Even More Early Christian Cyprus

I keep slowly hacking away on my contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology which surveys the archaeology of Cyprus in the Early Christian period. My approach to the first draft of this contribution is highly modular with sections on the history of Early Christian archaeology, the textual sources for the period, churches, baptisteries, burials, and various small finds.

The modular approach to writing has allowed me to chip away at the project without the commitment to composing a single, complex, sustained argument. From a technical perspective, I suspect modular approaches to composition have contributed to the popularity of applications like Scrivener and, most recently, Manuscripts which break the long blank document of the traditional word processor into sections. Each section can have independent word counts and style sheet, and sections can move around easily in a document. For those of us who write reports as much as traditional scholarly articles, the value of software designed to accommodate documents composed in sections is a huge boon. For those of us who struggle to find time to write 2000 or 3000 words in a sitting or who tend to write articles that cohere through thematic unity rather than linear argument, this software facilitates this approach to composition.

Thematically, our chapter will consider the tension between local development of a Christianity material culture and influences from outside the island. Not only is this a useful way of understanding Cyprus as a “crossroads” in the Eastern Mediterranean, but it is also consistent with a generation of scholarship that sought to understand Cypriot culture as either a pale imitation of the capital or a thriving, generative (if provincial) center. Neither of these paradigms is completely satisfying; after all, culture – even material culture – does not have neatly defined limits and cannot be mapped like a genetic code from one variation to the next. (At the same time, I should note that individual objects, buildings, or even sites do not exist as discrete entities bounded spatially or physically, but produce meaning through their interaction with other places and objects). 

Here’s how some of these ideas play out in the section on Early Christian ceramics from Cyprus:

Fineware

Cyprus imported red-slipped table wares from across the Mediterranean with African Red Slip, Phocaean Ware (or LRC), and Cyprus Red Slip (or LRD) wares being the most common. John Hayes monumental efforts to develop a typology for these later Roman red-slipped, wares offers a convenient template for discussing and understanding the distribution and chronology of these common tablewares. These vessels were widely distributed on the island and appeared at both urban and rural sites suggesting that these red-slipped, fine fabric wares had a place on a wide range of tables in settlements and communities across the island. Certain forms of these vessels feature stamped cross decorations on the base of shallow bowls and dishes. These stamps do not, of course, indicate the the individuals who purchased, used, or discarded the plates were Christian or that they served a particular Christian function. At the same time, we can understand the appearance of table ware with Christian symbols as a broad indicator of the rise in a Christian culture on the island and the emergence of a Christianized material culture.

The earliest tableware vessels with Christian symbols appear in the fifth-century, on Form 2 of Late Roman D ware, also called Cypriot Red Slip. H. Meyza argues that these early LRD stamps which included a small cross inscribed in a circle, imitated those found on widely distributed African Red Slip vessels, although few examples of inscribed, fifth-century ARS vessels appear on the island. Hayes has tended to date LRD ware slightly than Meyza, but by the sixth and seventh-century inscribed variants of LRD wares had become rather more common appearing at Kopetra, Paphos, Kourion, Polis and the Kornos cave. later Recent excavations near the site of Gebiz in southern Asia Minor has revealed a kiln responsible for the production of LRD wares, numbers wasters and fragments of standard forms, and a tool designed to impress a cross stamp on the unbaked clay. This indicates that at least some LRD ware with cross stamps came onto the island from Asia Minor. Imported cross-stamped table ware likely represented one of the most common ways for Christian imagery to enter the home and the material culture of the island.

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