NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside

It was pretty exciting to read through one of the most eagerly await archaeological volumes of the last decade, Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016) published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The book is impeccably produced with lots of color, glossy pages, well-set and proofed texts, meticulous detail, and fine illustrations, maintaining the ASCSA’s standing as the most consistently elegant of the major archaeological publishers. 

The book itself is a hybrid, bridging the gap between the great second wave survey projects in Greece and more mature, contemporary attitudes to landscape and intensive pedestrian survey. Traditionally, intensive surveys in Greece are published in one of two ways: a series of articles dedicated to methods and particular periods or in a single, massive tome which approach the landscape in a diachronic way through various methods. Effie’s book is a single volume dedicated to the Medieval period from an intensive survey, and in this way is rather unique (or at very least comparable to F. Zarinebaf, J. Bennet, and J. L. Davis. 2005. A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century (2005)). Moreover, unlike Zarinebaf, Bennet, and Davis, NVAP II is strictly archaeological with only very cursory references to texts.

After an introduction of less than 60 pages, most of the book is dedicated to the intensive documentation of individual sites. This includes large and important 12th-13th century settlement site called “Site 600″ or Iraklio/Medieval or Turkish Fountain which extended over 34 ha and produced nearly 1000 potentially Medieval sherds as well as much smaller sites sometimes producing little more than a handful of Medieval fineware sherds. A number of the sites are associated with standing churches with a number of them (e.g. Site 501 and Site 509) also preserving evidence for agricultural production. What is interesting is that these sites are presented as from a survey archaeologists’ perspective with survey unit illustrations, ceramics, and brief descriptions that make almost no reference to standing architecture. In this way, Effie’s book differs from, say, Christopher Mee and Hamish Forbes’ Methana survey volume where significant attention was given to churches as architectural objects that stood apart – to some extent – from artifact level survey work. The significance of this approach in NVAP II is that it marks a shift in emphasis for Medieval archaeology in Greece away from its traditional focus on ecclesiastical architecture and toward the more mundane world of settlement. In this way, this book manifests a kind of confidence in the work of the survey and landscape archaeology which sets its own priorities and agenda without deferring too much to the past practice. 

That being said the majority of this volume is a well-presented site catalogue. This reflects in some ways the priorities of second-wave survey projects in Greece which were feeling their way forward from traditional gazetteers produced through extensive survey toward artifact level and distributional analysis. The greatest shortcoming of the book is the lack of distributional perspective that brings together the landscape of the Nemea Valley project into a single, methodologically integrated whole. While early articles from NVAP have stood as a significant contributions to the development of intensive pedestrian survey methods, this volume does not seem to return to methodology in a substantial way. This probably speaks the maturity of intensive survey in that not every presentation of survey results need be detailed treatment of methods and procedures. At the same time, I wonder whether some attention to methods might have given this book a broader relevance to current conversations about intensive survey. For example, the visibility of certain types of Medieval pottery, almost certainly shaped the kinds of landscapes that intensive survey recognized. Site size has prompted extensive methodological reflection over the past four decades and relates directly to how we understand function in the landscape. Geomorphology, routes and paths, micro-regional variations in climate, vegetation, and soils, all have shaped the distribution of artifact, settlements, and ultimately people across historical landscapes. So as much as this book reflects the growing confidence and autonomy of intensive survey as a mode for understanding the landscape, it also reflects an earlier tradition of site-based documentation with lavish catalogues, site maps, and illustrations. 

In both ways, it represents a significant contribution to the field.

Adventures in Podcasting: David Pettegrew, the Isthmus, and Corinthian Awesomeness

It was really exciting to have David Pettegrew come and hang out on the Caraheard Podcast earlier this month. For those who don’t know David, he is one of oldest professional collaborators and friends and our careers have become inexorably linked starting with the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) and continuing through the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology.

For those who don’t know, David Pettegrew teaches at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Years ago now, he came to the University of North Dakota to deliver the Cyprus Research Fund Talk titled “Setting the Stage for St. Paul’s Corinth: How an Isthmus determined the character of a Roman city”.

He’s a colleague of Jon Frey and worked at Isthmia where we overlapped with Ömür Harmanşah. David, Richard, and I are all students of Tim Gregory and worked at the Panhellenic Sanctuary at Isthmia.

We mention Tim’s publication of the Hexamilion Wall and Fortress at Isthmia, Kenchreai (and the work of Joe Rife and Sebastian Heath).

We mention the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (and we’d be remiss not to include a link to  Effie Athanassopoulos’s newest book: NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside),

We also mention John Bintliff and Anthony Snodgrass’s work in Boeotia and the Kea survey project which continues to attract scholarly attention.

If you want to know where the Kraneion basilica is. It’s here. It’s much more fun than reading about it in James Wiseman’s classic book The Land of the Ancient Corinthians

If you want to know what Cromna is or was, you have to start with this article.

We talk about Jay Noller and our methods at the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. To understand the folly of our ways (or our sneaky genius) start by reading this.

