Considering the Corinthia

This summer, I’ve enjoyed working with David Pettegrew on an article surveying the archaeology of the Late Antique Corinthia for some or another edited volume. The piece is getting pretty close to being done and I plant to work on it for a four or five hours this morning. I’m particularly happy with the introduction, which to be fair, was largely written by David Pettegrew (and I generally like how he writes and thinks about Late Antiquity). 

Here’s the current draft of it: 

Around the middle of the last century, American classicist and archaeologist Oscar Broneer sat down to describe the dire archaeological situation of the later history of the Roman city of Corinth. The excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens had exposed extensive portions of the city in intermittent excavations over the previous half century. Time and again the work of clearing the city revealed evidence for destruction events dating to the final quarter of the fourth century. Summing up a city in decline, Broneer minced no words. The city fell into a state of “overwhelming disaster and material decay, reflecting a general exhaustion and deterioration of the creative ability of the people…The invading Goths under Alaric delivered the coup de grace to this unhappy period of twilight of Classical Corinth…In the Early Christian period and during the first centuries of the Byzantine Empire, many of the classical buildings continued to be used, but the ruins of that era bear the marks of material dilapidation, artistic decline and civic helplessness.”

Paradoxically, it was exactly at that moment when Dimitrios Pallas, one of Greece’s foremost archaeologists of the Early Christian period, first began exposing and publishing a series of large and lavish monumental churches in Corinthian territory. He proposed that the churches dated to the fifth and sixth centuries—the age of “material dilapidation” and “civic helplessness”—but suggested enormous (even imperial) investments of resources and capital. The behemoth Lechaion Basilica, for example, was about as long as Old St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the monuments incorporated elements of specialized imported marble. Moreover, at that moment, Oscar Broneer himself was beginning to undertake excavations ten kilometers east of Corinth at the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia, the site of biennial athletic contests in the Greek and Roman period. Those explorations would bring to light the same demolition phases of the late fourth century but also expose a massive imperial late antique project to fortify the Isthmus in the early fifth century.

Scholars today rarely describe the late antique Corinthia as a period of dilapidation, decline, and twilight (pace Brown 2018). A wealth of archaeological study in recent decades has introduced new perspectives that point to a flourishing and vibrant population even to the late sixth or seventh century, and scholars underscore the continuing relevance of the region within broader geopolitical and religious spheres. It is now apparent that private citizens expended great resources on private and public buildings. That they did so while many of the primary monuments of old Corinth fell down points to a complex local situation. One cannot deny the evidence of investment any more than one can deny the tremendous transformations of religious, settlements, and built environments that redefined fundamental aspects of Corinthian landscapes. Our aim in this paper is to reconsider the discrepant histories of the Late Antique Corinthia in light of recent archaeological and historical study of its landscapes.

Cypriot Churches of the 14th to 16th centuries

Scholars interested in the architectural history of post-Roman Cyprus have been enjoying the immense (and sometimes overwhelming) outpouring of scholarship in their field over the last 20 years. Much of this work has been both high quality in terms of argument, but also (and perhaps as importantly) high production quality with careful illustrations, vivid photographs, and sharp publication standards. It was particularly fun then to have an opportunity to read Thomas Kaffenberger’s recent contribution to this growing body of scholarship. As you’ll likely guess, this was for a review, and below is a draft:

Thomas Kaffenberger’s Tradition and Identity: The Architecture of Greek Churches in Cyprus (14th to 16th century) is a significant contribution to the architectural history of Cyprus. The book consists of two, impressively produced volumes: the first comprises analysis and the second, larger volume, a catalogue of 261 standing and 65 lost Greek churches from the 14th-16th century. The goal of the book was twofold. First, Kaffenberger sought to complicate the designation of the so-called Greek churches from the Late Medieval Cyprus from their historic designation as “francobyzantine.” Instead he sought to locate these buildings within a broader context of identity and exchange between the island’s various communities, religious traditions, and political investments. His second goal was to expand the scope of analysis to include the significant corpus of rural churches into conversation with better known urban churches especially in Famagusta. In general, the author is more successful with the first goal than the second, but this should not detract from the book as a highly significant contribution to the rapidly expanding body of work on Medieval Cypriot architecture.

The book, which is an updated and revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation (pdf copy here), follows a family patter. The opening chapter unpack the historiography associated with these buildings with particular critical attention on history of the concept of “francobyzantine” architecture on Cyprus. Long associated with the Greek or “indigenous” community on Cyprus who maintained a distinct religious identity in the aftermath of the Second Crusade, Georgios Soteriou introduced the concept to Cypriot architecture in the 1930s. The term assumed the existence of two discrete styles — the Byzantine and the Frankish — with their respective political, cultural, and religious baggage as a precondition for the emergence of a new hybrid style. This invariably led to judgements that the hybrid style was inherently less refined and sophisticated than the pure versions of Crusader or Byzantine architecture. When combined with the 19th century commentators tendency to privilege Frankish Gothic styles on the island, the perceived inferiority of the francobyzantine style reproduced the island’s colonial status both in the Frankish period and in 19th and 20th century.

