December 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
I just finished Charlie Hailey’s book called Camps. It’s an architectural study of camps and consists of examples of camps from around the world and through history. The study divides camps into three types: camps of autonomy, camps of control, and camps of necessity. Camps of autonomy are camps that are characterized by the goal of autonomy and independence (as the name might suggest!), whereas camps of control and necessity are opposite sides of the same coin. The former rely on the form of the camp to control its occupants or to project control into a potentially dangerous situation; the latter are camps that emerge as responses to circumstances beyond the occupants control (refugee situations, survival camps, et c.). The line between these two types of camp tends to blur.
I began to think about camps largely in the context of man or work camps in the western part of North Dakota. The camps typically consist of temporary trailers arranged very close to work sites (if not on the sites themselves). These temporary housing units were often brought from other places of temporary settlement like the Olympic village in Vancouver or in camps used to house people displaced from Hurricane Katrina. The trailers are a response to both the limited infrastructure existing in a peripheral area as well as the unwillingness to invest in substantial investment in an area by the companies that arrive looking to extract oil. These camps also reflect the global system not only for resource extraction, but also for managing temporary populations whether they are athletes, refugees from natural disasters, or groups looking to work in remote locations. The camps, their residents, and the natural resources that they work to extract combine to produce a low-investment, temporary pattern of settlement across the landscape.
These camps cross the various categories proposed by Hailey and represent spaces of control (particularly when they are provided by local employers), spaces of autonomy as they function on the fringes of local utilities (water cisterns are sometimes visible in aerial photographs), infrastructure, and community, and spaces of necessity as the work population in the Western part of the state settled in camps owing to the lack of existing infrastructure in the area. The autonomy and necessity of the camps overlap when they provide housing for groups of individuals who live and work on the periphery of infrastructure, social bonds, and the economic systems.
I also got to thinking about a camp that I published in the Corinthia. I argued that a fieldstone fortification on the height of Mt. Oneion along the south boundary of the Isthmus as a “fortified camp” that served the needs of military forces who sought to secure access to the Peloponnesus in the Hellenistic era. Like the work camps in North Dakota that fortified camp on Mt. Oneion was not designed for any enduring way – the roughly built field stone walls provided protection for structures that housed the forces encamped there – and these camps were also dependent on wide ranging geopolitical systems and events that were not necessarily under the control of the local population. Moreover, the location of the camps on Mt. Oneion is peripheral to settlement, cultivated ground, and political space.
Our site in Cyprus – Pyla-Vigla – is likewise a peripheral settlement and the habitation appears to have been quite short lived. We have suggested that the site was a base for local mercenaries. Like the fortified camp on Mt. Oneion, the fortification wall appears to have been the most substantial investment on the site. The domestic structures on the interior of the site show only modest architectural investment. Simple stone sockles would have supported mudbrick walls and the absence of rooftile suggests thatched roofs. The floors were packed earth. In one trench we observed the rapid reconstruction or modification of the building perhaps over the course of a decade or two. Like. Mt. Oneion, the site it removed from the centers of political power, situated at a natural border (on the sea and at the periphery of the territory of Kition), and immediate surroundings of the site offer little in the way of economic incentives.
Of course, our archaeological work on the site embraces some of the practices of camp. Our base of operations on site involve almost no investment in the site (plastic furniture, shade provided by vehicles, et c.). One of my favorite practices is that at the end of the season we backfill the trenches. We cover the collapsed walls with a blue tarpaulin (which we always call trapampoline) which echoes the ubiquitous “blue tarp” associated with provisional camps around the world. By backfilling the trenches we follow a different set of camping practices by “leaving no trace’. It not only preserves the archaeological remains, but also returns the space to the condition it was prior to our arrival. Hailey has some great descriptions of the methods used to restore the desert site of Burning Man festival at the conclusions of the event. They organizers walk transects across the site looking for trash. They also use gridded collection areas to sample other areas to ensure that the dried lake bed is spotless on their departure. The archaeological scrutiny employed by this group to preserve the natural beauty of the Burning Man site, provides a nice contrast to efforts by archaeologist to document the traces of human life in the landscape. Both practices represent efforts to view the landscape as radically separate from present human activities. This notion of people being alienated from the landscape is central to the mystic and allure the camp.
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.
October 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This marks the 5th Year Anniversary of the Cyprus Research Fund and the 3rd Anniversary of the Cyprus Research Fund Lecture Series.