If you don’t know what slow archaeology is by now, you better ask someone.

We mention a bunch of other projects including WARP (Western Argolid Regional Project), our work on Ano Vayia as well as Tom Tartaron’s, the fort that I published with Tim Gregory on Oneion, and David’s famous “combed ware” article. For more EKAS related bibliography check out David’s bibliography at Corinthian Matters (but the link seems broken!).

Here’s a link to Pettegrew’s book, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World from University of Michigan press.

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Richard thinks a book is old school if it uses footnotes. He’s post-citational.

Here’s David’s work on the Diolkos of Corinth, and here’s a rigorously researched ethno-archaeological reenactment of moving a ship over land.

We briefly mention Bill’s work on the the Justinianic Isthmus.

Finally, here’s a link to David’s fantastic Digital Harrisburg project.

New Work at Isthmia: Old Excavations, Traces, and Memory

I was thrilled to see Jon Frey and Tim Gregory publish a lengthy article on their ongoing research at the site of Isthmia in Greece. In “Old Excavations, New Interpretations: The 2008–2013 Seasons of The Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia” (Hesperia 85 (2016) 437-490), Frey and Gregory re-examine decades old excavations around the Roman Bath and the Hexamilion wall at the Panhellenic sanctuary of Isthmia in the eastern Corinthia.

The article is remarkably rich and detailed (in the way that Hesperia articles can be) so there’s not much point for me to try to summarize it. Frey and Gregory identify some new buildings, they add to our scant knowledge about the earliest Roman phases of the re-established sanctuary, and, in general, offer evidence that makes Isthmia look more like a Panhellenic sanctuary. What is more interesting to me, is the big picture value of their work as a model for approaching older excavations without conducting massive new field work campaigns. Since I’ve started working at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus where we have worked to publish 30-year old excavations, I’ve become convinced that the future of Mediterranean archaeology is in returning to old sites with new perspectives, questions, and technology.

So here are a few observations.

1. Notebooks. Excavation produce so much information ranging from physical evidence (architecture, ceramics, scarps) to illustrations and plans and notebooks. It is hardly surprising that these artifacts can support multiple interpretations of the history and archeology of a site. This kind of work reminds us that there is not a linear relationship between excavation “data” and archaeological knowledge production. Archaeological documentation is messy, copious, and complex making old excavations not “done deals,” but abundant sources for new interpretations and new analysis. 

2. Trenches. Frey and Gregory returned to trenches that had been excavated and neglected for decades. I visited Frey a few times while he was removing weeds and straightening scarps in a trench that I had walked by dozens of times without thinking much of it. His work in these trenches, however, revealed features that the original excavators overlooked allowed for new measurements, and recognized details that had received only inconsistent reporting. For example, he recognized evidence for looter pits that the original excavators had missed, connected architectural features across multiple trenches at the site to reveal an massive porticoed gymnasium building, and identified new evidence for early Roman work at the site that previous excavators had no reason to even note in their work.

When I first started working on the notebooks at Polis-Chrysochous, I had this naive idea that I could largely reconstruct the excavation of the site from the notebooks and various plans. As archaeologists, we imagine that our documentation preserves the site even as we “destroy” physical evidence through excavation. In fact, “preservation by record” policies reflect this basic assumption about how archaeology works. A recent article, for example, celebrates this very idea and suggests that digitization will help us overcome the reality with the title: “Excavation is Destruction Digitization.” Most archaeologists know, however, that archaeological excavation is not really destruction, but the production of archaeological knowledge. While field work will always will come at a cost (both literally and figuratively in the reorganization and physical displacement of material), it seems to me that the disciplinary arguments for excavation as destruction do more to occlude alternate interpretation grounded (literally!) in the same space and documentation than to discourage careless digging. After all, the irregularities in the excavation methods used even 30 years ago at Polis are as much a source for the sites interpretation potential and vitality as carefully excavated sites present their interpretations as the natural outgrowth of rigorous methods. There’s a certain irony that sites excavated in less rigorous ways then have the potential to create more archaeological foment than those produced through the hyper-confidence of methodological rigor. Isthmia would seem to be a good example of this.

3. Memory and Architecture. Jon Frey has done significant work on the study of spolia and construction practice in Late Antiquity (we talked to him about his book on the Caraheard podcast here). Lurking in the background of this article on Isthmia is the ghostly outline of a massive porticoed gymnasium associated with athletic events at the Panhellenic sanctuary. Frey argues that the Hexamilion wall, the massive 5th-century AD fortification wall that bisected the Isthmus of Corinth, followed the outline of the gymnasium and incorporated not only spolia from this building, but also part of its foundations and walls. The reasons for this would appear to be profoundly practical. The Hexamilion was a massive building project and any opportunities to take advantage of existing structures offered significant labor savings. The use of part of the gymnasium, then, reflected the practical realities of such a massive construction project, but at the same time, it the course of the wall preserved the imprint of the gymnasium through spolia and its shape.

