An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology

My colleague and friend David Pettegrew and I have been working on a massive Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology project for the last 30 (or, like, 3) years. As an upshot of this, I’ve been able to re-familiarize myself scholarship on Late Antique and Early Christian archaeology. It is also a fortuitous time for me to renew my interest in this field. Over the past decade there has been a remarkable outpouring of good and, more importantly, interesting scholarship in this field. 

As we worked on the various manuscripts and the introduction to the Oxford Handbook, David and I got to talking about writing a short introduction to Early Christian archaeology, and we have accidentally written close to 30,000 words as a start. Over the last few weeks, we’ve also been working on grant applications to support this project. 

Here’s a rough sketch of our ideas so far:

The book will be concise (<100,000 words), emphasize the role of archaeological methods in constructing Christian identity, and intended for an audience of both scholars and students of the Early Christian world.

This book is significant in two ways. First, the field of Early Christian archaeology largely falls outside of the Anglophone academic tradition. While scholars in France, Germany, Italy, and Greece have organized the use of material culture and archaeological evidence to study Early Christianity into a distinct and thriving field (see Deichmann 1983; Frend 1996; Bowes 2008 for surveys), scholars from North America and the U.K. who have focused on objects, architecture, and materiality in the Early Christian remains scattered across the disciplines of history, art history, Early Christian and Biblical studies, and Roman, Late Antique, and Byzantine archaeology. As a result, there has been a tendency for religious studies and archaeology to talk past each other despite some recent efforts to align research questions and various classes of evidence (e.g. Koester 1995; Friesen, Schowalter, and James 2014; Harrison and Welborn 2015) or to offer an encyclopedia overview of Early Christian material culture (Finney 2017). For example, a recent volume in the Brill series Late Antique Archaeology asked the question of whether the study of Late Antiquity (generally dated to the fourth to seventh centuries AD) warranted a distinct archaeological method (Lavan and Mulryan 2013). Applying a similar question to the archaeology of Early Christianity opens both archaeology and Early Christian studies to new opportunities for reciprocal critique. The relationship between material culture and belief, the architecture of Christian ritual, and the construction of Christian identities in landscapes densely populated with pre-existing religions, monuments, and memories push the theology of the incarnation, relics, and Christian materiality from theological works and scripture to real objects, buildings, and places. An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology looks to continue efforts begun in the Oxford Handbook to examine the confluence between Early Christian archaeology as a field and the study of the Early Christian world as a topic of transdisciplinary interest.

The second aspect that makes this work significant is that it intends to emphasize a greater degree of methodological rigor than many previous surveys. The Anglophone academic tradition can take credit for many key advances in archaeological method in the past century from stratigraphic excavation to New Archaeology, intensive pedestrian survey, phenomenological approaches to the landscape, and reception theory in art and archaeology. The application of these methods in an explicit way to Early Christian material culture introduces a more critical approach to objects, buildings, chronologies, and narrative than currently common in world archaeology. The intent of this project is to expand the interpretative potential of Early Christian archaeology by grounding it in contemporary methodology. For example, archaeological methods have offered a revised, later date for the monumentalization of the Christian landscape around the city of Corinth. The later date of several buildings has suggested that they might not reflect the rapid, fifth-century expansion of Christianity in this provincial capital, but rather the growing investment in monumentalizing theological positions in the vigorous Christological disputes of the sixth century. Case-studies like these will demonstrate the value of rigorous archaeology for both a specialist audience looking for survey of how archaeology expands what we know about Early Christian society as well as a more general audience seeking to understand how a critical, contemporary approach to Christian material culture can expand our understanding of the spread of Christianity in the ancient world.

This project extends form my work on Early Christian place (Caraher 2014a), architecture (Caraher 2014b), ritual (Caraher 2015), and memory and abandonment (2010) primarily in the hinterland of the city of Corinth. This important Roman, Late Roman, and Early Christian city had a Christian community from the first century AD and appeared in both the New Testament and both contemporary and later non-canonical works. The community becomes visible in the archaeological record in the fifth century with the construction of a series large and elaborate of basilica-style churches and through the appearance of a corpus of Christian inscriptions. Since 2003, I have also worked on two sites on Cyprus with significant Early Christian phases. The site of Pyla-Koutsopetria included a partially excavated Early Christian basilica with features distinctive to the northeastern part of the island (Caraher, Pettegrew, and Moore 2014; Caraher, Pettegrew, and More, in preparation). The site of Polis-Chrysochous, on the far western side of the island, includes two basilica-style churches, extensive burials, and a substantial body of material culture (Caraher, Papalexandrou, and Moore 2013; Caraher and Papalexandrou 2012, Caraher, Papalexandrou, and Moore, under review). Like Corinth, Cyprus also appeared in the New Testament as well as in later hagiographic, historical, and epigraphic traditions as well as leaving behind a significant archaeological record (Caraher and Gordon, forthcoming).

This work as well as the Oxford Handbook will form the basis for An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology which will be a collaborative project with David Pettegrew at Messiah College with whom I have worked on several projects for more than a decade. Over the last four months, we inadvertently prepared a 30,000-word introduction to our Oxford Handbook. While this introduction is currently being compressed to about 8,000 words to fit the requirements of that volume, it nevertheless offers an initial framework and basis of collaboration for the short book that we intend to produce. Our current plan for the book includes the following chapters. Each chapter will emphasize a particular issue central to the study of Early Christianity from an archaeological perspective and include both a survey of key monuments, evidence, and arguments as well as a brief case study highlighting how archaeological approaches can expand how we understand the Early Christian world:  

 

Introduction. The Archaeology of Early Christianity (historiography, approaches, and concepts)

Chapter 1. The Empty Tomb: The Archaeology of the New Testament (texts and archaeological contexts in the New Testament world)

Chapter 2. The Intangible Church (Christianity and the archaeology of religious communities in the first-second centuries)

Chapter 3. The Living Dead (Christianity and the mortuary archaeology in the third century)

Chapter 4. Building the Kingdom (Analysizing Early Christian architecture in the fourth to sixth centuries)

Chapter 5. The Quest for the Holy (Christian objects and identity from late fourth to sixth centuries)

Chapter 6. Sacred Landscapes (Constructing of Christian landscapes in the fifth to sixth century)

Chapter 7. Christian Capitals (Christianizing urban space in the sixth-seventh centuries)

Conclusion

Bibliography

Bowes, K. “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field.” Religion Compass 2.4 (2008): 575–619.

