Rural Roman Landscapes of Greece

December 17, 2014 § 2 Comments

Now that I’m back working in Greece, I’ll have to start paying closer attention to the annually published Archaeological Reports, and a number of my colleagues helped me out by tipping me off to some of the nice contributions to this year’s edition. Generally speaking, Archaeological Reports summarize recent research in particular chronological period, and mostly they have focused on newly discovered and published sites.  

I was especially glad to read Daniel Stewart’s summary treatment of rural Greece during the Roman period. He does a nice job surveying (pun, pun) the work of intensive pedestrian survey projects in Greece, and this is no easy task as many of these projects have not published traditional archaeological volumes, but in scattered articles in edited volumes and journals. Better still, he goes a step further and considers the general direction of intensive survey in Greece with special reference to the challenges of the Roman period. This attention transforms what could have been a parochial survey of newly discovered Roman rural sites into a must read for anyone interested in intensive pedestrian survey.

Stewart identifies four major areas of development in intensive survey: challenges to ceramic typologies, refined collections strategies, studies across landscape zones, and interdisciplinarity. He does a nice job communicating the problems associated with ceramic chronologies for the Roman period and the vexing, but somehow inescapable dependence on the Early, Middle, and Late Roman chronological division. (I blame prehistorians for passing this chronological structure onto us.) David Pettegrew’s landmark Hesperia article on the “busy countryside” of Late Roman Greece was cited with approval (pdf here). 

At the same time, I think any close observer of survey archaeology would agree with these developments broadly speaking, although one could also say that these recent development have characterized the general trajectory of intensive survey since the 1980s. For example, survey archaeologists have always been working to refine their collection strategies to sample more effectively the material on the surface, and Stewart’s attention to re-survey is less a product of recent methodological refinement and more of a particular opportunistic, expression of longstanding interest in how best to sample and document kaleidoscopic surface assemblages. Stewart is right in recognizing that site classification remains a challenge for intensive survey projects and this is tied directly to the intensity of sampling. More rigorous sampling techniques produce a greater range of sites both in terms of size and, in many cases, in terms of functional assemblage. In some conditions, as few as a handful of fine ware sherds can represent activity in the landscape, but they intensity, type, and duration of activities at that particular place must remain undefined. 

The same could be said for recent attention to interdisciplinarity. The earliest efforts at intensive survey in Greece incorporated ethnographic and scientific components to their work embracing the twin influences of processual archaeology and the unstructured perambulations of early modern travelers. By the late 20th century, it was unthinkable to conduct a survey without geologists, a plan for sectioning pottery, biologists to help understanding flora and fauna, and ethnographers to interpret local knowledge. It was odd that Stewart did not mention the influence of geologists as being particularly important to recent trends in intensive survey. 

Finally, efforts to survey different landscape zones has been part of the survey archaeologist’s tool kit from at least the dawn of the Second Wave of survey projects. This is hardly a new trend or one deserving particular mention. In fact, one could argue that recent (21st century) permit limits that impose a 30 sq km maximum study area for intensive survey project have led to a shift from more extensive approaches to the Greek landscape to a more intensive focus on collection and sampling strategies. Intensive survey is committed to saying more with less.  

I also think that Stewart’s emphasis on the fragility of the surface assemblage in light of more intensive agriculture and development in Greece is misplaced or, at least, poorly defined. It seems hard to image even the most intensive collection regimes putting much of a dent in the abundant material present in a surface assemblage. In fact, our work on Cyprus in conditions in every way compatible with those in Greece suggested that typical sampling methods for intensive survey (20% of the surface) collect less than 10% of the material visible and that assemblage of material is only a tiny fraction of the material present. While deep ploughing/plowing does present a risk to archaeological remains (not to mention soil health), from the perspective of intensive survey, the danger is more closely related to movement of artifacts in the landscape than to any significant destruction of the archaeological record. 