I have tended to think of memory in antiquity as a conscious act to commemorate an earlier monument, ritual, event, or person. In the context of Isthmia, it may be that memory of the earlier monument is less a conscious act and more like the muscle memories that we develop as we type, ride a bike, or even go about our daily lives. We remember how to hit the brake pedal at a stoplight, but we don’t consciously think “I remember last time I was hear I moved my right foot juuuuust so to slow down the car.” Instead, we just act and move in a way that consistently produces certain results. The practical element of memory preserve the outline of an earlier building in the same way that a palimpsest preserved the record of an earlier text. This commemorative practice was not bound up in a series of conscious efforts to preserve the past, but in a kind of muscle memory embodied in the practice and contingencies of construction.

Just as excavations and their documentation produce evidence for past practices that do not necessarily lead inevitably to certain conclusions, construction practices in antiquity preserve the traces of past landscapes in unexpected and perhaps even unintentional ways. Frey and Gregory weave together these two kinds of practices – one modern and one ancient – in a paper that should serve as a model for archaeological work at old sites in the present.

Review of Mike Dixon’s Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 138-196 BC

I started this review about six months ago, and then a million and one things intervened. The review is now done (just in time for me to get another book to review) and a working draft is at the end of this post.

One thing that Dixon’s book did get me thinking about – other than Corinth and the Corinthia – is the recent boom in interest in the Hellenistic world. When I was in graduate school, the next big thing was Late Antiquity, and this was really the long tail of a small, but influential body of scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s that inspired a generation of Late Antiquitists. These Late Antiquitists, in turn, produced a generation of graduate students who finished their degrees in the last decade of the 20th and first decades of the 21st centuries. Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity (1971) and the late antique contributors to Alexander Khazdan’s Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (1991) provide useful bookends to the formative phase in the development of Late Antiquity as a boom field. 

I’m not as familiar with the develop of the Hellenistic world as a field, but my two main regions of study have show and significant uptick in the number of dissertations and scholarship focusing on the Hellenistic era. Much of the scholarship with which I am familiar is archaeological and I suspect that Susan Rotroff’s work has had a significant impact in our view of the archaeology of Hellenistic Greece and Aegean. As far as Hellenistic Cyprus, there is an impressive cohort of freshly minted Ph.D.s ready to write the history of this period on the island. If I was an investor in academic futures, I’d be all-in on the Hellenistics, right now.

So Dixon’s work represents the first in what will most likely be an impressive groundswell of scholarship on Hellenistic Greece and Hellenistic Eastern Mediterranean more broadly. As such, it should be seen as a useful bellwether.

The Long Dark Tunnel of Sabbatical

I have slowly become aware this holiday season that my sabbatical is half over. I’ve done some of things that I pledged not to do, but avoided other pitfalls, and now I have to try to focus of the next 9 months to ensure that I survive sabbatical with my motivation intact.

I was particularly heartened to read Sara Perry’s recent post about her sabbatical. In it, she said that she focused part of her sabbatical on being quiet. I’m not really sure what that means in her particular context (as readers of this blog probably can surmise, I’m not a super quiet person), but it led me to think about how focused I can be on making a product. Every day, I go through this annoying process of reprioritizing my work based on (largely self-imposed) deadlines, goals, and schedule. For example, some tasks, like basic writing, can be interrupted and done with distractions. Other tasks, like careful editing, can’t be interrupted, but can only be sustained for about 2 or 3 hours at a time. Anyway, this process of prioritization is geared primarily to getting things done, rather than doing things.

This is where Perry’s idea of quiet comes in. When I become so focused on accomplishing particular goals, I find that I lose my ability to enjoy the tasks required to complete those goals. For example, I like to read, but when I read to glean bits of information from a book or an article, I find that I’m not very engaged with the reading process and more determined to find the answer to some question. This urgency to complete tasks, of course, probably isn’t a bad thing until it becomes all consuming like I fear it will become over the last 9 months of my leave. So, I’m going to focus less of my time on making noise (well, unless that means playing my stereo at socially unacceptable volumes), and more of my energy on just doing work.

My experience with this approach is that doing work, for me at least, is less gratifying than the tremendous rush that comes from completing a project, but also involves less of a let down. The famous burn-out/blow-out comes only from the exhausted, self-congratulatory let down when a task is completed. Making the hamster wheel turn, on the other hand, can feel endless and pointless, but that very feeling encourages me to focus on finding the pleasure in the little things rather than the almost incomprehensible big picture. So, if I seem a bit quieter (that is less productive in a big picture way) over the next 6 to 9 months, it’s not because I’m hopelessly behind, frantically working to meet some deadline, or flailing about in a endless reprioritization loop. It’s because I’m trying to find quiet again and enjoying the work that I do.

That being said, my tasks over the next 9 months will focus around 3 major projects (leavened by the usually gaggle of ankle-bitting obligations!):

1. PKAP II. My colleagues and I managed to get PKAP I through the publication process this fall and while it’s tempting to being “operation shutdown,” I know that I really need to keep focused and get the second book which documents five seasons of excavation at the site into proper order.

