Drafting the Long Late Antiquity on Cyprus

This month, I’m working on revising a paper that I gave in March on the Chrysochous Valley on Cyprus during the “long late antiquity” (here’s a PDF). To do this, I’m going to look both later and earlier at two areas at the city of Polis. To tighten the paper a bit, I’m going to cut most of the stuff about Koutsopetria and focus more on our work from Polis, particularly the areas EF2 and EF1 (which you can find described, loosely, here and here).

I’m working right now on a short introduction and this where I am right now. Enjoy:

Long Late Antiquity in the Chrysochou Valley

The concept of a “long late antiquity” appears to have emerged around the turn of the 21st century (Cameron 2001). Over the last decade, the phrase has increasingly emerged as shorthand for studies of late antiquity that conform to the more expansive view of the period introduced by A.H.M. Jones and Peter Brown (Jones 1964; Brown 1971; e.g. Marcone 2008; Izdebski and Mulryan 2018). While no one has written a critical history of this phrase and Marcone (2008) overview of scholarship on the long late antiquity oddly does not use the phrase at all beyond the title of the article, it is easy enough imagine this concept as a more expansive view of the ancient Mediterranean developed over the last three decades of the 20th century (although see Inglebert 2017 for the concept of the persistence of the idea of a “short late antiquity”). The development of this concept at the end of the 20th century may well have anticipated the end of that century and an awareness that the defining character of the 20th-century would continue into the 21st century just as the long-19th century extended from the French Revolution until the start of the Great War (e.g. Hobsbawn 1962; 1975; 1987).

Whatever the general context for this term, the concept of the long late antiquity in the 21st-century reflects an approach characterized by an effort to correct earlier chronological schemes overdetermined by catastrophic political or military events. Archaeologists, of course, have done their part to contribute to these narratives. They sought to correct the tendency of an older generation of archaeologists to associate modification to the urban fabric, damage to buildings, and changes in rural settlement with political and military events. In the place of event based archaeology, 21st-century scholars have increasingly come to study long term economic trends, the complexities of environmental change, and the persistence of forms of social organization and everyday practices. All this has tended to blur the tidy association of archaeological levels with particular historical events and consequently blurred the edges of the Late Antique world.

Among archaeologists, one of the key contributors to the long late antiquity is the ever later drift of our ceramic chronologies (e.g. Sanders and Slane 2005; Armstrong 2009) bolstered by the steadily expanding body of carefully published excavations and surveys from both on Cyprus (Rautman 2003; Caraher et al. 2019) and across the Mediterranean world. This work, which is so impressively represented at this conference, has managed to distance archaeological narratives from political or military events. In Greece, for example, evidence for 7th century pottery in the countryside and in urban centers reveals that the Slavic invasion of the late 6th century no longer represents a catastrophic break and many urban and rural sites remained viable into the mid-7th century (Gallimore and Caraher 2020). The evidence for the Islamic conquests of the 7th century in the Levant, as another example, remain ambiguous with some areas showing a rapid decline in the number of settlements, whereas other regions show little change or even expansion (GET CITE). 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 island’s material culture (see Zavagno 2017; Metcalf 2009).

This is not to suggest that Cyprus did not see significant changes in the 7th and 8th centuries. The varied character and extent of these changes, however, provides another key context for understanding the long late antiquity on the island. For example, as Marcus Rautman has shown, the countryside appears to have endured significant depopulation by the middle years of the 7th century (Rautman 2000). At the same time, urban centers appear to have continued and enjoyed ongoing prosperity with Paphos showing signs of an Arab population in the 8th century (Megaw 1988; Christides 2006), Soloi preserving evidence for recovery after the Arab raids (Des Gagniers and Tinh 1985, 115-125.), Kyrenia remaining an important port for the Byzantine fleet (GET CITE), Salamis-Constantia and its neighborhood witnessing ongoing investment and rebuilding (Argoud et al. 1980.), and so on. Even urban continuity, however, is not a rule: Megaw argued that Kourion was abandoned after a late-7th century earthquake, Amathus experienced gradually declined with the site producing coins, seals, and ceramics only into the early-8th century, and Kition remaining largely unknown. Between the countryside and cities, ex-urban sites such as Ay. Georgios-Peyias appear to have declined in the 7th century.

Despite the significant evidence that late antiquity continues for longer than catastrophic events might have suggested to an earlier generation of scholars, the concept of a long late antiquity is not limited to simply extending the period later. John Lund has noted generally (2015) that the absence of securely dated 3rd century contexts on the island should not necessarily represent a stark decrease in activity on the island during these period. Moreover, as Henryk Meyza work at Paphos has shown some of the ambiguity associated with the 3rd century on the island might be the result of our ceramic typologies (2007). On Cyprus, the division between the latest forms of Cypriot Sigillata, for example, and the earliest forms of Cypriot Red Slip (or Late Roman “D” ware) often falls during the 3rd century with the assumption that former is earlier and the latter is later. These kinds of chronological divisions reinforce periodization schemes that create a break between the Roman period proper and Late Antiquity.

This paper will consider a constellation of evidence from two areas at the site of Polis-Arsinoe which provides an example of the long late antiquity on the island.

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