Demand’s new book is a splendid new introduction of the long history of interaction in the eastern Mediterranean, from the Mesolithic period up to the late Geometric (c. 850 BC). The main aim is to explain the rise of the Greek polis in the archaic period away from models based on agrarian development. Rather, for Demand, the Greek city-state is better understood against the background of the long history of maritime connectivity and state formation experienced in the eastern Mediterranean. In this, Demand follows what seems to be now a dominant methodological approach in ancient history, that is a focus on Mediterraneanism, in the footsteps of Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea (Oxford 2000). The author is interested in connectivity, mostly achieved through the sea, and in the human agents promoting maritime connectivity, whether traders, artisans or people caught up in the process of migration. The expected audience for this book is the non-expert, and Demand does a brilliant job in explaining things thoroughly, introducing different theoretical models and approaches in order to gently deconstruct them, and discussing an impressive range of material evidence, covering millenia of finds from all over the Mediterranean. In order to explain the rise of the polis away from an agrarian focus, Demand inevitably discusses developments in the Levant, Egypt, Anatolia, Cyprus and the west. The author is on top of her material; indeed the engagement with the vast bibliography produced is impressive.
The chapters follow largely a chronological progression, starting with the Mesolithic period and evidence of seafaring, and ending with the post-Mycenean collapse of state formation in the Aegean. While discussing the « Neolithic diaspora », Demand focuses on migration not simply as a factor contributing to change, but as a reaction to change. Demand goes through the various explanations for migration, such as search for land or resources (obsidian, or later, metals), climate change and so on, but favours on the whole social factors above explanations based on overpopulation and pressure on resources. The picture she paints is by necessity one with broad strokes, as this is an introductory book covering a large chronological and geographical span. But there is admirable attention to detail and discussion of specific examples throughout the book. Demand is also careful to dismantle a number of traditional interpretations. For example, chapter 5 discusses the processes of state formation experienced during the third millenium, which were unprecedented in human history. Such state formations, however, experienced collapse at the end of the millenium. Demand explains the collapse through the dynamic model of state contraction and expansion, and she rightly insists that there is no evidence for massive migration from the north causing disruption to sites in Greece. Her emphasis on mobility of people, not just goods (which is what is mostly visible on the archaeological record), is also welcome. We are lucky to be able to see evidence for such mobility, as for example, in the presence of Cretan weavers in Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age. Human mobility was a crucial factor in the transfer of knowledge, and we can witness such transfer in the spheres of language, medicinal knowledge, and architectural planning. Demand also deconstructs the traditional view that saw Mycenean economy and society as one characterised by total palatial control. She convincingly shows how there was a substantial independent sector of the Mycenean economy, which indicates that the control exercised by palaces was far less extensive than we thought. This, indeed, has major implications for the destruction of the Mycenean world with its palaces, and the subsequent rise of the Greek polis. The Mycenean collapse brings on new occurences of mobility in the Mediterranean. Demand rightly downplays the Euboean and Greek role in establishing links with the west and northern Aegean. She insists that « pots are not people », which is something we all need to hear loud and clear. The presence of Euboean pots in Etruria does not necessarily mean that there are Euboeans trading in Etruria; such artefacts could be transferred by Levantine, Cypriot or other traders, and are almost always found alongside Cypriot and Phoenician pottery. But in time, Greeks and Euboeans did establish settlements in the west. These settlements depended for survival to a large extent on established maritime networks of communication and increased mobility of human workforce, artisans and craftsmen, who became agents of the transfer of technological and other knowledge. It is this mobility of human agents that we should understand as the primary context for the rise of the Greek polis. Settlements in the west kick-started state formation in the early Greek world.
None of these conclusions or observations are manifestly new. The strength of this book is that it combines recent developments in the research of early Mediterranean history over a long duration. The writing style is appealing, and the attention to detail impressive. While the target audience may be that of the non-expert or undergraduate student, scholars, too, will find much in this book. Demand succeeds in making her Mediterranean truly a « fantastic cauldron ».