So, I am happy to announce that this year’s speaker will be colleague and collaborator Kostis Kourelis. Kostis will speak on “Byzantium and the Avant Garde: American Excavations at Corinth, ca. 1930″. His talk will tell the unlikely story of how the excavation of Byzantine remains at Corinth, Greece influenced avant garde movements in mid-20th century America.
The talk will be in the elegant East Asia Room at the Chester Fritz Library on November 14 at 4 pm. There will be a reception sponsored by the Department of History immediately following the talk.
So if you are in the area, please come to this talk! Kostis is one of the most accomplished and dynamic of a new generation of polymaths who can speak with confidence and expertise on topics from modern art to ancient archaeology. (And a fellow blogger.)
October 12, 2011 § 5 Comments
The distribution of Byzantine sites in Corinth’s immediate hinterland is poorly known. No Byzantine monuments exist in the Isthmia valley immediately to the east of the City of Corinth in contrast to the numerous Byzantine churches discovered during the early phases of excavation of the city center or the cluster of standing churches around the village of Sophiko to the south. The absence of any standing Byzantine remains might be an accident of preservation. It could also suggest that the immediate hinterland of Corinth had few nucleated settlements like monasteries and villages. It seems possible that Byzantine Corinthians lived in the city of Corinth, the village of Kenchreai, and perhaps a settlement centered on the eastern part of the Hexamilion wall near the long-abandoned Panhellenic sanctuary at Isthmia.
Over the past week or so, I’ve been working on analyzing the distribution of Byzantine pottery discovered during the work of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. In the chronological scheme used by the survey, material from the Byzantine period was divided into two periods: Early Medieval (700-1200) and Late Medieval (1200-1500). In the map below, the red triangles are the Early Medieval artifacts and the green are Late Medieval.
There are four main areas in the fertile plain east of the city of Corinth that show Early and Late Medieval ceramic material. One area may be associated with a now-destroyed church dedicated to Ag. Paraskevi. In a series of fields disturbed by plowing and recent construction, there is a complex and extensive assemblage of Early and Late Medieval material as well as a significant assemblage of Late Roman material. The assemblage included relatively common glazed finewares from the Early and Middle Byzantine period as well as table wares and utility wares. Some 2 km northwest of the Ay. Paraskevi assemblage, appears another cluster of pottery perhaps associated with ecclesiastical architecture. In a 100 square meter amidst architecture fragments suggesting monumental Christian architecture appear another similar scatter of Byzantine material which featured fineware, kitchen wares, utility vessels from both the Early and Late Medieval periods. As similar small assemblage appears on the steep slopes to the northwest of the Late Roman harbor of Kenchreai. In these units, another 200 square meter area produced a small scatter of Medieval material including finewares and utility wares. Finally, a deeply ploughed field at the base of Mt. Oneion measuring about 350 square meters produced an assembalge of Early Medieval and Late Medieval fine and ultility wares as well as a few sherds from the Venentian and Ottoman periods. Like the other scatters, this assemblage shows both Early and Late Medieval pottery with both table ware and utility wares.
The remarkable thing about these four little clusters of Byzantine pottery is how different the distribution was from period of earlier and later periods. This is the same map showing Late Roman pottery.
This is a textbook example of a continuous carpet of artifacts and is typical of the Late Roman period throughout Greece. (For some critical comments on this see David Pettegrew’s “The Busy Countryside of Late Roman Corinth,” Hesperia 76 (2007), 743-784 for a PDF go here).
What is also remarkable is how different the distribution is from that of later periods. The distribution of material from the Ottoman/Venetian period (1500-1800) for example does not overlap entirely with material from the Byzantine period.
It is only in the Early Modern period (1800-1960) where later material becomes an important component of the Byzantine sites, but this seems to be associated with a general expansion of activity in the Corinthian countryside. (For a more extensive discussion of this see T. E. Gregory, “Contrasting Impressions of Land Use in Early Modern Greece: The Eastern Corinthia and Kythera,” Hesperia Supplement 40 (2007), 173-198.)
This very preliminary analysis of the Byzantine material from EKAS resonates with recent studies of the Byzantine countryside in the Nemea Valley immediately to the south. (For this see E. Athanassopoulos, “ Landscape Archaeology in the Medieval Countryside: Settlement and Abandonment in the Nemea Region,” IJHA 14 (2010), 255-270.) Athanassopoulos suggested that the 12th and 13th century landscape of the Nemea valley clustered on arable land or on the lower slopes of valley sides (258). Moreover, the sites tended to represent small and medium scale agricultural production (261).
