Princesses of the Mediterranean in the Dawn of History (Book Review)

Princesses of the Mediterannean in the Dawn of History is the companion exhibition catalogue of a major retrospective on show at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece. Edited by Drs. Nicholas Chr. Stampolidis and Mimika Giannopoulou, and translated by Ms. Maria Xanthopoulou, the catalogue presents the personal belongings 24 “princesses” or elite women, who lived in Greece, Cyprus, and Italy from c. 1000-500 BCE.

Whether royal princesses or members of the merchant elite, doctors or priestesses, intriguing, personal artifacts reveal the extent to which these women shaped ancient Mediterranean cultures, contributing to artistic, economic, and religious development. With over 500 artifacts presented in just 447 pages, the reader is dazzled by the splendor and rarity of items showcased within the exhibition: large bronze vases; intact glass and faience objects, terracotta items; in addition to bronze and ivory figurines.

Art historians interested in jewelry and craftsmanship during the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1200-750 BCE) will be particularly delighted with this catalogue as some of the finest archaeological items ever discovered are also highlighted: beautiful bracelets and armbands; belts; bronze breastplates; jewelry in gold, silver and bronze; golden masks; beads of faience; and exquisite foreign pendants and charms. When viewed collectively, it is difficult not to acknowledge the power of high art” with a feminine accent. Moreover, one is consistently struck by the fact that these material goods belonged to real women “of flesh and bone.”

The 24 women are meticulously presented with pertinent observations from leading archaeologists. In addition to its comprehensive and humanizing presentation of objects, the catalogue also contains expansive introductory texts and a full bibliography.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia highly recommends this stunning publication to art historians, archaeologists, and academics interested in women’s history. Comparative historians will also appreciate this work as its format and structure lends itself well to comparative analysis. This volume is published in English, Italian, and Greek editions, via the Museum of Cycladic Art. It is currently available for purchase.

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James Blake Wiener is the Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia. Trained as a historian and researcher, and previously a professor, James is chiefly interested in cross-cultural exchange, world history, and international relations. Aside from his work at AHE, James is an avid Arabist, devotee of romance languages (French, Portuguese, and Spanish), reggaetoñero, and fan of ice hockey.