Working Draft: Byzantine Archaeology in Greece: Big Questions, Next Directions

After getting some nice feedback on my Monday blog post, I put together a working draft of the paper that I’ll deliver at a conference at the Joukowski Institute for Archaeology at Brown next week.

No one will mistake the paper as anything other than my particular perspectives on Byzantine Archaeology. It reflects my interests in landscapes, legacy data, and the archaeological study of architecture. One can certainly see my recent work at Polis on Cyprus and on the churches of the Corinthia as well as my little projects dealing with legacy data at Isthmia and Thisvi.

That being said, I know that I didn’t give enough attention to recent work on Byzantine ceramics, various areas of “scientific archaeology,” the growing awareness of the relationship between nationalism and Byzantine archaeology, the development of indigenous archaeologies in the Byzantine period, and very recent work at particular sites where researchers are making important strides, and this is a pretty uneven perspective on the current character of the field. I also know that I have left out citations and the like making it a bit difficult to track some of my references…  

But this is just a working draft and I continue to be eager to take any and all input.

Big Questions and Next Directions in Byzantine Archaeology

At the end of next week I am heading to the Joukowsky Institute at Brown University to contribute to a symposium on “Big Questions and Next Directions in the Archaeology of Greece“. My paper will look at Byzantine Archaeology. With only 15-20 minutes, there are limits to what I can say. Moreover, I can’t say that I follow closely the newest contributions from every angle related to Byzantine archaeology. Like most scholars, I have tended to diversify my portfolio beyond the limits of Early Christian and Byzantine Greece while still investing time in areas related to core research interest both in Greece and elsewhere.

That all being said, I do intend to make a few key points:

1. I’ll begin with a brief observation that Byzantine archaeology has generally remained ambivalent toward debates in mainstream “world archaeology”. With notable exceptions, Byzantine archaeologists of Greece barely raised an eyebrow in the direction of processualism and have studiously avoided post-processualism or any other post-structure theorizing. The main focus of Byzantine archaeology continues to be the typological study of monuments, urban areas, fortifications, imported pottery and fine ware, and the interplay of texts and objects.  

2. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and that we aren’t becoming more aware of the limits of traditional approaches to Byzantine archaeology. Indeed, over the past 40 years, archaeologists interested in the Byzantine period have used dendrochronology, intensive pedestrian survey, energetics in Byzantine architecture, remote sensing, and other scientific practices to produce new knowledge about Byzantium, but, in general, these contributions have remained isolated and not been integrated into the master narrative of Byzantine Greece. There is, however, a foundation for the meaningful expansion of the archaeological data that informs our understanding of Byzantine Greece. For example, continuous revision of ceramic typologies produced through stratigraphic excavation at Corinth, Athens, and Sparta has already begun to produce new chronological, economic, and architectural insights.

3. At present, my main interest is in the archaeology of architecture in Greece and Cyprus. As a rule, the study of Early Christian and Byzantine monuments in Greece has focused on the production of neat floor plans and elevations. Architectural historians then organized these plans and elevations into typologies, compared various typological difference to one another, and presented arguments relating differences in plans and elevations to regional trends, liturgical practices, and chronology. I did some of this in my dissertation, and, in many ways, this method reflects the nature of our evidence for the Byzantine period. Considering the number of known buildings of Early Christian date in Greece, it is remarkable how few have received systematic archaeological publication; many were not excavated according to stratigraphic methods.

The future of Byzantine archaeology and architecture in Greece involves the study of Byzantine architecture through the results of careful, stratigraphic excavation. Attention to stratigraphy will not only transform the rather static and typologically bounded floor plans into more temporally dynamic spaces, but also grant agency to the individuals who both built and used these monuments. Greater attention to the distribution of finds, architectural stratigraphy, evidence for building practices and maintenance rituals, will shift attention to the “everyday” practices that fueled the Byzantine economy, informed local identities, and created the monumental landscape.

4. A more archaeological approach to Byzantine architecture need not involve new excavations. Renewed attention to archaeological “legacy data” produced by earlier excavations may offer insights into the transformation and use of Early Christian and Byzantine monuments. In fact, many Byzantine archaeologists maintained far better records from their excavations than ever saw publication. Attention to Byzantine monuments documented during excavations focused on earlier materials – e.g. excavators removed Byzantine period structures from sites like Corinth and Olympia as they uncovered earlier levels – holds forth the potential to reveal significant insights into the structure of Byzantine communities. Recent efforts at Athens and Corinth to make this data available in digital forms will expand the number of scholars who have access to the history of these sites and hopefully increase the pace of research.

