Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review of Gruen (ed.), "Cultural Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean"

Erich S. Gruen (ed.), Cultural Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean. Issues & Debates. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2010. Pp. vii, 535. ISBN 9780892369690. $50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Anna Lucille Boozer, University of Reading (
The Ancient Mediterranean can make a considerable contribution to interdisciplinary studies of identity. In particular, scholars can contribute case studies that closely link appropriate theoretical vantages to data in order to explore the longitudinal development of identities within interlinked geographical locales. Gruen's Cultural Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean clearly demonstrates the value in this approach. This volume steers clear of murky theoretical debates on identity and ethnicity, which both Hall and Wallace-Hadrill explored in their volumes. Instead, Gruen's volume focuses on case studies of identity using different methodological and disciplinary lenses. Gruen's pragmatic approach allows for greater accessibility than many recent volumes on identity, although it would have been helpful to hear more about how he defines his terms. For example, there is an unstated equivalence given between identity, culture, ethnicity, and locality in many of the contributions. Definitions and debates within the introduction could have clarified how the contributors understood the term "cultural identity." Otherwise, Gruen's introduction is fluently written and he clearly explains the value of his book divisions as well as the individual papers included within the volume.

Cultural Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean includes twenty-four essays divided into eight parts, in addition to Gruen's introduction (see book contents below).5 The majority of the contributors write in accessible prose, enabling the reader to move through the volume more easily than is often the case with edited works. Like Gruen, many of the contributors eschew theoretical debates, although their case studies are theoretically informed, as evinced by the references. This approach is both practical and refreshing. The contributions cover an impressive array of cultures, encompassing Greek, Persian, Jewish, Phoenician, Egyptian, Roman, Gallic, and culturally mixed societies. The disciplinary range is equally impressive and includes archaeologists, art historians, classicists, and ancient historians. Given this expansive breadth, it is not possible to discuss each article or section systematically within this review. I have singled out two sections to discuss at greater length because the theoretical implications of these sections reach particularly far.