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Aegyptiaca on the Island of Crete in Their Chronological Context: A Critical Review

Aegyptiaca on the Island of Crete in Their Chronological Context: A Critical Review

By Jacqueline Phillips (Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean 18). 2 vols. Vol. 1. Pp. 320; vol. 2. Pp. 417, numerous b&w figs. Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2008. €196. ISBN 978-3-7001-6117-2 (paper).

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This two-volume set is an exhaustive (but unfortunately also exorbitantly priced) catalogue and analysis of the Egyptian imports found on Crete, as well as of the so-called Egyptianizing imitations of those imports. It appeared in 2008, almost 80 years after Pendlebury’s preliminary attempt at cataloguing such Aegyptiaca, as they are known (Aegyptiaca: A Catalogue of Egyptian Objects in the Aegean Area [Cambridge 1930]). Unlike Pendlebury’s book, it is safe to say that Phillips’ volumes will never be superseded. They may be updated—an index and a few tables added, minor corrections made, a few chapters on historical implications and theoretical musings inserted, the concordances expanded—but as a whole, these volumes will never be replaced. The scale drawings of the objects, done by the author herself, are impeccable, as are the valuable descriptions and discussions of the objects and the references to previous publications in which they have been mentioned or discussed. Browsing through these volumes is a sheer delight, especially for one interested in the trade and contacts that took place between Egypt and Crete during the Bronze Age.

Like Pendlebury, Phillips is both a practicing Egyptologist—with particular experience excavating in the Sudan—and an Aegeanist specializing in Minoan Crete. She is therefore in a nearly unique position to have constructed the present two-volume magnum opus, which is itself a revised version of her doctoral thesis for the University of Toronto (J.S. Phillips, The Impact and Implications of the Egyptian and Egyptianizing Material Found in Bronze Age Crete ca. 3000–ca. 1100 B.C. [Toronto 1991]), with some 17 years of additional research, analysis, and writing. During years of work on these volumes, Phillips published numerous smaller analyses and interim discussions on various aspects of this topic; some (but not all) are incorporated into the discussions found in volume 1. (For one example of an important article not incorporated into these volumes, see J.S. Phillips, “The Last Pharaohs on Crete: Old Contexts and Old Readings Reconsidered,” in R. Laffineur and E. Greco, eds., Emporia: Aegeans in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. Aegaeum 25 [Liège 2005] 455–61.)

The discussions in volume 1, presented in advance of the actual objects (which are relegated to vol. 2), are split into chapters that fall into two basic areas: those concerned with specific object types or materials (e.g., “Stone Vessels,” “Ceramics,” “Scarabs and Other Stamp Seals,” “Ostrich Eggshells”) and those concerned with iconography (e.g., “Ape Image,” “Cat Image,” and “Crocodile Image”). In all, it is a very art historical approach, and one wishes there were a few additional chapters specifically discussing some of the historical implications, especially concerning objects with royal iconography, and even some theoretical discussion about the nature of the trade that took place between Crete and Egypt during the Bronze Age. The field has changed dramatically since Phillips first finished the preliminary version of her catalogue (at a time when the very existence of such trade was still being questioned), but there is little incorporation of some of the more recent thinking on a variety of relevant topics (e.g., C.S. Colburn, “Exotica and the Early Minoan Elite: Eastern Imports in Prepalatial Crete,” AJA 112 [2008] 203–24, which probably appeared too late). However, this is criticism of what these volumes are not, rather than of what they are, and I suspect that others will soon make use of the catalogue found in volume 2 to rectify this situation in articles and books of their own. This is obviously Phillips’ intention (14–15), and she has already done it herself in at least one article (Phillips 2005).

The objects themselves are arranged in volume 2 according to the site at which they were found, with sites listed alphabetically. Each site, and context at the site, is given a brief introduction before the presentation of objects. For instance, Hagia Triada receives one and one-half columns of introduction (12), followed by a half column on the Villa Reale at the site and another half column on the Northwest Quarter, before one meets the objects found in this location: an alabastron and three spheroid jars (cat. nos. 4–7). Each object is thoroughly described, including its material, dimensions, and general appearance, along with the context date and brief notes on chronology, comparanda, and relevant references, with a comments section at the end. One then moves on to a brief discussion of Room 14 (within the Northwest Quarter) and the objects found there: an alabastron and fresco fragments (cat. nos. 8–9). The next context, the “Court” 11 area, and its objects are then presented, and so on, until all objects from that site, and all sites, have been catalogued and discussed.

