February 7, 2012 § 2 Comments
Right before Christmas, I was surprised and excited to receive an unsolicited copy of a novel set in Byzantium: Paul Kastenellos, Count No Man Happy. (New York 2011). I was even more surprised to discover that Paul Kastenellos was the pen name of Vincent O’Reilly who was a history major at the University of North Dakota in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Needless to say, the intersection between Byzantium and the University of North Dakota is exceedingly rare, so I contacted the author and struck up a conversation about Byzantium, popular culture, and life at UND.
I discovered that Vincent had more than just a casual interest in Byzantium. His book is richly textured (with pleasant edge) and historically vivid making it more than suitable for a fictional companion to an undergraduate Byzantine history course. For the uninitiated, Vincent has provided some companion material on his website including a lovely Illustrated History of Byzantium.
The following is a lightly edited version of our email correspondence which focuses on that often strange intersection between the academic community and passionately interested lay reader. As most Byzantinists realize, the past two decades have seen a growing popular interest in Byzantium which, so far, most Byzantinists have not successfully captured to our field’s advantage. Perhaps this interview with a participant in this popular revival can provide some new insights for us…
Bill Caraher: Thank you so much, Vincent, for taking the time to chat about your book and giving those of us on that academic side of the aisle a perspective on how you came to learn, to love, and to write about the Byzantine centuries, and why (and whether!) we are genuinely experiencing a “Byzantium boom” in the popular culture of the first decades of the 21st century.
Paul Kastenellos: I thought I might anticipate your questions with a little general background. I need not tell you how important that is to understanding. I entered UND in 1957. At that time TV was fairly new, most families not getting a set until about 1950. Educational TV was a bore – some college prof in a suit lecturing at a podium. What we learned in high school was mostly English history with a few asides to Charlemagne, Julius Caesar et c. My only recollection of anything Byzantine was the statement in some textbook, talking about the fall of the Roman empire, that “it maintained a shadowy existence in the east for another thousand years.” Now imagine my shock in Dr. [Felix] Vondracek’s class when he,, who saw history as a succession of battles. told us about Adrianople and stirrups, Belisarius and Antonina (Wow); and insisted that we memorize lists of popes and Byzantine emperors (Yawn!). Vondracek had his faults, no doubt about it; but his lectures were never dull.
*[Felix Vondracek was a popular and cantankerous history professor at the University of North Dakota.]
Fast forward fifty years. Students learn more. High school teachers are better prepared. Television is running out of things to tell people about. Perhaps most important, the comfortable parochialism of my youth is no longer acceptable. Black history was assumed not to exist in those days and we studied American history in a vacuum, ignoring anything south of the border after the conquistadors and never realizing that colonial history is intimately interlinked with European.
In my college years there were not more than four or five books on Byzantium in print at any time. We had Bury, Diehl, Pirenne, and Vasiliev; and Vondracek was anxiously awaiting a translation of Ostrogorsky. Once in a while Oxford University Press might kick out a new volume but they were pricey and would not long remain in print. But Praeger was creating expensive art books some of which were about Byzantine art.
To confirm what I just wrote I looked at my aging Viking Library “Portable Medieval Reader” (c 1949). In seven hundred pages the only Byzantine author is Anna Comnenaand that is her description of the western crusader knights. With such a dearth of information it should not be surprising that there was little interest even among the educated. We were still stuck in Gibbon’s negative view because no one was reexamining it at the high school level.
Today Americans have a broader outlook. Most educated people have traveled. TV has run out of fresh Hitler footage. Color images on videotape are much more vibrant than even color film, much less the black and white of 1950s television. Modern art may possibly have made people more willing to look at stuff other than the purely representational.
So there is nothing remarkable about the interest in Byzantium. There is also interest in Mongolia and substantially more interest in the Indian cultures of South America than when I was young. In grade school and high school my only knowledge of these peoples was which Spaniard had killed them. Our understanding of Persia was entirely through Greek eyes, and of Spain through British eyes. There was a definite prejudice against Byzantium inherited from Gibbon, just as there was against Spain which we viewed through the filter of Elizabethan English propaganda. One look at the Hearst papers leading up to the Spanish American War will show that.
We knew nothing of the Byzantines but then we knew nothing of Japan (see my essay on the Asian War on my website) and what little we knew of India was still through the eyes of Kipling. North Africa was to us Beau Geste and the French Foreign Legion, Africa was witch doctors and safaris, and Egypt was still “The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb.” Our parents had at best a high school education as did our newspaper reporters. China was seen through the eyes of “China watchers” who seem never to have left the bars of Hong Kong. Now all these states are intimately intertwined.
My point is that the interest in Byzantium can not be seen as something unique. It is not that somehow it has become interesting, but rather that my youth was a benighted pit from which internationalism and international travel and communication has raised us. We are looking for new interests.
But only so far. There is Byzantine stuff on TV but it doesn’t go much beyond pretty pictures of Hagia Sophia. The Orthodox church still remains outside the interest of most people. In fact religion generally is something modern secularists don’t want to discuss except in a negative way. I do think the Metropolitan exhibitions gave a boost to Byzantine art. I saw the first one and it definitely was broader than the expected bunch of old icons. Why not “Russia and Byzantium,” “Byzantium and the West,” The Crusades Through Byzantine Eyes,” and of course, “The Fall of Constantinople.”
