A Special Issue of Hesperia: Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece
April 11, 2013 § 3 Comments
April may be the cruelest month, but it’s also a time when archaeologists shift our attention to summer fieldwork and imagine languid days of writing and research. The spring number of Hesperia kicks off these summer reveries and the most recent issue is a particular treat. The issue, edited by Jack Davis and Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan and deriving from a conference held in 2010 at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, looks critically at the history of American archaeology in Greece with attention to philhellenism and philanthropy. Rather than being a brazen paean to the work of American archaeologists in the first half of the 20th century, it rings a more critical note and suggests that not all acts of generosity and affection toward Greece reflected altruism.
I have not made my way through the entire volume yet, but I would urge anyone interested in this topic to start with Jack Davis’s contribution titled “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism”. Focusing on the crisis years of 1918-1919 and the involvement of American School officials in the activities of the American Red Cross in the aftermath of the First World War, the article explores the role that personal relationships between important figures in American archaeology like Edward Capps had with members of the Greek political elite. These relationships, Davis argued, fueled by philanthropic efforts on the part of Capps and other high profile individuals associated with the American School not only contributed the Greek struggle to survive the chaotic decade at the end of WWI, but also American efforts get exceptional concessions from the Greek state, the most visible of which was the right to excavate the Athenian Agora.
Y. Hamilakis in a contribution titled “Double Colonization: The Story of the Excavations in the Athenian Agora,” suggested that appreciation and mutual respect was not the only impetus behind the willingness of the Greek state to allow the Americans to not only excavate the Athenian Agora, but also to expropriate the property of hundreds of residents in a traditional Theseion neighborhood. In Hamilakis’s more critical account, the Agora excavations represent the politics of double colonization. The space of the Agora reflected both the colonial experiences of Hellenism and archaeology’s commitment to modernist practices and the long tradition nationalism in archaeological practices in Greece. As one might expect from Hamilakis, he weaves the political machinations of various Greek and American archaeologists (and the reflection of their maneuvering in the Greek press) together with development of archaeological impulses toward revealing the hidden and “real” Athens below the houses of contemporary residents. His arguments for the “allochronization” of Greece in the rhetoric of the American School officials are particularly critical. In short, he argued that School officials expected concessions from the Greek government that we the same as those afforded to the French and Germans over 50 years earlier ignoring the radically different situation in Greece at the time. At the same time that Americans were negotiating the destruction of a neighborhood in Athens, the Greek state (with the help of the international community, to be sure) was navigating the massive influx of refugees from Asia Minor and continuing aftershocks of the First World War.
What makes this volume all the more significant is the backdrop of both the current economic crisis in Greece and the changing economic realities of archaeologists working in Greece (and this, of course, extends to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens). To state simply that the American School, American archaeology in Greece, philhellenism, or 20th century American philanthropy in Greece is an expression of a modernist colonial impulse would be a gross over-simplification of a complex relationship between the two states, their political culture, and individuals. These essays offer a critical corrective to simplistic perspectives on this interaction at a particular fraught time in history of Greece and Greek archaeology.
Congratulations to the editors and the Hesperia staff for producing a timely contribution. If I’m not mistaken, this is one of the very few times that Hesperia has turned itself over to a single theme in a Special Issue. I am not sure why they decided to do this rather than to release a Hesperia Supplement, but whatever the format, this is a supercool contribution to the history of our field.
March 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This weekend I’ll be at Dumbarton Oaks presenting a paper at their spring colloquium on Byzantine Archaeology. As I have noted earlier this week, the colloquium is on the impact of survey archaeology on Byzantine studies, and I was tasked with writing a paper on looking across chronological barriers. I focused my paper on comparative landscapes, formation processes, and Byzantine attitudes toward the past in texts. I am not sure that I say anything profoundly new, but I think that I manage to weave these three topics together in an effective way.
I am not entirely pleased with how I discuss the comparison between the Early Modern and Medieval landscapes in Lakka Skoutara. I think it probably needs a more robust basis for comparing the two artifact assemblages, but this is challenging in a paper targeted to be around 20-30 minutes paper. (Since my paper is penultimate paper after a long day I mercifully kept my remarks shorter than the recommended length imagining that some of my colleagues earlier in the day will go longer than their allotted time). I am also not convinced that I engaged the issue of formation processes fully in the second section, but my paper should provide some food for thought, and it allowed me to dust off some old data that as far as I know has not been published.