It is also important to realize that my brief analysis here is preliminary. Sanders has established the basic unreliability of most existing typologies and chronologies for pottery of this period as well as difficulties identifying artifacts datable to the Medieval period in general. A the same time, it is nevertheless striking that such pronounced clusters of Byzantine material would appear in the Corinthian landscape. More importantly, these clusters appear largely independent of the continuous carpet of Late Roman finds and the clusters of post-Byzantine material published by Gregory and, earlier, analyzed by Caraher.
October 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I want to send a special congratulations to David Pettegrew on the one year anniversary of his blog Corinthian Matters. David’s blog regular features interesting and timely pieces, good documentary photography, and, often, original translations of works important (or overlooked) in the study of the Early Christian and Late Antique Corinthia.
In his most recent post, he looks ahead to the next phase of life for his blog. He has not only invited scholars interested in the Corinthia to contribute to his blogging efforts, but also articulated a set of objectives for his effort. These objectives seek to promote the study of Corinth and the dissemination of Corinth related scholarship. This is a perfect example of the utility that an academic blog can provide for the scholarly and “lay” community.
On of the most inspiring thing about David’s blogging effort is its explicitly external focus. In other words, his blog is not a reflection of his own scholarly interests (per se), but meant to be a contribution to the scholarly, educational, and even religious or spiritual interests of others. This puts this blog is rather stark contrast to many web based initiatives which tend to focus on the idiosyncratic interests of the authors and are grounded in the assumption that these interests will coincide with a group of readers among the almost infinite audiences available on the web. David’s blog seems far more intent on tapping into and contributing to an existing conversation that extends far beyond the hyper-fragmented audiences of the internet. The range of popular and scholarly audiences interested in the Corinthia makes it an ideal match for a thoughtful blog.
The decision to focus his blog on a specific external audience, of course, has made it possible for David to open the doors to external contributors. I’ve been invited to add content from time to time – in fact, as I write this I’m cross-posting my blog post from yesterday to Corinthian Matters and I’ll probably make it a point to cross-post any Corinthian related content to David’s blog. If other bloggers take advantage of David’s interest in collaborating, Corinthian Matters has a chance to succeed where other group focusing on various aspects of the ancient world blog have fallen short. In fact, David’s blog hints at the increasingly blurry line between a self-published blog and a collectively published magazine or journal. The potential is there.
My blog, in contrast, remains a far more selfish endeavor. In fact, part of my blog’s purpose is to attempt to find the links between my various, disparate research interests. If my blog ever does succeed in finding these links, the interest to anyone other than the author will likely be voyeuristic rather than scholarly. In this way, my blog follows on a long tradition of early blogs (think: Justin Hall’s Links from the Underground or Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom) which were idiosyncratic collections of links or live, public journals.
Perhaps David’s blog is the future of the internet publications as the forms and practices of the traditional media have come to colonize more and more fully the world of instant self-publishing. The resulting form is a hybrid situated at the explicit intersection of authorial interests and public demand.
October 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
When most of us think of the Byzantine body today, we image the ethereal bodies that grace the walls of painted churches, the emaciated bodies of the Byzantine ascetic, or even the body of the emperor or bishop. At the same time, there has been valued work in the last few years focusing on the bodies of ordinary individuals. Buried bodies have come to dot the landscape and new works on the poor, travel, labor, and domestic space in the Byzantine centuries have come to locate the body outside of the theoretically fertile ground of the church and crown and return it to the dirt and dust of everyday life. Recently, I’ve made an effort to reflect on the role of the Byzantine body in the architecture of domination and everyday forms of resistance. In short, the body continues to find a place in almost all parts of the study of Byzantine society.
This past month, C. Bourbou,B.T. Fuller, S. J. Garvie-Lok, and M. P. Richards, have continued this trend by offering some important observations on the diet of Greek Byzantine populations from the 6th-15th centuries (“Reconstructing the Diets of Greek Byzantine Populations (6th-15th centuries AD) Using Carbon and Nitrogen Stable Isotope Ratios,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, preprint). While I won’t pretend for a moment that I understand the science involved in analyzing carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the body, I do grasp that the ratio between these two isotopes in human remains can reveal significant information regarding local diets. Bourbou et al. have analyzed the remains of Byzantine bodies from all across Greece including the Corinthia (Nemea, Corinth, and Isthmia), Crete, Northern Greece, and the Peloponnesus. Many of the bodies that this team studied came from burials around churches making the parallel between the Byzantine body in art and the Byzantine body in the flesh all the more obvious. The work of this team complements recent efforts to determine the diet of Byzantium through the study of ceramic vessels, and this represents another effort to move from the sublime bodies of Byzantine art and texts to the mundane bodies of everyday life.
