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Miletos: A History

Miletos: A History

By Alan M. Greaves. Pp. xiii + 177, figs. 40. Routledge, London 2002. $75. ISBN 0-415-23846-3 (cloth).

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A book like this is more than welcome since nothing comparable has been available for quite some time. Not even a satisfactory guide to the ruins of Miletos is to be found apart from older publications (G. Kleiner, Die Ruinen von Milet [Berlin 1968]), and the situation is even worse for the English-speaking world. In the introduction, Greaves states that his goal is to write a personal interpretation of the currently published information as an access point to the primary literature for students. Unfortunately, the book is only partly successful.

Greaves worked together with W.-D. Niemeier for about six campaigns on the excavation of the Minoan-Mycenean settlement and under the overall direction of V. von Graeve and his team working on the Archaic settlement of Kalabaktepe and the Sanctuary of Aphrodite at Zeytintepe. Consequently, his knowledge of early Miletos is splendid, and his chapters on the territory of prehistoric and Archaic Miletos are easy to read, well structured, full of bibliographical hints, and are astonishingly detailed.

The first quarter of the book (1–38) is dedicated to a general overview of territory, environment, and natural resources; since this chapter represents the first attempt to bring together various publications on different issues, it is fully successful. It is well researched and offers concentrated information on geology, trading routes, and the ancient agricultural economy, even to those well acquainted with the environment. His comparison with modern agriculture in this area is highly instructive, though better topographical maps would have made it easier to follow the text.

The second quarter (39–73) is dedicated to pre- and protohistoric Miletos and is without doubt the showpiece of the publication. Even more than the previous chapter, this compilation of results—even though partly preliminary—is extremely useful and full of new insights. The information is actually so detailed and new that at times the reader gets the impression of listening to the excavator personally. Nonetheless, this chapter unfortunately is again completely lacking in maps.

The third section (74–130) deals with the Archaic period and forms the most voluminous but decidedly not the most successful part of Greaves’ book. It is obvious that the author is less comfortable in this period, for the information included in these chapters often represents a mix of detailed knowledge and inaccurate (a Geometric acropolis on Kalabaktepe? [76]) or outdated information. It is admirable that Greaves paid special attention to important questions such as the location of the Archaic necropolis (which in fact is still uncertain) and the various styles in Milesian vase painting, yet a couple of mistakes in this chapter (89–92) could have been easily avoided. His case studies on population and colonization, though useful, lack some important recent publications, and the same is true for his passage on Archaic sculpture (extremely short, 94–5). Again, he includes no adequate topographical plan. His extensive case study on the Oracle of Apollo at Didyma is useful but to some extent irritating, since he oddly compares the early structures with Urartian architecture (112–14). More convincing are the sections on Didyma’s relationship with other states and its involvement in the process of Milesian colonization.

The last few pages (131–48) are dedicated to so-called post-Archaic Miletos; they leave the reader puzzled. Greaves attributes his less than 20 pages on Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic Miletos to the fact that no current excavation could contribute to his study (but what about the Hellenistic and Roman necropolis at Kazar Tepe?). His text for this period is basically historical; there is little that is archaeological. Greaves admits the great wealth of inscriptional evidence from these later periods, but he simply makes no use of it; he quotes only a handful of references (apart from his own publications) until his description of the Roman period; for the Byzantine era he quotes none at all. And by now it is superfluous to mention again the complete absence of topographical material—not even a grid plan of the city is included.

Greaves’ assertion, in the acknowledgements, that his book will be wholly independent of his participation in the Miletos excavation is contradicted by the disparity between his fairly deep treatment of prehistoric and Archaic Miletos and his scant attention to the later periods. Obviously, his participation in the recent excavations accounts for the imbalance. Also, in the beginning of his book Greaves mentions two important themes he wanted to pursue: the relationship between the city and the surrounding countryside, and the role that Miletos played as a contact point between East and West. Both themes are difficult to discern in Greaves’ general account that treats everything from sculpture to colonies.

Greaves’ first lines in his introduction clearly show that he was aware of the difficulties he would face, writing a book on the archaeology of Miletos while scholars were working intensively on the site and its material. At any moment new material might be found to prove the author wrong. Yet, the (at least) six monographs that have appeared recently on the architecture of the archaic settlements, the heroa, the lion grave, inscriptions, the Temple of Athena, and the sculpture of the Faustina Baths have not been taken into account. In fact, it is the lacunose bibliography that astounds the reader. M. Real’s comprehensive bibliography on Miletos to 1974 (IstMitt 25 [1975] 259–66) is missing; so too are most of the contributions in Milet 1899–1980: Ergebnisse, Probleme und Perspektiven einer Ausgrabung. Kolloquium Frankfurt a. M. 1980, edited by W. Müller-Wiener [Tübingen 1986]). Von Graeve’s series of presentations of Milesian sculpture is also ignored (MüJb 34 [1983] 7–24; IstMitt 39 [1989] 143–51; Milet 1899–1980 [Tübingen 1986] 81–94).

Nevertheless, Greaves’ book is in fact a concise summary of some key points in the archaeology of Miletos, and it is especially useful for the English-speaking world. If the title had been more precise (e.g., The Archaeology of Early Miletos), and if the author had been a bit more accurate in the chapter on the Archaic period, much of the criticism here would have been avoided. Nonetheless, his summary and thoughts are extremely useful and will be of high interest—and not only to students. It should and will be present in every archaeological or historical library even while the older publications will still remain essential, especially for the so-called post-Archaic Miletos.

Richard Posamentir
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut–Abteilung Istanbul
Ayazpaşa Camii Sok. 48
TR–34437 Gümüşsuyu–Istanbul

Book Review of Miletos: A History, by Alan M. Greaves

Reviewed by Richard Posamentir

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 1 (January 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1101.Posamentir

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