Polykmetos kai polytimos: metallurgical knowledge in the archaic Ionia – Marek Verčík, Peter Pavúk, and Miloš Roháček

In the archaic period, the land of Ionia became the main cultural and intellectual centre of the Aegean world. In its flourishing scientific and philosophical thought-world, a more practical techne occupied one of the central positions:  metallurgy. It was the knowledge of complex and – for a broader audience sometimes “mystical” – pyrotechnical processes, which are best represented by the person of Glaucus of Chios, the inventor of iron welding, and the artificer of a splendid silver bowl for the Lydian king Alyttes (Hdt. I, 25). Moreover, according to literary sources, the Ionians were well conscious of the highly developed metallurgy of neighbouring regions in western Anatolia, the Lydians and the Phrygians – the question, whether this is a reminiscence of superior metallurgical skills of the Hittites will stay unsolved in this paper. The mythological tradition refers, in this regard, to three Dactyls from central Anatolia, called Akmnon, Damnameneus and Celmis, who first started to smelt iron (Diod. XVII, 7.5.; Eur. Orest. 1453; Strab. X, 3.2). Likewise, ancient authors such as Strabo pointed to Chalybes, the renowned smelters and steel-producers of northern Anatolia (Hekat. FGrH 1 F 203; Aischyl. Prom. 714–715; Hdt. I, 28; Strab. XII, 3.19). Therefore, it is not surprising that bronzes of Phrygian origin dating to the early 7th ct. BC were excavated on large-scale in Ionian sanctuaries of Samos, Chios or Miletus. A similar pattern can be observed in the distribution of Lydian and Lydian-Greek silver-works in the Artemision of Ephesos or in Smyrna some 50 years later. However, such analyses are rather an exception, and the supposed impact of the increased connectivity on the metallurgical production on the western Anatolian littoral could be addressed only selectively. In fact, the overall material imprints of the metallurgical knowledge in Ionia and its sociocultural genesis were rarely studied until know – although a distinct level of technological mastership and the associated experimentation as well as pioneering could and have formed one of the fundaments against which new scientific and philosophical traditions were always constructed.

It is therefore the main objective of this paper to define the metallurgical technology in archaic Ionia in the light of recently unearthed material evidence, and by using an integrated method of archaeological and archaemetallurgical analysis. Based on a holistic cross-technological approach, looking at the relationship between different productions of bronze, iron and precious metals, the study aims to examine the evolvement of metallurgical technology within the specific environmental, economic, socio-political, intellectual and ideological context of Ionia, and to ask whether and to what extent international connections of Ionia affected its evolvement and broadening; for example, the mastery of the whole metallurgical chaîne opératoire, including the sourcing of raw material, their preparation and processing, as well as certain technological and social conditions, are necessary for a permanent adoption of any innovation.

Archaeological and, to certain degree, historical sources available in Ionian offer, despite all their specific shortcomings, good conditions to examine the interplay of technology and society against the background of the sociohistorical dynamic of Ionia in the short time frame of the archaic period. However, due to the temporal depth of technological processes and their development, it is appropriate, to study the material evidence by using a longue durée approach: Thus, the archaeological finds of the period prior to the bronze/iron transition (13th–12th ct. BC) will be examined first to understand the technological and intellectual preconditions within the region – this part of the paper is based on the results of a current project analysing the cultural interaction along the Aegean-Anatolian Interface during the Bronze Age. The period of the bronze/iron transmission and the interrelated changes of the symbolic and the ideological comprehension of the metallurgy in the society – from the polytimos to polykmetos – will be spotlighted by the following study of the findings dated to the 11th – 9th/8th ct. BC. Finally, focusing on the evidence from the archaic period, two main questions arise: can a close examination of the archaeological, archaeometallurgical and textual data from the region display a metallurgical knowledge specific for the Ionian “ideascape” and different to other Aegean and Anatolian regions, and what do this specific know-how packet means for the unfolding of the “Ionian Enlightenment” between the 8th and 6th ct. BC?