The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia

The Oxford Handbook of Ancient AnatoliaThe voluminous Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia, which boasts five sections, 52 chapters, and 54 authors, truly covers every topic that can be dealt with in 1,174 typewritten pages.  Unfortunately, the attempted geographic and temporal scope – the entirety of the Anatolian peninsula over the course of nearly 10,000 years – would require several volumes this length to cover in full. As a result, some time periods, peoples, and geographic areas were necessarily dealt with only in passing, or omitted altogether, in order to fit this study into a single volume.  The editors acknowledge this shortcoming in the book’s introduction, writing that, “While we recognize that there may remain topics or issues in the study of ancient Anatolia which are not addressed in this volume, we have sought the optimal balance of chapters on archaeological, historical, and philological topics” (p. 4).  In other words, the editors write, “this volume is meant to be comprehensive, within reason” (ibid).


Comprehensiveness “within reason” is, of course, a subjective matter, and there will certainly be students and scholars of ancient Anatolia who find that their specific area of interest has been given short shrift.  A clear example of this is the Achaemenid period, which lacks its own chapter; another, from the point of view of the present reviewer, is the unfortunately brief (though expertly summarized) treatment of the dynamic Late Bronze Age in Western Anatolia (pp. 363-375).

However, none of this is meant to suggest that this is not a rich, useful, or incredibly informative work.  It is each of those in spades, with top scholars in various facets of Anatolian studies offering valuable summaries of the subtopics they were tasked with treating, and offering perhaps even more valuable bibliographies of each topic, which can be utilized by the scholar seeking to conduct further reading and research.  Some notes on the volume follow, though, like the book being addressed here, this review will necessarily reflect only a hopefully representative selection of its overall contents due to space constraints.

The volume is presented in five parts: The Archaeology of Anatolia: Background and Definitions; Chronology and Geography; Philological and Historical Topics; Thematic and Specific Topics; and Key Sites.  Part 1 serves as an introduction to the volume, addressing Anatolia through the writings of ancient (foreign) observers and reviewing both the archaeology of the peninsula and the chronology and terminology relied on for the study of the region.


Part 2, “Chronology and Geography,” presents Anatolia’s history in five chronological parts (Prehistory, the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Ages, and the Iron Age), each of which deals with multiple geographic regions.  Each chapter begins with a formulaic statement of its geographic and chronological boundaries, a very helpful preface for those who may not be as familiar with the nuances of Anatolian geography as the authors.  Though many of the chapters in this section contain maps (e.g. 7, 10, 11, and 17), nearly all would be improved by them, as aids to those geographically unfamiliar readers’ effort to identify those boundaries articulated by Part 1’s authors.

In Part 3, “Philology and Historical Topics,” Richard Beal’s “Hittite Anatolia: A Political History” (pp. 579–603) stands out as a wonderfully organized chronological synopsis of Hittite history, with a particular emphasis on the Old and New (“Empire”) Hittite Periods of the Late Bronze Age.  Arranged in linear fashion by ruler, this chapter may be as effective a brief history of LBA Hatti as can be found, particularly with regard to the deeds of the kings of ?atti and the palace intrigue that frequently beset them.  However, this chapter also contains some surprising – though not critical – assumptions and inaccuracies.  Among these are Beal’s pronouncement that the location of the Mycenaean-related polity known as A??iyawa – a hotly-debated subject among scholars – was Miletos (p. 593; see Bryce, pp. 368-72 of this volume, for a more measured treatment of this topic); and Beal’s decision to rename the ‘Sea Peoples’ who plagued the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the Bronze Age according to toponyms with which there is no clear evidence of their association (e.g., Sherden as Sardinians, Shekelesh as Sicilians, Teresh as Etruscans, etc., pp. 594–5; on the latter, cf. Beckman, p. 522 of this volume).  A similar assumption is made in Ilya Yakubovich’s otherwise excellent chapter on “Luwian and the Luwians” (pp. 534-547), with the author’s treatment of J. David Hawkins’s re-reading of the Luwian toponym “Wadasatani” as “Palastin” as definitive, and with his connection of this broad Iron Age Syrian kingdom with the Philistines of the southern coastal plain of Canaan, despite a severe paucity of evidence (p. 538; Hawkins, “Cilicia, the Amuq, and Aleppo,” NEA 72.4 (2009): 164-73).


Other chapters in this section deal very well with linguistic and philological issues. Renowned Hittite scholar Gary Beckman provides a concise overview of the Hittite language and its basic grammar (pp. 517-533), and Yakubovich’s aforementioned chapter on Luwian is an excellent introduction to that language and script and its history.  As Urartian (Paul Zimansky, pp. 548-59) and Phrygian (Lynn Roller, pp. 560-78) are also dealt with in this section, it is somewhat puzzling why H. Craig Melchert’s chapter on Indo-European, which is clearly relevant to Anatolian philology, was included in Part 4 (“Thematic and Specific Topics”), instead of being addressed in Part 3.  A fuller treatment of Hattic, the non-Indo-European precursor to Hittite, would also have been helpful, as this language and its people receive only the most oblique treatment within the volume.  The most noteworthy references to Hattic and the Hattian people are made in conjunction with discussions of Kültepe–Kaneš, but are unfortunately little more than passing mentions.