I just checked Barnes and Noble and am amazed with the variety of material now available. There are many popular books on the Byzantines. I have one on their cuisine (and would readily pass on it.) There is even fiction though the two novels I’ve read were disappointing (Stock adventure stories with a cross thrown in here and there.) Alternative history is blessed with David Drake and Eric Flint’s “Belisarius series” which I enjoyed. Though it had little to do with Byzantium, I liked their take on the character of Belisarius. One might ask why these authors chose to write six books with Belisarius as the protagonist. I would answer that the motivation was not Byzantium, but alternative history which sells well. I wish it were the reverse.
BC: So, you became interested in Byzantine history through Prof. Vondracek’s classes, but surely not everyone in these classes has gone on to write novels on Byzantium. Was there any other thing that influenced your interest?
PK: Let me detail a bit of personal history… Vondracek threw a searchlight on my understanding of medieval history which up to then had been entirely western. In a way that was understandable if narrow. Our society does descend from western European. After graduation I had to earn a living. Although I pretended to be as interested in Byzantium as in my college years in truth it faded. I was going for a masters in library Science and working. When my daughter graduated from St John’s College in Annapolis she took a job with Bill Moyers and used her first paycheck to give me and my wife, Tamiko, tickets to Istanbul.
To my great surprise and delight my interest in Byzantium came flooding back as though it had never waned. Two characters in Vondrachek’s lectures had never really left me:
BC: Which two characters are those?
PK: Belisarius and Constantine VI.
BC: Why those two of all the memorable characters from Byzantium?
PK: Belisarius is obvious. How can it be that such a notable general went unmentioned in any history of great generals that I had read? Pure western ignorance and bias. That Antonina accompanied him touched the romantic in me and her infidelity to a man who loved her deeply made me curious. (These things I had learned from Vondracek who loved nothing better than to reveal the private lives of famous people.)
Vondacek also told us of poor Constantine VI and related how he was blinded by his mother and how Theodote, in his words, “followed him around like a puppy dog for the rest of his life.” He also told us that he had been infatuated with the daughter of Charlemagne whom he was betrothed to but never met. I have no idea why these things stuck in my mind when so many other things in Vondrachek’s lectures have faded out of memory, but they did. Unfortunately, while I remembered both these things about Constantine I somehow had a disconnect in my mind that they were the same person. Nonetheless they stayed in the back of my mind and came back with other things about Byzantium when I first visited Istanbul.
Now I had always wanted to write. In fact I entered the news business (United Press – Movietonews) in order to simplify and improve my writing style which I was aware had been damaged by too much reading of diverse authors in college. Why had I not gone into a field of history after college? Because my interest was in Byzantium and as the worst language student who ever lived I knew that I could never be a scholar in that subject. I had no interest in simply teaching high school.
Somewhere along the line I saw the movie Laura wherein a detective falls in love with the portrait of a (presumably) dead woman. I did not think the movie played out the idea all that well but was fascinated by the concept. So somewhere in the mid ’90s I started to write a bit of fluff that I jokingly referred to as Constantine VI meets Bettie Page. (It is amazing how many guys of all ages [and even gals] are familiar with Bettie, but one doesn’t know that until someone in the group dares to bring up the subject. I even joined the BettieScouts of America fan club.) Then I remembered that Constantine was the same guy whose mom blinded him.
One can’t write fluff about someone whose Mom blinded him. I tried writing Beth (inspired by Bettie) out of the story but had come to like the character that I was developing too much. I needed such a character to boost an otherwise depressing tale of Constantine and his mother. I thought to have him dream of someone who’d lived before him. That would not have had to be fantasy but I couldn’t find anyone that I could use without totally changing her character. So Beth stayed. Of course it means a story that will turn off people with a serious interest in serious history; but whatthehell, to quote Mehitabel the poetic cockroach.
January 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A few people privately and publicly have asked that I post the program for the Conversations on Byzantine Archaeology meeting this past weekend. I hadn’t realized that the program was not public, but it obviously should have been.
Hopefully, the comment threads in blogs like this can continue the conversation beyond the meeting. In particular, I suspect that conversations like the one held this past weekend should resolve rather quickly into action. The last conversation, for example, inspired me and Kostis Kourelis to begin work on an edited volume that focused on the intersection of Byzantine archaeology, method, and theory.
This year’s conversation focused less (it would seem) on the work of Byzantine archaeology and more on the location of Byzantine archaeology at the margins of complex institutional concerns. It perhaps should follow that some kind of action focusing on the marginal and scattered positions of Byzantine archaeology should result. In short, how do we maximize the benefits of standing outside of so many institutional structures.
