Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis-Chrysochous

Tomorrow I head off to the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. You can check out the full program here (.pdf).

Our panel is at 8:20 AM on Friday morning:

5C City of Gold: Archaeological excavations at Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus

Theme: This session details the exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus (Princeton University Art Museum, October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013), about the cities of Marion and Arsinoe that underlie modern-day Polis Chrysochous, and some of the research developed during the period leading up to the exhibition.

CHAIR: Joanna S. Smith (Princeton University), Presiding

8:20 Daniel Kershaw (The Metropolitan Museum of Art),
“Design Process and Evolution for the Exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus, in the Princeton University Art Museum from October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013” (20 min.)

8:45 Nikitas Tampakis (Princeton University),
“Digitally Reviving the Buildings of Marion for Museum Display” (20 min.)

9:10 William A. P. Childs (Princeton University),
“Cypriot Aesthetics” (20 min.)

R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania),
Brandon R. Olson (Boston University)
Tina Najbjerg (Independent Scholar),
“Chasing Arsinoe: A Reassessment of the Hellenistic Period” (20 min.)

William Caraher (University of North Dakota, Grand Forks)
Amy Papalexandrou (The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey),
“Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis Chrysochous” (20 min.)

Of course, I know my dear readers expect a sneak preview of our paper. Our paper is essentially a slightly tweaked and truncated version of the Polis section of my paper delivered at the University of Texas earlier in the fall. (If you must, you can compare it here.) This paper reflects four seasons of tireless work by some very dedicated collaborators (R. Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and, of course, Amy Papalexandrou) and the enthusiastic support of the project director Joanna Smith and her predecessor Willie Childs. The ideas in this paper are heading toward a 10,000-12,000 word report for publication that summarizes four seasons of work at the South Basilica. Each iteration involves sharpening our ideas just a little bit.


Polis, Peyia, and Amathus Basilicas in a Comparative Context

This past year, I’ve done a bunch of work on the South Basilica at Polis and written a few papers on it with my colleagues R. Scott Moore and Amy Papalexandrou. In these papers I’ve suggest that our basilica looks a good bit like the Acropolis Basilica at Amathus. In fact, I’ve even blogged about it.

I’ve followed several scholars who observed that the Acropolis Basilica was more or less square with a core that’s 13 m x 13 m. The aisles are 3 m wide and the main nave is 6 m wide forming a 1:2:1 ratio quite common on Cyprus.


My colleague Amy Papalexandrou kept cautioning me on my argument suggesting that superimposing a crude 13 x 13 x box over the dimensions of the church at Polis was not really the kind of careful measurement that these kind of proportional arguments typically depend. I soldiered on with my argument, hoping that repetition alone would make my argument stronger.


This weekend, in preparing my paper for the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting, I revisited my argument and looked more carefully at the South Basilica’s plan. The most significant observation that I could make was that the nave and aisles were closer to 14.5 x 11.2 m than the visually compelling, but not very useful 13 x 13 m square. This is basically identical to the North Basilica at Peyia and similar in size, but not proportion, to the church of Ay. Kononas on the Akamas peninsula (14.3 x 12.4) which was ironically much closer to the 1:1 ratio of the Amathus Acropolis Basilica.

The North Basilica at Peyia (or Basilica III):

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

Ay. Kononas on the Akamas:

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

Good dimensions are difficult to find for the North Basilica at Peyia, but it appears to be closer to the proportions of the South Basilica at Polis with the width of the nave being around 4.5 m comparable to the approximately 5 m wide at Polis. The aisles were a bit narrower at Polis, but the proportions of the width of the nave to the width of the basilica are roughly the same (2.24 for Polis and 2.49 for Peyia). The church at Peyia lacked a portico like both the South Basilica at Polis and the Amathus Acropolis Church. Moreover, the west wall of its narthex at Peyia has a tribelon rather than the  arched openings present at Amathus and Polis. These differences make it difficult to see these churches as the products of the same work crew although the similarities proportions may hint at similar units of measurement. 