This involves making sure that we have good data from our last excavation season in 2012 at the site of Pyla-Vigla. We are pretty confident that our work in 2012 confirms and strengthens the chronology revealed in our previous two seasons excavating at the site. We have a working draft of a manuscript that documents this excavation, and now I need to collate that with our more recent work.

I’ll also need to return to my work on the Late Roman room associated with the Early Christian basilica at the site of Koutsopetria. This was excavated in the 1990s and will be published with our one season of excavation at the site in 2008. We managed to refine the chronology of the building on slightly and to document a bit more thoroughly the events associated with the room’s decline and abandonment. Beyond that, our work mostly consists of putting the architecture of the room and its wall painting in the context of church architecture on Cyprus.

2. Polis Preparation. With any luck, I’ll have a three week season at the site of Polis-Chrysochous this summer that hopefully involves putting the finishing touches on a major publication of the Late Antique phases of the South Basilica there. To be able to maximize my time in Polis, we need to work out the stratigraphy for the last few trenches of EF2 and the trenches associated with Roman period site of EF1.

More important than that, we need to make sure that our work over the last four years is ready for publication. To do that, we have to complete the manuscript that we drafted about 6 months ago and figure out where we need to fill in gaps during the field season. With a little luck, that manuscript might be submitted by the spring with the understanding that for it to be publishable, a few loose ends need cleaning up.

3. Man Camp Writing. With crashing oil prices and budget cuts among the major companies active in the Bakken, I have the creeping fear that the boom will be over before any of our major publications on our work appears. That’s probably unfounded, but it does encourage me to stay focused on tasks associated with my three major Bakken Boom writing projects:

a. Article. Our major scholarly product, representing the first 2.5 years of field work, is currently under revision. I’ve made some pretty major cuts, reorganized and hopefully strengthened the argument, and, most located our work more fully in the conversation about settlement, domesticity, and masculinity in the U.S. With any luck and with the approval of my coauthors, we’ll be able to resubmit this article in the next few weeks. 

b. The Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch. After a few weeks of cajoling, my co-author, Bret Weber, convinced me that we needed to add another loop to our itinerary. This look will run from Watford City south to Belfield, east to Dickinson, and then north on ND Route 22 through Killdeer and Mandaree on the Ft. Berthold Reservation. In fact, he’s scouted this route over the winter break and I’ll hopefully be able to do a follow up run through the area in late January. With this last leg of the itinerary being complete, we’ll work on producing a final copy and figuring out where to send the product before I head to the Mediterranean this summer.

c. The Bakken Boom Book. This massive tome which includes papers by nearly 20 contributors is out in peer review right now and it’ll need attention as soon as it returns to my desk in the late winter. I’m very pleased with how the book is shaping up and excited for it keep moving along without delays.

Other projects:

1. Publishing. As readers of this blog surely know, I have started a small press called the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. I’m probably too excited about it, but our first book, Punk Archaeology, currently ranks #1,191,400 on Amazon’s sellers list, right behind (sort of) Eric Cline’s 1177 B.C. This month, our second book will appear, called Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology edited by myself and Brandon Olson, and our third book will appear in April! 

2. Book Reviewing. I’m embarrassed to say that I have not yet finished my review of Michael Dixon’s Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 B.C., but it’s almost done, which is good because there’s another book in the way! I’ll, as per usual, post my completed, pre-publication draft here.

3. Paper Giving. Next week, my colleagues on the Western Argolid Regional Project are giving a paper at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in New Orleans. I can’t take much credit for that fine paper, but the project directors are accomplished writers and the paper is entertaining! I would love to say that we’ll post it online, but with increasing restrictions on the dissemination of archaeological information on the internet, I don’t think the project directors will feel confident posting the paper. So, if you’re at the Archaeological Institute of America meeting, go and check it out. Nakassis, James, and Gallimore is better live anyway.

I’ll be giving a paper in Boston in February at the Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future workshop though, which will be a major update to my paper given last spring at the University of Massachusetts and revised as “Slow Archaeology” for North Dakota Quarterly.

4. Serving. One of aspects to my sabbatical is that I insisted on continuing to fulfill some service obligations both on campus and in the community. I get the impression that this is quite unorthodox. That being said, our campus is currently oppressed by the tyranny of a faction, and it would seem irresponsible to leave the situation wholly unopposed, for many of the boldest spirits have left the university, quit academia, or worsewhile the remaining faculty, the readier they were to be slaves, were raised the higher by wealth and promotion. (Ok, that was overly dramatic, but that was called love for the workers in song, probably still is for those of them left.) So, I’m on some committees and doing that thing on campus.

I’m also serving on the North Dakota Humanities Council and the State Historic Preservation Board. Fun work that would be a shame to abandon to the selfish delights of sabbatical.