Kaffenberger distances his analysis from these conventional paradigms which allows him to understand the Greek architecture of Late Medieval Cyprus on its own terms rather than as a hybrid of established style or local imitation. Chapters two, three, four and five trace development of Greek architecture on Cyprus from its Early Christian origins to the 16th century, while avoiding the conventional practice of attributing features to one or another tradition. The result is an intensive and exceptionally well-illustrated analysis of the architecture of Greek churches in Cyprus that architectural historians will find useful and familiar in style and vocabulary. The author focuses heavily on the most elaborate and partly preserved buildings in Famagusta with the 14th-century cathedral of St. George of the Greeks taking particular pride of place. The Greek community in Famagusta constructed this church in the middle years of the 14th century perhaps in response to the return of the Greek bishop to Famagusta after a century of exile on the Karpas Peninsula or to the recovery from the bubonic plague that wracked the Mediterranean in the same decades. Rather than standing as a awkward or tepid version of 13th-century Gothic style typical of the Latin cathedrals of St. Sophia in Nicosia or St. Nicholas in Famagusta, Kaffenberger emphasizes the shared stylistic commitments between it and the contemporary church of Saints Peter and Paul in the same city as well as a number of churches in smaller communities across the island. He continues this approach for churches in the 15th and 16th century and successfully demonstrates that Greek Cypriot church builders and patrons deliberately and presumably strategically combined traditional design elements and Renaissance period innovation in their buildings. The level of technical detail in these chapters is daunting for a non-specialist, but impressive.

Chapter six and seven provide a synthetic analysis which seeks to illuminate the forest from the trees. For his masterful grasp of stylistic matters in chapters two through five, Kaffenberger’s command over the conceptual framework necessary to discuss the complex matters of ethnic, political, and religious identity, tradition, and reception and cultural production feels less secure. The absence of textual sources for the centuries under consideration clearly contributes to Kaffenberger’s tentative conclusions. As a result, his arguments for the genealogy of Medieval Greek church architecture on Cyprus stop short of offering the new ways to understand the broader influence of Frankish and Venetian rule on the Greek communities on Cyprus. Even in cases where it would seem obvious that the patrons and builders of Greek churches sought to evoke ties to the Early Christian or Byzantine past, the authors remains hesitant to recognize these as deliberate efforts ground their authority in a period before the Crusader conquest, for example. That said, Kaffenberger’s sensitive study of architectural relationship between St. George of the Greeks in Famagusta and the adjoining and earlier church of St. Epifanios weaves together insightful analysis of architecture with arguments for the role of building as a site for the veneration of relics whether of Epifanios or some other unknown saint.

In the end, the enduring value of this book will not come from its final two chapters, but from the stylistic analysis and the extensive catalogue that makes up the second volume. The catalogue runs to over 500 pages and includes geographic coordinates, descriptions, chronological information, bibliography, discussion, in some cases, plans, and, often stunning, color photographs of each church and any distinctive features. The quality of the catalogue and the amount of research invested in its production at times significantly exceeds its relevance to Kaffenberger’s arguments despite his efforts to bring rural churches into the larger conversation. That said, the presence of the catalogue will invariably entice other scholars to take these buildings more seriously and to think more seriously about how architecture reflected and shaped identity in late Medieval Cyprus.

Polis Projects

This summer, I’ll be once again in the field meaning that my regularly scheduled blogging might become a bit more intermittent. I’m not doing field work, but it’s a study season which will focus primarily on the site of Polis on Cyprus (with a brief side trip to Isthmia in Greece). 

As readers of this blog know, Polis is the modern name for the city of Marion/Arsinoe on Cyprus. Excavations in the city have produced evidence for almost every period from the Bronze Age to the Present and I work with a team of scholars tasked with publishing the Hellenistic to Medieval periods at the site. Our work thus far has focused on two areas. The neighborhood of the South Basilica and the area called EF1 and this summer we’re going to wrap up our work at EF1 in anticipation of submitting a volume dedicated to this site and the history of the archaeology at Polis sometime next year.

To get this done, we have to finish the analysis of the stratigraphy, the ceramics, and the architecture of the site which we started in 2019. This should only take us a few days.

We also need to prepare brief descriptions of each stratigraphic unit which also shows their relationship to other strata at the site and finds. This will become part of both the traditional EF1 publication as well as the digital backbone for EF1 on Open Context. The hope is that this can also become model for documenting more thoroughly the stratigraphic of the South Basilica area which is not only a more complex (and is the  history of excavation of excavation there) as well as more spatially extensive. 

This work will also involve linking the stratigraphic descriptions to the inventoried finds, the analyzed, non-inventoried pottery (also known as “the sherds” or “context pottery”), and the scanned notebook pages. Thus each stratigraphic description will also have a series of “one to many” links that will allow future archaeologists to query and critique our analysis.

While we’re working on this, I have to finish a couple of other Cyprus-related outstanding projects:  

First, I need to finish revising a paper that I submitted in the fall on Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity. The editors of the volume (which you can check out here) made some good suggestions for revisions.