At the same time, Byzantine archaeologists have a responsibility to make their work available promptly and, whenever possible, in digital form. Moving away from a proprietary notion of archaeological data toward a collaborative model will help produce the kind of (relatively) “big data” is available to address questions of regional economies, large-scale change in settlement patterns, and, of course, ceramic typologies and chronology.

5. Finally, if renewed attention to legacy data and architecture is to have an impact on our understanding of the Byzantine world, we cannot lose sight of the transdisciplinary natural of Byzantine studies. Like its cousin, Classical Archaeology, Byzantine archaeology has long availed itself to texts to inform its main research questions. To continue this tradition, however, we must ground our analysis in integrative approaches to the Byzantine world which facilitate a true dialogue between archaeological remains and textual accounts (rather than one remaining slavishly dependent on the other). The notion of a Byzantine landscape provides an important interpretative field for exploring the relationship between texts and archaeology in a Byzantine context. The idea of the landscape allows for the coexistence of monuments, settlements, survey results, and textual accounts without reducing any one object to dependency on the other. Moreover, recent work on landscape has increasingly recognized the productive tension created by various narratives. Taskscapes, for example, that represent the processes involved in the construction of a church might well be overwritten by hagiographic narratives that located holy sites in the life and travels of a saint. The distribution of local settlements might challenge narratives of abandonment that conform to political or military goals. Artifacts of resistance might provide contrasting perspectives on otherwise triumphant narratives. Landscapes need not always capture tension between text and material culture. The presence of seemingly isolated churches might challenge views of settlement based on nucleated habitation. Soundscapes, view sheds, and the faint evidence for paths and roads, connect communities and monuments in ways that defy perspectives informed by modern efficiencies and topography and contribute to producing evidence for a Byzantine experience.

The future of Byzantine archaeology is in interrogating the methods and results of the rich tradition of archaeological practice in Greece and leveraging the growing body of conceptual literature grounded in world archaeology.  

Regional Survey and Byzantium

Last week, I wrote a bit about Timothy Gregory’s 1986 article in Byzantine Studies/Etudes byzantines titled “Intensive Survey and its Place in Byzantine Archaeology”. Some 7 years earlier, however, in the same journal John Rosser offered similar thoughts in an article titled “A Research Strategy for Byzantine Archaeology”. In this article, Rosser suggests that Byzantine archaeology (1) needed “an overall research strategy, and (2) had to begin to address issues the difficult relationship between text and material culture. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that neither of these issues have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction almost 35 years after Rosser’s call to arms.

First, the current diversity of Byzantine archaeology is perhaps not a liability. Scholars from the U.S. at least, who tend to have less institutional coherence than scholars in other countries, have continued to look toward urban excavations to shed light on Byzantine culture, have worked to document traditional objects of interest in Byzantine studies – namely churches and monasteries, and have pioneered the use of intensive pedestrian survey to document shifting patterns of settlement and land use in the Byzantine era. In short, despite very recent efforts to consolidate conversations among Byzantine archaeologists under the generous auspices of Dumbarton Oaks, Byzantine archaeology in the U.S. has remained refreshingly and frustratingly diverse.

Second, Byzantine archaeology – like much archaeology in the Mediterranean world – still struggles to escape the long shadow of our textual records. Rosser makes clear his attitudes. He calls for archaeologists to devise strategies to interpret how Byzantine society organized land as the basis for an agrarian history of the Byzantine era. Questions of land tenure have particular significance for understanding whether the Byzantine period marked a significant break with the economic structures of the ancient world. Rosser regarded “the greatest contributions Byzantine archaeology can hope to make” to be “in the area of demographic, social, and economic history” (p. 157). By expanding what we know about land use and its impact on demography and the economy, Byzantine archaeologists and historians would begin to address the question of whether the so-called end of the ancient world was an economic event or more properly tied to culture, religion, or political changes. We might also attempt to understand why the eastern and western Mediterranean developed along such different trajectories.

