Long Late Antiquity on Cyprus

This week I’m shifting gears from working on archaeology of contemporary America and returning to Late Antique Cyprus to prepare a paper for a conference in March on Cyprus and the Long Late Antiquity.

The abstract for my paper is here. As with so many conferences, I wrote my abstract in June 2019 for a paper in March 2020 and over the past 9 months reconsidered my paper significantly. This was in no small part to the paper that I wrote for a conference at Dumbarton Oaks on islands in the Byzantine period (you can read that here). At this conference, a number of the participants unpacked the notion of insularity (my review of that conference is here) along political, cultural, social, and economic lines. The result was a group of papers that explored whether the concept of insularity served to describe the definitive feature of islands in the Byzantine world. My paper proposed that Cyprus in Late Antiquity was sufficiently diverse that the concept of insularity was not particularly useful at least within the constraints of our existing archaeological knowledge.

My current plan is to expand these arguments into the realm of the “long late antiquity” by looking more closely at the situation at ancient Arsinoe in the village of Polis in the Chrysochous Valley. My plan today is work on the introduction. I have this idea that I’ll start with our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria and then move to the west to the site of Arsinoe. 

Here’s what I have so far:

Late Antiquity has been getting longer. This historiographic narrative is well known to the individuals in this room. Over the last 60 years, scholars of the Late Roman world have reconsidered the significance of catastrophic political or military events as the definitive markers in our chronological schemes. This, in turn, has discouraged view of Late Antiquity as a period of crisis that ultimately led to this or that catastrophic event. In the place of crisis or decline, scholars argue that Late Antiquity was a period of transition or dynamic transformation and have increasingly blurred the lines that describe our conventional periodization schemes. The ancient world, it would seem, did not end, but simply faded away.

Archaeology, of course, has played no small role in these changing attitudes. The ever later drift of our ceramic chronologies bolstered by the steadily expanding body of carefully published excavations and surveys from across the Mediterranean world has sought to detach archaeological narratives from political or military events. In Greece, for example, the Slavic invasion of the late 6th century no longer represents a catastrophic break and any number of urban and rural sites appear prosperous or at least viable into the mid-7th century. The evidence for the Islamic conquests of the 7th century in the Levant, as another example, remain uneven with some areas showing a rapid decline in the number of settlements, whereas other regions show little change or even expansion. In many cases, the material culture that plays such a key role in assessing the date and function of sites changes far more slowly than political or military events. On Cyprus, as this conference presupposes, the firm dates associated with the Arab Raids of the mid-7th century or the supposed depopulation of the island for the founding of Nea Justinianoupolis in 691 no longer mark a clear break in the material culture of the island.

This is not to suggest that the 7th and 8th centuries did not see significant changes on the island. Indeed, part of the challenge in dealing with the long late antiquity on Cyprus involves the wide range of situations on the island during these centuries. As Marcus Rautman has shown, the countryside appears to have endured significant depopulation by the middle years of the 7th century. At the same time, urban centers appear to have continued with Paphos showing signs of an Arab population in the 7th century, Soloi preserving signs of recovery after the Arab raids, Kyrenia remained an important port of the Byzantine fleet, and Salamis-Constantia and its neighborhood continued and rebuilt, and so on. Megaw argued that Kourion was abandoned after a late-7th century earthquake, Amathus’s decline was more graduate with the site continuing to produce coins, seals, and ceramics into the early-8th century, Kition remains largely unknown at the end of antiquity. Between the countryside and cities, ex-urban sites like the still lately unpublished Ay. Georgios-Peyias appear to have declined in the 7th century.

Another ex-urban site of Pyla-Koutsopetria, which Maria Hadjicosti excavated in the 1990s and a team that I co-directed with Scott Moore and David Pettegrew surveyed and excavated further in from 2005-2012, also appears to have declined in the 7th century. Our work can add a bit more nuance and detail to the diverse narratives of change present on the island and provide a bit of context for our recent work at the site of Arsinoe in Western Cyprus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s