Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 16.

Bradley A. Ault and Lisa C. Nevett (edd.), Ancient Greek Houses and Households: Chronological, Regional, and Social Diversity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Pp. ix + 189. ISBN 0-8122-3875-3. UK£36.00.

Richard Tomlinson
Emeritus Professor, University of Birmingham

This book publishes papers delivered at a colloquium organised for the one hundred and second General Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America held in San Diego in 2001, which was dedicated to ‘Households at the Margins of Greek Society’. Two further contributions, on ‘Housing in the Troad’ (William Aylward) and ‘Modest Housing in Late Hellenistic Delos’ (Monika Trümper) have been added to broaden its scope.

This has both the advantages of conference proceedings and the disadvantages. The advantage is the reasonably prompt publication of up-to-the-minute research, the disadvantage that, largely, it relates work in progress rather than full and definitive study, particularly through the multiplicity of authors and topics, even though they share a common focus. In the book, through the additional chapters, this is now concerned with variables rather than marginality.

The introduction, by Lisa C. Nevett (pp. 1-11), stresses that detailed studies of Ancient Greek housing using both the architectural evidence and the material assemblages discovered within the buildings is a relatively recent phenomenon. She outlines the definable elements -- cooking facilities, presence of bath-tubs, the recognition of specialised rooms (andrones) for male socialising, and so forth. Rather than concentrating simply on narrow specialisation of room function, the aim now is rather to emphasise variability.

Thus the second paper, by Franziska Lang (pp. 12-35), looks at ‘Structural Change in Archaic Greek Housing’. One example of a change in typology which, as she says, can be recognised in Greece from the seventh century B.C. onwards, is the decline of the apsidal and oval-sided house types and their replacement by rectangular buildings. However, she does not make the obvious point that the development of terracotta tiles in place of thatch is a simple practical explanation of this. The evolution of house plans, the arrangement of rooms and access to them is discussed and analysed in terms of the ‘economic sphere’, the ‘technological sphere’ (that is, the performance of crafts within the house), the ‘sociopsychological sphere’ (access from outside and access within the house), the ‘symbolic sphere’ (status and beliefs) and the ‘representative sphere’ (the function of different rooms and areas).

Walter Aylward’s chapter is entitled ‘Security, Synoikismos, Koinon as Determinants for Troad Housing in Classical and Hellenistic Times’ (pp. 36-53). The evidence is fragmentary. Some of the houses discussed have left only the slightest traces, with full, but schematic, plans given only for houses at Neandreia and Alexandria Troas.

Chapter 4, by Nicholas Cahill, (pp. 53-66) concerns ‘Household Industry in Greece and Anatolia’, but in fact is limited to a discussion of the evidence from Olynthus and one small area of Sardis, two very different places and contexts, neither really typical, since Olynthus is an artificial creation for a federated state on the borders of the Macedonian kingdom, dependant largely on agricultural activity, while Sardis is the capital of a non-Greek kingdom, and the industrial process, glass manufacture, found in the structures discussed points more to Mesopotamian contacts.

Barbara Tsakirgis investigates (pp. 67-82) the Classical period houses around the Agora of Athens, noting that there is no regular form -- some are reasonably square or rectangular in plan, while others are irregular, the determinant factor being the line of the streets. She discusses the evidence for production or industry found in the houses, which reveals that they are not merely dwelling places.

Lisa Nevett contributes a chapter (pp. 83-98) entitled ‘Between Urban and Rural: House Form and Social Relations in Attic Villages and Deme Centres’, though she concerns herself only with three places: Thorikos, which is an industrial community depending largely on the silver and lead mines; Ano Voula, a more typical and probably agricultural village closer to Athens; and Rhamnous, one of the most remote of the Attic demes.