Unfortunately, neither the church at Peyia nor the church at Amathus have seen complete and final publications so our understanding of the phases of construction and archaeological dates remains incomplete. The North Basilica at Peyia and the Acropolis Church at Amathus are unlikely to date earlier than the end of the 6th century and are more or less contemporary with the South Basilica at Polis. 

Ambivalent Landscapes of Early Christian Corinth: Final Draft

Over the last couple of years, I’ve worked on a series of papers on the role of Early Christian basilicas in constructing new forms of authority in Greece. They form the rough outline of a book (or at least a dissertation) that I never had the time, focus, or energy to write. A few years ago I have a rather adventurous (and perhaps in places ill-considered) paper at the Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality conference held at the University of Texas. This paper reflected on how Early Christian churches around Corinth could provide evidence for resistance and accommodation in the 6th century Corinthia. 

Here is the full citation: W. R. Caraher, “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City,” in Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. S. James, S. Friesen, and D. Schowalter eds. Brill: Leiden 2014.

Here is a draft of this article and here are some of my thoughts leading up to that draft.

And, here’s the article:

Some thoughts on Butrint 4

Over the past couple of weeks I have slowly made my way through I.L. Hansen, R. Hodges, and S. Leopard, Butrint 4: The Archaeology and History of an Ionian Town (Oxbow 2013). When I was first invited to review this volume, I agreed, but without much enthusiasm. As I first tried to engage the book, I found it tough going. I was busy and distract. The book was too large to take with me to Cyprus and so it sat for a while, partly read, gathering dust.

This past week, I began to feel the slight upswell of apathy tinged panic about all the little projects that I set out to accomplish this summer and how many of them remain relatively unfinished. Anyway, I got reading this volume in earnest this week, and its good.

This summer I had a series of long conversations with my colleagues at Polis-Chrysochous about how to go about publishing the results of fieldwork there. Initially, we imagined producing a traditional archaeological volume with sections produced by various specialists and covering the entire range of material from the site, perhaps limited by period. As we went about attempting to understand this, it became increasingly difficult to imagine a scenario where everyone who has permission to study a particular body of material could complete their work in a contemporary way. Moreover, we were concerned that producing an exhaustive volume would not be a very meaningful contribution to Mediterranean archaeology noting that even some of the best recent volumes from Cyprus attract relatively little attention off the island. As a result, we began discussing alternate approaches to archaeological publication and landed on the idea of a volume that included a series of specialist studies focused on how the material from Polis speaks to issues relevant to the wider community of Mediterranean archaeology.

Butrint 4 is similar to this approach, although in places I’d have liked the significance of the studies to the wider discourse of Mediterranean archaeology made more clear. In any event, it is pretty easy to imagine the future of archaeology in volumes that assemble problem oriented specialist studies rather than the exhaustive and universal synthesis. Here are my thoughts on Butrint 4 along these lines:

1. Archaeology and the Nation. Richard Hodges frames the entire volume with an intriguing little essay that positions the archaeology of Butrint in the context of nationalist archaeology. This has long been a point of critique in Albanian archaeology (see Bowden and Davis) and Hodges attributes the desire to see continuity at Butrint as the product of various nationalist motives spurring excavation there. That being said I am skeptical of Hodges remark: “We must conclude that although long-term, large-scale excavation is by far the most costly and unfashionable of archaeological techniques, the results of the Butrint Project suggest that it remains an essential element of the study of abandoned towns. Only by such methods is ethnic nationalism challenged.” Only?

