The Northern Levant at the End of Antiquity

April 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was pretty excited to read Jesse Casana’s very recent article on the Late Roman landscape of the Northern Levant in the most recent Oxford Journal of Archaeology. I’ve been poking, in a tentative way, around this region lately (via articles and books, mind you) in an effort to situate Cyprus more clearly in its regional context. Casana’s article was particularly insightful because he relied heavily on evidence from survey archaeology.

He drew upon a number of recent survey projects (Ghab Regional Survey and the Amuq Valley Regional Project) to demonstrate that the lower Orontes Valley in the immediate neighborhood of Antioch was densely settled throughout the 5th and 6th centuries. The settlements on these fertile valley bottoms have largely been overlooked by scholars of the Late Roman period distracted, it would seem, by the dramatic remains of the “Dead Cities” of the limestone massif some 20 km to the west. The Dead Cities are remarkably well-preserved largely because the relatively arid landscape of the limestone massif was not reoccupied in later periods leaving the substantial limestone structures standing until today.  Moreover, scholars working in the Orontes Valley tended to study  the prominent tell sites which primarily date to the Bronze Age and Iron Age and overlooked the scattered tiles and ceramics that provide evidence for Roman and Late Roman occupation of these regions.

The evidence for Late Roman occupation in this region was substantial and, as Casana documented in a small-scale excavation, included elaborate buildings whose walls were either robbed for building material in later times or were made of mud brick. Casana argues that these apparently affluent settlements developed in response to markets in Antioch, Apamea, and accessed by sea from the coast of the North Levant. The Dead Cities, occupying more marginal land, are part of this same process of producing for booming urban markets and dynamic regional trade.  

Casana’s understanding of the boom in the Orontes Valley coincides with my reading of settlement on Cyprus. The Late Roman period in the East – perhaps into the 7th century on Cyprus – represented a period of urban prosperity, a high degree of monetization, and thriving regional markets in the Eastern Mediterranean stimulated at least, in part, through imperial policy and the needs of the army on the frontiers and the capital at Constantinople. The opportunities of the market stimulated the exploitation of marginal lands and this coincided with a gradual diversification of agricultural production from strictly subsistence practices to limited, opportunistic production for market. As Michael Decker has argued for the same region marginal lands sometimes become opportunities for niche production and the traditional reading of the Dead Cities on the limestone massif suggested that these villages produced olive oil primarily for export (although more recent work has shown that the villages may have also produced wine and grain perhaps for local consumption). 

As a conclusion, Casana frames the issues involving the structure of settlement in the Northern Levant as primarily archaeological in character. In other words, the remarkable preservation of the Dead Cities of the limestone massif has led scholars to overlook and mischaracterize contemporary settlement on the more fertile lands of the Orontes valley. This, as one can imagine, distorted the reading of settlement in this region and overlooked the massive expansion of settlement present in the region. The work of the two surveys summarized by Casana brings the Northern Levant in line with contemporary settlement patterns in the so-called “busy countryside” of Late Roman Cyprus. Like the Northern Levant, the booming urbanism of Late Roman Cyprus and access to the substantial and monetized Eastern Mediterranean economic world supported the expansion of settlement across the island. When the cohesive Eastern Mediterranean market faltered in the face of invasions and plagues in the later 7th century (on Cyprus and perhaps in the Levant as well), urban areas declined and regional markets returned to levels prior to the momentary stimulus provided by the state and an exception period of economic and political integration.     

A Working Paper on Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th Centuries

April 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Since we’re in excavation mode today after our spring storm yesterday, I’ll offer up a working paper for your inspection. The paper looks at settlement on Cyprus during the 7th and 8th centuries and argues three interrelated things.

First, it challenges the idea that scholars should consider Late Roman Cyprus to be normative and late-7th and 8th century Cyprus in decline. Cyprus during 5th-early 7th century experienced a rather extraordinary period of economic prosperity and economic integration with both the Roman state and markets across the Mediterranean basin. 

Next, I suggest that our inability to grasp the situation on Cyprus during the late 7th and 8th century (as well as our tendency to declare Cyprus in decline) exists at the intersection of archaeological methods and historical circumstances. Our tendency to rely on artifact that circulated widely in the Mediterranean to establish chronological control of sites on Cyprus and our inability to consistently recognize locally produced ceramics (except those produced Cyprus that circulated widely), created a situation where disruptions to the Mediterranean economy in the late 7th and 8th centuries disrupted our ability as archaeologists to study communities on Cyprus.

Finally, I follow the well-trod path of a gaggle of recent scholars who have suggested that there is evidence for continued economic activity in the late 7th and 8th centuries across the island, but we need to become more sensitized to the kinds of evidence present. Arab coins, handmade pottery, and late forms of well-known, earlier types will tell the story of a dynamic, persistent, if more contingent economy, during the so-called “Dark Ages.”

More on this paper here, here, here, and here.   

Or you can just read the working paper here:

Writing as Process and the 7th Century on Cyprus

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Spring break is one of my favorite times in my busy semester because for the last few years, I’ve been able to dedicate this time to a sustained writing project. In a normal semester, my writing has tended to get broken into tiny fragments of time – a morning here or an afternoon there – between teaching responsibilities, service, and other faculty duties. The result of this situation is that anything I write tends to be highly granular and composed of tiny 300 word snippets cobbled together and smoothed over in editing.