Caraher, W. 2015. “Epigraphy, Liturgy, and Imperial Policy on the Justinianic Isthmus,” in “Bridge of the Untiring Sea”: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity (Hesperia Suppl. 48) ed. E. Gebhard and T. E. Gregory.

-, 2014a. “Patronage and Reception in the Monumental Architecture of Early Christian Greece,” In Approaching Monumentality in Archaeology. IEMA V. James Osborne ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014.

-, 2014b. “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City,” for Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. Eds. S. Feisen, D. Schowalter, S. James. Leiden: Brill.

-, 2010. “Abandonment and Religious Continuity in Post-Classical Greece” The International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14 (2010).

Caraher, W., A. Papalexandrou, R.S. Moore. 2013. “The South Basilica at Arsinoe (Polis-tes-Chrysochou): Change and Innovation in an Early Christian Basilica on Cyprus,” Cahiers du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43: 79-92.

-, under review. “The South Basilica at Polis on Cyprus” Hesperia.

Caraher, W., and A. Papalexandrou. 2012. “Arsinoe in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” for Polis: City of Gold. Eds. W. Childs and J. Smith. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, R.S. Moore. 2014. Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, R.S. Moore. In preparation. Pyla-Koutsopetria II: Archaeological Excavation of an Ancient Coastal Town. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, T. Davis, eds. Forthcoming. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caraher, W. and J.M. Gordon. Forthcoming. “Early Christian Cyprus,” in W. Caraher, D. Pettegrew, T. Davis, eds. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deichmann, F.W. 1983. Einführung in die christliche Archäologie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Finney, P.C., ed. 2017. The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Frend, W.H.C. 1996. The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Feisen, S., D. Schowalter, S. James eds. 2014. Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. Leiden: Brill.

Harrison, James R., and L.L. Welborn. 2015. The First Urban Churches I: Methodological Foundations. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Koester, H., ed. Ephesos, Metropolis of Asia: An Interdisciplinary Approach to its Archaeology. Religion, and Culture. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995.

Ceramics from Koutsopetria in Context

Last week, I asked for an extension on a blog post on the ceramics from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetri on Cyprus. My generous readers granted my the extension and, believe, I hope that you’ll find that you’ve been rewarded for your wait.

This is the final section in the first effort to prepare a draft of our work at the site of Koutsopetria in Cyprus which we excavated in 2009 and Dr. Maria Hadjicosti excavated in the 1990s. This excavation produced a significant assemblage of ceramic material that could be compared to a similar assemblage of material produced through intensive pedestrian survey of the plain. This comparison allowed us both to consider the excavated area in a larger context, but also to speak to the relationship between material below the plow zone and material on the surface.  

My earlier posts focused on the architecture and history of the site, so here is what we can say about the pottery: 

Despite being dominated by a Late Roman period building, the excavations at Koutsoeptria produced a robust assemblage of ceramics that speak to the long history of activity at this site. In this way, the excavation produced an assemblage that provides us with a useful comparative perspective on the data collected from the intensive pedestrian survey of this area and published in 2014. Among the most persistent critiques of intensive survey is that the relationship of the objects on the surface and those outside the plow-zone remains ambiguous hindering our ability to make functional arguments on the basis of artifact scatters (e.g. Sanders 2004). The formation processes and depositional history of assemblages in long-lived, multi-period sites set amid active and dynamic landscapes compound this further. At Koutsopetria excavations revealed how the persistence of residual material used in construction and floor packing, the cutting into earlier layers by later building and activity at the site, and hint at the effects of erosion and plow smear across the site created a diachronic surface assemblage. At the same time, the excavated assemblage revealed complexity that our sampling of the surface did not recognize. This complexity allows us to add meaningful detail both to our understanding of our survey assemblage and to an emerging ceramic signature present at historical period sites in the eastern part of the island.

Our discussion of the assemblage from Koutsopetria excavations relies upon two different excavation teams who sampled and analyzed ceramics based on two different strategies. During the 2009 excavations, we collected and analyzed all ceramics that were not tiles and sampled the tiles by type and extant part. It is unclear whether and how the excavation in the 1990s sampled artifacts from excavated contexts, but after excluding roof tiles from the samples, the excavation produced approximately the same number of artifacts (in 2009 we collected 3063 whereas in the 1990s they collected 3127) but much more artifacts by weight (2009 = 27778 and 1990s=82879) suggesting a more selective method of collecting ceramic material for analysis focusing on larger, presumably more diagnostic artifacts. Despite the disparity between the character of the two assemblages and the way in which they were produced, they are remarkably similar. From 2009, 68% of our material could only be assigned to the broadest possible category: Ancient Historic; from the 1990s this category of material was amounted to 59% of the assemblage by count.

