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The Small Temple: A Roman Imperial Cult Building in Petra, Jordan

July 2008 (112.3)

Book Review

The Small Temple: A Roman Imperial Cult Building in Petra, Jordan

By Sara Karz Reid. Pp. xvi + 236, figs. 65, maps 5, tables 10. Gorgias Press, Piscataway, N.J. 2005. ISBN 1-59333-339-0 (cloth).

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The book under review is based on the author’s Ph.D. thesis, submitted to Brown University. The work is the result of three seasons of excavation of the “Small Temple,” carried out between 2000 and 2002 as an annex to Brown University’s major excavation on a site misleadingly known as the “Great Temple” in the center of Petra, the ancient Nabataean capital in southern Jordan.

The book is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1 (1–47) is a general introduction to the history and archaeology of the Nabataeans and the city of Petra. The second chapter (49–60) offers an introduction to the methodology of the excavation of the Small Temple, followed by the core of the book (ch. 3, 61–111), dealing with the excavation of the structure of the Small Temple. Chapter 4 (113–48) focuses on the many marble fragments found within that building and the wider marble trade within the Roman empire. Ruler worship and the imperial cult are dealt with in chapter 5 (149–68), while the last chapter (169–88) tries to put the Small Temple in its wider context as a temple for the Roman imperial cult. There are also three appendices, a bibliography, and an index.

The book prominently features somewhat short introductory chapters. Only the 50 pages of chapter 3 deal with the subject properly. The structure of the Small Temple is poorly documented both in the text and in the illustrations, and, therefore, the interpretations of the final chapters are not well supported by the evidence presented.

The introduction dealing with the Nabataeans and the city of Petra is too general to be useful to the main aim of the book. The bibliographical references are either out-of-date or generalizing compilations. A paragraph on Herod the Great and his family (12–13) ought to note the work of Kokkinos (The Herodian Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse [Sheffield 1998]); a consideration of Nabataean religion (18–20) should reference Healey (The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus [Leiden 2001]).

The same is true for the discussion of Petra and its architecture (28–46). Presentation of monuments is selective; bibliographical references are scanty and almost exclusively to compilations (and only those entirely in English). There are also basic errors in descriptions. For example, the two male figures in the lower outermost bays of al-Khasna are described as “men mounted on horse” (32), although they are clearly standing in front of their respective horses. The author even cites McKenzie (The Architecture of Petra [Oxford 1990] 141), who describes these figures correctly. Specialized publications for the colonnaded street (Z.T. Fiema, “The Roman Street of the Petra Project, 1997: A Preliminary Report,” ADAJ 42 [1998] 395–424) and for the Qasr el-Bint (F. Zayadine et al., Le Qasr al-Bint de Pétra. L’architecture, le décor, la chronologie et les dieux [Paris 2003]) should have been cited. These chapters focus strongly on the Nabataean period, and references to the Roman period (after 106 C.E.) are rare. This is regrettable since the Small Temple most likely dates to the Roman period. It would have been interesting to sort out all elements about Roman Petra to create a real context for that building (see some hints in Z.T. Fiema, “Roman Petra, A.D. 106–363: A Neglected Subject,” ZDPV 119 [2003] 38–58).

The main chapter about the excavation of the Small Temple presents the building as Corinthian hexastyle prostyle, standing on a raised platform accessible by steps. While the author is aware that the evidence for six columns is rather meager (one column drum “plausibly” in situ [62]), it is regrettable that no systematic presentation of all architectural elements was undertaken, such as the mentioned 139 limestone capital fragments (63). Also, of the almost 12,000 fragments of roof tiles (75), only one is illustrated (fig. 32). Systematic cataloguing, measuring, drawing, and photographing of these fragments could have permitted a typology and chronology (P. Warry, “A Dated Typology for Roman Roof-Tiles [tegulae],” JRA 19 [2006] 246–65). The several architectural phases are also difficult to understand due to the selective use of illustrations. For example, when discussing the staircase on the northern side of the monument and its relation with the temple itself (88–92), one cannot find the staircase on plans or in photographs.

The chronology of the monument is equally problematic. Although “small amounts of pottery” that “may be very helpful in the dating of the building” are mentioned (82), no pottery is illustrated or discussed. The only chronological element featured is the fragment of a Nabataean lamp (fig. 44), “dating from the early first century C.E. to somewhere around the year 70” (97). This fragment was discovered in the interior of a platform belonging to phase III. Surprisingly, one reads: “thus the first three phases of the site could not have occurred before this date” (97). How can an element found in a structure belonging to phase III give a terminus post quem for phases I and II?