Fish farms near Vayia in the Corinthia
The work of Bourbou et al. confirms many of the standard reading of the Byzantine diet. They find ample evidence for the prominence of the Mediterranean triad of grain, olive oil, and grapes in wine. At the same time, their studies suggested the importance of dairy products or perhaps meat in the Byzantine diet. While it is not possible at present to distinguish between animal products like milk and cheese and meat itself, the evidence from stable isotope analysis leaves open he possibility that meat appeared consistently in Medieval cuisine .
The most interesting aspect of their study, however, involves the presence of fish on the Byzantine table. In Medieval Western Europe, scholars have long noted an increase in the consumption of fish in the 11th and 12th centuries. Some have associated this increase with the promotion of fasting and other dietary restriction by the Church in these centuries. In the east, however, the presence of fish in the diet of ancient and Medieval Greeks has been less conclusive. Bourbou et al., however, have suggested in their study that Byzantine (and Late Antique) Greeks may have consumed a good bit of fish. It is particularly interesting to note that bodies from Kenchreai dating to the 1st – 3rd centuries and the fortress at Isthmia from the 4th-8th centuries in the Corinthia showed the ratio of isotopes related to the consumption of fish. These sites must have taken advantage of the long coastline of the Corinthia to harvest fish on a significant scale (just as they do today). Elsewhere in Greece, however, these scholars argue that the consumption of fish during the Byzantine centuries likely relates to religious restrictions on diets that prohibited the consumption of meat on particular feast days and over important stretches of Orthodox religious calendar (as well as improved fishing techniques).
With this study, then, the Byzantine body comes full circle. The body of the emaciated saint and the august body of the bishop represent just another form of the fish-fueled bodies found in Byzantine burials. Just as the routine of the liturgical year would have shaped the movement of individuals through the landscape of the village, countryside, and town, so the diets of the religious calendar left its traces in the very bones of the Byzantine.
October 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I have finally finished the edits on my paper “The Ambivalent Landscape of Early Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City.” The editors of the volume in which it will appear made some excellent suggestions on how I could improve the paper that went far beyond rounding some jagged corners.
As a happy result, this draft is improved over earlier drafts of the paper. In particular, I cut out some of the more overtly theoretical posturing in my introduction and embedded (buried?) that in footnotes throughout the text. I have a tendency in my introductions to spend too much time positioning myself amidst the theoretical literature. This tends to delay the start of my argument and dilute my efforts to establish the relationship between my specific arguments and those by other scholars in my field.
I have also added a slightly more substantive discussion of Justinian’s theological work – particularly his treatise on the Three Chapters which E. Schwartz suggested might have appeared in the context of a virtually unknown synod of Eastern Illyricum in the mid-540s. This synod, apparently, may have served to articulate the concern among bishops in the previously loyal sees of Eastern Illyricum (i.e. Greek speaking sees) to Justinian’s efforts to establish a compromise with the Monophysite bishops of the East.
Finally, I revised how I used the word “landscape” throughout this draft. Writing mainly for archaeologists these-a-days, I have become accustomed to a certain amount of ambiguity surrounding the word landscape which typically refers to the place of human experience. As a result, landscapes can be vast (as some human experiences are best understood on the regional level) or incredibly small. Historians, theologians, and others, however, are not quite forgiving of this ambiguous – and jargony – definition. Fair enough. I found I could eliminate about 70% of my uses of the word in this paper and replace it with the word “region” or equivalents.
Otherwise, my changes were mostly cosmetic including tightening up parts of my argument and making the entire paper flow more logically.
October 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
It was pretty exciting to see David Pettegrew’s long-previewed work on the diolkos of Corinth appear this weekend in the American Journal of Archaeology (“The Diolkos of Corinth,” AJA 115 (2011), 549-574). I was fortunate enough to hear versions of his argument both here at the University of North Dakota and at a conference on Corinth at the University of Texas in the early autumn.