This is fine in some circumstances, but is hardly conducive to producing sustained and careful arguments. Spring break writing (and this goes for winter break and late, post-field season, summer writing too) holds forth the elusive opportunity to write in a series of 1000 word chunks over the course of five consecutive days (until a wife-mandated “rest day/date night”!). 

What this sustained writing has helped me to see are the little strands that make intuitive connections communicable. For my paper on Cyprus in the 7th century, for example, I’ve been able to notice the arguments for the appearance of handmade pottery in 7th century contexts on Cyprus and the disappearance of large issue coins are  interrelated in my argument. Handmade pottery appears in assemblages alongside both imported fine wares and locally produced cooking wares indicating that it was not a response to the abrupt end of regional or local trade and production. Instead, it would appear that handmade table and utilities wares appeared on Cyprus in a gradual way as a local response to slowly changing pattern of access. As for coins, the disappearance of large issues on Cyprus has sometimes been seen as evidence for abrupt economic decline, and there is little doubt that the disappearance of large issues after the reign of Constans II indicates some kind of economic change on the island. At the same time, Guy Sanders has noted that we are likely missing many of the small issues (nummi or minimi) that circulated throughout Late Antiquity because they were so small that they slipped through the excavator’s sieves. Like handmade pottery, these tiny coins served to shape Late Antique life on Cyprus in a way not entirely visible to the 20th century excavator. 

Nummi and handmade pottery have parallels with the ephemeral character of short term settlement to the careful eye of the contemporary survey archaeologist. We know that local communities throughout history adopted flexible strategies to manage agricultural risk even during times of apparent economic, political, and social stability. During times of unrest or rapid change, like the middle decades of the 7th century, there would be a tendency to adopt more flexible approaches to survival and to shy away from longterm investments that would be more visible to the archaeologist 1500 years later. Like handmade pottery and nummi, ordinary features of everyday life would have persisted as low risk strategies and objects like imported pottery or large issue coins would decline as communities and individuals became less inclined toward significant investments or more substantial economic transactions warranting the use of larger coins.

The fragments of my writing over the course of a normal semester reflect the day-to-day strategies adopted to survive 21st century academic as a moderately productive scholar. The long, lazy writing days of spring break allow higher risk strategies to unfold, and these included interrogating intuitive connections and making obvious their relationships.

Coins, Raids, and Dates in 7th Century Cyprus

March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

I plan to dedicate most of this week to putting words on the page for an article on settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries. The article will start with a brief treatment of the difficulties associated understanding settlement in this period. These difficulties which range from problems with the ceramic chronology to the dependence on poorly understood historical events to date archaeological evidence make the second half of the 7th century a particularly opaque period in the history of Cyprus.

The first issue that I’m working to tackle is what I’ve termed “the Heraclius problem”.   The emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) yas always had a special place in the history of Cyprus. One of the first moves in the future emperor’s revolt was securing the island of Cyprus in 608 at which time he began to mint coins in his own name on the island. His efforts to secure Cyprus revealed an understanding of the island’s strategic significance for controlling the eastern Mediterranean. Heraclius’s appreciation of the island’s strategical value continued in his conduct of the Persian Wars. The island represented an important staging area for Roman forces cycling in and out of the east. The importance of the island as a base for campaigns in Syria, Egypt, and southern Asia Minor likely accounted for the interest shown by Arab forces in the middle decades of the 7th century and their eventual stationing of a garrison on Cyprus, probably on Paphos.

One result of the island’s special relationship with Heraclius and the key role that it played as a staging area for 7th century campaigns in the Levant is the ubiquity of coins minted during the reign of Heraclius. In fact, coins minted under Heraclius are the most common issues from the 5th-7th century on the island. This likely reflects the issuing of coins to pay troops moving back and forth through the island and the coins minted by Heraclius on the island from 608-610. Coins from Heraclius’s successor Constans II (r. 641-668) are almost as common. The number of coins drops precipitously after the reign of Constans II largely owing to the decline of regional mints and the political and economic ambiguity of the island as it passed into the strange condominium period during which both Arabs and Byzantines had some authority on the island. 

The abrupt drop in coins after the reign of Heraclius and Constans II poses an interesting problem for archaeology on the island. Because the number of coins declined so dramatically, we can probably assume that coins of Heraclius stayed in circulation for at least a generation, if not more. As a result, the use of coins of Heraclius to date archaeological features is a particular challenge. In the archaeology of Cyprus, however, this is a common occurrence. For example, coins of Heraclius date at least a dozen of the 70-odd Early Christian basilicas on the island. In most cases on Cyprus, the evidence from ceramics or other datable artifacts from stratigraphic contexts does not accompany the evidence from coins. Coins alone appear to date the structures. 

The use of coins to date buildings, destruction levels, and stratigraphy is problematic on archaeological grounds. Despite the appeal of coins as firmly dated artifacts, they are only useful if they are the latest object in a level. Moreover, the absence of coins from the 8th century on the island means that any dating by coins alone becomes problematic because of the uneven supply of currency to the island.