To do this, Rosser calls for more sophisticated approaches to regional level survey and, like Gregory, cited the influential Minnesota Messenia Expedition. The MME took as the basic unit of study the region, sought to explore the relationship between its inhabitants and their natural environment through time, and drew upon an interdisciplinary team of scholars to document change through time. The latter ensured that the project recognized the structure of the landscape and to some extent settlement and land use to reflect longterm patterns of local resources exploitation on the regional level. As a result, Rosser can commend the MME for their use of both Linear B and Venetian records for understanding the structure of settlement through time.

Rosser’s grounded his call for a Byzantine archaeology in an appreciation for how diachronic survey can impose longterm structure on the countryside. By allowing texts and material culture from all periods to contribute to an understanding of how resources shaped settlement, the first wave of regional surveys created an approach where Byzantine archaeology could be freed from its dependence on contemporary texts and construct a model landscape that informs how we understand agrarian change in the Byzantine era.

This review of a 35 year old article is mostly an academic exercise (and a reminder of this article’s existence since Byzantine Studies/Etudes byzantines is not in Jstor or other major online databases). But it informs a talk that I’ll deliver at a Dumbarton Oak’s symposium in March on survey archaeology and Byzantine studies. Looking back to Tim Gregory’s and John Rosser’s articles from the late 70s and mid-1980s contextualizes a larger discussion the place of regional and intensive survey in Byzantine archaeology and raises the questions whether we have responded to Gregory’s and Rosser’s call for a new direction in Byzantine archaeology and how have our perspectives on the potential of intensive survey have changed since the time of these articles.

Intensive Survey and Byzantine Archaeology

This spring I’m contributing to a symposium put on by Dumbarton Oaks on archaeological survey and Byzantine archaeology and history. I’ve been asked to talk about how Byzantine archaeologists have looked across chronological barriers in the context of survey.

I decided to begin with Timothy Gregory’s 1986 article in Byzantine Studies/Etudes byzantines titled “Intensive Survey and its Place in Byzantine Archaeology”. The article made the case for the value of intensive survey in Byzantine archaeology with particular attention to the value of intensive survey methods in documenting the Byzantine countryside, examining the archaeology of regions, and identifying sites that usually do not attract the attention of the excavators of monumental or urban remains. As Gregory notes throughout this seminal, if idiosyncratic, article is that intensive survey has the potential to expand our knowledge of Byzantine society beyond the limits imposed by knowledge derived from the study of churches, fortifications, and urban areas. 

More importantly for my purposes, however, the methods associated with intensive survey located Byzantine archaeology within a broader diachronic landscape. Even though the earliest intensive survey projects, as Gregory noted, like the Minnesota Messenia Expedition, focused on particular problems and periods, they recovered and made efforts to analyze objects and features of any period in their survey area.  With the MME, for example, which was designed to study the Mycenaean landscape of the southwest Peloponnesus, understanding the distribution of Byzantine material was a peripheral concern, and, as a result, the authors relegated the study of the period to a section dedicated generically to “medieval” pottery.

More recent projects, however, have paid greater attention to the Byzantine pottery. The highly influential heirs to the MME project – the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project and the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project – both included specialists in the Byzantine period; the former will have a volume dedicated to the Medieval period and the latter has received significant attention at the hands of Sharon Gerstel. Joanita Vroom has studied the Byzantine and later periods for the major surveys in Boeotia by John Bintliff and Anthony Snodgrass. While none of these projects focused explicitly on the Byzantine or Medieval period, their directors became known for their wide range of serious archaeological interest. So it is hardly fair to suggest that the prehistoric specialities of the directors of PRAP and NVAP and the various Cambridge/Bradford/Leiden projects limited how much we could learn about the Byzantine period in their survey areas. At the same time, these excavated sites that provided stratigraphic and conceptual anchors for these projects tended to be prehistoric or Classical in date (e.g. Pylos or Nemea), and, as a result, Byzantine archaeology represented an epiphenomenal aspect to the brilliant “second wave” survey projects on mainland Greece. The longstanding emphasis among scholars and funding bodies on the Classical and Bronze Age periods in Greece accounts for this bias as much as anything. 