The risks of our position are obvious: I know that I am often comfortable sitting back and waiting for institutions to show value and support for my work. This kind of apathy or more positively (as Nikos put it in a comment on yesterday’s post) our “deliberate stance” outside disciplinary structures, could lead our field to wither as tenuous, largely personal networks of scholarly contact succumb to institutional pressures and our dispersed positions rob us of the ability for concerted actions. On the other hand, digital media and the internet provide a space for conversation and action outside of traditional institutional structures. It might make sense for the next conversation on Byzantine archaeology to happen in a series of blog posts or via social media. A recent conversation on blogging archaeology moved almost seamlessly from a panel at the Society for American Archaeology to myriad blogs across the interwebs, to Colleen Morgan’s blog Middle Savagery (here are my concluding remarks with links to Colleen’s summaries) and is heading to publication.
I was happy to learn that some of my colleagues – many of whom I had never met – read this blog, so I am pleased enough to offer a little space for informal organization and conversation. As most people know, the internet has come increasingly to provide a place for conversations that skirt institutional authority.
So, I am willing to offer my blog as a place for people to post their reflections on the place of Byzantine archaeology in the academy (if you do not have a blog of your own!). If the statements are substantial enough, we could look for someplace to submit them for publication or at least self-publish them as a small volume.
Oh, here’s the program.
January 16, 2012 § 5 Comments
I returned yesterday from an interesting meeting on the future of Byzantine archaeology (mostly in the US) hosted by Dumbarton Oaks and the Council for American Overseas Research Centers. The meeting focused on pressing issues in the health of Byzantine archaeology in the US and the role that the AORCs (American Overseas Research Centers) could play in future development of the field. The meeting had a strong contingent of representatives of various AORCs which support research ranging from archaeology to the social sciences and humanities and rarely focus on one field in particular. Along with representatives of the AORCs and Dumbarton Oaks, there was a range of scholars who represented Byzantine archaeology across various regions, institutions, and sub-periods.
The conversation was brisk, if a bit unfocused (wide ranging?), and to my mind, squarely underscored the position of Byzantine archaeology at a variety of margins and fissures in the historical, academic, and institutional world.
1. Byzantine archaeology was certainly marginal in relation to the AORCs represented – even those like the American Academy at Rome, Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, or the American School of Classical Studies at Athens which have a tradition of supporting archaeology. A handful of students, grants, and projects relate to Byzantine archaeology at most of these AORCs, and while there was enthusiasm for supporting more Byzantine archaeological work (and even a rise in the number of projects that could be qualified as such), it was unclear where the resources would come from the support these projects. Many of even the better funded AORCs have significant financial limitations.
2. Byzantine archaeology was also marginal in the institutional structure of US graduate programs. From what I could gather, none of the US based scholars in the room taught in a graduate program in archaeology. Instead, we hailed from history, classics, art history, and religious studies programs. As result, we often found our methods, research questions, and resources limited by the support and emphases present in the disciplinary centers to which Byzantine archaeology has attached itself. This marginal location has made it more difficult for Byzantine archaeology to articulate itself as a particular subfield, forge contacts with archaeologists of other time periods and regions, and train students. This, of course, has made it difficult for us to develop institutional support for projects and to reproduce our field. Moreover, it has fragmented the conversation on Byzantine archaeology and has, I think, put us in a position of disciplinary insecurity. There were some significant statements regarding the relationship between archaeology and “history” or “philology” at the meeting. It was clear that we recognized ourself as being separate from these fields (disciplines? methods? approaches?) and some scholars present even postured in an adversarial way at times, but what was less clear was how Byzantine archaeology was different and whether its lack of distinctive disciplinary status was a good or bad thing for the future of the Byzantine archaeology project in an increasingly post-disciplinary world.
3. The marginal status of Byzantine archaeology at many of the AORCs represented paralleled the often marginal status of Byzantine monuments (and the interest in Byzantine archaeology) among the host countries where we have to do our work. Problematic reconstructions, neglect, lack of well-trained practitioners in host countries, and difficult national archaeological policies were all topics of discussion at the meeting. The marginal position of Byzantine archaeology in both (some) national narratives and the relatively obscure or exceedingly prominent (like in the case of the land walls of Constantinople) status of Byzantine monuments provided challenges for Byzantine archaeologists – marginalized in a disciplinary sense and in relation to their host countries – to convert their priorities into national policies and actions.
4. Finally, it was striking how marginal the conversation this weekend was in relation to larger discussions in the discipline of archaeology. Aside from a few comments scattered in a range of papers, the discussion did little to leverage the growing body of scholarship on issues like indigenous archaeology, public archaeology, and other practices emphasized in “world archaeology” as method to articulate the tension between archaeological epistemologies and the “real (political, economic, cultural, and religious) world” where archaeological practices takes place. The discursive isolation from the terminology of world archaeology again places Byzantine archaeology at the margins of its disciplinary home. Certainly some of this is a result of the institutional isolation in which most Byzantine archaeologists work.
