Spiros Marinos

This weekend, I heard the sad news that Spiros Marinos had died. Anyone who has spent time working with Tim Gregory in the Corinthia, or on one the many projects related to the sites of Isthmia, Kenchreai, or the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, or has come through the village of Ancient Corinth and stayed at Rooms Marinos encountered Spiros. He was the patriarch and founder of Rooms Marinos and was a constant at the hotel and in the village for all of my decade and a half of time spent in the Corinthia. This weekend I thought about Spiros some and remembered some of the ways in which he made my life and time in the Corinthia better. 

First, whenever we as archaeologist began to either feel bad about how many hours we were being asked to work or began to feel too good about our long days, we could look a Spiros as an instant corrective to our self pity or congratulations. It was a rare night that we headed away from the dinner table and Spiros was not still up and working. Each morning (including some inhumane hours kept by a particular archaeological survey), Spiros was up setting the table and bringing out the food. When the hotel was crowded with an archaeological team, a study tour, and various tourists, he appeared in constant motion. He worked long hours and whenever someone quips about the laziness of the Greeks (especially in light of the recent financial crisis), my mind turns to Spiros and the Marinos family.

I always appreciated his genuine hospitality offered mainly through simple gestured. There was nothing more pleasant than to be offered a piece of fruit on a hot afternoon or to be teased as I groggily attempted to navigate my breakfast after a late night. When I’d come down to the hotel from Athens in the winter months, I rarely paid for my room and I was invited to take meals with his family. These gestures did not necessarily happen often or regularly, but when they did occur it was impossible not to feel part of something. 

Finally, and perhaps most academically, Spiros knew an immense amount about the Corinthian countryside. Some of my fondest memories involve him explaining (usually via Tim Gregory) the workings of some obscure piece of agricultural equipment we had stumbled across at a rural site. Or Spiros telling us how to get to some long neglected path through the mountains or to some obscure and half-forgotten archaeological site. It would be interesting to note how many dissertations produced by folks who spend significant time at Rooms Marinos thanked Spiros and his wife in their acknowledgements. 

I haven’t made it back to the Corinthia for the last few summers, and hearing about Spiros passing made me incredibly nostalgic for the long hours in the Corinthian countryside, the mostly drinkable yellow colored Rooms Marinos wine, and the gentle hospitality of the Marinos family. He will be forever part of my memory of that place.

The Chlamydatus of Corinth

In the most recent Hesperia, Amelia Brown has offered an intriguing article on a significant group of Late Roman portrait statues (“Last Men Standing: Chlamydatus Protraits and Public Life in Late Antique Corinth,Hesperia 81 (2012), 141-176). Chlamydatus statues of Corinth depict men wearing the “distinctive long cloak or chlamys” and this dress typically associates these individuals with imperial office. Brown has assembled a group of 7 largely fragmentary, life-sized statues of this kind from around Corinth with 6 of them appearing in the forum area. These status date to the 4th and 5th centuries and represent both a change in Late Roman portrait style as well as the growing political influence of the imperial center at Constantinople of aristocratic representation at Corinth. According to Brown, these statues appear to be associated with imperial rather than local elite. Corinth’s position as the seat of the governor of Achaea probably accounts for the number of imperial elite present, but also made it both an appealing location for the display of honorific statues dedicated to men who had contributed to the safety, urban environments, religious life, and culture of the province.

As per usual, I’ll let Dr. Brown’s work stand on its own merits and recommend it to anyone interested in understand the development and archaeology of Late Roman statuary. Instead, I’ll focus on two interrelated but admittedly peripheral aspects of Brown’s work.

First, Brown does a nice job of arguing that the Lechaion road was the main area for the display of chlamydatus statues. In her reconstruction of this space of display the chlamys clad statues stood along the sides of the main road into forum area of Corinth. A visitor to the forum area would have passed under the impassive gaze of these statues as they walked along the main artery of the Late Antique city. The Lechaion Road provided access to basic civic amenities like latrines and shops as well as places of display like the Peirene fountain which likely served as an important source of water for the city as well as an area for informal recreation, gathering, and meeting. Thus Corinthians and visitors to the city lived their daily life in and among reminders of the city’s imperial patrons.

The Lechaion Road also likely served as the main route of official processions into the city of Corinth.  Important visitors from the west would have enjoyed their official adventus (or ritual of arrival) into the city along the wide, colonnaded, grandiose Lechaion Road. The chlamydatus would have watched the passage of fellow elites and their retinues accompanied by city fathers, fellow imperial aristocrats, and by the 5th century perhaps local representatives of the Christian communities. The position of the statues along the road left the main route into the city open, but also provided a permanent audience for ritual processions. The most important men in the city and perhaps province would always be there, standing to honor their fellow elites.

The statue that I was most intrigued by was the so-called Kraneion chlamydatus. This statue was found cut down and reused as a threshold at the Kraneion basilica which dates to the 6th century and stood immediately outside of the eastern Kraneion Gate to the city. The location of the statue near the eastern gate of the city suggests that this might have been an area for display during the Late Antiquity with chlamys clad statues greeting visitors from the east.

