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A Communications Revolution? The emergence of images and writing in Early Iron Age Greece and Central Italy

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Scholz, Elisa 


In this thesis I consider the (re)emergence of writing and figurative art during the Early Iron Age in Greece and Central Italy. The two main questions I ask are: why do script(s) and figurative representations emerge in the same years over such a broad area? What can the different patterns in the use of writing and images at different sites reveal about the production and consumption of these two media and the societies adopting them? I analyse a corpus of almost 4,000 objects from 7 sites, selected for their profusion of early writing or images (or both): Athens (Agora, Kerameikos Cemetery, Dipylon Cemetery), Cerveteri, Knossos (North Cemetery, Fortetsa Cemetery), Pithekoussai, Corinth, Methoni and the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros at Eretria. The four key sites are Athens, Cerveteri, Knossos and Pithekoussai, with Corinth, Methoni and Eretria playing ancillary roles. Starting from the scattered objects before the eighth century BC, I analyse the material (half) century by (half) century, combining quantitative and qualitative approaches, to demonstrate the importance of comparing the big patterns against the small scale, the social and collective against the cognitive and individual.

After a review of the literature on the subject in Chapter II, I point out the main gaps in the discipline: 1) the separation of the study of text and the study of image; 2) the focus on Greece in isolation (and consequent search for ‘Greek’ explanations); 3) the overwhelming reliance on qualitative studies. In Chapter III, where the quantitative and qualitative patterns are analysed, I show that before the eighth century, images were already spreading considerably and that writing circulating from the Near East was already being ‘appropriated’. The sub-chapters on the eighth and first half of the seventh centuries highlight the continuation of trends emerging much earlier, and at the same time, the scarcity of written and figurative material (particularly the rarity of humans) and the consequent exceptionality of pieces that bear either. They also shed light on the early relationship between inscriptions and (figurative) art. The last two sub-chapters, on the second half of the seventh and the early sixth centuries, explore the development of images, primarily, and their growing closeness to text. Issues of contexts and absences are also explored in depth.

The main consequences of the findings are discussed in Chapter IV. These are: 1) the importance of the Italian material; 2) the necessity to look both ‘behind’ and ‘ahead’ to understand what we witness in the eighth century; 3) the connection between text and images, which occupy the same space in the human mind: the more writing develops, the more humans we find in art. The more humans we find in scenes accompanied by writing, the more ‘typical’ they become.

What emerges in this thesis is that neither formal nor geographical isolation is a helpful way of looking at text and image in this period, because of the simultaneous wide spread of both practices and because of the links that bind them. I show that studying script and picture in isolation is not only a gross negligence, but also based on a misunderstanding of how the two work cognitively and socially. Finally, I propose that the study of early writing cannot be separated from (figurative) art and, more importantly, that it is impossible to look at the history of (Greek) figurative art, without also looking at writing. I establish that the adoption of these two practices was a slow and gradual process, which began in the tenth century BC, that it was not uniform or unilinear, and that, even within the same centres, the use of writing and figurative art at different sites evolved along different trajectories. That if it was a ‘revolution’, this ‘revolution’ was long in the making.





Osborne, Robin
Broodbank, Cyprian


Archaeology, Classical Archaeology, Classics, Early Iron Age, Text and Image


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge