Islands and Scale

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on my paper from next week’s Dumbarton Oaks colloquium titled The Insular Worlds of Byzantium. My paper is a bit of a rambling affair which seeks to consider whether island archaeology is a useful way to think about the island of Cyprus in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period.

My paper looks at two fairly well-known sources of archaeological evidence: fine ware ceramics and the architecture of Early Christian basilicas. To narrow the scope of my study further, I also focuses primarily on two sites: Polis Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. My paper begins (and stay tuned for a draft of it, probably early next week), with a reflection on island archaeology in the context of studies of the Mediterranean by Braudel and subsequent scholars informed by the Annales School concerns for geographically and chronologically expansive readings of history and archaeology.

I then pivot to the island of Cyprus and, narrowing my scope further, to the two sites of Polis and Koutsopetria. This shift from the macro to the micro paralleled the interest among Annalistes in detailed microhistories which might reveal the workings of long term trends (although it is telling that Braudel hesitated, in his master work, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, to connect the day-to-day events of Philip’s reign to the longer term trends that defined his Mediterranean World). 

As one might expect, the character of fine ware assemblages and Early Christian architecture at the two sites (and across the island) did not reveal a cohesive “island identity” for Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Instead, it demonstrated variability across micro regions and connections with both other sites on the island and wide networks for change and culture. Island archaeology, of course, might suggest that the connections between these sites and the wider networks is a feature of insularity itself. At the same time, this is a rather low threshold for insularity or the interpretative significance of island archaeology. In fact, most island archaeologists consider the oscillation over time between phases of isolation and connectivity to be a feature of island communities. 

This led me to several general conclusions about scale and island archaeology. These are not profound, but they help me organize my thoughts for the final push in writing this paper.

1. Islands and Time. The insular character of communities on any given landmass is most likely visible only over the longue durée. Period specific studies of islands during, say, Late Antiquity or the Early Byzantine period is likely to only capture one phase of the oscillation between isolation and connectivity. As a result, the distinctly insular character of the population, developed in periods of isolation, may be in abeyance at any given period.

2. Insular Islands. Studying one or two islands may not be the ideal way to reveal much about  insularity for any particular period. Insularity might be best understood across larger groups of islands (as well as over long periods of time). Any one island at any one period of time might be more or less connected or more or less isolated. The range of isolation and connectivity is best understood only over a larger body of islands at the scale of, say, the Aegean or the Mediterranean. 

3. Big Islands. It may also be that larger islands will tend to look less like islands and more like “mainlands.” Small islands, with fewer sites, more limited immediate hinterlands, may have more insular trajectories through time. This got my wondering what the breaks are on the concept of insularity. In other words, what historically stopped large islands from functioning in the same basic ways as smaller island. On the one hand, the ecological and environmental diversity of an island like Cyprus might set it apart from smaller, less diverse islands. It also seems that a more nuanced understanding of overland transportation and the ways in which medium and long distance road networks provided forms of connectivity between sites in ways that are distinct from maritime networks.     

4. Periods of Insularity. Jody Gordon, Derek Counts, and Bernard Knapp have argued that during particularly periods in the history of Cyprus — the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the Iron Age, and the Bronze Age respectively — a hybrid character of Cypriot identity becomes visible incorporating both distinctively Cypriot elements (defined as such not be any kind of racial or narrowly ethnic criteria and more as elements consistently visible in Cypriot culture over the longue durée) and with aspects imported from outside of the island during periods of intensified culture contact. By the Late Roman period, however, the distinctive integration of long-standing markers of Cypriot identity and the larger Hellenized Late Roman koine appears indistinct at best. Perhaps we could argue that settlement patterns persisted and accommodated the rise of the Early Christian ecclesiastical hierarchy on the island. We might also point to a shift away from the islands close economic and social relations with areas along the Levantine Coast and toward the Aegean, Anatolia, or the Western Mediterranean, but there is no real reason to imagine these relationships as mutually exclusive.

~

As I noted, these are pretty rough notes toward a conclusion for a fairly ragged paper, but I think my paper is finally heading someplace if not productive, at least rhetorically complete.

More on Islands in Late Antiquity

Yesterday evening, I finished reading Miguel Angel Cau Ontiveros and Catalina Mas Florit’s new edited volume, Change and resilience: the occupation of Mediterranean islands in late antiquity (2019). It’s pretty good and filled with things that I should follow up on as I try to reconstruct a bit of what I used to know about Late Antiquity.

As I noted yesterday, most of the contributions don’t so much explicitly address the interpretative potential of insularity (change or resistance, for that matter), as offer case studies on the archaeology of various Mediterranean islands from the Balearics in the west to Cyprus in the East. The book represented a few interesting trends in how we think about islands in Late Antiquity, but these trends have to be sussed out across various contributions. I try to do some of that here:

Islands as Islands. In most cases, the authors took the integrity of the insular space for granted. In other words, even when contributors considered the coastal islands like those along the Adriatic littoral of Croatia, the islands themselves remained the primary interpretative lens through which to understand the history of settlement in the Late Roman period. It is assumed, for example, that the Cyclades or the islands of the southern Adriatic enjoyed similar historical trajectories, which is fair enough, but that these played out in similar ways over the varying landscapes. 

Island Refuges. Anyone who has worked on Late Roman Greece has undoubtedly thought a bit about Sinclair Hood’s famous “islands of refuge” theory. He argues that small islands near the coast often served as refuges for a cowering population faced with the Slavic depredations of the 6th century. By the mid-1990s, scholar had begun to challenge Hood’s arguments and instead suggested that coastal islands in the Saronic and the Gulf of Corinth were the opposite of refuges. Instead, these islands represented a last gasp of economic expansion where mainland dwellers sought to utilize marginal lands – such as the waterless and desolate near coastal islands – to feed their flocks and to engage in other activities best conducted at a distance from more productive lands. This interpretation accounts for the significant quantities of Late Roman ceramics often found on these islands and the presence of church, cisterns, and other buildings perhaps best suited to the needs of a season community. Whatever the interpretation, these islands were understood in a context that depended, at least in part, on the nearby mainland and their insularity was less a concern per se, than the absence of water and limited vegetation. 

Churches. At one point, I had considered including the Cyclades in my dissertation which I ultimately decided to confine to the mainland of southern and central Greece. I am glad that I didn’t do that. The Cyclades have well over 100 known churches. Islands have so many churches and both Crete and Cyprus have over 100 as well. The density of church building across a diverse range of island communities in the Eastern Mediterranean (simply because am not sufficiently familiar with the island of the Western Mediterranean) clearly mark economic prosperity as well as the emergence of new religious and political institutions across the region. If these buildings reflect the needs of congregations (either as space of worship or as a expressions of piety by other means), there is reason to suspect a diversity of communities both on the larger islands of Cyprus and Crete, and across the smaller islands of the Aegean. Whether this reflects fragmented identities on these islands that either complement or complicate notions of a larger insular identity is difficult to know.     

Identity. Cau and Mas offer the observation in their brief introduction that islanders often have a sense of identity that ties them closely to their island homes. Unfortunately, few of the contributors take their personal perspectives explicitly to heart when considering the character of Late Roman islands. That being said, its intriguing to speculate whether the reuse of Nuragic structures on Sardinia, for example, represents an explicit effort a cultural continuity and Sardinian identity. Do efforts to build churches in places that are visible from the sea reflect efforts to announce an identity defined by the insular landscape? Are the political claims of large islands like Crete or Cyprus distinct results of their insularity and do they leverage a sense of identity?    

Historicizing Islands. It’s hard to divorce discussions of insular identity from modern concepts of culture and politics. For places like Cyprus, there is no doubt that its insularity formed part of strongly articulated political claims over the course of the 20th century. It may be that Crete and Sardinia explored similar claims to political sovereignty – if not outright independence – during their long histories. While it is easy enough to fall back on essentialist claims that assert islands have similar political, social, economic, and even cultural characteristics, I wonder how much of this is shaped by political aspirations in the modern era. 

~

Whatever the complications surrounding the notion of insularity, resilience, and change in the Late Roman Mediterranean, the book represents a useful survey of the island landscapes of Late Antiquity. The references throughout will add significantly to my “I feel a need to read” pile and probably shape future posts here on the ole bloggeroo!

From Cyprus to Greece (and an advertisement for myself)

Yesterday, I wrapped up the first of my of three little study seasons and traveled from Cyprus to Greece.

As a kind of poetic gesture, our long-gestating article on the South Basilica at Polis appeared yesterday in Hesperia 88 (2019). Here’s a link to it (and if you want an offprint and don’t get the Hesperia, drop me an email or a DM on the Twitter). 

The article offers an archaeological argument for the date of two phases of the South Basilica. The second phase will likely be of most interest to architectural historians for Early Byzantine Cyprus because it involves the conversion of the church from a wood roofed structure to a barrel vault. We also managed to phase, and date, the construction of the narthex and a portico that ran the length of the southern side of the basilica. Plus, there’s a massive “French drain” (and who doesn’t love Mr. French’s drains?) designed to help deal with the flow of water against the south wall of the church. 

MooreEtAlTitlePage

The weakest part of the article is our discussion of the urban context for the basilica, and, in fact, this is a work in progress for our understanding of the site of Polis and the arrangement of Early Christian churches in the changing urban landscape of Late Antique Cyprus more generally. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll undoubtedly know that this is something that I’ve been thinking about lately

We’re also happy that this article involved links to our publication of data from Pyla-Koutsopetria in Open Context. This summer, we’ve started to work a bit on the “digital backbone” for Polis in Open Context (as well as preparing the data from our excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla). This involves making our notebooks available as well as our analysis of the context pottery. The inventoried finds from Polis are already available on Open Context in draft form, but they will acquire addition significance only when linked to descriptions of the excavations and other material from the trenches. This is a big job for the area of E.F2 (in the Princeton Polis grid) which includes the South Basilica, but we hope to produce a model for organizing the E.F2 data using the smaller and more manageable area of E.F1 over the next few months.

Thinking about digital publication and curation of archaeological data is always good thing! For the next week, my old buddy David Pettegrew and I will be working with Jon Frey and Tim Gregory with some Isthmia Excavation data and trying to wrangle and think about how best to organize, disseminate, and curate their data. More on that over the next week or so…  

Communities of Practice around the South Basilica at Polis

In the spirit of my “Sumertime Fragments,” I’ve been working on a little piece on the relationship between the church at E.F2 at Polis, which we call the South Basilica, and various communities. Unlike most of my sober and frankly archaeological (and architectural) approaches to this building and space, I tried to offer something that’s a bit more interpretative and free wheeling (if not straying necessarily too far from the basic evidence).