The excavated area produced two discernible groups of pre-Roman material. There was a small assemblage of ceramics of Iron Age, Cypro-Archaic-Classical, and Cypro-Classical date which included coarse, medium coarse, and fine wares. These made up only a small percentage (far less than <1% by both number and weight) of the material from the excavated area and coincided with a similarly small number of artifacts associated with this period from the survey area generally. Most of this material is in secondary context and the fragments are quite small. The material likely entered into an excavated area from either Classical period activities along the base of the Vigla height where the survey documented a small concentration of Cypro-Classical age pottery perhaps from near an earlier findspot of the large, inscribed Cypro-Classical to Hellenistic period settling basin dedicated to Apollo Karaiates (Hadjisavvas 1993: 75–76, 83). Another possible location for Iron Age material is the site on the nearby Kazamas ridge or the earlier phases of activity at the fortified site of Vigla which may have been quarried for building material. During the Hellenistic period, the coastal plain saw greater activity, and this is reflected in the residual pottery from the Koutsopetria assemblage. Unlike Iron Age material which tended to be small fragments of fine wares, the material dated to either the Hellenistic period or one of the broader, related periods (Hellenistic-Early Roman or Hellenistic-Roman) tended to be larger and represent a more functionally diverse assemblage with the full range of coarse and medium coarse utility wares, amphora, kitchen wares, and fine ware. Of particular note was the long-lived (Archaic-Hellenistic) basket-handled amphora that appeared in excavated contexts and appeared both on Vigla as well as on the coastal plain. The link between these vessels and settling basin may hint at the importance of olive oil production in the area. The fine ware present was evenly split between Black-Glaze (21) and Color Coated wares (23), and this followed closely the division in the Hellenistic fine ware assemblage from the survey area suggesting that these may reflect the supply to the area during this period. The excavated assemblages did not produce kitchen or medium coarse wares that appeared in the survey although these artifacts did not appear in the immediate vicinity of the excavated area. The broader Hellenistic-Early Roman period, however, did produce a more robust assemblage. The challenge with more broadly dated material is that they tend to straddle the overlap between the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The Hellenistic-Roman and Hellenistic-Early Roman assemblage from Koutsopetria made up just over 5% of the total assemblage from Koutsopetria. The assemblage is diverse and includes coarse and medium coarse utility wares, amphora, kitchen, and fine wares. The comprehensive character of this assemblage is consistent with finds from the survey area, but likely reflects the slow spread of settlement on the coastal plain over the course of the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. Material from these long periods includes long-lived Rhodian type amphora, cooking pots, and fine wares types that persisted even Eastern and Cypriot Sigillatas replaced color-coated wares on local tables.

During the Early Roman period, the diversity and quantity of material from the site expands and this parallels neatly the expansion of material from this period in the survey area. The most significant distinction between the assemblage produced from excavation and survey does not appear to the be presence of Early Roman and Roman material, but the assemblage produced from excavation proved significantly more diverse. The excavated assemblage produced no examples of cooking pots or utility wares save a handful of Koan-type amphora, which were likely produced on the island. Some of this is the result of certain artifact types being shifted into broader categories. For example Rhodian amphoras which we identified as predominantly Early Roman in the survey, were dated Hellenistic-Early Roman in the excavation. The appears to be also the case for kitchen wares which were more commonly dated to the broader Roman, Hellenistic-Roman, or Hellenistic-Early Roman periods. As a result, fine ware represented the Early Roman period in the excavation. The most striking difference between the survey assembalge and the excavation assemblage is that Cypriot Sigillata comprised 28% (n=21) of the Early Roman fine wares from the survey, but only 4% (n=3) from the excavation. Other Early Roman fine wares – largely less diagnostic fragment of red slips – consisted of 27% of Early Roman fine wares from the survey (including a fragment of Arretine ware and Eastern Sigillata B) and 55% from the excavation. The remaining sherds were the common Eastern Sigillata A, but the excavation revealed six subforms (Form 19, 37, 38, 44, 65, and a lagynos) whereas the survey only produced a single recognizable subtype Atlante Form 4. It is worth noting that the 2009 excavations produced a small piece of Roman glazed pottery likely dating to the Early Roman period, but quite unusual and without parallel at sites in the region. The absence of Cypriot Sigillata from the excavation is consistent with relatively rarity of this type of Early Roman fine ware. At the nearby site of Panayia-Ematousa, near the modern village of Aradipou, Cypriot Sigillata accounted for only 8.8% of the total fine ware from the site. The absence of CS from the western part of the island may reflect the flow of ceramic materials from east to west with Eastern Sigillata entering the eastern part of the island from Levantine ports and CS circulating from the western production area. The majority of this material appears in secondary contexts, particularly in floor packing or fills, that reflect early patterns of activity in the area.

The broadly defined Roman period at Koutsopetria captures some of the transition from Early to Late Roman activity at the site. Like many places on Cyprus, the 3rd and 4th centuries are poorly represented in both the survey and excavation assemblage at Koutsopetria. The excavation, for example, produced no “pinched-handled” amphoras or forms of CRS or ARS with well-established 3rd-4th century dates. . There are a number of long-lived types of pottery that appear in the broadly dated Roman assemblage that might hint at at “middle Roman” activity at the site. For example, there are African Red Slip sherds that can be assigned to no specific type which makes it impossible to exclude the possibility of early forms existing at Koutsopetria, but no specific evidence for those early forms appeared. Among the range of undiagnostic coarse and medium coarse wares in Roman fabrics, the presence of a small number of long-lived micaceous water jars (Middle Roman 3 amphora) which appear from 1st to 6th century AD offer a glimpse of the middle Roman centuries. The presence of Roman lamps and cooking wares make clear that the coastal plain of Koustopetria was a settlement during the Roman period.