2. Continuity Problematized. Hodges and the other contributors to this volume specifically take aim at the sticky issue of continuity and abandonment at the site of Butrint. Instead of showing how the site persisted through time, the contributors took particular pains to explore lulls in activity (including the traditionally vexing 3rd century AD). For example, the history of the villa turned basilica turned elite household on the Vrina plain east of the city of Butrint was punctuated by periods of  abandonment influenced by the changing environment on this low-lying plain as well as larger trends in settlement and demographic change. The careful study of the Well of Junia Rufina and the small church and cemetery likewise demonstrated how this site blinked on-and-off through time rather than experiencing uninterrupted significance.

3. Churches. This represents my particular scholarly interest, but there are few regions in the Mediterranean that have more Early Christian basilicas and fewer systematic studies. Even the spectacular basilicas of the provincial capital of Nikopolis remain dated by stylistic analyses that are over a half-century old. Synthetic works of the churches in this region (which increasingly include the remarkable remains in Albania) are hampered by the lack of stratified dates and carefully documented architecture. Moreover, it is clear that Epirus Vetus was an important area in our understanding of the geopolitical and theological conflicts of the 5th to 7th centuries. The studies of the Great Basilica, the basilica on the Vrina plain, and the church on the acropolis of Butrint all begin to present more complex pictures of ecclesiastical architecture in the region. We’re still a ways off from having systematic chronological arguments for the dates of the buildings in this region, but we’re making steps.

As an aside, it was interesting to note that the churches around Butrint used piers rather than columns to support the clerestory and separate the nave from the aisles. This occurs rather rarely in Greece with the basilica near Corinth in the Kraneion district being the largest and most prominent. The “South Basilica” at Polis may have also used piers to separate the nave from the aisles. While this may have been a practical structural or economic decision, the role of the nave colonnade in elite display is fairly well-established. It would appear that the difference between piers and columns was a shift away from using the nave colonnade to display marble with elaborate carved capitals.

4. Residuality. The careful study of the small Well of Junia Rufina at Butrint was a nice example of how residual pottery can shed light on the economic history of a site despite the not being associated with primary activities. The growing willingness to interrogate ceramic assemblages produced by intensive pedestrian survey has had a significant influence on how once neglected deposits of pottery from excavation can provide valuable insights in the economic and social life of communities. The formidable Joanita Vroom analyzed the Medieval ceramics from the contexts associated with the well and church and was able to link Butrint to a dynamic world of Eastern Mediterranean commerce and culture.

As another aside, it was interesting to see the significant number of Late Roman 1 amphoras – produced in both Cyprus and Cilicia – at Butrint as well as the presence of a Sarachane 54 amphora from the vicinity of Constantinople. Both of these types of amphorae appear at Polis.

5. Diachronic. The study of residuality, continuity, and nationalism in the context of archaeology all require a willingness to go beyond the narrow chronological horizons sometimes promoted in graduate school and in our professional organization. It seems pretty clear to me that the next wave of major research initiatives and publication in Mediterranean archaeology will require at least an openness to diachronic perspectives.

A more complete review of this book will come in the following weeks…

The South Basilica at Polis

We’ve officially renamed the EF2 basilica. It is now “the South Basilica” and we’ve officially moved from pondering ceramics and architecture on the ground to writing. 

And this is our first effort to bring together the results of over three years of study (and many years of field work by many people before then)!

We’ve been working on lovely new illustrations of the site plan and our basilica, and they’re almost presentable now:

Figure 1 WRC3


And here’s our most recent text:

Churches in Greece or Why my Dissertation is not a Book

Ten years ago this month, I submitted my dissertation, Church, Society, and the Sacred in Early Christian Greece, for final approval at Ohio State and became Dr. Bill Caraher. A year later, I was lucky enough to become Visiting Assistant Professor Bill Caraher and a year after that Assistant Professor Bill Caraher. And finally, last year, Associate Professor. Pretty exciting business, academia is.

Last week, over dinner with my Ph.D. advisor in Greece I was once again asked why I hadn’t made progress toward publishing my dissertation. The easy answer always has been: it’s available here for free so I felt no need to work on it more so that someone else could make money from it.

