The arrival of the Journal of Roman Archaeology – by mail no less – is one of the highlights of my year. I was very excited to see an extensive review of Y. Lolos’s Land of Sikyon: The Archaeology and History of a Greek City State. (2015) by long-time colleague in Corinthian archaeology, Joe Rife. It’s “Surveying Sikyon from the State to the Land,” JRA 29 (2016), 864-874.
(As an aside, it’s one of two reviews of recent work on Sicyon (the other being a review by K. Slane of Conor Trainor’s The Ceramics Industry of Roman Sicyon (2015)) and this reflects the quantity and quality of work being done in the northeast Peloponnesus. In fact, it shocked me that there were two books on Sikyon and no books reviewed on Roman Cyprus.)
Joe is smarter and better scholar I am, and his review is smarter and more expansive than mine. The review not only deals with the book in detail, but addresses the larger issue of how to think about regional level archaeological projects. Rife points out that while Lolos’s work is carefully considered and reasoned (which it is!), he, nevertheless, tends to view the territory of the city of Sikyon as a persistent lens for social, political, and economic analysis. While the Lolos’s focus on the Sikyonian chora was undoubtedly appropriate for the pre-Roman era, Rife rightly asks if such “state-bound” approaches are optimal for regional level studies. The association of places with say the defensive needs of the state implies that existence and persistence of boundaries though time.
Likewise, Rife is skeptical of the stability of roads through the landscape which also shaped Lolos’s interpretation and is reflected in the thorough studies of his mentors Y. Pikoulas and W. K. Pritchett. Rife’s view of a “land-bound” approach to regional work would account for the shifting routes of roads across territory and decouple long-term settlement patterns from the more ephemeral pattern of routes through a territory.
Rife’s review also comments on the challenges of narrating a regional level archaeological project. The tension between a narrative confined artificially at times by archaeological, practical, and political boundaries. As he states, there is a need “to balance readability and referability.” Digital publication of the maps and maybe, in the future, the data could open Lolos’s careful documentation to new forms of scholarly attention and analysis.
None of these observations are new, of course, but Rife’s review offers them in a compact and specific way and in clear reference to a well-done and thorough survey.