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La distribución de cerámica griega en la Contestania ibérica: El puerto comercial de La Illeta dels Banyets

La distribución de cerámica griega en la Contestania ibérica: El puerto comercial de La Illeta dels Banyets

By Josep Miguel García Martín. Pp. 414, figs. 184, tables 5. Instituto Alicantino de Cultura Juan Gil-Albert, Alicante 2003. €23. ISBN 84-7784-418-6 (paper).

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Greek pottery and trade in the Iberian Peninsula have received considerable attention in recent years, both in general overviews and in regional and local studies. This book belongs to the latter category because it publishes and studies the Greek materials found at just one site, La Illeta dels Banyets, in the town of El Campello, province of Alicante, southeastern Spain.

After an introduction dealing with the history of research, the second chapter gives a general overview of the site and its importance as a trading port open to foreigners. Archaeological research has at different times led to the discovery of several buildings, interpreted respectively as temples, a related storehouse, houses, and a potter’s workshop. The foundation of the site is dated to the last quarter of the fifth century B.C.E., and it remained in use until the early third century B.C.E. This site has also been the subject of detailed publication in recent times, and the present book summarizes the main results of those publications as the necessary background for a better understanding of the presence there of Greek pottery.

Chapter 3 studies the Greek pottery. It is categorized most generally by class: Attic black-figure pottery (three fragments), Attic red-figure pottery (112 fragments), Attic black-glazed pottery (868 fragments), and Greek transport amphoras (three fragments). Within each class, pieces are studied on the basis of their shapes. The chapter ends with a general evaluation of the role played by Greek vases at the La Illeta site and in Iberia. The general impression is that the bulk of Greek pottery reaching the Iberian Peninsula during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. is the (almost industrial-scale) output of Attic kilns, without any good-quality pieces. The main shapes present are black-glazed bowls, cups, and other drinking vessels. The author advances some general observations about Greek pottery of this period in the Iberian world, and while he does not pursue the subject further here, he has developed it in his Ph.D. thesis, “El comercio de cerámicas griegas en el sur del País Valenciano (siglos VIII al IV a.C.)” (University of Madrid 2004). The book reviewed here benefits from the regional panorama surveyed, albeit very briefly, in that thesis.

Chapter 4 studies La Illeta as an important trading post for Greek pottery. A comparison with other sites in Iberia where Greek pottery has been found shows both its high percentage of occurrence and also the large quantity of pieces present at the site. Black-glazed pottery is the class most frequently found in La Illeta, and most of it arrived in the first half of the fourth century B.C.E. Observations about the different stages of Greek pottery trade in the Iberian Peninsula are also advanced, integrating the data obtained from La Illeta into this overview. An issue much debated in recent times is the identification of the carriers (Greeks or Carthaginians) of Greek pottery, mainly during the first half of the fourth century, a time when great quantities reached the Iberian world. The author prefers the existence of two zones, one including the northern part of the Iberian coast and the other the southern part and the island of Ibiza. In the first zone, trade in Greek pottery would have been in the hands of Greeks; in the second, Punics would have been responsible for trading these goods. However, the presence of objects of the same origin (e.g., Punic transport amphoras and Greek pottery) in both areas weakens this hypothesis, as the author himself recognizes.

There is a rising trend in contemporary research to relate the third Roman-Carthaginian Treaty (348 B.C.E.) with the (more assumed than real) creation of Greek and Punic areas of commercial influence on the coasts of Iberia. As Greek pottery is used to “confirm” this “fact,” arguments are becoming increasingly circular. The author, however, points out that there may have been commercial collaboration among Greeks, Iberians, and Punics, which would have profited everyone. A final section discusses the meaning of La Illeta (as a trading port, emporion) within the distribution networks of Greek pottery.

The last chapter deals with a series of graffiti scratched mainly on Greek pottery found at the site. The interesting fact is that they have been written using the Greek-Iberian alphabet, a peculiar adaptation of the Greek alphabet used to write the Iberian language. La Illeta is the site at which the largest proportion of documents in this script has been found (36 items). After a short general conclusion, a complete and detailed catalogue of the 986 fragments studied here is presented, accompanied by drawings of each piece.

García Martín’s book is a detailed publication of an interesting collection of Greek pottery coming from just one place. In addition, his general overview of the regional background to which the site of La Illeta belongs helps us understand the outstanding role played by this settlement in the distribution of Greek pottery throughout the southeastern regions of the Iberian Peninsula during the fifth and (mainly) first half of the fourth century B.C.E.

Adolfo J. Domínguez
Autonomous University of Madrid
28049 Madrid

Book Review of La distribución de cerámica griega en la Contestania ibérica: El puerto comercial de La Illeta dels Banyets, by Josep Miguel García Martín

Reviewed by Adolfo J. Domínguez

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 113, No. 2 (April 2009)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1132.Dominguez

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