A more complex answer usually involved me explaining that I was extremely fortunate to get a job at a school that supported faculty research, while not requiring a book for tenure. So instead of re-heating my dissertation for a quick monograph to ensure tenure, I started a new project – the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project –  on Cyprus, and have managed to bring it almost to completion over the last decade. In fact, a monograph based on the survey we conducted at the site between 2004 and 2010 is in final revisions and will appear as a volume in the American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Report Series

That being said, people still bug me about my dissertation. So now, I tell them that there are other scholars doing great work on some of the same issues that I explored in my dissertation. Ann Marie Yasin’s book on saints and churches appeared in 2009 (some thoughts on it here and here);  Kim Bowes has produced some good scholarship in private churches (my thoughts on it here); and Rebecca Sweetman has attacked the complex evidence for Early Christian architecture in Greece with insight (my thoughts on it here). There seemed little need for another book on Early Christian architecture in Greece. The field was in good hands.

All that being said, I have continued to churn out little papers and articles on the topic of Early Christian architecture and churches. Few of them have appeared in print largely owing to the vagaries of academic publishing, but all of the papers below are either forthcoming or in press except the epilogue.  Whenever possible I have posted working drafts or pre-prints to my Scribd page. I guess people can put these papers in order and make them almost like a little book.

Chapter 1: Monumentality and Early Christian Architecture. (I just uploaded this today!)

Chapter 2: Architecture, Epigraphy, and Liturgy: A Case Study from the Justinianic Isthmus.

Chapter 3: Ambivalence and Resistance in the Architectural Landscape: Another Case Study from the Isthmus of Corinth.

Chapter 4: Abandonment and Authority in the Architecture of Post-Late Antique Greece.

Epilogue: Dreams of Churches in Byzantine Greece

Maybe sometime soon, I’ll find a bit of time to write an introduction to this little pseudo-/cyber-volume that will make explicit how the various parts link together, but I feel like these chapters represent range of my thoughts on Early Christian architecture in Greece.

Here’s Chapter 1:


Discovery in Pieces

Yesterday was one of my best days ever as an archaeologist. I didn’t discover some amazing new site. And I didn’t find some amazing or valuable object.  And my day didn’t involve out witting Nazis or mummies (or zombies).

Over the last few weeks, we have worked to establish dates and architectural relationships for the various parts of the basilica at EF2 at Polis. We figured out that the narthex and the south portico of the church were added to the building most likely date to the middle years of the 7th century. We found particular types of late Cypriot Red Slip pottery in a foundation trench associated with the narthex, and we know that the south portico – a long porch build along the south side of the church – had to date to after (or the same time as) the narthex. The south portico appears to have been cut into a massive rubble fill the extended north from the south wall of the church. (We’ve tentatively argued that this rubble fill was a response to a local drainage issue.

The other phase of the church that we’ve been studying involves the building of  buttresses along the walls along the walls of the main nave. The ceramics from deposits associated with these piers also date to the 7th century, but we had not been able to associate their construction with the building of the narthex and south portico. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Scott Moore discovered a join between two pieces of a stamped Cypriot Red Slip plate. One piece came from the massive rubble course south of the basilica that narrowly pre-dates the building of the portico. The other piece of the same plate came from a foundation deposit associated with the construction of a buttress on the north wall of the nave. This sherd, then, connects the two major changes to the basilica: the addition of a narthex and portico and the reconstruction of the main nave.


The two pieces of pottery came from trenches about 15 m apart. The trench to the south of the south portico was excavated in 1985 and the trench in the nave in 1990. One sherd was inventoried as a find (which means that it stood out as something with intrinsic value) and one sherd languished in the boxes of context pottery. (We had to look through over 20,000 artifacts in the context pottery boxes to find this little guy!).

Bringing together the context pottery and the inventoried finds, two different episodes of excavation, and the narthex, portico, and buttresses of the main nave has unlocked the chronology of the church. It was a pretty good day.