It’s somehow poetic to suppose that the chronologically peripheral status of Byzantine material in the major survey projects resulted in a loss of resolution, the same way that the edges of our vision tend to be less clearly defined. We lack nuanced chronologies for most classes of Byzantine ceramics and we know almost nothing about local utility and cooking wares. As a result we can discuss the post-classical period in only relatively imprecise ways when we encounter this material in unstratified conditions on the surface of the ground. The chronological difficulties extend in some cases to our ability to date standing monuments outside of urban centers or without epigraphical or textual evidence. Moreover, churches and fortification frequently enjoyed long periods of continued use, modification, and upkeep from the Byzantine period into later ages making it even more difficult to isolate a monument as “Byzantine” or “Ottoman” or even “Early Modern” in date. 

Chronological ambiguity in Byzantine material culture and the peripheral relationship of Byzantine archaeology to the core interest of many of the most influential survey archaeology projects have combined to associate Byzantine material with a broader category of material dated coarsely to the “post-ancient” or “Medieval-Modern” age. The result of this combination of chronological ambiguity is an equally ambiguous engagement with material from the Byzantine period. 

This creates some particularly difficulties with how intensive survey has informed Byzantine history and archaeology more broadly. As Gregory recognized some 25 years ago, many of the key issues in Byzantine history require that we understand how settlements and land use patterns change through time. As Guy Sanders and others have shown, the shifting sands of ceramic chronology have often made even the most widespread and widely accepted changes in settlement – like the transformation of Greece over the course of the so-called Byzantine Dark Ages – difficult to discern in the surface record. We have made little progress in understanding later, more subtle, or more local shifts in settlement or land use.

The problems with our understanding of Byzantine material culture especially in a rural context has led archaeologists to consider Byzantine material as part of a longer chronological period and contributing to how we understand trends associated with the longue durée rather than more particular historic events. Disentangling the Byzantine from these longstanding habits of analysis will require both refining our ability to recognize material in field and shifting how we understand the post-Classical landscape.

Over the next 6 weeks or so, I’m going to continue to work on this paper and these ideas and bring in more specific examples from survey literature. What you see here is just a preliminary sounding. Stay tuned.

Pilgrimage in Medieval Corinth

It was a pleasure to read Amelia Brown’s contribution to the inaugural volume of Herom, a journal dedicated to Greek and Roman material culture. She presents a useful overview of some evidence for pilgrimage in Corinth, Athens, and elsewhere in southern Greece. While textual evidence provides the overarching framework for her paper, she does take into account some of the archaeological evidence particularly around Corinth. 

Using sources, particularly from the West, she established that pilgrims occasionally stopped at the church of St. Andrew in Patras and, following A. Kaldellis’ lead, argued that the Parthenon rechristened the church of the Virgin attracted pilgrims drawn by its perpetual light. (In light of Kaldellis’ work, Brown’s suggestion that “Medievel Athens rebranded their ancient monuments as churches seems a bit simplistic. In fact, in some ways it might be that Modern Athens rebranded their Medieval heritage as evidence for its Classical past.)

For Corinth, Brown considers the ring of Early Christian churches around the urban center as potential pilgrimage sites marking not only martyr shrines (such as that of Kodratos), but also major routes in and out of the city. In this way, Corinth seems to be similar to arrangement of martyria around Milan or even Rome. The major pilgrimage church in the area, however, seems to have been the Lechaion basilica  at Corinth’s western port. Readers of this blog are probably sick of hearing about this building, but its massive size, double atrium, elaborate baptistery, and association with the martyrdom of Leonidas and his female companions, make this building’s association with pilgrimage almost certain. In fact, Brown makes the intriguing observation that the importance of baptism at Lechaion might echo Leonidas’ death by drowning which at least one life called his “second baptism”. Scholars have largely dismissed or overlooked the practice of second baptism in the Byzantine and Late Antique times, but there is a small, but growing body of evidence suggesting that martyr shrines might have served as the location for some form of ritual ablution. More intriguing, of course, is that the association of Lechaion with baptismal rituals persisted into the Byzantine period suggesting that parts of the monumental baptistery and church still grounded the life of the martyr in the local landscape.  Brown might have added that the  nymphaion located a few hundred meters south of the church and likely contemporary with the church may have served as a roadside stop for weary pilgrims as they made their way south across the Isthmus. Travelers passing south through the fortress at Isthmia would have encountered inscriptions that invoked the protection of God and the Virgin in conspicuously liturgical language reinforcing the sacred nature of the Isthmian landscape. In this context, all travelers became pilgrims as they encountered the sacred in even the most mundane passages.

