September 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve spent the last week or so perusing M. Veikou’s very new book on Byzantine Epirus (Leiden 2012). It’s a monumental tome with over 300 pages of analysis and 300 more of figures, catalogues, and a site inventory. I’ve commented on Veikou’s work on this blog before so I was pretty excited to get my hands on her book length treatment of Byzantine Epirus to see how she developed more fully some of the themes touched upon in her article length work.
While I haven’t managed to get all the way through the book yet, she has already offered a few really interesting observations that are not so much novel as well documented and conceptualized. As per usual my short observations this morning are based on what I have found useful or intriguing about the book rather than some kind of universal review of the book’s merits.
1. Basilica Cemeteries and Byzantine Settlement. Veikou makes the rather obvious argument that the conversion of Early Christian or Early Byzantine churches into cemeteries in the 7th to 10th centuries – a common phenomenon across the southern Balkans – suggests continuity in settlement between the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine era (pp. 68-72). As far as I know, she is the first to make this leap and while I have some doubts about its application in specific cases (for example, I could imagine the urge to bury ad sanctos could trump the need to bury bodies in the immediate proximity of a settlement), I think she is probably right. She then takes this a step further to note that the use of earlier churches as places of burial might mark the growing willingness to bury the dead near or within settlements during Byzantine period as opposed to outside of settlements as was more common in the Early Christian period. She does, of course, note that the state of the buildings into which later visitors made burials is often unclear with evidence for churches both with standing walls and completely collapsed.
2. Byzantine Churches on Early Christian Foundations. Veikou also compiles a useful list of later churches built on the foundations of Early Christian (or just earlier Christian) buildings (p. 57). While this is hardly a major emphasis in her work, it is an exceedingly useful list for scholars looking to understand continuity of the religious landscape in Greece.
3. Typologies. Throughout Veikou’s section on architecture she proposes numerous typologies or adapts typologies for other authors to describe various architectural features present in both religious and non-religious architecture in Epirus. Such thorough typology building has long been standard practice in Greek (and more broadly Continental) approaches to documenting features in the landscape, but for many archaeologists the most persistent fear is that we impose typologies on material that, in turn, begin to dictate in unanticipated ways, our interpretations. The most obvious example of the typology-tail wagging the dog is when we have used typologies as the basis for either absolute chronology or the develop of features through time. In these cases, the logic of the typology (in, say, Byzantine architecture) has run the risk of trumping the evidence from stratigraphic excavation or other forms of dating. That being said, typologies of the type that Viekou developed in her book offers the basis for a common vocabulary to describe various features in the Epiriote landscape, and she makes a particular effort to link the typologies she creates with those existing in other literature (e.g. her grave typology on p. 76-80).
As I said, I’ve only just started harvesting this book for valuable data and I’ve only scratched the surface of Viekou’s larger arguments regarding the transformation of the Byzantine landscape of Epirus. As a region of the Byzantine world that is both peripheral to the traditional centers of Byzantine control and authority and located in an important liminal zone between the East and West during the Middle Ages, the development of Epirus over these centuries has significant impact on how we understand the limits and character of the so-called Byzantine commonwealth. In other words, more on this book soon.
August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I just returned for a 6 day field season in Western North Dakota. I had to pleasure of working with a great team of archaeologists and historians to document the material conditions and human stories from over a dozen “man camps” in the Bakken Oil Patch.
The Team: John Holmgren (Franklin and Marshall College), Kostis Kourelis (Franklin and Marshall College), Bret Weber (University of North Dakota), me, Richard Rothaus (Trefoil Cultural and Environmental), and Aaron Barth (North Dakota State University).
The team worked together like a series of experienced professionals and collected a remarkably robust body of data from the man camps including intensive descriptions of each camp and a sample of each units, photographs of individual units and of the entire camp from a kite, sketch plans, gps points, and (perhaps most importantly) over 3 dozen interviews of camp residents. We feel fairly confident in asserting that this is the most detailed study of the man camps in the North Dakota Bakken range to date and we will release a report, a press release, and some images from our work over the next week or so with an eye toward presenting a more comprehensive study in the next 6 to 8 months.