Second, I need to grab a few photographs of baptisteries on Cyprus for a long lingering project on Greek and Cypriot baptisteries being patiently shepherded through the publication process by Robin Jensen and her team. This means trips to Kourion and Ay. Georgios-Peyas over the next month (and invariably food at fish taverns with good views of the sea!).

Finally, I want to read and comment on Catherine Keane’s very recent Munich dissertation on Early Christian ecclesiastical complexes in Cyprus.

It’s going to be pretty great getting back into doing archaeology on site this summer (rather than at a 6000 mile remove). Stay tuned for some updates and “Foto Friday”! 

The Late Byzantine Landscape

Last week I finally finished Foteini Kondyli’s recent book, Rural Communities in Late Byzantium: Resilience and Vulnerability in the Northern Aegean (2022). It’s really quite brilliant and offers a model for the kind of intensive regional study that is possible as the result of slow, deliberate, careful research across archaeological survey, texts, architectural study, and digital techniques.

The book considers the strategies rural communities on Lemnos and Thasos used to survive during the tumultuous 14th and 15th centuries. Kondyli anchored her argument in an extensive survey of the islands where she used surface ceramics to help date surviving churches, the remains of settlements, and the various towers and other sites that have left traces in the landscape. She supplements these with data from the Athonite monastic archive which provide insights to land tenure practices and the structure of settlement across the island. In this context, Kondyli is able to outline some of the strategies families used especially in the aftermath of the demographic changes visited on these islands during these convulsive centuries. These ranged from marriage strategies and other forms of bonds between families, settlements insulated from the presence of pirates in the surrounding seas, cooperation in the construction of military fortification such as towers and spiritual fortifications such as churches and monasteries, and forms of cooperation with the Byzantine state (and even Ottoman) state.

As per usual, I’m not going to really review the book, but highlight a few things that I stuck out to me.

First, I thought Kondyli’s emphasis on resilience is in keeping with contemporary conversations about continuity and change in the ancient and Medieval worlds. Of course, resilience has emerged as a key way to think about Late Antiquity and the degree to which a community could survive, rebuild, and persist amid economic, military, and political disruptions is crucial for understanding how deep structures which are not always readily visible in textual or archaeological sources held societies together at challenging times. Kondyli’s emphasis on resilience and social strategies is appropriate for the Late Byzantine period as well which endured its share of disasters.

Our attention to resilience, I think, shifts how we think about matters of continuity and change in the past. In this context, continuity and change represent strategies rather than evidence for a kind of absent minded persistence of existing social structures and institutions and change becomes a way to understand how communities adapt to circumstances that may well be beyond their control rather than the arrival of new circumstances themselves. As a result, and as Kondyli so cleverly shows, focusing on resilience foregrounds everyday life at the level of the community and how they respond economic, political, and military events.      

Second, for most of my career, I’ve been a bit of an evangelist for intensive, pedestrian, siteless survey. And I still think it’s the best way to do to field survey in the Mediterranean. 

That said, I’m becoming a bit more willing to see the value in intensive survey. Perhaps I should credit my new found appreciation of modern extensive survey to Yannis Lolos’s extensive survey of Sikyonia. I can add Kondyli’s book to the list of influences that are expanding my perspective on the value of modern extensive survey projects. In particular, I admire her willingness to identify the function of specific sites. One of the challenges facing intensive survey work is our tendency to produce vast carpets of artifacts that blur functional (and chronological) borders of sites until they are essentially disappear. To be clear, this is a rather uncharitable reading of siteless survey, but I suspect there is a kernel of truth to it. Kondyli’s willingness to build arguments on the chronological and functional identification of sites – with a certain amount of caution and perspective – opens the landscape of Aegean islandscapes to the kind of historical interpretations that our siteless survey sometimes resists. 

Third, Kondyli balanced her awareness of how islands function as islands (she avoid the term  “islandscapes” but the concept suffuses some of her arguments) with a strong sensitivity for local landscapes. I’ve participated peripherally in several recent conversations about islands and island archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean and this got me thinking a good bit about whether models for understanding islands in historical periods add much to our understanding of the Mediterranean, in general. For example, the mountainous landscape of Thasos exerted a far more obvious impact on settlement patterns than its situation as an island. This isn’t to say that its insularity didn’t play a role in the organization of settlement on islands, but that it might not be the dominant, determining role. 

This understanding feels consistent with the growing interest in microecologies or microregions which often function at level far below that of an island. If we regard the Mediterranean as a patchwork of microregions, then certain larger regional characterization of spaces—from islandscapes to administrative districts—might contribute less to how we understand resilience of communities than we might expect.

As readers of this blog likely know, my excitement for the archaeology of Greece ebbs and flows with my commitments to field work and my (declining!) ability to formulate research questions that keep me engaged. Kondyli’s book when set alongside other recent-ish books such as  Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016, blogged about here) and John Haldon, Hugh Elton, James Newhard, Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and its Environment (Cambridge 2018, blogged about here) has got me once again thinking a bit about how we understand the Late Roman and Byzantine countryside in the Eastern Mediterranean. I’m looking forward to getting back to the Mediterranean this summer and thinking in more in situ ways about issues introduced in these works.