5. Reading. One of my colleagues (of a rather Sallustian comportment when it comes to campus politics) remarked at a holiday party that he was working to get back to the basics and do things like… read. I’ve been haunted by these words since then and plan to redouble my commitment to reading and listening to what books have to say, rather than mining them for my own, largely inconsequential purposes.

6. Running. I need to write a blog post on this, but I’ve started running. Not far, not fast, and not with any great purpose, but my goal is to run a 5k in late September. Right now I’m nursing an aggravated adductor in my left leg, but once that calms down, I’ll be back in my shoes making steady progress.

A Corinthian Cemetery Conflict

One of the great things about working in and around Corinth is the intensity of the archaeological rivalries. Scholars in the Corinthia and endlessly “getting up in each other’s business.” Over the years this has produced some tremendously exciting, public disputes including the famous “Scotton on Rothaus on Scotton on Rothaus” debate of 2002. So, when an article has a title “A debate with K. W. Slane” and turns Slane’s 2012 article into a question, it is impossible as not to get excited (M.E.H. Walbank, “Remaining Roman in Death at Corinth: A Debate with Kathleen Slane,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 27 (2014), 403-417; K.W. Slane, “Remaining Roman in Death at an Eastern Colony,” JRA 25 (2012), 442-455) . This is like a classic Philadelphia Big 5 basketball game from the 1980s. The stakes are low, but the intensity is high.

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I was attracted to the article no only because of the opportunity to get front row seats to a Corinthian showdown, but also because I’ve been thinking about how communities on Cyprus construct identities. To do this, I’ve been looking at Late Roman church architecture and ceramics, particularly table wares. You can read a draft of my thoughts here and publish a response to it on your own blog.

Archaeologists have worked at Corinth and the Corinthia more broadly for over 100 years. As a result, the archaeological assemblage from this region is massive and complex. Roman period graves and tombs, for example, must number in the hundreds, and present an appealing body of evidence for how Corinthian denizens wanted to represent themselves at an important, and final, stage of their lives. In particular, tombs have become an important for unraveling the complex ethnic identity of Roman Corinthians. After the city’s destruction in 146 BC and later refoundation as a Roman colony, scholars have debated the relationship of Corinthian elites to the city’s Roman and pre-Roman past. Did the new Corinthian elites want to emphasize their Roman-ness and ties to Italy, or did they want to appropriate the heroic past of the Greek city? 

Slane argues in her 2012 article that Corinthian elites showed a clear affinity for Roman forms suggesting that Early Roman Corinthians continued to look to Italy as they constructed their new Corinthian identities. Walbank suggests, in contrast, that Slane has misread or misunderstood the evidence and, instead, has found much more interleaving of Italian and broadly Greek features in these tombs. In many cases, the debate comes down to different interpretations of features like benches, motifs in wall painting, and funerary practices. The evidence is often ambiguous and fragmentary. 

Funerary customs as well as urban architecture, ceramics, and religion all seem to point to a complex and, at times, pragmatic interleaving of Roman and Greek aspects in Corinthian culture. On the one hand, some features of the Greek city persisted prominently in the Roman landscape (for example, the ancient water sources around the city center) and could not be easily overwritten. Building practices, natural resources, and regional economic connections likewise shaped the kinds of decisions that the new arrivals and elites could make as to how they presented themselves to their peers and their communities. On the other hand, the authority of the newly arrived political elites in the city depended heavily on their ties to power in Italy and at Rome. In this context, it would make sense for archaeologists to identify ways in which this group demonstrated their positions of authority and the larger mechanisms of power.

Of course, looking for the Greek and Roman at Corinth runs the risk of breaking Corinthian culture into a fairly simple binary, but I suppose this is a start. Issues of dating tombs and their reuse adds practical complexity to any debate concerning what the builders or owners sought to express in the tomb’s features and decorations. Finally, I wondered a bit about the reception of the tombs and their intended audience. Ultimately, reception is as much the context for ethnic representation as any essentialized definition of “Greek” or “Roman” features. After all, Walbank notes that many features in Corinthian tombs appear throughout the Eastern Mediterranean in the loosely defined “Hellenistic world.” I’d have liked to understood how the tombs around Corinth compare to those, say, around Argos or Athens which were much more likely to be points of reference for travelers in the region than tombs in Asia Minor, the Levant, or even south Italy.  

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In any event, ultimately deciding whether the Corinthian elites thought of themselves as “Roman/Italian” or “Greek” or “Corinthian” based on burial customs is probably a difficult, if not impossible task. What is more interesting is understanding how Corinthian elites distinguished themselves from other local elites, competing groups, and other, less elite, residents of the region, and the diversity of media, motifs, and practices at their disposal. Walbank gets to some of this in her article. The best part, however, remains the competitive spirit of Corinthian scholarship. Even if you don’t care at all about funerary practices in the Roman colony (and it’s fine if you don’t, I promise), the article provides a front row seat the kind of scholarly debate that makes Corinth such an exciting place to work and follow!  