Within the Small Temple, more than 6,000 fragments of marble were discovered. Of the fragments, 624 belonged to Greek and Roman inscriptions, mostly reused as revetment for the interior walls, the rest for pavements and incrustations. Isotopic analyses suggest that the marble comes from quarries in Asia Minor, the Aegean, and Luna in Italy (202). Several of the inscribed fragments contain imperial titulatures from the second and third centuries C.E. Since none was found in situ, it is difficult to determine their connection to the building. There is a good chance that at least some belonged to statue bases and other dedications to emperors. The second part of chapter 4 deals with the importance of marble within the Roman empire. On several occasions (e.g., 2–3, 50), the author suggests that marble played no role within client kingdoms in general or within the Nabataean kingdom before Roman annexation in 106 C.E. However, Herod the Great paved the main road of Antioch-on-the-Orontes with marble ( Jos., Ant. 16, 148; BJ 1, 425; cf. D.W. Roller, The Building Program of Herod the Great [Berkeley and Los Angeles 1998] 214–16) and used marble widely at Caesarea, as acknowledged by the author (162). The Nabataeans used marble in both public and private contexts, for instance at the Qasr el-Bint (F. Zayadine et al. 2003, 13–14, 20, 24, 46–7); the “Temple of the Winged Lions” (P. C. Hammond, The Temple of the Winged Lions: Petra, Jordan, 1974–1990 [Fountain Hills 1996] 44–5); and the huge Nabataean mansion on az-Zantur (B. Kolb et al., “Swiss-Liechtenstein Excavations on az-Zantur in Petra, 1998,” ADAJ 43 [1999] 264). Using obscure references, the author suggests that the quarries of Pentelic marble near Athens were in the possession of Herodes Atticus, who supposedly depleted them during his lifetime, which, in turn, would provide a terminus ante quem for the initial construction of the Small Temple, since it shows fragments of Pentelic marble. One reads that the “Small Temple was constructed in the wake of the Roman annexation,” since a date of ca. 137 C.E. is given for Herodes’ death (141). Not only did Herodes die ca. 177/8 C.E., the whole issue about his having depleted the Pentelic marble quarries is nonsense, since they are still in use today. The mistake goes back to a passage in Pausanias (1.19.6) that is far from clear (see J. Tobin, Herodes Attikos and the City of Athens: Patronage and Conflict under the Antonines [Amsterdam 1997] 170–73).

The fifth and sixth chapters about the imperial cult again miss substantial literature. Citations for a paragraph on ruler cult in the Hellenistic world (151) should have noted Taeger’s seminal work (Charisma: Studien zur Geschichte des antiken Herrscherkultes [Stuttgart 1960]), and for Alexander the Great, Badian’s article could have been quoted (E. Badian, “Alexander the Great between Two Thrones and Heaven: Variations on an Old Theme,” in A. Small, ed., Subject and Ruler: The Cult of the Ruling Power in Classical Antiquity [Ann Arbor 1996] 11–26). Discussion of the worship of Roman emperors would have been enhanced by reference to recent works (cf. M. Clauss, Kaiser und Gott. Herrscherkult im römischen Reich [Stuttgart and Leipzig 1999]). Furthermore, no clear distinction is made between “provincial” and “municipal” imperial cult. While provincial cult needed to be approved by the Roman administration, cities were free to administer the municipal cult. Since Petra was not the capital of the provincia Arabia created in 106 C.E., the Small Temple, if indeed a temple for the imperial cult, can only be a municipal building. Therefore, the search for comparisons could have been simplified and directed toward similar buildings. Instead, imperial cult temples from Caesarea, Ephesus, and Aphrodisias are compared (159–68). This leads the author to the question: Why would the Romans want a temple for the emperor away from the official seat of government? Since the Small Temple, if indeed devoted to the emperor(s), can only be a municipal temple of that cult, it does not teach us anything about the Roman understanding of the imperial cult but a lot about the Nabataean perception of this phenomenon.

Stephan G. Schmid
Winckelmann Institut
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin

Book Review of The Small Temple: A Roman Imperial Cult Building in Petra, Jordan, by Sara Karz Reid

Reviewed by Stephan G. Schmid

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 112, No. 3 (July 2008)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1123.Schmid

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