I would have liked Stewart to focus more (any?) attention on the reluctance of the significant second wave survey projects (i.e. Pylos Regional Archaeology Project (update: I included PRAP accidentally in this list!), Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, Kythera Island Project, et c.) to make their raw digital data freely accessible. This has had a substantial impact on our ability to comparing and synthesizing the landscapes produced by these projects.

I might have also liked to see some critique of the tendency toward parochialism in Greek archaeology of the Roman period. Of course, this is a generalization that some might see as unfair, but it nevertheless would have been useful to understand how our understanding of rural Greece in the Roman period contributes or responds to similar interest elsewhere in the Mediterranean. For example, scholars invested in intensive survey methods have focused on rural Roman landscape across the Mediterranean basin. The work of these scholars have produced significant data both in terms of material and methodology for any understanding of Roman Greece.  

Despite my critiques (which are mostly saying that I’d write a different article!), Stewart’s article provides a nice summary of recent work and a great point of departure for anyone interested in staying abreast of recent research in the rural world of Roman Greece. 

Check out David Pettegrew’s review of this article here.

Cyprus and the Balance of Empires

December 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was pretty excited to pick up at the ASOR annual meeting the volume titled Cyprus and the Balance of Empires edited by Tom Davis, Charles Stewart, and Annemarie Weyl Carr. The volumes consists of a series of papers focused on the period from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion originally presented at Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in a 2011 conference.  This work should be read alongside the recently published volume from the Cahier du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD)” to provide a sweeping overview of recent research on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus.

As per usual, I will not provide a full review of this volume, but make some quick observations. I’ll mainly focus on the first eight chapters which focus on the Late Antique and Early Byzantine period on the island. 

1. Churches. Like Cypriot archaeology, this volume is very interested in churches. It contains summary publications by D. Michaelides on his newly excavated church at Ayioi Pente in Yeriskipou, E. Procopiou from her martyrium at Katalymata ton Plakton on the Akrotiri peninsula, and a massive synthetic article by Charles Stewart on the development of Byzantine architecture on Cyprus.

The most famous of these churches is the massive martyrdom at Katalymata with its western facing apse. Procopiou interpretation of this building as a 7th century martyrdom with clear architecture ties to both Egypt and the Levant is almost certain correct, and reinforces the position of Cyprus as a major center of pilgrimage in the 6th and 7th centuries with important churches at Amathous, Salamis-Constantia, Limassol (Neapolis), and now on the Akrotiri peninsula.

D. Michaelidis publication of the salvage excavations at Ay. Pente expands the corpus of Early Christian churches on the island and provides particularly useful parallels for the basilica at Polis-Chrysochous which I’ve been working to publish. Both the Ay. Pente church and the South Basilica at Polis are surrounded by graves and the stone lined ossuaries at Ay. Pente are similar to those a basilica EG0 at Polis. The relationship between contemporary burials and cult activities across the island in the 7th century is quite clear and consistent. I was similarly intrigued by what appears to be a south porch on the basilica at Ay. Pente which is another feature shared with the South basilica at Polis. Unfortunately the plan of the church at Ay. Pente is pretty disturbed so it is difficult to understand whether this south porch was associated with a southern atrium like at the South Basilica. I’m beginning to wonder whether these south porches provided sheltered access for rituals attached to important burials on the island. 

2. Architectural Development of Churches on Cyprus. Charles Stewart’s sweeping review of church architecture on Cyprus deserves its own number in my non-review. His survey was, as one would expect, thought provoking. Stewart began his work by critiquing the dichotomies that have structured past studies of church architecture on the island. Starting with Megaw who asked whether Cypriot architecture was “metropolitan or provincial” and continuing through Curcic who asked whether Cypriot architecture was provincial or “regional” in character. Of course, Dikigoropoulos 1961 dissertation located Cyprus “betwixt Greek and Saracen” and numerous subsequent scholars have found both productive and reductionist parallels between the islands current divided political situation and its historical place a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Stewart, then, was right to critique the overdetermination of these binary readings of Cypriot architectural history. In its place, Stewart argued that throughout the Early Byzantine period Cyprus’ place in the Mediterranean shifted according to local political, economic, and religious influences. There was no single core for which the island stood as the periphery, but multiple cores and peripheries that shaped the island as an architectural space.

