Corinthian Fortifications

October 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

This past week, I’ve begun to think again about Corinthian fortifications for the introduction to a volume of re-prints on the Corinthian countryside. The fortifications represent over 2000 years of continuous strategical importance to this corridor that links southern and central Greece as well as the Adriatic and Aegean basins on the Mediterranean. Beginning in the Hellenistic period and continuing through to the Italian and German occupations of Greece, fortifying the Isthmus of Corinth was a significant concern for both local residents and occupying powers. The episodes of fortification range from the massive Hexamilion wall and Isthmia fortress to modest earthen barriers or field stone enceintes. The published fortifications have generally appeared in Hesperia or in the volumes of the Isthmia or Corinth excavation series. To date, however, there has been little in the way of integrative study of these fortifications across the entire region for any particular period or from a diachronic perspective that emphasizes persistent understandings of the Corinthian landscape.

The study of fortification in Corinthia centers on five major, deeply interrelated, issues.

1. Permanent or Contingent. The best known fortification in the Corinthia to scholars of the ancient world is on that has left very little material evidence: the famous transisthmian wall described by Herodotus (8.40). This fortification typified the contingent, emergency work of fortifying the Isthmus as a way to protect the Peloponnesus from threats from the north. The frantic repairs reported in the Byzantine period to the Hexamilion wall represent another episode of short term work designed to address the vulnerability of the open Corinthian plain to forces moving south. The rubble fortifications along Mt. Oneion (pdfpdf) and on Geranion represented smaller scale efforts to augment the natural boundaries of the Isthmus corridor for defensive purposes. These fortifications took advantage of material at hand and the ceramic evidence and historical situations that would contextualize, at least, the hastily erected fortifications on Mt. Oneion. 

More permanent fortification include not only the impressive fortifications around Corinth and its acropolis Acrocorinth, but also the massive Hexamilion wall, the long walls linking Corinth to its western port of Lechaion, the substantial Hellenistic wall published by James Wiseman (pdf), and various towers of Hellenistic and Venetian date (pdf). While these fortifications may have emerged in response to particular threat, they nevertheless represent a significant investment in the landscape suggesting that the occasion for their construction was part of a larger , systemic effort to fortify the Peloponnesus or the vulnerable communities in the Corinthia.

2. Internal or External. We know that many of the fortifications built in the Corinthia stood not to protect Corinthian lands or residents, but rather to protect polities in the Peloponnesus. The mighty Hexamilion wall, for example, stood to fortify the Peloponnesus and left exposed stretches of the Isthmia plain. Efforts to fortify Mt. Oneion in the Venetian and the Hellenistic periods (pdf) likewise left the Isthmia plain unprotected and mainly served to prevent movement south into the Peloponnesus. 

Other fortifications, however, clearly served to protect Corinthian territory. The towers at places like Are Bartze in the southeastern Corinthia, the fortifications at Ayia Paraskevi, or the towers at Stanotopi (pdf) and Ano Vayia all likely served to protect Corinthian interests rather than those of an invading power. The substantial Hellenistic wall documented by Wiseman (pdf), for example, appears to bisect some of the most productive and densely built up areas of the Isthmus making it difficult to assign to either the Corinthian state or an external power. In contrast, the reinforced concrete fortifications erected by the Germans and Italians during the Second World War served the obvious interests of an external power.

3. Local or Regional. A key element to understanding the fortifications is determining whether they served to protect a particular region in the Corinthia or were part of a larger systematic network of fortification designed to protect the entire Corinthia (comparable to, say, Ober’s arguments for Fortress Attica). This issue is closely tied to the function of fortifications and whether the fortifications were erected by local authorities or the Corinthian state and fundamental views on how ancient fortifications functioned. It is hard to imagine isolated towers at Are Bartze (for example) or even at Ano Vayia contributing to a completely integrated defensive network (as envisioned by J. Marchand on the Argos-Corinth road (pdf)), but our knowledge of the fortifications in the Corinthian countryside remains fragmentary throughout much of the area. 

4. Function. Much of the previous issues have to do with how we understand the various fortifications functioned in the landscape. Simple walls like those constructed by the Venetians at passes through Mt. Oneion clearly could do little to obstruct the large scale movement of troops through the region. On the other hand, hastily con structured fortifications at Stanotopi (pdf) and further west on Mt. Oneion (pdf) suggest fortified camps designed to protect temporary garrisons rather than to block movement (necessarily). The mighty Hexamilion wall and the more fragmentary Hellenistic walls seem to have combined space for garrisons with long stretched of wall designed to stop movement across the plain. The walls of Ay. Paraskevi, Mt. Tsalikas, the Isthmia Fortress, and the city of Corinth (pdf) itself likely functioned to protect local settlements. Towers, in contrast, may have stood to allow guards to observe important routes through the area (pdf, pdf), but they may also represent fortified farmsteads or keeps erected by local landowners to protect their lands or slaves.