This is the cross marking the spot of the now vanished Betaini Norwegian Lutheran Church in the Betaini Cemetery. The oil pump in the background has brought a new prosperity to the region, a new population, and new challenges, while the metal cross marking a vanished church in an isolated cemetery reminds us that this is not the first boom in the fragile country of western North Dakota.
Scenes like this never fail to remind me of Herodotus 1.5:
“For the cities which were formerly great have most of them become insignificant; and such as are at present powerful, were weak in the olden time. I shall therefore discourse equally of both, convinced that human happiness never continues long in one stay.”
May 16, 2012 § 2 Comments
The church at Walnut Street is gone.
There is some press coverage in the Grand Forks Herald. As Emily Wright pointed out, sometimes you need to tear down old buildings to make a neighborhood what it used to be (?!).
If you’d like a copy of the new book about the church, The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelical by Chris Price you can get an electronic copy here or a nice paper copy here.
May 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
This weekend, I attended a conference hosted by the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Buffalo that focused on monumentality in the archaeological record. At the end of the conference, we had a short but thought-provoking discussion of anti-monuments. These were monuments that seemed to subvert the very notion of monumentality (which itself was a tricky thing to define).
When I got back to Grand Forks and saw that our old church on Walnut Street was coming down a few days earlier, it got me thinking. (For more on this church, check out Chris Price’s excellent history and, if you feel like it, buy a copy of the book here).
The removal of the steeple reminded me of so many mosques in Greece where the top of the minarets have been removed.
The famous granitoid pavement in the foreground presents the contrasting issues of conservation in our community. An old church is more expendable than pavement.
The de-churched steeple was a depressing sight this morning.
April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
In the most recent Hesperia, Amelia Brown has offered an intriguing article on a significant group of Late Roman portrait statues (“Last Men Standing: Chlamydatus Protraits and Public Life in Late Antique Corinth,” Hesperia 81 (2012), 141-176). Chlamydatus statues of Corinth depict men wearing the “distinctive long cloak or chlamys” and this dress typically associates these individuals with imperial office. Brown has assembled a group of 7 largely fragmentary, life-sized statues of this kind from around Corinth with 6 of them appearing in the forum area. These status date to the 4th and 5th centuries and represent both a change in Late Roman portrait style as well as the growing political influence of the imperial center at Constantinople of aristocratic representation at Corinth. According to Brown, these statues appear to be associated with imperial rather than local elite. Corinth’s position as the seat of the governor of Achaea probably accounts for the number of imperial elite present, but also made it both an appealing location for the display of honorific statues dedicated to men who had contributed to the safety, urban environments, religious life, and culture of the province.
As per usual, I’ll let Dr. Brown’s work stand on its own merits and recommend it to anyone interested in understand the development and archaeology of Late Roman statuary. Instead, I’ll focus on two interrelated but admittedly peripheral aspects of Brown’s work.
First, Brown does a nice job of arguing that the Lechaion road was the main area for the display of chlamydatus statues. In her reconstruction of this space of display the chlamys clad statues stood along the sides of the main road into forum area of Corinth. A visitor to the forum area would have passed under the impassive gaze of these statues as they walked along the main artery of the Late Antique city. The Lechaion Road provided access to basic civic amenities like latrines and shops as well as places of display like the Peirene fountain which likely served as an important source of water for the city as well as an area for informal recreation, gathering, and meeting. Thus Corinthians and visitors to the city lived their daily life in and among reminders of the city’s imperial patrons.
The Lechaion Road also likely served as the main route of official processions into the city of Corinth. Important visitors from the west would have enjoyed their official adventus (or ritual of arrival) into the city along the wide, colonnaded, grandiose Lechaion Road. The chlamydatus would have watched the passage of fellow elites and their retinues accompanied by city fathers, fellow imperial aristocrats, and by the 5th century perhaps local representatives of the Christian communities. The position of the statues along the road left the main route into the city open, but also provided a permanent audience for ritual processions. The most important men in the city and perhaps province would always be there, standing to honor their fellow elites.
