De Gruyter (2022) h/b 400pp £109.00 (ISBN 9783110680928)

For Athens and Attica, the decades between the Peace of Callias (c. 449 BC), which ended the Persian Wars, and the short-lived regime of the Thirty Tyrants (led by Critias in 404-3 BC) saw significant developments. Under Pericles, democracy and aggressive imperialism flourished hand-in-hand; war with Sparta coinciding with the coming of a plague led to many deaths and a reassessment of mankind’s relationship with gods; military setbacks and ultimate defeat put impossible strains on the constitution.

Meanwhile, art flourished as never before. As N. and P. put it in their introduction: ‘The birth of Classical art was the outcome of a collaborative effort of artists from different parts of Greece, invited to help rebuild the sanctuaries on the Acropolis which were ravaged by the Persian invasion… Beauty, youth and timelessness made up the new formal language adapted to the needs of an empire, brimming with optimism.’

Their volume, too, is a collaborative effort and its outcome is similarly impressive. Comprising papers presented at an international conference hosted in Athens by the American School of Classical Studies in 2019, its 18 chapters take the reader from the Acropolis (with special focus on the Parthenon) via the Athenian Agora to cult sites on the borders of Attica and beyond, offering sometimes bold and always compelling readings and reinterpretations of sacred spaces, buildings and artworks, informed by the latest archaeology.

From such a wealth of jewels it seems churlish to focus on specific examples at the expense of others, but the present reviewer found especially enticing: P. Valavanis, N. Dimakis, E. Dimitriadou and M. Katsianis drawing evidence from topography to calculate how the numbers of spectators at the Panathenaic sacrifice increased during the fifth and fourth centuries; A. Stewart analysing the remains of the ‘migrating’ Temple of Ares now in the Agora, which was originally the Temple of Athena (perhaps shared with Apollo) at Pallene, set up during the plague years; D. Williams not only finding eye-witness testimony of architectural features from real buildings in vase paintings but suggesting that the celebrated calyx crater by the Niobid painter in the Louvre imagines Athens’ heroes gathering at the Sanctuary of Heracles prior to the Battle of Marathon; A. Steiner discussing the special dinner services (adhering to state measures) used by the prytaneis on duty in the Tholos building in the Agora; H. A. Shapiro finding ‘a glimpse of some oligarchic factions on vases that they may have commissioned’; P. herself suggesting that the Parthenon’s enigmatic metopes 13–21 show the artist aiming not ‘at presenting a linear sequence of time but a conglomeration of episodes illustrating both the violence and the festive moments of the wedding of Peirithous’; and V. Manidaki measuring the Parthenon’s blocks, calculating the amount of light entering the cella and addressing an otherwise unexplained purchase of ivory to further the idea that a now lost Π-shaped chryselephantine frieze once adorned the temple’s interior.

Chapters (which, unusually for such a collection, are all well written) are richly stocked with their own footnotes, bibliographies and sumptuous colour illustrations—and, although short passages in Italian and Greek are not translated into English and there are occasional typos, the only major gripe is the lack of an index.

While this is probably not a book for the general reader, its importance will be appreciated by scholars and students of Athenian art and history alike. As well as containing new material and up-to-the-minute reports of significant archaeological findings (one dig discussed here began only in 2018), this is an invaluable addition to the study of the development and relevance of Athenian art. Contributors and editors alike are to be heartily congratulated and sincerely thanked.

David Stuttard