A Guide to Byzantine Greece

Each summer my Facebook feed fills study-tour travelogues posted by my faculty colleagues. The best of these trips reflect careful selection of sites, thoughtful readings, and clear learning goals. Most study tours focus on the monuments of ancient Greece, but many of the most visually arresting monuments in the Greek landscape do not date to antiquity. Talking to students participating on the Western Argolid Regional Project for the last couple of year and contributing to study tours in Cyprus, I’ve come to realize that students are generally interested in the post-ancient world in part because they’re simply not as familiar with the narrative, and it has a sense of exotic novelty. In contrast the unfamiliar narrative, Medieval monuments associated are often more immediately accessible to their developing archaeological imaginations because many of them are still standing. 

This realization has led me to think a bit about producing a Guide to Byzantine Greece as a complement to the common itineraries followed by American study tours. 

If I was to do this, or find someone to do it with me, I figure that our guide has to have a couple features to make it useful.

1. Complementary. One of the most significant challenges will be that the guide has to complement traditional study tour itineraries which focus on ancient sites. While I’d love to write a book that leads a group of excited and interested students to the spectacular late Byzantine church of the Panayia Kosmostira in Ferres in Thrace, it’s not a realistic addition to most study tours of Greece. Instead, we have to focus on the main heartland of American study tours which tend to focus on Athens, Delphi, Olympia, the Corinthia and the Argolid. Fortunately, there are plenty of important and interesting post-ancient sites in this area.     

2. Modular. Along with being complementary, we have to write our guide in such a way that it can be used in a modular way. The traditional itinerary-based approach favored by, say, the Blue Guide, is a lovely way to experience Greece, but for the modern study tour which will not stop to enjoy the “lovely principle city of the demos Koutsopodi,” this approach makes dipping into the guide for some information on a particular building or site difficult.    

3. Encounters. The challenge of a modular guide is that they tend to fragment the landscape into distinct, isolated sites, and this works against presenting a cohesive view of Greece in the Medieval period. So, we have to figure out a way to weave unifying narrative throughout the encounters with individual places. We have to assume that the average American study tour might only see one Early Christian basilica or one middle Byzantine church or one “Slavic” cemetery, and our guide will need to find a way to make encounters with these single sites serve as synecdoches for larger trends, processes, or types. 

4. Open Access. It goes without saying that our guide should be available for free in some kind of digital form. I suspect that .pdfs will be the way to go for cross-platform compatibility, but we would also make a print copy of the guide available at as low a cost as possible. This would encourage adoptions (particularly if the book was to function as a supplement to a more traditional guide focused on ancient sites). 

5. Images, Rights, and Plans. One of the challenges of this kind of production is that there are some restrictive rules in place about using images of monuments in Greece and we’d have to reproduce plans which can be a time-consuming and frustrating project. It would be appealing to imagine ways that use the huge quantity of digital sources to supplement our book, but it is probably not useful to expect students to have constant internet connections while in Greece. Connectivity issues could make it more difficult to produce an interactive map that would provide directions to particular sites (although our students and staff this year almost all had phones with good internet connections).

Aside from the technical aspects of this kind of project, the intellectual challenge is very appealing to me. I’m not sure that I have time to do it properly, but I might have a collaborator who has both some time and expertise. For now, I’ll tuck this into my idea box and we’ll see where it goes over the next year or so…

Weeks of Wonder

If you’re a big Bill Caraher fan (and if you read this blog then I’m assuming that you find me vaguely amusing or, at very least, share some of my interests), then there is plenty to keep you entertained this week.

Tomorrow, as you probably know, is the 7th annual Cyprus Research Fund lecture. It’ll feature Andrew Reinhard, Raiford Guins, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber and we’ll talk about the excavation of Atari games in Alamogordo, New Mexico last year, have a viewing of the documentary Atari: Game Over, and discuss the archaeology of the contemporary western United States more broadly. Festivities start at 3:30 with some vintage Atari games set up to be played. To get an idea of the kind of thing that’ll likely come up check out Andrew’s blog, Raiford’s blog (especially note his time spent as a research fellow at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester!), and Richard’s blog.

If you can’t make it to the event, do not fear! You can watch the documentary for free here (or get it on The Netflix) and then watch our round table event starting around 5 pm for free on our live stream here.

For a preview of our discussions check out the most recent Caraheard podcasts here.

If you can’t make the Cyprus Research Fund lecture, maybe you can hang out with some of the North Dakota Man Camp Project in Ellendale next weekend?

The great folks with the Man Camp Dialogues, The Institute for Heritage Renewal, and The Ellendale Historic Opera House, and the North Dakota Humanities Council sponsored our event on Friday. If the last opportunity to present our work in a free-flowing dialogue is any indication, this will be a rewarding evening for everyone involved.

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If you’re not that into the archaeology of the contemporary world and aren’t based in North Dakota (which I suppose is possible), you can check out a different version of my dog-and-pony show at the Mary Jaharis Center at the Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, Massachusetts on April 18th where I will attend their annual Graduate Student Conference on Byzantine Studies and participate on a panel with some real luminaries in our field to discuss Byzantium in the Public Sphere. I’ve already blogged a bit about this last week.