The statue that I was most intrigued by was the so-called Kraneion chlamydatus. This statue was found cut down and reused as a threshold at the Kraneion basilica which dates to the 6th century and stood immediately outside of the eastern Kraneion Gate to the city. The location of the statue near the eastern gate of the city suggests that this might have been an area for display during the Late Antiquity with chlamys clad statues greeting visitors from the east.
Hesperia 81 (2012), p. 145
The reuse of the Kraneion chlamydatus in the Kraneion basilica interesting is that it was cut down for use as a threshold block. It would be easy to recognize in this use of spolia practical concerns; torso of the chlamydatus provided a substantial block of marble suitable for the requirements of a threshold.
I do wonder whether there might be some symbolic considerations as well. The cutting down of the statue would have made it difficult for a visitor to the church to recognize the former function of the block. On the other hand, the process of selecting and cutting down the block must have involved a series of ideological decisions. The chlamys clad man had to be recognized as no longer relevant or important and therefore suitable for reuse. The placement of the block as a threshold offers a nice parallel to the original location of the statue near the gate to the city (or the placement of the other chlamydatus along the processional route of the monumentalized Lechaion Road). In other words, the location of the reused chlamydatus at the threshold to the church finds a nice parallel with their original location in liminal spaces like the gate to the city or a processional way.
One could even go a step further and suggest that the relocation of the chlamydatus statue at the threshold of the church marked out the boundary between the civic world and the works of the church. The shift is more marked when you consider that within the church the congregation stood in the aisles and watched the ranked procession of the clergy. The congregation may have been accompanied by a passive processions of saints standing in the place of the onlooking chlamydatus along the Lechaion Road while the clergy’s liturgical procession echoed the ritualized adventus of Late Roman aristocrats into the city.
The physical subordination of the Kraneion chlamydatus at the threshold of the church echoed the gradual suppression of monumental civic space throughout the empire and their replacement with churches tied to the ecclesiastical rather than civic or imperial elite.
Crossposted to Corinthian Matters.
March 27, 2012 § Leave a comment
This month, Ann Marie Yasin published an important reconsideration of the martyria of Salona in the Journal of Early Christian Studies (20 (2012), 59-112; pdf here?). Martyria are buildings thought to be dedicated to particular Early Christian martyrs and the veneration of their remains. Scholars have long associated the centrally planned martyrium with some of the earliest forms of Early Christian monumental architecture. In fact, they have in some cases seen martyria as the key intermediate step between the veneration of Early Christian ancestors and saints in the catacombs and the explosive spread of basilica style churches in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. As with so much in the study of Early Christian architecture, the material remains for the “evolution”, as Yasin puts it, from burial to monumental martyrium have not been subjected to particularly rigorous scrutiny, and the archaeology of the type site of Salona which featured three “early” martyr shrines that are central to how we have understood the development of this kind of building is particularly problematic.
Yasin’s article, then, subjects the archaeology of Salona to rigorous critique and suggests that the first step to unpacking the complex history of Early Christian architecture is to determine the viability of longstanding arguments for its development at key type sites like Salona. Yasin casts well-justified doubts over the traditional narrative of Christian architectural development and calls for scholars to focus on three particularly problematic areas:
1. The Regional and the Universal. I am working on a paper on monumental Early Christian architecture of Greece. Following the same lines as my dissertation, I am taking Early Christian architecture in Greece as a more or less unified corpus. To my mind, the most remarkable aspect of Early Christian building is the basic uniformity of Christian architecture. This uniformity reflected the institutional structure of church, reinforced the rising status of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and promoted the universal character of the Christian liturgy.
As Yasin points out in her article, this tendency to generalize has caused issues in the past. Scholars have overlooked the particulars of regional development or, more problematic still, the developments of particular sites or buildings. Yasin’s work at Salona, of course, also shows some problems with this approach as the archaeological records for many Early Christian buildings – not to mention the attention to detail in the excavation itself – are not conducive to the detailed study of phases. Moreover, in many cases the excavations followed the architecture and was more concerned with demonstrating the validity of longstanding arguments than carefully detailing the remains.