Three Things Thursday: Atari, Teaching, and Cyprus

Thanksgiving break is always an opportunity to slow down and be thankful for all the little things that make my life better. Historically, I dedicate Thanksgiving day to catching up on grading and taking a swing at the pile of books and articles that I’ve set aside to read “sometime.” Both of these tasks are pleasurable enough and remind me of the amazing privilege that I have both to teach and to read for a living. 

To start this celebration a bit early, I’m going to indulge in another favorite pastime and offer a little Three Things Thursday (albeit one day in advance):

Thing the First

As I continue to work to revise my book, one thing that I find both challenging and rewarding is re-writing the early chapters of the book so that they read more like the later chapters. One of the areas where I’m investing a good bit of effort are the little preludes that I include in each chapter. These preludes come before the … ludes… er… introduction and serve to connect each chapter to the two case studies that anchor the book: Atari and the Bakken. They also allow me to interject a more personal component to the book that connects the concept of the contemporary to the work of the archaeologist as an individual. 

Today I’m going to retool the short prelude to my chapter on things (that incidentally, will be the basis of a graduate reading class that I’ll teach on the topic next semester). As it stands now, I reflect a very common question that I get when someone learns that I’m an archaeologist: what’s the coolest thing that you’ve ever found? In my revision, I’m going to shift the focus to the moment that the massive excavator revealed the Atari games in the Alamogordo landfill in 2014. In this moment, the games shifted from being low value trash to being high value commodities. In some ways, this moment restored the games to the position that they held in my childhood when as far as I can recall, the latest Atari game was among the first things that I ever wanted. In other words, I was able to witness the moment when Atari games acquired new value and a new context. This also pushed me to consider how things work in our society. 

Thing the Second

I’m finding it more and more challenging to manage the end of the semester rush. It’s not that I feel particular flustered or stressed, but I have come to really worry about my students who are clearly struggling at the confluence of the holidays, the end of the semester workloads, family, and first sustained stretch of winter with its cold, shorter days, and weather. This distressing situation has once again pushed me to think about student workloads and the current structure of our semester. 

As I begin to design my classes for the spring semester, I’ve started to think about two alternative models. The first one would be a model that splits courses over two semester. Each semester would have a 7 week class focuses on one major assignment. The grade would be recorded in the second semester. A course of this design would keep the course clear of the end of the semester exhaustion, stress, and busyness. Of course, if a student took multiple classes with this schedule, it would do little to alleviate the anxiety caused by competing responsibilities. 

Another model would be one that makes a 16 week course into a 12 week course by giving the students a week off every 5 weeks (i.e. 4 weeks of class and one week off). This course design would help students manage their workload better for my course during the semester and perhaps provide them with an alternative structure for better pacing their energy over the course of the semester.

Thing the Third

I’m really enjoying some of the recent scholarship on Cyprus. This week, I’ve read Catherine T. Keane’s “Ecclesiastical Economies: The Integration of Sacred and Maritime Topographies of Late Antique Cyprus,” in Religions 12 (2022?). Keane situations Early Christian architecture within its economic and social landscape with particular attention to the coastal location of Christian churches. This, of course, not only contributes my (very slowly) ongoing work at Pyla-Koutsopetria where a church stood on the coast and my work at Polis which has worked to be more attentive to the larger context for the two Early Christian churches in the local landscape. 

I was similarly pleased to discover Simon James, Lucy Blue, Adam Rogers, and Vicki Score’s article “From phantom town to maritime cultural landscape and beyond: Dreamer’s Bay Roman-Byzantine ‘port’, the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus, and eastern Mediterranean maritime communications,” in Levant 52.3 (2020), 337-360. I’ve just started to digest it, but it unpacks another coastal site that we’ve long known about, but have never seen published in a comprehensive or sophisticated way. The article by Simon James et al. looks to be a key step in that direction and the concept of a maritime landscape that is something other than a nucleated settlement is particularly appealing for a site like Koutsopetria which appears to have never developed any of the institutions that one might associated with a formal town or village.

It’ll take me a while to digest both of these rather recent articles, but I’m excited to try to apply some of these authors’ observations to my work on Cyprus.      
 

A List: The 15 Best Early Christian Baptisteries in Greece

The other day, mostly on a lark, I posted to Twitter a list of the top 15 baptisteries in Greece. It was 60% done as a kind of silly joke designed to spoof the ubiquitous “listicles” that fill our social media feeds and 40% done because David Pettegrew and I needed to cull our list of around 65 baptisteries to 15-20 for a publication. In any event, the list proved more popular than I imagined which has prompted me to post it here to the ole blog. 

It also got me thinking about maybe doing a little weekly list of things which I post to Twitter and then, perhaps, share them on my blog. One of the major trends of the last five years or so is that blogs like mine have declined in regular readership. Some have argued that Twitter threads and other forms of “long form” social media engagement have created new reading habits. The rise of newsletters has also drawn readers away from stand along blogs. Finally, the blogging landscape itself has changed. The slow and steady grind of research blogs stand out less visibly against blogs engaging more fully with debates that have attracted considerable public attention. In other words, it’s no longer enough to just blog and hope for readers. Today, one has to understand the digital media landscape and have a sensitivity to wider concerns both within and outside of the academy.

