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Studies in Hellenistic Architecture

July 2007 (111.3)

Book Review

Studies in Hellenistic Architecture

By Frederick E. Winter. With a chapter by Janos Fedak (Phoenix Suppl. 42). Pp xxiii + 466, figs. 429. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2006. $150. ISBN 0-8020-3914-6 (cloth).

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This impressive and solid book gives, as the title indicates, an overview of Hellenistic architecture. According to the appraisals on the dust jacket, it contains a wealth of illustrations along with a synthesis of the vast subject. While the first remark is problematic, the book does form a well-written synoptic study of architecture in the Hellenistic age.

The book is organized in 11 thematic chapters and a conclusion, each covering a specific element or aspect of architectural planning, the development of various building types, their offspring in the Classical period, and their life in the Roman Imperial period. Almost all fields of architecture and planning are included apart from fortification architecture. The chapter “Tombs and Commemorative Monuments” is authored by Fedak and forms a paraphrase and update of his own monograph in the same series (Phoenix Suppl. 27).

Although the text is an excellent contribution, a “must-read” volume for any archaeologist, it soon becomes clear that many other works still need to be consulted to appreciate the nature and transformation of some 300 years of architectural history—not just for better illustrations but also to update the argumentation. Winter has rarely incorporated works later than 2000. Given the recent progress within the discipline, the many new field projects (e.g., in just Anatolia alone, at Olba/Uzuncaburç, by D. Wannagat []; at Priene, by W. Raeck []), and new studies on Seleucid architecture (e.g., W. Held, “Kult auf dem Dach,” IstMit 55 [2005] 119–60), Winter’s perspectives and conclusions may soon have to be altered. But perhaps the question is not whether this particular compilation on Hellenistic architecture is out of date but whether the whole genre of such works is impossible to produce anymore.

The book is about Hellenistic architecture, often treated as form, with only minor concern with its ideological potential or its relation to a Hellenistic spirit. This particular reader misses more detailed contexts to link the Hellenistic architecture with Hellenistic mentalities. Perhaps this has to do with a lack of both detailed analyses and larger perspectives. I miss the basic detailed analyses and descriptions of elements in both the text and the illustrations (and also the references to them; e.g., F. Rumscheid, Untersuchungen zur kleinasiatischen Bauornamentik des Hellenismus [Mainz 1994], is not included in the bibliography), and the broad brush that may illustrate an inner coherence or add more perspective to our understanding of a fragmented Hellenistic world.

The major point of criticism, however, concerns the “wealth of illustrations” promised on the dust jacket. The text is accompanied by 429 figures that demonstrate the “wealth,” but most of the figures are small, scruffy, and at times blurred. This has of course kept production costs at a reasonable level and the size of the book into something manageable with its 464 pages, yet the figures are merely reduced to a starting point, a “thumbnail,” on a search in the library for better ones. The museum photos are pathetic, and it is rarely possible to appreciate style and technical details of the Hellenistic building remains. There is no point in listing any particular figures, as it is indeed a general feature of the book. All illustrations are placed at the back of the book, so a lot of shifting is required—from the very start. But soon it feels as if it is not worth the bother, and the reader is just as well off looking for better images in her library. It must take an extraordinary publishing house to produce a handbook on archaeology with such a lack of concern for the illustrations!

I have not used this book in teaching Hellenistic architecture, and I have wondered which audience might appreciate it. There is little description of the monuments dealt with (is the reader supposed to know them beforehand?), and illustrations are of little help to jog the memory. It is not an easy work to dive into. As a Blue Guide would say, it appeals mainly to the specialist. But the specialist will soon realize that while it is interesting to explore Winter’s view on Hellenistic architecture, as a point of departure for future study, it is not the best point.

More than anything, this volume will stand as the definitive work of Frederick Winter, the result of his life engaged in investigations in the field of Hellenistic architecture, as a monument in itself. Not least for that reason much more care should have been invested in the general layout of the book and, in particular, the treatment of the illustrations. In more than one way, then, the book seems based in the past.

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

Book Review of Studies in Hellenistic Architecture, by Frederick E. Winter

Reviewed by Anne Marie Carstens

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 4 (July 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1113.Carstens

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