Kostis Kourelis final remarks on the presentations and conversation at the conference asked important questions about the institutional engagement of Byzantine archaeology and urged us as practitioners to regard our professional position in a critical way. In particular, he evoked Bruce Triggers well known statement that all archaeology is either nationalist or imperialist. While that may hold true, I do wonder whether the marginal position of Byzantine archaeology locates the field in a place where it can escape this dichotomy in some way. For example, the lack of disciplinary entanglements frees it from a rigorous commitment to the kind of empiricism lies at the core of the institutional organization of the university. If one motivation for a post-disciplinary world is to escape from the complex legacy embedded within the institutional memory and organization of the modern university, then the distinct position of Byzantine archaeology at the margins gives it remarkable freedom to chose its methodological, epistemological, and institutional alliances carefully and critically. As E. Said has shown us in Orientalism, institutions carry forward the legacies of national and imperialist practices and have the remarkable ability to remain impervious to critique. As outsiders, like Said, Byzantine archaeologists have the ability to challenge presuppositions embedded deeply in disciplinary and institutional practices.
This privileged position for Byzantine archaeology is not without risks, of course. As a number of the speakers made clear, we have often found it necessary to “game” the system which is reluctant to fund projects from the margins that may challenge long held attitudes toward the organization of knowledge. While this is frustrating and limiting, it does, however, limit the entanglements and commitments Byzantine archaeology has to any one ideology, method, or epistemology.
Part of what I felt coming out of this meeting was a sense of community forming at the margins. I think we’re a ways from challenging institutional attitudes and epistemologies, but a community of like-minded, critical, independent, scholars is an important first step to carving out space for resistance and change that extends far beyond the confines of our fields or our discipline. We just now have to have the courage.
January 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
Later this week, I head east to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library to a meeting on the state of Byzantine archaeology. This is second such meeting; the first occurred in 2010 in the spring (and Kostis Kourelis provided a useful chronicle of it here and here.) I was invited in 2010, but unfortunate was not able to attend.
This year, however, I’ll be able to make it to Washington and the organizers of the meeting have asked me to talk about the archaeology of the Byzantine countryside. I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure about the format of the meeting or the expectations people may have with regard to my contribution. I know that I have only 10 minutes to present some kind of perspectives on the archaeology of the Byzantine countryside in a panel that looks at the archaeology of the rural and the urban. After that, I suppose, we just contribute to the conversation as required.
Here’s my brief contribution. I’ve tried to avoid being too specific in the text with the feeling that with relatively little time, painting with broad brushstrokes would be more useful than a detailed – but inevitably incomplete – historiography.
Any advice on its content and tone would be greatly appreciated.
Perspectives on the Archaeology of the Byzantine Countryside
It is difficult to emphasize how much we do not know about the Byzantine countryside. While recent work has produced an increasingly complex picture of small sections of the rural Byzantine world and textual sources have offered some perspectives on the economic and social relationships that structured rural society, there remains remarkably little data on everyday life outside the urban centers of the Byzantine world.
Archaeologists, however, have some tools at their disposal to redress this. At this point, I should confess my methodological commitment to low or lower impact kinds of archaeological work which emphasize the study of surface material, remote sensing practices, and the publication or re-study of excavated assemblages to address new scholarly concerns.
From a methodological perspective, low impact archaeology has found particular favor among those interested in documenting the countryside. It has generally allowed archaeologists to sample larger areas at less expense, time, and overhead associated with storage and processing of artifacts. In Greece and Cyprus – they two regions where I am most familiar – work of Tim Gregory, Archie Dunn, Effie Athanasopoulos, Joanita Vroom, Marcus Rautman, Nick Kardulias, and others has begun to slowly populate the countryside with rural sites from all periods including the Byzantine. This work has begun to investigate critically categories of sites that occur faintly in our textual sources including farmsteads, hamlets, and villages. The hope has been, of course, that by documenting artifacts on the ground, often at a regional scale, we can begin to fill in the blank areas on the map between known sites in Byzantine rural areas (typically churches, monasteries, and fortifications) and urban centers.
There is also hope that we can begin to describe more effectively the kinds of activities that took place in the countryside and the degree to which rural areas were integrated with urban centers or larger economic systems. In particular, survey archaeologists have begun to explore the complexities of the interstitial spaces which formed the fabric of the Byzantine world. Fortified by concepts like ”connectivity” and the autonomy of micro-regions, made famous in Horden and Purcell’s monumental work on the Mediterranean, scholar have begun to consider how the economic networks that integrate urban and rural, in fact, produce Byzantine society.
If this undertaking was as simple as declaring the countryside to be the key to new perspectives on the Byzantine society, there would be very little debate surrounding the priorities for Byzantine archaeology.
But, of course, it is not that simple.
There is only the most superficial consensus on the difficult issue of how we define the function of rural sites and calls for genuinely siteless intensive survey methods have largely failed to sidestep the complex issue of relating past activities to specific space.
Issues related to the chronology of surface assemblages have remained every bit as vexing. Even when we can identify, broadly speaking, fine wares with a fairly decent degree of consistency, coarse, cooking, and other utility wares remain difficult to recognize. Local wares, in particular, remain poorly known and coarse wares without obvious fabrics or surface treatments remain challenging to date without comparanda from local, secure stratigraphic context.
Finally, there remains a host of issues related to how we sample the countryside. On a macro scale these issues relate to definitions of the region and sampling strategies that work efficiently and accurately enough to produce substantive generalizations. On a micro scale, there persist issues related to sampling artifact-rich environments in a way that represents chronology and function while at the same time preserves the advantages in efficiency of intensive survey. The general trend in survey archaeology – and some of this is the product of more restrictive attitudes toward survey from host countries – has been toward smaller areas and more intensive methods. These debates contribute directly to our ability to compare survey data across regions (or, even, in some highly surveyed areas like Boeotia or the Corinthia within the same region) to create a synthetic perspective on a singular Byzantine countryside.