This is a fragment, though, with incomplete citations, half-baked ideas, and a more playful tone than usual, but maybe it’s of interest to some folks. If nothing else it represents what I was thinking about on my walks and jogs around the village of Polis over the past few weeks:

The district surrounding the South Basilica represents the adaptability of the local community over time.

The basilica’s distinctive location along the northern edge of the city of Arsinoe positioned the church along a major route from the coast to the city itself. During the Roman period, the district featured a paved, north-south and east-west road which intersected at a quadrafrons arch. This demonstrated that this route from the coast to the city was likely a major intersection where a road running through the northern part of the city joined a road that connected the city to its ancient port either along the coast immediately north of the city or at the site of the modern village of Latchi (Nicolaou 1966; Leonard 2005). The South Basilica stood near this intersection and its western entrance opened onto the north-south road. Later additions to the South Basilica further emphasized its relationship with the roads in this district. The construction of a narthex monumentalized the western entrance to the church. A porch running along the south side of the church presented a series of arches to anyone traveling along the east-west road to the south of the building. The Christian identity of the community greeted anyone entering the city from the coast. Moreover, the narthex and the porch provide shade for the traveler, and a contemporary apsidal wellhouse immediately across the road from the basilica entrance offered water.

The parallels between the architecture of the church at Polis with its southern porch and the acropolis church at Amathous hints that the church may have also stood as a monument on the westward progress of pilgrims across the island. In this way, the South Basilica represented the intersection between the larger Christian community in the Mediterranean and the church at Arsinoe. Victor Turner famously argued that pilgrimage was a liminal phenomenon for participants en route to holy sites (Turner 1966). The liminality of the pilgrimage experience produced the temporary suspension of social differences and created a space of communitas where new and more egalitarian social relationships emerged. The liminal location of the South Basilica at the north side of the city, its possible association with pilgrimage, and its offer of shade and water allowed the architectural, ritual, and social space of the church to merge. The result is a shared space between the community at Polis and the weary Christian pilgrim. The modifications to the church also included the transformation of the building from a wood-roofed to a barrel vaulted church. The techniques needed to install buttresses to help the thin basilica walls could support barrel vaulting, for example, likely required specialized knowledge. On the island, this practice was most common among churches on the Karpas peninsula and relatively rare in the western part of island (Stewart 2010; Megaw 1946). If we assume that the South Basilica contributed to pilgrims routes across the island which culminated at the eastern port of Salamis-Constantia, then the connection between builders in the neighborhood of Salamis and the church at Polis hints at a relationship between the two communities beyond just the pilgrims’ travels.

The rebuilding of the South Basilica was more than simply a redesign of the church, but a construction project that involved the construction of a massive rubble fill layer. This level of large cobble, building debris, and broken ceramics was over a meter deep and functioned as a French drain which a large reservoir for water flowing down the north slope of the city toward the vulnerable south wall of the church building. This adaptation appears to have been a local solution to the particularly local problem of the church’s situation across the route of a drainage. Roman and Hellenistic construction in the area featured a number of deep drains and various pipes designed, it would appear, to control the downslope flow of water in the area. The deep drains may have no longer functioned by the Late Roman period and the French drain constructed to the south of the basilica offered a unique solution to the longstanding problems of water at this site. Moreover, the construction of this feature involved a significant investment in human energy and commitment to rebuild and modifying the damaged church. In other words, the construction of the French drain, the south portico and narthex as well as the conversion of the church to barrel vaulting represented the intersection of local labor and regional practices and like the situation of the church on the main route to the coast, provided a meeting point for local and regional communities.

It is worth noting, briefly, that the analysis of the ceramic material in the rubble level produced an assemblage that similarly reflected the intersection of regional and local preferences. The fine table wares at the site primarily derived from Rough Cilicia with small quantities of imports from North Africa and the Aegean. Some cooking pots originated in western Cyprus with the site of Dhiorios in approximately 100 km to the northeast (Catling 1972). Likewise certain forms of the ubiquitous Late Roman 1 amphora originated on the island while other utility wares manifest Aegean and Levantine origins. Comparing the assemblage from Polis to those elsewhere on the island suggests that access to particular types of pottery or the chronological ebb and flow of production do not alone explain the variation in types of pottery present in Cypriot assemblages (Caraher et al. 2019). For example, the assemblage of Late Roman fine ware associated with the smaller coastal site of Maroni-Petrera and the large urban site of Kourion produced a smaller percentage of African and Aegean imports than the inland village site of Kalavasos-Kopetra. The distinct character of the late-7th century assemblages at Polis as well as others from this period from across the island reflects certain traditions and practices in these communities that shaped their choice of table wares. The role of fine ware both in the performative aspects of domestic display and the practical aspects of food presentation and consumption means that the character and shape of these vessels speaks to personal and community identity (Vroom ????).