Yasin’s restudy of the archaeological reports and publications from Solona suggest considerable ambiguity in the traditional phasing of the buildings casting doubt on the neat narrative that assumed the pre-existence of important tombs which received progressive architectural elaboration.
2. The Trouble with Texts. Yasin points out that part of the difficulty in reading the Early Christian architecture is the tendency to see these buildings in terms of the various martyriological and hagiographical traditions. Yasin has suggested that, first, these textual sources are not only problematic in terms of chronology (and this is compounded by chronological ambiguities in the excavated buildings), but they often owe as much to literary conventions and tropes as local conditions. As a result, these texts do not serve as a reliable guide to the history of the buildings and may, in fact, reflect an imagined past that explains the nature of a standing structure. In short, past communities had as much invested in explaining the nature of the architecture as modern archaeologists, and both have created stories designed to make a useful sacred past.
3. Ambivalence and Ambiguity. A key point seen throughout Yasin’s article is that Christian buildings may not have conformed to the clear evolutionary or ritual outlines supposed by modern scholars. In fact, the ambiguity that characterized the archaeological remains of the martyria in Salona might well reflect the ambiguity and tensions present in the buildings as they stood for their ancient audiences. Buildings could and likely did sustain multiple meanings to their audiences. As a result, inscriptions, floor mosaics, and even hagiographic texts provide little to locate these churches within explicit narratives of development. One is tempted to expand this ambiguity to the architecture itself and note that Early Christian (and later) builders were not above mimicking earlier styles, combining features to create visually discordant and confusing montages, or even fabricating historical inscriptions. The willingness of ancient builders to play with architecture and to engage the viewer in a way that multiple potential narratives become possible and the architecture of the building would actively work to confuse simply interpretations.
The tension between the easy readability of Early Christian architecture in general and the complex features, architectural relationships, and narratives associated with specific sites communicated the tension between the general (perhaps universal) and the local in Christian history. The historical nature of the Incarnation, so central to Christian theology, and the universal power of the Christian God found clear parallels with the general power of the institutional church and the local traditions of the sacred.
March 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
This past week, I’ve been working away on a paper about monumentality in Early Christian architecture in Greece. Most of the work has involved re-familiarizing myself with my dissertation (which is almost 10 years old now… yikes!), but I have spent some of the week pondering the way in which monumental architecture communicated social, political, and economic ideas to a Late Antique Greek audience.
In my dissertation, I suggested that the organization of the Christian liturgy combined with the arrangement of space within the Early Christian basilica served to promote the privileged position of the clergy to the growing Christian community. The clergy had access to the most sacred areas of the church, performed key roles in the liturgy, and wore distinctive clothing in a hierarchically arrange procession. Moreover, the architecture of Early Christian churches presented a series of barriers starting with western narthex which separated the nave and aisles of the church from the atrium or exterior space, to the barriers that separated the congregation in the aisles from the central nave, to the chancel barrier that separated the eastern end of the church from the processional space of the main nave. These barriers typically served to emphasize a sense of privilege dependent upon access and, in combination with the Christian liturgy promoted hierarchical separation between members of the clergy and the laity.
Nothing in this line of argument is particularly novel. In fact, scholars have observed that Late Antique society had a growing interest in hierarchical display ranging from great urban processions and growing emphasis on the social distinction offered by Late Roman paideia to the carefully articulated ritual spaces of the new capital at Constantinople. While some of these practices had roots reaching back to the early Roman Empire, it seems probable that the changing nature of authority in Late Antiquity required more explicit gestures to enforce distinction between groups within society vying for social and political authority. It makes an easy, tidy argument to suggest, then, that the church invested in buildings and rituals that reinforced social distinction by manipulating access and performing hierarchy.
