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The Excavations at Ancient Halieis. Vol. 1, The Fortifications and Adjacent Structures [and] Studi sulle fortificazioni Greche di Leontini

The Excavations at Ancient Halieis. Vol. 1, The Fortifications and Adjacent Structures [and] Studi sulle fortificazioni Greche di Leontini

The Excavations at Ancient Halieis. Vol. 1, The Fortifications and Adjacent Structures, by Marian H. Mcallister. With contributions by Michael H. Jameson, James A. Dengate, and Frederick A. Cooper. Pp. xiv + 178, figs. 42, pls. 24. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2006. $75. ISBN 0-253-34710-0 (cloth).

Studi sulle fortificazioni Greche di Leontini, by Salvatore Rizza. With appendices by Giacomo Biondi and Annalisa Montironi (Studi e materiali de archeologia greca 7). Vol. 1. Pp. 128, figs. 79, pls. 16; vol. 2, Rilievi. Pp. 4, figs. 2, pls. 12. Università di Catania, Istituto di Archeologia, Centro di Studio sull'Archeologia Greca del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Catania 2000. €106. (cloth).

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This first volume of the publication of the American excavations of ancient Halieis in Argolis, inaugurated in 1962 by the late Michael H. Jameson, is devoted to its ancient fortifications. The list of publications concerning the archaeological fieldwork of ancient Halieis, 1962–1980 (appx. A, 141–51), is characterized by numerous preliminary reports. During the many years of excavation, different directors applied (quite inconveniently) different systems of both the layout and recording of trenches. To simplify this confusion, the trenches, their labels, locations, and supervisors are listed in appendix B (152) together with a reference to a plan of the site published in the preliminary report of the excavations of the lower city by Boyd and Rudolph in Hesperia 47 (1978). Optimistically, I consulted this plan, hoping that it would in fact indicate the position of the trenches, but I found only seven areas marked and numbered. Apparently, that is as precise as it is going to get, but it is annoying when elusive trench numbers are used as topographic references in the text, as for instance in the concluding chapter 6 (76).

The text is organized in nine chapters, the first six devoted to the study of the city wall on land, the remaining three on various topics related to the walls. The main author, McAllister, participated from 1960 as architect in the Halieis project. The study of the fortifications is based on excavations mainly on the acropolis, while the remaining part of the walls has only been sporadically excavated, especially in the eastern part. A diagrammatic map (fig. 19) is used as a guideline for better orientation in the text. Here the excavation areas could easily have been added for a clearer appreciation of the nature of the investigations.

After a brief introduction (1–4) outlining the conditions and premises of the study, chapter 1 follows, dealing with the basic components, materials, and methods (5–13). Chapter 2 describes the trace of the walls during the Archaic and Classical periods (14–19); chapter 3, its towers and gates (20–44). Chapter 4 is devoted to the curtains (45–62), chapter 5 contains odds and ends (63–74), and, finally, chapter 6 pre-sents conclusions (75–84).

Three more chapters are devoted to various other topics. Chapter 7 (85–97) is on the submerged remains, the harbor, and other shoreline structures, and is authored by Jame-son. Then follow a chapter on the mint, located in the “Northeast Command Post” (98–126), and finally a chapter on the coins and their provenances (127–40), both by Dengate.

The remains of the fortification walls now visible consist of a trace of wall approximately 1.9 km long (enclosing ca. 18.2 ha) that was constructed during the Classical period. But the earliest part of the fortifications, dating to the seventh century B.C.E., circumscribed the acropolis and part of the Industrial Terrace to the east. Later, in the late seventh and/or early sixth century, the town site near the shore was also fortified. These two fortified areas were probably combined via the so-called Middle Wall, perhaps in the mid fifth century. By then, the acropolis and the harbor formed a combined circuit, strengthened with a series of square towers. Somewhat later, the western part of the town was included in the fortification system with a western enlargement of the walls. And, finally, at some point in the first half of the fourth century, a major rebuilding program was inaugurated and round Towers 6, 7, 9, and 11 were added. The Harbor Gate and the round harbor Towers 14 and 15 also belong to this rebuilding phase.

The fortifications of Halieis were constructed as stone-based walls with mudbrick superstructure. Often only a single course of the base remains, so it is difficult to say much of the masonry technique. The base wall of the curtains was two-faced yet often set directly on the earth without substantial foundation walls. Binders in the form of L-shaped blocks are found occasionally. The building material was found locally, either fieldstones, fist-sized, water-rounded stones from the beach, or locally quarried blocks of various types of conglomerate. Neither masonry type nor details in the finish seem to be good indicators of date (11).

