Scott, Michael: Delphi and Olympia - The Spatial Politics of Panhellenism in the Archaic and Classical Periods. 376 pages, hardback, 57 b/w illus., 247 x 174 mm, ISBN: 9780521191265, £55.00
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010)
Compte rendu par Lieve Donnellan, Ghent University

Nombre de mots : 1335 mots
Publié en ligne le 2011-08-22
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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          Michael Scott successfully discusses the politics of space in the sanctuaries of Delphi and Olympia between c. 650-300 BC. As Scott claims, most books on Olympia and Delphi focus exclusively on the Games, the Oracle, or single monuments or objects without considering any of the other activities which were going on in the sacred precincts. Sanctuary spaces possess their own dynamics and participation was not accidental, but meaningful and negotiated. Using Renfrew’s ideas on peer polity interaction (Renfrew, C. 1986, Introduction, in: Renfrew, C.; Cherry, J.F. (eds), Peer Polity Interaction and Socio-Political Change, Cambridge), Scott distinguishes a new level of analysis, in between the micro-level, which equals the study of single monuments, and the macro-level, which interests the region. Scott considers on this middle level the sanctuary as a “lived space” and wants to know what effect this space had on the visitor.



          Scholarly interest in space as a social construction, as opposed to mathematical and Carthesian measurable spaces, is a rather recent one, especially in Classical Archaeology, and is an adoption of theories developed in social anthropology. These theories are ultimately an inheritance of Heidegger’s and phenomenological writings. Basically, the idea is that space is more than a measurable entity, a background against which human activity takes place. Space is as much a social construction as society is, and spaces are embedded with specific meanings, which influence human behaviour. Although Scott does not specifically addresses social theory, his basic approach fits well in this line of reasoning.


          The book is divided in nine chapters. In the introductory chapter Scott discusses briefly past scholarship in relation to their interest in middle level-space. Relatively more work on the chronological development of the sanctuary space exists in Olympian studies than in Delphic research.


          In the next chapter questions regarding the “management” of the sanctuaries are treated. As Scott rightly demonstrates in the following chapters, the body governing the sanctuary influenced the organisation of space and monumental dedications. Olympia was controlled by a strong polis, although not always the same one, whereas in Delphi a strong polis was absent. This resulted in a much more uniform and organised space in Olympia versus a more heterogenous appearance in Delphi.


          In the next three chapters (chapters three - five) Scott discusses the development of sanctuary space and monumental dedication in Delphi between c. 650-500 BC, 500-400 BC and, 400-300 BC. Monumental construction in Delphi starts in c. 650 BC with the erection of a temple for both Apollo and Athena. The first monumental dedication, a treasury of the Corinthian tyrant Cypselus, is erected strategically along the old processional road. Other dedications are all concentrated on the east side of the temple of Apollo, to shift to the western side after the mid-sixth century BC. In c. 548 BC the temple of Apollo is destroyed by fire, causing not only a reconstruction of the temple, but a whole reorganisation of the sanctuary space. In the next period (500-400 BC, chapter four), the spatial organisation is largely dominated by the Athenians and their elaborated monumental dedications. Celebrations of military victories by means of the dedication of a tripod become very popular, whereas both the celebration of military victories and the dedication of tripods in the same period elsewhere, for example in Olympia, decline. Rivalling dedications to celebrate the Persian defeat testify to rivalling Hellenic self-representations. Remarkable is the absence of the mainland poleis, apart from Athens, and the dominance of the sanctuary by “the margins” of the Greek world. Only in the second half of the fifth century BC the Athenian dominance is rivalled by mainland dedications, especially Spartan, thus spatially mirroring the tensed political situation of the period. After the Peloponnesian Wars (chapter five, 400-300 BC) the destructions made by the earthquake of 373 BC offered new possibilities in spatial development, used by the Amphictyony, which was by now acting as a well organised body, the polis of Delphi and attempts of control by Phocis and later Athens, both causing  a Third and Fourth Sacred War respectively.


          The spatial politics of Olympia are treated in two chapters, for its dynamics differed from the Delphic reality (chapter six, c. 650-479 BC, chapter seven, c. 479-300 BC). Monumental construction in Olympia in c. 650 BC changed the earlier religious space significantly. Dedications are made in specific zones of the sanctuary: statues dedicated by victors in the Games are concentrated around the House of Oenomaus, whereas the zone of the temple of Hera constitutes a second focal point for dedicatory activities. The take-over by Elis from Pisa of the control of the sanctuary in the sixth century BC is followed by a renewed building activity, materialising the Elian presence. Space is differentiated and determines again dedicatory activity: tropaia seem to be concentrated in the stadium, whereas cultic activity is concentrated around the Hera temple and the new Bouleuterion.


          After 470 BC (chapter seven) radical changes take place in Olympia with the most important dedication to celebrate a military victory: the construction of the temple of Zeus, erected by the Elians to celebrate the final defeat of Pisa. These changes in the spatial organisation cause new changes in dedicatory practices: dedications are erected around the new temple, at the expense of the other zones. Soon afterwards, the dedication of tropaia is prohibited, possibly to underline unanimity. In the fourth century BC several new buildings are erected, the Philippeion (not paralleled by a dedication in Delphi), the Leonidaion and the Theocleon, which cause in turn again an alteration in the spatial dynamics.


          Dedicatory practice and spatial organisation in Delphi differed from Olympia, and this diversification was as much determined by the dedicators themselves as by the ruling body. These shifting spatial dynamics and their explanations are further explored in the eighth. As important factors of difference Scott identifies: the ruling body and the distance to the sanctuary and control exercised over the sanctuary, the local landscape, the regular cleaning of smaller dedications, and the overlapping between religious and sportive activities. Although both sanctuaries are considered pan-Hellenic, they both had a very different appearance and attracted different people on different occasions for different reasons. This brings Scott to his important ninth chapter, in which he considers pan-hellenism in the light of the results of the analysis of the previous chapters. Both  Delphi and Olympia are considered traditionally to have been pan-hellenic and to have provided a stage for all Greeks, harmoniously acting together during centuries to honour their gods. But the reality was, as Scott demonstrates, very different. Several groups, especially from the mainland, were completely or partially absent during part of the time, and those who were present dedicated to celebrate military victories over fellow Greeks, thus underlining intense Greek rivalry and disunity rather than unity. Even when Hellenic-barbarian victory was explicitly celebrated, this happened by several bodies at the same time, in concurrence to each other, rather than in support. This demonstrates the complex realities of sanctuary space, identity, and the politics of spatial organisation and dedication, each having multiple, contradicting and overlapping meanings.


          Michael Scott addresses in this book a complex matter and manages to do so in an orderly way. His discourse is illuminated by several detailed maps, and every chapter is concluded by a brief summary. The book ends with three appendices, in which the monumental dedications in Delphi are listed chronologically. Detailed notes and a full bibliography on monuments, dedications and cultic activities highlight past scholarship and indicate further reading.


          It is a shame, however, that Cambridge University Press has opted for black-and-white pictures instead of colours, a choice which significantly reduces the legibility of most of the images. High-quality colour images would have been appropriate for a book in this price range and of this level. In any case, this new book on monumental dedications and spatial politics fully deserves a place among the basic publications on Delphi and Olympia, and should not be missed by scholars interested in pan-hellenic identity and sanctuary spaces.