The only issue is, of course, that the church was not the only institution that invested in these buildings. A wide range of social actors invested in the construction and decoration of churches in Early Christian Greece. To be sure, some buildings appear to be the products of the institutional church. For example the Church Alpha at Nikopolis appears to have been founded by the Bishop Dometios who celebrated his donation with elaborate mosaics and flowery inscriptions (which quoted Homer!) A later bishop of the same name added some decorative flourishes.
Elsewhere, however, we have buildings that appear to be the product of imperial patronage or constructed by members of the local aristocracy. In some instances, it would appear that the numerous members of the local community chipped in to decorate a building. In one case, a donor provided only a half a solidus to the decoration of the church. This would be a modest donation for anyone above the poorest class of urban or rural laborers.
So, if the institutional church used architecture to promote the growing authority of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Greece, they did not do this without the support of members of the elite and the communities in which these churches stood. Are we to understand that the church exerted a kind of hegemony over certain segments of the Greek population which allowed it to leverage the wealth of these communities to promote its interests? Or was this a more complex form of collusion where independent social actors from across Greek society found common cause in promoting the church as a way to gain access to the political, social, and spiritual power vested in that institution?
I’m increasingly seeing church architecture as both high permeable to a range of actors and, at the same time, the same time space central to the (re)production of the church’s role in Greek and Late Antique society more generally. Looking carefully at these buildings – after some time away – has reminded me how messy the process of social and political change can be and that institutions rarely command unambiguous authority.
March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
In May, I am going to a conference on the topic of monumentality in archaeology. When invited, I fired off a rather superficial abstract that talked about how Early Christian church architecture in Greece both used existing, earlier forms of urban and domestic architecture to communicate the new status of the Christian religious elite, but also subverted these forms by establishing new relationship between donor, visitors, and the social structures that informed traditional elite architecture.
This week, I’ve slowly turned my attention to this paper after completing a revised draft of the historical conclusion to the PKAP Survey Volume.
To begin, I re-read Kafka’s short story “The Great Wall of China”. The fictional narrator of the (obviously fictional) story considers the construction of the Great Wall of China and tells of how it was built piecemeal across China to preserve the moral of the workers. According to the narrator, the very enormity of the task ran the risk alienating the labor of the individual worker by reducing it to something inconsequential by comparison. To combat this, the workers built a single section of the wall – often in a remote location – and returned home for a time of recovery before heading out again like departing heroes to build another section. Thus the wall came to represent the entire community of China – and the narrator himself who hailed from the south, not the north where the wall stood – could take tremendous pride in its construction even though the purpose and extent remained as obscure and paradoxical as the body of the Emperor himself who called for the Wall’s construction. In Kafka’s story (hardly the only one in his oeuvre that featured architecture), the Wall represented the enormity of the Empire, the incomprehensibility of the Emperor, and the tension between the fragile individual and abyss of time, space, and power that surrounds human existence. (And I have to assume that the story means many other more significant, literary, and existential things!). Monumentality formed the delicate link between the individual and things much larger, more abstract, and more remote.
This story contributed to my larger meditation of monumentality in the discourse of Late Antiquity (or the Early Christian period). Shifting attitudes toward monumental architecture has represented a key indicator in social, religious, political, economic, and cultural change in the ancient world. Indeed, scholars often argue that the end of the ancient world came with the neglect and sometimes destruction of the pagan temple and the construction of Early Christian basilica style churches in their place. The widespread abandonment of basilica style churches, in turn, marks the end of the transitional period between ancient and “Medieval” or “Byzantine” forms of architecture, and scholars have neatly synced the transformation of architectural styles with political, economic, and social changes.
The link between architecture and social change often comes through the study of patronage practices. If we understand the social practices that led to the construction of Early Christian architecture to be largely identical to those that produced earlier forms of monumental architecture, then we can argue that these shift in building types is largely stylistic or a matter of taste or practice. In other words, we can see monumental architecture as evidence for continuity between the ancient world and Late Antiquity. If we see different social mechanisms producing the Early Christian monumental building boom, then it becomes easier to claim that the shift in large scale building practices represents a shift in the organization of society on a more profound level. Along these lines, scholars have seen Early Christian architecture as evidence for discontinuity between antiquity and the Middle Ages. The issue is, of course, that we still do not understand the mechanisms that produced the boom in Early Christian architecture and how these intersect with, say, changing attitudes toward the poor among the same group of people (and the study of Late Antique attitudes toward poverty is a particularly fertile ground for recent study).