Polis and Amathus

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working my way through Richard Maguire’s recent dissertation on the Late Antique Basilicas of Cyprus. While he dedicates the  main body of his dissertation to a series of nuanced case studies, the real jewel of his dissertation is the gazetteer of Cypriot churches. As long time readers of this blog know, I’ve been piddling about with a catalogue of churches on the island (it was really just a list) for years.. Maguire’s dissertation has put an end to that project (thankfully)!

One of the most immediately useful observations in Maguire’s gazetteer is that the church on the Acropolis of Amathus has a 13 x 13 square as its core. The basilica is #6 in his gazetteer and coins have dated the building to the final quarter of the 6th century.


Its 13 x 13 m core consists of the nave and aisles and is roughly similar to the core of our church in the area of EF2 at Polis. Of course, the 13 x 13 square does not align perfectly with our church, but then again, our church is a good bit rougher than the elaborate Amathus church.


What makes this parallel more compelling is that, like the Amathus Acropolis basilica, our church has south porch with four piers. It joins with a narthex that extends beyond the southern aisle. More importantly, our church appears to date – on the basis of ceramic evidence, to no earlier than the final decades of the 6th century. So our church and the church at the Acropolis at Amathus are more or less contemporary.

Water and our Basilica

While helping our ceramicist, Scott Moore, make his way through thousands of pot sherds excavated from the basilica at EF2 at Polis, I’ve been working on writing up some of the preliminary observations on the architecture of the church. Among the most interesting aspects of the the church, is how the builders managed water at the site. The position of the church perpendicular to the north slope of a hill exposed it to apparently significant flow of water. Moreover, the entire area of E.F2 seems to be riddled with well, drains, and water pipes suggesting that water management was more than just an issue for the builders of the church.

P1020936The exposed foundation wall of the south aisle of the basilica. The exposed walls running under the basilica are beneath the rubble drainage layer.

Here is what I penned in the gaps between batches of pottery of the last few days on issues of water and architecture at the basilica at EF2. It’s all provisional and a work in progress, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about the last couple of weeks here at Polis.

From as early as the Hellenistic period there is evidence for concerns about water at the area of E.F2. There are numerous wells in the area associated with the workshops to the south and west of the basilica in the Hellenistic period. The Roman period saw the construction of complex systems of water pipes associated with the paved roads and what appear to be settling basins and drains. White most of these features likely contributed to water supply for various industrial and domestic activities in the city of Polis, it is possible that they also served the important role of water management in the area of EF2. The location of EF2 on the slop of a hill likely exposed the site to the risk of season flooding especially in the event of torrential Mediterranean winter rains.

Several unusual features in the architecture of the the basilica appear designed to protect the foundations of the basilica from the flow of water south to north across the site. On the foundations, below the level of visible walls, a plaster lip protected ran along the roughly mortared foundation of field stones of both the eastern apse and the south side of the basilica. The plaster lip or rim was best preserved along the foundation of the eastern apse where it extended for approximately 15 cm. The purpose of this rim appears to be to prevent water from running down along the foundation through the less densely packed earth associated with the foundation cut. Elsewhere along the line of the foundation excavations revealed sections of foundation wall covered with moist green clay (S06.1991.8). In other places in EF2, similar clay was associated with roof fall, and the water proof character of this clay has led to its continued use to seal roofs even until relatively recent times (e.g. H10.1997.11,4 (vol 1., 55). It seems, then, that the builders of the basilica made an effort to seal the foundations of the church against both water run off from the roof of the building or the surface and the seepage of ground water.

