W. Friese et al. (eds.), Ascending and Descending the Acropolis: Movement in Athenian Religion; and T. Møbjerg et al. (eds.), The Hammerum Burial Site: Customs and Clothing in the Roman Iron Age (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2019)

Over the past thirty-five years, Aarhus University Press has been publishing and distributing high-quality books in collaboration with some of Denmark’s most prestigious cultural institutes and foundations. The quality at issue extends beyond the scholarly content of the books, thus encompassing the very craftsmanship of the physical volumes, the paper, the inks, the resolution of the images, the generous format and spacing of the printed texts, etc. Past issues of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contain several examples of the publisher’s achievements. Such formal aspects may seem redundant or secondary when reviewing a scientific publication, but they are very important when, as it is the case vis-à-vis the two volumes presented hereby, depicting archaeological and artistic evidence is of the essence.

Specifically, the 23rd volume of the Danish Institute at Athens’ monograph, entitled Ascending and Descending the Acropolis, comprises 10 essays, one introduction and one epilogue containing computer-generated figures as well as a host of pictures of wooden and stone plaques, temple friezes, wholes or fragments of ancient pottery, topographic plans and maps, physical sites, statues and statuettes, drawings, votive and other reliefs, and cult heads, all of which are as important as the words printed on the 277 pages of the book. Without them, or without well-rendered versions of them, the information conveyed by the volume would be conspicuously poorer and its potential for instruction significantly lower. While there may be essays that can do without visual supplements (e.g. the scholarly studies of Pausanias’ 2nd-century-AD pilgrimage to the Acropolis, 102-18, and the account of the 5th-century-BC “three sacred laws” on Athens’ Eleusinian mysteries, 160), the reader would find it much more difficult to interpret and appreciate the studies of organised and spontaneous mobility in the ancient religious practices of Attica, even when the source may be none less that Euripides’ Bacchae (147-51).

The same must be said of the book The Hammerum Burial Site, which comprises 19 contributions of various length and character about one of the most significant archaeological retrievals in fin-de-siècle Denmark, i.e. the 1993 “Hammerum Girl” (9). Published in conjunction with the Jutland Archaeological Society, this book contains images of many different sorts: maps, plans, photographs, drawings, reconstructions, tables, textile patterns and close-ups, microscope shots, 3-D visualisations, scans and schematics. The resulting overall scope of the book’s contents is impressive, for it manages to embrace all the difference facets of a thorough archaeological investigation in contemporary Denmark: the scientific, bureaucratic and physical history of the actual excavation; the stitch-by-stitch reconstruction of the clothing and hairstyles of the buried bodies in connection with evidence from contemporary artwork; the scans, Carbon-dating and chemical analyses of wooden specimens, soil samples, textile fibres and dyes, scalp and body hairs, DNA traces, twigs and pollen; the step-by-step replication of the deceased’s dress via yarns, looms, spinning and waving techniques analogous to the Nordic-Roman ones of the 2nd century AD; the presentation to the public of the “Hammerum Girl”, including competitions on the best reproduction of her clothes and coiffure, Hammerum-Girl-inspired artistic events, ad-hoc digital applications and supervised walks to visit the original site.

The volume on the Hammerum burial site concentrates on one highly specific excavation and develops therefrom a rich account of the many careful aspects of the sophisticated archaeological practices whereby a person who died and was interred 18 centuries ago can be grasped, re-imagined and approached today. The volume on mobile religious processions and rituals in ancient Athens has a much broader ground to explore and chart. Resulting from a 2014 workshop held at the Danish Institute in Athens under the title “Ascending and Descending the Acropolis: Sacred Travel in Attica and Its Borderlands”, this latter volume can appeal to specialists outside the sole area of Greek archaeology, e.g. scholars in classics, ancient religions, as well as historians and even philosophers interested in the classical age.

Since I am a philosopher by training, I should underline how the latter volume’s pivoting around the “mobile turn” (13) of the early 2000s in the humanities and social sciences has quintessentially philosophical roots, which reflect the 20th-century abandonment of static metaphysical conceptions and preconceptions in both analytical (cf. Neurath) and Continental traditions (cf. Heidegger), and the emergence of dynamic paradigms of thought (cf. Wittgenstein, Deleuze) that have later found reverberations in sociology (e.g. Bauman, Beck, Giddens) as well as other social and human sciences, including archaeology itself (cf. Kristensen’s introduction, 11-9, and Graf’s epilogue, 255-65). More specific philosophical concerns and references surface also in two contributions to the latter volume, i.e. the Ilissian and Kallirhoan shrines described in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus (Maria Salta’s “Under the Care of Daemons”; 63-101) and the truly “classical paideia” of the educated elites in Pausanias’ times (Maria Pretzler’s “Pausanias and the Intellectual Travellers of the Roman Imperial Period”, 103-18).  

About Giorgio Baruchello

Born in Genoa, Italy, Giorgio Baruchello is an Icelandic citizen and works qua Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Akureyri, Iceland. He read philosophy in Genoa and Reykjavík, Iceland, and holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Guelph, Canada. His publications encompass several different areas, especially social philosophy, theory of value, and intellectual history. Public e-mail: giorgio@unak.is