their volume. While this uniqueness is perhaps exaggerated, especially in a region with increasingly more field projects, each contribution should be welcomed with enthusiasm. In this respect also, both the introduction and chapter 1 are worthwhile for their compilations of recent bibliographic references, surely of use not only to ceramic specialists. Chapters 2 through 7 present the pottery finds in chronological order. The interpretation of the ceramic finds in terms of diachronic urban and regional development is found in the conclusion (ch. 8), and the book closes with a bibliography—which, however, it should be noted, is not fully in concordance with the footnotes.

This volume presents a largely new body of material and clearly is significant in its own right, although selections have appeared in separate reports. Particularly with regard to Roman-period slipped tablewares, the volume is a significant addition to a field that is quickly developing, and it plausibly reveals what we can presume to have been a patchwork of ceramic workshops that catered largely to localized and regionalized demands for red-slipped tablewares, such as Ateş’ recent monograph suggests (Die rote Feinkeramik von Aizanoi als lokaler Kulturträger [Wiesbaden 2015] 33). In this respect, it is interesting to note that Ateş argues for a continuation of a gray ware pottery tradition during the Roman Imperial period at Aizanoi, which harks back to pre-Roman, indigenous Anatolian customs, contemporary with the use of red-slipped tablewares, which embody a more “Roman” phenomenon (166–67). At Hadrianopolis, it appears, a similar development applies.

The book inevitably suffers from the scarcity of stratified and well-dated contexts from Hadrianopolis or neighboring sites. At the same time, this situation creates a need for especially thorough scrutiny of the raw data and their interpretation. There are, as well, a variety of practical and methodological drawbacks, detailed below, which considerably affect the book’s overall usefulness.

First, during archaeological fieldwork from 2005 to 2008, the team collected 1,550 sherds (16), all of which are included in the catalogue. This material was partly collected within the urban area of Hadrianopolis proper and partly in an extensive survey of its chora, in a 20 km radius around Hadrianopolis, within which 15 sites were identified. Each catalogue entry lists the kind of fragment, find spot, measurements, and a summary description of the sherd’s fabric, inclusions, and any surface treatment. Even if the Cide Archaeological Project, which from 2009 to 2011 carried out field survey in the coastal stretch to the north-northeast of Hadrianopolis (B.S. Düring and C. Glatz, eds., Kinetic Landscapes: The Cide Archaeological Project 2009–2011: Surveying the Western Turkish Black Sea Region [Warsaw 2015]), recovered only about 4,000 sherds due to sedimentation processes and dense vegetation, the numbers of sherds and sites found by the Hadrianopolis team sound alarmingly low. This prompts the question of what were the team’s collection strategies, which unfortunately are not elaborated on, plus it appears that nearly all sherds collected were considered suitable for inclusion in the catalogue. Furthermore, there is the question of whether 1,550 sherds are sufficient for making broader assumptions and generalizations, such as is done in the text passim, especially in chapter 8. After all, these 1,550 sherds span a period of just over 2.5 millennia from about 1500 B.C.E. to the 11th century C.E. Even if some chronological gaps are noted—for example, the Achaemenid period—and most of these sherds are attributed to the Hellenistic to Early Byzantine periods, this nonetheless makes for less than one sherd per year on average. In addition, the stratigraphic and chronological interpretation (12–13) relies partly on numismatic evidence that unfortunately is not presented and which itself potentially suffers from methodological issues.

A second weakness of the book involves its structure centering around six chronological periods, for which “30 main pottery groups” based on “function, fabric, surface treatment, colour and inclusions” were identified (17) yet which methodologically are inconsistent: from a classificatory point of view, “terra sigillata” is not the same as “pottery after the 12th cent. AD.” For that matter, function should be the result of basic observations regarding, for instance, fabric, rather than being one point of departure. There are other minor, albeit somewhat odd, choices, such as grouping the “Early Byzantine Painted Plates” under coarse wares, rather than with tablewares where they arguably more logically belong (224). Also, the assumption that two forms have the mastos as a morphological parallel or inspiration seems incorrect (81, 114). Although the value of the publication should not be disputed, the authors could have—or perhaps should have—opted for a different approach and arrangement. As all 1,550 sherds that were collected figure in the catalogue, this includes numerous small body sherds (e.g., 184, pl. 131) and their measurements, the significance of which remains doubtful. The authors could have delivered a more manageable book by omitting such sherds, as well as by including some color plates of the macroscopic fabric as well as surface appearance of the various ceramic categories, particularly any decorative aspects. In a region where ceramic research of certain periods still is in its infancy, such additions could be of valuable assistance in terms of identification and comparison for future research.

A third issue to note is that in an attempt to frame their finds within largely unknown ceramological territory, the authors sometimes reach far for parallels, including to Syria. Rather than somewhat forcefully trying to find and replicate a Mediterranean-style morphological and typological repertoire, which certainly makes sense to some degree, why not focus on the specific inland, regional character of part of the pottery? Most of the terra sigillata and red-slipped wares, even if largely unprovenanced, attest to this regionalism, despite the authors’ views to the contrary (434). Taken at face value, the rarity of long-distance imports and amphoras suggests an economy that largely operated on quite different parameters from, for example, those nearer the coast. It is becoming increasingly clear that in the past, as in the present, material culture in many cases betrays a specific identity or character—in terms such as material, morphology, decorative patterns—that can be more loosely or more strictly geographically delineated. While we can approach this from the point of view of regionalism and thus assume this to reflect a style in use within a certain geographical zone, the exact mechanisms underlying such styles, in terms of people’s mental and physical abilities and ideas and their relation to developments beyond, remain elusive. In this respect, it is worthwhile to note that ceramic traditions at Hadrianopolis are likely more “Anatolian,” “Phrygian,” “Paphlagonian,” or perhaps even “Pontic” in origin, as the authors on occasion hint.

In the concluding chapter 8, one wishes for more quantitative support in substantiation of the various claims that concern diachronic urban development, population change, and settlement patterns in Hadrianopolis’ hinterland. It is here that the total number of sherds (1,550) as well as the number of sites identified (15), in addition to Hadrianopolis proper, seem too meager a basis for making broader archaeological and historical generalizations.

The authors made the effort of publishing in English, thus making their results available to a wider audience, which many readers will certainly appreciate. A last critical note nevertheless concerns the use of the English language. In addition to the noticeable number of missing words, there also is the occasional sentence that leaves one rather puzzled (e.g., “During the 3rd cent. AD. Hadrianopolis would have been an insignificant site without any specific significance” [9]). Also, several minor inconsistencies were noted: for instance, an “absence of sherds of recognizable transport amphorae” is claimed (435), while catalogue numbers 1107–1113 (295, 299, pl. 160) are identified by the authors as body sherds of Late Roman Amphora 2 or perhaps a successor type, which were almost certainly imported from the Aegean. Lastly, a consistent yet unnecessary use of articles affects the smoothness with which the text reads.

Even if the book suffers from the above shortcomings, it does form an important addition to a growing body of work on a region of modern-day Turkey that had been largely neglected. Its value lies in the elaborate presentation of a substantial corpus of ceramic material culture that will surely assist future research in the region.

Philip Bes
Independent researcher of Roman pottery

Book Review of Hadrianopolis III: Ceramic Finds from Southwestern Paphlagonia, by Ergün Laflı and Gülseren Kan Şahin

Reviewed by Philip Bes

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 4 (October 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1224.bes

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