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The Archaeology of the Mediterranean Iron Age: A Globalising World c. 1100–600 BCE

July 2021 (125.3)

Book Review

The Archaeology of the Mediterranean Iron Age: A Globalising World c. 1100–600 BCE

By Tamar Hodos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2020. Pp. 336. $110. ISBN 9780511979316 (cloth).

Reviewed by

As the title suggests, Hodos sets out to present the archaeology of the Mediterranean Iron Age within the analytical framework of globalization. In using globalization as an analytical armature, Hodos argues that there are at least eight traits that are amenable to social analysis. The first is time-space compression, where interaction often results in a temporal and spatial collapse between different communities. Deterritorialization comes next. This is when a culture loses some of its local identity as it adopts goods and ideas from a larger network. Standardization results from the need to facilitate cultural interaction. Unevenness refers to different levels of community engagement in the globalized system, beyond simple concepts of core and periphery. Cultural homogenization can be defined as shared practices between communities in a global network. On the other hand, cultural heterogeneity highlights the way in which cultures will interpret shared practices and materials differently. Some cultures react to inclusion in a global network with intensification of practices that identify their individuality. This is known as reembedding. Vulnerability can occur when a settlement is adversely affected by the ties it has with other settlements in the globalized network. 

Hodos intends to use the globalization framework as an analytical tool to better understand the cultural dynamics that existed between Iron Age settlements in the Mediterranean. Her cultural scope is wide, encompassing not only the Greeks but also the Phoenicians, Etruscans, Assyrians, Egyptians, and societies in the western Mediterranean. The project is presented in seven chapters that cover various issues of culture, method, and theory.

In her first chapter, Hodos outlines the physical concept of the Mediterranean world and reviews histories of scholarship. In her discussion of frameworks of interpretation, she unpacks the history and the analytical span of globalization, highlighting the important play between global and local practices. Chapter 2 is dedicated to introducing the reader to the materials studied in the Mediterranean Iron Age. The author also deals with the problematic issue of chronologies in this period, referencing the debate between high and low chronologies and focusing on the usefulness of new carbon 14 dating for Phoenician sites such as Carthage. This chapter closes with an assessment of literary sources for the period. The next chapter focuses mainly on the movement of Greeks and Phoenicians around the Mediterranean during this period. As the author notes, the characterization of these migrations has been problematic, and she ends the chapter with a close examination of the settlements themselves.

Chapter 4, in which Hodos analyzes the material evidence of exchange in a globalization framework, is very meaty. This section draws attention to Levantine and Cypriot metal objects, and Greek pottery. The chapter terminates with an especially sensitive analysis of wine drinking among Mediterranean cultures, highlighting the importance of understanding shared and local practices.

In chapter 5, Hodos looks at the issue of urbanization in the Mediterranean, asking very directly what features define it. Pointing to the defining features of architecture, population concentrations, craft specialization, and writing, among other things, the author uses these characteristics to cast light on local and shared differences between settlements. She demonstrates a case in point with the development of the tophet in Phoenician settlements in the western Mediterranean but not in Phoenician communities in the Levant. 

The author then turns (ch. 6) to the invention and spread of writing. Although writing was a shared practice, Hodos importantly notes that different settlements appear to have used writing in different ways. The last chapter (ch. 7) returns to the issue of globalization and considers how such an analytical frame has been applied in this book to the different materials that the author analyzes. 

Hodos does a good job in her analysis of various settlements. One aspect I would have liked to have seen was the globalizing role played by interstate sanctuaries in the Mediterranean Iron Age. Not only were centers such as Delphi and Samos serving as vectors for the spread of globalizing concepts in the Mediterranean, there were other sites as well—such as Poseidonia in Italy—that had an effect on the development of local religious traditions. 

The book is a little more traditional than I would have expected from the title, and from Hodos’ presentation of globalization as a powerful analytical frame in the first chapter. The author focuses closely on the material culture but does not often venture into considerations of social modeling or reconstruction, which I thought would enter her treatment of urbanization. Another case in point is the focus on designs on pottery (123) to understand cultural hybridization: what was local, what was shared. While the author effectively pointed out the different designs, it would have helped to put the pottery into institutional contexts, which might have produced a more edifying exploration of how cultures were mixing, and how such contact might be understood in relation to changing social structure. But these points are perhaps more the product of my own bias in analyzing the Greek past, rather than any deficiency in Hodos’ work. I did not write this book and I am reluctant to put the author on my own peculiar Procrustean bed. 

In fact, I found the book well written. The author distills complex issues down to clearly understandable points. Her handling of the material culture is excellent, and the content is well researched. The bibliography is dense and useful. The illustrations are extremely well done and highlight important points in the analysis. Hodos’ handling of historical sources reveals a deep and sensitive understanding of the cultures she is dealing with.

This book taught me a lot, and it gave me much to think about. Its global perspective hammers home the deficiencies of much of our single-culture approaches to the Mediterranean past, and I would hope that this viewpoint could become often more employed in our research and teaching.

I would recommend the volume to anyone who wants a wide-scope analysis of the Iron Age in the Mediterranean. It contains material that is useful to postgraduates and graduate students, but it is also written clearly enough to be used in lower-level classes. It would make a great addition to any class that wants to break out of the single-culture-centric viewpoint.

David B. Small
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Lehigh University

Book Review of The Archaeology of the Mediterranean Iron Age: A Globalising World c. 1100–600 BCE, by Tamar Hodos
Reviewed by David B. Small
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 3 (July 2021)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1253.Small

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