My effort to produce a fun little listicle is probably not a useful step in any particular direction for this blog, but it was fun so I’ll share it here with my few remaining (but dedicated and committed) blog readers:  

15. Ay. Sophia at Panormos on Crete. It’s a bit weak, but it’s ranked 15 so there’s that. It also has some archaeology to it and some phasing (it seems to have been added in the 5th century). A little architectural adaptation goes a long way in this list.

14. Kenchreai Basilica (Corinthia). I mean the Pauline tie-in makes it a lock for the list (even though the church is much later. Plus, it’s mostly under water now which is cool. And the swimming there is nice. Otherwise, pretty garden variety.

13. Kos-Zepari Kapama. No list of baptisteries is complete without at least one from Kos or Rhodes. These islands consistently produce great content. In fact, the competition is so intense that these baptisteries are often overrated by fans and critics alike. This one has style.

12. Argos – Aspis Church. I have a soft spot for the Argolid and everyone knows that. This baptistery brings the ROUND and offers just a hint of synchronism for all you old school conversion fans out there. It won’t win a prize for style or design, but it’s there all day long.

11. Aigosthena-Attica. This church is just great and the site (ashlar walls, the sea, the mountains) is almost enough to move it into the top 10. For now, it’s the number 2 baptistery in Attica.

A solid building, good font, probably some arches, but it’s all about the setting.

10. Ialysos-Rhodes. You can’t talk baptisteries without Rhodes and Kos and this little gem is more than representative of the baptismal landscape there.

Apsidal room – check.
Cruciform font – check.
Parapet screen – check.
On an ancient acropolis – check.
Top 10 – check.

9. Brauron-Attica. This basilica is great, but the baptistery is show stopper. Curving walls, a circular baptismal chamber, some apses, and some changes in elevation. This place is special and almost anticipates a day when curves matter. It’s not Ronchamp, but it’s 6th c. Style.

8. Philippi-Octagon. Don’t let the church or the Pauline associations distract you! Here it’s all about the FONT. Square room, busy building, but then: BLAM: cross pattée. It is FLASH. Like someone wanted to show that EC architecture wasn’t all geometric forms and columns.

7. Nea Anchialos – Basilica C. This baptistery is a sleeper. Two phases. Subtle. Small, but complex. From a free standing building to an integrated one. It has a story to tell. Maybe from adult baptism to child baptism? Maybe changing styles and liturgy? There’s a lot going on.

6. Dion – Basilica B. Simple can be better. Octagonal font and three room baptistery:  Apodyterion-Font-Chrismarion. Textbook with just enough style to let people know that they planned this thing. Not quite top 5, but you can feel conversion here.

Oh, man. I’ve gotten so excited that I had forgotten to enjoy my pair of post-prandial Twizzlers!! This never happens except when I’m dropping some public science and doing my baptistery thing!!

Top 5. Here we go.

5. Paros Katapoliani Church. This church speaks for itself and the baptistery is part of that conversation. Apses and aisles and cruciform font. Maybe a dome. This is class in a church that makes me pun Theoktiste and want to escape from pirates to live there alone for 35 years.

4. Metropolitan Church at Gortyn on Crete. Is this controversial? Sure. Is it free standing. Without a doubt. There is a lot going on here: lobes, ambulatories, octagons, quatrefoil fonts. Maybe earlier doubters pushed this up the list a bit, but how could it not be top 5?

3. Kraneion-Corinthia. You’d have to be living in a jar not to it in the top 5. This church is all about SUBSTANCE. The baptistery is apsidal, the font is octagonal with steps, there is an ambulatory. Plus enough burials in the church and the area to remind you of life and death.

2. Damokratia Church – Demetrias. I know this will be controversial. It doesn’t bring the architectural bling of some, but the church is flashy and the baptistery is substantial. Damokratia did this church the right way and this baptistery deserves its spot in the list.

1. Lechaion. The Lechaion baptistery shines brighter than (and predates?) the church itself. Multiple geometric forms, visible adaptations, multiple fonts, apses, parapets, opus sectile, revetment. Plus possible martyrs who died by drowning?

There’s nothing more to say here.

 

 

 

Watery Wednesday: Baptism and Baptisteries on Cyprus

Ok, so Watery Wednesday might be a stretch, but I’m slowly working my way through the massive list of Early Christian baptisteries on Cyprus (there are 7, but only 5 are preserved to any real extent and there are a couple that might be baptisteries, but don’t really have much in the way of evidence; it is a very short list).