So, if I’m a bit scarce on the ole blog here for the next couple days, I hope you’ll understand! 

Byzantium and the Public Sphere

In a couple of weeks, I head back east to the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at the Hellenic College Holy Cross to be on a panel of scholars who “use traditional and digital means to build a broader audience for the field inside and outside of the academy.” I suspect my blog caught their attention or a series of posts a couple of years ago on marketing my Byzantine history class to unsuspecting undergraduates. 

In these blog posts, I complained that the place of Byzantium in most “master narratives” presented to college students, limits how we can present the Byzantine Empire to an unfamiliar audience on campus. Some of these approaches are useful. In my very traditional history department, Byzantine history serves as another way to complicate what the students understand to be “the Western tradition.” To simplify this discussion (as I would present it to undergraduates unfamiliar with Byzantium), the Byzantine world has a Western pedigree: it represented the persistence of the Roman Empire, it was ruled and populated by “people of the book” (Jews, Christian, and Muslims), and it partook in familiar practices that ranged from Hellenic philosophy, to architecture, forms of literature, and political history. At my lowest points, I found myself saying: “Don’t worry, it will be far more familiar than the world of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin!” (Putting aside that these worlds were made up and featured, you know, dragons). In my best moments, I found that I could channel my inner Anthony Kaldellis

Appeals to familiarity, of course, only serve to highlight the things about Byzantium that are utterly unfamiliar. On a short flight this past month, I read over Averill Cameron’s slim volume titled Byzantine Matters. The book provides a useful, if incomplete view of trends in the field over the author’s influential career (or since the publication of Ostrogorsky’s History of the Byzantine State in 1969. More than that, her book is accessible and generally indicates some profitable lines of inquiry that challenge the traditional view of Byzantium as a theocratic despotism satisfied to simmer gently beneath the ponderous weight of Orthodox uniformity. This approach not only offers a way to open up Byzantium to questions that are profoundly Western (e.g. what was the relationship between church and state?), but also to urge students to see the study of Byzantium as a way to critique Orientalism and its view of unchanging, almost unthinking traditionalism. This may be a hook to ensure that “Byzantium belongs to all of us, and … belongs to mainstream history.” Lest we imagine that Cameron went all populist on us, she also calls for renewed attention to Byzantine religious writing (sermons, theological treatises, et c.) as works of literature. Nothing is likely to broaden the appeal of Byzantium more than combining the study of literature, with all its theoretical pretensions, with the study of theological texts which were probably bored the vast majority of the Byzantine world. That being said, this suggestion does follow her overarching argument for hidden complexity in the Byzantium world.

I don’t think that I was invited to this panel to share my penetrating understanding of Byzantine historiography, however. 

I think I’ll try to inject a few observations.

1. Blogging Byzantium. Over the last 10 years or so, there has been a constant presence of Byzantine bloggers on the web. In most cases, these blogs are pretty traditional, text-driven places. None of us have truly embraced the potential of social and new media although a few of the blogs feature videos from time to time.

There are a few exceptions. For example, there is Lars Brownworth’s 12 Rulers of Byzantium which started as a podcast and has expanded into a media empire featuring videos and a book. The Cry for Byzantium Twitter feed of Alexius I Comnenus pushes Byzantium into the social media sphere. The /r/Byzantine page on Reddit appears to be thriving.

The typical Byzantine Blogger, however, is pretty textual with the occasional image of a domed church or a map. There are, of course, a few panoramic views of Byzantine churches and a mishmash of mostly outdated efforts to create interactive maps of Constantinople or whatever. Generally speaking, scholars of Byzantium have stayed on the sideline of recent trends to create a more dynamic web. These kinds of projects require significant funding and, perhaps more importantly, a clearly-defined audience.

2. Byzantine Archaeology as World Archaeology. I need to work this into a fuller post at some point in the near future, but one observation that my buddy Kostis Kourelis made a few years back is that a meaningful subset of Byzantine archaeologists also do archaeology in their local communities. What brought this to mind was David Pettegrew’s recent work on mapping 19th century Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the Greek community there. Kostis has been involved in my North Dakota Man Camp Project and various initiatives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he teaches. The willingness of archaeologists of the Byzantine world to engage in the archaeology of their local communities hints that Byzantinists are not as disengaged as our scholarly output might suggest. In fact, it suggests that some of the trends in Byzantine archaeology resonate with issues prevalent in world archaeology. For a discipline that almost takes a perverse pride in its idiosyncratic conventions, this is a significant revelation and offers hope for Byzantinists everywhere that our skills and professional interests can have a direct impact on local communities in North America.

3. Mash-Up and Convergence. Finally, I’ve been thinking a bit about how our scholarly production – books and articles – rarely extend beyond their academic audiences and rarely enjoy lives outside of their final, published copies. The divergence between academic works and popular books could not be more stark as influential popular books often feed a growing participatory community engaged in fan fiction, form the basis for transmedia productions like films and video games, and spawn communities of commentators and critics. George R.R. Martin’s mostly-depraved Game of Thrones series of books and TV series is just the most recent and perhaps most visible example.

