A Small Greek World: networks in the ancient Mediterranean by Irad Malkin 284 pp., 18 b&w figs, 14 mapsOxford University Press Inc., 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA, 2012, £40 (hbk), ISBN 978-0199734818
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
© 2013 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2013 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 42, Issue 1, pages 213–215, March 2013
How to Cite
Robinson, D. (2013), A Small Greek World: networks in the ancient Mediterranean by Irad Malkin 284 pp., 18 b&w figs, 14 mapsOxford University Press Inc., 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA, 2012, £40 (hbk), ISBN 978-0199734818. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 42: 213–215. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12008_4
- Issue published online: 4 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
For the readers of this journal, there is a definite sense of ‘preaching to the converted’ in Irad Malkin's A Small Greek World. Taking the view from the ship to the shore and considering maritime networks are things that we intuitively do. So does the volume have anything to offer us? Absolutely. It presents an interpretation of a world that feels ‘right’ from a maritime perspective, which is reached through the clear articulation of a particular methodological approach—the use of network theory. Such ideas could be profitably applied to other aspects of Greek maritime society not dealt with here, as well as other seafaring communities.
The central premise of A Small Greek World is encapsulated in the conundrum contained in its opening lines, namely how did ‘Greek civilisation come into being just when the Greeks were splitting apart’ (p. 1). Dealing with the processes involved in Greek colonization during the Archaic period (roughly from the 8th to the early 5th centuries BC), Malkin charts aspects of the social development of the numerous Greek communities that functioned within the ‘decentralised network’ or the ‘small world’ of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Within his vision movement across the sea is key; Greeks migrated overseas to found new cities; goods and ideas were transported and a specific identity and civilization created because and not in spite of the distance between the far-flung Greek settlements. Yet curiously within all of this, the ships and their sailors, as well as merchants and traders are largely unexplored in the volume, despite being the clear ‘technology of communication’ (pp. 48–49) through which this level of connectivity and commonality was achieved.
We are presented with a sophisticated view of Greek colonization and its results in which the connections between people and places led to the creation of both global and local identities. This combination of global and local—‘glocalization’ (p. 14)—is a recurring feature of the volume, as is the use of the vocabulary of network theory: for some readers the terms used could feel jarringly anachronistic—‘Greek Wide Web’ (p. 25) is a case in point. Nevertheless, the vocabulary is clearly explained so that a reader can answer questions such as what exactly is a ‘decentralised network’ (see pp 8–10, Fig. 1.4), a ‘small world’ (p. 33), or a ‘middle ground’ (p. 46)? Overall though it is not necessarily the terms that are used, but the perspectives that they offer when enmeshed within richly textured historical narratives that are the important outcomes of this volume.
In chapters 2 and 3, Malkin picks up the theme of the largely simultaneous emergence of a generalized Hellenic identity alongside regional ones. For example, the political unification of the island of Rhodes from its three independent poleis (city-states) at the end of the 5th century is used to demonstrate how through participation in external Hellenic contexts, such as in the Olympic games, military action and the settlement of new colonies, an island rather than a polis identity was formed where overseas experiences condensed local political entities into island ones. This would have been both an outsiders' view of the inhabitants of the island and also how islanders viewed themselves in wider trading or Panhellenic networks. Chapter 3 adds regional and non-Greek perspectives to this discussion in its consideration of Sicily. Here a regional identity was created through colonization and the arrival of Greeks from all over, leading to an awareness of being Greeks living in Sicily—Sikeliôtai. The island was also populated by non-Greeks, and consequently we see that the Sikels, a non-Greek regional ethnic identity, also arose in parallel to the emergence of the Sikeloites.
Chapters 4 and 6 examine the types of ‘cultural borrowings’ that occurred between the Greeks, Phoenicians and other peoples as they came into contact, traded, established emporia and colonies using the concept of the ‘middle ground’ as a way of understanding cultural exchange between peoples. An interesting case is the study of the cults of Herakles and Melqart, similar god-heroes for similar maritime peoples, both of whom were associated with colonization. Malkin suggests that Melqart functioned as the god of promontories for Phoenician sailors and through association with Melqart the terrestrial Herakles of the Greeks became associated with maritime colonization: ‘in other words, the maritime and city-founding attributes of the Greek Herakles may have first appeared among Phoenicians’ (p. 141). Here Malkin draws out the multi-faceted and fluid nature of identities and the active role of maritime people within the middle grounds at the interfaces between cultures—principally here ports and port cities—to the reorientation and recreation of cultures at both the global and local levels.
The processes of colonization and the maritime networks within which these cities sat are examined in chapter 5. Malkin notes that colonies such as Massalia, with their initially small territories, clearly looked towards the sea, the ‘shared space of cultural and commercial connectivity’ (p. 149). Such colonies sat within a multitude of different networks, for example, Alalia on Corsica, was founded by the Phocaeans and connected to the rest of their long-distance network as well as to a regional network involving its neighbours and the Etruscans and to the long-distance non-Greek network of the Etruscans and Phoenicians. Malkin also traces how these networks develop over time through the growth of Massalia. Here the regional network transforms itself as the smaller ports in the Massaliot area reoriented their trade and concentrated on supplying Massalia as it rose to regional importance and became a major commercial hub. The traders within these networks are neatly exemplified through the use of an inscribed lead tablet from Pech Maho, France, concerning the purchase of a boat (pp 166–7). Although written in Ionian Greek, the witnesses to the sale are clearly not of the same ethnic origin, revealing something of the complex world of Mediterranean commerce and connectivity.
Malkin's interpretations tap in to the ‘contemporary zeitgeist’ (p. 9) and the active creation of interconnected cultural networks by people making their own pathways in the world is something that resonates with this reviewer. The overall value of this volume though is not that it is ‘theoretically trendy’ but that it provides wide-scale interconnected ancient history through the use of detailed case studies as seen through the lens of a particular theoretical approach. I do wonder though how much richer the volume could have been had the material evidence for maritime trade been incorporated in the analyses in a more developed way. The volume though is more about people than pottery and presents the ancient Mediterranean, and the Greek small world in particular, as a self-organized complex system of interconnected networks at varying geographic scales that organically change across the longue durée. It successfully abandons the centre-periphery vision of the Greeks at home and Greeks overseas, of Greeks/colonists and barbarians/natives and instead replaces this with multi-layered networks and middle-ground cultural negotiations between different peoples in different places. Importantly, it emphasizes the development of Greek civilization as a collective identity based upon the experience of colonization, ‘Greeks looking at each other from across the sea’ (p. 218).