While doing this I also can’t stop thinking about the opening scenes of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Ministry for the Future where one of the main characters immerses himself in a lake to avoid a devastating heatwave and emerges transformed by the experience. It inspired me to think back to his book New York: 2140 which is set in New York City inundated by rising sea levels which transformed the character of the city and the United States. In some ways, it paralleled J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) which was set in a similarly inundated London. Time in the inundated city and the experience of a world devolving to a more primitive, pre-human, state triggered in its main character, Dr. Robert Kearns a journey to intensely tropical south with the goal of becoming a new Adam. Obviously, both books are more complex than these simple summaries, but they both involve immersion and inundation as experiences that require radical changes — conversions if you will. If that doesn’t motivate me to think about baptisteries in the waning days of summer, I’m not sure what will.

There are five well-preserved baptisteries on Cyprus. Three are in the neighborhood of Salamis: Ay. Epiphanios in the city itself, Ay. Trias and Ay. Philon on the Karpas Peninsula. The other two are at the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the coastal site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias. The remains of a font part of the baptistery was excavated at the site of Petounta in Larnaka district.

The small number of baptistries excavated on Cyprus is almost certainly an accident of discovery rather than a feature of the ecclesiastical landscape. The preserved examples of baptisteries on Cyprus suggest that they were quite monumental and architecturally elaborate structures that often stood separate from the main body of the church. As a result, the tend to appear most commonly at churches excavated extensively. Despite the massive number of churches excavated on Cyprus, excavators only occasionally have opened the kind of exposures necessarily to reveal the presence of a baptistery complex. It is hardly surprising, then, that three of the five well-preserved baptisteries appear associated with churches located amid large scale excavations (Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis, The Episcopal Basilica at Kourion, and the baptistery basilica at Ay. Georgios-Peyia). Conversely, the absence of baptisteries at Paphos, for example, which was an important ecclesiastical city with Biblical associations almost certainly reflects the limited areas excavated around the large churches identified at this site.

That said, it also seems likely that Cypriots developed smaller and simpler alternatives to the large scale baptisteries present at the five basilicas identified by large-scale excavations. These alternatives may have included mobile fonts and used annex rooms common to the Cypriot churches or even space in the aisles, atria, or narthex. 

The monumental baptisteries present on the island suggest adult baptism which perhaps correlates with the large-scale conversion of the island over the course of the later 5th and 6th centuries. The baptisteries at Kourion, Ay. Philon, and Ay. Epiphanios are on slightly different orientations from their associated churches which would seemingly suggest either earlier or later construction. The excavators at Kourion and Ay. Philon, however, saw the similarities in form between the baptisteries and the main church as evidence for their close contemporaneity. Megaw largely dated the church at Kourion on the basis of coins found in foundation trenches and argues for a fifth century date for the basilica and links it to the prominent bishop Zeno who attended the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Megaw 158). Ay. Philon appears to have a similar date on the basis of numismatic evidence. The church at Ay. Epiphanios was famously dated on the basis of the Life of Ay. Epiphanios in which God tells the Bishop Epiphanios to build a church. This dates the church to the late 4th century at earliest and considering the scale and opulence of the building, it is probably safer to date the church to the early 5th century with later modifications perhaps in the 6th century. The baptistery is likely associated with the first phase of the building. The similarities between the baptistery at Ay. Trias and that of the nearby Ay. Philon (as well as the baptistery at Kourion and Ay. Epiphanios) would seem to support a 5th century date for that structure and coincides with the date assigned by Papageorghiou at least partly on the basis of a coin of Honorius (395-425). The baptistery and basilica at Peyia is an outlier in terms of design and most likely date, but seems likely to date to the 5th century. Whatever the shortcomings of the archaeological evidence for dating these buildings, a 5th century date seems reasonable. This century not only represents a period of aggressive church building perhaps linked to efforts by Cypriot bishops to assert their independence from Antiochene authority at the Council of Ephesus in 431. It would also be a plausible time for large-scale adult conversions on the island.   

Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation which offers the most convenient and recent survey of the churches on Cyprus, argues that the design of the four baptisteries – Ay. Epiphanios, Ay. Trias, Ay. Philon, and Kourion – served to support a processional baptismal rite. This rite involved four spaces linked by a corridors. A large atrium space allowed the catechumens to gather prior to the start of the rite itself. The candidate then proceeded into an apodyterion where pre-baptismal rites took place and the individual undress before moving to the font itself. Cruciform fonts suggest at least partial immersion and complemented the role of movement associated with the processional rite. The candidate would have walked down into the font by means of a stair case on one of the font’s cross arms and ascended, newly baptized, by  another before continuing into the chrismarion where the newly baptized Christian received anointing with oil. Presumably then the fully baptized member of the church would enter the basilica and experience the full liturgy. Maguire suggests a link to the baptismal rituals and architectural forms at Jerusalem, Sidé in Turkey, Gerash, and the pilgrimage church at Qalat Sem’an in Syria. Considering the close, if sometime fraught, connections between the church on Cyprus and the ecclesiastical landscape of the wider Levant, this seems plausible. The outlier of this group is the baptistery church at Peyia. Its circular font and lack of obvious architectural support for a processional right may well reflect Aegean influences and hints at more diversity present in the baptismal liturgy on the island that existing evidence reflects.      