Without getting into the detail of Stewart’s article, I do wonder whether he replaced on set of dichotomies with another. He seemed inclined divide architecture influences between those from the island and those from outside the island creating a Cyprus: Not Cyprus dichotomy. While historically this makes sense, as the corpus of basilicas on Cyprus have generally been seen as unique, I do wonder whether we should look at the communities on Cyprus as independent actors rather than simply individual representations of some island wide tendencies. I suspect that some communities on the island looked at their neighbors for inspiration while others looked far beyond the island’s shores. 

3. Survey and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Marcus Rautman’s article provides a nice overview of the work done by regional surveys to illuminate the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods on the island, and the rural landscape in particular. A key point in this article is that the late 7th century and 8th century landscapes may be much more elusive from an archaeological perspective. Rautman argues that the disruption of region trade, particularly sponsored by the imperial government, created a landscape dominated by short-term settlements rather than substantial and stable investments on the countryside characteristic of 6th and early 7th centuries. These short-term settlements and more contingent practices are less visible to the archaeologist and sometimes misinterpreted as population decline or abandonment.

4. Chronology and Ceramics. It was pretty remarkable that a collection of articles dedicated to the Late Romana and Early Byzantine period on Cyprus did not include a single article focusing exclusively on ceramics. David Metcalf’s article on seals and coins and Maria Parani’s all-too-short contribution on everyday life reminded us that small finds can play a key role in understanding the island’s economic, social, and administrative context. The lack of an article dealing specifically with locally made cook pots, the long-lived Late Roman 1 amphoras, or the regionally produced Cypriot Red Slip table wares, speaks to archaeological traditions on the island that despite well-known contributions by no less a scholar than Hector Catling or David Soren, continues to be dominated by students of architecture, icons, styles, and top-down history of church patrons, imperial officials, and bishops. Davis’s and Stewart’s overview of the study of Byzantine archaeological work on Cyprus emphasized the long-standing nature of existing research agendas despite the continued inroads of scholars like Marcus Rautman, Michael Given, and … err… me, Scott Moore, and David Pettegrew.

The book has much to offer the student of Late Roman and Byzantine Cyprus and contributes to the impressive and growing body of knowledge about the island during these periods. Now, we just need to get scholars from outside the island of Cyprus to read and consider the work done on Cyprus, and for archaeologists who work on Cyprus to continue to work to place the island within a wider context. 

Connectivity in Cyprus and Corinth

October 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

Over the last few weeks, David Pettegrew and I have been working on an article that compares finds data from the Corinthia and from our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. We were particularly interested in understanding how the types of ceramics that we can identify in survey assemblages shapes the types of economic relationships we can recognize in the Eastern Mediterranean. As one might expect, our focus has been on the Late Roman world, and we have been particularly interested in the difference between the kind of economic relationships manifest in assemblages comprised of highly visible amphoras and those manifest in highly diagnostic Late Roman red slip wares. The entire project is framed by Horden and Purcell’s notion of connectivity and that’s the unifying theme of the volume to which this paper will contribute.

The paper is exciting because it represents a step beyond the work that David has been doing on his book on the Isthmus of Corinth. I’ve read a draft of the book and it’ll be exciting. It also represents the next step for our work with the Pyla-Koutsopetria data. It is significant that all of our survey data upon which this paper is based, is available on Open Context. Our book should be available in time for the holidays. 

The draft below is 95% of the way there with only a few niggling citations to clean up. Enjoy and, as always, any comments or critiques would be much appreciated!

Communities of Practice in Late Antique Roman North Africa

September 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

One the best things about being a sabbatiquol is getting a chance to make a dent in my backlog of reading. This week, I pushed on through Leslie Dossey’s Peasant and Empire in Christian North Africa (Berkeley 2010). I am only 5 years late!