Over the last 20 years, the concept of communities of practice has emerged as a useful concept for understanding the emergence and structuring of educational and occupational communities (Wenger 1998). The term offers a useful way to articulate the how practice produces community, identity, and knowledge (Orr 1996). For the district around the South Basilica, evidence for practice in the Late Roman period range from habits of consumption, such as the preference for Cypriot Red Slip wares over other imported table wares, to those associated with the architectural modification of the church itself. In fact, the informal transmission of building knowledge that likely produced the buttressed walls of South Basilica reflected the existence of communities of knowledge in Late Roman Cyprus. In this context, then, the physical at the edge of the Late Roman city and its role in contact between the Christian community of Arsinoe and pilgrims paralleled the relationship between the adaptation of the church to meet the distinctive needs of the site through local bodies and itinerate builders.

The intersection of various communities at the South Basilica also extended from the living to the dead. At some point soon after the addition of the south portico, narthex, drain, and barrel vaults, the southern and eastern end of the church became an important cemetery for the Christian community at Arsinoe. A series of three well-appointed, built burials in the floor of the south aisle may have served as an initial impetus for the later graves in the area. Interestingly, the burial of a 17-25 year old male included a bronze cross which was likely reused from an earlier context. While the exact date of this burial remains unclear, it probably dated to the seventh or early eighth century and may have been associated with the addition of the south porch and narthex to the church. Moreover, the appearance of a cross in this burial appears to have anticipated the appearance of small pectoral crosses, often in picrolite, throughout the cemetery associated with the South Basilica. The growth of this cemetery and the use of pectoral crosses by the individuals buried around the South Basilica traces the reciprocal practices that defined the relationship between the church and the community. The formal burials in the south aisle of the church appear to have stimulated a wave of Christian burials around the church and expanded its function.

The changing character of the building may reflect the changing relationship of the church to the community at Polis.

Western Cyprus

One of the downsides of looking at notebooks, pot sherds, and databases all day is that sometimes you forget to look around. Last week we cruised around the Chrysochou Valley a bit to check out some of villages that stand along its east side.

IMG 3828

From Pelethousa, we got a nice view of the Limni mines and Chrysochou Bay in the distance. We also visited the church at Chorteini.

IMG 3843

The church is likely Medieval (or even Byzantine) with its cross-in-square plan. The presence of a ruined aisle along its north side suggests that at some point it may have had a more basilican plan. Tiles building into the wall of the north aisle are almost certainly Late Roman or Early Byzantine in date which doesn’t do much for understanding the date of the church, but suggests that there likely was a Late Roman settlement in the area. Recent survey results, I think, confirm this. 

We also visited the Panayia Chryseleousa in the village of Lysos. This church is probably later than the church at Chorteni (with some very late additions).  My photo is overly dramatic, but the sun behind the dome seemed like a good idea at the time.

IMG 3836

The heraldic crests of various branches of the Lusignan family and the various Gothic touches give the church a distinctly Late Medieval Cypriot vibe.

IMG 3832

IMG 3830

We have a ways to go before we understand the settlement history and landscape of the Chysochou Valley in the Roman, Late Roman, and post-Roman period. Moreover, the landscape is deceptively complex with the hill countryside east of Polis (ancient Arsinoe) is made of abrupt hills, rolling rises, and variations in landforms, resources, and access. Sorting this all out to understand the larger context for the city of Polis will be a challenge, but one with appealing views and intriguing vistas.

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

As I haiku-ed this morning on the Twitters, I am working on an abstract for a paper that I’ll give at the 2019 Dumbarton Oaks colloquium “The Insular World of Byzantium” in November.

Here’s the haiku:

Writing an abstract
During the summer season
evokes autumn cold

Here’s the abstract:

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

Over the past 20 years the work of historians and archaeologists has complicated the our understanding of the 6th to 8th century on the island of Cyprus. The tidy narratives of devastating invasions, earthquakes, condominium, and social dislocation have given way to more messy and nuanced understandings of these centuries. Some centers saw continued prosperity while other experience decline. Innovative architecture existed along side more modest forms of ceramics. Invasions created destruction and new economic relationships. The complexity of this era offers some insights into character of Cypriot insularity.

This paper is grounded in recent work at the sites of Polis (ancient Arsinoe), modern Polis, in western Cyprus and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on the eastern side of the island. Both sites produced a substantial assemblage of Late Roman to Early Byzantine pottery and a basilica style churches. Architecture and ceramics offer perspectives on how the Cypriot islandscape mediates distinctive economic relationships and forms of cultural and religious expression. The connection between these sites and other places on the island, across the region, and around the Mediterranean suggests the contours of an insular culture that is neither uniform nor consistent.

On the one hand, the difference in the character of assemblages and architecture across the island (and between Koutsopetria and Polis) makes defining a singular Late Roman or Early Byzantine Cypriot insular identity impossible. On the other hand, these difference reflect both historical trends that defined the island’s political and social landscape for centuries and distinct pressures of the 6th-8th century. In the case of Cyprus, an island archaeology informed as much by historical contingency as geography provides a context for a new understanding of the Early Byzantine era.

Settlement in Byzantine Greece

As this semester is winding down, I’m drifting toward a kind of “read everything” mode that is as fun as it is rather unproductive and unfocused. First on the list was Athanasios Vionis, “Understanding Settlement in Byzantine Greece: New Data and Approaches for Boeotia, Sixth to Thirteenth Century,” DOP 71 (2017), 127-173. It’s massive and insightful and humbling to anyone who has thought about the historical Greek landscape in a diachronic way. 

