Memory of Hittite Monuments in Asia Minor

At the end of the year, I think we’re supposed to reflect on the past and celebrate avoided mistakes, seized opportunities, and events that shaped our lives. While we do that, I’d also direct you to Felipe Rojas’ and Valeria Sergueenkova’s article in the most recent Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology: “Traces of Tarhuntas: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Interaction with Hittite Monuments.” The article reminds us that the study of memory in Mediterranean archaeology was not just a passing moment at the start of the 21st century (I was aboard the memory wagon with “Constructing Memories: Hagiography, Church Architecture, and the Religious Landscape of Byzantine Greece: The Case of St. Theodore of Kythera”… I need to get this article manuscript posted somewhere) can rest assured that meaningful scholarship on memory continues to appear.

Rojas’ and Sergueenkova’s article looks at the memory of Hittite monuments in Asia Minor throughout Greek, Roman, and into Byzantine antiquity. They give these Bronze Age and Iron Age realia  particular significance in the construction of changing community identities through time. For example, the massive, monolithic, and abandoned Fasillar statue of the Hittite storm god found abandoned near its quarry appears to have become the center of various Roman activities from commemorative shrine to a young man who died unmarried to Roman games probably associated with a small settlement. Elsewhere reliefs inscribed in rock outcrops became focal points of both Hellenistic and Byzantine religious attention and evidence for ritual activity. Rojas and Sergueenkova do a nice job avoiding simplistic arguments for religious syncretism or for something intrinsically significant in the monumental landscape, but rather argue that these monuments contributed to a periodic discourse faintly evident in preserved texts. The textual conversations surrounding the Bronze and Iron Age monuments tended to focus on the relationship between these sites and the origins of existing communities and as such they were absorbed into the remarkably persistent tradition of Classical learning. Of course, the evidence for interactions that occurred beyond the rather restricted purview of ancient texts  – as evidenced, for example, in the small Roman shrine at Fasillar – suggest that the textual evidence is part of wider tradition. 

It’s hard to do archaeological fieldwork without wondering about memory and Sue Alcock’s work on this topic has cast a long and productive shadow over how we think about ancient pasts. For example, this summer we visited one of the numerous Late Classical block houses in the Argolid including the famous Pyramid at Hellinkon which was noted by Pausanias and re-used for various purposes well into Late Antiquity. The Pyrgouthi Tower in the Berate valley must have been a prominent local landmark from its construction in the Hellenistic period through its use as a Late Antique house some eight centuries later. 

At my site on Cyprus of Pyla-Koutsopetria, it was impossible not to feel the tension between the Bronze Age site of Kokkinokremos and the later site of Vigla and Koutsopetria. Kokkinokremos was interesting to us because the site has traditionally been regarded as having a single period occupation during the Late Bronze Age. Later activity in the larger area concentrated several hundred meters to the west. Intensive survey, however, revealed that there was activity at the site as early as the Iron Age and continuing into the Late Roman period. While it would be easy to dismiss this material as evidence for quarrying stones from the substantial walls around this prominent coastal height, it is at least as intriguing to consider why the site was not reoccupied in the Iron Age and preference shown for the hill of Vigla nearby. Perhaps memory of the Bronze Age site of Kokkinokremos functioned more like pagan sanctuaries in Greece rather than Hittite monuments in Asia Minor. The presence of the past at Kokkinokremos discouraged resettlement and repelled activity rather than attracting it.

Unfortunately, there is too much college footballing on today to give this any further thought today. Have a happy new year celebration. I hope all my dedicated readers have a chance to cherish good memories and find strength and hope in the bad ones. 

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