As you might guess, I read the book as I am collecting my thoughts and citation for a short article with David Pettegrew comparing evidence for connectivity in the Eastern Corinthia (via EKAS data) and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus (via PKAP data).  David and I will, more or less, follow current trends in discussions of Late Roman trade, but trying to find the fine line between older arguments that recognize most ancient economic activity as state sponsored and more recent arguments that see the economic structure of the ancient world outlined in a series of relationships between interdependent, but relatively autonomous microregions. Juxtaposing these two understandings, of course, implies more of a dichotomy than actually exists. As I argued last week, there is an issue of visibility that complicates matters. Economic activity that took place at a scale sufficiently large to be visible was likely mediated by the state. In fact, most of our typologies of ceramics – particularly transport amphora from Late Antiquity – focus on vessels used for the distribution of agricultural goods on a very large scale. In fact, the scale alone the massive quantities of highly visible Late Roman amphoras compromises an romantic (and frankly silly) notion of an economy powered exclusively by small scale cabboteurs carrying a few amphoras from each port of call.  

Dossey’s book sets out one way to understand the relationship between individual communities and large-scale trade in the Mediterranean by arguing that indigenous communities (i.e. communities of not fully Romanized “peasants” in imperial North Africa) acquired growing access the diagnostic Late Roman material over the course of Late Antiquity. This access reflected both change in the status of peasants and, more importantly, the change in consumption patterns. The access peasants had to material associated in earlier periods with Roman or thoroughly Romanized populations of North Africa reflected decisions on the part of the Roman policy and peasant communities. The Roman and Romanized populations depended upon, the consumption of red slip pottery, as a marker of distinction and elite status during the initial centuries of Roman rule in North Africa. This occurred because the Romans undermined the traditional land tenure, village settlement structure, and production patterns in the region and drew peasants onto larger estates where the Romans could exert considerably more control over peasant consumption patterns through social pressures and the increasingly monetized nature of the Roman economy that focused on production for urban elites and export.

For Dossey, then, Roman rule led not to depopulation – as some have argued – but the collapse of an identifiable rural signature for the non-Roman population. The “reappearance” of the rural population in Late Antiquity occurred not because peasants began to reoccupy the countryside, as some have argued, but because of the breakdown of Roman social, economic, and – at least during the 3rd century – political organization. This breakdown had an economic impact in that it motivated the redevelopment of rural industry as it sought to fill the gap left by the larger disrupted economic relationships. The development of rural industry and the breakdown of traditional social and political order also created space for changes in peasant consumption. Not only did peasants have greater access to material, but they also took the opportunity to subvert weakening social pressure by adopting increasingly Roman habits.

While she doesn’t articulate it specifically in this way, Dossey describes Roman and Late Roman consumption patterns (and attendant archaeological visibility) in North Africa as a function of communities of practice. I’ve been messing with these ideas over the last year or so as a way to understand variation in Late Roman ceramic assemblages across the island of Cyprus. Our site at Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, showed a far greater variety of imported fine wares than, say, the site of Polis-Chrysochous on the western side of the island. Both sites showed signs of 6th century economic prosperity, but it manifest in substantially different assemblages of pottery. 

The idea that assemblages are not exclusively representative of access to materials, but also represent decisions by communities adds a level of complexity to my own tendency toward systemic arguments. Both the Eastern Corinthia and Pyla-Koutsopetria are areas that show significant engagement with the economic power of the Late Roman state. At the same time, both areas show distinct assemblages of table and fine ware that hint at the workings of communities there.  

Late Roman Economy and Formation Processes

August 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

I’ve spent some quality time with the most recent volume of Late Antique Archaeology this past month in preparation for writing a short contribution with David Pettegrew on connectivity in the Late Roman eastern Mediterranean. We plan to compare the Late Roman assemblages produced by two survey projects:  Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Project and Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeology Project. An important component of both assemblages is Late Roman amphoras: EKAS produced substantial quantities of Late Roman 2 Amphora probably produced in the Argolid; PKAP produced quantities of Late Roman 1 Amphora produced both on Cyprus and in southern Cilicia. We hope to discuss how the concentrations of these common transport vessels reflected and complicated how we understand economic patterns in the Late Antiquity.