Part 4, “Thematic and Specific Topics,” is subdivided into two sections: “Intersecting Cultures, Migrations, Invasions, and Travelers,” and “From Pastoralists to Empires: Critical Issues.”  Included in these are a chapter by Peter Jablonka on Troy’s role in regional and international commerce (pp. 717-733), a chapter by James Muhly on metallurgy and the use of metals (pp. 858-876), and two chapters on the Hittite empire – one by Claudia Glatz dealing with archaeological evidence (pp. 877-899), and one by Theo van den Hout dealing with the textual evidence (pp. 900-916).  Both of these chapters serve as excellent complements to Beal’s aforementioned chapter on the political history of Hittite Anatolia.


Part 5, “Key Sites,” addresses in greater detail a number of sites that were also treated, in varying detail, elsewhere in the volume.  The history of research, current state of knowledge, archaeological evidence, and other information about each of these sites is systematically laid out in this section’s eleven chapters.  Just what sites qualify as “key” in as expansive a geographic and temporal range as that covered by this volume is, of course, a matter of debate, and the editors acknowledge it as “one of the most difficult choices we faced” (p. 5).  In the end, McMahon and Steadman write, “We settled on a set of criteria to guide our choices: long-term, established, and ongoing projects (e.g., Gordion, Çatal Höyük, Sardis, [and] Kültepe–Kaneš); shorter-term, completed, and carefully-excavated sites (e.g., Titri? Höyük and Il?p?nar); and projects begun in the past decade or two that are subjects of continued research (e.g., Göbekli Tepe, Arslantepe, Ayanis, and Kaman–Kalehöyük)” (ibid).  Additionally, Dirk Paul Mieleke contributes a chapter to this section on five “Key Sites of the Hittite Empire” (pp. 1031-1044).  Though necessarily brief, this chapter touches on Bo?azköy–?attuša, Ortaköy–Šapinuwa, Alaca Höyük, Ku?akl?–Šarišša, and Ma?at Höyük–Tap?kka in enough detail to be valuable to those seeking a primer on the current state of research and knowledge on these sites.

Many of these sites are dealt with elsewhere in the volume – in the case of Kültepe–Kaneš and Bo?azköy–?attuša, for example, many times – but the overlap is far less problematic than the lack of cross-references, which are only sometimes included in mentions of topics treated elsewhere in the volume.  One example of such an omission is in Mieleke’s section on Alaca Höyük, which references the Sphinx Gate and provides a line drawing of this impressive entranceway (p. 1040), but which does not draw the reader’s attention to the inclusion of a photograph of this fixture in Jürgen Seeher’s chapter on “The Plateau: The Hittites” earlier in the volume (p. 380).  The book’s index is helpful, but in the specific case of the Sphinx Gate illustration, only Seeher’s figure is listed as such, while Mieleke’s written mention of the Gate – but not his illustration – is included in the index.


Fikri Kulako?lu’s chapter on the indisputably important site of Kültepe–Kaneš, “A Second Millennium B.C.E. Trading Center on the Central Plateau” (pp. 1012-1030) provides a detailed complement to Cécile Michel’s excellent overview of “The K?rum Period on the Plateau” (pp. 313-336), though his nearly word-for-word description of the Lower City of Kaneš as “encircl[ing] Kültepe mound from the north, east, and south in the shape of a crescent,” and “the west of the mound [as] marshland” on both pages 1014 and 1020 suggests a slight editing oversight.

It is important to note that these critiques are not meant to suggest that this volume is neither well-presented nor useful.  The chapters are generally of very high quality, and the information presented in them will be valuable to students and scholars alike who wish to engage with topics of Anatolian history, archaeology, and prehistory for the first time or as a part of ongoing research, or who wish to catch up on the present state of the field.  It is because this volume is destined to be so heavily used by students and scholars (and because its price tag will largely limit its distribution to libraries) that the relatively low-quality cover and binding are a concern.  The reviewer’s copy began to tear slightly along the spine simply from the normal wear and tear of one person’s reading and shelving – a fact which suggests that copies of this book in University libraries will have difficulty surviving the wear and tear put on them by hundreds of students and by the passage of time.  However, though the quality of the book’s cover is not commensurate with its price, the contents of the volume will make The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia a valuable addition to any scholarly collection.


The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia, edited by Sharon R. Steadman and Gregory McMahon (ISBN 978–0–19–537614–2; 1174 pages; $175) is published by Oxford University Press.


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