Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries

May 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

This past week R. Scott Moore and I sent off a draft of a paper on settlement in Cyprus during the Early Byzantine period. 

This has been a work in progress for the last few months and developed partially from our work on Cyprus at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and at the site of Polis-Chrysochous. 

This is the earlier draft of this paper, and you can read more on this paper hereherehere, and here.

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 § 2 Comments

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.

IMG 1147Resource

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.

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