A. Trevor Hodge, Ancient Greek France. London: Duckworth, 1998. Pp. viii + 312, incl. 92 black-and- white photographs and 39 line drawings and plans. ISBN 0-7156-2796-1. UK£45.00.
University of Natal, Durban
The primary focus of this book is the history of Massalia (the Greek spelling of the Romans' Massilia) from its foundation as a colony of Phocaea down to its conquest by Rome at the hands of Julius Caesar. After a short introductory chapter, the story opens in Chapter 2 (pp. 7-17) with a brief account of Phocaea itself, which illustrates some points of topographical similarity between mother city and colony as well as offering a brief overview of the main reasons for an Asia Minor city to establish a colony in Gaul -- trade, and the fact that all the other prime sites had already been taken by around 600 BC, the conventional founding date. Hodge then offers a detailed account of Mediterranean trade routes in Chapter 3, 'The Seaways to Massalia' (pp. 18-34), including consideration of prevailing winds and currents illustrated by several maps and diagrams, before going on in Chapter 4 (pp. 35-61) to describe in detail the topography of the region, again with maps and photographs on virtually every page. This section concludes with an account of the agriculture and other products of Provence, along with those materials from further afield for which Massalia offered a convenient through-route (gold from the Cevennes and Pyrenees and the inland rivers, perhaps also copper and iron, and most importantly, tin from Brittany, Cornwall, and the Scilly Isles).
Hodge then brings his focus to the city itself in Chapter 5 (pp. 62-93) looking (again amid copious illustrations) at the foundation, the topography of the site, the building of the ancient city with its notable public buildings and monuments. Important archaeological remains are treated in detail: the area near the modern Bourse building that was alongside the former 'Corne du Port' (now a lawn area with the grass reproducing the ancient water level) preserves important early remains, including stone walls with characteristic Greek features, paved roadway, and the water reservoir.
Chapter 6 (pp. 94-109) offers a history of Massalia from its foundation to its conquest by Rome. Chapters 7 (pp. 110-27) and 8 (pp. 128-37) deal respectively with politics and economics, and with culture -- the latter particularly problematic because of the overlay of the Roman way of life. In Chapters 9 (pp. 138-69) and 10 (pp. 170-93) Hodge widens his lens- angle to include an account of evidence of Greek settlement in Provence and Languedoc, and on the Côte d'Azur, in each case working systematically through the sites in alphabetical order. Finally in Chapter 11 (pp. 194-218), the Celtic neighbours of Massalia are considered in a contrastive way that makes clear the cultural diversity of the antecedents of Southern France.
At the end, Hodge offers some conclusions in Chapter 12 (pp. 219-25) that he warns are 'personal opinions, often guesswork, often perhaps unreliable . . .', in which he attempts to offer a general evaluation of the relative importance of Massalia within the ancient Greek world. In fact, despite his assertion that the book to that point 'has been based on factual evidence and accepted, or at least published, interpretation' (p. 222), every preceding chapter in addition to its factual content offers conjecture and hypothesis, in the interests of constructing a more complete picture.
It is difficult to say what particular function the author intended this book to serve. It is certainly a work of wide-ranging scholarship, with 65 pages of endnotes (pp. 226-90) supported by an impressive categorised bibliography, but, while it offers a considerable amount of information on Massalia itself, it may, because it covers so much ground (both figuratively and literally), prove frustratingly generalised to scholars in search of detailed information on other settlements -- and after all, the title is Ancient Greek France, not Ancient Greek Massalia. The strength of the book is its wealth of illustrative material, especially the black-and-white photographs of sites and monuments that are for the most part not generally accessible. It is easy to see that Hodge has written this book out of a deep personal knowledge and indeed love of the area, and his sensitivity to the Marseillais and their traditions breaks through in a gentle humour from time to time. Perhaps the biggest appeal of the book will be to armchair time-travellers who will enjoy finding out about the history of a specific place through a specified period of time.