The flip side of this concern with patronage, of course, is how these buildings were understood by their audiences across the Late Antique world. Not only are did these building represent a point of contact between massive and abstract institutions like the church and the bodies of individuals living throughout the Early Christian world, but they also represent a place of critique around which community responses to new forms of religious or social organization could cohere.
As Kafka articulated in a fictional context, monumental architecture had the potential for alienating the individuals responsible for their construction as the tension between their massively concrete appearance comes all too close to the abstract entities, institutions, and ideologies which they represent. This alienation provides fertile ground of critique inscribed on the monuments themselves, on the bodies of the laborers who produced them, and in the attitudes toward the buildings in broader social discourse.
January 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Over the past few years I’ve played around with the idea of an indigenous archaeology in the Greek speaking Mediterranean. In doing so, I have identified certain practices as drawing on traditions found in hagiographic literature (saints’ lives). The most obvious example is the practice of inventio when a pious individual excavates a sacred object, usually an icon. I have written extensively on this blog about inventio and dreams (go here and scroll to the bottom of the post for a little gaggle of links; here’s an example of this from Cyprus).
There are also practices preserved in hagiography through which local communities mark out ruined buildings as special sites or sacred space. Saints’ lives frequently preserves stories that feature commemorative practices associated with long abandoned or ruined buildings. Often these practices are as simple as pilgrimages to ruined churches for prayers. In other cases, saints or pious communities rebuild ruined churches.
In Cyprus, we have seen how acts of piety have influenced the archaeology of Christian buildings (for example here and here). Recently I was re-reading part of P. Flourentzos, Excavations in the Kouris Valley II: The Basilica of Alassa. (Nicosia 1996), and re-discovered this passage (p. 3):
During my first visit to the area of Ay;a Mavri to conduct the rescue excavation, I noticedthat two stones in the form of an angle was visible it the north-western side of the area. Moreovera great concentration of loose stones had accumulated on the surface round a modern quadrangular structure with two holes at the front and a little iron door (PI. II: 2).
Inside the structure was an icon of Ayia Mavri (Saint Mavri), where the villagers often placed lighted candles as offerings. On the surface a small part of the apse of the Holy-of-Holies was also visible.
All those features attracted my interest and I decided to open the first trench at that particularpart of the area. This first trench, which I call Trench I, measured 2 X II m. and contained alarge part of the structure of the Holy-of-Holies and its eastern end yielded a small tomb.
So I was then sure that this was an area of a church probably of basilica type with a related cemetery.
This short passage presents a kind of indigenous archaeology of the sacred and shows how it intersects with modern archaeological practices.
November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve been invited to participate in the Institute for European and Monumental Archaeology’s Fifth Visiting Scholars Conference in May. Its theme is Approaching Monumentality in the Archaeological Record.
My tentative paper title is “Patronage and Reception in the Monumental Architecture of Early Christian Greece”.
Here’s a rough abstract:
The late 5th and 6th century AD saw a massive investment in Early Christian architecture throughout Greece. While these buildings are almost completely absent from the textual record of this time, there is nevertheless sufficient archaeological evidence to argue that this architecture adopted aspects of domestic and public buildings, absorbed significant resources from the community, and helped to fortify the position of a new, imperially-backed, ecclesiastical elite. In effect, Early Christian architecture in Greece presented a new medium for the articulation of social, religious, and economic power. To do this, basilica style Christian churches both cooped the traditional forms of “monumental” ancient architecture, while at the same time, subverting and transforming the expectation of this medium. The nature and novelty of Early Christian architecture in Greece represents an intriguing way both to understand the social transformations associated with the so-called end of antiquity and to critique monumental architecture more broadly.