The Late Roman period is the most abundant from both the survey and excavation. The utility wares and amphoras from the excavated contexts are largely identical to those found in the survey. Late Roman 1 amphoras are predictably common in both contexts. The excavation also produced a small number (n=10) of Late Roman 2 amphora from the Aegean and Palestinian amphora (n=2 [check this]). The assemblage produced a significant quantity of kitchen ware sherds including a small number of rather late Dhiorios ware cooking pots that are likely the latest artifacts from the excavation and have comparanda from the survey of the coastal plain. As with most other periods, the fine ware from the Late Roman period provides the best opportunity to reflect on the diversity of material from our site. The two dominant categories of Late Roman fine ware were African Red Slip and Cypriot Red Slip with the former accounting for 48% of the Late Roman fine wares by count and 38% by weight and the latter being 44% by count and 53% by weight. The remaining 10% is made up of Phocaean ware and other rather less diagnostic Late Roman fine ware. It is notable that African Red Slip is significantly better represented in the excavated assemblage than in the survey assemblage. In the survey, ARS accounted for 17.4% of the Roman period fine ware whereas CRS accounted for 42.5% of the same total. The diversity of the two assemblages, however, speaks to their fundamental similarity. There are no ARS forms present in the excavated material that were not also present in the survey with ARS Forms 61, 67, and 105 appearing in both contexts. Likewise the CRS forms reflect the more common types CRS9 and CRS11 as well as the less common CRS8. Phocaean ware appeared in two forms PWH 10 and 5 and the very common PHW 3 was largely absent with only 1 possible example of that form. The presence of substantial quantities of African Red Slip pottery in the excavation assemblage supports two general impression from our survey. First, our local Late Roman fine ware assemblage was dominated by African Red Slip and Cypriot Red Slip suggesting that the site had ties both to regional production centers and Mediterranean wide trade networks. The small quantities of PHW in the excavated area does little to challenge the distribution of this type of pottery at the base of Mavrospilos and Kokkinokremos along the Late Roman coastline and coastal road. We have argued elsewhere that this concentration may mark the presence of warehouses associated with the site’s role as a emporion (Caraher et al. 2014, 295).

There is no compelling evidence for post-Roman material from the site aside from 2 fragments of early modern roof tiles. This is consistent with the distribution of the small quantities of later material in the survey which tend to be concentrated in units adjacent to the small Ottoman/Venetian coastal battery some 300 m to the east of the excavated area. The two tiles are likely the result of plow smearing, local road building, or even intruded during the excavation process rather than a reflecting evidence for a distinct later activity at the site. While it remains possible that some of the assemblage datable to nothing more narrow than Ancient Historic could include later material, it seems more likely that post-Roman activity on the coastal plain was limited and did not directly involve the collapsed church building.

The History of the Church at Koutsopetria

I have focused the last couple of weeks on finishing up a the first draft of our report on excavations at Koutsopetria on CyprusI posted something on the architecture of the Early Christian basilica excavated at the site last week. This week, I figured I might post something on the history of the building from an archaeological perspective. Next week, as an optimistic preview, I’ll have completed something on the artifacts.

The history below is unfortunately short on absolute dates and some nuance, but I think there is enough evidence to support our argument that the building endured a series of interventions over its relatively short life.

Here’s a plan of the remains set against a 5 m grid:

Scan310 cropped

Here’s a brief history of the building:

Unpacking the history of this site remains challenging as it involves integrating two different excavation methods over three campaigns of excavation. Nevertheless, the work at this site does provide a useful insight into the complex history of Late Antique ecclesiastical architecture on the island and cautions us against arguments that view the architectural history of the island as punctuated by catastrophic events rather than developing over the course of a number of small-scale interventions that combine to constitute the life of a building.

Room 1 and environs appears to have been constructed at some point after the final quarter of the 5th century based on the highly disturbed fills beneath the packed earth floor in Phase 1 in EU13. The fill levels present in EU13 reveal the long history of the occupation at Koutsopetria with artifacts from Cypro-Classical period to Late Antiquity. The flecks of Roman period wall painting associated with the Phase 1 floor in EU12 indicate that the Roman period occupation of the site involved fine quality wall painting consistent with domestic spaces. The small sherds of earlier material from the collapse levels of Room 1 likewise preserve a scrappy material record for the occupation of the history of the site during the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

The excavation did not produce a conclusive date for the building of Room 1 other than some time later than the last quarter of the 5 th century. This is not inconsistent with the 6 th century date of many Early Christian basilicas on the island, although few of these buildings are dated on the basis of stratigraphy and the distinct arrangement of the central nave of the basilica at Koutsopetria occurs throughout what appear to be 5 th and 6 th century churches on Cyprus. Evidence from the excavations indicate that Room 1 was modified after its initial construction at least once with the walling up of windows, the replastering of the double arch, and repairs to the tops of the walls and the roof. The presence of 7th-century African Red Slip plate near the floor of Room 1, later forms of Cyprus Red Slip and Phocaean Ware, and a coin of Heracleios indicates that the modification took place before the7 th century when the room was presumably abandoned.

Initial publications of the site suggested that it was destroyed by Arab Raids and while it is impossible to rule out that a catastrophic event like an attack caused the room’s final demise, it appears more likely that abandonment of Room 1 took place in stages. Phases 3 and 4 in EU12 and EU13 represent repairs to the basilica. In EU12, a fragment of a small lugged basin found associated with the construction of a spur wall that buttressed the west wall of Room 1 joined with a fragment of the same basin found associated with the tumble of the double arch and buried well beneath the collapse of the room. This would indicate that the basin was either on the floor of Room 1 or from the second story. While the exact circumstances that led to this vessel being deposited in separate contexts are unclear, it indicates the building remained standing at the time when the spur wall was built and the damaged vessel were present on the floor of the room along with artifacts of a mid-7th century date. It is appealing to imagine that this interval allowed for the removal of the gypsum floor paving and the graffito of a ship on the central pillar of the double arch.

