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The Cities of Seleukid Syria.

By John D. Grainger. Oxford: 1990. Pp. xi + 253. $52.

This book, based on the author's Ph.D. thesis, aims at presenting the history of cities in a restricted part of the Seleucid Empire for its own sake and not simply as a facet of dynastic history. The area to which the term "Syria" is applied in the study is defined in the introduction as "bounded by the Taurus mountains on the north, the Euphrates river and the sea to the east and west, and the Eleutheros river on the south" (p. 2). In fact, the territory covered by the study does not reach the Taurus; it excludes Commagene, except for Doliche and Zeugma which were transferred to it only by the Romans. Conversely, it includes Laodicea ad Libanum, which is located south of the latitude of the Eleutherus. But it is true that the area thus circumscribed comprised the most important Hellenistic cities of Syria and remained the longest under Seleucid rule after the rest of the empire had been lost. The book is divided into two parts: "Seleukos Nikator" (three chapters) and "After Seleukos" (four chapters), plus appendices, bibliography, six sketch maps, and eight city plans, showing only their outlines and locations of acropolises and drawn to the same scale.

The general impression the book makes is favorable. The author has extracted every possible bit of information from the scanty classical sources on Syria, of which very few items actually come from the Seleucid period. He also utilized a great deal of secondary literature, including the monographs on Antioch by Glanville L. Downey (A History of Antioch in Syria: From Seleucus to the Arab Conquest [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1961!) and on Arados by Jean-Paul Rey-Coquais (Arados et sa piree aux epoques grecque, romaine et byzantine [Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1974]), as well as, with lesser effect, numerous archaeological reports. It would be difficult to bring out much new in this field with its limited documentation that has been investigated for generations, and, as we shall see below, many of Grainger's own premises and interpretations are debatable. But his exposition is clear, well organized, and annotated, and his descriptions of the sites immediately suggest, even if he had not mentioned it in his preface, that he had personally visited them. All in all, with certain reservations, Grainger's book can serve as a useful survey of cities and urban development in Hellenistic Syria.

But there are reservations. When Grainger delves into the conditions of pre-Hellenistic Syria, he displays insufficient acquaintance with its history and archaeology. Hence the basic thesis of his book--that, as the result of the Assyrian destruction and deportations, Syria became a country with practically no cities; and the situation continued into the Persian period, when only Arados on the north Phoenician coast was a real city. "Myriandros and Bambyke and Thapsakos were equally local. The rest of the land was one of villages exclusively, inhabited by a peasantry taxed by the Persian governors" (p. 30). Nobody denies the cruelty of Assyrian conquests and reprisals, but, at least since the start of the systematic conquest and annexation of Syria under Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrians were interested in receiving from their new provinces as much in taxes and service obligations as possible. Therefore, far from having conquered territories "virtually emptied of people," as "Kommagene, for instance" (p. 23, n. 37, cf. p. 43, n. 67), the Assyrian kings replaced the deported fraction of the population by deportees from some other penalized area of the empire. In the case of Grainger's chosen example, Commagene-Kummuh, the exchange of populations took place with the Chaldean principality of Bit-Yakin. The 27,290 deportees from the province of Samaria (about 10% of its population) were replaced by Arab tribesmen. Instead of Hamathians deported to Assyria proper, Sargon II settled 6,300 "Assyrian malefactors." Thus the system of deportations, with all the human suffering it caused, had, at most, a very slight impact on the demography of Syria.

In the effort to sustain his affirmation that "by the time of the Macedonian conquest in 333-331 . . . there were . . . only faint sparks of urban life in Syria" (p. 23), Grainger assails the thesis by A. H. M. Jones (in ch. 10 of The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces, 2nd rev. ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971!) that the survival of the pre-Greek names of cities which were given Greek names under the Seleucids proves that they were continuously inhabited as urban settlements. "Yet it is surprising," objects Grainger (p. 24), "that none of these places, some of which at all times have been notable fortresses, played any part in Alexander's campaigns, and do not appear in any of the accounts of the Alexander-historians." Grainger speaks as though what we have at our disposal were authentic works by Alexander's contemporaries rather than abridged compilations, focusing on Alexander's personality, written from four to five hundred years after his death and intended for a broad readership which was as little interested in topographic details as its modem counterpart. The compilers mentioned only such places that were associated with important military or political events, and even so they never specified where exactly Thapsacus was located on the Euphrates and at what place Alexander crossed the Tigris. Since no battles, mutinies, or such-like occurrences took place, the itinerary from Tyre to Thapsacus across Syria, and from Thapsacus to Gaugamela across Mesopotamia and Assyria was not described by any of the extant compilers. It would have been different, if the Diary (Ephemerides) by Alexander's secretary, Eumenes of Cardia, and the Stages (Stathmoi) by Amyntas, his chief road surveyor, had been preserved.