Pettegrew argues that our long-held idea of the diolkos as a major thoroughfare across the Corinthian Isthmus is mistaken. Since the 19th century, the diolkos has stood as a stone paved road that allowed enterprising Corinthians to move ships and their cargos across the isthmus from the Corinthian to the Saronic Gulf. Pettegrew showed that the literary accounts of the efforts to move vessels across the Isthmus mostly described heroic events rather than everyday occurrences. Moreover, he noted that the effort and risk required to move even modest sized vessels across the Isthmus would have made the practice economically unfeasible. Finally, he showed that there was little evidence for regular traffic in ceramics across the Isthmus. The assemblages produced at sites to the west and east of the Isthmus corridor appear be rather different particularly in the Roman period with eastern wares (like Eastern Sigillata A and B) appearing far more frequently in the East and Western Sigillatas appearing far more frequently to the west of the Isthmus.
I do wonder, however, whether the idea of moving ships across the Isthmus as a way to move goods is somewhat a red herring. It occurred to me that for a coasting merchant (or caboteur) the ship itself might always exceed the value of an individual cargo. In fact, if the way a caboteur made a living is by constantly moving many small cargos along the coast. If we follow recent thinking on the ancient economy which emphasized the highly fragmented nature of local production (dictated by micro-climates and micro-regions), there might be times when it was advantageous to move a smaller coasting vessel from one gulf to the other across the Isthmus in order to take advantage of shifts in production or markets. A merchant in Corinth could have maintained familiarity with both markets and their regional nature (as Pettegrew demonstrated in his discussion of the different distribution of fine wares and transport vessels) might have allowed them to function quite autonomously from one another. For example, a disaster, like an earthquake in the Gulf of Corinth might have disrupted economic activities there to such an extent that an enterprising merchant might take his vessel and move to the Saronic until the regional economy equalized again. For this kind of flexibility to economically viable, all we need to do is imagine that moving a ship across the Isthmus was less expensive than purchasing a new vessel in the opposite Gulf (and that a coasting merchant would have the capital to take advantage of such an opportunity). Furthermore, seeing the occasional movement of small vessels from one Gulf to the other would not undermine Pettegrew’s main point that the massive movement of large military vessels from one gulf to the other was a heroic stratagem based on the scale of the portage alone.
Pettegrew’s article represents more than just a dismantling of the Diolkos myth. He strikes another blow against our heroic view of the past where remarkable feats of engineering were everyday occurrences. In fact, Pettegrew points out that something as accepted as moving ships across the Isthmus would have been a tremendously expensive, taxing, and dangerous operation. The amount of manpower required to move vessels on a regular basis would have been mind boggling (or mind-bottling).
It is interesting that the archaeologists who perpetuated this idea in the 19th century (and I am painting with broad brushstrokes here) hailed themselves from age of heroic industry. In some ways, they represented the same world and nation building fantasies that produced the Corinth Canal (1881-1893) (as well as the Transcontinental Railroad, the Panama Railroad (and eventually the Panama Canal), et c.). Picturing the ancient world through such heroic eyes would have aligned the ancient and the modern in a way that confirmed the place of ancient Greece as the foundation of the contemporary age. It goes without saying that archaeology not only perpetuated imperialism and globalization, but worked to normalize these views of the world through the study of the past. As the economic foundations of our own age receive increasingly vigorous critique (see: Occupy Wall Street), it makes sense that we critique views of the past grounded in the same imperialist and capitalist expectations.
September 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Betsy Robinson’s new book Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia. This was particularly exciting to me because I’ve been using Betsy’s 2001 University of Pennsylvania dissertation for years as a detailed guide of the culture of water in the city of Corinth. With the publication of this book, her dissertation has received a fantastic complement. The new book explores the history of the Peirene fountain and its excavations. On a personal note, it evoked fantastic memories of my first trips to Corinth (as a bleary-eyed M.A. student) when I reveled in the fountain on a hot summer day and, later, explored various other ancient water channels around the Corinthia.
Robinson’s work stands atop the detailed documentation of Peirene produced in the published and unpublished manuscripts of Burt Hodge Hill. In fact, the detailed documentation produced in Corinth I.6 by Hill absolved Robinson of some of the incredibly tedious (but valuable) descriptions so often associated with the careful discussion of an archaeological site. Freed from these responsibilities, Robinson was able to examine the place of this important fountain not only in Corinthian history, but in the history of Hellenistic and Roman architecture and in the history of the Corinth. After a brief description of the spring and its springhouse, she reviewed the ancient (and some Medieval) testimonia and made a persuasive case for the importance of Peirene to both local and Mediterranean-wide understandings of Corinthian identity. More than just a list, this chapter contextualized her book by making it clear that Peirene was not just another ancient spring, but an especially important in art and text alike. This chapter satisfies critics who might have questions the significance of the Peirene fountain outside the narrow realm of Corinthian scholarship.