The work in intensive pedestrian survey often contributes explicitly to the growing interest in landscape as a synthetic term for considering the countryside. Landscape perspectives draw inspiration from a range of disciplines and partake of the so-called “spatial turn” in the humanities. From the perspective of the Byzantine countryside the study of landscapes presents a wide, if unfocused, stage for the critical interplay of texts and material culture.
If survey archaeology has reduced the countryside to a set of quantifiable variables, landscape approaches have sought to emphasize the range of experiences crucial to articulating meaning within rural space. For example, elusive media like memory and ritual – preserved in hagiography, architecture, art, and epigraphy – grounded Byzantine spirituality in the real countryside and produced recoverable religious landscapes. Landscape perspectives tempt scholars to expand discussions of land tenure, taxation, and production to considerations of kinship, administration, resistance, and control. Economic relationships become roads, paths, and travel through the countryside, and offer human-scaled alternatives to our cartographic perspective of regions, places, and Byzantine rural space. This kind of work has just begun to expand how we see countryside from being largely in economic terms, to being a space where religion, economy, politics, kinship, and connectivity all interact. As one scholar has recently observed, the Byzantine countryside is ripe for reconceptualization as a kind of “third space” that challenges the traditional assumptions about the urban – rural dichotomy, relationships grounded in modern conceptions of production, and cartographic perspectives of the countryside that occlude the complexities of the countryside as lived space.
From my perspective, landscape approaches and the methods associated with intensive pedestrian survey offer tools that will allow us to gently decenter the urban focus of Byzantine culture. At present, however, these techniques for interrogating and documenting the countryside have remained on the margins of Byzantine studies. Recent synthetic and survey works have spent little time considering rural life in Byzantine, in general, and periodicals that focus on the Byzantine period rarely feature articles related to this kind of fieldwork. Moreover, with a few prominent exceptions, Byzantine archaeologists have remained on the sidelines during the theoretical and methodological discussions central to these new methods. The skills central to survey and landscape approaches – facility in relational databases, Geographic Information Systems, remote sensing technologies – remain comparatively rare among Byzantine archaeologists who tend not to be as fluent in methodologies and debates grounded in world archaeology, archaeological sciences, and a more diachronic approach to Mediterranean fieldwork. The resulting absence of a sustained interest in the methods and results of archaeology in the countryside in synthetic works on Byzantine history and the relative detachment of Byzantine archaeology from larger methodological and theoretical debates has made it more difficult for Byzantine archaeologists to secure resources necessary within our discipline or from outside our discipline to design large scale projects or to gain leadership in regional scale projects. If these methods and approaches do have something to offer the archaeology of the countryside, Byzantine archaeology remains on the outside looking in.
November 15, 2011 § 1 Comment
Just a quick post today as I continue my hosting duties for Kostis Kourelis. I did, however, want to provide a quick report on his talk.
We had a great turn out for the talk yesterday with over 40 people from all across campus in attendance. We also have 15 people logged into the online feed which was pretty exciting. Special thanks go to our Center for Instructional and Learning Technologies who provided the live stream.
For anyone who missed the talk, you can watch a recording of the live feed here.
For those of you who want to read more about Kostis’ work, I encourage you to become a regular visitor to his blog Objects-Buildings-Situations.
If you’d like to check out some of his longer work in pre-publications, Kostis does post occasionally to a Scribd page here.
Finally, thank you to all the Phi Alpha Theta (History honor society) students who helped set up and break down the little reception after the talk. Thanks to the Department of History for providing the lovely reception and to the International Studies Program for helping with publicity. And, a very special thanks to all of our donors who have helped the Cyprus Research Fund
And we’re hard at work on our next event, hopefully this Spring!
November 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
As I am sure you all know, today is the 2011 Cyprus Research Fund Lecture. It will be delivered by Prof. Kostis Kourelis of Franklin and Marshall College at 4 pm (CST) on the beautiful University of North Dakota’s campus in the elegant East Asia Room of the Chester Fritz library. His talk is on Byzantium and the Avant Garde: American Excavations in Corinth, ca. 1930.
But, WAIT, you say you’re not from the Grand Forks Metropolitan Area and can’t make it to the Cyprus Research Fund in person? We have you covered, of course, with our very own live stream.
November 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
David Pettegrew and I continue to analyze the Byzantine pottery from the Eastern Corinthia Survey for a short discussion of intensive survey and Byzantine archaeology (see also: Sampling the Byzantine Landscape and Corinth’s Byzantine Countryside). This past week, I did a RBHS (Rim, Base, Handle, Sherd) analysis of the Byzantine sherds from the survey assemblage. This amounts to looking at the number of rims, handles, bases, and body sherds in the assemblage collected from the survey area. In excavation RBHS analyses often contributes to determine how many complete vessels may have existed in a particular space. In survey, however, the purpose of this kind of analysis is more frequently to detect biases in a project’s sampling strategy. If a project, for example, only collects rims or handles of certain types of vessels, it would suggest that they were not able to identify and collect body sherds effectively in survey units. The opposite can be true as well: vessels with easy to identify surface treatments are easier to identify as body sherds. Since there tend to be more body sherds than rims, bases, or handles, artifact types with easy to identify body sherds tend to be more visible in the landscape and this can, as Pettegrew has shown (pdf), create problematic perspectives on the function and chronology of human activity in the landscape.
