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Artifact and Artifice

Classical Archaeology and the Ancient Historian

Is it possible to trace the footprints of the historical Sokrates in Athens? Was there really an individual named Romulus, and if so, when did he found Rome? Is the tomb beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica home to the apostle Peter? To answer these questions, we need both dirt and words—that is, archaeology and history. Bringing the two fields into conversation, Artifact and Artifice offers an exciting excursion into the relationship between ancient history and archaeology and reveals the possibilities and limitations of using archaeological evidence in writing about the past.
Jonathan M. Hall employs a series of well-known cases to investigate how historians may ignore or minimize material evidence that contributes to our knowledge of antiquity unless it correlates with information gleaned from texts. Dismantling the myth that archaeological evidence cannot impart information on its own, he illuminates the methodological and political principles at stake in using such evidence and describes how the disciplines of history and classical archaeology may be enlisted to work together. He also provides a brief sketch of how the discipline of classical archaeology evolved and considers its present and future role in historical approaches to antiquity. Written in clear prose and packed with maps, photos, and drawings, Artifact and Artifice will be an essential book for undergraduates in the humanities.

256 pages | 26 halftones, 29 line drawings, 10 tables | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2014

Ancient Studies


History: Ancient and Classical History


“The premise of this book—to summarize the development of arguments concerning identification of particular sites in the ancient world known from both literary and archaeological sources—is very interesting. . . . Recommended.”


Artifact and Artifce makes clear that textual evidence and archaeological evidence must be situated within a broader literary and material context. No research field, regardless of its cumulative perceptions, is one dimensional; nothing is as simple as it appears. . . . [Hall’s] book demonstrates that . . . promising avenues for a fruitful dialogue between disciplines are certainly in the offing.”

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Hall deftly analyses the politics that lie behind the archaeology. This is an eloquent discussion."

Current World Archaeology

"A careful and informative introduction to the case studies."

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Offers a good overview of important discoveries and their historical context, particularly for students of ancient history and classical archaeology, and also increases awareness of the proper use of sources within and among disciplines. Spanning both fields, this study integrates crucial questions and discussions that can be pedagogically useful and stimulating for individual research.”


“Excellent. . . . This lively and provocative survey offers a good overview of several important discoveries and their historical context for students, teachers and lovers of the ancient world.”

Classics for All Reviews

“Just in time to lead the way for a new generation of scholars. . . .  Highly commendable and obligatory reading in both ancient history and archaeology classes.”

American Journal of Archaeology

“Texts may lie. The spade cannot lie—it is mute. We make it speak for us through our imagination, based on what seem comparable but better understood cases, and through our knowledge of texts (history). Thus arises the question of whether a scholar should come to classical archaeology from textual study and ancient history rather than field archaeology and art history. Jonathan Hall confronts this question in nine case studies, Greek and Roman. . . . While the physical evidence on hand may be incomplete or misinterpreted and the literary evidence a matter of convenience or pure invention, Hall’s expertise with both is phenomenal, and he carefully dissects it all. He offers a serious, if tacit, warning to both archaeologists and historians that they will do well to heed.”

Common Knowledge

“In the shoes of a master sleuth, Hall, expert in many fields, guides his readers through nine prominent cases in which scholars have combined material and textual evidence to explain the archaeological record. Judiciously exposing errors and pitfalls and searching for methods that promise tenable results, he presents a thoroughly researched, well-written, and fascinating tale of history as an active, forensic practice that will help archaeologists and historians to collaborate more productively.”

Kurt A. Raaflaub, Brown University

“Hall is one of our very best archaeo-historians, a specialist in ancient Greece who is as conversant with and as competent in handling the authentic but mute evidence of archaeology as the often-unsatisfactory written texts, and authoritative, especially in marrying the two different kinds of historical sources. In his latest book he ranges widely in period and place from archaic (preclassical) Delphi and Eretria to thirteenth-century CE Hierapolis in modern Turkey by way of classical Athens, Alexander’s Macedonia, and regal-period Rome, among others. Like many of the best books in his field, this series of acutely researched and shrewdly argued case studies is firmly based on his teaching at the University of Chicago and will be a boon for instructors and students alike.”

P. A. Cartledge, author of After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian

“Too many books have been labeled thought provoking, but the verdict would in any case be an understatement here. Artifact and Artifice targets one of the most basic tenets in classical studies that impact archaeologists and ancient historians alike in their everyday research operations. Hall surveys the driving theories of the ‘Great Divide’ to take us on an eventful journey to ancient places that are well known. Or are they? From the Pythia at Delphi to the Bones of St. Peter, from the Athenian agora to the House of Augustus, Hall discloses how our understanding is blurred by entangled preconceptions of visual and textual legacies. Accented with superb snapshots of the mind and rich illustrations, his case studies offer dazzling aperçus into key themes in antiquity. Artifact and Artifice should be in the hands of anyone interested in the field of classical studies.”

Hans Beck, McGill University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1. Classical Archaeology: The “Handmaid of History”?

The Rediscovery of the Past

The Opening Up of Greece

Philological Archaeology

The Birth of Prehistory

Theory Wars

2. Delphic Vapours

The Triumph of Science?

The Delphic Oracle

The Geology of the Site

Inspired Mantic or Fraudulent Puppet?


Documents for Chapter 2

3. The Persian Destruction of Eretria

A Tale of Two Temples

Yet Another Temple?

Unmooring “Fixed Points”

Science to the Rescue?


Documents for Chapter 3

4. Eleusis, the Oath of Plataia, and the Peace of Kallias

The Archaios Neos at Eleusis

The Oath of Plataia

The Peace of Kallias

Restoring the Sanctuaries of Attica


Documents for Chapter 4

5. Sokrates in the Athenian Agora

The House of Simon

The State Prison

Sokrates on Death Row


Documents for Chapter 5

6. The Tombs at Vergina

The Discovery of the Tombs

The Political Dimension

Aigeai and Vergina

The Occupants of Tomb II

The Tomb and Its Contents

A Third Possibility


Documents for Chapter 6

7. The City of Romulus

Untangling the Foundation Myths of Rome

Romulus and Remus

The Early Kings Materialized?

State Formation and Urbanization


Documents for Chapter 7

8. The Birth of the Roman Republic

The Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus

The Fall of a Tyrant

The Nature of the Kingship

The Origins of the Consulship

“Etruscan” Rome


Documents for Chapter 8

9. Imperial Austerity: The House of Augustus

The House Unearthed

From Dux to Princeps

Reconciling the Evidence


Documents for Chapter 9

10. The Bones of St. Peter

The Discovery of the Tomb

Beneath St. Peter’s

Peter in Rome

Peter on the Appian Way

Peter in Jerusalem


Postscript: The Tomb of St. Philip

Documents for Chapter 10

11. Conclusion: Classical Archaeology and the Ancient Historian

Navigating between Textual and Material Evidence

Words and Things

Bridging the “Great Divide”?

List of Ancient Authors



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