Grainger counters Jones by asserting: "The old city-names survived, not because of their continued use by the inhabitants of the cities, but because the rural population in the areas round about used them to refer to the cities" (p. 24). But of course Jones is right. First of all, had the cities no longer existed and the surrounding peasants not come to them for selling their produce or dealing with officials, they would have had no reason to refer to them at all and their names would have been forgotten. Two examples will suffice to demonstrate this proposition. First, one of the principal cities of Syria, Carchemish, was utterly destroyed--not by Assyrians, but in the great battle between the Egyptian and the Babylonian armies in 605--and remained unoccupied for three hundred years, until Seleucus I built on its site the new city of Europus. The old name went out of use, and even in Syriac the city was known under its modified Greek name, Agropos, whence the Arabic Gerabis. A second example: the old Semitic name of Laodicea ad Libanum was Qidsi in the Late Bronze Age, Qidisi in Neo-Assyrian, Qidis in Neo-Babylonian, and was still Qadas at the time of Saladin. But when the site was definitively abandoned later on, its name disappeared with its population, and the mound received its current appellation, Tell Nebi Mend. Secondly, in support of Jones, the idea that the Assyrians had eradicated urban life in Syria is not based on any evidence whatever and is denied by both epigraphic and archaeological data.

The Assyrians did not destroy the state and district capitals of Syria but transformed them into capitals of newly formed provinces. These are cited in hundreds of Assyrian historical inscriptions, lists of provinces and eponyms, juridical documents, letters of royal correspondence, oracular texts, etc. Damage inflicted by siege would be quickly repaired and an Assyrian governor would be installed with his staff of tax collectors, taskmasters, registrars, scribes, and an Assyrian garrison, beside the local municipal administration and enough craftsmen and slaves to support this establishment. Tiglath-Pileser III states that after capturing and plundering Kinalia (also known as Kunulua and Kullani), the capital of the kingdom of Unqi-Patin, "Kinalia I rebuilt . . . my officer I set over them as governor" (ARAB [sections]769). The excavations at Tell Tayinat, the site of that capital, revealed, beside the older Syro-Hittite palace, a typically Assyrian palace, similar to the one at Tell Ahmar (ancient Til-Barsib), another royal capital annexed to Assyria over a hundred years earlier. Tiglath-Pileser III also conquered Arpad after a three-year siege. The excavations at Tell Rifat showed that the city, or much of it, burned down but was immediately restored (as an Assyrian provincial capital according to the records) and remained continuously inhabited in the Neo-Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. Sargon II mentions the restoration and resettlement of the cities of Samaria, as well as Til-Garimmu, Meliddu, Kummuhu, Ashdod, Gath, and Ashdod-Yamm, while Carchemish did not need to be rebuilt at its annexation, and the people of Gurgum were "pardoned." The city of Kummuhu, future Samosata, now the huge mound at Samsat, remained a formidable fortress in 605, when it was occupied, after a long siege, by the Babylonians and was retaken, after an even longer siege, by the Egyptians.

Grainger cites in support of his gloomy view of pre-Seleucid Syria that "Hama was destroyed by the Assyrians in 720, and archaeological evidence is quite definite that the site remained deserted until c. 200" (p. 20). But this is refuted by the inscriptional documentation which shows Hama (Hamatu) as a living city, a provincial capital, in both the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods. Nor is the archaeological evidence as definite as Grainger claims it to be. Only the citadel mound was excavated, and even there Assyrian and Babylonian presence was detected both on the top and at the base. Moreover, as shown by E. D. Francis and M. Vickers in "Greek Geometric Pottery at Hama and Its Implication for Near Eastern Chronology," Levant 17 (1985): 131-38, the archaeological dating of Hama is linked to the presence there of Greek geometric pottery, the chronology of which is itself subject to doubt and may be revised downward. Beside the citadel mound, old Hama covers, to the southwest of it, the medieval "Upper Town," which I described as "an elevated quarter with low but steep slopes, which looks like an old, worn-down tell" ("Tunip-Hamath and Its Region: A Contribution to the Historical Geography of Central Syria," Orientalia 46 [1977]: 54). Danish archaeological soundings discovered there material from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, and I surmise that sherds from the Iron Age would also have been announced if archaeologists had better criteria for recognizing and dating the pottery produced between the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Hellenistic period--a serious problem which I discussed in my review of Eichler, et al., Tall al-Hamidiya 2, JAOS 113 (1993): 112ff.