The most curious thing about this article is that Brown clearly privileges pilgrims from outside of Greece and struggles a bit with the interpretation of more local hagiographic sources. We know, for example, that local pilgrimage practices were common in the Peloponnesus. I have written on the obscure St. Theodore of Kythera whose church became a pilgrimage destination after his death. The battle between Nauplion and Argos for the body of St. Peter of Argos after his death demonstrates the significance of relics to the spiritual life of those communities and implies that the saint’s remains would become a place of pilgrimage. Other lives preserve incidents where travelers stop to visit holy hermits or the remains of abandoned churches. In fact, these lives do more than describe a landscape full of sacred spaces, but they also produced these landscapes and inscribed them with the routes that made  everyday movements small acts of pilgrimage.

In this context, the Corinthian landscape comes alive with the movement of myriad pilgrims. These include the relatively recent monastery of St. Patapios near Loutraki where modern pilgrims go to visit the healing relics of St. Patapios as well as visitors to the church of the Ayia Anagyri in Anaploga who still incubate at the church there during the annual feast to these “penniless doctors” or villagers who decorate the church of Profitis Elias on his feast or celebrate small, local panayri festivals at long neglected chapels. To be sure, the archaeological and textual evidence for this kind of pilgrimage will be faint, but it preserves the everyday and extrordinary movements of pilgrims in the Greek landscape. 

Byzantine Survey Archaeology: Looking across Chronological Boundaries

As my post yesterday mentioned, I am going to present a paper in the final panel at this spring’s Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium on Byzantine Survey Archaeology. The symposium is an exciting one and will hopefully initiate an important conversation about the role of survey archaeology (and perhaps even contemporary archaeological practice) in the study of Byzantium more broadly. 

I’ve been asked to speak specifically about diachronic approaches in survey archaeology. Since I’ve spent most of the last 15 years working on various diachronic survey projects which have at least hoped to include a substantial Byzantine chronological component, this seemed like a reasonable request. Over the last week or so, however, I’ve been struggling with how to think about the place of Byzantine survey archaeology in a diachronic context. As my abstract below points out, the Byzantine period is often grouped in a larger “post-ancient” category or associate with medieval and post-medieval periods particularly in Greece. This periodization strategy compels those of us interested in the Byzantium to reflect quite explicitly on the relationship between the Byzantine period and periods more close in time to the present day. Not only does this relationship encourage a reading of Byzantium that problematizes the tension between the remote and exotic and the familiar and mundane, but it also tempts us to consider the archaeological processes that create continuity or discontinuity in the archaeological landscape. In effect, it locates our archaeological sensibilities at the intersection of landscapes as historically imagined places and spaces of constant change.

NewImageSpeaking of change…

Here’s the first draft of my abstract.

Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium
Byzantine Survey Archaeology: Reflections and Approaches

Looking across Chronological Barriers
William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota 

In some circles, it remains common to group Byzantine archaeology in Greece in the broad category of post-antique archaeology or to place it in synthetic works alongside discussions of medieval and post-medieval material culture. This periodization scheme reflects not only long-standing privileging of the Classical and Ancient (and the grouping of other periods as either pre or post this central age), but also coincides with perceptions developed in the field. Byzantine architecture, ceramics, social institutions, and even literary forms extend well beyond chronological periods defined by the political entity known as the Byzantine Empire. This has largely coincided with the tendency of diachronic survey to avoid rigid boundaries that locate artifact, architecture, and landscapes within a single post-ancient period. As result, scholars drawn to research questions more narrowly defined by the fields of Byzantine archaeology or Byzantine Studies have consistently found themselves pushed into dialogue with landscapes that conform to different economic, political, and, perhaps, settlement frameworks. The tensions between different chronological and periodization regimes provides an opportunity to problematize Byzantine archaeology in ways that shed light on formation processes, narrative strategies embedded within the landscape, and practical issues of continuity and discontinuity in place and space. By adopting perspectives and practices that push us to look across chronological barriers, Byzantine archaeology moves to a future endowed with significant methodological and interpretive sophistication.

Archaeological “Signatures” of Byzantine Churches

This springs Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium is titled Byzantine Survey Archaeology: Reflections and Approaches. The symposium will feature speakers covering a range of topics central to discussions about intensive pedestrian survey archaeology in a Byzantine context. My paper is among the last of the symposium and in a session called “Reading the Data/Reading the Future”.