Manuel Fiedler reports (pp. 99-118) on recent work on Leukas, where a reasonably consistent house type emerges, making it possible to compare and assess how the different rooms they contained functioned. Monika Trümper (pp. 119-39) takes the evidence produced by the far more extensive excavations of Delos to gather the less spectacular -- and so less noticed by commentators -- of the houses and shops there. Here, as at Thorikos, it is necessary to remember the unusual character of the town of Delos which (quite apart from the island’s religious significance) was devoted primarily to external trade with the extended Late Hellenistic/Roman Republic world. The theme of the smaller -- or even very small -- house unit is continued by Bradley Ault in ‘Housing the Poor and the Homeless in Ancient Greece’ (pp. 140-59), a chapter which also considers the evidence for brothels and hostelries. Finally, in Chapter 10 (pp. 160-75), he and Lisa Nevett sum up the arguments presented in the book, and consider how the archaeology of the Greek household should develop.

Obviously, a ‘Study in Diversity’ is bound to contain disparate material. Where only small groups of material are presented in short papers the wider context tends to be overlooked. This is particularly true where a single building is taken by itself without reference to the neighbourhood and environment in which it was situated. This can be illustrated by contrasting the chapter by Monika Trümper, who bases her argument on the extensive material available from the excavations on Delos with the small house from ‘Ano Siphai’ briefly referred to by Bradley Ault in the succeeding chapter as perhaps an example of a dwelling of the working poor. This house was excavated by Hoepfner and Schwandner.[[1]] In publishing it they overlooked the earlier complete survey of the walled enclosure which contains it, carried out in 1968 by John Fossey, Philip Rahtz, and myself.[[2]] In this we surveyed over fifty similar small structures (Hoepfner and Schwandner’s building is our Building BA), and planned two of them (Buildings K and W) in detail, both similar to Building BA. It is difficult to conceive of a village entirely given over to the abject poor, and, with its exposed position at the top of a mountain pass there are no economic resources which could possibly have sustained even the poorest of communities. The position, though, has a considerable military significance, controlling the easiest route from the excellent harbour at Siphai (modern Aliki) on the Gulf of Corinth over the mountain pass which separates it from the Boiotian heartland. The towns here are Siphai and Thisbe, while the site on the pass is a military one, like the slightly later watchtower just to the west (which replaced it) and the much later Justinianic castellum (which Hoepfner and Schwandner did not spot) in its north-east corner. We suggested it was a base established by the Spartans in the first part of the fourth century to guarantee them access to central Boiotia. We considered and rejected outright the idea that it was a normal village. A possibility was that it served the sanctuary of Artemis Agroteira included within its perimeter, but the difference between the limited, apparently fourth-century pottery that we found in the greater area and the much wider range (from early Archaic onwards) in the area of the temple led us to interpret it as having only a military significance. But whatever the explanation, building BA can only be interpreted properly in the context of the complete settlement, not in isolation. Taking it out of context makes it rather meaningless.

As a preliminary report of continuing research the results discussed in this book are interesting and important. I wonder, though, whether this is the most suitable format, given the expense and the pressure on library space. Clearly, much will be, or, by the time I write, already has been superseded by a more definitive publication. The advantage of conference or colloquium papers is that they stimulate discussion, both within the actual meeting and afterwards. This could be better continued, it seems to me, by immediate electronic publication, (such as will befall this review). There is a feeling, perhaps, that book publication like this better serves as a criterion for individual academic assessment. It is noticeable that each chapter has its own extensive list of literature cited, usually repetitive, where a single bibliography for the entire book would have sufficed and been simpler to use. At times, these lists seem inflated -- the introductory chapter lists Makaronas and Giouri on the houses of the Rape of Helen and of Dionysos at Pella simply as an example of a detailed study of an individual site without mentioning that these houses by their size and magnificence are altogether different from those normally found in Greek cities -- and, indeed, in this book.

This is a useful addition to the literature on Ancient Greek housing, but it is not (and I do not think it would claim to be) definitive.


[[1]] W. Hoepfner and E.-L. Schwandner, Haus und Stadt im klassischen Griechenland (Munich 1986); E.-L. Schwandner, ‘Die Boötische Hafenstadt Siphai’, AA (1977) 516-19.

[[2]] R. A. Tomlinson and J. M. Fossey, ‘Ancient Remains on Mount Avrovouni, South Boeotia’, ABSA 65 (1970) 243-63.