Abandonment and Post-Medieval Butrint

I don’t get much random reading in during the summer, in part, because I’m trying to be disciplined and, in part, because my time isn’t entirely my own on various archaeological project. This week, however, I made an exception and read David Hernandez’s article on Butrint in the most recent Hesperia.

The article is a wonderful archaeological synthesis of the final three centuries of primarily Venetian settlement in the city. He grounded his arguments for the conditions of the Venetian community at Butrint on several carefully excavated contexts derived from three 14th-century Venetian houses. The botanical remains provide insights into the diet of the residents of these houses which included the usual staples of grains, olives, grapes, and fava beans. Small finds included a thimble, kitchen utensils, and pottery. A more detailed description of the pottery would have been useful for considering the role of ceramics and metal vessels in the daily life of residents. The study of a small group of burials and human remains provides a chilling view of the health of residents in the settlement at the end of its life. I was amused that Venetian House I reused part of a Late Roman building. The Late Romans, of course, were famous for reoccupying and adapting earlier structures for domestic purposes.    

What is more remarkable, however, is that he considers the fate of Butrint after the end of Venetian settlement when most scholars had considered the city abandoned. Documentary sources, maps, paintings, and other records combined with the interpretation of small and stray finds to demonstrate that the “abandoned” landscape of Butrint was, in fact, socially and economic active. The malarial conditions brought about by the unchecked growth of local coastal marshlands, the location of the site at the periphery of the Venetian and Ottoman state, and the tension between local Albanian tribes and the communities seeking to systematically exploit the resources around Butrint shaped the character of abandonment.   

Finally, Hernandez emphasized that the “post-abandonment” exploitation of the area around Butrint as part of the long-standing relationship between Butrint and the neighboring island of Corfu. In fact, for much of its modern history, the island of Corfu depended on Butrint for food, wood, and exchange commodities, particularly fish. The proximity and interdependence ensured that despite the marginal character of the marshlands around Butrint, the fisheries, wildlife, and agriculture remained available for exploitation. 

The article does a much better job presenting the complexities of the post-Medieval history of Butrint than this post lets on. Do check it out!

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