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The Furniture and Furnishings of Ancient Greek Houses and Tombs

The Furniture and Furnishings of Ancient Greek Houses and Tombs

By Dimitra Andrianou. Pp. xvi + 213, figs. 24. Cambridge University Press, New York 2009. $86. ISBN 978-0-521-76087-4 (cloth).

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Andrianou's study is a timely one; in recent years, the archaeology of ancient Greek housing has become a lively and fruitful area of research as scholars have sought to move beyond description and synthesis of data toward a deeper understanding of how individual structures functioned as living spaces (e.g., R. Westgate et al., eds., Building Communities: House, Settlement and Society in the Aegean and Beyond: Proceedings of a Conference Held at Cardiff University, 17–21 April 2001 [London 2007]). Much has been learned from analyses of architecture and spatial syntax, but obstacles have also arisen; for instance, there are questions about how to interpret the large number of spaces that lack obvious architectural features or those spaces that were clearly multifunctional in character and to which labels such as "kitchen" or "dining room" cannot, therefore, be attached. Accordingly, it has become clear that to make further progress in understanding the functioning either of individual structures or of Greek housing generally, more attention needs to be paid to the study of finds assemblages. Andrianou's study represents the first synthesis of evidence for the range and character of Greek furniture since that of Richter (included in Furniture of the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans [New York 1966]).

The stated aim of Andrianou's volume is "presenting and analyzing movable domestic objects in their primary context as well as new archaeological evidence concerning the interior layout of ancient Greek houses" (xv); her focus is therefore on excavated examples and on textual and epigraphic evidence, rather than iconography. Further goals arise in the course of her discussion, for example, "to determine the value of domestic furniture and furnishings" (107). An introductory chapter situates her work within the wider scholarly tradition, referencing general discussions of Greek urbanism and housing alongside site reports. She then turns to a summary of the types of evidence used, along with their chronological and geographical limitations. While the book's title implies broad coverage, the vagaries of preservation and excavation mean that the archaeological data are for the most part limited to the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods, with examples from Greek Macedonia predominating over those from elsewhere in mainland Greece, Crete, and the Aegean islands. The problem of relating ancient terminology to physical objects is also raised, although given the fundamental importance of this issue for the study overall, as well as the debate that has taken place in Roman contexts (e.g., P. Allison, "Labels for Ladles," in P. Allison, ed., The Archaeology of Household Activities [London 1999] 57–77), one could have wished for Andrianou to engage critically with it rather than simply referring back to scholarship of the 1950s (16).

At the core of the volume is a catalogue of evidence for a range of types of furniture, including seating, tables, and cupboards (ch. 2). For each type, discussion follows a standardized format, exploring literary and/or iconographic sources before listing archaeological examples. Models and material recovered from funerary contexts are set alongside rarer items excavated in domestic settings. Black-and-white plates illustrate some of the objects or, occasionally, their excavation contexts. The archaeological evidence for furniture is naturally very much more extensive than that for textiles (the "furnishings" of the book's title), which are catalogued in chapter 3. In addition to the famous shroud from the so-called Tomb of Philip II at Vergina, six other examples are presented: five known to come from funerary contexts, and all dating between the late fifth or fourth and second centuries B.C.E. These are supplemented by more numerous literary references to woven furnishings of various kinds and a brief discussion of archaeological evidence for looms, although the inclusion of looms is not justified convincingly (101).

Two further (brief) chapters represent changes of direction. Chapter 4 considers the acquisition, range, and use of furniture noted in inventories from sanctuaries, the text working in tandem with three appendices listing relevant evidence. The goals of chapter 5 ("Furniture, Luxury and Funerary Symbolism in Macedonia") are not explicitly stated, and it is therefore unclear how the chapter contributes to the aims of the volume as a whole. Although her purpose is to add to our knowledge of housing, Andrianou remains appropriately sensitive to some of the difficulties involved in trying to equate items from funerary and sanctuary contexts with those from domestic settings, raising questions such as the degree to which one can make assumptions about the relative frequency of different forms and materials from these contrasting contexts. Indeed, it seems likely that the furniture of classical houses in southern mainland Greece may have been of rather more modest character and relatively sparser than the furniture found in the tombs of Hellenistic Macedon, and, as Andrianou suggests, future excavation may shed light on the extent to which these different types of contexts are truly comparable. A fourth appendix lists the approximate dates of various buildings on Delos. The volume is completed by notes, a bibliography, and an index, the latter including a list of Greek terms from ancient texts.

Andrianou has previously published a substantial amount of the material in this volume, including some of the images, in journal articles ("Chairs, Beds, and Tables," Hesperia 75 [2006] 219–66; "Late Classical and Hellenistic Furniture and Furnishings in the Epigraphical Record," Hesperia 75 [2006] 561–84), but the catalogue of furniture presented in chapter 2 of the book enlarges on the catalogue in her first article. Indeed, her real achievement lies in this catalogue; she is to be congratulated on drawing together here a significant amount of archaeological material from disparate sources, some hitherto published only in preliminary form. This makes the book a useful reference work that specialist libraries may want to buy. The photographs, in particular, are a reminder to scholars working with Greek material to consider carefully the potential significance of their small finds and search actively for evidence of the furniture used, stored, or discarded in individual spaces. The volume therefore represents a helpful building block in our attempts to understand better the functioning of ancient Greek houses.

Lisa Nevett

Department of Classical Studies
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109

Book Review of The Furniture and Furnishings of Ancient Greek Houses and Tombs, by Dimitra Andrianou

Reviewed by Lisa Nevett

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 1 (January 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1151.Nevett

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