Vionis tracks the change in settlement structure across in the Medieval period in Boeotia drawing largely on survey data, ceramic study, and GIS analysis produced over the course of the various surveys in Boeotia. In some ways, this work is an extension of his interest in using “central place theory” to understand the transformation of the Mediterranean landscape over the Longue Durée, and, in other ways, it demonstrates continuity with John Bintliff’s longstanding interest in structural change over time in the Greek landscape.

For the Late Roman period in Boeotia, Vionis described the transformation of the major urban centers and the emergence of a new, monumental landscape centered on newly-constructed churches in the 6th century. It’s interesting that in Boeotia, as elsewhere, these churches stood in prominent positions in the settlements and often disrupted or violated the existing urban grid. In Corinth, however, churches tended to stand around the periphery of the settlement despite the historical and institutional significance of the bishop of that city (although, to be fair, there might be a large church closer to the ancient city center which is obscured today by the modern village). Likewise, in Argos, which features numerous Early Christian basilicas, none appear to encroach on the core of the Roman city with its agora, theater, and bath, but several stand in the in close proximity and one stands atop the Aspis hill with its ancient sanctuary. These alternate examples are not meant to suggest that Vionis is wrong or overstates his observations, but wonder out loud at the variety of monumentalizing strategies undertaken by the institutional church and Christian communities in Greece.  

Vionis also adds new vocabulary to the analysis of the Late Roman landscape in Boeotia and describes the rise of rural “microtowns” at the end of antiquity (in the late 7th century) and the consolidation of “megavillages” in the Middle Byzantine period. These microtowns continued some basic civic functions of Late Roman cities, including the presence of bishops, commercial activity, and fortifications, and often stood on or near the sites of ancient cities. They were distinct from smaller, unfortified settlements in the countryside that stood as “secondary settlements” and depended in some way on regional microtowns. Thus, a new settlement hierarchy emerged in the early Middle Ages. By the middle Byzantine period, the megavillage served as the central place for communities distributed into smaller settlements and farms in the countryside. Once again, Vionis presents the organization of the Boeotian countryside in hierarchical terms with the central places representing religious, political, and economic nodes for the surrounding region. 

There are three things that give me a bit of pause in this article (and I’ve only scratched the surface of it with my idiosyncratic mini-review), and they probably reflect more of my own interests at present than any weakness in the article.

First, I wonder how our ability to control chronology and, by extension, time shapes the kind of landscapes that Vionis envisions. For example, there’s a tendency to see rural sites like farms or hamlets, which are often recognized and defined on the basis of rather small and limited assemblages of material, as being contemporary with one another. At the same time, because their ceramic assemblages are so limited, it is possible that, say, from a group of five rural sites datable to one or two centuries, only one existed at any given time or maybe all five did for just a very limited span or two of the five did for one 50-year span. On the one hand, we might say that this is an intractable problem because of the imprecision of archaeological dating practices and the variability of site discovery in the landscape. As a result, we make the assumption that all of the sites visible for a period existed simultaneously and that this might compensate for the vagaries of site recovery across the landscape. On the other hand, I do wonder whether this kind of methodological compromise makes the larger project of making settlement hierarchies less viable in general.

This leads me to my second observation. Myrtou Veikou’s work in Epirus which covered a similar period proposed the existence of an emerging kind of Byzantine “third space” during the period that Vionis’s studied. The concept of third space came from the post-colonial theories of Homi Bhabha and was applied to geography by the late Edward Soja. These spaces existed explicitly outside of the kinds of hierarchies that Vionis presents and represented all together less stable entities which resist classification. These places are more dynamic over time and do not map neatly onto either concepts like the rural or the urban or institutional structures like bishops, civic officials, or markets. The uncertainty and ambiguity of these places in the landscape resists our more structural efforts to define the function, scale, or relationship between settlements which can be demoralizing for scholars who work to understand Byzantine space at scale. At the same time, the notion of third-space also allows us to adapt our landscapes to the chronological ambiguity of archaeological data practically when it is collected through different methods and practices as well as at different scales and resolutions. The ambiguity of the Byzantine third space reflects the kind of data at our disposal and normalizes the fuzzy and sometimes contradictory results of our analysis.

These more dynamic spaces within the landscape also imply movement at various scales. Vionis’s work does a nice job at understanding the slow shift of settlements as they contract, reform, and reconceptualize across Boeotia. I’d be intrigued to understand how these shifts represent the flow of people, wealth, goods, and resources through the area. Vionis’s attention to walking distances from central places as a way to understand the scope of agricultural productive area in the vicinity of settlement is useful. It prompted me to think about the cultural, political, environmental, and economic variables that might shape these models for understanding movement in the countryside. For example, the decision to cultivate fields beyond a two or three hour walking distance from home or a settlement might represent the results of exogamous marriage, forms of risk management, environmental strategies, or even acts of religious piety or efforts to develop social capital. Moreover, a range of strategies in the countryside might also reflect the movement of individuals to local pilgrimage sites, visits to relatives who live in settlements that do not map onto the local hierarchical nodes, or even economic forays into new markets, new resources, or to take advantage of variability in the political landscape. Obviously it is impossible to anticipate all potential forms of fluidity in the Early and Middle Byzantine landscape, but it would be interesting to think about how the notion of settlement hierarchies intersects with Horden and Purcell’s more dynamic notion of microregions and connectivity as defining the Mediterranean world.