As Byzantinists contemplate engaging the public sphere more fully, it might behoove us to consider the changing the changing state of popular media. How do we ensure that our books and articles become living, media entities that go beyond their utility to a small group of scholars? Do we push to make our work available in open access? Do we work harder to contribute to linked-data practices? How does our work interact or intersect with the larger media universe? 

To my mind, this is not simply about making our work known to more people, but making it more accessible to audiences who think about media in new and more dynamic ways. Books and articles are more than just forms of scholarly communication or instruments designed to get tenure, but simply aspects of an increasingly dynamic media universe that extends beyond the life of a publication, its physical or digital form, and goals of the academic author. How can Byzantine studies engage this world?

The Soon and the Summer

I bought by tickets to Greece for next summer and I need to buy my tickets from Athens to Cyprus this week. After a year away from my work on Cyprus to focus on the Western Argolid Regional Project in Greece, I’m going to return to Polis-Chrysochous for a three-week study season starting May 5. Then heading to Greece for almost two months on May 25th or 26th. This all means that planning for the summer has to start now.

First, the next few weeks will prove to be busy, but exciting.

On April 8th-11th, I’ll host Andrew Reinhard and Richard Rothaus on campus for a public showing of the documentary, Atari: Game Over, and an academic round-table on the archaeology of gaming and the contemporary world.

On April 7th, I take a quick trip to Fargo for a dissertation defense. 

On April 18th, I’ll be in at the Mary Jaharis Center in Brookline, MA to participate in a roundtable on “Byzantium in the Public Sphere” and somehow simultaneously at a Man Camp Dialogue presentation in Ellendale.      

Over the same stretch of time, I need to put the finishing touches on two sabbatical projects. One is the final round of revisions on the North Dakota Man Camp Project paper for Historical Archaeology, and the other is a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, which is become a more and more compelling project every passing week. The book proposal is virtually done and I have a meaningful draft of the manuscript in hand. Now all I need to make is a few final touches and pull the trigger. I’m also doing the final revisions on an article for Internet Archaeology on archeological blogging.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to put together the kit of necessary summer gear that has to be ordered and sorted out before the start of May.

1. New Laptop. My three year old 15-inch Dell XPS has finally become unusable thanks to a combination of Windows 8 and some kind of nagging hardware issues. So I have to order a quad-core Dell Precision 15-inch today with 16-gb of ram. 3D image processing takes a tremendous amount of power.

2. New GPS unit. My trusty, 10 year old Garmin Gecko was stolen from my 12-year-old truck this past fall. We used Garmin Oregon 650s this past summer in Greece because we could upload aerial photographs to them and they had 8-megapixel cameras. In turns out that the cameras were not particularly useful and drained the battery. So this summer, I’ll purchase a Garmin 600 which is the same unit without a camera.

3. Camera. I love my Panasonic GX1, but the camera will be going on its third field season and has enjoyed such exotic opportunities as being used in a landfill in a dust storm, being lugged up every elevation in the Western Argolid without a lens cap, and several trips to the froze tundra of North Dakota. My hope is that it survives this summer, but I bought a fall back camera, a Canon ELPH135, which is discontinued and sells for less than $90 on Amazon. It’s nowhere near as good as the Panasonic, but it’s small, cheap, and good enough for a backup camera.

4. Microphone. With my career as a podcaster slowly gaining momentum, I need a small, decent USB microphone. Suggestions? For our podcasts, I’ve used a Blue Yeti, but this is a heavy microphone and I need to save some weight for, you know, three months of clothing.

5. Music. Living away from home for this long of a time is hard on me for a range of reasons (wife, dog, house, other responsibilities), but part of the thing that makes it hard is that I go from being alone most of the time to being surrounding by people most of the time. My escape is listening to music. To facilitate this, I have seriously upgraded my mobile music kit. First, I got a pair of new Audeze EL-8, closed back headphones and a little bird has hinted that I’ll get a new ALO Rx MK3 B+ amplifier which appears to be getting phased out of the ALO line-up and is now available at steeply discounted prices from their warehouse page. The amp is probably overkill for the EL-8s, but I suspect even in single-ended mode (balanced cables are not yet available for the EL-8s) it’ll provide a bit more oomph for the relatively efficient EL-8s as well as the option to move to a balanced set up in the future. 

6. Books. Usually I make a request for summer reading recommendations, but this summer, it looks like the American Journal of Archaeology has that all sorted out for me. I’m going to be working on a review article featuring several new books on the archaeology of the contemporary world and the growing interest in materiality among archaeologists. That being said, I’ll need to track down a few recreational books to read this summer, preferably with spaceships in them. 

