Coastal Sites and Maritime Trade

Two interesting articles landed on my desk over the last few days. D. Pullen’s report in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology on the site of Kalamianos in the the Korinthia and Justin Leidwanger’s article in Journal of Roman Archaeology documented a 2nd-3rd century shipwreck at the site of Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus.

Pullen argues that the impressive coastal site of Kalamianos represented interest of Mycenae in establishing a harbor on the Saronic Gulf in the Late Bronze Age. Situated adjacent to the site of Kolonna on Aigina and perhaps representing the decline in that polity’s political and military influence in the area, Kalamianos was a substantial and apparently urbanized (ing?) site situated at a peninsula that provided two relatively secure anchorages. Above the anchorages near the important Byzantine church of the Panayia at a place called Stiri stood a contemporary fortified site. This site clearly provided security for the harbor town as well as offering impressive views of the Saronic and its coastlines.

The site of Kalamianos expanded rapidly between LH IIIA to the LH IIIA2/B period, and Pullen suggests that the growth of this town must have been spurred by an external power, probably Mycenae, at this precise moment. The similarities in construction and architecture of both the site of Kalamianos and the nearby fortified site of Stiri as well as the site’s location suggests that Kalamianos established a Mycenaean presence on the Saronic perhaps to compete with a similar, contemporary site a Palaia Epidavros to further south which likely served the needs of states at Tiryns, Asine, or Midea.

In contrast, the world described in Justin Leidwanger’s study of the small shipwreck at Fig Tree Bay in eastern Cyprus was shaped, in part, by small scale coastal commerce that depended upon local producers, small harbors, and small ships. The shipwreck documented by Leidwanger was a mere 5.5 tons and found in shallow waters amidst shallow reefs and eddying currents. The maritime world represented in the small wreck at Fig Tree Bay was substantially decentralized and dominated caboteurs. The range of amphora in the ship suggest that its contents derived from the coast of Cilicia or southwest Syria, but the presence of relatively unusual amphora (Gauloise 4) suggests ties to Western Mediterranean as well. The destination for these vessels was unclear, but I’d like to think it planned to stop at Pyla-Koutsopetria before making its way along the south coast of the island. It seems likely that the assemblage of material onboard this small trading craft reflects stops at small ports throughout the region.

These two article represent the two prevailing (and in no way mutually exclusive) models of maritime trade. Pullen argues for Kalamianos that administrative and political imperatives exerted a significant control of trade in the Saronic Gulf, and the rapid growth and short life of Kalamianos is a direct result of Mycenaean policies. Our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria near Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus likewise expanded quickly in the late Hellenistic and Roman period. The location of Pyla-Koutsopetria at the margins of the of the powerful Iron Age kingdoms of Kition and Salamis limited its development. The site’s location was both militarily vulnerable, as the fortification at Pyla-Vigla demonstrated, but the presence of borders in the area likely limited the economic catchment available for the development of the harbor. The political, administrative, and economic restrictions on expansion of the site only abated with the end of the Iron Age political autonomy and the arrival of Hellenistic and Roman control over the island. The site does not seem to have ever been officially part of the larger administrative structure of the island. The small coastal trader who lost his ship at Fig Tree Bay was taking advantage of the political cohesion of the Eastern Mediterranean and stoping at small sites like Pyla-Koutsopetria that emerged outside of direct administrative control.  

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