5. Topography. Finally, the local topography plays a key role in understanding how fortifications in the Corinthia were organized. The rugged topography limited the routes that individuals or groups could use to pass through the territory. The natural limits on travel presented clear opportunities for fortification, but it may have also required a kind of modular strategy because defending forces would suffer the same limitations on movement.

While it is unlikely that my effort to pull together the evidence and issues central to the fortification of Corinth through time will produce a kind of Fortress Corinthia, I do hope that it will contribute to a larger conversation about land use through time in this vital communication and population center in southern Greece.

Five Camps of Corinth

August 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

One of the things that I’ve been working on over the last few days is trying to find a clear and clever way to explain to people why a Mediterranean archaeologist would be interested in man camps in North Dakota. As I thought through this I came to realize that the place where I learned archaeology was filled with camps – or at least short term, impromptu, seasonal, settlements. In fact, just thinking about the Corinthia for a few minutes reminded me that there were at least five camps of varying antiquity (and this is not counting the good old fashioned recreational camps!).

1. The Fortified Camp on Mt. Oneion. This is my favorite because I published it with Tim Gregory. (You can download the publication here.) The camp isn’t much to see aside for some rubble walls and a scatter of storage and table wares. Otherwise, its footprint on the landscape is pretty modest suggesting that it was intensely occupied for a relatively (for Greece) short period of time and saw only a small investment in 

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2. Lakka Skoutara. Lakka Skoutara is the location of a small settlement to the east of the village of Sophiko. While Lakka Skoutara is not formally a camp, it was originally constructed as a seasonal settlement perhaps to accommodate families during the threshing of grain or during the olive harvest. At times, the seasonal settlement became permanent especially when political and economic events disrupted traditional village life, but for most of the settlement’s history it served as a “crew camp” to house the workforce needed for agricultural production. (For an archive of images from Lakka Skoutara click here.)

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3. The Gypsy Camp.  On the road from the village of Ancient Corinth across the Isthmia plain stands a gypsy camp. I’ve never visited it, but daily we’d see its ad hoc arrangement of rooms and spaces with their corrugated metal or blue tarp walls.  Every so often someone designs a research program or some other form of outreach that would provide an opportunity for the camp to intersect with the archaeologists who work in the area. 

4. Washingtonia. Washingtonia is the name that the reformer and philhellene Samuel Gridley Howe gave to the refugee settlement that he created near the modern village of Hexamillia in the Corinthia. He describes the first residents of this settlement as refugees from the Greek War of Independence and noted that at least some of them had been living in caverns. Another tradition has it (and I don’t have a reference for this) that refugees lived in the remains of the Corinth amphitheater.

5. The Corinth Canal. When I was active in field work in the Corinthia, we would walk down the road from our base at the ancient site of Isthmia to the beach near the canal. (Nothing was more relaxing that to swimming in the balmy bilge water of Russian flagged bauxite freighters as they chug through the Corinth canal). On our walk, we’d see a group of houses that stood out for being oddly situated on their blocks. At some point, someone (probably Tim Gregory, but maybe Richard Rothaus) told me that these were houses built to accommodate foreign workers on the Corinth canal. The houses are clearly visible on this Google Earth image sitting diagonally across their lots in a neat row. If someone can confirm this, it would be great.

Isthmia Canal Houses

The Corinthian Landscape

July 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

This past week, I spent some time going through past volumes of the journal Hesperia in an effort to identify a small and cohesive group of articles focusing on the Corinthian countryside (as opposed to the extensive research done on the urban center) and suitable for binding together and distributed as an edited collection of reprints. The decision by Hesperia to release almost the entire past contents of their journal online, for free, made this process infinitely easier. At the same time, the availability of the articles for free put added pressure on me and my collaborators to prepare a collection of articles that somehow were worth more then their component parts.

As I thought through this process, I began to come up with a series of rules that would shape our collection. First, the articles had to be the primary publication of the site or a particular method for documenting the countryside. In other words, there could not exist a more definitive, final publication of the material or the site. Next, the articles had to focus on a series of key features in the countryside: routes and places of travel (roads, paths, harbors), fortifications, and settlements and rural land use (quarries, cemeteries, aqueducts, et c.).  Finally, we had to be able to present a synthetic introduction both to the entire volume and to the individual sections which contextualized the articles and “adds value” to the assembled re-prints.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to roll out the collection of articles to be included in this reprint volume. Additions, critique, and comments are, of course, welcome!

Man Camp Methods

July 10, 2012 § 3 Comments

As readers of this blog know, I will head out to the western part of the state next month to conduct an archaeological evaluation of man camps associated with the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota. This work will occur in collaboration with colleagues from the Department of Social Work, an architectural historian, a photographer, and a two historian/archaeologists familiar with working in North Dakota. Our plan at present is to work several days in the neighborhood of Stanley, North Dakota and then around Watford City.