Over the past half-century two basic models for the Late Roman economy have emerged. The earlier models saw the state as the primary engine for trade in antiquity. More recently, however, scholars have argued that the core feature of ancient trade is small-scale interaction between microregions across the Mediterranean basin. While there is undoubtedly some truth in both models, the latter has substantially more favor among scholars at present and the volume dedicated to connectivity focuses on the kind of small-scale interregional exchange that created a network of social, economic, and even cultural connections that defined the ancient Mediterranean world. The classic question introduced to complicate our view of ancient connectivity is: if the ancient Mediterranean is defined by these small-scale connections, then why did the political, economic, social, and even cultural unity of the communities tied to the Middle Sea collapse with the fall of Roman political organization in Late Antiquity?

Figure4 18

This is where David and I want to introduce the complicating matter of formation process archaeology. The substantial assemblages of Late Roman amphora represent the accumulation of discard from two “nodes” within the Late Antique economic network. These two nodes, however, are particularly visible because of the substantial concentration of a class of transport vessel.

These transport vessels most likely served to transport supplies to imperial troops either stationed in the Balkans or around the Black Sea, or in the case of the Eastern Korinthia, working to refortify the massive Hexamilion Wall that ran the width of the Isthmus of Corinth or stationed in its eastern fortress near the sanctuary of Isthmia. The visibility of these two areas depends upon a kind of artifact associated with a kind of exchange. As David has noted the surface treatments associated with LR2 amphora make them highly diagnostic in the surface record. LR1s, in turn, have highly diagnostic, twisted, handles that make them stand out from a surface assemblage dominated by relatively undifferentiated body sherds. In other words, these amphora assemblages represent a visible kind of economic activity.

The impact of this visible type of economic activity on our understanding of Late Roman connectivity is complex. On the one hand, the kind of persistent, low-level, economic connections associated with most models of connectivity are unlikely to leave much evidence on the surface. The diverse and relatively small group of very diverse amphoras, for example, found upon the coasting vessel at Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus would have been deposited at numerous small harbors along its route. Moreover, the fluidity of the networks that characterized connectivity would have made the routes of caboteurs irregular and contingent on various economic situations throughout the network of relationships. This variability and the small-scale of this activity is unlikely to have created an archaeologically visible assemblage at any one point on these routes. More than this, overland trade in wine or olive oil may not have used amphoras at all further impairing the archaeological visibility of the kind of low-level connectivity characteristic of Mediterranean exchange patterns. Between ephemeral containers and variable, low-density scatters, the regular pattern of archaeological exchange characterizing connectivity will never be especially visible in the landscape.

In contrast, imperial provisioning requirements, fueled for example by the quaestura exercitus, would present exceptionally visible assemblages of material. The interesting thing, to me, is that the amphoras visible on the surface in the Korinthia and at Koutsopetria  are not what is being exchanged, but the containers in which exchange occurs. The material exchanged, olive oil and wine, are almost entirely invisible in the archaeological records on their own. The visibility of these two places reflects the presence of outlets for a region’s produce. The produce itself, however, leaves very little trace, and we have to assume that networks that integrated microregions across the Mediterranean functioned to bring goods from across a wide area to a particular site for large-scale export.

The collapse of these sites of large-scale export during the tumultuous 7th and 8th centuries did not make trade between microregions end, but it made it more contingent and less visible, as I have argued for this period on Cyprus. The absence of large accumulations of highly diagnostic artifact types in one place represent a return to our ability to recognize normal patterns of Mediterranean exchange as much as the disruption of this exchange. The decline of these sites both deprived archaeologists of visible monuments of exchange and ancient communities of a brief moment of economic stability within longstanding contingent networks.

Connectivity on Cyprus and Corinth

August 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

David Pettegrew and I are working up a paper for a volume on connectivity in the ancient Mediterranean. Connectivity has been a buzz word in Mediterranean archaeology since Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea used it to describe the regular pattern of small-scale connections between microregions. These microregions depend upon connectivity for political and social stability and economic subsistence.  