This analysis showed that 53% of the pottery of Byzantine date was body sherds. Rims, bases, and handles, accounted for between 18% and 13%. The large number of body sherds assigned Byzantine dates led me to look more closely at these artifacts to determine whether we were more effective in identifying particular types of pottery than others. The vast majority of these body sherds were fine and medium course wares.
This complements the result that the vast majority of sherds were either fine or medium coarse wares. 40% of the finds were medium coarse “utility” wares and 45% of the artifacts were fine wares. Of the fine wares, almost all (88%) preserved some glaze, paint, or slip that would have appeared visually distinct both to field walkers and to our ceramicists. 43% of all the fine ware collected were glazed body sherds. Guy Sanders has suggested that the fragility of some slips on Byzantine wares, in fact, contributed to their invisibility in the landscape.
The 40% of the Byzantine material identified as medium coarse ware from the survey. The most common types found were rather generic body sherds in assigned a Byzantine date on the basis of their fabrics (52%) or surface treatment. Half of the medium coarse ware body sherds had grooves, combing, or other distinctive surface treatments. The other medium coarse utility wares identified by the survey stood out because of diagnostic handles from vessels like Late Medieval Smyrna Jar Amphora, smaller water jars and the body and rim sherds of later glazed utility wares. Semi-fine wares, amphoras, and kitchen/cooking wares were unusual and coarse wares absent entirely. The absence of these types of pottery likely demonstrates the limits of our knowledge of Byzantine local wares rather than evidence for strangely depleted use assemblages in the Corinthian countryside. Coarse local utility and kitchen wares and undiagnostic amphora sherds are particularly difficult to identify without stratigraphy.
What our analysis tells us is that we were successful in identifying fine and medium coarse wares on the basis of their surface treatments and to some extent the fabrics. This, of course does not tell us much about the artifacts that we did not identify in the landscape, but it indicates we were able to sample at least some artifacts on the basis of fabric alone rather than just as a result of shape, glaze, or surface treatments. Our ability to recognize diverse types of Byzantine pottery on the surface has created a landscape populated with a diverse assemblage of Byzantine pottery representing a wide range of past activities that took place in the Byzantine countryside.
November 2, 2011 § 2 Comments
I always get excited to discover a new scholar’s work, but I get really happy when I find scholarship that cuts through my various interests and offers some useful insights. Over the past few days I’ve been reading three articles by Myrto Veikou on Byzantine settlement in the region of Epirus. One is a working paper titled “Byzantine Histories, Settlement Stories: Kastra, “Isles of Refuge,” and “Unspecified Settlements” as In-between or Third Spaces”. The other two have appeared in print: ”Urban or Rural? Theoretical Remarks on the Settlement Patterns in Byzantine Epirus (7th-11th centuries)” BZ 103/1 (2010): 171-193 and “‘Rural Towns’ and ‘In-Between’ or ‘Third’ Spaces. Settlement Patterns in Byzantine Epirus (7th-11th c.) from an interdisciplinary approach.” Archaeologia Medievale 36 (2009) 43-54. These papers are all available on her Academia.edu site.
While it would be difficult to describe her work across three papers in a single post, I think I can point out some of the more useful elements of it (for me).
First, and most importantly, she takes pains to point out the our concept of “rural” and “urban” do little to inform the archaeological evidence present for Byzantine settlement. She suggests that these division whether based on the Moses Finley’s reading of Max Weber or views developed by the “Chicago School” of urban planning have produced developmental models that see cities as the inevitable products of rural settlement and an important landmark in the development of civilization. Thus, long-standing ideas like the re-emergence of cities in the early Middle Byzantine era echo modern realities or ideas that the re-birth of cities ushered Byzantine civilization back onto the track to civilization. She demonstrates that the various forms of Byzantine settlement (whether the problematic polis, the enigmatic kastron, or the diverse places designated as episcopal sees, villages, towns, or diverse settlements) barely coincide with modern ideas of settlement.
In fact, she makes the persuasive case that many Byzantine settlement “types” (particularly the problematic kastron) occupy hybrid “third spaces” within the landscape. They are not transitional, or a point within a linear development toward a more recognizable space, but rather places that sit outside of our standard typologies of habitation and offer profoundly destabilizing features both in our understanding of the Byzantine landscape and perhaps the Byzantine landscape itself. The hybrid, third-space of Byzantine settlement represents perplexing combinations (mash-ups?) of places in the continuum between rural and urban. For example, she argues that the seat of the Byzantine Bishop of Acheloos might correspond to a region stretched along the river rather than particular “urbanized” or nucleated space. This actual cathedral of the bishop would have shifted through time and depending on various contingencies until it eventually became tied to a settlement with a sufficient economic and political investment to maintain the see.
