Coins, Raids, and Dates in 7th Century Cyprus

I plan to dedicate most of this week to putting words on the page for an article on settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries. The article will start with a brief treatment of the difficulties associated understanding settlement in this period. These difficulties which range from problems with the ceramic chronology to the dependence on poorly understood historical events to date archaeological evidence make the second half of the 7th century a particularly opaque period in the history of Cyprus.

The first issue that I’m working to tackle is what I’ve termed “the Heraclius problem”.   The emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) yas always had a special place in the history of Cyprus. One of the first moves in the future emperor’s revolt was securing the island of Cyprus in 608 at which time he began to mint coins in his own name on the island. His efforts to secure Cyprus revealed an understanding of the island’s strategic significance for controlling the eastern Mediterranean. Heraclius’s appreciation of the island’s strategical value continued in his conduct of the Persian Wars. The island represented an important staging area for Roman forces cycling in and out of the east. The importance of the island as a base for campaigns in Syria, Egypt, and southern Asia Minor likely accounted for the interest shown by Arab forces in the middle decades of the 7th century and their eventual stationing of a garrison on Cyprus, probably on Paphos.

One result of the island’s special relationship with Heraclius and the key role that it played as a staging area for 7th century campaigns in the Levant is the ubiquity of coins minted during the reign of Heraclius. In fact, coins minted under Heraclius are the most common issues from the 5th-7th century on the island. This likely reflects the issuing of coins to pay troops moving back and forth through the island and the coins minted by Heraclius on the island from 608-610. Coins from Heraclius’s successor Constans II (r. 641-668) are almost as common. The number of coins drops precipitously after the reign of Constans II largely owing to the decline of regional mints and the political and economic ambiguity of the island as it passed into the strange condominium period during which both Arabs and Byzantines had some authority on the island. 

The abrupt drop in coins after the reign of Heraclius and Constans II poses an interesting problem for archaeology on the island. Because the number of coins declined so dramatically, we can probably assume that coins of Heraclius stayed in circulation for at least a generation, if not more. As a result, the use of coins of Heraclius to date archaeological features is a particular challenge. In the archaeology of Cyprus, however, this is a common occurrence. For example, coins of Heraclius date at least a dozen of the 70-odd Early Christian basilicas on the island. In most cases on Cyprus, the evidence from ceramics or other datable artifacts from stratigraphic contexts does not accompany the evidence from coins. Coins alone appear to date the structures. 

The use of coins to date buildings, destruction levels, and stratigraphy is problematic on archaeological grounds. Despite the appeal of coins as firmly dated artifacts, they are only useful if they are the latest object in a level. Moreover, the absence of coins from the 8th century on the island means that any dating by coins alone becomes problematic because of the uneven supply of currency to the island.

The use of coins to date these basilicas to the middle decades of the 7th century reinforces arguments for the collapse of Cypriot settlement and society at this time. In particular, the coins of Heraclius tend to support arguments from the destruction of these buildings as a result of the Arab raids on the island around 650. Of the 70-odd basilicas on the island, excavators have argued that a third of them were damaged or fell out of use over the second half of the 7th century and attributed this trend to the Arab raids. 

I sometimes joke with my ceramicist friends that our continued efforts to trace the use and production of traditional Late Roman red-slipped wares and storage amphora into the 8th century will eventual force us to change the dates on some well-known emperors. The “funny” is that I assume we can use ceramics to date coins and then to date political events just as coins have often been used to date ceramics. The ongoing revision of ceramic chronologies and a more critical treatment how coins work in an archaeological context are important steps in understanding 7th century settlement on the island.

The Narthex at the South Basilica at Polis on Cyprus

After a two week hiatus to work on the preliminary report from our work in the man camps, I’ve been able to return to my preliminary report on our work at the South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. I’ve managed to pull together much of the work that we’ve done over the past few study seasons into a single document and have begun to shuffle the various parts into some kind of rational order. In the process of doing this, I always discover little issues that require additional research or documentation. This week I had to think more carefully about the narthex and apse of the South Basilica. So today, I’ll amuse you with a brief discussion considering the arrangement of the narthex. Next week, I’ll muse on the apse.

Figure 1 wrc3

We have assigned the narthex to the second phase of the building on the basis of its relationship to the south portico. Material from beneath the south portico is contemporary with material associated with what we believe to be a foundation cut along the west wall of the narthex. This material is all 7th century and seems to date to about a half-century or so later than the first phase of the building. The challenge, then, is that we have to imagine the first phase of the basilica at Polis without a narthex. 

Churches without narthexes are rare on Cyprus. There are, however, two from the nearby site of Peyia. The Baptistery Basilica at Peyia lacks a narthex, but the irregular west wall of the church hints that the epikopeion complex to the west made it impossible to construct a narthex in the narrow space. A similar concession to space probably accounts for the rather irregular shape of the narthex at the Chrysopolitissa basilica in Paphos. For the Baptistery Church at Peyia, the location of the baptistery to the south of this building hints that this building may not have been a typical church and was arranged to serve the needs of the baptismal rite rather than the standard liturgy.

 

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

(From R. Maguire, Late Antique Basilicas on Cyprus. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of East Anglia 2012).

To the east of this church stood the Central Basilica at Peyia. This church has generally been dated to the 6th century and perhaps the reign of Justinian owing to its centrally placed ambo and use of Proconnesian marble. In place of a traditional narthex, this church had a small, but elaborate atrium. The location of the earlier Baptistery Basilica to the west may have made it difficult to build both an atrium and a narthex for this church. The decision, then, was to include an open atrium rather than traditional enclosed narthex spanning the western side of the building.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

(From Maguire 2012)

DSC 0213View of the Baptistery and Central Basilica from the West

The decision to forego a traditional narthex in the relatively elaborate Central Basilica may suggest that the narthex was not an absolute requirement for liturgical practices on Cyprus.

Other examples of churches on Cyprus without narthexes are relatively rare. On the Karpas the two churches at Aphendrika (the Asomatos and Panayia) may have lacked narthexes in their earliest phase as perhaps did the church at Bedestan in Nicosia, but short of systematic excavation this will remain an open question. The earliest phase of the basilica at Maroni-Petrera appears to have lacked a narthex, but the early (5th c?) date of this building and its generally irregular shape makes it difficult to associate with other churches on the island in general. 

The absence of a narthex in the first phase of the South Basilica appears to be a genuine anomaly on Cyprus. The presence of a major road some 10 m to the west of the basilica’s west wall might have left an informal open space near its western entrances making the formal, covered space of a narthex unnecessary. It is interesting that the addition of the narthex coincided with the addition of the south portico which opened onto what may have been a walled courtyard to the south of the building. A tiny fragment of wall that leans against the eastern most wall of the south portico dates the east wall of the courtyard to after the construction of the south portico. 

So, perhaps the first phase of the church simply relied upon open space or a roughly enclosed courtyard to the west of the church that some time later was replaced with a formal narthex. The courtyard, as a result, was shifted to the south of the church and complemented with the south portico. It is tempting to see the atrium or open courtyard as serving an important function. If our reconstruction is correct, the south atrium would have opened onto a major east-west road through the neighborhood. The newly constructed narthex would have provided access to this courtyard or atrium through the southwest room which linked the narthex to the south portico. Paradoxically, then, the need for an open space around the basilica may have been more important than the somewhat more formal and covered narthex. 

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.)

9:35
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.)

10:00
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.

Enjoy:

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.

Amathusacropolis

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.

Ef2polisbasilica13m

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

EF2BasilicaDetail

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.

TheSherd

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.

AmathusAcropolis

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.

EF2PolisBasilica13m

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.