The use of coins to date these basilicas to the middle decades of the 7th century reinforces arguments for the collapse of Cypriot settlement and society at this time. In particular, the coins of Heraclius tend to support arguments from the destruction of these buildings as a result of the Arab raids on the island around 650. Of the 70-odd basilicas on the island, excavators have argued that a third of them were damaged or fell out of use over the second half of the 7th century and attributed this trend to the Arab raids. 

I sometimes joke with my ceramicist friends that our continued efforts to trace the use and production of traditional Late Roman red-slipped wares and storage amphora into the 8th century will eventual force us to change the dates on some well-known emperors. The “funny” is that I assume we can use ceramics to date coins and then to date political events just as coins have often been used to date ceramics. The ongoing revision of ceramic chronologies and a more critical treatment how coins work in an archaeological context are important steps in understanding 7th century settlement on the island.

Archaeology and Audiophilia

January 30, 2014 § 1 Comment

One of the trickiest things about having a blog is making the decisions about how far one can stray from the main themes or topics that my audience expects. Every now and then, I feel the overwhelming urge to blog about something unrelated to Mediterranean archaeology, teaching, or academic life, and recently I’ve had to itch to blog about my audiophile habits. This is in part because I’ve been riding my bike on a magnetic trainer indoors this winter. This is boring, but I do have plenty of blank time to relax and think about random things.

The past few weeks, I’ve been staring at this crazy pair of old speakers that I think I acquired from a graduate student buddy. They are Realistic Nova 10 speakers. They were introduced in 1981 and have 8 inch drivers paired with extended range tweeters and a 8 inch passive radiators in sealed cabinets. They’re not big and not unattractive in that vintage kind of way. They sound sort of like crap, with a pretty shrill upper midrange and almost no bass extension. Presumably the passive radiators was an effort to compensate for that, but even with the passive radiators these speakers only extend down to 80 Hz! The tweeters are super live and harsh even when driven by a Peachtree Decco with a tube stage. This is all bad, but they were free and their main job is to provide enough of a din to prevent me from noticing that my legs and lungs hurt while churning out stationary miles on the bike. In other words, they serve a purpose.

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They are a far cry from my “grown up system” in my living room which features more exotic equipment from Audio Research and Zu, and not nearly as refined as my office system at home with a vintage Marantz 2235B and a pair of lovely Energy bookshelf speakers. (My office at work has a sweet little NAD 312 (the last iteration of the 3020) driving a pair of Pioneer SP-BS41s and a little Vali headphone amp from Schiit). This got me thinking about how these completely different system could exist side-by-side in the same house. The gear ranges from the early 1980s (the Realistic speakers and the Marantz) to the 1990s (the Energy bookshelf speakers and the NAD) and rather more recently. The points of origin range from Japan (Marantz, Realistic) to China (Marantz) to the U.S.A. (Zu, Audio Research) and Canada (Energy). Despite all of this stereo equipment being “disposable” consumer goods, they nevertheless present a diverse, diachronic, and functional assemblage.

As I’ve been spinning out the miles on my bike, I started to wonder about how this kind of diversity in an assemblage could inform how I think about pottery in 7th century Cyprus. The 7th century has traditionally been seen as a period of decline, but recent scholarship has suggested that this perspective misrepresents the persistent vitality of the island. In particular, scholars have recognized that high-quality consumer goods (so to speak) like Cypriot Red Slip pottery continued to be produced and circulated on the island well into the late 7th century (and perhaps later) as did more pedestrian types like Dhiorios cooking pots from kilns in western Cyprus (that circulated widely in the region) or Late Roman Type 1 amphoras and their decedents produced either on the island or in nearby Cilicia in Asia Minor.

What is even more striking is that Marcus Rautman and others have identified rather crude handmade vessels in the same contexts as more “international” objects like Cypriot Red Slip. At first, we might be inclined to argue that these handmade vessels reflect a general decline in the quality of material culture associated with these periods, but their existence alongside more refined objects like Cypriot Red Slip suggests that the 7th century consumer continued to have access to finer quality vessels, but chose for whatever reason to select relatively poorly made vessels. The obvious (if partial) answer is that economic problems in the 7th century led to a decline in the market for high quality red slipped wares, but not its complete collapse. This is not too dissimilar to my decision to use the Realistic Nova 10 speakers on my basement system. They were free and (I’ve been told that) the (very) local economy could not support more stereo equipment at this juncture.

Fair enough. The result was an assemblage of equipment that is functionally similar, but, nevertheless, represents a diverse set of economic circumstances that accounts for relatively modest gear interspersed with somewhat more expensive and refined equipment. 

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More on Cyprus during the 7th Century

January 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

This past week I’ve been catching up on some of my reading on 7th and 8th century Cyprus for an article on settlement in the these centuries that I’m preparing for an edited volume. I’ve particularly enjoy three contributions by Luca Zavagno from 2011, 2012, and 2013. Read together, they provide a short-book-like overview of the pressing issues in understand the social, economic, and political situation on the island during a tremendously tumultuous period in its history.