These comments should not be regarded as criticism of Vionis’s work, of course. It reflects both careful attention to the nature of evidence from Boeotia as well as a deep understanding of Byzantine social, political, economic, and ecclesiastical organization and history. His work, however, has prompted me to think about our efforts to understand the space and settlement of both the Western Argolid and on Cyprus during these same periods. It’s a good way to start looking ahead to my summer study seasons and some walks in the Greek and Cypriot landscape.

On Notre Dame

Like many of my archaeologist, Medievalist, and architectural historian, urban historian, and preservationist colleagues, I watched aghast at the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris yesterday (and was saddened to hear of a fire at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem). People much smarter than I am have already helped the world contextualize the fire at Notre Dame.  

Seeing the church on fire reminded me how devastating fires are to wood-roofed buildings. The buildings that I study – wood-roofed, basilica-style Early Christian period churches in the Eastern Mediterranean – have almost all succumbed to fire at various points in their history. In fact, the poor state of preservation of this style of church is largely the result of their susceptibility to fire especially in a period when candles and oil lamps provided the main source of light both for these buildings and for other buildings nearby. If these buildings did not burn in antiquity, as many did including, most famously, the first two churches of Ay. Sophia in Constantinople, and, in a slightly different context, the Parthenon in Athens, they often succumbed over the course of the Middle Ages (as did so many Medieval churches) or even in the modern period when fire destroyed the church of Ay. Dimitrios in Thessaloniki.  As we witnessed on television yesterday, the wooden roofs, the airy and open spaces of the building, and the tall walls created a scenario where fires not only spread quickly, but were difficult to extinguish (even today).

In many cases, buildings were rebuilt marking the place of the earlier structure, as we documented at the site of Polis on Cyprus or Justinian’s Great Church in Constantinople. The roof of the Parthenon was restored after its destruction in the 3rd or 4th century despite the general decline of monumental, urban, paganism. The basilica at Lechaion in the Corinthia, which stood as one of the largest churches in the world when it was built in the 6th century, saw a small post-destruction building constructed largely of spoliator rubble at the spot. After the fire of 1917, prominent Greek architect Aristotelis Zachos restored the great church of Ay. Dimitrios.  The desire to restore these monuments speaks to the power, not just of the buildings, but of their places within the urban landscapes. 

As a historical religion, Christianity has a strong attachment to places in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and in how it sees its past Christian landscapes and monuments in the present. Of course, not all historic Christian buildings are treated equally. Small-town churches are regularly turned into private residences at the end of their lives as religious buildings. At the same time, Christian buildings receive constant renovations, updates, expansions not only for economic reasons, but also to preserve their place in the local landscape. 

The fire at Notre Dame made clear both the traditions of continuity in the Christian landscape as commentators stressed the historical nature of the building and role in the faith of the city of Paris while overwriting the history of modification, adaptations and restorations.

At the same time, the city of Paris is diverse, modern, and secular. The building itself, as several commentators have noted, has taken on a place within the national identity of France as the presence of political figures at the site and condolences from the international community has shown. Some have gone so far to note that the lack of funding for the renovations made the building vulnerable. This status of the building as a cultural landmark, a heritage site, and a symbolic center in the French national landscape informed the renovation of the building as early as the mid-19th century and shows all the signs of informing its future.

The mapping of Christian views of historical landscapes atop national identity is not new or novel in the case of Notre Dame. At the same time, the modern preoccupation with preserving the past, however, as a monumental anchor amid the contingency of the contemporary world, offers a particular challenge in the aftermath of a tragedy like the Notre Dame fire. Does France (and Paris) attempt to restore the building to its former design, shape, and character in an effort to preserve historical roots in a time when the past seems increasingly irrelevant and contested?

Or do they follow the route of their Medieval and Early Christian predecessors of recognizing the historical legacy of the building, while also embracing the fire as a moment of discontinuity with the past that allows for rebirth?  

Thyrsos Basilica at Tegea

The folks on Western Argolid Regional Project are heading to the Tripoli museum and then to Tegea tomorrow while I stay back to take care of some editing and databasing. 

In anticipation of their trip, I looked up the section in my dissertation where I talk about the Early Christian basilica there that was excavated by Anastasios Orlandos and published in the 1970s. The calendar mosaic from the building is remarkable as is its metrical inscription.

Another scrappier inscription seems to evoke the sanctus and might be one of the few inscription from Early Christian Greece that preserves a clear liturgical utterance that has significance in the Christological controversies of Late Antiquity. Here’s a link to something I wrote a while back.

Here’s what I said 15 years ago in my dissertation.