A later phase of repair, defined in EU12 as Phase 4 included numerous Late Roman rooftiles of the kind associated with Room 1, although not necessarily from that buildings, as well as Late Roman artifacts including a sherd of 7th c Cypriot Red Slip. This repair phase is perhaps contemporary with the reuse of a still-plastered wall fragment in EU13 in a later wall. While it is possible to construct a loose, relative chronology for these two phases of repair, their absolute date appears to be essentially contemporary with the latest phases of use in Room 1 suggesting that the room encountered a series of interventions over a short period in the 7th century. These modifications served either to repair the structure or to shore it up while marble revetment, floor tiles, roof tiles and other valuable parts of the room were removed for use elsewhere. A similar pattern of salvage seems to have taken place at the church at Kourion after it suffered significant damage in a seismic event (Megaw 2007, 134-135). It is tempting to imagine the fragments of Dhiorios type cooking pot rims found to the north of Room 1 to be the remains of a late-7th or early 8th century salvaging operation set up, like at Kourion, in the atrium of the damaged building.

The Church at Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks I’ve returned to writing up our excavation results from our project at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This site, for people new to this blog, is in the southeastern corner of the island some 10 km east of the modern Larnaka (or ancient Kition). The site was a coastal town during the Roman and Late Roman periods and featured an Early Christian basilica.

Very little of the church was excavated either during the initial seasons of excavation in the 1990s under the direction of Dr. Maria Hadjicosti or during our brief campaign in 2009. The main focus of this work was a small, if well appointed annex room that probably extended from the south or western wall of the atrium of the church. In 1999, excavations at the site revealed the central apse of the basilica. The apse is wide and relatively shallow and features the transverse passage on its southern side that runs between the south nave colonnade and the western wall of the church.

PKAP2 Hajicosti Excavations scan310 2

This transverse passage is relatively distinctive among churches on Cyprus appearing predominantly among buildings in the neighborhood of Salamis and the Karpas Peninsula. Megaw suggested that the church of Ay. Philon served as a kind of prototype for the buildings in this area, and as you can see in the image borrowed from Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation (as are the rest in this blog post), has a similarly shallow and wide apse and transverse passages between the main apse and the two, smaller, lateral apses.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 688 of 827

It may be that the builders of the relatively compact church at Ay. Philon modeled their building on the much larger pilgrimage church of Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis which shared the wide, shallow apse and the transverse passages. Both buildings likely date to the 5th century with the church of Ay. Epiphanios dated through a textual reference and Ay. Philon based on its stylistic affinities.  

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 775 of 827

Later buildings in the area, like the Panayia at Aphendrika carry on the tradition into the 6th century (at least according to the conventional date associated wth this building).

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 657 of 827

The regional distribution of churches of this type is intriguing. They appear on the Karpas and around Salamis and then across the northern coast of Cyprus including at Lambousa and as far west as Soloi.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 808 of 827

This corpus of buildings seems to be significantly different from the churches across the more densely-settled southern coast of the island where polygonal apses are more common and the churches lack the transverse passages between the central apse and the flanking spaces.

In our survey monograph, we argue that the site of Kousopetria was situated at an important route of travel through the area. The inland road linking the coast of Larnaka Bay to the city of Salamis joined the coast at our site in both antiquity and the modern period. We argue that the remains of an Iron Age sanctuary at or near our site likely reflected the regions liminal state on the political boundary between Salamis and Kition. The presence of a late Cypro-Classical fortification at Vigla reinforced the  Obviously such political boundaries faded to unimportance during the Hellenistic and Roman period when the island became part of a single imperial state, but it remains possible that these buildings preserve echoes of these borders carved into the landscape through persistent patterns of movement between major urban centers. It may be that the church at Koutsopetria represented the southern most reach of the bishop of Salamis or even just the influence of such significant buildings as the pilgrimage church at Ay. Epiphanios. 

Images from Polis

I’ve been working on the last few figures for an article on our work around the South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. For various reasons we do not have a digital site plan, so I’ve been building one piece meal from the excellent hand drawn plans made over the past three decades. My goal was to combine the two so that I didn’t have to redraw the entire site map and so I could preserve some element of the original plans while highlighting certain features.

Figure 2

Figure 6

Figure 7

Plans Hesperia2016 Figure9

Plans Hesperia2016 Figure10

Pyla-Koustopetria Archaeology Project: Churning On

This blog began – back in 2005 or whenever – to share news from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project with our various friends, supporters, and colleagues. Since that time, I’ve written well over 100 posts on various PKAP related topics both on this blog and in the archive. It’s a bit sobering to realize that I haven’t posted about PKAP for so long, but since David Pettegrew, Scott Moore, and I have spent the last few weeks working on PKAP related materials, it seems like a fine time for an update.

J74701 Pyla Koutsopetria 1993 Ar I

We are working to prepare a complete draft of the excavations at the site. The PKAP team conducted three seasons of targeted excavation at the sites of Pyla-Vigla, Pyla-Koutsopetria, and (in a rather strange situation) at Pyla-Kokkinokremos. We are working to publish the results of our work at Pyla-Vigla and Pyla-Koutsopetria and the description of the stratigraphy and phases associated with our work is largely done. Pyla-Vigla is a Hellenistic fortified site with three very clear phases. Koutsopetria is an Early Christian basilica. 

We are also working to publish the results from two earlier campaigns of excavation at the site of Koutsopetria by Maria Hadjicosti and the Department of Antiquities in 1993 and 1999. During these campaigns an annex room (Room 1) and part of the apse of the basilica were exposed. This is a more complicated project since we do not have the excavation notebooks (if they ever existed) for the project, but have a record of inventoried finds and the context pottery from the various excavated context. Ordinarily this would be a massive challenge for anyone trying to reconstruct the stratigraphy and phases of the building, but we had two advantages. First, we had David Pettegrew’s meticulous patience and willingness to solve archaeological problems. He went through the all of the records that we do have – mainly elevations and horizontal grid coordinates. – and created a series of plausible levels and passes. The other advantage was that the excavations mostly removed collapse and encountered only very small lenses that can be associated with the site’s pre-collapse abandonment. Complementing David’s work is analysis of ceramic artifacts by R. Scott Moore and the analysis of the painted plaster, molded gypsum, and various architectural fragments by Sarah Lepinski. 