This "lack of information regarding ceramics of the Iron Age," admitted by the archaeologist D. Meijer in the just quoted work, explains the lack of "Persian" attribution for the overwhelming majority of ancient Syrian sites, big or small, excavated or surveyed, which Grainger incautiously uses for his picture of Persian Syria--nay of "the whole sweep of lands from the Tigris to the River of Egypt"--as a deurbanized region, thinly populated by an impoverished peasantry (p. 28), though elsewhere, incidentally, he deduced from Xenophon's Anabasis "that the villages he saw in Syria were relatively prosperous" (p. 18). The truth of the matter is that archaeological strata can be assigned to the Persian period (539-333 B.C.) only if they contain imported Greek pottery datable to that time. For the Amuq sites, where such pottery was present, R. J. Braidwood distinguished a "Syro-Hittite" period (1000-500 B.C.) and grouped Late Hellenic and Hellenistic in one period (500-64 B.C.), while R. C. Haines divided the latter into Syro-Hellenic (500-300 B.C.) and Hellenistic (300-64 B.C). phases. In other places, such as the Tabqa Dam salvage area, the excavators lumped together the nondescript material of the pre-Hellenistic first millennium under the designation "Iron Age." These are not grounds for denying that such sites were inhabited during the Persian period.

Grainger also cites the paucity of information on Syrian cities in contemporary written sources and tries to minimize Xenophon's use of term polis for Myriandus and Thapsacus on the strange pretext that "neither has been located on the ground, which suggests that they were small and without notable buildings" (pp. 63-64). Mari had not been located on the ground until 1934, and Ebla until 1975, yet both were great capitals with very notable buildings. Xenophon, who has the advantage of having been at Thapsacus, calls it "a large and prosperous city." An argumentum e silentio is admissible only if we have sufficiently ample information in the relevant field, but no Syrian documents whatever have survived from the Persian period, for, unlike the Assyrians with their clay tablets, the administration and population of Persian Syria wrote on perishable materials. Grainger criticizes N. G. L. Hammond for putting Aleppo and Homs on a map in his Alexander the Great. We know very little about Homs before the first century B.C. Syrian soundings on its citadel mound revealed Iron Age and Hellenistic remains, but "Iron Age" is too broad and wide a term. But there is no doubt about Aleppo. J. Sauvaget (whose important work on Aleppo Grainger has included in his bibliography) has ascertained that the cAqabah quarter of the city represents an ancient tell and that the Macedonian colony established by Seleucus I and called Beroea was built, on a completely different plan, beside it, so that two communities, a native and a Macedonian, were juxtaposed in the Seleucid city. Aleppo, with its location on a junction of several highways, its naturally fortified citadel hill, its continuous role as a renowned shrine of the storm-god from the Middle Bronze Age to the emperor Julian, its retention of its ancient name (Halab) up to our time (Halab), including the Greco-Roman period (cf. the trilingual--Greek, Parthian, and Middle Persian--Res Gestae Divi Saporis, a precious source of Syrian toponymy, not utilized by Grainger) was certainly inhabited, through thick and thin, for several millennia. The same is true for Commaga (later renamed Samosata), from which the Seleucid satrapy, later kingdom, of Commagene took its name; for Chalcis ad Belum, which already carried its native name of Qennasrin at the time of Tiglath-Pileser III; and Grainger himself concedes (p. 24) that Bambyke was "possibly . . . of sufficient size to be called urban."

Thus the image of pre-Seleucid Syria as seen by Rostovtzeff, Tam, Tcherikover, Jones, and others--a country of millennia-old civilization, traversed by several trade routes, with cities engaged in caravan trade or attracting visitors to their temples, having their own mayors, elders, judges, and priests--remains true despite Grainger's denial, which forms his only original contribution to the subject of his study.