The Thyrsos basilica at Tegea is quite remarkable. [82] The main nave is decorated with a grid of 16 panels containing personifications of the 12 months and at its eastern and western end the four rivers of paradise (figs. 75-82). Seven of the panels are well preserved and demonstrate careful workmanship. Each month is dressed appropriately for the season and is depicted performing some seasonally characteristic activity, except November whose activities are unclear (fig. 80). In the apse, a panel which is now destroyed showed two youths, identified as the “Kaloi Karoi”, carrying baskets of fruit and rushing toward a central figure of a man. At the western end, two putti hold a metrical inscription praising the Bishop Thyrsos, discussed in more detail in the next chapter (fig. 83). The presence of a tomb in the northern bay of the narthex hints at a possible funerary function for this church.

Mosaics depicting the months were very popular in Greece during Late Antiquity. Additional examples exist from The Villa of the Falconer at Argos, a Christian building at Thebes (figs. 32-35), and Loutro Hypatis. Perhaps the most famous of these is in conjunction with a falcon hunt mosaic from the Villa of the Falconer in Argos (figs. 21- 26). The presence of mosaics depicting the months in such a variety of locations emphasized that this motif had a meaning appropriate to a wide variety of contexts.

While Äkerström-Hougen’s thorough study of the mosaics from the Villa of the Falconer outside of Argos, stressed the relationship between the calendar mosaic there and illustrated Late Roman calendars, she also found this mosaic generally consistent with the calendars at Tegea, the preserved panels from Thebes, and the mosaic at Delphi even though the architectural context for these panels varied considerably. For example, at least one traditional festival is expressed in the calendars of the Tegea and Argos despite the fact that they derive from a “Christian” and “secular” setting respectively. In Argos, for the month of May, the mosaics depict a man with a basket of roses, a wreath of flowers, and a floral crown (fig. 23). At Tegea, the personification of May is shown with a basket of flowers and a floral crown (fig. 76). This mosaic at Argos makes a clear allusion to the rosaria or rosalia, initially a festival to honor the dead, but by the fourth century a feast to celebrate the arrival of summer. [83] A similar depiction of this feast is found on the Calendar of 354, which was prepared for an aristocratic Christian patron.84 Salzman, in her study of this important Late Roman calendar, emphasized the significance of this festival in both religious and economic terms. In religious terms she associated the importance of the Rose Festival, which was celebrated with games, to the rise in interest in astrological and seasonal celebrations during the fourth century. [85] While there is insufficient evidence to argue that the depiction of a May on the Tegea floor was a direct allusion to a pagan festival as it appears to be at Argos or in the Calendar of 354, the continued use of the iconography at Tegea reflects a preference for traditional symbolism over personifications of an explicitly non-pagan nature. The clear allusion to the Rose Festival in the mosaic in nearby Argos which appears roughly contemporary, places the Tegea mosaic in a discourse which operated to a considerable degree outside the specific religious context of the building. It seems, then, reasonable to consider that the floor at Tegea, like the floor at Argos, served to show the prosperity found within the cycle of rural life and linked this ideal to the patron, individual, or institution most closely associated with the floor. [86] This adds an additional level of meaning to H. Maguire’s already rich reading of this floor as a depiction of earth and ocean. [87] Now the earth and its prosperity is not only the domain of man, but also a world constituted in aristocratic terms and linked to the authority of the clergy through their privileged access to the central nave and the liturgical procession. 

82. The mosaic found at the so-called basilica of Thyrsos at Tegea has evoked considerable debate over the 100 years since its discovery. The building itself was originally reported as a single naved, oriented, apsidal structure. Spiro, suggested that the building was perhaps a secular audience hall on account of the inscription at the west entrance to the building which she considered to be of “the kind of inscription one would expect to find in the more secularised atmosphere of an audience hall in which “the most holy Thyrsos” held court.”(Spiro, Critical Corpus, 181.) She further argued against this building having a liturgical function because of the lack of any evidence for such basic liturgical furnishings as the foundation of an ambo or chancel screens. The east end of the church, including the mosaics in the apse there, is very poorly preserved leaving open the very real possibility that these features did actually exist. Orlandos in his general discussion of the Christian monuments in Tegea, considered this building as a three-aisled basilica on account of the presence of a narthex to the east of the paved nave and the discovery of several cross-inscribed ionic impost capitals, which as I have shown are rare outside a liturgical context (Orlandos, ABME 12 (1973), 66-69.). Furthermore he mentioned in his general survey of Early Christian architecture in Greece that he was aware of an unpublished sigma table excavated from the Thyrsos basilica suggesting some liturgical activity in that place, although not necessarily confirming the building as having a primarily liturgical function since such tables have been found in a wide array of contexts, including villas such as in Athens (Orlandos, Hē xylostegos palaiochristianikē basilikē (1956), 485). A tomb arranged parallel to the north wall of the western antechamber further suggested the presence of a narthex. This, along with evidence for the use of several ionic impost capitals points to this being a three-aisled basilica (Orlandos, AMBE 12 (1973), 12-19, 22-81). Avramea, quite recently, has argued unconvincingly that this building was a martyrium to the bishop Thyrsos and that the tomb found to the north of the narthex chamber belonged to the esteemed bishop (A. Avramea, DXAE (1999), 35-40; cf. D. Feissel, BE (2000), 797.). To the north of the central nave there exists another series of inscribed mosaic panels whose relationship to the main nave is unclear. Orlandos has suggested that this room was a parecclesia, but examples of this feature are rare in Greece. The mosaic inscription which separates the two badly damaged panels runs, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God with the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and this could allude to a liturgical utterance, and thus suggests a liturgical function for the room. The published reports and studies are quite inadequate making it unlikely ever to determine the form and function of this building. The presence of a tomb mitigates against it being a reception hall, and the reference to a bishop in the inscription makes the most likely identification of this building as a church or a very large private chapel.