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It’s a start, at the end of summer, to a little catalogue of Cypriot baptisteries will be part of a larger project coordinated by Robin Jensen and which will also include a catalogue of Early Christian baptisteries that I put together with David Pettegrew (and blogged about here, here, and here). 

Writing a Site Guide for Polis (Part 2)

Yesterday, I started to put some words on the page for a guide book to the excavations at Polis on Cyprus that Joanna Smith is spearheading. I focused on the site EF1 on Tuesday and today, I thought I would take a swing at the somewhat more formidable task of describing the neighborhood of the South Basilica. This also dovetails with my July writing project which involves turning my “The Chrysochous Valley in the Long Late Antiquity” paper (here’s a PDF) into an article.

So here goes:

In the sixth century, the South Basilica come to dominate the district known as EF2 on the basis of the Princeton excavation grid and it continues to be the most prominent structure visible in this area today. Originally constructed as a three-aisled basilica with three eastern apses and a wood roof. Fragments of mosaics found during excavations suggest that the apses likely had light catching mosaic decorations. The walls of the central nave stood higher than those of the flanking aisles and almost certainly had windows that bathed the central nave with light and both decorative and figural wall painting. 

The church underwent a series of modifications over the course of its six hundred years of existence. The most significant adaptation occurred in the 7th or early 8th century when it received a narthex to the east and porch that ran along the entire south side of the building. Originally, a series of arched opening supported the south porch which joined the narthex in the square annex room visible today to the south of the narthex. At the same time, the wood roof was replaced by barrel vaults supported by series of buttresses that are visible along the walls of the center aisle. The area between the south porch and the road was an open courtyard that stood atop a two meter deep fill of rubble which served as a drain designed to prevent the flow of water down the hill from undermining the church’s walls. It may be that the downslope flow of waters against the south wall of the church caused damage to the first phase of the church and led to the construction of the barrel vaulted second phase. Whatever the cause, it is notable that barrel vaults, narthexes, and south porches remain common features in the churches on Cyprus. 

At some point in the building’s history, the church itself and the surrounding area becomes a burial ground. The three well preserved burials stand in the south aisle of the church. These burials likely represented individuals with either a close connection to this particular church or status in the community or the ecclesiastical hierarchy. One of these individuals was buried with a decorated bronze cross suspended from a bronze chain. These burials may be the earliest around the church. The next few centuries saw over 150 interments to the south, east, and west of the church and these individuals represented a cross-section of Late Roman and Medieval Arsinoe. The burials are notable for the presence of personal effects especially stone pectoral crosses that marked out the piety and faith of the deceased.

The Medieval history of the building remains less clear. It appears that at least part of the western side of the church collapsed by the 11th century. It may be, however, that the central nave continued to stand and function as a truncated cemetery church for another century or so.  

The church building was not the only Late Roman and Medieval buildings in the area of EF2. To the south of the church stand the so-called “Southeast Rooms.” The earliest phase of these rooms appears to predate the basilica and might date to the 3rd or 4th century. They were modified in the 5th or 6th centuries and the large room was divided into two smaller rooms that appear to open onto the east-west road to the south of the basilica. These rooms were destroyed and covered with the cobble fill as part of the second phase of the South Basilica.

To the west of basilica on the west side of the north south room stood a small well house. This building appear to be contemporary with the basilica and is part of a larger transformation of this area in Late Antiquity. Fragments of mosaic found in the well itself indicates that the apsidal shaped well-house was probably covered by a half-doom decorated with mosaic. That and its elegant shape suggests that this building was an attractive contribution to the neighborhood of the church. The water from the well and the arched south porch of the church offered a welcome site to travelers entering the city from the coastal road.

The well-house and basilica marks the transformation of this area from being an industrial suburb of the city to a more monumental space. This transformation likely began with the construction of the quadrafrons arch at some point after the second century. The construction of the church marked would have marked Polis out as a Christian city and advertised the power of its bishop, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the Christian community. The subsequent growth of the cemetery demonstrated that the practice of burying the dead outside of the town’s center continued from antiquity and the significance of this Early Christian monument persisted for nearly a half-millennium. 

Good Friday, the Epitaphios, and COVID-19

This week is Holy Week for many Orthodox Christians, but like last year, the COVID pandemic has changed some of the basic rituals of Orthodox life. Giorgos Papantoniou and Thanasis Vionis in a very recent article in the journal Ethnoarchaeology titled “Popular Religion and Material Responses to Pandemic: The Christian Cult of the Epitaphios during the COVID-19 Crisis in Greece and Cyprus.

Papantoniou and Vionis document how practices surrounding the Epitaphios ritual changed in Greece and Cyprus during the pandemic. The Epitaphios is an elaborately decorated wooden bier meant to symbolize the tomb of Christ. The decoration of the bier, generally done by women, is a long-standing tradition during Holy Week that precedes a ritual procession of the Epitaphios by the entire community. The procession of the Epitaphios culminates in the Good Friday mass.

(As an aside I have the fondest memories of watching the Epitaphios processions at East in Athens. It felt like it caused the city to pause for a moment and brought various neighborhoods together both to mourn Christ’s crucifixion, but also to start the final crescendo toward the release of Easter.)