Over the next few weeks, I need to come up with a method for documenting the diverse array of camps that serve to house the workers in the oil industry in Western North Dakota. With the diversity of our team, we have a whole series of overlapping research questions from those involving issues of housing to archaeological methods, aesthetics, and historical processes at play in boom areas. Creating a unified method for collecting data (and the inevitable preliminary analysis that comes along with primary data collection), will be a challenge.

My gut instinct when confronted with any archaeological data collection from the field is to create a form. This probably comes from my background in survey archaeology and its grounding in the practices of processual archaeology. The forms I imagine provide a frame work for collecting quantitative and qualitative data on a site. How big is the camp? How many units are in the camp? How are the units arranged?  These kinds of questions, of course, are easily addressed on a paper form, well-suited for entry into a spreadsheet or data base, and convenient to summarize in maps, tables or – if we collect a sufficiently robust data set – in statistical form. 

On the other hand, I have witnessed the limitations of forms in documenting complex environments. In one of the first seasons with the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, we used a form called “the modern sweep” (for a brief description of these methods see pp. 441-442 here (pdf)). This was a densely packed one page form designed to document modern material across the survey unit. The concept was sophisticated for its time, but the rub – as so often happens – was in the execution. The form was long, complex, confusing, and frequently impossible to reconcile with the material on the ground. This was not an issue with how the form was constructed, per se, but that a form was not an ideal way to capture the diverse assemblage of modern material scattered through farmers’ fields in the Korinthia. After one season, the form was dropped.

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How do I create a form to document this?TiogaCamp

The most challenging thing about documenting the material culture around the man camps is finding the balance between the need to prompt the collection of systematic and comparable data and the urge to produce an unrealistically detailed form.

My current thinking is to prompt our recording team to document their observations based on archaeological processes like discard practices, on the one hand, and practices associated with creating social distinctions on the other. While these prompts will invariably rely upon some fairly substantial assumptions, they will also maintain a degree of interpretive transparency that a traditional form might obscure behind a veil of more narrowly descriptive fields.

Spiros Marinos

July 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

This weekend, I heard the sad news that Spiros Marinos had died. Anyone who has spent time working with Tim Gregory in the Corinthia, or on one the many projects related to the sites of Isthmia, Kenchreai, or the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, or has come through the village of Ancient Corinth and stayed at Rooms Marinos encountered Spiros. He was the patriarch and founder of Rooms Marinos and was a constant at the hotel and in the village for all of my decade and a half of time spent in the Corinthia. This weekend I thought about Spiros some and remembered some of the ways in which he made my life and time in the Corinthia better. 

First, whenever we as archaeologist began to either feel bad about how many hours we were being asked to work or began to feel too good about our long days, we could look a Spiros as an instant corrective to our self pity or congratulations. It was a rare night that we headed away from the dinner table and Spiros was not still up and working. Each morning (including some inhumane hours kept by a particular archaeological survey), Spiros was up setting the table and bringing out the food. When the hotel was crowded with an archaeological team, a study tour, and various tourists, he appeared in constant motion. He worked long hours and whenever someone quips about the laziness of the Greeks (especially in light of the recent financial crisis), my mind turns to Spiros and the Marinos family.

I always appreciated his genuine hospitality offered mainly through simple gestured. There was nothing more pleasant than to be offered a piece of fruit on a hot afternoon or to be teased as I groggily attempted to navigate my breakfast after a late night. When I’d come down to the hotel from Athens in the winter months, I rarely paid for my room and I was invited to take meals with his family. These gestures did not necessarily happen often or regularly, but when they did occur it was impossible not to feel part of something. 

Finally, and perhaps most academically, Spiros knew an immense amount about the Corinthian countryside. Some of my fondest memories involve him explaining (usually via Tim Gregory) the workings of some obscure piece of agricultural equipment we had stumbled across at a rural site. Or Spiros telling us how to get to some long neglected path through the mountains or to some obscure and half-forgotten archaeological site. It would be interesting to note how many dissertations produced by folks who spend significant time at Rooms Marinos thanked Spiros and his wife in their acknowledgements. 

I haven’t made it back to the Corinthia for the last few summers, and hearing about Spiros passing made me incredibly nostalgic for the long hours in the Corinthian countryside, the mostly drinkable yellow colored Rooms Marinos wine, and the gentle hospitality of the Marinos family. He will be forever part of my memory of that place.

The Chlamydatus of Corinth

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.

NewImageHesperia 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.

More on Sicyonia, fortifications, and Late Antiquity

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve continued to work my way through Y. Lolos’s massive tome, Land of Sicyon. Hesperia Supplement 39 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 2011) this weekend while waiting for the rain delayed Daytona 500.  I posted the first part of my review a couple of weeks ago and, so, I suppose this is part two.

