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Greek Colonization in Local Contexts: Case Studies in Colonial Interactions

Greek Colonization in Local Contexts: Case Studies in Colonial Interactions

Edited by Jason Lucas, Carrie Ann Murray, and Sara Owen (University of Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology Monograph 4). Oxford: Oxbow 2019. Pp. vi + 241. $59.99. ISBN 978-1-78925-132-6 (paper).

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The study of ancient colonization remains a double-edged sword. On one side, it presses us to move beyond Helleno- and Romanocentric narratives of ancient Mediterranean and European history by broadening our geographical and cultural perspectives on the human agents and other forces driving historical developments. On the other side, it has, from its outset, tended to perpetuate narratives of Graeco-Roman cultural primacy. Michael Dietler has articulated this epistemological problem, stating that “modern consciousness has been, in a sense, ‘colonized’ by the ancient Greeks and Romans and . . . that colonized perspective has come to color the way archaeologists now understand ancient colonial encounters” (Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France, University of California Press 2010, 3). Furthermore, ongoing disconnections between disciplinary and national traditions concerned with ancient colonization necessitate dialogues to generate reflexive and integrative approaches to the study of migration and culture contact.

The volume under review is based on a 25–28 March 2007 symposium held at the University of Cambridge, “Symposium on Greek Colonization Across the Mediterranean,” that was organized by the Greek Colonization and the Archaeology of European Development project and funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It is thus a welcome addition to current dialectics between ancient colonial experiences and modern understandings of those experiences. It focuses, as the title implies, on local contexts of colonial interactions, primarily those resulting from Greek settlement around European shores in the Archaic and Classical periods, and it draws together scholars actively working in the regions under scrutiny. In the short introduction, the editors outline several focal points for the volume, emphasizing especially the agency of individuals and communities, indigenous or otherwise, in colonial encounters and the interplay between cultural and physical landscapes. The case studies presented are meant to give “keyhole views” (2) into a number of distinct cultural areas and historical and geographical contexts to articulate the complex relationships between Greeks and indigenous peoples, “moving away from Greek innovation and indigenous passivity” (4) and reorienting outdated evolutionary models.

The first five chapters examine colonial contexts in the central and western Mediterranean; another three chapters investigate Greek and Thracian interactions in Bulgaria and northern Greece; and five chapters interrogate Greek settlement in the northern Black Sea coast in the Dnieper-Bug estuary. The final chapter, by Alan M. Greaves, builds on the entire volume and illustrates how returning to the regions of the metropoleis—in Greaves’ case, Ionia—can inform debates surrounding local contexts of colonization.

The strengths of this volume lie in its close readings of primarily archaeological sources to articulate what “colonization” looked like on the ground, necessitating a re-evaluation of older assumptions and models. Several chapters, for instance, emphasize the myriad intercultural relationships that shape settlement and society, particularly chapters by the late Sebastiano Tusa (on precolonial Sicily), Jason Lucas (on hybrid cultural landscapes of Iron Age Provence), and Diamandis Triandaphyllos (on the intertwinement of cultural and natural landscape dynamics in Thrace). Others press the reader to rethink the colony–mother-city relationship, often assumed to shape colonial landscapes in predictable, top-down fashion (219). Carrie Ann Murray’s chapter explores complex motivations that produce highly variable modes of physical building and cultural interaction in colonial contexts; Adolfo J. Domínguez evaluates the multiple actors involved in Locri Epizephirii’s foundation; and Vasilica Lungu closely examines burial practices in Orgame (Argamum) in the western Black Sea region.

Alexei Gotzev’s chapter on Thracian Pistiros and the five chapters on the northern Black Sea region (by Valeria Bylkova, Sergey Solovyov, Sergej and Alla Bujskikh, Elias K. Petropoulos, and David Braund) reveal especially the crucial roles of landscape and environment in shaping colonial encounters and trajectories. The continuous return in these chapters to the case of “dugout houses” that appear in the early stages of Berezan’s and Olbia’s life cycles (seventh–sixth centuries BCE) press the reader to rethink traditional “Greek or Barbarian” assumptions and the extent to which we can use material culture to discuss ethnic (or other) identities, particularly when the natural environment is woven into the picture.

Finally, another significant issue raised concerns the economic roles afforded by colonial settlements. M. Teresa Miró i Alaix’s chapter synthesizes and updates a number of studies on the red-figure pottery at Emporion to elucidate the settlement’s local and long-distance economic relations. Greaves’ concluding chapter, which analyzes all of the themes discussed above, also returns to the problematic employment of the concepts emporion and apoikia as mutually exclusive, achronological categories, calling for recognition of the fluid reality that lies behind these terms.

Criticisms of this publication include, first, that the length of time needed to bring this volume to publication, while no anomaly, has resulted in bibliographies that for the most part predate 2010. As such, the volume does not incorporate new key debates and syntheses—for example, the excellent papers in the volumes edited by L. Donnellan, V. Nizzo, and G.-J. Burgers (Conceptualising Early Colonisation, Belgisch Historisch Instituut te Rome 2016; Contexts of Early Colonization, Palombi Editori 2016) and monographs by F. De Angelis (Classical Greek Sicily: A Social and Economic History, Oxford University Press 2016) and D. Demetriou (Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean: The Archaic and Classical Greek Multiethnic Emporia, Cambridge University Press 2012), to name a few.

Second, the volume does not engage significantly with theory, and at some points the reader might question assumptions made, for instance, between ceramic assemblages and ethnicity—“The recent archaeometric analysis of Greek pottery from Berezan provides some observations on the ethnic composition of the traders and their trading habits” (160)—although in other areas, such assumptions are helpfully challenged (e.g., Petropoulos’ problematizing of the tendency to ascribe handmade pottery solely to indigenous users, or else intermarriage with locals [202–3]). 

Accordingly, the volume misses opportunities to bring data from local colonial contexts to bear on emergent issues such as materiality and networks. It also leaves the reader questioning whether we should limit studies of colonial encounters to instances of archaic and classical Greek settlements abroad, particularly given emerging scholarship on Phoenician colonization and broader ancient migration studies now being pursued with increasing vigor, which are reforming our approaches to colonization (P. van Dommelen, “Colonialism and Migration in the Ancient Mediterranean,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41, 2012, 393–409).

Nevertheless, the detailed treatment of local contexts of colonial encounters and the inclusion of scholarship on and from multiple European regions in formats accessible to Anglophone audiences is very much welcomed. Many of the chapters combine excellent overviews of settlements and entire regions (Sicily, southern France, Thrace, the Dnieper-Bug estuary) with thoughtful, close scrutiny of the material evidence and physical landscapes, thus making this volume appropriate for both scholars well acquainted with these regions and those approaching them for the first time. We have come a long way from T.J. Dunbabin’s and John Boardman’s mid 20th-century syntheses on ancient colonization; the strengths and shortcomings of this volume alike suggest we can push the envelope even further.

Megan J. Daniels
Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies
University of British Columbia

Book Review of Greek Colonization in Local Contexts: Case Studies in Colonial Interactions, edited by Jason Lucas, Carrie Ann Murray, and Sara Owen 
Reviewed by Megan J. Daniels
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 4 (October 2020)
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1244.Daniels

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