Late Roman Pottery on Kythera and Middle Byzantine Pottery from Thebes and Chalkis

The most recent issue of the Annual of the British School at Athens is a treat! It contains an article on the pottery from the site of Kastri on Kythera and a chemical analysis of the “Middle Byzantine Production” pottery from the sites of Thebes and Chalcis. After the yesterday’s election, it seems appropriate to spend a little time thinking about Greece today.

Forty Years On: The Pottery from Historical Kastri Revisited” by A. Johnson, K. Slane, and J. Vroom re-examines some key depositions and assemblages at the site of Kastri on Kythera. This site was originally excavated and published by J.N. Coldstream and G.L. Huxley in the early 1970s and played a significant role in understanding the cultural and economic connections between Late Bronze Age Kythera and Crete to its east. The site of Kastri, however, continued to be occupied through the Medieval period, and the the long-running Kythera Island Project (KIP) reexamined the historic period pottery from the Kastri excavations in light of recent research. Of particular interest in this assemblage is the material from Late Roman and Medieval deposits. 

The Roman and Late Roman material was studied by Kathleen Slane. Of particular interest to me was the assemblage of African Red Slip and LRC (also known as Phocaean Red Slip) wares because these types have often served as useful indicators of regional trade networks and tastes. The presence of a remarkably robust assemblage of African Red Slip and a relatively common form of late Late Roman C ware (LRC 10c) indicate that trade networks continued to function in the Mediterranean well into the final decades of the 7th century. An earlier, but distinct Late Roman phase included a nice group of 4th and 5th century sherds. 

The later Late Roman material from this site is particularly interesting because it suggests that Kastri participated in similar economic networks as the site of Corinth, Argos, Emporio on Chios, and Saraçhane. What is absent is any evidence for Cypriot Red Slip (LRD) wares which we have come to understand continued to appear quite late (8th c?) and circulated as far as Crete and Chios as well as on the island of Cyprus, the Levant, and southern Anatolia where is was likely produced. Also absent were Cypriot produced Late Roman 1 amphoras, despite the regular contact between Cyprus and eastern Crete. Because we know that African Red Slip is not uncommon throughout Cyprus (and perhaps somewhat more common on the eastern part of the island) and even the latest LRC wares appear across the island in substantial quantities, it would seem that the distribution of LRD wares to sites on the Greek mainland and far western Aegean was rather less common. The movement of ARS west to east is not shocking, of course, but the presence of LRC wares does indicate movement of goods (at very least ceramics) east to west. The presence of some LR1 amphoras, probably from northern Syria or elsewhere in the Levant, further confirms the flow of good west even in the 7th century. The absence of LRD would seem to be a matter of taste or expense. Perhaps the ready availability of African Red Slips and some forms of LRCs drove out the Cypriot Red Slip as it would seem occurred at some sites on Cyprus itself. 

In the same volume is an article by S.Y. Waksman, N.D. Kontogiannis, S.S. Skartsis, and G. Vaxevanis on the “Middle Byzantine Production” (MBP) pottery from the city of Thebes and its port of Chalcis on Euboea. MBP is a group of pottery with green and brown glaze and sgraffito decorations largely dating to the 12th and 13th century. Before I go on, a disclaimer. I am not a ceramicist and my interest in Byzantine pottery production and circulation has largely been as a spectator. I’ve recognized the growing momentum over the last two decades to refine the current chronology of Byzantine fine wares that circulated widely in Greece and the larger Eastern Mediterranean. Waksman et al. conducted chemical analysis of fine ware of the MBP type from the 12th and 13th century context in the cities of Thebes and Chalcis. This study determined that pottery from the two cities are distinct, and, more importantly, these two groups appear to be manufactured locally based on comparisons with earlier locally made material from the region.

Identifying MBP as local to Thebes and Chalcis strengthens the growing impression that this region was an productive economic center in the Middle Byzantine period. We’ve recognized the city of Thebes as an important political center with landed wealth (visible in the so-called Cadaster of Thebes which dates a century earlier than the MBP group) and significant investment in silk and dye trade. Now it would appear that Thebes and Chalcis were deeply involved in pottery production as well. The MBP enjoyed a vast circulation with significant deposits appearing as far east as Cyprus and the Levant and as far west as Lyon and Italy. The primary market for these types, however, appears to be Aegean basin which scholars had long suspected as the production center for these types.  

The chemical difference between types associated with Thebes and those from deposits in Chalcis indicates that Chalcis was more than just an emporium for the city of Thebes, but a thriving production center in its own right. The significance of Chalcis as a production center is tied to the production chronology MBP throughout from the end of the Middle Byzantine period (with its attendant political disruptions) into the Frankish period where the Byzantine state largely ceased to function in the Aegean basin. In its place emerged new economic (as well as political) networks that leveraged existing production centers. For example, the production of ceramics at Chalcis benefited from the close relationship with that city and Venice in the Frankish period. This relationship almost certainly facilitated the distribution of MBP ceramics around the Mediterranean basin.