For my part, I’ve taken David’s careful analysis and combined it with the Scott Moore and Sarah Lepinski’s work to produce a narrative of the building excavated over 20 years ago. The results so far have been intriguing. Here are a few little things:

1. Abandonment. It seems almost certain that Room 1 was largely abandoned at the time of collapse, but the absence of material later than the first half of the 7th-century suggests that it wasn’t abandoned for very long. The presence of several almost complete artifacts – including an African Red Slip 105 plate – on the floor of Room 1 hint that some material remained scattered about the space. Graffiti incised on architectural features perhaps indicates that the room had acquired a more casual function toward the end of its life.

2. Collapse. Room 1 appears to have collapsed to the south. Roof tiles appear immediately above the floor on the southern third of the room suggesting that the roof and the second story slid fell onto the floor perhaps as the south wall of the room fell to the south. The northern part of the room has more debris above the floor and fewer tiles made it to the floor level, likewise suggesting that the north wall collapsed into the room toward the south pushing the roof into the southern part of the room.

3. Residual Sherds. One of the coolest things about the levels excavated in 1993 is that they produced not only some relatively well-preserved Late Roman artifacts, but also a significant quantity of earlier material. Most of this earlier material – including easily identifiable Early Roman and Hellenistic fine wares – appears only as tiny sherds, typically smaller than 10 grams in weight. It would appear that most of this earlier material came from the coarse mortar used in the walls of Room 1 and in the packing associated with the floor of the second story. As we appreciated this residual assemblage of pottery deriving from various construction contexts in the building, we got to wonder about the scatter of Early Roman and Hellenistic pottery identified in the survey of the region and how much of that material might come from similarly residual contexts.

There is obviously much more that we can say about the excavations and as we pull together the finds, the phases, and the architecture. So stay tuned!

The Archaeology of Early Christian Churches on Cyprus

As the western churches start Holy Week, it seems appropriate to post something Christian and liturgical. So here’s a rough drafty-draft of a section on churches that I wrote for a contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. For more on that project, go here.

Monumental architecture, and basilica-style churches in particular, remain the most visible form of Early Christian material culture. Richard Maguire’s recent dissertation on the Early Christian churches of Cyprus counts over 70 buildings dating to this period. His 2012 work stands as the best, recent synthesis and catalogue of these monuments, and expands substantially on the work of Peter Megaw and Andreas Papageorghiou who published a series of synthetic articles in Greece during the 1960s. Papageorghiou sought to prove that Early Christian archaeology on Cyprus derived from Constantinopolitan precedents and tied the island closely to the culture of the imperial capital. Megaw’s important 1974 article which addressed the question “Metropolitan or Provincial?” for Cypriot architecture comes down largely in the latter camp for most Early Christian monuments on the island assigning many characteristic features of basilica-style churches to Levantine or Palestinian influences. Maguire’s dissertation is less committed to tracing lines of influence, and instead recognized the polyvalence of influences on ecclesiastical architecture on the island. The position of Cyprus astride a wide range of Eastern Mediterranean networks makes Maguire’s conclusions not only the most plausible but also consistent with what we read in textual sources for the island.

Like most of the eastern Mediterranean, the earliest confirmed Christian buildings date to the end of the 4th century AD. The archaeological evidence for these churches remains unsatisfactory, but perhaps not entirely unconvincing. The earliest phase of the basilica associated with St. Spyridon at Tremetousia in Larnaka District has a mosaic that the excavator, A. Papageorghiou, dated stylistically to the 4th century. He combined that date with the reference to a pilgrimage church in the Vita of St. Spyridon and the bishop’s attendance at the Council of Nicaea in 325 to argue that the modest three-aisled basilica with stone columns. The 6th or 7th basilica of St. Auxibios at Soloi in Kyrenia Distract also has an early phase which various scholars have argued to be mid-4th century, again on the basis of mosaic style. An early, five-aisled basilica at the site, however, had several unusual features including a series of semicircular basins set into a flat eastern wall that caused Megaw to suggest that this building may be a nymphaeum rather than an early church, whereas Charles Stewart and the excavators have suggested that this early, hall-like structure should rank as the earliest Christian building on the island with the basins serving an unknown liturgical function. Several other buildings on the island have possible 4th century dates. Papageorghiou and Megaw have dated the massive, seven-aisled Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos to the 4th century based on mosaic styles, but the church remains unpublished. The basilica of St. Epiphanios at Salamis, where he was presumably buried after his death in 403. The account of the church’s construction in the Life of Epiphanios where the bishop commissioned the church before his death.

The reliance on stylistic dates for the earliest churches on Cyprus reflects a significant limits to our archaeological knowledge of the region. The great basilica of the Campanopetra at Salamis featured a colonnaded, double western atria and an atrium projecting to the east, a ambulatory surrounding a three-aisled nave, and numerous ancillary rooms. The church was almost certainly designed to accommodate pilgrims and, along with the fourth-century basilica of St. Epiphanios and the late-fifth century basilica dedicated to St. Barnabas, formed a pilgrimage center at Salamis for travelers on their way to the Holy Land. Unfortunately, we do not have published stratigraphy for any of these churches leaving Campanopetra to be dated on the basis of architectural sculpture and St. Barnabas dated on the basis of wall style. It seems likely that the churches at Salamis were built within a century of the impressive Episcopal compound at Kourion published in 2007 by Megaw. This church stood at the south end of the Roman agora on the site of fourth-century civic basilica. The earliest phase of the church dates to the 5th century but the building continued to enjoy expansion and elaboration into 6th century. Amathus, similarly featured at least two 5th-century basilicas – one, large 5-aisled church identified by the excavators as the seat of the bishop and the other, smaller 3-aisle basilica at the foot of the acropolis – although the rationale for these dates remain unclear. Despite the relative ambiguity in dating these buildings, it would appear that the 5th century saw the construction of monumental churches in urban centers of the island, and this was contemporary with the expanding resources of the ecclesiastical hierarchy across the Mediterranean and the autonomy of the Cypriot church.