Here’s the paper and you can judge whether it works or not:
If you’re still looking for more of my riveting writing, I noticed that a book review of mine appeared on the American Journal of Archaeology webpage this week. (You can see an earlier version of this review here).
March 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
Over Easter, I’m giving a talk at the Spring Colloquium at Dumbarton Oaks. The topic will be looking across chronological boundaries in Byzantine survey archaeology. This was not exactly the topic that I would have picked, but it is a good and important one for reflecting on the current situation in Byzantine archaeology more broadly. I have written a first draft of the paper and a longer article-ish piece, but I’ll spare you the rough edges and give you a quick summary of where my argument tries to go.
1. Introduction. I begin with some quick words on the significance of survey archaeology for revealing the rural landscape and settlement, contextualizing known monuments, and informing our reading of the documentary and textual sources that exist for the Byzantine or Medieval countryside in the Aegean (e.g. the Cadaster of Thebes, various hagiographic sources, monastic typika, et c.). I also limit my comments on survey and the Byzantine countryside to Greece and – to a far lesser extent – Cyprus.
2. Historiography. I spend a little time treating two seminal discussions of survey archaeology in a Byzantine context: John Rosser’s 1979 article and Tim Gregory’s 1986 article in Byzantine Studies. I note that Rosser in his work with the Minnesota Messinia Expedition saw the need to look across chronological boundaries in order to understand the limits in which Byzantine rural society developed. Since the Byzantine countryside was largely unknown and we struggled to recognize Byzantine material in the context of survey, we had to attempt to understand this period through analogy to other post-ancient (and ancient) periods in a particular region. This approach intersected with the tendency of regional and “second wave” survey projects in the Aegean to be directed by prehistorians or scholars focused on historical antiquity rather than later periods. Following practices dating to the early 20th century, post-Classical material was grouped together in a single corpus and often studied alongside ethnographic concerns. In fact, the most recent major work on Byzantine ceramics from Greece, Joanita Vroom’s After Antiquity: Ceramics and Society from the 7th to 20th century A.C. does the same thing. This organization is largely a product of the disciplinary history of the field.
3. The Anatomy of Settlement. In the third section, I suggest that this approach, while problematic, can offer some significant insights. I highlight Jack Davis’s lengthy 1991 article “Contributions to a Mediterranean Rural Archaeology: Historical Case Studies from the Ottoman Cyclades” in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology. At the end of this article, Davis notes that studying the better documented Ottoman and Early Modern periods can help us understand how various agricultural strategies and settlement patterns can help us understand rural landscapes in the Byzantine period. I then consider this approach in the context of my work (with David Pettegrew and others) at the site of Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia where we have evidence for early 20th century settlement and an early and spatially distinct Medieval settlement (and more here). The assemblage of material from the Medieval period features the full range of ceramics (table wares, kitchen wares, and storage and utility wares) with the exception of highly diagnostic imported fine wares and coincides well with habitation. This comparative approach highlighted differing settlement and land use strategies in a relatively marginal landscape.
4. Archaeological Signatures and Formation Processes. The fourth section of the paper, looks briefly at some survey work that we did on the island of Kythera in 2001 that documented the ceramic material from around a series of Medieval and Venetian period churches. I note that these buildings provide windows into both an earlier landscape, but also into earlier practices (I can’t escape from Ingold’s taskscapes this week!). The presence of fine ware around the church of Ay. Onoufrios near the Medieval town of Paliochora echoes finds associated with the nearly contemporary site of Panakton on the Attic/Boeotian border which was one of the few buildings on that site to produce a notable assemblage of fine ware. I suggest that the distinct lifecycle of churches and the practices associated with their maintenance – including the accumulation of prestige goods, local discard of broken ceramics, and work to keep the area around the church clean and free from debris – informs how we understand the signature of Byzantine churches in the landscape. This approach to Byzantine sites in the countryside requires that we recognize that even datable buildings are not static markers in the landscape, but the product of diachronic processes that create corresponding complex signatures.