I need to have abstract for my talk which is tentative titled “Looking across Chronological Boundaries”. The goal of the talk will be to bring together some of my work (largely with Tim Gregory and David Pettegrew) that explores post-Byzantine archaeological sites and consider how what we’ve learned in this work can inform out study of Byzantine sites in a survey context. 

Readers of this blog are familiar with my work at the early modern site of Lakka Skoutara in the Eastern Corinthia. Here’s a link to our most recent paper.

You may be less familiar with some of my work with David Pettegrew and Tim Gregory in 2001 on the island of Kythera where we collected surface data from around a series of still standing Byzantine churches. The results told us little about the landscape around these churches during the Byzantine period, but shed some significant light on formation processes around these occasionally used monuments in the Greek countryside. Like our work around the deteriorating houses in Lakka Skoutara, our work around these churches revealed a countryside that was in constant transformation. 

The evidence for the constant transformation of the landscape pushes us to see even the surface record as the product of a series of complex formation processes rather than a palimpsest awaiting our careful gaze to produce a complete but occluded text. The remains in the countryside preserve a complex record of processes.

 

Two Church Plans

Sometimes I don’t mind spending a morning with Adobe Illustrator (although most days it’s a special kind of torture). So I did that yesterday. 

The first image is a simplified plan of an Early Christian basilica in Greece. It is loosely based on a plan of Nikopolis Alpha, but I cut out some of the ancillary rooms joining the narthex. 

Figure1 Caraher

I also used the Illustrator to sketch a plan of the church at Kalpsi in Eurytania. This church has a spectacular group of mosaic pavements with dedicatory inscriptions. For my purposes, I was only really interested in the location of dedicatory inscriptions so I decided to create a sketch plan. I think it works for a very simplified representation of where the inscriptions appeared.

Figure2 Caraher

NewImage

How’s that for a Thursday morning before a day filled with grading and grant writing?

Some Churches in Byzantine Epirus

I’ve spent the last week or so perusing M. Veikou’s very new book on Byzantine Epirus (Leiden 2012). It’s a monumental tome with over 300 pages of analysis and 300 more of figures, catalogues, and a site inventory. I’ve commented on Veikou’s work on this blog before so I was pretty excited to get my hands on her book length treatment of Byzantine Epirus to see how she developed more fully some of the themes touched upon in her article length work.

While I haven’t managed to get all the way through the book yet, she has already offered a few really interesting observations that are not so much novel as well documented and conceptualized.  As per usual my short observations this morning are based on what I have found useful or intriguing about the book rather than some kind of universal review of the book’s merits. 

1. Basilica Cemeteries and Byzantine Settlement. Veikou makes the rather obvious argument that the conversion of Early Christian or Early Byzantine churches into cemeteries in the 7th to 10th centuries – a common phenomenon across the southern Balkans – suggests continuity in settlement between the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine era (pp. 68-72). As far as I know, she is the first to make this leap and while I have some doubts about its application in specific cases (for example, I could imagine the urge to bury ad sanctos could trump the need to bury bodies in the immediate proximity of a settlement), I think she is probably right. She then takes this a step further to note that the use of earlier churches as places of burial might mark the growing willingness to bury the dead near or within settlements during Byzantine period as opposed to outside of settlements as was more common in the Early Christian period. She does, of course, note that the state of the buildings into which later visitors made burials is often unclear with evidence for churches both with standing walls and completely collapsed. 

2. Byzantine Churches on Early Christian Foundations. Veikou also compiles a useful list of later churches built on the foundations of Early Christian (or just earlier Christian) buildings (p. 57). While this is hardly a major emphasis in her work, it is an exceedingly useful list for scholars looking to understand continuity of the religious landscape in Greece. 

3. Typologies. Throughout Veikou’s section on architecture she proposes numerous typologies or adapts typologies for other authors to describe various architectural features present in both religious and non-religious architecture in Epirus. Such thorough typology building has long been standard practice in Greek (and more broadly Continental) approaches to documenting features in the landscape, but for many archaeologists the most persistent fear is that we impose typologies on material that, in turn, begin to dictate in unanticipated ways, our interpretations. The most obvious example of the typology-tail wagging the dog is when we have used typologies as the basis for either absolute chronology or the develop of features through time. In these cases, the logic of the typology (in, say, Byzantine architecture) has run the risk of trumping the evidence from stratigraphic excavation or other forms of dating.  That being said, typologies of the type that Viekou developed in her book offers the basis for a common vocabulary to describe various features in the Epiriote landscape, and she makes a particular effort to link the typologies she creates with those existing in other literature (e.g. her grave typology on p. 76-80).