NewImageHesperia 81 (2012), p. 145

The reuse of the Kraneion chlamydatus in the Kraneion basilica interesting is that it was cut down for use as a threshold block.  It would be easy to recognize in this use of spolia practical concerns; torso of the chlamydatus provided a substantial block of marble suitable for the requirements of a threshold.

I do wonder whether there might be some symbolic considerations as well. The cutting down of the statue would have made it difficult for a visitor to the church to recognize the former function of the block. On the other hand, the process of selecting and cutting down the block must have involved a series of ideological decisions. The chlamys clad man had to be recognized as no longer relevant or important and therefore suitable for reuse. The placement of the block as a threshold offers a nice parallel to the original location of the statue near the gate to the city (or the placement of the other chlamydatus along the processional route of the monumentalized Lechaion Road).  In other words, the location of the reused chlamydatus at the threshold to the church finds a nice parallel with their original location in liminal spaces like the gate to the city or a processional way.

One could even go a step further and suggest that the relocation of the chlamydatus statue at the threshold of the church marked out the boundary between the civic world and the works of the church. The shift is more marked when you consider that within the church the congregation stood in the aisles and watched the ranked procession of the clergy. The congregation may have been accompanied by a passive processions of saints standing in the place of the onlooking chlamydatus along the Lechaion Road while the clergy’s liturgical procession echoed the ritualized adventus of Late Roman aristocrats into the city.

The physical subordination of the Kraneion chlamydatus at the threshold of the church echoed the gradual suppression of monumental civic space throughout the empire and their replacement with churches tied to the ecclesiastical rather than civic or imperial elite.

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters.

More on Sicyonia, fortifications, and Late Antiquity

I’ve continued to work my way through Y. Lolos’s massive tome, Land of Sicyon. Hesperia Supplement 39 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 2011) this weekend while waiting for the rain delayed Daytona 500.  I posted the first part of my review a couple of weeks ago and, so, I suppose this is part two.

There are three areas, in particular, which attracted my interest:

1. Rural Fortifications. As I noted two weeks ago, there remains significant work to be done on the rural fortifications of the Peloponnesus, and Lolos’s book does its part by documenting a significant number of undocumented or poorly documented fortified sites in the countryside. Of particular interest to me were the irregular fortifications at Kokkinovrachos (pp. 234-240)and the round towers at Profetes Elias hill (p. 231) and at Tsakouthi (pp.  240-244) which my colleagues and I reference in a 2010 Hesperia article. While the Kokkinovrachos fortification is much larger than our fortification overlooking Vayia in the southwestern Corinthia, they share the same irregular masonry and both combine a fortification with a free standing tower. Lolos argues that this fortification occupied a height with good views of the crucial intersection between Stymphalos, Phlious, Acrocorinth, and the Sikyonian sites of Titane and Thyamia. Maintaining a substantial stronghold on this hill allowed Sikyonian forces to command several significant routes into the city.

The round tower at Tsakouthi resembled closely the round tower at Lychnari in the Corinthia. Lolos suggested that the upper course of the tower at Tsakouthi were likely mud brick, and this construction, in fact, combined with the towers round shape would have made the tower less vulnerable to artillery blows from forces passing on the nearby road. Our tower at Lychnari may have also had a mud brick superstructure, although there is a sufficient stone in the area to allow for a stone tower of significant height. The smaller and poorly preserved round tower at Profetes Elias may be a good parallel for the smaller tower at the site of Ano Vayia.

The explanations for building a round tower as opposed to a square or orthogonal tower has never entirely satisfied me. It seems to me that a round tower would entail a significant increase in technical difficulty as each block had to be cut or at least trimmed to match either the interior or exterior diameter of the tower. (Blocks in square towers could fit in numerous different positions.)  While it seems likely the round towers were less susceptible to damage by artillery which would only ever inflict a glancing blow, the towers at Lychnari and Ano Vayia (and at Lolos’s Profetes Elias) do not seem close enough to major roads to make the additional work necessary. Moreover, there are numerous towers very close to major roads which are square or rectangular in plan.

Finally, Lolos contributes little the on going discussions of rural fortifications and land use. In fact, Lolos seems to be content suggesting that the fortification of Sikyonia primary served to allow the city to communicate with and deploy forces to across its hinterland. This may be the case, but for fortifications like the round tower at Tsakouthi, it seems like we should at least entertain the possibility that the tower was part of a agricultural complex serving the valley its overlooks.

2. The Late Roman Boom. Like most region in the Eastern Mediterranean, Lolos’s Sikyonia saw a boom in settlement and sits during the Late Roman times. The number of new sites is truly remarkable with over 60 site with Late Roman material and only 23 having material from immediately earlier periods.  While the extensive nature of Lolos’s survey which did not sample his study area in a systematic way, makes it difficult to determine whether this pattern he identified would survive a more rigorous sampling regimen, it is nevertheless consistent with findings published from the Eastern Corinthia, for example, which documented the Late Roman period as time of particular prosperity.