5. Dreams across Time. I conclude the paper with a short fantasy that the Byzantines themselves looked across chronological boundaries when they defined their landscape. Saints, bishops, and pious laymen all worked to recover and rebuild earlier monuments that they knew about in the landscape. The reuse and rebuilding of the landscape makes clear that the Byzantines recognized their landscape as a diachronic phenomena that not only represented distinct periods, but provided a space to create history.
I’ll post a more complete draft of this paper once I get done tuck pointing it.
March 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
After getting some nice feedback on my Monday blog post, I put together a working draft of the paper that I’ll deliver at a conference at the Joukowski Institute for Archaeology at Brown next week.
No one will mistake the paper as anything other than my particular perspectives on Byzantine Archaeology. It reflects my interests in landscapes, legacy data, and the archaeological study of architecture. One can certainly see my recent work at Polis on Cyprus and on the churches of the Corinthia as well as my little projects dealing with legacy data at Isthmia and Thisvi.
That being said, I know that I didn’t give enough attention to recent work on Byzantine ceramics, various areas of “scientific archaeology,” the growing awareness of the relationship between nationalism and Byzantine archaeology, the development of indigenous archaeologies in the Byzantine period, and very recent work at particular sites where researchers are making important strides, and this is a pretty uneven perspective on the current character of the field. I also know that I have left out citations and the like making it a bit difficult to track some of my references…
But this is just a working draft and I continue to be eager to take any and all input.
March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
At the end of next week I am heading to the Joukowsky Institute at Brown University to contribute to a symposium on “Big Questions and Next Directions in the Archaeology of Greece“. My paper will look at Byzantine Archaeology. With only 15-20 minutes, there are limits to what I can say. Moreover, I can’t say that I follow closely the newest contributions from every angle related to Byzantine archaeology. Like most scholars, I have tended to diversify my portfolio beyond the limits of Early Christian and Byzantine Greece while still investing time in areas related to core research interest both in Greece and elsewhere.
That all being said, I do intend to make a few key points:
1. I’ll begin with a brief observation that Byzantine archaeology has generally remained ambivalent toward debates in mainstream “world archaeology”. With notable exceptions, Byzantine archaeologists of Greece barely raised an eyebrow in the direction of processualism and have studiously avoided post-processualism or any other post-structure theorizing. The main focus of Byzantine archaeology continues to be the typological study of monuments, urban areas, fortifications, imported pottery and fine ware, and the interplay of texts and objects.
2. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and that we aren’t becoming more aware of the limits of traditional approaches to Byzantine archaeology. Indeed, over the past 40 years, archaeologists interested in the Byzantine period have used dendrochronology, intensive pedestrian survey, energetics in Byzantine architecture, remote sensing, and other scientific practices to produce new knowledge about Byzantium, but, in general, these contributions have remained isolated and not been integrated into the master narrative of Byzantine Greece. There is, however, a foundation for the meaningful expansion of the archaeological data that informs our understanding of Byzantine Greece. For example, continuous revision of ceramic typologies produced through stratigraphic excavation at Corinth, Athens, and Sparta has already begun to produce new chronological, economic, and architectural insights.
3. At present, my main interest is in the archaeology of architecture in Greece and Cyprus. As a rule, the study of Early Christian and Byzantine monuments in Greece has focused on the production of neat floor plans and elevations. Architectural historians then organized these plans and elevations into typologies, compared various typological difference to one another, and presented arguments relating differences in plans and elevations to regional trends, liturgical practices, and chronology. I did some of this in my dissertation, and, in many ways, this method reflects the nature of our evidence for the Byzantine period. Considering the number of known buildings of Early Christian date in Greece, it is remarkable how few have received systematic archaeological publication; many were not excavated according to stratigraphic methods.
The future of Byzantine archaeology and architecture in Greece involves the study of Byzantine architecture through the results of careful, stratigraphic excavation. Attention to stratigraphy will not only transform the rather static and typologically bounded floor plans into more temporally dynamic spaces, but also grant agency to the individuals who both built and used these monuments. Greater attention to the distribution of finds, architectural stratigraphy, evidence for building practices and maintenance rituals, will shift attention to the “everyday” practices that fueled the Byzantine economy, informed local identities, and created the monumental landscape.
