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Thesprotia Expedition IV: Region Transformed by Empire

Thesprotia Expedition IV: Region Transformed by Empire

Edited by Björn Forsén (Papers and Monographs of the Finnish Institute at Athens 24). Helsinki: Foundation of the Finnish Institute at Athens 2019. Pp. 482. €35. ISBN 978-952-68500-4-7 (paper).

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The appearance of the fourth volume of the Finnish Institute at Athens’ Thesprotia Expedition report is an achievement worthy of note, not least because it officially brings the first phase of an important project (2004–2010) to a close. A cooperative project between the Finnish Institute and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Thesprotia is slated to come next and aims to study the Roman colonia and the medieval episcopal see of Photike, after having surveyed its urban area for two seasons already.

Although the Thesprotia Expedition is by no means the first archaeological investigation of the Kokytos River valley (the environs of modern Paramythia), it is the earliest to consider the long-term history of the area and to place equal weight on all periods of the past, from the Paleolithic to 1913, the collapse of the Ottoman empire. The Expedition has accomplished its goals through a combination of intensive surface surveys and small-scale excavations at several sites of different time periods and functions. The project thus deserves to be compared with regional studies on the other side of the Greek-Albanian border, at Butrint, Phoinike, and Apollonia, and at Nikopolis to the south. In sum, as Forsén, the primary editor of this series, notes, these projects have transformed what we know about the material cultural history of ancient Epiros—an area of the Balkans until recently best known to Greek and Albanian archaeologists, whose reports were generally published in their own languages and in specialized publications hard to find in other European countries or in North America.

The previous volumes, also edited by Forsén and published by the Foundation of the Finnish Institute at Athens, include Thesprotia Expedition I: Towards a Regional History (2009), which served as an introductory volume for the project; Thesprotia Expedition II (with Esko Tikkala, 2011), which was mainly reserved for the results of survey and environmental studies; and Thesprotia Expedition III (with Nena Galanidou and Esko Tikkala, 2016), which covered prehistoric to classical and Early Hellenistic excavation results. The studies here in Thesprotia Expedition IV concern later periods and are especially focused on two major centers investigated by the Expedition: Ayios Donatos and Gouriza.

Forsén, in an introductory chapter, defines the main points that he would like readers to take away from reading this volume, while defining five major transformations in Thesprotia, all of them relevant to Epiros as a whole. These include the formation of an Epirote identity under the Aiakid dynasty, including Pyrrhos; the Roman destruction of 167 BCE by Lucius Aemilius Paullus; the arrival of Roman negotiatores; Augustan colonization; and the transformation of Epiros into a frontier zone, upon the disintegration of the Roman empire.

Half of the contributions to Thesprotia Expedition IV are concerned with a villa at Ayios Donatos, the remains of which sit inside the ruins of Hellenistic fortifications and command a spectacular view over the Kokytos River valley. As Eeva-Maria Viitanen demonstrates in a chapter (243–71) on the stratigraphy and architectural remains, the villa was built in the late second century BCE, uniquely early for Roman villas in Greece, and reflects a first wave of Roman landowners in the area. Forsén wonders (iii) if Octavian and Agrippa might have visited there prior to the battle of Actium as they were assembling their fleet in the harbor of Glykys Limen, only 20 km away at the mouth of the Acheron River. The walls of the villa were decorated in the Pompeian Second Style, as noted in Agneta Freccero’s essay (275–98), while after the Battle of Actium, craftsmen produced stylistically similar, high-quality stuccos and frescoes for the stoas of Augustus’ victory monument at Nikopolis.

The frequency of bricks stamped with “COS” found there suggest that they were manufactured somewhere nearby on domains of the Cossinii, or possibly even that the villa belonged to the family of Lucius Cossinius, an affluent equestrian mentioned by Varro and Cicero in relation to Epiros (19). Forsén, Kalle Korhonen, and Paul Reynolds (413–26) consider the evidence for bilingualism offered by brick stamps (including those with “COS”) and graffiti in Greek and Latin, one inscribed in Latin on a wall of the villa.

In addition to the villa proper, Forsén and Mikko Suha (299–316) discuss excavations conducted inside a large tower in the Hellenistic fortifications of the site, which they date to the time of Pyrrhos. Reynolds and Janne Ikäheimo (317–86) catalogue and amply illustrate Late Hellenistic and Roman pottery found in the tower, while Forsén (387–412) publishes a broad range of small finds of Roman date; some, such as parts of bronze vessels, spurs, medical tools, and writing implements, point to a luxurious lifestyle, while others, such as loomweights, are more mundane. Finally, Markku Niskanen (429–40) briefly describes a skeleton of a male from a Late Byzantine burial.

Other chapters in the volume include contributions by both Finnish and Greek scholars, the latter presenting the results of rescue excavations in the broader area of the Kokytos River valley. Tommi Turmo (103–69) describes a kiln of the second half of the fourth century BCE and its adjacent structures excavated at Gouriza. The kiln was likely geared to the production of roof tiles for buildings at Elea, the first urban center to emerge in the Kokytos valley. Voula Tritsaroli (441–82) discusses an Ottoman-period cemetery from Gouriza, having studied 32 of its skeletons.

The remaining chapters of the volume focus on other aspects of fieldwork in the area: Tuukka Talvio (171–76) on coins from various sites in the Kokytos valley; Ourania Palli (177–97) on a Roman cemetery at Mazarakia; Atalanti Betsiou (199–221) on a Roman mausoleum and other Roman graves near Ladochori, along the south shore of the Bay of Igoumenitsa; and Korhonen and Forsén (223–42) on new inscriptions from Photike. Lastly, Suha (49–102) offers a more general study of enfilading strategies employed in Epirote fortifications in the Late Classical and Early Hellenistic periods. 

This particular volume, like its predecessors, is a medley, its character more like an annual update than a unified site report. This approach, however, is to the credit of the series and its editor, who has chosen to present results when ready, rather than delay. He and the Finnish Institute at Athens deserve our thanks and congratulations on a job well done.

Jack L. Davis
Department of Classics
University of Cincinnati

Book Review of Thesprotia Expedition IV: Region Transformed by Empire, edited by Björn Forsén
Reviewed by Jack L. Davis
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 1 (January 2021)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1251.Davis

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