Economically, Zavagno goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Cyprus was hardly in the state of economic collapse or stagnation during the 7th century. While the Persian wars, revolt of Heraclius, Arab conquests, and subsequent raids on the island disrupted economic activity to some extent, the basic economic structure of the island and its relationship with neighboring regions survived intact. He details the fragmentary evidence for economic ties to Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt throughout the 7th century and argues that these reflect the persistence of longstanding patterns of economic connectivity. The difficulty in recognizing these patterns stems not from their absence, but from the difficulties in consistently identifying and dating ceramics from these periods. In an extensive 2011 treatment of coinage on the island in Byzantion, Zavagno demonstrated that not only did the Cypriot economy continue to function into the 7th century, but it continued to be monetized with a range of both local and region, official and irregular currency appearing on the island suggesting both markets, trade, and small scale exchange continued on the island.

These, of course, observations are not new, but our struggle to identify consistently the archaeological evidence for activity during the 7th century has shaped how we understand settlement in Cyprus for decades. One of the strengths of Zavagno’s work is that he synthesizes the fragmentary evidence for settlement activity across the island. The reconstruction of buildings at Salamis-Constantia, evidence from Paphos, Polis, Soli and Kourion, and difficult, but widely accept evidence from architectural change on the Karpas peninsula paints an increasingly expansive picture of settlement throughout the 7th century. The evidence for fortification at Salamis, Paphos, and Amathus as well as the less well-understood sites along the Kyrenia range suggests that there was some effort to invest in defense of vulnerable populations after the raids of the 640s and 650s. Finally, Zavagno deals with the tricky issues of an Arab garrison stationed at Paphos. It would be interesting to understand how this garrison was supplied and whether it was large enough to influence the structure of local settlement.

Along similar lines, Zavagno argued that Cyprus played a key role in Byzantine military strategy in the region, and it would be interesting to consider how this might have influence settlement. If we understand the “busy countryside” of the 6th century as at least partly the result of Cypriot agricultural products moving north through the Aegean to troops stationed on the Danubian frontier, then we might want to reflect on how the strategic requirements of the fleet and troops moved to Cyprus as a staging area influences local markets and production patterns.

The most significant political issue in Zavagno’s work is the exact nature of the famed “condominium” which evidently stipulated that both Arabs and the Byzantines could govern and extract taxes from the island. In his 2011/2012 contribution to Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Zavagno makes clear that our understanding of the 7th century and the condominium is inexorably linked to the current political situation on the island. One might take this even further to argue that sorting out the 7th and 8th century on the island is a product of the narrative of nationalism that looks to Late Antiquity as a seminal moment in the formation of national identity. To be fair, much of this derives from the West where scholars have looked to the fall of the Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages for the rise in both ethnic communities and polities that formed keys aspects of national myths.

The relationship between political hegemony on the island, related economic relationships, and settlement remains a difficult and open area question. The continued prosperity of the church, the ability of the two states to collect tax revenue, and the persistence of local elites suggested that the political situation did not adversely affect the economic realities of the island and this has meaning for how we understand the productive environment of Cyprus and, in turn, settlement. Luca Zavagno’s work has moved us closer to sorting out the economic, political, and settlement structure of the island during this tumultuous and opaque era.

Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th Centuries

January 20, 2014 § 4 Comments

Over the next two months, I’ve been asked to write an essay on settlement in 7th and 8th century Cyprus. My work at Polis-Chrysochous and at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria puts me in a good position to think broadly of this transitional period with two specific points of reference.

The coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria appears to go into steep decline after the middle of the 7th century coinciding, it would seem, increased activity of the Arab fleet in middle decades of the 7th. During the 5th-7th century, there is every indication that the site was prosperous coastal emporium. The almost complete absence of material dating to the 8th or 9th centuries would seem to indicate that the site no long constituted a substantial locus of settlement on the south coast of the island. Of course, it is possible that the population simply moved to the east or west of our survey area or declined as the small embayment present infilled or larger economic demand for the agricultural produce in the area declined. In other words, we have no evidence that the decline of the site related directly to the activity of the Arab fleet.

Polis-Chrysochous, or ancient Arsinoe, appears to have had a different history. On the one hand, there is some evidence that life at the site was disrupted in the mid-7th century including damage to at least one of the two prominent churches revealed through excavation. On the other hand, the church was modified extensively in the mid-7th century with architecturally sophisticated additions that did more than just restore the building to its earlier state. In fact, the addition of a narthex, a portico along the church’s south wall, and a barrel vaulted roof produced a building that echoed the design of well-known basilicas elsewhere on the island. The massive deposit of rubble and pottery associated with these modification establishes beyond a doubt a terminus post quem of the mid-7th century.

Using these two sites as points of reference, I think I can address the six major issues that influence how we talk about the 7th and 8th century on Cyprus in general and that directly impact what we can say about settlement.

