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Reviewed by:
  • Bilder vom Sport. Untersuchungen zur Ikonographie römischer Athleten-Darstellungen by Anke Bohne,
  • Emanuel Hübner
Bohne, Anke. Bilder vom Sport. Untersuchungen zur Ikonographie römischer Athleten-Darstellungen. Hildesheim, Ger.: Weidmann, 2011. Pp. 704. Photographs, notes, bibliography, and index. € 98.

With her dissertation on “Bilder vom Sport. Untersuchungen zur Ikonographie römischer Athleten-Darstellungen” (“Pictures of Sports. Examinations of the Ikonography of the Illustrations of Roman Athletes”) (University of Bonn, 2006), Anke Bohne made an important contribution to the research on physical education during the Roman Empire. A complete overview has been missing up to now. Therefore one of Bohne’s major credits is the compilation of such a catalogue with 147 images of physical education in mosaic, mural paintings, and stuccoed reliefs of the Roman Empire. It embraces more than half of her own works (452 of 797 pages in total) and provides the basis for her comprehensive study. [End Page 330]

After a short introduction, Bohne presents the geographical and chronological distribution of her compiled archeological material. In the following part, the scope for arrangements of illustrations of athletes with regard to form and content is explained, followed by the main body of the work, “Die Darstellung des Athleten und seines Umfeldes” (The Illustration of the Athlete and His Environment), which examines the athletes’ nudity, beardstyle and hairstyle, amulets, etc. Furthermore in this part Bohne studies the presentation of individual disciplines and potential activities of the athletes outside the basic competitions, e.g., at victory ceremonies. In addition, other persons who could appear in the presentations are taken into account (trainers, referees, heralds, flautists, and others). The subsequent section treats the context of the athletes’ presentation. Here the author attends to socialization with other topics that are presented in the images and looks for a possible relation between the illustrations and their function within the room. Bohne’s examination is concluded with a final reflection.

These analyses are followed by the above-mentioned catalogue, in which Bohne explicitly describes and dates each examined piece with regard to object of illustration and its placement within the room. This descriptive section is followed by a number of tables in which Bohne depicts all discussed pieces, provided that a figure was available. The author points clearly to the problematic nature of her study material. Next to the situation of publications, conditions of tradition and the tradition’s coincidence had a great influence on the examined material. Thus out of 147 analyzed pieces, eighty-two originate in Italy. However, this would not allow for a statement on the popularity of athletics there. By implication, the popularity of athletics in Asia Minor must have been very low. It is rather because of the finding’s domination in Rome and in the area around Mount Vesuvius that the find density in Italy can be explained. Furthermore, the distribution of 147 illustrations among ninety-seven (floor) mosaics, forty-two mural paintings and only eight stuccoed reliefs would not be surprising since the susceptibility to damage caused by the collapse of a house was greater for a wall decoration than for that of a floor.

Bohne does not intend to treat illustrations of athletes as single objects without context but instead takes the athletes’ environment as it was depicted into consideration as well. One example: Next to figures of servants and musicians, “Mantelmänner”—consciously neutrally named by Bohne—can be represented as well. These figures are holding rods and palm branches in their hands and are exclusively demonstrable in athletic illustrations. Bohne convincingly manages to demonstrate that an exact distribution based on whether a trainer or a referee is being depicted would not be possible; even less, any further differentiation (p. 185).

The only criticisms of Bohne’s work are in regard to her explanations for the limitations of subjects and material. The limitation of the spectrum of subjects takes place within just a few lines and is lacking elaborate argumentation. In only one of her footnotes does Bohne refer to difficulty with respect to the transfer of the modern term “sports” to antiquity (p. 1n2).

Bohne wanted to study the interior décor of buildings (p. 7). Next to mosaics, mural paintings...


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pp. 330-332
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