2019 Joukowsky Lecture: September 14, 2019, 2:00 PM: Lisa Nevett, PhD, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

New Fieldwork from Classical Olynthos (Greece): towards an archaeology of identity

Among ancient historians the city of Olynthos is best-known as a regional power from northern Greece which alternately fell under the sway of Athens and of the kingdom of Macedon, before finally being sacked and razed to the ground by the Macedonian king, Philip II, in 348 BCE. To archaeologists, Olynthos represents the single most extensive and detailed source of information about Greek houses, as a result of the excavations there by David Robinson (1928-1938). Since 2014 the site has been the subject of renewed investigation by the Olynthos Project, which has been undertaking field survey, geophysical survey and excavation in and around the city. In this lecture I explore the potential of the evidence from Olynthos for understanding the creation and expression of identity by the city’s inhabitants. I address various ways in which they actively manipulated their material culture at the level of the household, the neighborhood and the city as a whole in order to navigate their complex political and cultural positions.


My research looks at the Greek and Roman worlds, using the material record as a source for understanding social issues. This work has focused on domestic space, challenging traditional (text-based) ideas about relationships within households, particularly between men and women. At the same time I have used the organization of the house as a barometer through which to explore wider problems such as the origins of the Greek drinking party (the symposium); the formation of the citizen state in Greece during the earlier first millennium, and the nature of the interactions between Greeks and Italians as the Roman world expanded eastwards towards the end of the first millennium BCE. My current research follows two strands: first, I am co-directing a new field project at Olynthos, in Greece, in order to grapple with the methodological problems involved in trying to obtain a clearer and more detailed picture of domestic activities based on the archaeological record (particularly from finds) – a goal which demands new field techniques, conceptual models and analytical strategies from those currently used in Classical Archaeology. The outcome will be a new, uniquely detailed, picture of domestic activity in the Classical Greek world. Second, I am expanding my use of the built environment beyond domestic space to the civic and religious areas of Greek cities, in order to explore the roles played by ‘muted groups’ (women and individuals of low social status) in those settings.

Bibliography on lecture topic

Cahill, N.D. 2002. Household and City Organization at Olynthos. New Haven, Yale University Press.

Nevett, L.C. 1999. House and Society in the Ancient Greek World. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Chapter 4.

Nevett, L. C. 2015. Artefact Assemblages in Classical Greek Contexts: towards a new approach. In Household Studies in Complex Societies: (micro)archaeological and textual approaches, M. Müller (ed.). Chicago, Oriental Institute Seminars 10: 101-116.

Nevett, L.C. et al. 2017. ‘Towards a Multi-Scalar, Multi-Disciplinary Approach to the Classical Greek City: the Olynthos Project.’ Annual of the British School at Athens 112, 155-206.

‘Structural History and Classical Archaeology, 25 Years On’. In L.C. Nevett and James Whitley eds. An Age of Experiment: Classical Archaeology Transformed. Cambridge, McDonald Institute of Archaeology, 2018, 139-147.