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Die Stadt Sindos: Eine Siedlung von der späten Bronze- bis zur Klassischen Zeit am Thermaischen Golf in Makedonien

July 2013 (117.3)

Book Review

Die Stadt Sindos: Eine Siedlung von der späten Bronze- bis zur Klassischen Zeit am Thermaischen Golf in Makedonien

By Stefanos Gimatzidis (Prähistorische Archäologie in Südosteuropa 26). Pp. 531, figs. 108, pls. 145, tables 12. Marie Leidorf, Rahden 2010. €89.90. ISBN 978-3-89646-597-9 (cloth).

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The grand narratives of ancient Greece and the Aegean usually exclude any lengthy discussion of Macedonia before Phillip II and the Late Classical period. Fieldwork conducted during the last three decades, however, is beginning to change this picture, as are major publications of recent years. Works such as the volume under review and the highly regarded publication series of which it forms part (Prähistorische Archäologie in Südosteuropa) establish the significance of this region, and especially the microregion of the Thermaic Gulf, for the understanding of connectivity in the Aegean. These developments convince me that the notion of coastal Macedonia as an Aegean periphery can no longer be maintained.

In this volume, which is based on the author’s Ph.D. thesis at the Freie Universität Berlin, Gimatzidis publishes the results of excavations conducted by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki from 1990 to 2002 at modern Anchialos, which lies to the west of Thessaloniki and is identified with ancient Sindos. The book is fittingly prefaced by Tiverios (director of excavations at the site and at nearby Karabournaki), whose work has reshaped our understanding of the connections of the Thermaic Gulf with the Aegean in the Geometric and Archaic periods.

Publications of settlements are scarce in Aegean archaeology, which makes this study of the landscape, stratigraphy, and pottery of ancient Sindos particularly timely. Other classes of material are comparatively rare, and finds such as animal bone or shell are excluded from the volume.

In chapter 2, Gimatzidis reviews the dynamic riverine landscape of the north coast of the Thermaic Gulf and its historical topography and espouses the identification of modern Anchialos with ancient Sindos. At Sindos, as in other lowland sites of Macedonia, successive occupation phases created tells known as toumbes. The toumba of Sindos dates from the Late Bronze Age and is flanked by two tables (or trapezes) shaped by habitation in the Early Iron Age (ch. 3). Excavation targeted all areas of the mound and involved stratigraphic work with a trench on the toumba and two deep trenches on the edge of the upper trapeza, in addition to horizontal exposure on the lower trapeza. In all, Gimatzidis identifies 16 occupation phases, extending from the end of the Bronze Age to the Classical period. Phase 7, of the mid eighth century (Late Geometric Ia), is particularly important in representing the maximum extent of the site and also in being the only phase that is well defined by a thick destruction layer. I do not share the author’s overconfidence in the dating of some phases, while errors and inconsistencies have been noted in his dating of phase 3 (V. Saripanidi, Εισαγμένη και εγχώρια κεραμική στο βορειοελλαδικό χώρο: Η περίπτωση της Σίνδου [Thessaloniki 2012] 11–12).

Chapter 4, which makes up nearly half the volume, contains the analysis of the Late Bronze Age–classical pottery. The bulk of the material comes from the Subgeometric IIIb and Late Geometric Ia phases 8 and 7 (eighth century), whereas relatively little comes from the Late Bronze Age phases 16–11, and the Archaic–Classical phases 4–1. Although this is partly on account of the vicissitudes of excavation and the chances of survival, the author’s selection bias is also at play. One especially regrets having so little on the settlement that used the rich archaic–classical cemetery of Sindos.

In chapter 4, the material is divided into broad chronological phases (Late Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Archaic period, and Classical period), subdivided according to type and classified according to 32 ceramic “wares.” The classification has many merits, but the author would have done better to introduce the (broadly) local wares before the imported wares. I am also very skeptical about the relatively high number of Euboean wares Gimatzidis identifies partly on the basis of fabric. It is widely agreed that macroscopic differentiation of the fine ware products of the major sites of central Euboea is not possible. To date, differentiation has not even been achieved by chemical analysis, including the very recent project directed by Michael Kerschner and Irene Lemos (presented in Athens on 15–16 April 2011). Undoubtedly, sites elsewhere in Euboea must have also exported pottery, but all the available evidence suggests that it was central Euboea that was at the forefront of the island’s overseas connections.

The author offers extensive discussion of a number of widely attested pottery shapes/types, including pendent semicircle skyphoi, other skyphoi with geometric decoration, kantharoi, jugs with cutaway neck, the local hybrid class of “Silver Slip Ware” (here given a bizarre name) and Catling’s (“The Typology of the Protogeometric and Subprotogeometric Pottery from Troia and Its Aegean Contex,” Studia Troica 8 [1998] 151–87) Type I and II amphoras. Particularly useful are the many quantitative analyses covering the representation of specific shapes, types, or features in the different phases of Sindos and the distribution maps that accompany the discussion of many shapes and types. The lack of any discussion of the methodology of quantification, however, compromises this wealth of information.

The short chapter 5 presents the small finds from Sindos, most notable of which are four inscribed Late Archaic and classical sherds. The scarcity of metal items is surprising, since Macedonia in this period is renowned for its bronzes, and Sindos has yielded evidence for metalworking (15, table 125f).