The illustrations are generally of poor quality: either quite rough or crude (e.g., those in ch. 3, figs. 1–9) or weak line drawings made worse by small-scale reproduction (e.g., ca. 1:275 in fig. 21, or 1:150 in fig. 31). What could have been a strength—the field drawings were at 1:50 (4)—is turned into a weakness. Most of the plates are clear, yet dull photographs and the poor and thin paper quality do little to enhance them. The coin blanks and the unstruck flans (pls. 22–4) might as well have been omitted; it is absolutely impossible to see anything.

In short, this book presents a highly competent and good textual description and analysis of the fortifications of ancient Halieis. Yet, the poor illustrations give only a superficial indication of the walls of the curtains (e.g., fig. 25) and do not provide supporting evidence for the nature and construction of the fortifications as such. I am aware that the remains are poor, but it is a disappointing fact that all material presented here is described in detail in the text, while the illustrations that ought to form the core of the evidence in a publication of fortification architecture lack the same precision. That is a pity. It mars the otherwise great effort.

All this said, it is still an important source book. And considering the complex excavation history, the numerous preliminary reports, and not least the many directors and their changing policies, the publication of the fortifications of ancient Halieis is indeed a heroic work.

Rizza’s Studi sulle fortificazioni Greche di Leontini is another kind of publication. Two volumes, the first one comprising the textual description richly illustrated by figures, drawings, and high-quality photographs, the second with 12 folding plates, provide meticulous documentation. On each of the faces of the folded plates are sketch marks where the part depicted in the drawing inside is to be located. Not only detailed plans (pls. 2–4) but also numerous sections (pls. 5–9) and two isometric elevations (pls. 11, 12) are included, presenting a fine illustration of the technique and the landscape setting of the walls of Leontini.

Systematic excavations of the walls and defensive system at Leontini were undertaken by the author in 1950–1955. Thus, this publication appears long after the conclusion of the fieldwork.

The walls of Leontini form one of the best-preserved defensive systems in Sicily. They circumscribed the San Mauro hill, the Metapiccilo, and the central valley with gates at either end. Much of the archaic wall, the earliest parts perhaps from the seventh century B.C.E., was constructed as one-faced, with rubble fill between the facade and the slopes of the hillsides. It was built in isodomic ashlar masonry with towers and bastions and the well-planned pincerlike gate, Polybius’ “Syracusean Gate” (vii.6), at the Valle San Mauro on the eastern part of the defense. The Leontini fortification was a sophisticated system; the walls inclined 7°, giving the effect of a buttress (57, pl. 1.2). The complex was well planned, making excellent use of local topographic conditions.

Hippocrates of Gela destroyed the archaic walls in the early fifth century, but they were soon improved and reconstructed, not least in the area of the Syracusean Gate, only to be demolished by the end of the fifth century B.C.E. as one of the consequences of the political turmoil between independence, Syracusan dependency, and Athenian intervention.

The construction date of both the three towers with internal cross-walls and a piece of wall above the terrace fortification wall at the east slope of the Colle San Mauro is discussed. While the mason marks on the piece of wall on Colle San Mauro as well as its general masonry style indicate a date in the fourth century, the towers are more complicated. Rizza prefers a date in the Classical period, in the fifth century (65), while Karlsson has argued for a date in the late fourth, during the reign of Agathokles (Fortification Towers and Masonry Techniques in the Hegemony of Syracuse, 405–211 BC [Stockholm 1992] 50–2). According to Rizza, the towers of Leontini are different from the towers of Syracuse, Selinus, and Megara Hyblea. One is somewhat smaller than Karlsson’s ideal tower of 20 x 20 ft, and the remaining two have only traces of an internal T-shaped wall, not the division into four “compartments,” which Karlsson believed to be an invention of the latter half of the fourth century. This is, however, an ongoing discussion concerning construction techniques and masonry style that is not likely to be soon settled. A necropolis area in front of the South Gate (appx. 2) is used as circumstantial evidence for a Classical date of the towers. The exact location of the necropolis and the tombs is, however, not marked on any of the plans.

Despite this regrettable omission, the photographs, the schematic reconstruction drawings, and the detailed sections (e.g., figs. 29, 37) provide ample guidance for the understanding of the construction technique and the remains. While this publication lacks some of the wider discussions found in the Halieis publication, and the argument over the date of the later building phase seems somewhat obscure, both text and illustrations provide the proper bases for the conclusions—and that should be the primary purpose of any publication of archaeological fieldwork.

Anne Marie Carstens
The Saxo Institute
University of Copenhagen
Njalsgade 80
2300 Copenhagen S

Book Review of The Excavations at Ancient Halieis. Vol. 1, by Marian H. McAllister; Studi sulle fortificazioni Greche di Leontini, by Salvatore Rizza

Reviewed by Anne Marie Carstens

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 2 (April 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1112.Carstens

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