4. A more archaeological approach to Byzantine architecture need not involve new excavations. Renewed attention to archaeological “legacy data” produced by earlier excavations may offer insights into the transformation and use of Early Christian and Byzantine monuments. In fact, many Byzantine archaeologists maintained far better records from their excavations than ever saw publication. Attention to Byzantine monuments documented during excavations focused on earlier materials – e.g. excavators removed Byzantine period structures from sites like Corinth and Olympia as they uncovered earlier levels – holds forth the potential to reveal significant insights into the structure of Byzantine communities. Recent efforts at Athens and Corinth to make this data available in digital forms will expand the number of scholars who have access to the history of these sites and hopefully increase the pace of research.
At the same time, Byzantine archaeologists have a responsibility to make their work available promptly and, whenever possible, in digital form. Moving away from a proprietary notion of archaeological data toward a collaborative model will help produce the kind of (relatively) “big data” is available to address questions of regional economies, large-scale change in settlement patterns, and, of course, ceramic typologies and chronology.
5. Finally, if renewed attention to legacy data and architecture is to have an impact on our understanding of the Byzantine world, we cannot lose sight of the transdisciplinary natural of Byzantine studies. Like its cousin, Classical Archaeology, Byzantine archaeology has long availed itself to texts to inform its main research questions. To continue this tradition, however, we must ground our analysis in integrative approaches to the Byzantine world which facilitate a true dialogue between archaeological remains and textual accounts (rather than one remaining slavishly dependent on the other). The notion of a Byzantine landscape provides an important interpretative field for exploring the relationship between texts and archaeology in a Byzantine context. The idea of the landscape allows for the coexistence of monuments, settlements, survey results, and textual accounts without reducing any one object to dependency on the other. Moreover, recent work on landscape has increasingly recognized the productive tension created by various narratives. Taskscapes, for example, that represent the processes involved in the construction of a church might well be overwritten by hagiographic narratives that located holy sites in the life and travels of a saint. The distribution of local settlements might challenge narratives of abandonment that conform to political or military goals. Artifacts of resistance might provide contrasting perspectives on otherwise triumphant narratives. Landscapes need not always capture tension between text and material culture. The presence of seemingly isolated churches might challenge views of settlement based on nucleated habitation. Soundscapes, view sheds, and the faint evidence for paths and roads, connect communities and monuments in ways that defy perspectives informed by modern efficiencies and topography and contribute to producing evidence for a Byzantine experience.
The future of Byzantine archaeology is in interrogating the methods and results of the rich tradition of archaeological practice in Greece and leveraging the growing body of conceptual literature grounded in world archaeology.
January 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I was looking for a photograph to include with a little blurb on a talk that I am going to give at my alma mater, the University of Richmond.
I came across this photo that I took in the Ligurian Alps with my buddy Mike Fronda. I though it would work for that paper.
The other option is this photo of the Early Christian basilica perched above the site of Nemea.
October 29, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I want to thank everyone who helped out during Dimitri Nakassis’ visit this past week. For the fourth year in a row, the Cyprus Research Fund Lecture was successful. We have just over 100 people at his talk on Thursday afternoon, a pleasant discussion during his seminar on Friday, and a few good meals along the way. It was particularly exciting to see a nice crowd of folks join us online and even ask the speaker questions at the conclusions of his talk.
Nakassis’ talk offered a new perspective on the organization of Late Bronze Age society. By following the relationship between previously overlooked names in the Linear B tablets, he was able to identify a group of individuals who possessed significant wealth and power, but were not associated with the palaces. This “middling” group of people filled out the gap between the powerful centralized power of the palace and the toiling masses typically identified in scholarship in Mycenaean society. In his Friday seminar, he noted that the strain of scholarship that sees the Mycenaean palaces as separate from Greek society and as invasive institutions derived from the Near East has roots in Orientalism. According to this view, the collapse of palaces articulated in this way set the stage for the expansion of “western” society with decentralized economies and democracy. Nakassis suggested that a more subtle reading of the evidence and a critical awareness of the meta-narratives in play in many textbook descriptions of Mycenaean society opens the doors to new insights.
If you missed his talk on Thursday, you can check out an archived version here.