Connectivity in Cyprus and Corinth

Over the last few weeks, David Pettegrew and I have been working on an article that compares finds data from the Corinthia and from our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. We were particularly interested in understanding how the types of ceramics that we can identify in survey assemblages shapes the types of economic relationships we can recognize in the Eastern Mediterranean. As one might expect, our focus has been on the Late Roman world, and we have been particularly interested in the difference between the kind of economic relationships manifest in assemblages comprised of highly visible amphoras and those manifest in highly diagnostic Late Roman red slip wares. The entire project is framed by Horden and Purcell’s notion of connectivity and that’s the unifying theme of the volume to which this paper will contribute.

The paper is exciting because it represents a step beyond the work that David has been doing on his book on the Isthmus of Corinth. I’ve read a draft of the book and it’ll be exciting. It also represents the next step for our work with the Pyla-Koutsopetria data. It is significant that all of our survey data upon which this paper is based, is available on Open Context. Our book should be available in time for the holidays. 

The draft below is 95% of the way there with only a few niggling citations to clean up. Enjoy and, as always, any comments or critiques would be much appreciated!

Hellenistic Corinth

Over the last few weeks I’ve bee reading Mike Dixon’s new book: Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 BC for a book review. As with so many of my plans, I had hoped to have a draft of the book review done by the end of September. It doesn’t look like that will happen, so instead, I’ll write a blog post that can serve as a rough draft of the review and to capture my impressions on the book before they get washed out by a million other little projects.

Dixon’s work on the Hellenistic Corinth was eagerly anticipated. His 2000 dissertation on interstate arbitration in the northeastern Peloponnesus became a convenient guide to the unpublished antiquities and general topography of the southeastern Corinthia. It was among the finest of a group of topographic dissertations focusing on the northeastern Peloponnesus in Greek antiquity. In this work he demonstrated that he was a conscientious reader of archaeological landscapes, and he brought this same care to his reading of the political landscape of the Hellenistic Corinthia.

There is much to like in this book.

First, it appears at a time when the Hellenistic world is enjoying a renaissance and the archaeology of Hellenistic Corinthia will get its share. The publication of Sarah James’ dissertation, the imminent publication of the Rachi settlement above the sanctuary at Isthmia, and David Pettegrew’s soon to be published monograph on the historical periods on the Isthmus, and even my own modest contributions to the fortification and topography of the Late Classical and Hellenistic Corinthia demonstrate the extent of scholarly interest in this period and this place. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Hellenistic period is the new Late Antiquity. 

Dixon’s book provides a single destination for the literary sources central to the basic narrative of the Hellenistic period at Corinth. This alone makes the book valuable to scholars of the Corinthia. Dixon’s argument that the Corinthian polis negotiated its relationship with its Macedonian rulers through the strategic deployment of eunoia, or reciprocal goodwill, is likely to attract critique, but it is consistent with how scholars like John Ma have understood the relationship between cities and Hellenistic rulers.

Dixon’s book is explicitly and almost exclusively political in scope, and he creatively weaves together the admittedly limited sources for the city’s political life throughout this period. At times, Dixon’s work feels a bit speculative. For example, his efforts to understand why Corinth did not return the actor Thessalos who had fled to Corinth after angering Phillip II for attempting to arrange a marriage alliance on Alexander’s behalf. Dixon offers several possible scenarios to explain why Corinth defied Phillip’s request despite having a Macedonian garrison there. Dixon proposes (albeit gently) that Thessalos could be a Corinthian and this accounted for his confidence in fleeing to the city. The reason for Corinth’s failure to comply and endangering eunoia with the Macedonian dynasty remains unclear, and Dixon’s speculation adds little substantive to his arguments. In fact, if more evidence existed for Corinth during this period, it would be tempting to reject the historicity of the Thessalos affair and the letter of Phillip as many scholars have and move on. In Dixon’s defense, he marks his treatment of this affair as speculative, and I tend to appreciate his willingness to explore the limited sources fully, but to others these red herrings may detract from his overall arguments.

More problematic in Dixon’s work is his tendency to read the behavior of the city as monolithic in its motivation. For example, I struggled to discern the strategy of eunoia from the goals of the Corinthian state. Even when a Macedonian garrison watched over the city of Acrocorinth, there must have existed factions within the Corinthian demos who sought not only different ends but also different means to these end. For example, in the complex political wrangling that involved Corinth’s relationship with the Achaean League and the political influence of Aratos of Sikyon, some of Corinth’s vacillating might reveal political factions within the city who had varied interests rather than the pivot of the entire city based on proximate military or diplomatic threats. 