Volume 2 in particular is meant primarily as a research tool for other scholars, but it was apparently not created with the end user in mind. Despite the thoroughness of the catalogue and discussions, there are some errors of omission that a discerning editor should have rectified before publication. Principal among these frustrations is the lack of an index. Similarly, although several concordances mark the end of the volume, they are not as complete or as user-friendly as one might have hoped. For example, if a scholar wishes to know how many Egyptian scarabs have been found on Crete, the answer is only found buried deep within the obscure concordance 11 (412–16); the present reviewer only realized this days after reading the whole of chapter 7 (“Scarabs and Other Stamp Seals”) in volume 1 and leafing through the entire catalogue in volume 2 before happening on the relevant concordance. Similarly, if one wants to know how many royally inscribed Egyptian objects have been found on Crete, including where and in what context they were discovered, one must—quite literally—go through the entire two-volume set with pen and paper in hand. How difficult would it have been for the author to create tables or concordances for common queries? It took this reviewer approximately four hours of browsing and checking every page to create such a list and to determine that the number has not changed since 1994; the quick answer is that there are five definite royally inscribed objects in good contexts on Crete (one of Khyan, one of Thutmose III, two of Amenhotep III, and one of Queen Tiyi), with another four more that might be royally inscribed or that have no context (19, 67, 72–3, 98, 136–37, 158–60, 235–36, 256–57). One hopes that the author will, at some point, create such lists/tables and post them on the Internet for interested users to download and place inside their copies of these volumes.

On a lesser note, one might also point out that Phillips has included among her concordances a list of objects found in my own catalogue (E.H. Cline, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: International Trade and the Late Bronze Age Aegean. BAR-IS 591 [Oxford 1994]), which, in her opinion, were erroneously identified as Egyptian (393–95). Undoubtedly, Phillips is correct in most, if not all, instances, and I am grateful for the corrections, but she does not provide a similar corrective list for the other volumes for which she also provides concordances, including Lambrou-Phillipson (Hellenorientalia: The Near Eastern Presence in the Bronze Age Aegean, ca. 3000–1100 B.C. Interconnections Based on the Material Record and the Written Evidence. Plus Orientalia: A Catalogue of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Mitannian, Syro-Palestinian, Cypriot and Asia Minor Objects from the Bronze Age Aegean [Göteborg 1990]). This is despite the fact that elsewhere Phillips says Lambrou-Phillipson’s work is “full of errors, omissions, inconsistencies and other problems both major and minor in both detail and scope” (17). Not having a similar list of problematic items for Lambrou-Phillipson’s catalogue leaves the unknowing reader believing that that catalogue is pristine and can be used and cited at face value without further investigation, which it most certainly cannot, as I have remarked elsewhere (“Bronze Age Interactions Between the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Revisited: Mainstream, Margin, or Periphery?” in W. Parkinson and M. Galaty, eds., Archaic State Interaction: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age [Santa Fe, N.M. 2010] 162). Surely, Phillips could fairly quickly produce similar lists of erroneously identified objects for the other volumes summarized, including Pendlebury’s (1930), which would help all other scholars.

Finally, one should take note of Bietak’s comments in the preface to volume 1, in which he states: “The original concept of this corpus and study was to lay the foundation for a transfer of Egyptian chronology to Crete and indirectly to the Aegean world” (7). In other words, Phillips’ work was apparently intended, at least in part, to help solve the current crisis of chronology in the Aegean world and, to a lesser extent, in Egypt and the Levantine worlds, where several contrasting chronological schemes have been suggested over the past decades, including by Bietak himself. In making Phillips part of his SCIEM 2000 project and publishing the results of her revised dissertation research within this series, Bietak may have hoped to solve these chronological debates, something for which we would all be grateful. Alas, it was not to be, for as Phillips herself says near the beginning of these volumes, “[t]he variety of opinions regarding absolute dates especially should be borne in mind, but a final consensus remains elusive” (34). Despite that outcome, Phillips’ volumes and the data and discussions contained within are essential for any scholar studying the trade and contact that took place between the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze Age.

Eric H. Cline
Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
The George Washington University
Washington, D.C. 20052

Book Review of Aegyptiaca on the Island of Crete in Their Chronological Context: A Critical Review, by Jacqueline Phillips

Reviewed by Eric H. Cline

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 4 (October 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1144.Cline

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