More Early Byzantine and Late Roman Cyprus

The quantity and quality of scholarship over the last few years on Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus has been quite remarkable. Just a two weeks ago, I reviewed here another edited volume, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires, bringing together a wide range of voices on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus. Before that review was even done, I received another volume on nearly the same topic in the Centre Cahier du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43 (2013) on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD).” This work is a conference proceedings from a gathering I’m honor of Athanasios Papageorghiou held in Nicosia in November 2013 and organized by M. Parani and D. Michaelides. This volume can be a bit challenging to acquire in the U.S., but it is well worth the effort.

Here are my quick notes on the highlights in the volume:

1. Insularity. Articles by Isabella Baldini and Salvatore Consentino discuss insularity and Late Antique Cyprus. Consentino’s work is the more sophisticated of the two and looks at the role of islands and insular connections within the Late Roman Mediterranean. He concludes, unsurprisingly, military requisitioning and the long tail of Late Roman trade allowed islands to prosper into 7th century, and, at least in the case of Cyprus, maybe into the 8th century as longstanding connections between regions in the Eastern Mediterranean resisted various political and military challenges. 

Baldini’s work compares the churches on Crete and Cyprus and noted the greater likelihood of direct imperial patronage on Crete. The provincial capital of Gortyn for example had two churches with liturgical arrangements similar to that of Ay. Sophia in Constantinople (including the telltale ambo in the central nave and the doomed basilica of Ay. Titus) point to close ties to the capital. In Cyprus, certain evidence for connections to churches of the Aegean basin exists in pockets on the island, but despite Baldini’s relatively optimistic reading of the links between Cyprus and the capital, the ties appear more tenuous.

2. New Excavations. Tom Davis provides a very useful summary of the first season of his new Kourion Urban Space Project (KUSP) which has begun to sketch out the extent and material culture of the Early Byzantine (post-earthquake) Kourion. Georgios Georgiou’s documents the excavations at Mazotos which revealed a lovely little baptistery. (As an aside Georgiou should be gently scolded for his rather clumsy use of 7th century coins to date the structure. Coins provide a terminus post quem and in the unstable economy and uncertain currency situation of 7th and 8th century Cyprus, they likely enjoyed a far longer life than typical coin finds). My friends Amy Papalexandrou, Brandon Olson, Scott Moore and I discuss our recent work at Polis. Eleni Procopiou provides an overview of recent work around Amathus and Despo Pilides details her work on the Hill of Ay. Georgios in Nicosia. These short treatments combined with the treatments in Balance of Empires to produce a fairly comprehensive handbook to recent work on the island.

3. Liturgical Furnishings and Decoration. One particularly useful article in this volume is Doria Nicolaou’s survey of liturgical furnishings on the island of Cyprus. As someone who came to study Cypriot churches from the relative uniformity of liturgical organization and furnishings of the southern Balkans, the diversity of floorpans and liturgical arrangements in Cypriot churches is bewildering. Nicolaou’s short article takes an important first step in sorting out the evidence for liturgical furnishings on Cyprus. Olivier Bonnerot’s work on the material used in wall mosaics adds a material science dimension to this work, and as his base of evidence expands, we could imagine this producing important understandings of the processes used to create Early Christian spaces.

4. Troodos. On Cyprus, the last frontier for understanding the Late Roman and Early Christian period are the Troodos Mountains. Tassos Papacostas provides a key introduction to the complicated situation of the mountains on Cyprus during Late Antiquity. While elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean during this period, increasingly marginal lands are being used and settled, on Cyprus, the Troodos mountains appear all but abandoned of significant (i.e. visible) settlement at this time. What is strange is that Cyprus appears to be prospering during Late Antiquity and settlement on the coastal plain expanding significantly. Moreover, recent work by intensive survey in the Troodos demonstrates that mineral resources continued to be extracted from long-known veins and the island contributed substantially to the increasing military requirements of the Late Roman state. So why there are so few settlements in the Troodos remains unclear. Perhaps the 4th century earthquake led to substantial population decrease or contraction of settlement leaving plenty of open land available for Cypriots at the end of Antiquity. Perhaps land in the Troodos was used only intermittently and seasonally leaving behind only very limited artifact scatters. Or perhaps, as Papacostas suggests, the large urban areas along the southern coast represented the outlets for goods from the mountainous interior and the economic centers of Cypriot settlement.

5. Early Byzantine and Late Roman Administrative Life. Charles Stewart and David Metcalf provide insights into the administrative life on the island. Stewart provides a much needed survey of the Late Roman fortifications on the island with special attention to the walls at Amathus, Salamis-Constantia, and Carpasia. David Metcalf uses the evidence from sealings to demonstrate that the island continued to be tied to the capital and Byzantine administrative structures even during the so-called Condominium period when the island was supposed to be under joint Byzantine and Arab rule.

This volume deserves place next to Davis, Stewart, and Weyl Carr’s Balance of Empires as a key recent contribution to the study of Late Antique Cyprus. For scholars interested in the next big thing, I’d start clearing space for some volumes on the archaeology and history of Hellenistic Cyprus.