While we lack the sources to confirm the existence of these factions, Dixon’s reading of the Corinthian politics assumes certain strategic understandings of power relations in the Hellenistic world. In recent years, the study of Hellenistic diplomacy and practical political theory has enjoyed renewed attention. My entrance into these debates came through Michael Fronda’s book on the diplomatic moves of Hannibal and the Greek cities of south Italy during the Second Punic War. Dixon’s book and arguments would have been stronger had he engaged some of this recent scholarship more fully to frame his work in a larger historiographic and theoretical context. Whether this would have revealed more nuanced readings of Corinth’s diplomatic history is difficult to know, but it certainly would have linked the history of this important city more clearly to ongoing discussions on interstate relations in the ancient world. 

I would have also enjoyed a more thorough treatment of archaeological work outside of the immediate environs of the city. Dixon’s dissertation and experience excavating at Corinth demonstrated his archaeological chops, and he dedicates a chapter to the archaeology of the Hellenistic period on the Isthmus. Most this chapter focused on major monuments and sanctuaries, and most of his critical engagement with recent archaeological work in the region appears only in his footnotes. For example, it would have been useful to understand how Dixon understood David Pettegrew’s recent skepticism toward the economic significance of the diolkos. I have also valued Dixon’s take on the various remains fortifications from the Late Classical and Hellenistic period throughout the Corinthia. Understanding the strategies employed by various Macedonian monarchs (and invading armies) to fortify or garrison the city’s chora might provide insights into how recognized Corinth’s military value in a regional context as well as their approach to protecting the city’s  economic foundation in the countryside.

In general, my desire for greater attention to archaeological detail and efforts to connect Corinthian diplomatic practices to ongoing discussions within the field reflect more my interest and the book that I’d like to see, than any shortcoming on Dixon’s part. 

Finally, (and I say this with the trepidation of someone who just published a book) I wish these Routledge books were better copy edited. While copy editing problems never obscured the meaning of the text, they were frequent enough to be distracting. Things like this, however, do not detract from the book’s over all value. It’ll be the first book on a new shelf in my library ready to receive the fruits of the impending Hellenistic revival.   

Communities of Practice in Late Antique Roman North Africa

One the best things about being a sabbatiquol is getting a chance to make a dent in my backlog of reading. This week, I pushed on through Leslie Dossey’s Peasant and Empire in Christian North Africa (Berkeley 2010). I am only 5 years late!

As you might guess, I read the book as I am collecting my thoughts and citation for a short article with David Pettegrew comparing evidence for connectivity in the Eastern Corinthia (via EKAS data) and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus (via PKAP data).  David and I will, more or less, follow current trends in discussions of Late Roman trade, but trying to find the fine line between older arguments that recognize most ancient economic activity as state sponsored and more recent arguments that see the economic structure of the ancient world outlined in a series of relationships between interdependent, but relatively autonomous microregions. Juxtaposing these two understandings, of course, implies more of a dichotomy than actually exists. As I argued last week, there is an issue of visibility that complicates matters. Economic activity that took place at a scale sufficiently large to be visible was likely mediated by the state. In fact, most of our typologies of ceramics – particularly transport amphora from Late Antiquity – focus on vessels used for the distribution of agricultural goods on a very large scale. In fact, the scale alone the massive quantities of highly visible Late Roman amphoras compromises an romantic (and frankly silly) notion of an economy powered exclusively by small scale cabboteurs carrying a few amphoras from each port of call.  

Dossey’s book sets out one way to understand the relationship between individual communities and large-scale trade in the Mediterranean by arguing that indigenous communities (i.e. communities of not fully Romanized “peasants” in imperial North Africa) acquired growing access the diagnostic Late Roman material over the course of Late Antiquity. This access reflected both change in the status of peasants and, more importantly, the change in consumption patterns. The access peasants had to material associated in earlier periods with Roman or thoroughly Romanized populations of North Africa reflected decisions on the part of the Roman policy and peasant communities. The Roman and Romanized populations depended upon, the consumption of red slip pottery, as a marker of distinction and elite status during the initial centuries of Roman rule in North Africa. This occurred because the Romans undermined the traditional land tenure, village settlement structure, and production patterns in the region and drew peasants onto larger estates where the Romans could exert considerably more control over peasant consumption patterns through social pressures and the increasingly monetized nature of the Roman economy that focused on production for urban elites and export.

For Dossey, then, Roman rule led not to depopulation – as some have argued – but the collapse of an identifiable rural signature for the non-Roman population. The “reappearance” of the rural population in Late Antiquity occurred not because peasants began to reoccupy the countryside, as some have argued, but because of the breakdown of Roman social, economic, and – at least during the 3rd century – political organization. This breakdown had an economic impact in that it motivated the redevelopment of rural industry as it sought to fill the gap left by the larger disrupted economic relationships. The development of rural industry and the breakdown of traditional social and political order also created space for changes in peasant consumption. Not only did peasants have greater access to material, but they also took the opportunity to subvert weakening social pressure by adopting increasingly Roman habits.

While she doesn’t articulate it specifically in this way, Dossey describes Roman and Late Roman consumption patterns (and attendant archaeological visibility) in North Africa as a function of communities of practice. I’ve been messing with these ideas over the last year or so as a way to understand variation in Late Roman ceramic assemblages across the island of Cyprus. Our site at Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, showed a far greater variety of imported fine wares than, say, the site of Polis-Chrysochous on the western side of the island. Both sites showed signs of 6th century economic prosperity, but it manifest in substantially different assemblages of pottery. 