This theoretical point apart, the book contains a number of inexactitudes, mistakes, misspellings, and misquotations which should have been weeded out when the thesis was being prepared for publication. Some of them deal with items of common knowledge. The rivers Kara (Karasu), Afrin, Qoueiq, Sajur, and Euphrates do not flow down from the Taurus mountains, as stated, twice, on p. 10. The expedition of Cyrus the Younger is twice (pp. 16 and 23, n. 39) dated 404 instead of 401; in the latter place it is credited to A. T. Olmstead and R. M. Cook who, of course, have the correct date. The praenomen of Pompey the Great was not Q. (p. 251) but Cn. Grainger follows the style of using Greek names in their original Greek spellings and not in the Latinized forms that are common in English. This is perfectly legitimate, but then one should be consistent and write, for instance, Laodikeia he pros thalassei, or at least "Laodikeia-on-the-sea," rather than such awkward and nonexistent Greco-Latin hybrids as "Laodikeiaad-mare." In his striving to replace every Latin -us by Greek -os, Grainger fell into the trap of hypercorrection by making "Anthemos" (p. 45) of the actual Greek Anthemous, -ountos. Grainger's appendix 1, "Concordance of City-Names," which shows the "Pre-Greek Name," "Greek Name," and "Modern Name" of twenty-eight cities, leaves much to be desired. As the pre-Greek name of Apamea, not only should the cuneiform Niya have been mentioned but also the Persian Pharnake, preserved by Malalas. The pre-Greek name of Arados should have been spelled Arwad instead of "Arvad," and its modem name likewise Arwad (colloquially Ruad) and not "Arad." The modem name of Beroia is Aleppo only in some European languages; in Arabic it is Halab. The village at the site of "Chalkis-ad-Belum" is still called Qinnasrin. Duluk is not the pre-Greek but the post-Greek name of Doliche, the Arabic form of this purely Greek toponym; the pre-Greek name of the site is unknown. The pre-Greek name of Emesa is also unknown; the name, and the very existence of the city, are attested only since the first century B.C. The modern name Karkamis (not "Gargamis") is a recent renaming of the site previously known as Gerabis and should not be mistaken for a survival of the pre-Greek name. For the pre-Greek name of Hierapolis, Aramaic Mabbog should have been listed along with, or instead of, its Greek form, Bambyke. The pre-Greek name of Larissa, for which Grainger put "?" is perfectly well known from Stephanus Byzantius s.v. ("called Sizara by the Syrians") and from Res Gestae Divi Saporis (Syzry in Parthian, Sncly in Middle Persian, Sinzara in Greek). It goes back to the Late Bronze Age and possibly to the time of the Ebla archives. The pre-Greek name of Marathos is listed as "Marathus (?)." The Phoenician name of the city, Mrt, is, however, amply attested on its coins. Rhosos was certainly so called at the time of Alexander's conquest. An older form of the name, Orossos, is attested in a codex of Plutarch's Demitrius, which strengthens Forrer's tentative equation of Rhosus with Assyrian Urrus, a city of Unqi.

Certain place names are misspelled: "Khummmukh" (p. 43, n. 67) instead of Kummukh; "Atcharne" (pp. 69, 73, 104, 106) instead of Aacharne on French maps and in Courtois' survey report (standard spelling, cAsharnah); "Atcherine" (pp. 205, 220) instead of Akhterine in the survey report by Matthers et al. (standard spelling Akhtarin); "Tell Durak" (pp. 16, 117, 209, and even in the title of the excavation report by Oldenburg and Rohweder, p. 222)- instead of Tell Daruk; "Tell Tuqun" (pp. 19, 116, 209) instead of Tell Tuqan; "Rasm et-Tanjera," supposedly in the title of H. Athanassiou's thesis (pp. 114, n. 88, 212) instead of Rasm et-Tanjara, as it actually stands there. But the place of honor here belongs to Grainger's listing of Athanassiou's study as "Ph.D. thesis, University of Mississippi, Columbia." One may know little about American states, and less about their universities, but it is impermissible to mistake "Missouri" for "Mississippi."

Several names of modern scholars and the titles of their works fare no better. The venerable Israeli archaeologist, B. Mazar, became "Mazur" and was alphabetically ranged in the bibliography (p. 220) after Mazloum. Another Israeli author had his historic name, Bar-Kochva, changed to "Bar-Kockva" (pp. 95, n. 23, 212). The British archaeologist M. V. Seton-Williams, despite her double last name clearly hyphenated in the study quoted by Grainger, is called simply "Williams" (with the pronoun "he" [p. 24]) and is listed in the bibliography under "W". Another bearer of a double last name, the Comte du Mesnil du Bouisson, appears in the bibliography under "B" instead of "M" and with de instead of the second du. P. van der Meer is listed as Meer, P. V. D. Some titles are excessively abbreviated. The series to which some books belong are not indicated. This does not facilitate the use of Grainger's bibliography for further readings. French titles are treated worst of all. Accents are often missing or misplaced; thus Bouchb-Leclercq became "Bouche-Leclercq" and Dhorme, "Dhorme." That Rey-Coquais became in the bibliography "Rex Coquais" may be a simple typing error, but the way in which many French titles (too many to be listed) are quoted is of a different order. Singular instead of plural, masculine instead of feminine (and vice versa), superfluous letters ("descouvertes," "notre" instead of "note"), and spellings of French words (like "developpement") as their cognates are spelled in English ("development") are rampant. Yet all that was needed to avoid these bugs was a little attention. I wonder why Oxford University Press, a prestigious publishing house, did not assign a technical editor to see Grainger's book through the printing?
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Author:Astour, Michael S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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