Review of “The Early Mediterranean World, 1200-600 BC” edited by Anne-Maria Wittke

BNP.jpgBrill’s New Pauly: The Early Mediterranean World, 1200-600 BC was originally published by J.B. Metzler Verlag as Der Neue Pauly Supplemente 10: Frühgeschichte der Mittelmeerkulturen in 2015. This volume is the translation of the original 2015 volume. Focusing on the cultural epoch of the ‘early Mediterranean world,’ about 70 scholars contributed to the volume. It covers a wide range of issues: broad theoretical and methodological problems, the history of various regions throughout the entire Mediterranean, and, most importantly, various aspects of cultural contact (i.e. trade and economy, ancient warfare, religion, etc.). The prospect alone of editing and putting together a volume involving such a wide variety of specialists throughout the Mediterranean is, of course a Herculean task. Yet, Anne-Maria Wittke was able to accomplish the task. So, in what follows, I will offer a broad summary of Brill’s New Pauly: The Early Mediterranean World, 1200-600 BCE (henceforth BNP 9). Following the summary, I will highlight some particularly valuable aspects of BNP 9, along with some (potentially) problematic aspects.

The volume is divided into three major sections. The first section is titled “The Mediterranean region, ca. 1200-600 BC.” This covers a wide range of important methodological issues concerning perspectives on the ancient Mediterranean region. To approach the region, the volume is framed with the cultural studies notion of landscape: “Landscapes are created by people – through their experience and engagement with the world around them. They may be close-grained, worked upon, lived0in places, or they may be distant and half-fantasised” (21). By employing this perspective, it becomes more evident that “objective” description of landscapes often involves “a minefield of clichés, colonial preconceptions and racist imputations,” things which should be held in check and require constant self-critical awareness when studying ancient Mediterranean history (22). As such, the impression of the Mediterranean as a whole entity is, at base, a modern construct. This is best highlighted through considering the diversity of relationship between people and the sea, the climate, geological resources, and hinterlands. And, so, one should speak of landscapes rather than a single, ancient Mediterranean landscape.

Having addressed landscapes, the problem of chronology is subsequently addressed. First, the problem of chronology as a construct is addressed: “it is necessary to work with notional dates, that is, dates that are the ‘results’ of chronological constructions or else based on hypothetical synchronisms” (26). Such constructs are usually based on archaeology, and sometimes texts, involving phase divisions, value judgements, and periodization. Moreover, the problems of relative vs. absolute chronology are addressed, along with the importance of dendrochronology and 14C dating and their particular limitations in context of the Mediterranean and early historical period. Second, the volume considers ancient models of time. It focuses are three aspects: the cyclical chronological model, time and action (i.e. calendars, inscriptions, and administrative records), and time and monuments (i.e. monuments which offer “a visible and tangible marker of space and time” (33), an expression of permanence).

Next, the problem of culture and culture contact is addressed. Though referencing the normative, evolutionist views developed by Johann Gottfried Herder, the volume takes the stance of Edward Tylor: “culture is a construct by means of which present and historic conditions are tentatively ordered and related to one another, both by members ‘of a culture’ and by external analysts” (36). Later scholars who clarified this notion are briefly discussed. Moreover, the material, cultural value of things and cultural subjects is addressed. Having defined culture, things, and cultural subjects from a theoretical standpoint, the subsequent discussion briefly engages with the problem of cultural contact. Pushing against the essentialist view of culture, which tends to assert cultural hierarchy, the volume prefers a more heterarchic relationship between cultures, wherein the cultures are analyzed as recipients, free and rational actors who “decide whether to accept cultural products and how they are incorporated into their lives” (38). This sort of approach is called ‘glocal,’ which denotes “the intermeshing of local conditions and external influences acting on them and the processes involved,” an approach which “must be put in its historical context so that its unique character may be recognized” (39).

Most central and problematic for understanding landscapes, constructed chronology, and describing culture and cultural contact, though, is sources. So, the first section concludes with a discussion of the various sources available to scholars throughout the Mediterranean. This is addressed in terms of (a) literary sources (including oral sources) and (b) material sources and archaeology. These overviews, particularly that of literary sources, is a splendid introduction to those who are seeking a basic understanding of how and why scholars know what they know about history. This portion is concluded with a helpful overview of the history of scholarship as it relates to the relationship between Mediterranean history and archaeology, the concept of objectivity, and research and discoveries from the 19th and 20th centuries (i.e. methodologically, textual transmission, excavations, and particular cultural zones).

