You are here: Home / Reviews / Journals / sehepunkte / 13 (2013) / 06 / Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean
Social Media Buttons fb twitter twitter twitter
  • Metadata

    • Document type
      Review (monograph)
      Author (Review)
      • Hall, Jonathan
      Language (Review)
      Language (Monograph)
      Author (Monograph)
      • Demetriou, Denise
      Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean
      The Archaic and Classical Greek Multiethnic Emporia
      Year of publication
      Place of publication
      Cambridge University Press
      Number of pages
      XIV, 292
      Subject classification
      Social and Cultural History, Economic History
      Time classification
      until 499 AD → 999 - 1 BC
      Regional classification
      Ancient World → Greece / ancient
      Subject headings
      Ethnische Identität
      Original source URL
      Jul 02, 2013
  • Citation rules

  • Terms of licence

    • This article may be downloaded and/or used within the private copying exemption. Any further use without permission of the rights owner shall be subject to legal licences (§§ 44a-63a UrhG / German Copyright Act).

Denise Demetriou: Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean. The Archaic and Classical Greek Multiethnic Emporia (reviewed by Jonathan Hall)

sehepunkte 13 (2013), Nr. 6

Denise Demetriou: Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean

In this latest addition to the burgeoning literature on Mediterranean "connectivity," Demetriou argues that sustained and extensive contacts between various cultural groups throughout the Mediterranean served as the catalyst for the creation of new identities. The primary focus of her analysis is the "cultural dimension of trade networks" (14), which she traces through a detailed examination of five "Greek" emporia from the end of the seventh through to the middle of the fourth centuries BCE.

The introduction offers a brief review of previous scholarship on Mediterranean perspectives, religious syncretism, and categories of identity before considering a working definition of the emporion . Criticizing Polanyi's "port-of-trade" model, as well as the now-discredited dichtotomy between an apoikia (a newly-founded polis with a hinterland) and an emporion (a commercial settlement without a hinterland), Demetriou determines that emporia were commercial settlements in coastal locations that could be considered poleis insofar as they enjoyed a certain degree of self-government. At the same time, they were often - at least in the case of emporia outside the Aegean basin - dependent on foreign powers in the region.

The bulk of the book comprises separate chapters on Iberian Emporion, Gravisca in Etruria, Naukratis in Egypt, Pistyros in Thrace, and finally Athens' harbor, Peiraieus. In each case, some attention is given to the hybrid culture that results from multiethnic interactions, be it in charter myths, architecture, art and iconography, or political and legal institutions. But Demetriou is mostly interested in how cultic practices served, on the one hand, to construct a mutually comprehensible world in which all parties could participate and, on the other, to endow certain groups with a distinctive - and, in some cases, new - identity. So, for example, the cult of Ephesian Artemis allowed the various Greek residents of Emporion to subscribe to a range of more- or less-inclusive identities (Emporitan; Massaliote; Phokaian; pan-Ionic). The cult of Aphrodite, persuasively interpreted as the patron of harbors and navigation, offered a common rallying-standard not only for the Greeks of Gravisca but also for the Etruscans (who probably identified her with Turan). The categorization, on the part of the Egyptian authorities, of the residents of Naukratis as Greek ( Wjnn ), without further differentiation, may have been internalized by the Greeks, who commemorated this externally ascribed identity with the foundation of a sanctuary to "the gods of the Hellenes". At Pistyros, the cult of Dionysos was one that Greeks shared with Thracians, while in the Peiraieus, the cult of Bendis, initially established by means of a private grant to Thracian residents, had already been incorporated into the state religious calendar by the time of the Peloponnesian War. A short conclusion provides a useful, synthetic summary. The text is accompanied by helpful maps, plans, and illustrations (although indications of scale for figs. 1, 3, and 5 and of orientation for fig. 1 would have been welcome). By contrast, the index is a little too concise to be truly serviceable.

The strength of the book lies in its successful integration of archaeological, literary, and epigraphic evidence, together with an impressive command of the bibliography relevant to each of the sites, even if one might have wished for more discussion of coinage circulation patterns - especially in a book focused on trade networks. At the same time, however, there is a sometimes awkward tension between the evident fashionability of this topic (contemporary buzz-words such as "networks," "hybridity," "mediation," "negotiation," and "middle ground" recur throughout the text) and a rather more conservative and theoretically less ambitious approach, signaled by frequent recourse to the "empirical" definitions formulated by the Copenhagen Polis Centre or to models of colonization (e.g. that there was a direct and exclusive relationship between a colony and its founding-city) that have been subject to considerable critical scrutiny recently. One such case involves participation in cult. Demetriou argues, probably correctly, against restricted access to sanctuaries in emporia - including the Hellenion at Naukratis (even if Herodotos [2.178.3] implies otherwise). But her belief in immutable and inheritable nomima (customs, or conventions, including political systems and religious calendars), specific to individual poleis , forces her to posit a rather contrived situation in which proxenoi (official representatives in the host city) had to offer sacrifices on behalf of the constituents they represented (e.g. 145-6; 203). In fact, the whole notion of distinctive or immutable nomima may be little more than a modern historiographical invention, loosely based on a handful of references in Thucydides' description of the Greek foundations on Sicily, and it is surprising that it should be treated as so hallowed an orthodoxy in a book that otherwise critiques static and monolithic approaches.

Furthermore, while Demetriou's decision to paint on a Mediterranean-wide canvas can only be applauded, ultimately hers is a very Greek Mediterranean (the juxtaposition of the primary title and the subtitle is telling in this respect). Truly pan-Mediterranean approaches are, of course, beyond the competence of most of us and it is to Demetriou's credit that she is so familiar with the literature from fields such as Etruscology and Iberian studies, but one wonders whether a similar reconstruction would have emerged from the hands of a Phoenico-Punic specialist. This inevitably Hellenocentric perspective has important methodological implications. For example, Demetriou concludes by affirming that "the construction of identity in emporia exploited cultural phenomena like law, political institutions, and religion, rather than the invention of mythical genealogies or claims to a common territory" (239). That could well be true, but two caveats are in order. Firstly, we cannot be absolutely certain that the "common Mediterranean culture" that Demetriou claims to identify was necessarily perceived as such by ancient actors: sympotic vessels deposited in Etruscan burials, for example, may have been invested with very different meanings from those that accompanied such accoutrements in their originally Athenian context. Secondly, as Demetriou is all too aware (6), the literary evidence is irremediably skewed towards Greek authors so we simply do not know whether non-Greek speakers exploited mythical genealogies to charter collective identities (though there are some indications that they did). In any case, if Demetriou is right (and I think she is) to believe that, in most contexts, civic identities were primary (236), then it is difficult to dispense entirely with the idea that notions of homelands and territories constituted an important factor within self-representation.

That said, this is a very useful book that has the virtue of presenting clear and concise syntheses of five emporia throughout the Mediterranean and of identifying evident patterns between them, thereby advancing further our understanding of the nature of Greek settlements overseas.