1. Methods and Evidence: Survey, Excavation, Architecture, and Texts

First, there is the reality that our textual sources are problematic and fragmentary deriving from a range of genres, historiographic perspectives, and languages. They do not present a cohesive picture of the island provide much insight into larger issues of settlement. In fact, some sources suggest that the population of the island was nearly all sold into slavery and removed (e.g. the Soli inscription) whereas other inscriptions seem to indicate that the island remained reasonably prosperous despite Arab incursions. Archaeological evidence likewise follows this confusing pattern with excavated sites showing greater signs of continuity with 6th century activities than the landscape revealed by intensive survey. Architecture is even more revealing with several well-know churches preserving decoration datable to the 7th and 8th century. In the end, textual and archaeological evidence leave us with two different, mutually exclusive stories for this period of transition.

2. Ceramic chronology.

Part of the issue is the difficult nature of 7th and 8th century ceramics. Despite the significant amount of scholarship from the past decade that has pushed the date of well-know fine wares and transport amphora from the comfortable confines of the 6th century into the wild margins of the 8th, there has been little large scale reassessment of ceramic assemblages on the island. We have continued to note how individual “type fossils” like Late Roman 1 amphora or Cypriot Red Slip forms could date later than originally thought, but we have only begun to use this knowledge to imagine 7th or 8th century assemblages on the island (outside a few, well-known examples like the pottery workshops at Dhiorios or Marcus Rautman’s identification of hand-made pottery at Kopetria). Until the redating of major wares informs the visibility of locally produced or “common” wares on Cyprus, the 7th and 8th centuries will continue to be rather difficult to identify in surface survey and in more modest contexts where imported or fine ceramics are absent.

3. Definition and Diversity in Settlement

Whatever the shortcomings of the current state of our knowledge about the 7th and 8th century, it is clear that something changed in the nature of settlement on the island. The “crowded countryside” of Late Antique Cyprus gave way to a much less clearly occupied landscape. At the same time, there appears to have been changes to the urban landscape with activities at sites like Kourion showing dramatic reductions in scope and prosperity whereas at sites like Polis, Paphos, and Salamis-Constantia showing signs of continued settlement and the continued functioning of some urban institutions like the church, civic government, and markets.

What is missing from our understanding of settlement on the island is the link between these urban sites and the countryside. Elsewhere in the Byzantine world, the emergence of villages and village economies characterized the change in settlement pattern during this period. Urban areas saw contraction and fortification. Thus far there is little evidence for these phenomena on Cyprus suggesting that the primary organization of settlement and rural production functioned along different lines. Perhaps the intensely urbanized character of Roman and Late Roman Cyprus continued to shape the organization of settlement and rural activities in the Early Byzantine period. Perhaps new institutions like monasteries exerted a stronger influence on Cyprus than elsewhere.

It may also be that the massive disruptions to the population of Cyprus brought about by the Arab raids, captive taking expeditions, and forced migrations, transformed the otherwise persistent landscape of the countryside into one characterized by short term and contingent settlement as a response to the rapidly changing demographic situation. We know that short term settlements tend to be less visible in the countryside than long term habitation. So perhaps the issue of rural settlement on Cyprus is one of visibility rather than presence.

4. Trade, Connectivity, and the Local Production

Contextualizing much of the conversation about 7th and 8th century Cyprus is the nature of economic activity in the Eastern Mediterranean during these centuries. As scholars have begun to recognize that the political and military events in this period disrupted trade as much as caused it to decline, new models for understanding the Early Byzantine economy have emphasized the change in character as well as change in scale. If the Cypriot economy and settlement in the 6th century felt the influence of the annona trade between Egypt and Constantinople (e.g. the settlement at Peyia in southwest Cyprus being warehousing site) and the administrative reorganization that funneled the agricultural produce of Cyprus to the needs of the army at the frontiers (perhaps leading to the prosperity of the sites at Dreamer’s Bay and Pyla-Koutsopetria), then the economy and settlement of the 7th and 8th century perhaps responded to the more fluid and changing opportunities and political situation of those centuries. For example, the changing needs and power of the central government in Constantinople may have spurred the decline of sites that emerged in response to the command economy of Late Antiquity.

If the unsettled economic and political circumstances of the 7th and 8th century, may have led to more dynamic responses from Cypriots who looked to limit risk and maximize opportunities in more contingent ways. In other words, if we accept the possibility that rural settlement was less visible during these centuries (rather than absent), it may be that short-term settlement in a “contingent countryside” reflects a more situational approach to a more dynamic economy.

5. Administrative Structures: Church and State

The persistence of certain institutions on Cyprus – namely the church and the political and social apparatus of the Byzantine state – demonstrate that despite the the large scale disruptions to the Late Roman world, certain aspect of life continued on Cyprus relatively unchanged. Recent work on lead seals from Cyprus show that the ecclesiastical, administrative, and aristocratic hierarchies continued to function on the island. These structures demonstrate the persistence of official ties to the capital and to the underlying legal and social institutions that would maintain, say, the prestige of local aristocrats or the position of the church as an economic engine in the community.

So, if the contingent countryside reflects the instability of Mediterranean politics and economy, then the persistence of some activity in urban centers demonstrates the ongoing presence of traditional elites attempting to continue to perform their traditional function in particular dynamic environment. The reconstruction of churches at Soli, Paphos, Polis, and elsewhere suggest that the church continued to be able to marshal and deploy economic resources from communities. The reconstruction of aqueducts and perhaps some civic buildings at Salamis-Constantia shows that certain civic functions continued, albeit on a more modest scale. Finally, the apparent abandonment of the site Kourion may reflect the intervention of community leaders to relocate key institutions and salvage existing resources from the site.