83 G. Äkerström-Hougen, The Calendar and Hunting Mosaics, 80.

84 M.R. Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Antiquity. (Berkeley 1990), 96-99.

85 Salzman, On Roman Time, 129, 183.

86 Parrish, Season Mosaics of Roman North Africa. (Rome 1984), 13. “In an imperial context, this term [felicitas temporum] had a propagandistic meaning, referring to the Emperor’s beneficent rule and the promised return of the golden age. But in a private house, the seasons had more generalized associations with prosperity and good fortune, and lacked any direct political overtones.”

87 Maguire, Earth and Ocean, 21-28.

Old and New Perspectives on Church Building in Cyprus

I was pretty excited to read  Marietta Horster, Doria Nicolaou, Sabine Rogge’s edited volume, Church Building in Cyprus (4th – 7th century): A Mirror of Intercultural Contacts in the Eastern Mediterranean (Waxmann 2018). I’ve been working on Early Christian Cyprus for about 10 years now and have been struck by the lack of book-length “standard work” on the topic despite the massive number of Early Christian monuments on the island. This book does not really fill that gap entirely — it is an edited volume rather than a monograph or survey — but it goes a long way to present the dynamic range of recent research on churches and church building on Cyprus.

I won’t go into a detailed review, in part because I’m still digesting the book, and in part because it’s hard enough to review a monograph much less a series of articles, but the book deserves a spot on the bookshelf of any serious scholar of Cyprus or Eastern Mediterranean. 

Here are my observations:

1. Remember Liturgy! Years ago, when I was toiling away on my dissertation, I became fascinated by the complex interplay of architecture and liturgy in Greece. It was never easy or tidy to map liturgy onto architecture owing as much to the vagaries of regional liturgical practice over time as the persistence of certain architectural forms outside of the context of ritual. In other words, architecture and liturgy were deeply intertwined, but it was always very messy, as a result, there has been a bit of ambivalence toward the place of liturgy in understanding Early Christian architecture. Several of the articles in this book return to those problems which are made all the more complicated by the place of Cyprus between major liturgical traditions in Cilicia, Syria, and the Aegean basin and makes an effort to wring meaning from how traditions of architecture and liturgy intersect.

2. Churches, Saints, and Contexts. One of the biggest disappointments in my own work over the last 20 years is that I’ve never managed to do a very good job locating churches in their landscapes. In other words, my churches – whether in the Corinthia or on Cyprus – tend to float a bit in their urban or rural landscapes. As someone who has spent most of his career wandering around the countryside and thinking about how the wider geographical context works, this is hardly excusable.

Several articles in this book locate churches within the sacred and secular landscapes of Cyprus. They reflect on change in the Cypriot countryside, church politics, the role of saints in the religious life of the island, and the location of churches to create a richer ecclesiastical and social landscape. This is challenging, fraught, and important work. The last three decades of archaeological work on Cyprus has illuminated the Late Roman, Early Byzantine, and Early Christian period in significant ways. We know more about village life, the countryside, and the transformations of Late Roman urbanism at the end of antiquity than ever before. Mapping churches onto this dynamic landscape makes how we understand architecture and the Late Antiquity richer.

The folding in of landscapes shaped by saints lives and other texts goes even further in presenting Cyprus as a relatively distinct Christian landscape in the 4th to 7th centuries in which ecclesiastical authorities (through their surrogates the Bishop Saint) south to project a particular kind of power over the island. 

4. Arches, Vaults, and Domes. One of the most interesting aspects of Cypriot churches in the range of masses, forms, and techniques used to create the spaces of within and around churches. At the south basilica, our building both used a series of arches running along the south and west side of the building that parallels a courtyard to the south and a road to the west. These arches were built at the same time as the transformation of the church from being wood roofed to vaulted and practically announce the newly vaulted interior.

The evidence for such interior vaults, domes, half-domes, wooden roofs, and various arches are difficult to discern especially for buildings that preserve so little of their walls and roofs and that underwent so many transformations. The contributors generally assessed these architectural developments in a technical way or in the context of Cypriot architecture rather than as evidence for the influence of one or another neighboring region or imperial center. It was refreshing to see the traditional preoccupation with a linear progression of Early Christian architecture give way. The myriad of influences and styles present on Cyprus makes the island an ideal place for this kind of critique. 

5. Stratigraphy and Dates. If there was an area that I’d love to understand better, it is how changes in ceramic chronologies, the introduction of more rigorous stratigraphic practices, and the architecture is slowly transforming how we understand the history of Early Christian building on the island. This book is long on architectural detail, which is welcome, but at times a bit short on the nitty-gritty of how archaeologists establish the dates for buildings, how they work out architectural sequences, and how the buildings relate architecturally to their built environments.

If you’re into the archaeology of churches in the Eastern Mediterranean, this book is definitely worth a read. The contributors mark a pretty clear trajectory for the field which embraces both the traditions of Early Christian architectural history and moves tentatively forward toward incorporating new perspectives while discarded more tired and unproductive approaches.