The 6th century saw an expansion of monumental Christian architecture into the countryside. Marcus Rautman’s excavations at the village site of Kopetra are among the most significant in the Early Christian archaeology of the island. He revealed three basilica style churches at a village site in the Kalavassos Valley. Two date to the 6th century on the basis of rigorous stratigraphic excavation. A three-aisled church at the site of Sirmata may be associated with a monastery. Another three-aisled church is likely the main church in the village. The well-known church of the Panayia Karnakaria at the ex-urban site of Lythrankomi on the Karpas Peninsula preserved a significant, if highly fragmentary apse mosaic decorations dated by Megaw and Haskins to the end of the first third of the 6th century. The site of St. George-Peyia, an ex-urban, coastal settlement northwest of Paphos has produced three, unpublished basilicas which may all have 6th-century dates. The church at the small, rural settlement of St. Kononas on the Akamas peninsula is likely contemporary. The acropolis of Amathus saw an elaborate three-aisled basilica with numerous annexes in the 6th century, which remains largely unpublished and Paphos In an urban neighborhood of ancient Arsinoe (Polis-Chrysochous), the three-aisled south basilica dates to 6th-century on the basis of controlled excavation. The continued expansion of monumental architecture in both urban centers and ex-urban areas in the 6th century reveals the creation of a Christian landscape on the island.

Recent works has shown that the Early Christian architectural traditions did not end with the political, military, and economic turmoil of the 7th century. While the absence of rigorously archaeological dating it remains difficult to determine when the churches built in the 5th and 6th century went out of use, it is evident that the persistence of basilica-style church architecture depended upon the structure and demography of settlement on the island, the role of seismic events in compromising the fragile fabric of these buildings, and the impact of military incursions. Amidst these challenges, communities continued to build new churches as carefully excavated examples from the rural coastal site of Maroni-Petrera and the inland village site of Kalavasos-Kopetra show. At the same time, an inscription commemorates the renovation of the large basilica at Soloi, perhaps in the aftermath of Arab raids. The south basilica at Arsinoe appears to have been converted from a wood-roofed building to a barrel vaulted structure. At the site of Kiti near Larnaka, the apse of an earlier basilica was incorporated in a new church in the early 7th century and decorated with a spectacular mosaic of the Panayia. In the mid-7th century, decorated apse of the church at Panayia Karnakaria at Lythrankomi saw a similar incorporation into a new building. Charles Stewart has recently argued that the small corpus of churches converted from wood-roofed to barrel-vaulted basilicas represents an 8th-century response to depredations of the 7th-century Arab raids. Recent study of the excavations at Polis-Chrysochous may suggest that this practice started a generation or two earlier. Whatever the cause and the specific date, Early Christian churches did not vanish from the island in the 7th century, and at least in some case continued to be the focus of investment for Christian communities into the Medieval period.

Early Christian Cyprus: An Outline

I was pretty pleased to be asked to co-author a chapter on Early Christian Cyprus for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Since I’ll be co-authoring it with the incomparable (and the intensely busy) Jody Gordon, I offered to get things rolling by putting together an outline.

The goal of our chapter is both to present a basic guide to Christian archaeology on Cyprus, as well as to put Early Christian archaeology on the island in the context of larger issues both in modern Cypriot political culture and the historiography of Roman, Late Antique, and Early Byzantine Cyprus.

This is just a draft, and nothing is cast in stone, but I thought I would throw it out there to see what people think…

The Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

  1. Early Christianity in a Cypriot Context (<1000)

    1. Pre-Archaeology of Cypriot Christianity

      1. Barnabas (late-6th c.)

      2. The Phaneromene

    2. Archaeological Context

      1. Megaw – typology

      2. Cypriot Archaeologists – often salvage and primarily focused on architecture.

      3. Recent Work: Kopetra, Polis, Maroni, Pyla-Koutsopetria.

    3. Contemporary Political Context

  2. Textual Christianity on Cyprus: Short and Sweet (<1000 words.)

    1. Acts of the Apostles

    2. Epiphanios

    3. Council of Ephesus (431)

    4. Hagiography

      1. Jerome, Vita Hilarionis (4th c.)

      2. Auxibios (5th? c.) (I don’t remember; but local).

      3. John the Almsgiver (Sophronios) and Tykhonas (6th c.)

  3. Christian Archaeology on Cyprus (<4000). This would be the nuts and bolts section of the essay. It would lay out the evidence for Christianity on the island and the basic archaeological problems (dating, excavation approaches, publishing, et c.).

    1. Basilicas (1200 words)

    2. Baptistries (800 words)

    3. Epigraphy (600 words)

    4. Objects

      1. Mosaics

      2. Lamps

      3. Fineware

      4. Seals?

  4. Contexts and Consequences (1200)

    1. Christianization

    2. Connectivity – trade, pilgrimage, and travel

    3. Settlement – towns, cities, capitals, and bishops.

  5. The End of Early Christian Cyprus (800)

    1. Plagues

    2. Wars

    3. Transformation

New Work on Churches in the Peloponnesus

I was pretty excited to read Rebecca Sweetman’s newest article on the Early Christian churches of the Peloponnesus in the the most recent American Journal of Archaeology. Not only has her work done a tremendous amount to recover my dissertation (on the same topic) from academic invisibility by citing regularly, but she also gave my blog a citation. More than the selfish pleasure of having one’s work recognized, Sweetman has done a great job bringing these neglected buildings into the scholarly spotlight. We can only hope that her insightful and important work will help these buildings gain more attention and enjoy for fully in the revived interest in Late Antiquity. 