6. Events: Invasions, Forced Migrations, and Settlements.

Finally, events have long shaped the master narrative of the decline in the Roman Mediterranean. The Arab raids of the middle decades of the 7th century, the loss of Egypt and Syria, and the so-called “condominium period” have long shaped our understanding of settlement, demography, and economy on the island.  On the one hand, it is impossible not to see things like a substantial Arab fleet patrolling the waters off the island’s coast or the fundamental transformation of the large-scale economic unity of the Eastern Mediterranean impacting events on Cyprus. In fact, it would naive to somehow argue that these events did not impact life on the island.

On the other hand, punctuating the history of the island with these events undermines any understanding that sees Cypriot society as dynamic agents in their own history. By shifting our attention to patterns of activity on the island and prioritizing them in our analysis, we open the door to appreciating the strategies that communities and institutions used to adapt to changing times. It provides more than simply an answer to tired questions of “continuity and change” (that largely reside within a discourse of development toward nationalism) and allows us to focus our attention of the mechanisms that produced the seductive patterns that have meant so much to our understanding of the modern world.

The Archaeology of Religion and Culture in Late Antique Greece

November 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

The regular publication of the Archaeological Reports is a fine thing. Summarizing the work of both foreign and Greek excavators in Greece, these reports provide a bird’s eye view of recent fieldwork in Greece and shed particularly valuable light on small scale excavation sometimes only published in Greek journals with very limited circulation in the U.S. This year’s reports included a review of recent field work at Late Antique sites in Greece by Rebecca Sweetman titled “Religion and Culture in Late Antique Greece.” Sweetman is rapidly emerging as an important scholarly voice for an active and dynamic cohort of scholars working on a range of issues in the archaeology of Late Antiquity in Greece 

It’s only 11 pages so I urge you to track it down and read it, but I’ll provide my reaction to it anyway because that’s what I do here.

1. Rescue Excavations. The section of most interest to scholars probably focuses on the results of myriad rescue excavations around the country. These small scale and rapidly conducted excavations provide tiny windows into Late Antique levels particularly in urban areas. Unfortunately, rescue excavations rarely receive systematic publication and typically appear only as brief notes in Greek journals. Sweetman’s summary of these excavations provides bits of information that alone have little value, but can contribute to larger studies which often depend on robust catalogues to produce overviews of phenomena like domestic architecture, baths, or basilicas. 

2. Domestic Space in Town and Country. Sweetman is right when she notes that churches have dominated the archaeology of Late Antiquity and in her subtle assessment that this is not entirely a good thing. Recent attention in Greece to mortuary remains, domestic architecture, baths, and other more mundane spaces like industrial sites holds the potential to expand our perspectives. Work on houses is particularly promising especially in a rural context. While most of the houses noted recently excavated appear to be rather monumental, there were at least three rural farmhouses identified in Achaia, the Argolid, and Epirus. These buildings combined with data collected from intensive pedestrian survey projects will hopefully contribute to ongoing reassessments of the “busy” Late Roman countryside in Greece. The partial and chaotic state of urban excavations in Greece (and anywhere frankly) parallels nicely our fragmentary and incomplete knowledge of urban life in Late Antiquity. Recent work revealing houses, drains, wells, graves, baths, and commercial spaces in cities from across Greece reminds us just how little we understand about the most basic workings of Late Antique urbanism.

3. But What about the Churches. Even Sweetman admits, “the discovery of a new Late Antique church is always exciting.” (110, emphasis added). To be honest, we don’t need another church to show that there were more churches in Greece. We know that. What we need, more than anything, is a carefully excavated and published church from Greece. For areas like the Peloponnesus, we have no completely published, stratigraphically excavated examples from the over 100 excavated churches. We can only hope that the handful of churches currently being excavated will produce at least one comprehensively published example with a catalogue of finds, careful stratigraphic documentation, and a thorough discussion of architectural phasing. Until that happens (and it has happened a few times in Greece), scholars of Late Antique Greece should still get excited when a new building comes to light!

4. Survey Archaeology. It was rather remarkable and a bit depressing to see how few traditional intensive pedestrian surveys are currently occurring in Greece. Sweetman notes the work of the Cambridge Keros Project in the Cyclades and work on Kea. These projects appear to have prehistoric focuses, but they nevertheless offer opportunities to contribute to our understanding of Late Antique Greece. Keros is particular interesting since it is an island without permanent habitation at present (not dissimilar to very small population on the island of Antikythera, for example) that appears to have seen more robust activity earlier. Late Roman activity on now abandoned islands has long been a topic of interest among archaeologists in Greece.  

5. The Future is Underwater. One of the most interesting recent developments in the archaeology of the Mediterranean is the boom in coastal and underwater survey projects. As recent work around the Corinthia and Cyprus has shown, the growing interest in the economic and commercial world of antiquity has led to a new emphasis on coastal sites, shipwrecks, and anchorages. The impact of underwater surveys, for example, is still unclear (at least to me), but the potential is certainly there to contribute significantly to how we understand ancient trade. 

