Cahill, Nicholas D.

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CAHILL, Nicholas D.


Male. Education: University of Michigan, B.A., 1981; University of California, Berkeley, M.A., 1984, Ph.D., 1991.


Office—Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin, Room 220, Elvehjem, 716 Langdon St., Madison, WI 53706. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Wisconsin, Madison, associate professor, 1993—.


Household and City Organization at Olynthus, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2002.


Art historian Nicholas D. Cahill's Household and City Organization at Olynthus is complemented by a Web site that provides a unique, and even deeper perspective of his book in that it contains an interactive feature and a database that adds value to the print version. The subject is Olynthus, a city in northern Greece that existed for less than one hundred years after coastal peoples moved there to protect themselves from imperial Athens. The city was attacked by Philip of Macedon in 348 B.C.E., and it was destroyed, never to be reoccupied. In 1928, David M. Robinson of Johns Hopkins University, with a crew of two hundred, removed sixty tons of earth from the site in one day. Over the next decade, more than one hundred houses were uncovered, along with public buildings, streets, and hundreds of graves. Robinson documented this excavation of the classical city in fourteen volumes.

The significance of Olynthus lies in the fact that because of its short life, no rebuilding occurred; thus, it represents an untouched view of how the houses and the city were built at the time, how space was used, and how households functioned. A fifteenth volume, an overview, was planned but never written, but in taking up the task again in the twenty-first century, Cahill has the added advantage of modern technology and the Internet.

Cahill has made the text available online, and in 2003 he also made the development version of the database available. It supplements the book by providing a way to document every house and room and every object found therein, making it a resource that can be used by other scientists and scholars. Cahill noted that "there are 15,190 entries recording more than 19,196 artifacts from the site; entries for 1,282 rooms, 108 houses, and 634 graves. It contains 11,023 records of artifacts published in the Olynthus publications (2,201 of which have been added to or corrected with unpublished information from the fieldbooks), and 4,167 records of unpublished artifacts recorded only in the fieldbooks or other excavation notes. These unpublished records are particularly important, as they are often the only records of loomweights, grindstones, and other unglamorous household equipment which is crucial to understanding how houses were organized." The database is linked to a site plan through Geographical Information System (GIS) technology, allowing the user to plot distributions of various types of artifacts and make other determinations as to what was found in the rooms and houses.

Cahill writes in his book that although houses were similarly designed as blocks, the interiors reflected infinite variations. He also shows that significant economic enterprise existed, reflected by the large-scale grinding of flour, weaving, and manufacture of clay and metal goods that are evident throughout the city. One particular street stands out as the central marketplace, because of the higher real estate prices in that area, indicating its desirability as a place of commerce, and the fact that large numbers of coins were found there. Robin Osborne noted in the Times Literary Supplement that although ninety-five percent of the site was never explored and because the material removed from the site was not recorded, "purely archaeological quantification can be no more than indicative. Nonetheless, even if Nicholas Cahill's book will not put an end to talk of the cities of antiquity being consumer cities parasitic on the countryside, it will mean that those who would press that line now have a lot more explaining to do."

Ruth Westgate noted in an article for Bryn Mawr Classical Review Online that Cahill "throws light on many of the debates that currently dominate Greek archaeology and history: the relationship between pottery and metalware, relations between men and women in the household, the role of democratic ideology in city planning, and the nature of the ancient economy." Westgate concluded by saying that "this well-written and enjoyable book is a significant advance in the study of Greek houses, moving away from over-simplified interpretations based on architectural form and towards a recognition of social and economic diversity; it should stimulate debate for years to come, and the associated database will provide an important resource for future research. But it derives much of its fascination from the insight it provides into the minutiae of individual lives: Cahill's imaginative reconstructions seem to repopulate the houses of Olynthus with real, living people."



American Journal of Archaeology, July, 2003, review of Household and City Organization at Olynthus.

Times Literary Supplement, January 17, 2003, Robin Osborne, review of Household and City Organization at Olynthus, p. 10.


Bryn Mawr Classical Review Online, (October 26, 2002), Ruth Westgate, review of Household and City Organization at Olynthus.

Nick Cahill Home Page, (June 23, 2004).

Oxen, (June, 2004), review of Household and City Organization at Olynthus.*