Papantoniou and Vionis document the various ways that people adapted the Epitaphios traditions and rituals to accommodate lockdowns and bans on gatherings. For example, some individuals decorated home made biers in their own homes converting a community and public tradition into a private one that could then be shared on social media with a wider community. They also documented how the church transformed the Good Friday procession of the Epitaphios, another event that precipitated a heighten sense of community typically manifest in the bustling collective ritual, into a remote rite where the community engages with the ritual movement of the Epitaphios from a distance or in virtual ways.

The authors suggest that studying the changes that the pandemic brought to the Epitaphios traditions and rituals offers a model for how rituals change during crisis and both reveals certain underlying values that structure the practices and demonstrates how crises can prompt the adaption of rites. While their research has the feeling of being rather preliminary, it offers an intriguing lens through which to think about materiality during the COVID pandemic by considering a ritual with a rather formal structure and practices. It may be that their work is a point of departure, then, for studies of the post-pandemic world that consider the changes that COVID wrought in our everyday lives.

For all my colleagues and friends who observe, have a blessed and restorative Holy Week! 

Baptisteries

Over the Easter weekend, I worked a bit a long simmering project on the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece. Since it seems likely that, initially, baptisms occurred primarily during the Easter vigil, it felt appropriate.

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The project includes a brief overview of the archaeological and architectural evidence and then a short catalogue of known buildings. At present, we don’t have much to say that would be unfamiliar to folks who have spent some time on these building. At the same time, there are few things that I hadn’t noticed before. My dissertation did not deal with baptisteries specifically as part of my study of Early Christian churches more generally, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, some of the most interesting buildings come from the Dodecanese which were both outside my dissertation’s specific purview and outside the Diocese of Illyricum Orientale. As part of the Diocese of Asia and the Prefecture of the East (at least until the early 6th century), it also seems likely to have enjoyed different liturgical traditions than regions in the Western facing Diocese of Illyricum Orientale.

Here are my random thoughts:

1. Baptisteries of Kos and Rhodes. There are at least eight known Early Christian baptisteries on Kos. This is an impressive total even for this relatively large island. It’s a bit hard to understand why a single place would require so many baptisteries if they all functioned more or less simultaneously and if the tradition was for the bishop to conduct baptisms only once per year. It may be, of course, that multiple bishops—representing multiple variants of Christianity—functioned on the island. It is also possible that not all the churches and baptisteries functioned simultaneously. Rhodes likewise has seven baptisteries which once again suggests either diverse communities or a rite administered by someone other than the bishop.

Considering that both of these islands are near the edge of an ecclesiastical diocese, this would bring them in contact with rites and practices common to both the Aegean (and the West) and the diverse Christianities present in Asia Minor.   

2. Locating the Baptistery. Athanassios Mailis observed in his short article on the baptisteries on Crete that baptisteries in the Dodecanese tended to appear more frequently on the eastern side of the churches. In mainland Greece, however, baptisteries tended to appear as annexes attached to the narthex or atrium. If I had understood this more clearly when I was writing my dissertation, I might have been able to connect this location of the baptisteries themselves to the movement of catechumens during the baptismal rite (or even during the weekly liturgy). If we assume that the narthex and atrium served as buffers between the “profane” space of the outside world and the sacred space of the church’s processional axis as well as staging areas for the various liturgical processions, then the presence of baptisteries adjacent to these liminal zones would reflect the liminal status of participants in the baptismal rites. More over, it might allow for a post-baptismal procession from the baptistery into the church.

The location the baptistery in the eastern part of the church associates the baptistery spatially with the bema and suggests a rite that may do less to emphasize the liminal status of the participants and more to emphasize the liturgical or even sacramental character of baptism and the baptismal font. While it’s hard to necessarily make any particular claims on the basis of the location of the baptistery, it is suggestive that the two regions understood the place of the rite in different ways both ritually and, perhaps, practically.

3. Multiple Fonts. I had always found the two fonts present at the Lechaion baptistery outside of Corinth pretty interesting. It was impossible to know whether the second, smaller font, represented a change in ritual or perhaps a supplement to the more monumental font in the center of the baptistery proper. 

I was struck when I came to realize that on Kos a number of churches have a similar arrangement with a smaller secondary font associated with the larger main font. This suggests to me change in liturgical ritual, perhaps associated with the development of infant baptism. By this logic, the larger central fonts likely reflected the requirements of adult baptism (and the functioning of an adult catechumenate). This, to me, indicates ongoing conversion of adults into the 6th century which is the latest possible date for many of these buildings and the emergence of infant baptism (which would represent second generation Christians) only sometime after this. We can allow, of course, for a certain amount of architectural conservatism in the design of baptisteries, but I still think that appearance of smaller secondary fonts is worthy of note.

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It’s been a pleasure to return to material and ideas that I explored over 20 years ago as I was working on my dissertation. The time away has ensured that the buildings, rituals, places, and arguments are a bit more fresh to me but still oddly familiar. I’m excited to share more about this small project in the coming weeks of Eastertide!