Our original plan was to compare the artifact assemblages at our two research sites on Cyprus: Polis-Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria and show how these two sites engaged the broader Mediterranean world in a different ways. They not only showed links to different regional networks of exchange, but also showed different kinds of relationships to these networks. Polis, for example, was a small city and Koutsopetria seems to have been a regional emporium directed toward the export of agricultural goods. 

After mulling this paper over for a few weeks (and missing some deadlines and conjuring enthusiasm for various arguments), we decided to take a shot at making a very generous deadline extension and turn the paper in a different direction. David is almost finished his book on the history of the Corinthian Isthmus based heavily on the work of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) and we have also recently submitted our completed manuscript documenting our intensive survey at Pyla-Koutsopetria. So it occurred to us that we might productively compare the results from these two survey projects as they share methods and sampling strategies.

More than that, the assemblages produced by comparable methods have certain clear similarities. Both study areas produced an abundance of Late Romam material particular easily-identified Late Roman amphoras. In the case of Koutsopetria, these are largely Late Roman type 1 amphora. In the Corinthia, the survey area produced a substantial quantity of Late Roman type 2 amphoras. While neither amphora was produced locally, both are regional types and LR1 kilns are known on Cyprus and there are LR2 kilns in the Southern Argolid. Both of these amphora types have been associated with forms of administrative trade in the Late Roman world, and provisioning the army on the borders of the empire in particular. 

Connectivity has tended to focus on the small-scale trade between interdependent microregions rather than the larger-scale, administrative trade. In fact, considering the role of this larger-scale trade in our notions of connectivity marks a return to older notions of trade in the Late Roman world which saw economic activity largely stimulated by the requirements of supplying the capital and the armies. The Corinthian Isthmus featured both imperially funded construction in the Hexamilion wall and, at least in the 6th century, a garrison of troops at fortress at Isthmia. The appearance of LR2 amphora in this context suggests the movement of goods into the area most likely to provision the garrison and to supply construction crews associated with the Hexamilion wall renovations in the 6th century.

At Koutsopetria, the abundance of LR1 is perhaps tied to the need to supply the army in the Balkans. The site may have served as a transshipment point for agricultural produce leaving Cyprus through the small embayment there. The numerous fragments of amphora there makes it unlikely that they represent goods coming into a small community, but more likely represented exports. The uniformity of the amphora types also suggests that goods are flowing out from the site in a systematic way.

The advantage of comparing these two study areas is to present a useful counterpoint  to the common view of connectivity that emphasizes links between microregions. Our paper will return to a view of the Mediterranean that considers the links between small places and the center while at the same time attempting to understand how these connections influence their relationships to other small places in their regions.

Archaeology of Sound

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Every now and then when I’m in the field, I panic about falling behind in my journal reading and letting the ENTIRE DISCIPLINE PASS ME BY.

WHAT?? Archaeological Dialogues has an issue dedicated to ROMANIZATION? I thought about that once, like four years ago! I must… read… now!

WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY has forthcoming volume dedicated to the archaeology of sound? I know people working on that RIGHT NOW and how can I possibly interact with them without being familiar with soon-to-be-published articles. More than that, I’m an audiophile and I need to understand the archaeology of connectors. And I’ve done archaeology of the contemporary world (forthcoming) so I must understand what was albums were found on the floor of a commune where the Grateful Dead once live.  

It’s not that it has to happen eventually – like say while I’m on sabbatical – it has to happen now.

So instead of spending a weekend catching up on vital scholarship and remaining relevant to my discipline, I decided to clean up some audio file that I captured over the past few weeks in the field.

On my hike to the cave, I encounter a fairly agitated hawk and this what he (or she) sounded like:

We’ve also had the good fortune of encountering some very vocal goats:

And some excitable frogs (especially at night!):

Finally, you can faintly hear the bells of the church at Kaparelli at the western edge of our survey area:

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