Lengthening Late Antiquity on Cyprus

I have been working on a contribution to an edited volume this week with a late-July deadline. The article is a revision of a paper that I gave in March at the Cyprus in long late antiquity conference (here’s a PDF). The paper that I gave considers the late 7th and 8th centuries at Polis (ancient Arsinoe) on Cyprus with particular attention to the South Basilica in the area of EF2 in the Princeton grid of the site and the area of EF1. Aside from the basic work of adding citations and making the paper a bit more polished, I’ve decided to add a short discussion of the Roman period at EF2 which proposes that we might consider extending the long late antiquity earlier as well as later.

I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far and I feel like I’m saying something new, rather than just reorganizing the old.

The earliest substantive phase of the area of EF2, around the South Basilica, dates to the Hellenistic and Early Roman period and includes a series of workshops that preserve evidence for metallurgical work, glass making, and ceramic manufacture. The numerous wells, cisterns, and drains across the site shows that the collection and channeling of water was an important consideration and an important asset to the industrial installations in the area. For example, immediately to the east of the apse later basilica stood a kiln apparently used in the production of lamps in the period before the middle-2nd century. The presence of shallow pool near this kiln shows that potters performed the water-intensive task of levigating clay acquired from the abundant local sources in the region. The industrial activity in this area is consistent with the kind of smoky, dirty, and water intensive activity often located around at the margins of settlement. The presence of a massive pile ancient slag to the north of EF2, shown on early modern maps and visible in the scarp of the current road from the village to the coast, hints at the scale hints at the scale of industrial activities across the northern edge of the city during the Hellenistic and Early Roman period.

The industrial area of EF2 appears to have functioned until sometime in the 2nd century. After this time, much of the area was covered in a fill layer. We dated this fill largely through the presence of Eastern Sigillata A and Cypriot Sigillata, and excavators encountered it consistently below Late Antique horizons under the South Basilica. It is tempting, of course, to associate this fill level with evidence for a mid-second century earthquake that destroyed the House of Dionysios at Paphos and resulted in the sealed deposits published by John Hayes in 1991 (202-203). Our efforts to trace the post-2nd century redevelopment of this area encounters the challenges associated with the 3rd-century ceramic typologies and chronologies across the island and the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly. That said, it is probable that the two well-paved roads that intersect in the area date in their current state to after the transformation of the industrial precinct in the area. This road system includes a series of pipes and channels designed both drain water from the roadbed. It seems probable that this water system also served to manage the flow of water down the coastal ridge from the city through the buildings situated along its northern edge. It seems likely that emphasis on drainage associated with this area complemented effort to level the entire area with the 2nd-century fill that served to reduce the flow of water down the natural drainage running through this area. The emphasis on drainage and leveling the region may well anticipate later efforts to forestall erosion in advance of redeveloping this district of the city.

There is limited evidence for architecture associated with this 2nd-century leveling phase. The main example is a building opening onto the north side of the east-west road that we have called the southeast rooms. It is clearly associated with the existing roads and while it may date to as early as 1st c. AD, it is more likely part of the post-2nd-century transformation of this area. In later centuries, the building underwent a series of modification including its division into two rooms which continued to stand along the east-west road until their destruction at around the time of the major reconstruction of the South Basilica.

The other structure in the area that dated to after the 2nd-century fill is a quadrifons arch which must post-date the construction of the Roman roads in the area. This feature is more significant for our understanding of this section of the city. The arch stood astride the north-south and east-west roads through the area. Its prominent location at the northern edge of the city makes it a suitable location for a display of civic euergetism which came increasingly to characterize Roman cities on the island. Such effort to aggrandize urban roads with colonnades and arches is characteristic of 2nd and 3rd century changes in cities across the Near East and Cyprus that Jody Gordon has associated with the Romanization of the island’s urban aesthetic (Gordon 2012). Thus, it is possible to imagine that the arch was the work of a civic benefactor who installed it to monumentalize the entry to the city from the coast. The arch post-dates the construction of the road. The southeast footing for the arch interrupts the original drain along the eastern side of the road necessitating a new drain cut into the road pavement to the west of the original drain. While we know little about the elevation of this structure, it appears to contribute to the transformation of the area from an industrial landscape, prior to the destruction of the workshops and kilns, to a monumental landscape at some point starting after the 2nd-century AD. The best parallel on Cyprus for this kind of feature is are the double tetrapyla associated with the southwestern and northwestern corners of the western court at the basilica of the Campanopetra at Salamis. These likely date to the 5th or 6th centuries and so it is possible that the quadrifons at Polis may date to many centuries after the renovated road (Roux 1998, 28-29).

The inability to date a feature such as this arch on the basis of its footprint alone demonstrates how the basic features of a monumentalized space developed with the Romanization of urban space on the island which accelerated in the 2nd century AD. This offers another perspective on the concept of the long late antiquity. Instead of focusing on extending the end of the Late Antiquity period into the 8th or even 9th centuries, this brief survey of the Roman period at the site of Polis-Arsinoe, suggests that some of the urban patterns present along the north edge of the city emerged along with the larger redevelopment of the area perhaps after a 2nd-century earthquake. The renovated road, the southeast rooms, and the quadrifons arch well mark the start of the long Late Antiquity at EF2.

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