The next two chapters, return Peirene to its Corinthian context by exploring the labors that contributed to the fountain’s excavation and maintenance. In many ways, these chapters form an interesting pendant to Robinson’s treatment of the testimonia. On the one hand, she is pains to argue that the fountain is significant because the ancient texts regard it as almost synonymous with the city of “well-watered Corinth”. On the other hand, she presents the early excavators of the fountain in a clearly heroic light. Bert Hodge Hill, in particular, receives equal parts apologia for his lack of publications and praise for his tireless efforts to document the fountain and protect the drinking water of the village of Corinth. A maze of channels and pipes emanating from Peirene continued to provide the water supply for the village in the first half of the 20th century and it was particularly critical that archaeological work on the fountain did nothing to disrupt the flow of water to fields, homes, and fountains in the area. In an era where archaeologists are becoming increasingly aware of the colonialists nature of their work, this chapter serves as an interesting case-study for the kinds of symbiotic relationship that developed between the archaeologists and the communities in which they worked during the early days of American archaeology in Greece.
The celebration of Hill’s achievements took on a distinctly “American School” like cast to me. While these chapters are well argued and lack any element of encomium, they nevertheless fuse the archaeologist – in this case Hill – to the archaeological undertaking. Methods, research questions, objects and discursive concerns fade into the background before the overwhelming force of individual personalities. Negotiating a terrain strewn with larger than life figures – Hill, Blegen, Broneer, Williams, Shear, Robinson, et al. – means contending with their personalities, legacies, and place in the intricate history of American School politics. (And it is difficult not to hear echoes of contemporary discussions in Robinson’s discussion of Hill.) While it may be similar in other parts of the world, the heroic stature of American excavators in Greece makes almost all work at long-established sites at least as much about the excavators as about the actual archaeological material itself.
The second half of the book summarizes, clarifies, and expands the history of the Peirene fountain. As someone primarily interested in the later history of the city of Corinth, I was particularly gratified to see the Triconch Court moved to the 4th-5th century adding to the impressive quantity of Late Antique urban works in the city. Robinson’s hint at parallels between the construction style of the Triconch court and the Hexamilion suggests a 5th century building boom that complemented the later 6th century renovation of the Corinthia’s built environment. I was also excited to imagine the “outlooker screen”, which Robinson dates to the later 5th or 6th century, as a component of the 6th century building boom in the city. One thing that I would have been interested in understanding is the relationship between the later modifications to Pierene and the work done at the “nymphaion” down on the Lechaion road near the great early Christian basilica. I wonder whether the outlooker screen which Robinson notes evoked the design of ionic impost capitals echoed the colonnaded aspect and ionic impost capitals used at the Lechaion nymphaion?
The only disappointment from this second half of the book comes from the difficulty in linking the work of the heroic Hill with the specific archaeological and chronological issues studied in the second half of the book. In a number of places, Hill stalls the submission of his final manuscript to resolve specific problems with his understanding of Peirene. While Robinson takes on a number of the pressing issues in the study of the fountain, she does not necessarily connect these issues with Hill’s labors. Perhaps the problems encountered by Hill were, indeed, unresolvable even after 80 additional years of thought or maybe Hill was simply stalling (as someone who struggles to complete long writing tasks, I can sympathize with Hill’s struggle to complete and submit his manuscript). On the other hand, separating the story of the fountain’s excavation from the story of the fountain as an archaeological artifact allows for the vague feeling that these two stories could somehow exist independently. Even at the very end of Robinson’s section two, when the fountains creeps its way into the modern era the waters of the fountains feeding Ottoman fountains remains apart from the first modern excavators. The end of the story of Peirene appears before the heroic Hill and company arrive on the scene to exhume her remains.
The book is the second in a new series, Ancient Art and Architecture in Context, published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Needless to say, it is lavishly produced with flawless editing. At the same time, it was interesting to reflect on the fate of Bert Hodge Hill’s Peirene manuscript against the backdrop of the American School’s publication process. Various directors of the American School pushed Hill relentlessly to release his manuscript for publication. In fact, the work stalled for over 20 years at the page proof stage. Today, the pressure almost certainly comes in the opposite direction with authors desperate to see their research come to light through the American School (and other presses as well). For many junior faculty the pressures to publish far outweigh the rewards of a well-produced and “scientifically accurate” text.