The second major section, entitled “Regions of the Mediterranean world,” provides an overview of 8 areas: the Iberian Peninsula and islands; Southern France and Central Europe; Italy, including Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia; Continental Southern Europe; Greece, including Crete and other Greek territories; Asia Minor; the Levant, northern Arabia, northern Egypt, and Cyprus; and North African territories from Cyrenaica western, along with other Phoenician and western Phoenician territories. Description of these regions constitutes the bulk of the volume (pp. 65-391).

The third and final major section is entitled “Aspects of cultural contact.” Generally, each subsection in the final section describes a particular aspect of cultural contact between societies of the ancient Mediterranean. These discussions synthesize the data presented throughout the second major section by focusing on a range of issues: settlement and mobility; society and authority; religion in the Central, Eastern, and Western Mediterranean, along with a thorough discussion of religion as it concerns sacral spaces and cultural contacts; war and warfare; economy and raw materials; history of law in the Eastern Mediterranean world; and cultural technologies and knowledge, which includes discussion of language and scripts, and various forms of early science in the ancient Near East, Egypt, and Greece. Notably, each section deals with theoretical and methodological issues related to the subject matter.

The appendix contains three helpful charts. These charts describe the various chronological systems of the Mediterranean world from 1200-600. Additionally, the end of the volume includes 11 detailed regional maps. These maps are particular helpful because they include the general cultural regions (i.e. Catalan Urnfield Culture, Latial culture, Southeast Hallstatt Zone, etc.). Moreover, a few helpful references maps are included throughout the volume: deposits zones and major centres of primary metal extraction from 1200-600 BCE; Mediterranean settlements and trading contacts with probably sea routes, land routes, caravan routes, and contact zones; a map of Mediterranean landscapes; and a map of currents, wind patterns, and sights of land in the Mediterranean.  Finally, the volume includes a helpful chart of languages, describing the language/branch/dialect, script, evidence, periods of attestation, and region(s).

Overall, BNP 9 is arguably one of the more important publications of 2018. Its enormous breadth of methodological, theoretical, archaeological, and historical presentations with regard to regions throughout the ancient Mediterranean is unparalleled. In particular, BNP 9 should be addressed for any scholars specializing in the history of a micro-region around the Mediterranean. I recommend this for a few reasons. First, each entry in BNP 9 in particularly sensitive to the problem of theory and method. As such, BNP 9 provides superb discussion of theory-method issues as well as a superb bibliography for each section. For instance, scholars of religion interested in the role of sacral spaces can either (a) draw from the basic conclusions presented by Beat Schweizer or (b) identify various bibliographic references fundamental to the study of sacral spaces in order to further develop her or his own definition or understanding of sacral spaces for their particular region. In other words, BNP 9 is thorough enough to use for identifying and defining key methodological-theoretical terms; however, it is also a compendium of up-to-date, bibliographic information which can be used to further research.

Second, in an academic world where interdisciplinary dialogue is becoming more important, BNP 9 provides a path for scholars to expand from their own micro-regions to the broader networks of the ancient Mediterranean, or to at least be more attuned to the broader networks of the ancient Mediterranean.

Third, the wide variety of entries concerning methodology, theory, particular regions, and synthesis of ancient Mediterranean networks are helpful introductions to the material. They would be most helpful for upper-level undergraduate courses or graduate courses. One section in particular stood out to me. In 3.1C, Beat Schweizer and Frerich Schön discuss aspects of cultural contact as they relate to the settlement and mobility of Phoenicians. It illustrates the history of scholarship concerning the Westward expansion of Phoenician colonies, clearly outlining the problems related to categorizing the settlements as “colonization,” the history of ideas surrounding the cause of Westward expansion, the current state of scholarship, and the problem of distinguishing between “colonists” and the “indigenous groups.” Moreover, it is a helpful demonstration not just of the historical content and history of scholarship, but also of how method and theory significantly impact the ways in which historians reconstruct history. As such, the entries in the volume have the potential to be introductory material for students which is exemplary and pedagogically valuable.

My criticisms of BNP 9 are few and far between. First, some experts in their field will undoubtedly find certain analyses, claims, and presentations problematic. As concerns my field, there was nothing which I found to be particularly problematic. Second, while the maps are extremely detailed and helpful, it can sometimes be extremely difficult to identify cities on maps. This is especially true with the map of Italy.

In conclusion, BNP 9 is a superb volume. With its detailed coverage of the entire ancient Mediterranean, attentiveness to methodological and theoretical concerns, and syntheses of ancient Mediterranean networks from various perspectives, BNP 9 is indispensable for scholars researching any regions addressed in this volume. Moreover, many of the articles in BNP 9 would be helpful introductory material for advanced courses. In short, though many individuals may not purchase this volume, any research university should have this volume on their shelves or online.


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