Memory of Hittite Monuments in Asia Minor

At the end of the year, I think we’re supposed to reflect on the past and celebrate avoided mistakes, seized opportunities, and events that shaped our lives. While we do that, I’d also direct you to Felipe Rojas’ and Valeria Sergueenkova’s article in the most recent Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology: “Traces of Tarhuntas: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Interaction with Hittite Monuments.” The article reminds us that the study of memory in Mediterranean archaeology was not just a passing moment at the start of the 21st century (I was aboard the memory wagon with “Constructing Memories: Hagiography, Church Architecture, and the Religious Landscape of Byzantine Greece: The Case of St. Theodore of Kythera”… I need to get this article manuscript posted somewhere) can rest assured that meaningful scholarship on memory continues to appear.

Rojas’ and Sergueenkova’s article looks at the memory of Hittite monuments in Asia Minor throughout Greek, Roman, and into Byzantine antiquity. They give these Bronze Age and Iron Age realia  particular significance in the construction of changing community identities through time. For example, the massive, monolithic, and abandoned Fasillar statue of the Hittite storm god found abandoned near its quarry appears to have become the center of various Roman activities from commemorative shrine to a young man who died unmarried to Roman games probably associated with a small settlement. Elsewhere reliefs inscribed in rock outcrops became focal points of both Hellenistic and Byzantine religious attention and evidence for ritual activity. Rojas and Sergueenkova do a nice job avoiding simplistic arguments for religious syncretism or for something intrinsically significant in the monumental landscape, but rather argue that these monuments contributed to a periodic discourse faintly evident in preserved texts. The textual conversations surrounding the Bronze and Iron Age monuments tended to focus on the relationship between these sites and the origins of existing communities and as such they were absorbed into the remarkably persistent tradition of Classical learning. Of course, the evidence for interactions that occurred beyond the rather restricted purview of ancient texts  – as evidenced, for example, in the small Roman shrine at Fasillar – suggest that the textual evidence is part of wider tradition. 

It’s hard to do archaeological fieldwork without wondering about memory and Sue Alcock’s work on this topic has cast a long and productive shadow over how we think about ancient pasts. For example, this summer we visited one of the numerous Late Classical block houses in the Argolid including the famous Pyramid at Hellinkon which was noted by Pausanias and re-used for various purposes well into Late Antiquity. The Pyrgouthi Tower in the Berate valley must have been a prominent local landmark from its construction in the Hellenistic period through its use as a Late Antique house some eight centuries later. 

At my site on Cyprus of Pyla-Koutsopetria, it was impossible not to feel the tension between the Bronze Age site of Kokkinokremos and the later site of Vigla and Koutsopetria. Kokkinokremos was interesting to us because the site has traditionally been regarded as having a single period occupation during the Late Bronze Age. Later activity in the larger area concentrated several hundred meters to the west. Intensive survey, however, revealed that there was activity at the site as early as the Iron Age and continuing into the Late Roman period. While it would be easy to dismiss this material as evidence for quarrying stones from the substantial walls around this prominent coastal height, it is at least as intriguing to consider why the site was not reoccupied in the Iron Age and preference shown for the hill of Vigla nearby. Perhaps memory of the Bronze Age site of Kokkinokremos functioned more like pagan sanctuaries in Greece rather than Hittite monuments in Asia Minor. The presence of the past at Kokkinokremos discouraged resettlement and repelled activity rather than attracting it.

Unfortunately, there is too much college footballing on today to give this any further thought today. Have a happy new year celebration. I hope all my dedicated readers have a chance to cherish good memories and find strength and hope in the bad ones. 

Cyprus and the Balance of Empires

I was pretty excited to pick up at the ASOR annual meeting the volume titled Cyprus and the Balance of Empires edited by Tom Davis, Charles Stewart, and Annemarie Weyl Carr. The volumes consists of a series of papers focused on the period from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion originally presented at Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in a 2011 conference.  This work should be read alongside the recently published volume from the Cahier du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD)” to provide a sweeping overview of recent research on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus.

As per usual, I will not provide a full review of this volume, but make some quick observations. I’ll mainly focus on the first eight chapters which focus on the Late Antique and Early Byzantine period on the island. 

1. Churches. Like Cypriot archaeology, this volume is very interested in churches. It contains summary publications by D. Michaelides on his newly excavated church at Ayioi Pente in Yeriskipou, E. Procopiou from her martyrium at Katalymata ton Plakton on the Akrotiri peninsula, and a massive synthetic article by Charles Stewart on the development of Byzantine architecture on Cyprus.

The most famous of these churches is the massive martyrdom at Katalymata with its western facing apse. Procopiou interpretation of this building as a 7th century martyrdom with clear architecture ties to both Egypt and the Levant is almost certain correct, and reinforces the position of Cyprus as a major center of pilgrimage in the 6th and 7th centuries with important churches at Amathous, Salamis-Constantia, Limassol (Neapolis), and now on the Akrotiri peninsula.