October 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
Sometimes I don’t mind spending a morning with Adobe Illustrator (although most days it’s a special kind of torture). So I did that yesterday.
The first image is a simplified plan of an Early Christian basilica in Greece. It is loosely based on a plan of Nikopolis Alpha, but I cut out some of the ancillary rooms joining the narthex.
I also used the Illustrator to sketch a plan of the church at Kalpsi in Eurytania. This church has a spectacular group of mosaic pavements with dedicatory inscriptions. For my purposes, I was only really interested in the location of dedicatory inscriptions so I decided to create a sketch plan. I think it works for a very simplified representation of where the inscriptions appeared.
How’s that for a Thursday morning before a day filled with grading and grant writing?
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.
September 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Last week I blogged a bit about working my way through J. Bintliff’s new survey of the archaeology of Greece. This week, I reflected on the sections dedicated to the archaeology of Byzantine and Crusader Greece. These three chapters are strong enough to stand on their own as a short survey of Byzantine archaeology. They feature vivid case studies that introduce readers to some unfamiliar places while at the same time providing to the traditional monuments central to long-standing discussions of Byzantine archaeology and architecture.
There are a handful of things that really stood out in these chapters:
1. Domestic Spaces. Bintliff does a great job bringing in recent research on Byzantine and “Frankish period” housing (most notably the work of E. Sigalos). Attention to Byzantine housing, of course, is an important step to developing a more sophisticated understanding of the functional character of surface assemblages for this period. While Bintliff offers little that is new, he does provide a very accessible synthesis of recent work on Byzantine domestic space which a student could easily use as a jumping off point for more in-depth research. The only period for which Bintliff’s work seems a bit lacking is for the Early Byzantine period or the “Dark Ages” where recent work stands poised to make a serious contribution to habitation practices during this important transitional time.
2. Urban and Rural. A better understanding of both urban and rural housing allows us to begin to unravel the complexities associated with Byzantine settlement. At present, as Bintliff acknowledged, the lines between various types so Byzantine settlements are exceedingly blurry. While the ends of the continuum – say isolated farms and major urban areas – are clear, the differences between monasteries, hamlets, villages, town, and small cities remains difficult at best. Even if we concede that some of these terms may reflect contemporary definitions of settlement more than Byzantine, the organization of space outside of the most monumentalized centers (Mistras, Thessaloniki, Constantinople, et c.) continues to offer a serious challenge to scholars interested in Byzantine economy and society.
3. Texts. It was a bit striking that there was so little appeal to texts throughout these chapters. Byzantine archaeology has long been beholden to texts and the abundance of texts -from the most modest hagiography to various documentary sources like the typika edited and published by Dumbarton Oaks. These texts have long worked in conjunction with archaeological observation to offer a robust perspective on the Byzantine and Frankish material culture. Despite all the difficulties that texts from the Medieval period have created for archaeologists, their absence of this section reflects an obvious oversight to specialists in Byzantine archaeology.
4. No Longer Periphery. Most surveys of Byzantine archaeology – as much as such things exist – regard Greece as somehow peripheral to the Byzantine heartland and part of a larger discussion of “provincial” architecture, archaeology, and traditions. Bintliff’s book offers almost no hint of this provincializing discourse and locates southern and central Greece at the center of his discussion of archaeology. This makes some sense, of course, as his book focuses on the archaeology of a particular region defined by both the modern nationstate and earlier concentrations of distinct cultural practices. By focusing on regional practices in their own rights rather than as just pale imitations of the center, Bintliff locates the material culture of Byzantine and Frankish Greece within local traditions and evidence. As his entire book shows, the remains of Byzantine and Frankish Greece fit within a larger and independent narrative of Greek history and archaeology. (This is something that Greek archaeologists have largely recognized, but Bintliff avoids the potential for a nationalist archaeology by treading very critically and carefully the minefield of continuity.)
The most vexing thing about this otherwise commendable survey is that it’s attached to 300+ pages of careful scholarship on the archaeology of earlier periods. This makes this volume not particularly appealing for a course in Medieval or Byzantine history course where it would clearly fill a gap in current offerings. This left me wishing that this book (and others like it) come in a more modular form where an instructor could purchase only particular sections of a text (at I am sure a healthy mark up!).