Sweetman’s work is both better than mine, but also different. She has brought a more impressive arsenal of theoretical work to understanding these building and their role in Christianization. She has also a more intimate familiarity with the archaeology of these buildings from her time working at the acropolis basilica in Sparta. Finally, she has a more subtle and expansive view of the monuments themselves. In short, I’m jealous of her command of the source material. So, go read her work!

That being said, I do have a few little comments, which are less objections to her arguments than different takes on the same body of evidence:

1. Memory and Pagan Monuments. Sweetman thinks critically about memory in her work and agues that Early Christian basilicas and liturgy relied on the active memory of pagan and civic rituals to produce meaning, and by extension to produce a Christian ritual and social world. She notes that a few Early Christian churches in Greece were located near recently abandoned or still functioning pagan sanctuaries (the most famous examples being Olympia and Epidauros).

She also notes that Early Christian basilicas were built on the sites of long abandoned pagan monuments (e.g. Nemea). The usual reasoning for this phenomena is that abandoned pagan sanctuaries were a source of building material or the sites of settlements unrelated to the earlier history of the place. Sweetman hints (albeit vaguely) that memory of pagan activities could adhere to even long abandoned sanctuaries. I couldn’t help think of one of my favorite saints, John “The Strange” O Xenos from Crete. He discovered a long abandon pagan sanctuary and did spiritual battle with the lingering presence of paganism there and built a church. 

From the perspective of Early Christianity in Greece, these long abandoned pagan sanctuaries might be ideal places for Christian churches. They leverage lingering memories, but avoid direct confrontation with existing pagan practices. Moreover, the appropriation of these sites of lapsed pagan practices both emphasized continuity with the distant past as well as placing contemporary paganism as somehow innovative and different from historical practices. This move by Christianity had the potential of being more powerful than simply siddling up to existing sanctuaries. Christianity was appropriating the historical landscape of paganism.

2. Church Building and Elite Practice. Sweetman argues that some church construction paralleled elite practices of munificence by allowing elites to continue to patronize cult activities but to do so as part of Christian practices. I don’t disagree with this argument, but I do wonder whether emphasizing traditional practices of elite benefaction overlooks changes in Christian attitudes toward giving to the poor and to the church as part of a larger route to salvation. Changing Christian attitudes toward giving opened new ways for church builders to fund their buildings and freed them from existing networks of aristocratic wealth which often proved an obstacle to the centralizing tendency of the organized church.

There is evidence from the Adriatic coast and from Greece of rather small donations (<1 solidus) to the decoration of churches. This would have been within the budget of people of middling means in the Late Roman world. The tendency for these small donations to appear in groups in a building suggests that the church was recruiting groups of these donors. The appearance of anonymous donors of small amounts hints that the motive for giving was less about developing civic prestige and more about seeking divine rewards. 

3. Christianization vs. Monumentalization. Finally, I have come to wonder more and more whether looking at the Early Christian churches of the Peloponnesus has less to do with Christianization and more to do with the monumentalization process. While I recognize that building monumental architecture was closely tied to the spread of Christianity from the 4th on, I also wonder whether our linking of these two processes together obscure the real reason for the appearance of so many large buildings in Greece in the later 5th and 6th centuries. The 5th and 6th centuries were wracked by Christological debates that fractured Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean, but particularly in Greece where imperial and ecclesiastical policies were often at odds with each other.

Investment in monumental architecture, in this scenario, had less to do with the spread of Christianity, and more to do with the development of competition between groups within Christianity who had access to resources to make their claims in the Greek landscape. The proliferation of churches around cities like Corinth need not represent the expansion of the Christian community in this place, but rather may represent the appearance of groups with competing claims around this important city. This would help explain the multiple baptisteries, the multiple synthrona, and the subtle, but obvious differences in architecture and decoration in these buildings.

Finally, Sweetman and I would both have great little books on the Early Christian architecture and Christianization of Greece:

Hers would include her 2013 article, and the two articles she published this year (in the ABSA (pdf) and the AJA).

Mine is sketched out here.

It’s a good time to be an Early Christian basilica in Greece!

The Trash

I’ve been thinking a good bit more about trash this summer and had the chance to check out two interesting assemblages of modern trash in the Argolid in our first week of field work.

The first was at a crossing of the Inachos River in our 2014 survey area. The scatter of modern trash extends in a 8 m x 60 m strip down the center of the now-dry Inachos River parallel to a seasonal road along the river bed.

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The trash consisted of a combination of building debris and modern household trash.

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The most interesting concentration was a dump of school books perhaps deposited at the end of that academic year.

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There was the typical clusters of water bottles as well as clothing, household furnishings, and detritus from agricultural work.

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The other dump that caught my attention this week was around the small church of Ag. Panteliemon.

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The church is probably Early Modern and has a fantastic scatter of broken tile associated with a re-roofing project over the last few decades. The modern tiles on the church feature a 5-digit Greek phone number of the kiln placing the manufacture of the tiles prior to the change in the Greek phone numbers to 9 and then 10 digits.

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The tile scatter on the north side was complemented by a scatter of tile and plastic bottles that probably once contained oil left at the church for lamps. Clean up at the church involved dumping the used plastic containers over the side of the little paved area. 

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This parallels a little study that David Pettegrew, Tim Gregory, and I did a few years back (I summarize some of this project here) where we documented the artifact scatter around Byzantine churches on the island of Kythera. We discovered that the vicinity of churches produced more fine wares than elsewhere in the landscape. This is hardly remarkable, but perhaps the modern practices of trash disposal provide insights into the historical distribution of artifacts.