If you’re a Late Antiquitist, go and check out Rebecca Sweetman’s most recent contribution and, if you’re not, go and read up on the interesting and important work going focused on other periods in Greece. 

Investigating the West Hall of the Theater at Corinth

October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

When Hesperia arrives with a new Corinth article, it is sort of like Christmas (or maybe Columbus Day) in my household. In this most recent issue (82.3), the former director of Corinth Excavations, Charles Williams, documented his recent excavations in the northern area of the theater. The article sought to integrate the results of recent excavations in the larger discussion of the architecture and archaeology of the theater. The theater was among the first buildings excavated at Corinth and the area had a long history from the 4th c. B.C. to the Byzantine period (at least). Williams’s excavations in the northwestern corner of the site primarily focused on Roman to Late Roman activity there.

CorinthTheater

In tone and form, the article was a throwback to the regular reports on Corinth excavations that appeared almost annually in Hesperia. The amount of detail is fantastic. The references to historical events (Actium, the founding of the colony, et c.) punctuate the archaeological findings throughout the text. The author assumes the significance of the site of Corinth and its monuments. Comparanda are minimal.

The article begins with a remarkable description of the various major Roman phases of the theater. The unlabeled illustrations make connecting the various features in the phase descriptions to the corresponding plan an exercise in architectural identification. Williams updates parts of Scranton’s half-century old study of the major Roman phases of the theater published as Corinth II. For folks interested in the architecture of theaters and the change in their function and arrangement from the Greek to Roman periods, Williams’s short survey of the Roman phases of the Corinth theater is a great case-study. The use of the Corinth theater as both an amphitheater and then as a space suitable for some kind of water battles has always fascinated me. Of particular note are the appearance of myriad buttresses and reconstructions marking out the impact of various earthquakes on the structure of the theater.

The second part of the article examines the work done during the 2011 excavation season. It begins with a discussion of the west analemma of the west parodos of the theater. (That phrase evoked some rainy afternoon standing with the members of the American School’s regular program and looking intently at the theater in some Greek city.) The discovery of this section of analemma helps to establish the shape of the Classical Greek theater that the Hellenistic theater supplanted. Williams then  describes in substantial detail the stratigraphy of the excavations of the west parodos detailing the relationship between drains and various buttresses necessary to support the earthquake wracked structure of the various associated buildings.

Excavations further north revealed more of the West Hall and uncovered more about the complex and curious history of the theater precinct. The West Hall represents a Roman addition to the theater probably dating to the 4th Phase, and its clear relationship to the “backstage” (my term, not Williams’s) are of the theater suggests that it served the actors and chorus. The walls of the hall appear to include blocks recycled from the earlier phase of the Roman theater. Like many of the buildings associated with the theater, it received buttresses at some point in its history perhaps in response to earthquake damage in the late-2nd to early-3rd century A.D. The building has a long history of use starting as a well-appointed structure with marble veneers and ending us as a space for industrial activities by the 3rd century.

One of the strangest and coolest discoveries the rooms abandonment in the 5th century it apparently became a dumping ground for cow bones slaughtered nearby and dumped over the west wall perhaps near the northwest corner. This massive, unstratified, deposit produced over a ton of bones that appeared to be the product of specialized, large scale butchery rather than urban debris.

Excavations in 2011 also revealed more of the “Lesser Plaza” and “North Peristyle Court”. Like the West Hall these spaces were Roman in date; the North Peristyle Court followed both the orientation of the theater and the “Theater Avenue” which followed the line of Roman centuriation. The north wall, I believe, of the North Peristyle eventually formed part of the Late Roman fortification of the city. While the Late Roman fortification of the city remains hard to date, but it might have been in the first half of the 5th century. This would make the bone deposit in the West Hall after the construction of the fortification and provide a bit of urban history for the periphery of the Late Roman city of Corinth. Of course, the wall could also be Justinianic in date, and I tend to prefer a later date for the wall owing to my recent publications suggesting that the emperor may have taken a personal, strategic interest in the loyalty of his Corinthian subjects.

This article was pretty intense. The amount of detail was staggering and involved constantly moving back and forth between more detailed descriptions and the phase descriptions and plans at the front of the article. I kept thinking how this is a model article for advanced undergraduates to use to decipher a building’s history. The article provided more than enough detail for a student to reconstruct a history of the building, but also enough little challenges to separate students who understand architecture and stratigraphic excavation from those who don’t. The final section of the article offered some suggestions for future work setting the stage for students to consider the potential of various courses of action. A short paper assignment arguing in favor of one of Williams’ recommendation for future work would wrap up the assignment nicely.

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters 

Some Notes on Survey Archaeology in a Byzantine Context

April 1, 2013 § 4 Comments

This weekend I attended the Dumbarton Oaks Spring Colloquium on Byzantine Survey Archaeology. The papers were remarkable and focused. The hosts and colloquiarchs, Margaret Mullett, John Haldon, and Sharon Gerstel put together a congenial environment for a wide ranging conversation on survey archaeology in a Byzantine context. While John Haldon did an admirable job weaving the various papers together at the end of the day’s proceedings, I couldn’t resist offering my own observations. 

