Book Review / Frank Jacob
The Complete Archaeology of Greece. From Hunter-Gatherers to the 20th Century A.D.
John Blintliff. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Pp.544 ISBN: 978-1-4051-5419-2. $ 84.95.
It is a large task to provide a single volume that deals with the complete archaeology of Greece, especially when it covers the period from 400,000 BC until the beginning of the 20th century. However, John Bintliff has taken on this task of examining the role of Greek culture in the establishment of a modern Western civilization. In the three parts of this comprehensive volume he describes the Landscape and Aegean Prehistory (9-206), Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Greece in its longer-term context (207-378), and finally the Archaeology of Medieval and post-Medieval Greece in its Historical Context (379-497). The different chapters follow in the same pattern of presentation. Thematic introductions (e.g. material culture) are used as a starting point of the several subchapters, which is followed by case studies of a specific topic or place of archaeological interest. The chapters then conclude with an evaluation by Bintliff, who tried to underline the importance of the specific chronological period with regard to the whole image of Greek archaeology.
In his introduction to the book, he begins with a description of Greek landscapes and geography to ensure that the reader will understand the topography of the country. This introduction is especially helpful for those, who use the present volume as an initial approach to Greek archaeology. It also reminds the reader why specific areas tended to be more important than others were. Bintliff thereby underlines what impact the geological and geomorphological history had on the development of its archaeology. Anyone eager to understand Greek archaeology will begin by gaining an understanding of its geography, which the first chapter provides as a valuable introduction.
After the geographic introduction, the Hunter Gatherers of the Paleolithic and the Epipaleolithic (28-45) are described, followed by a survey of Neolithic Greece (46-82), the Early Bronze Age (83-122) and finally, a detailed description of the Minoan (123-154) and Mycenean civilizations (181-206). These sections will introduce the topics, which have been investigated by countless other works in different languages, Bintliff provides a valuable survey of these stages of Greek archaeology and attracts the reader to the history of the mainly unknown cultures of Greece.
The second part focuses on Greece in Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman times (207-378). After covering the Greek Early Iron Age and the so-called concept of the “Dark Age” (209-233), Bintliff describes the Archaic Era and its archaeology (234-251) and the buildings as well as the material culture of that period (252-264). In the next section, Classical Greek archaeology is discussed (265-284) and the change from a material to a symbolic culture is explained. (285-310). Next is the archaeology of the Hellenistic era up to the early Roman era (310-336) Bintliff describes the building environment (337-350) again to cover the archaeology of middle Roman imperial times until late antiquity (351-368), before finishing the second part with a description of a symbolic material culture in middle and late Roman and Greek times (369-378).
The last part of the volume focuses on the archaeology of Greece in Medieval and post-Medieval times (379-497). In this section, Bintliff describes the development of Greek archaeology from Byzantine Greece until the Ottoman, Venetian, and Early Modern era. Along with the archaeology of the built environment, the chapter also deals with industrial archaeology as well as the material culture of modern times as it is recorded by several museums. This chapter is also used to illuminate existing continuities as well as existing discontinuities with regard to the development of cultures in the geographical sphere of Greece. However, this section only deals briefly with many different specific topics and therefore is not able to cover all aspects of importance - e.g. the development of international trade relations and their influence on Greek built or material culture - it is a valuable introduction for those, who are dealing with these aspects for the first time.
When it comes to an evaluation of the whole volume, the final judgment has to be a result of the reader’s personal academic background. Because the author has chosen a personal approach to the topic, there are some points that express his own estimations rather than the actual discussions in the field. Specialists might disagree with regard to his periodization - e.g. the Middle Palaeolithic - or the ultimate determinism of the existing environment. In some cases the chapters leave out issues, which the reader would like to have further discussed, however, this problem is a consequence of the broad time span the volume covers.
In contrast to this research-oriented judgment, there is another level of appraisal. For a general readership, the volume is definitely valuable. It not only covers a wide period, it also covers a region that is mainly confined to the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman era. Therefore, an interested reader will gain insight into the multi-faceted history of Greek archaeology and thereby Greek history as well. Due to the geographical introduction and the mass of figures and tables (x-xxi) a rather unknown sphere of the history of human culture is examined for a wider public in one comprehensive volume. Due to this, Bintliff’s attempt to create a one-volume work that deals with the complete archaeology of Greece is a successful one, even if some parts might generate a discussion of a specific research oriented readership. The general reader will definitely gain from this volume, because it is able to arouse the further interest of those who have picked The Complete Archaeology of Greece as their first attempt to deal with archaeology in general and Greek archaeology in particular. It will stimulate a further interest in the specific topic and thereby lead from a general survey to specialized readings in the future.
Dr. Frank Jacob completed his PhD in Japanese Studies from the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg in the year 2012. He was formerly a Special Research Fellow in the University of Osaka. He also serves as the editor of the journal, Global Humanities. Studies in History and the serial Comparative Studies from a Global Perspective. He is fluent in German, English and Japanese, besides having readability in Latin and French, and basic knowledge of Spanish and Dutch. He also has a considerable number of academic publications to his credit. Formerly Assistant Professor of Modern History in Julius-Maximilians University of Würzburg, Germany, he is presently Assistant Professor, History Department Queensborough Community College, City University New York.