The idea that assemblages are not exclusively representative of access to materials, but also represent decisions by communities adds a level of complexity to my own tendency toward systemic arguments. Both the Eastern Corinthia and Pyla-Koutsopetria are areas that show significant engagement with the economic power of the Late Roman state. At the same time, both areas show distinct assemblages of table and fine ware that hint at the workings of communities there.  

Late Roman Economy and Formation Processes

I’ve spent some quality time with the most recent volume of Late Antique Archaeology this past month in preparation for writing a short contribution with David Pettegrew on connectivity in the Late Roman eastern Mediterranean. We plan to compare the Late Roman assemblages produced by two survey projects:  Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Project and Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeology Project. An important component of both assemblages is Late Roman amphoras: EKAS produced substantial quantities of Late Roman 2 Amphora probably produced in the Argolid; PKAP produced quantities of Late Roman 1 Amphora produced both on Cyprus and in southern Cilicia. We hope to discuss how the concentrations of these common transport vessels reflected and complicated how we understand economic patterns in the Late Antiquity.

Over the past half-century two basic models for the Late Roman economy have emerged. The earlier models saw the state as the primary engine for trade in antiquity. More recently, however, scholars have argued that the core feature of ancient trade is small-scale interaction between microregions across the Mediterranean basin. While there is undoubtedly some truth in both models, the latter has substantially more favor among scholars at present and the volume dedicated to connectivity focuses on the kind of small-scale interregional exchange that created a network of social, economic, and even cultural connections that defined the ancient Mediterranean world. The classic question introduced to complicate our view of ancient connectivity is: if the ancient Mediterranean is defined by these small-scale connections, then why did the political, economic, social, and even cultural unity of the communities tied to the Middle Sea collapse with the fall of Roman political organization in Late Antiquity?

Figure4 18

This is where David and I want to introduce the complicating matter of formation process archaeology. The substantial assemblages of Late Roman amphora represent the accumulation of discard from two “nodes” within the Late Antique economic network. These two nodes, however, are particularly visible because of the substantial concentration of a class of transport vessel.

These transport vessels most likely served to transport supplies to imperial troops either stationed in the Balkans or around the Black Sea, or in the case of the Eastern Korinthia, working to refortify the massive Hexamilion Wall that ran the width of the Isthmus of Corinth or stationed in its eastern fortress near the sanctuary of Isthmia. The visibility of these two areas depends upon a kind of artifact associated with a kind of exchange. As David has noted the surface treatments associated with LR2 amphora make them highly diagnostic in the surface record. LR1s, in turn, have highly diagnostic, twisted, handles that make them stand out from a surface assemblage dominated by relatively undifferentiated body sherds. In other words, these amphora assemblages represent a visible kind of economic activity.

The impact of this visible type of economic activity on our understanding of Late Roman connectivity is complex. On the one hand, the kind of persistent, low-level, economic connections associated with most models of connectivity are unlikely to leave much evidence on the surface. The diverse and relatively small group of very diverse amphoras, for example, found upon the coasting vessel at Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus would have been deposited at numerous small harbors along its route. Moreover, the fluidity of the networks that characterized connectivity would have made the routes of caboteurs irregular and contingent on various economic situations throughout the network of relationships. This variability and the small-scale of this activity is unlikely to have created an archaeologically visible assemblage at any one point on these routes. More than this, overland trade in wine or olive oil may not have used amphoras at all further impairing the archaeological visibility of the kind of low-level connectivity characteristic of Mediterranean exchange patterns. Between ephemeral containers and variable, low-density scatters, the regular pattern of archaeological exchange characterizing connectivity will never be especially visible in the landscape.

In contrast, imperial provisioning requirements, fueled for example by the quaestura exercitus, would present exceptionally visible assemblages of material. The interesting thing, to me, is that the amphoras visible on the surface in the Korinthia and at Koutsopetria  are not what is being exchanged, but the containers in which exchange occurs. The material exchanged, olive oil and wine, are almost entirely invisible in the archaeological records on their own. The visibility of these two places reflects the presence of outlets for a region’s produce. The produce itself, however, leaves very little trace, and we have to assume that networks that integrated microregions across the Mediterranean functioned to bring goods from across a wide area to a particular site for large-scale export.

The collapse of these sites of large-scale export during the tumultuous 7th and 8th centuries did not make trade between microregions end, but it made it more contingent and less visible, as I have argued for this period on Cyprus. The absence of large accumulations of highly diagnostic artifact types in one place represent a return to our ability to recognize normal patterns of Mediterranean exchange as much as the disruption of this exchange. The decline of these sites both deprived archaeologists of visible monuments of exchange and ancient communities of a brief moment of economic stability within longstanding contingent networks.