The south side of the basilica saw a more substantial effort to manage the flow of water downslope in the area. The continued presence of a paved road along the upsloap, south side of the church and the probable existence of an open courtyard immediately to the south of the building exposed the southern foundation wall and the piers supporting the south portico to the corrosive effects of water run off. In an effort to counter this risk of water destabilizing the south foundations of the church, the builders designed the courtyard to act as a massive drain. Beneath a level of limey, packed earth which probably represented the ground surface of the courtyard, a loose level rubble which in some places exceeded a meter in depth may have functioned as a massive French drain designed to prevent water from pooling against the south wall of the church and running down running directly down the soft foundation cuts of for the walls. Instead, the porous character of the rubble level served to slow the flow of water south and perhaps even allow it to drain away prior to reaching the vulnerable south wall of the basilica.

The rubble layer is most likely contemporary with the first phase of the basilica and extends almost to the depth of the basilica foundation. Later burials have probably disturbed the integrity of the limey, packed, floor, but there nevertheless appears to be no pottery in the packing that is later than the 7th century with Cypriot Red Slip Form 9 being the latest present (in R09.1986.6,1-2). The massive leveling course of rubble below the floor packing was, in turn, cut by the foundation of the piers of the south portico. In levels associated with the foundations of the the south protico the latest material dates to between 600 and 700 and includes well-document Cypriot Red Slip Form 10. Below the level of the foundations, however, the material is slightly earlier, in general perhaps representing at late 6th to early 7th century date. This rubble level appears to sit immediately atop early Roman deposits dating to the 1st century BC to first AD and even earlier level of Hellenistic date. The diverse assemblage of fine wares, kitchen wares, and transport and utilities wares present in the massive rubble leveling course indicates that it was not only the product of a well-provisions and connected community, but that the rubble course was at least partially associated with discard from other locations in the community. 

P1020976Roman period water pipe.

The Greek Orthodox Church in Grand Forks

Since this is the Monday after Easter for my Greek Orthodox friends, I thought it was a good time to post something on the Greek Orthodox church in Grand Forks, North Dakota. One of the first things that I noticed when I got to know something about the community here in Grand Forks was the conspicuous absence of any substantial Greek population. There was no Greek church (or any kind of Orthodox congregation) and no obvious Greek names in community lore (and no Greek restaurants, businesses, or organizations). Despite the far reach of the Greek immigrant community, Grand Forks appeared to be one of the few places that did not attract a Greek population.

The agricultural economy of the region, the absence of manufactory and extractive industries, and the inhospitable climate probably could explain the absence of substantial Greek community (although one does exist in larger communities in the region like Winnipeg to the north and Duluth to the east and a church dedicated to St. Peter the Aluet serves the Greek community (as well as others) in Minot to the west.). It is worth noting, however, that the state did see Syrian, Lebanese, and Jewish communities around the turn of the century.   

Moreover, a little digging in the archives at the University of North Dakota by Daniel Sauerwein, indicated that a Greek community did exist in town, even though few traces remain. In the process of researching for a book, Daniel found a few images of the Greek church. The church was apparently moved to the corner of 4th Avenue and Walnut St. in 1958 and it functioned until 1990. 

We’re pretty sure that this is an image of the building’s interior.


The building itself was wood-framed, as one might expect, and modest in size and adornment. It is difficult to know for certain whether the Greek Orthodox community built the church new or moved into a structure built for another congregation. The absence of a steeple suggests that it might have been build for the Orthodox congregation. The church stood in the neighborhood known as Churchville and was immediately adjacent to the much more imposing United Lutheran Church and nearby the Beaux Arts (with more than a few hints of Byzantine influence) Christian Science Church. My guess is that this little church served the entire Orthodox community in the area. 



I am sure some members of the community can add to what we know about this building and it congregation (since we know next to nothing!). I have to think that some of the reason that we know so little about this church and its community is that the building has vanished.

 So, if you can add more to the story, leave a comment or hit me with a tweet. Thanks to Daniel Sauerwein for keeping his eyes peeled for information on this little community and their church! (And you’ll be hearing more about Daniel’s researches in the fall, so stay tuned!)