Chapter 6 offers an overview of stratigraphy, settlement history, and ceramic consumption at Sindos. Particularly interesting are the chronological table (where “Coldstream 1968” is mistyped as 1978)—which slightly raises the date of the beginning and end of Euboean and Macedonian Late Geometric—and the quantification of different wares (including imported ones) and shapes by settlement phase. It is disappointing that the approach remains descriptive, rather than interpretative, and the lack of any reference to the theory of ceramic consumption is symptomatic of how undertheorized the whole work is. One would have expected the author to present an interpretation of the many Euboean pottery imports in eighth-century Sindos, especially because the site has been strongly associated with Euboean trade ever since the first publication of a handful of sherds (J.N. Coldstream, Geometric Greece [London 1977] 209) and has even been considered as a colony or trading station. Gimatzidis does not discuss the issue, however, and the only loosely relevant commentary is offered with reference to Catling’s Type II amphoras (268–69). Gimatzidis’ approach is informed by critical reviews of the subject (e.g., J.K. Papadopoulos, “Euboians in Macedonia? A Closer Look,” OJA 15 [1996] 151–81), but Euboeocentric notions persist in the argument that Euboean traders and colonists managed the wide distribution of these amphoras. I see wide-ranging evidence for local traders from the Thermaic Gulf as leading this development (M. Bessios, I. Tzifopoulos, and A. Kotsonas, Μεθώνη Πιερίας I: Επιγραφές, χαράγματα και εμπορικά σύμβολα στη γεωμετρική και αρχαϊκή κεραμική από το Υπόγειο” της Μεθώνης Πιερίας στη Μακεδονία. Υ.Π.Δ.Β.Μ.Θ. [Thessaloniki 2012] 154–62, 234–35).

In the ensuing chapter 7, I expected the author to elaborate on points made in previous chapters and engage with connectivity and settlement dynamics in the Thermaic Gulf. Instead, he embarks on a critical review of the chronology and stratigraphy of four sites in Euboea and three other sites with abundant Euboean pottery and also presents a case for the supreme importance of the stratigraphy of Sindos for the dating of Euboean pottery, which is rather overstated. The volume is clearly missing a section with conclusions, and the choice to close a work on Sindos with a discussion of the chronology of Al Mina in Syria is most unfortunate.

The text is supplemented by a well-organized catalogue with 738 detailed entries, including a few dozen entries of pieces from other sites given for comparative purposes (which would have been better numbered separately or not inserted in between entries of material from Sindos). Illustrations include drawings of all the material and photographs of a selection of it.

Notwithstanding some shortcomings in method and approach, Gimatzidis’ book is a major contribution to the study of the pottery and stratigraphy of Early Iron Age Macedonia. It is only regrettable that the author does not go much beyond description and classification and does not engage with historical processes.

Antonis Kotsonas
Amsterdam Archaeological Centre
University of Amsterdam
1012 XT Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Book Review of Die Stadt Sindos: Eine Siedlung von der späten Bronze- bis zur Klassischen Zeit am Thermaischen Golf in Makedonien, by Stefanos Gimatzidis

Reviewed by Antonis Kotsonas

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 3 (July 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1173.Kotsonas


When writing a book review, the reviewer should read the whole book in order to avoid unsubstantiated criticism. Kotsonas writes: "The lack of any discussion of the methodology of quantification, however, compromises this wealth of information." Quite the opposite is true. Gimatzidis clearly states that rim sherds (4897 in total, see p. 86 n. 382 and p. 315 fig. 104) constitute the basis of his statistical analysis: "Des Weiteren wurden alle Fragmente von Gefäßrändern für statistische Zwecke ausgezählt." (p. 86, second §). Moreover, each statistical chart and graph in his book is accompanied by a specification such as "anhand der Randscherben", i.e. based on rim sherds. A whole article dedicated to this method was published by Gimatzidis one year later: St. Gimatzidis, Counting Sherds at Sindos. Pottery Consumption and Construction of Identities in the Iron Age, in: Early Iron Age Pottery: A Quantitative Approach. Porceedings of the International Round Table Organized by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece (Athens, November 28-30, 2008), edited by S. Verdan, Th. Theurillat, and A. Kenzelmann Pfyffer, BAR-IS 2254 (Oxford 2011) pp. 97-110.

Reading yes, but also understanding.
I find it difficult to understand the tone of Dr. Jung’s remark, which is based on a few misunderstandings. My point was not that Dr. Gimatzidis has not offered the basic descriptions that Dr. Jung has in mind – had I meant this I would have used a different, more precise and more economical phrasing (e.g. “The lack of any discussion of the author’s choices/method…”). By choosing the phrasing I used (which is similar to the phrasing I use elsewhere in my review to criticize the omission of any engagement with theoretical work on ceramic consumption) I refer to the lack of any discussion of the broader methodology of quantification, discussed in fundamental works on the subject, for example in a number of articles by Clive Orton or in the many contributions in the collective volume edited by P. Arcelin and M. Tuffreau-Libre (La quan¬tification des céramiques: conditions et protocole. Actes de la table ronde du Centre archéologique européen du Mont Beuvray, Glux-en-Glenne, 1998). This whole stream of research is simply missed here, and I find this unfortunate because relevant studies are most useful in suggesting ways one can avoid generating data which are basically ‘clear answers to vague questions’.
I guess that Dr. Gimatzidis also realized this weakness and that is why he later published the article Dr. Jung refers to (which I am clearly aware of, having published in the same collective volume myself, and also having cited it elsewhere). I think, however, that few will doubt that there should have been room for broader methodological discussion of such an important issue within the final publication of Sindos (which covers more than 500 pages), rather than in a later article. It is clear to me that book reviews normally cover the volume to be reviewed, rather than the full dossier of an author’s publications on a subject, and this policy, along with limitations of space, always plays a role in the composition of a review, as is well-known to everyone with experience in the matter.

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