She also points out that so-called “islands of refuge” might also benefit from more open-ended interpretative models. Here her work parallels ideas offered by Tim Gregory when she noted that the function of an island of refuge might not be stable through time. In fact, at some times, these island settlements might have functioned as economic overflow whereas later – perhaps during the Byzantine period – the topography and location of the islands dictated their suitability for certain kinds of settlement practices that had little to do with immediate threats. She proposed that they represent a maritime response to the kind of topographic choices typical of inland settlements (hill tops, easily defended peninsulas, et c.). These choices emerged as part of new ideas of settlement space in the Byzantine era and were not tied exclusively to immediate dangers of invasions or general insecurity, but had aesthetic, demographic, economic, and even political motivations For the islands, this combination of explanations could explain the significant economic investment in these places – probably tied to their easy access to maritime routes through the area – as well as the signs of sustained habitation and monumental religious architecture despite the harsh environments and absence of natural resources on these slivers of land.
Elsewhere in her work she notes that part of the difficulty in understanding Byzantine settlement is that in some cases the fabric of Byzantine settlement is not well preserved in the archaeological record. Putting aside persistent difficulties identifying locally produced Byzantine pottery in both excavated and surface conditions, Veikou ponders various other scenarios. In fact, she suggests that some Byzantine settlements might have been largely wooden (and we all know that tile roofs on wooden houses are the first things to be salvaged and could leave almost no trace). She hypothesized this to explain the presence of Early Christian churches with extensive burials made in the Byzantine period, but without any clear evidence of Byzantine settlement. She suggests that some kinds of Byzantine settlement could be quite ephemeral and leave little for a survey archaeologist to identify on the surface. These buildings then were far from being isolated, but rather stand as the permanent evidence for fleeting local settlements in a shifting and fluid Byzantine landscape. (I suspect, of course, that Early Christian churches remained as places in the landscape whether surrounded by local settlement or not. In fact, hagiography has shown that these buildings attracted local pilgrimages, hermits, and hunting parties looking for shelter in the “wilderness”. Their suitability as places for burial may have, in this content, be tied to their permanence in the landscape and Byzantine desire the embed memory of the deceased in a sacred (and relatively unchanging) landscape.)
My disagreements with particular interpretations aside, these three articles (and the apparently forthcoming book) offer some substantial food for thought. While none of her arguments diverge completely from prevailing trends in understanding Byzantine landscapes (and the influence of Archie Dunn’s work is particular visible in some of her arguments and that is a good thing!), she does provide some vital tools for theorizing the Byzantine landscape outside of modern conceptions of settlement patterns and their “development” through time. And this is a timely and exceedingly useful thing.
October 31, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This weekend I began the almost overwhelming task of negotiating L. Brubaker and J. Haldon’s Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era c. 680-850: A History (Cambridge 2011). The runs to just shy of 800 pages of text and with an addition 100 pages of bibliography. It continues in the trend of Byzantinists writing big books; M. McCormick’s Origins of the European Economy (Cambridge 2002) and C. Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages (Oxford 2005) come to mind as similar tomes.
Considering the massive size of Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era, I could imagine no way of reviewing it or even reading it in over a coherent block of time. (It really deserve the kind of treatment typically reserved for books like James’ Ulysses or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, where readers read the book as an event.). So, I decided to dip into the book not exactly at random, but to fish out the topics of interest to me, and I’ll offer my thoughts here, from time to time as I work my way through the book hopefully before my interlibrary loan period runs out.
I’ve been thinking a bit about settlement in the Byzantine period, the relationship between Byzantine and earlier Late Roman urban space, and, to a lesser extent the Late Roman and Byzantine economy. So chapters 6 and 7 which focused on the economy and settlement attracted my attention immediately. As one would expect, these chapters laid out the basic issues facing the Byzantine economy in the 7th to 9th centuries, with a focus on the role of the state and the distribution of coins and ceramic material as evidence for economic activity. The first part of the chapter focused on coinage and, inevitably with this kind of evidence, the role of the state as the engine for economic activity both in the capital (and its immediate hinterland) and in the provinces. Coinage entered the market as pay for soldiers and returned to the state as taxes. The further a community was from areas of military activity, the fewer coins appeared.
For ceramics, the authors pulled together the diverse and fragmented body of evidence for ceramic production and distribution to argue that from the 7th to the 9th century, the distribution of ceramics became increasingly region in character and long distance trade declined. Even as the authors accept the gradual lengthening of Late Antique patterns of production and exchange into the 8th century, the evidence for the long-life of certain types of pottery, like Cypriot Red Slip, does little to challenge the overall impression that the transregional character of exchange in the Later Roman Empire was giving way to far more circumscribed economic zones largely dependent on local needs of the state, the military, or an local ecclesiastical or market center. Thus, both trade and the circulation of coinage took on a regional character during these centuries and contributed to the regional character of the Middle Byzantine provincial elite.