D. Michaelidis publication of the salvage excavations at Ay. Pente expands the corpus of Early Christian churches on the island and provides particularly useful parallels for the basilica at Polis-Chrysochous which I’ve been working to publish. Both the Ay. Pente church and the South Basilica at Polis are surrounded by graves and the stone lined ossuaries at Ay. Pente are similar to those a basilica EG0 at Polis. The relationship between contemporary burials and cult activities across the island in the 7th century is quite clear and consistent. I was similarly intrigued by what appears to be a south porch on the basilica at Ay. Pente which is another feature shared with the South basilica at Polis. Unfortunately the plan of the church at Ay. Pente is pretty disturbed so it is difficult to understand whether this south porch was associated with a southern atrium like at the South Basilica. I’m beginning to wonder whether these south porches provided sheltered access for rituals attached to important burials on the island. 

2. Architectural Development of Churches on Cyprus. Charles Stewart’s sweeping review of church architecture on Cyprus deserves its own number in my non-review. His survey was, as one would expect, thought provoking. Stewart began his work by critiquing the dichotomies that have structured past studies of church architecture on the island. Starting with Megaw who asked whether Cypriot architecture was “metropolitan or provincial” and continuing through Curcic who asked whether Cypriot architecture was provincial or “regional” in character. Of course, Dikigoropoulos 1961 dissertation located Cyprus “betwixt Greek and Saracen” and numerous subsequent scholars have found both productive and reductionist parallels between the islands current divided political situation and its historical place a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Stewart, then, was right to critique the overdetermination of these binary readings of Cypriot architectural history. In its place, Stewart argued that throughout the Early Byzantine period Cyprus’ place in the Mediterranean shifted according to local political, economic, and religious influences. There was no single core for which the island stood as the periphery, but multiple cores and peripheries that shaped the island as an architectural space.

Without getting into the detail of Stewart’s article, I do wonder whether he replaced on set of dichotomies with another. He seemed inclined divide architecture influences between those from the island and those from outside the island creating a Cyprus: Not Cyprus dichotomy. While historically this makes sense, as the corpus of basilicas on Cyprus have generally been seen as unique, I do wonder whether we should look at the communities on Cyprus as independent actors rather than simply individual representations of some island wide tendencies. I suspect that some communities on the island looked at their neighbors for inspiration while others looked far beyond the island’s shores. 

3. Survey and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Marcus Rautman’s article provides a nice overview of the work done by regional surveys to illuminate the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods on the island, and the rural landscape in particular. A key point in this article is that the late 7th century and 8th century landscapes may be much more elusive from an archaeological perspective. Rautman argues that the disruption of region trade, particularly sponsored by the imperial government, created a landscape dominated by short-term settlements rather than substantial and stable investments on the countryside characteristic of 6th and early 7th centuries. These short-term settlements and more contingent practices are less visible to the archaeologist and sometimes misinterpreted as population decline or abandonment.

4. Chronology and Ceramics. It was pretty remarkable that a collection of articles dedicated to the Late Romana and Early Byzantine period on Cyprus did not include a single article focusing exclusively on ceramics. David Metcalf’s article on seals and coins and Maria Parani’s all-too-short contribution on everyday life reminded us that small finds can play a key role in understanding the island’s economic, social, and administrative context. The lack of an article dealing specifically with locally made cook pots, the long-lived Late Roman 1 amphoras, or the regionally produced Cypriot Red Slip table wares, speaks to archaeological traditions on the island that despite well-known contributions by no less a scholar than Hector Catling or David Soren, continues to be dominated by students of architecture, icons, styles, and top-down history of church patrons, imperial officials, and bishops. Davis’s and Stewart’s overview of the study of Byzantine archaeological work on Cyprus emphasized the long-standing nature of existing research agendas despite the continued inroads of scholars like Marcus Rautman, Michael Given, and … err… me, Scott Moore, and David Pettegrew.

The book has much to offer the student of Late Roman and Byzantine Cyprus and contributes to the impressive and growing body of knowledge about the island during these periods. Now, we just need to get scholars from outside the island of Cyprus to read and consider the work done on Cyprus, and for archaeologists who work on Cyprus to continue to work to place the island within a wider context. 

Teaching Thursday: Gyrocopter Professors

This past week, Steve Conn penned a column over at the Chronicle of Higher Education site the describes the rise of the “helicopter teacher”. This is a nice phrase, and all, but it sounds cooler if you call them the gyrocopter professor. To Conn this term describes the rise of a group of faculty members who feel compelled to endlessly explain every aspect of their course to students and to hold their hand as they achieve each increasingly level of proficiency. Conn argues that these tendencies have emerged at the intersection of a number of trends in our education system: our growing concern for student self-esteem as well as our reluctance to allow students to fail; limited face-to-face interaction with our students, and an increasing dependence on digital mediation to make up for it; and, no list of ills would be complete without No Child Left Behind. The result is that students expect more and more handholding, more and more detailed explanations for even the most simple assignments, and more and more explicit instructions on how to engage material.