There are three areas, in particular, which attracted my interest:

1. Rural Fortifications. As I noted two weeks ago, there remains significant work to be done on the rural fortifications of the Peloponnesus, and Lolos’s book does its part by documenting a significant number of undocumented or poorly documented fortified sites in the countryside. Of particular interest to me were the irregular fortifications at Kokkinovrachos (pp. 234-240)and the round towers at Profetes Elias hill (p. 231) and at Tsakouthi (pp.  240-244) which my colleagues and I reference in a 2010 Hesperia article. While the Kokkinovrachos fortification is much larger than our fortification overlooking Vayia in the southwestern Corinthia, they share the same irregular masonry and both combine a fortification with a free standing tower. Lolos argues that this fortification occupied a height with good views of the crucial intersection between Stymphalos, Phlious, Acrocorinth, and the Sikyonian sites of Titane and Thyamia. Maintaining a substantial stronghold on this hill allowed Sikyonian forces to command several significant routes into the city.

The round tower at Tsakouthi resembled closely the round tower at Lychnari in the Corinthia. Lolos suggested that the upper course of the tower at Tsakouthi were likely mud brick, and this construction, in fact, combined with the towers round shape would have made the tower less vulnerable to artillery blows from forces passing on the nearby road. Our tower at Lychnari may have also had a mud brick superstructure, although there is a sufficient stone in the area to allow for a stone tower of significant height. The smaller and poorly preserved round tower at Profetes Elias may be a good parallel for the smaller tower at the site of Ano Vayia.

The explanations for building a round tower as opposed to a square or orthogonal tower has never entirely satisfied me. It seems to me that a round tower would entail a significant increase in technical difficulty as each block had to be cut or at least trimmed to match either the interior or exterior diameter of the tower. (Blocks in square towers could fit in numerous different positions.)  While it seems likely the round towers were less susceptible to damage by artillery which would only ever inflict a glancing blow, the towers at Lychnari and Ano Vayia (and at Lolos’s Profetes Elias) do not seem close enough to major roads to make the additional work necessary. Moreover, there are numerous towers very close to major roads which are square or rectangular in plan.

Finally, Lolos contributes little the on going discussions of rural fortifications and land use. In fact, Lolos seems to be content suggesting that the fortification of Sikyonia primary served to allow the city to communicate with and deploy forces to across its hinterland. This may be the case, but for fortifications like the round tower at Tsakouthi, it seems like we should at least entertain the possibility that the tower was part of a agricultural complex serving the valley its overlooks.

2. The Late Roman Boom. Like most region in the Eastern Mediterranean, Lolos’s Sikyonia saw a boom in settlement and sits during the Late Roman times. The number of new sites is truly remarkable with over 60 site with Late Roman material and only 23 having material from immediately earlier periods.  While the extensive nature of Lolos’s survey which did not sample his study area in a systematic way, makes it difficult to determine whether this pattern he identified would survive a more rigorous sampling regimen, it is nevertheless consistent with findings published from the Eastern Corinthia, for example, which documented the Late Roman period as time of particular prosperity.

Of particular note is Lolos’s documenting of several previous overlooked or under documented Early Christian churches including a “Early Byzantine Church” at the site of Litharia you Rakka of Poulitsa. The rather small number of Early Byzantine churches in the Peloponnesus alone makes this structure worth additional consideration. The presence of rural church apparently situated apart from significant settlements appears increasingly to be a feature of Late Roman Greece. Lolos’s argument that the site of Klisi-Boukoura of Stylia might be a monastic foundation based on its size of over 3,000 sq. m. This would be rather unprecedented in the Peloponnesus in Late Antiquity, but does show how many significant interpretative gaps exist in our knowledge of the Early Christian landscape. Recent work in the Eastern Corinthia has shown that even in the hinterland of a major city, rural churches remain undocumented.

3. Diachronic Survey. Finally, one of the most interesting parts of Lolos’s book is his commitment to treating the history of Sikyonia in a diachronic fashion. He not only includes discussions of the Venetian period census record, but also of Medieval, Ottoman, and Early Modern period sites. This includes a brief comment on zevgolateio which are groups of kalyvia, or modest, seasonal dwellings, that form a small hamlet (p. 365). From his short remarks, it would seem that the settlement at Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia which my colleagues and I are now bringing to publication, represents a zevgolateio. The illustrations that he provides of the interior of a season dwelling coincide closely with those found in Lakka Skoutara, which is unsurprising, of course, considering the geographic proximity and similar ethnic make up of the populations.

I have a bit more to read and process from this rich, closely edited, and significant work, and I expect that I’ll provide some final words on the book in the coming weeks.

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters.

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