Enjoy:

1. Survey Comes of Age. One of the most refreshing things about the meeting was the lack of heavy-handed apologies for survey. Most of the participants understood the limits of their methods and located their conclusions within the constraints of their evidence. Rather than universal apologies for survey as a method, we have moved to reflexive understandings of the limits of our data.

2. Multiple Methods. The recognition that survey produces a particular and legitimate kind of archaeological data opened the door to admitting to the multiple methods present in the current survey world. People presented projects that ranged from extensive – single person – survey to projects that collected data that exceeded our ability to produce historical analyses on the basis of this data. For example, I felt the recent extensive survey work from Limnos collected data that was every bit as significant historically as a project that collected “observation point” density data at 10 m intervals from each unit. It’s not that one method was superior to the other on the grounds of methodology, but that we can recognize the utility of various types of survey data sets. This is an important step in the development of survey work and locates our method in a rather different context than excavation where the link between field methods and results tends to be far less explicit.

3. Long Shadow of Texts. While the Byzantine component of many survey projects developed from projects directed by their prehistoric colleagues, Byzantinists have long recognized that texts in some cases have great utility for understanding the Byzantine landscape. On the other hand, Byzantine survey archaeologists are constantly on guard against the undue influence of texts on their analysis. The papers showed particular interest in attempting to understand how texts focused on regional trends could be generalized to explain assemblages across the Mediterranean. Moreover, we all returned to longstanding discussions of how imperial economic and political policies shaped changes in the countryside. Some of these conversations date to the 19th century and involve how we understand the development of feudalism as a stage within the Marxist paradigm of how economies developed. This is deep history.

4. Area versus Assemblage. One thing that was pretty interesting is that most of the survey project continued to have an interest in areas and sites rather than assemblages. Some of the projects were explicitly siteless in design, but nevertheless returned to the site based paradigm in order to integrate their results with a larger historical discourse (see above). In contrast, there was relatively less conversation about assemblages and cultural and economic composition of the material culture produced by survey. It seems that we still wanted to see survey data as representing past activities (habitation, settlement, fortifications, et c.) rather than being produced by past activities.

5. Less Technology and More Curation. Typically when survey archaeologists get together there is lots of talk about the latest and greatest piece of “kit”. This might be a remote sensing technology, some kind of infield data collection device, or the latest analytical tool. To be sure, some papers used innovative methods, but on the whole, there was much more talk about the curation and study of physical objects than electronic ones. I think this represents development of both digital standards and a stable tool kit of technologies that support archaeological fieldwork. Now, we have to turn our attention to the much more challenging issue of working with host countries to curate the objects and sites that survey produces.

6. Toward a Byzantine Survey Archaeology. There was some discussion of what is necessary from an institutional, methodological, and disciplinary standpoint to produce a distinctive Byzantine approach to survey archaeology. Some of this will revolve around research questions and academic alliances and collaborations. Some of this might revolve around particular field practices. For example, survey in a Byzantine context will likely pay particular attention to formation processes attendant to standing Byzantine monuments. Byzantine archaeologist in a survey context might also go further to make arguments for the coherence of surface assemblages and produce some horizontal stratigraphy where the regular association of coarse wares and known fine wares can allow us to make certain tentative chronological arguments. These are not features exclusive to Byzantine period, but they are areas where Byzantine archaeology has begun to make a contribution. Finally, we have the advantage of a field that is located at the very earliest moment where a genuinely historical archaeology is possible. This positions us as scholars to contribute and critique the enter historical archaeology undertaking from the rather unique perspective of survey archaeology.

There were a few areas where there was not much conversation although these are typically part of the larger chatter among survey archaeologists.

1. Sharing Data. First, with the exception of Jim Newhard the conference lacked any major player in the recent trend toward data curation. How we make our results visible to the world and our colleagues remains a major issue for archaeologists in general, and survey archaeologists in particular. The born-digital nature of survey data makes survey practitioners particular important contributors to these conversations. The idea of a distinctly Byzantine survey archaeology could involve a stronger commitment to digital data curation, distribution, and analysis.

2. Beyond the New Archaeology. Most papers at the conference showed a strong commitment to quantitative methods that drew upon the core tenants of processual and new archaeology. Almost no one was willing to push a little further to consider post-processual practices. The idea of the landscape remained something produced through systematic collection of physical data from the countryside. There was little in the way of reflexive practices on more “qualitative” forms of data collection although survey archaeology’s close relationship to landscape archaeology has long opened the door to these kinds of approaches.

3. Cyprus. The contributions of Cypriot survey archaeologist once again remained around the fringes of the conversation. To my mind the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project represents one the model regional scale survey projects in the Eastern Mediterranean and its successor TAESP will probably be even more important. The work of M. Rautman in site-based survey and the historical data collected on the Byzantine landscape from the Cyprus Survey and other projects on the island makes it one of the most thoroughly investigated landscapes in the Mediterranean. I think it’s high time that we hold a “Survey Archaeology in Cyprus in Comparative Context” workshop that looks at how we can compare the results of surveys to answer questions that have relevance at both a regional and transregional level.

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