Having just read a series of course reviews of my Fall 2013 Byzantine History class, I found myself immediately in sympathy with Conn’s observations. The most consistent critiques of this course was that I didn’t use something called “The Powerpoint” and I did not circulate questions with my weekly primary source readings so students were not sure what the point of the readings were. (Of course, they also complained that they wanted “more culture” somehow overlooking the fact that the primary source readings were one of the main ways we explored the contours of Byzantine culture.) The requests that my students made, of course, weren’t unreasonable and are more or less consistent with their experience in many other classes. I still found the comments disheartening. I don’t use The Powerpoint because I want students to pay attention to what I’m saying during my lectures rather than slavishly copying down notes from a Powerpoint slide. I don’t circulate study questions before they read the primary sources because students tend to become mesmerized by these questions and find it difficult to think beyond them during our discussions. I hope, perhaps naively, that students will be curious enough about my lectures and the readings to find their own ways through the material, and I design my classes to reward unique and unexpected engagements with the content.

I feel like I can add three observations to Conn’s comments.

First, I suspect that the rise of the gyrocopter professor is also tied to the rise of “audit culture” (also known as the assessocracy). The insistence from both other faculty members and the administration that every cognitive move in the class be assessable and evaluated in relation to a strictly articulated set of course goals. For many administrators, this relates directly to accountability. Faculty have to be accountable for what they are teaching and the outcomes have to be trackable. As a result, we simplify the learning process into easily assessed goals (e.g. “Ability to read and know the meanings of really big words” or “Ability to clearly articulate a thesis statement”). These goals are then articulated in the syllabus and invoked whenever a task associated with these learning goals happens in class or on an assignment. This transparency of learning objectives is commendable to many, but our students will often see these goals as the ONLY objective of the course. As a result (and using a great phrase bandied about on the Twittersphere), students drift into becoming “incurious grade drones” especially as the pressures of the semester mount.

The other aspect of the gyrocopter professor is the slow and steady adaptation of the humanities to an industrial mode of learning. In craft practice, the master is deeply involved in all aspects of production from the arrival of raw materials to the final product. In industrial practice, the creation of the final product is broken into smaller and smaller tasks and each task receives detailed attention to improve efficiency. From the late 19th century, the American university system has seen the rising influence of industrial models for learning. Complex topics such as “ethical behavior,” “the past,” or “literature” are broken down into smaller and small tasks over a more and more structured curriculum. Each learning task becomes the subject of audit culture to improve efficiency.

Finally, one observation that got lost in all of this is that it is really difficult to keep your students engaged in classes that don’t lay out every expectation in great detail. Faculty and students have to share a significant amount of trust for learning in an unstructured way to take place over the course of the semester. Building that trust is a difficult, time consuming, and humbling task. For the average faculty member pressured by research and service obligations, it is hard to find the time and energy to build these bonds of trust. Students, of course, are in the same boat. Pressures of work, life, and other classes make it hard for them to slow down and get to understand the mutual expectations required for learning. In the place of this painful and protracted process of trust building, we produce little rubrics and state learning goals and lead our students by the hand through the wilds of learning hoping that somewhere along the line they move beyond being “incurious grade drones,” and we can end our daily gyrocopter flights.   

Thessaloniki

It’s been seven years since I’ve been Thessaloniki. For a Byzantinist, and one interested in ecclesiastical architecture, this is a problem. It was also a problem that my wife had not been to Thessaloniki ever. So this past week, we made our way to Thessaloniki for a couple of days of site-seeing at a vacation pace. (Here are some photos from my last visit.)

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While some of my friends are doing the movement’s work by documenting 19th century mountain villages (.pdf), Susie and I were nourishing our urban spirituality by traipsing around Thessaloniki getting pretty churches to pose seductively.

First, Ay. Sophia. When you think of inscriptions in mosaic on the dome of an 8th century Byzantine church you have to rock the KJV:

“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” 

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It’s hard to get a day going without a basilica. The Acheiropoietos church, probably late-5th or early 6th century:

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Domes on cylinders on cubes at the 14th century church of Profitis Elias:

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Our host at Ay. Dimitrios, with all his pre-iconoclastic serenity:

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Ay. Panteleiomon rises from the busy streets:

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Some mosaics from the Rotunda of St. George:

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Tombstone from the once vibrant Jewish community in the city appear in the stone piles around the Rotunda to remind us of the city’s difficult and tragic past:

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Some art deco for Richard Rothaus (and an example of some of the remarkable street art in Thessaloniki):

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Finally, one of my favorite monuments, the church of Ay. Apostoloi:

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We departed the city having – for the moment at least – our fill of urban bustle and retired to more idyllic environs… More soon!

(For the hard working guys over carrying on my research at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and the Polis-Chrysochous Medieval Project, go and read Scott Moore’s amusing and delightful blog. He and Brandon Olson are working to look over once more the material from the South Basilica at Polis in support of manuscript that Scott, Amy Papalexandrou, and I have prepared for submission this fall. They then head over to Larnaka to spend some quality time with the big Hellenistic deposit from that site that is poised to provide a significant contribution to our understanding of Hellenistic ceramic assemblages from the island. )