As I said, I’ve only just started harvesting this book for valuable data and I’ve only scratched the surface of Viekou’s larger arguments regarding the transformation of the Byzantine landscape of Epirus. As a region of the Byzantine world that is both peripheral to the traditional centers of Byzantine control and authority and located in an important liminal zone between the East and West during the Middle Ages, the development of Epirus over these centuries has significant impact on how we understand the limits and character of the so-called Byzantine commonwealth. In other words, more on this book soon.

Byzantine Archaeology and the Archaeology of Greece

Last week I blogged a bit about working my way through J. Bintliff’s new survey of the archaeology of Greece. This week, I reflected on the sections dedicated to the archaeology of Byzantine and Crusader Greece. These three chapters are strong enough to stand on their own as a short survey of Byzantine archaeology. They feature vivid case studies that introduce readers to some unfamiliar places while at the same time providing to the traditional monuments central to long-standing discussions of Byzantine archaeology and architecture.

There are a handful of things that really stood out in these chapters:

1. Domestic Spaces. Bintliff does a great job bringing in recent research on Byzantine and “Frankish period” housing (most notably the work of E. Sigalos). Attention to Byzantine housing, of course, is an important step to developing a more sophisticated understanding of the functional character of surface assemblages for this period. While Bintliff offers little that is new, he does provide a very accessible synthesis of recent work on Byzantine domestic space which a student could easily use as a jumping off point for more in-depth research. The only period for which Bintliff’s work seems a bit lacking is for the Early Byzantine period or the “Dark Ages” where recent work stands poised to make a serious contribution to habitation practices during this important transitional time.  

2. Urban and Rural. A better understanding of both urban and rural housing allows us to begin to unravel the complexities associated with Byzantine settlement. At present, as Bintliff acknowledged, the lines between various types so Byzantine settlements are exceedingly blurry. While the ends of the continuum – say isolated farms and major urban areas – are clear, the differences between monasteries, hamlets, villages, town, and small cities remains difficult at best. Even if we concede that some of these terms may reflect contemporary definitions of settlement more than Byzantine, the organization of space outside of the most monumentalized centers (Mistras, Thessaloniki, Constantinople, et c.) continues to offer a serious challenge to scholars interested in Byzantine economy and society. 

3. Texts. It was a bit striking that there was so little appeal to texts throughout these chapters. Byzantine archaeology has long been beholden to texts and the abundance of texts -from the most modest hagiography to various documentary sources like the typika edited and published by Dumbarton Oaks. These texts have long worked in conjunction with archaeological observation to offer a robust perspective on the Byzantine and Frankish material culture. Despite all the difficulties that texts from the Medieval period have created for archaeologists, their absence of this section reflects an obvious oversight to specialists in Byzantine archaeology.  

4. No Longer Periphery. Most surveys of Byzantine archaeology – as much as such things exist – regard Greece as somehow peripheral to the Byzantine heartland and part of a larger discussion of “provincial” architecture, archaeology, and traditions. Bintliff’s book offers almost no hint of this provincializing discourse and locates southern and central Greece at the center of his discussion of  archaeology. This makes some sense, of course, as his book focuses on the archaeology of a particular region defined by both the modern nationstate and earlier concentrations of distinct cultural practices. By focusing on regional practices in their own rights rather than as just pale imitations of  the center, Bintliff locates the material culture of Byzantine and Frankish Greece within local traditions and evidence. As his entire book shows, the remains of Byzantine and Frankish Greece fit within a larger and independent narrative of Greek history and archaeology. (This is something that Greek archaeologists have largely recognized, but Bintliff avoids the potential for a nationalist archaeology by treading very critically and carefully the minefield of continuity.) 

The most vexing thing about this otherwise commendable survey is that it’s attached to 300+ pages of careful scholarship on the archaeology of earlier periods. This makes this volume not particularly appealing for a course in Medieval or Byzantine history course where it would clearly fill a gap in current offerings. This left me wishing that this book (and others like it) come in a more modular form where an instructor could purchase only particular sections of a text (at I am sure a healthy mark up!).