The authors treatment of settlement patterns followed from their understanding of the regionalized economy. As demographic decline, urban contraction, and the decline of interregional trade occurred over the course of the 7th and 8th centuries, settlement patterns within within the Byzantine world took on increasingly regional character. Asia Minor, for example, represented a different development trajectory than the Balkans owing to different levels of state activity, security, economic opportunities, natural resources, and demographic decline. So while general pattern, did emerge – particular for settlements like the fortified kastron that features so prominently in discussion of rural settlement – these were either motivated by state, provincial, or military elite, or certain ubiquitous economic opportunities – like harbors.
One heartening aspect of the chapter dedicated the patterns of settlement, is that the authors begin to take into the account the results of intensive pedestrian survey. The limited scope of projects employing this method made it difficult for the authors to apply its findings on a scale fitting their own sweeping survey, but they clearly recognized that it had to potential to expand how scholars understand the character of Byzantine settlement and the various influences that shaped it on the local level.
In general, these two chapters – read outside of the context of the book in general – provide a nice survey of the economy and settlement of the transition from Late Antiquity to the Middle Byzantine period. My main criticism of these chapters is the absence of any people in the text. The economy is a completely impersonal and state run affair devoid of individual laborers, their crafts, and the various persistent evidence to their work (other than pottery, of course). Fortifications, cities, monasteries, and port cities appear in these chapters without much discussion of the labor involved in constructing and maintaining them. Perhaps the sum total of this labor made just a minor dent in the Byzantine economy, or perhaps the evidence for building and the like cannot sustain the weight of sustained analysis. At the same time, the presence of individuals as participants in economic activity would ground the analysis of the economy and settlement in the bodies of actual Byzantine subjects. Trace evidence for practice could mediate between the systems proposed by the authors and the lived experiences of Byzantine individuals.
October 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This is a pretty interesting conference being held this weekend at the University of Cyprus. Apparently, it will be the first in a trilogy of conferences designed “to shed more light on the ‘invisible’ eras or period of major transformations in economy, society, and culture after the end of Late Antiquity by (re)evaluating old and new archaeological data, namely dated to (a) the Byzantine Early Middle Ages, middle 7th-8th centuries, (b) the Middle to Late Byzantine or Early Frankish era, Late 12th – early 13th centuries, and (c) the Late Byzantine/Frankish to Early Ottoman period, middle 14th – late 15th centuries.”
The schedule of speakers looks pretty impressive (although a bit light on people doing active field research in Cyprus) with most of the usual suspects represented.
The poster is snazzy.
It’s always useful to notice the way in which these kinds of conferences organize sessions because they both capture the areas of specialty among the participants and the questions central to research in the field. Sessions on urban and rural space suggest, at least, that tradition ways of viewing ancient settlement with the conceptual divide between town and country continues to persist (although it is possible that the papers could critique the title of the session). The next session on “trade networks and the economy” suggests more fluid and integrated view of economic relationships that might offer a counterpoint to the seeming rigid city/countryside divide. The final session bring the term “material culture” to the conference and opens up the potential to consider how objects both embody and communicate cultural expectations. It remains to be seen how fully the participant embrace the complex concept of material culture or just use it as a synonym for architecture and small-finds.
The program is as follows:
Byzantium in Transition
Introductory Session: Setting the Scene
Islam and its relations with ByzantiumAlexander Beihammer (University of Cyprus)
Latin Christendom and its relations with Byzantium, c. 700-900 AD
Richard Hodges (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, USA)
keynote speaker (hospitality sponsored by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation)
Approaches to Early Medieval Byzantium
John Haldon (Princeton University, USA)
Session I: Urban and Rural Space
Urban and rural space: surface survey and its problematics
John Bintliff (University of Leiden, The Netherlands)
City and countryside in Greece
Guy Sanders (American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece)
Island and coastal landscapes in Greece and Cyprus
Timothy Gregory (Ohio State University, USA)
City and countryside in Asia Minor: Amorium as model or misfit?
Christopher Lightfoot (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA)
City and countryside in the western fringes
Paul Arthur (University of Salento, Italy)
Session II: Trade Networks and Economy
A ceramic koine as evidence for continuity and economy
Athanasios Vionis (University of Cyprus)
Amphorae and trade networks
Stella Demesticha (University of Cyprus)
Pottery in seventh-century Cyprus: ceramic economies in a Sea of change
Marcus Rautman (University of Missouri, USA)
Towards a new definition of Mission Creep: trade with the western peripheries
Pamela Armstrong (University of Oxford, Wolfson College, UK)
Coins, exchanges and the transformation of the Byzantine economy (7th-10th c.)
Cecile Morrisson (CNRS, France)
Session III: Artistic Testimonies and Material Culture
The culture of Iconoclasm
Leslie Brubaker (University of Birmingham, UK)
Church planning and sculpture in Late Antique Cyprus: their connections with the regional environment
Jean-Pierre Sodini (Universite de Paris- I, Sorbonne, France)
Early Christian basilicas: changes or continuities in post-Justinianic Cyprus?
Doria Nicolaou (Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, Italy)
The art of metalwork in Byzantium
Marlia Mango (University of Oxford, St John’s College, UK)
Early Medieval archaeological evidence from central Greece
Olga Karagiorgou (Academy of Athens, Greece)
Cross-posted to Corinthian Matters.