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Memories in Stone: Figured Grave Reliefs from Aegean Thrace

April 2019 (123.2)

Book Review

Memories in Stone: Figured Grave Reliefs from Aegean Thrace

By Dimitra Andrianou (Meletemata 75). Pp. 472. National Hellenic Research Foundation, Institute of Historical Research, Athens 2017. €90. ISBN 978-960-9538-64-0 (cloth).

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Ancient Thrace, long an understudied area whose territory spans the contemporary borders of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, has been increasingly a subject of study in recent years. The geographical focus of Memories in Stone is specifically Aegean Thrace, a modern label for the portion of ancient Thrace that lies above the northern coast of the Aegean and below Mount Rhodope between the Nestos and Hebros Rivers, all within the modern country of Greece. A product of the Northern Greece Programme of the National Hellenic Research Foundation, whose emphasis is on making available the primary evidence for this region, this volume is, as Andrianou explains, “the first systematic and synthetic study of the iconography” of sculpted figural tombstones from Aegean Thrace (16). It makes an important contribution to the scholarship on ancient Thrace by serving as a useful resource for ongoing scholarly inquiry involving this material.

Of considerable value is the book’s catalogue of 70 tombstones: eight pieces from the sixth to fifth centuries B.C.E., 12 from the fourth century B.C.E., 13 from the third to first centuries B.C.E., 31 from the first to third centuries C.E., and 6 that are difficult to date (likely Hellenistic or Roman). The chronological span of the corpus begins with the first Greek colonies in the region. While Greek settlements began in the seventh century B.C.E., the earliest attested sculpted figural tombstones date to the sixth century B.C.E. The latest material included is from the third century C.E., though it is not clear why this century was chosen for the end point. Even though Andrianou was not able to include some known pieces because other scholars are working on their publication (17 n. 19), the catalogue considerably expands awareness of sculpted figural tombstones from Aegean Thrace. Many of the pieces in the catalogue had received only cursory publication earlier, and 23 of them, nearly a third of the catalogue, had not been previously published at all.

Andrianou notes in the introduction to the catalogue that it contains “only sculptures for which there is some strong indication that they are funerary in nature” (197). The inability to conclude definitively that some pieces are funerary results in part from the fragmentary condition of some stelae and the fact that several of the iconographic themes are used in nonfunerary as well as funerary contexts. Further, inscriptions, which can help clarify function, are preserved on only 20 pieces in the catalogue. In addition, the primary contexts of the tombstones are unknown, making it impossible in most cases to consider their original placement in relation to burials or tomb structures. Many of the tombstones were chance finds or were discovered in a secondary context—for example, reused as building material in subsequent eras. Throughout the book, Andrianou is clearly conscious of the challenges the material presents, and she handles the evidence very carefully while doing admirable work extracting as much as possible out of it.

The pieces in the catalogue are discussed in two main places in the text. The first is in an overview of the four chronological periods that seeks to provide a broader context for the works. For each period, Andrianou surveys the region’s history and the known funerary evidence beyond the sculpted figural grave reliefs—that is, excavated cemeteries and material from the collection of inscribed tombstones published in the epigraphic corpus of Aegean Thrace (IThrAeg). Following this review, the heart of each chapter describes the architectural forms and iconography of both inscribed and uninscribed tombstones, nonfigural as well as figural. In addition to a detailed examination of each of the sculpted tombstones that form the main body of this study, Andrianou also discusses pieces that were not included in the catalogue, often due to uncertainty of function, and relevant comparanda from areas outside of Thrace and, especially for the Roman period, other parts of Thrace. Of particular interest is understanding the various cultural influences on the tombstones of Aegean Thrace.

After this chronological assessment, Andrianou presents an analysis of the typology and iconographic themes of the sculpted figural stelae. The two most prevalent motifs are the rider (heros equitans) and the funerary banquet. Andrianou includes a useful history of scholarship on each theme as well as a consideration of their use in Thrace and other regions. Of the four variations of the rider theme found more broadly, only one—the mounted rider—is attested in Aegean Thrace, in six examples with inscriptions and 10 without, nearly all Roman. Funerary banquet scenes are found in Aegean Thrace from the second century B.C.E. through the Roman era. Other themes found in much smaller numbers are images of individual male or female figures (seated or standing), one possible example of standing family members, one example of a half-figure portrait, and two stelae with gladiators. Andrianou also examines the motifs of wreaths, archaistic style, upraised hands, and dexiosis.

The text concludes with chapters on relief production, the names of the deceased, and marble provenance. In collaboration with Lorenzo Lazzarini, marble samples of 12 funerary stelae were analyzed; examples of Pentelic, Proconnesian, and Thasian (dolomitic) were identified, as well as Marmaritsa marble and other examples likely of local origin for which the quarries are not yet identified.

The nature and quality of the images in this book deserve special mention. Every piece in the catalogue (except one that is now lost) is illustrated by at least one photograph, and most have multiple photographs that show not only the sculpted face of the tombstone but also the appearance of the sides and the back of the stone, providing remarkably thorough visual information about the objects. The quality of the photographs, which are crisp and sharp, is impressive. Sixteen pieces also appear in color photos.

This book does not attempt to apply theory about death and burial to the material. Rather, its value lies in making accessible a lesser-known set of evidence from Aegean Thrace—its sculpted figural tombstones—through clear and structured presentation. Memories in Stone will no doubt serve as an excellent resource for further research.

Wendy E. Closterman
Bryn Athyn College

Book Review of Memories in Stone: Figured Grave Reliefs from Aegean Thrace, by Dimitra Andrianou

Reviewed by Wendy E. Closterman

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1232.closterman

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