Of particular note is Lolos’s documenting of several previous overlooked or under documented Early Christian churches including a “Early Byzantine Church” at the site of Litharia you Rakka of Poulitsa. The rather small number of Early Byzantine churches in the Peloponnesus alone makes this structure worth additional consideration. The presence of rural church apparently situated apart from significant settlements appears increasingly to be a feature of Late Roman Greece. Lolos’s argument that the site of Klisi-Boukoura of Stylia might be a monastic foundation based on its size of over 3,000 sq. m. This would be rather unprecedented in the Peloponnesus in Late Antiquity, but does show how many significant interpretative gaps exist in our knowledge of the Early Christian landscape. Recent work in the Eastern Corinthia has shown that even in the hinterland of a major city, rural churches remain undocumented.

3. Diachronic Survey. Finally, one of the most interesting parts of Lolos’s book is his commitment to treating the history of Sikyonia in a diachronic fashion. He not only includes discussions of the Venetian period census record, but also of Medieval, Ottoman, and Early Modern period sites. This includes a brief comment on zevgolateio which are groups of kalyvia, or modest, seasonal dwellings, that form a small hamlet (p. 365). From his short remarks, it would seem that the settlement at Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia which my colleagues and I are now bringing to publication, represents a zevgolateio. The illustrations that he provides of the interior of a season dwelling coincide closely with those found in Lakka Skoutara, which is unsurprising, of course, considering the geographic proximity and similar ethnic make up of the populations.

I have a bit more to read and process from this rich, closely edited, and significant work, and I expect that I’ll provide some final words on the book in the coming weeks.

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters.

A Working Paper on Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia

With the recent preliminary publication of the work by the SHARP team at the site of Kalamianos in the southeastern Corinthia, it seemed like a good opportunity for David Pettegrew, Tim Gregory, Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory and I to dust off a long-in-progress manuscript dealing with the site of Lakka Skoutara.

This paper is still very much in-progress, but we have drawn upon it for a paper at the 2010 Modern Greek Studies Association Meeting and at the 2012 Archaeological Institute of America meeting. We have also made available our photographic archive from our work at this site.

With the growing interest in this particular section of the Corinthia, we thought it would be a good idea to get throw our ideas into the mix and get the history of this “small world” into the conversation.

We’ll undoubtedly revise this draft over the next year or so and keep an updated draft available. Over the past couple of weeks, David Pettegrew (the editor of Corinthian Matters) and I have talked about making Corinthian Matters a destination for working papers on … Corinthian Matters. The idea of working papers has strong roots in the hard and social sciences where researchers regularly circulate papers prior to publication. It also provides a way to make research available that escapes from pay-walls and other ways that corporations looks to profit from faculty research.  If you have a working paper that you want people to see, drop David or me an email.

Cross-posted to Corinthian Matters.

Three Abstracts for the 2012-2013 Archaeological Institute of America Lecture Program

I was invited next year to contribute to the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual lecture program. To help local chapter of the AIA decide whether my lectures would fit their needs, drawn an audience, and interest their members, I was asked to offer a few abstract on talks that I could give.

So I looked through my “works-out-of-progress” folders and concocted three abstracts from the various projects that continue to float about in my scholarly consciousness. They range from the accessible and popular to the technical and obscure and unresolved.

Here they are:

Ten Years at an Ancient Harbor in Cyprus

This lecture would consider the history and archaeology of the coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on the south coast of Cyprus where a now in-filled ancient harbor served a community that prospered for over 1000 years.  While travelers and scholars had periodically visited the site and documented stray finds, including the infamous Luigi Palma di Cesnola, systematic work at the site did not begin until 2003 when the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project began a campaign of intensive survey, remote sensing, and excavation that documented an extensive area of habitation along the coast.  With a Iron Age sanctuary, a Hellenistic fortification, a Roman period olive press and town, and an Early Christian basilica, the coastal zone of Pyla village contains a startling assemblage of features common across the island of Cyprus during the historic period.  The high-density scatter of ceramic artifacts demonstrates the diversity of activities at the site and the wide range connections between the site and the wider Mediterranean world.

Between sea and mountain: the archaeology of a 20th century “small world”in the upland basins of the southeastern Korinthia

Between 2001 and 2009, a small team of archaeologists investigated a number of  geographically well-defined and fertile upland basins or poljes located between the villages of Sophiko and Korphos in the southeastern Korinthia. We conducted intensive pedestrian survey in the largest of these valleys, known as Lakka Skoutara, as part of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS). The results of this survey show that despite its seeming isolation, the valley supported human activities throughout antiquity. The most fascinating aspect of the valley, however, appears in more recent times when it supported a cluster of farmsteads and agricultural and pastoral activities. These small houses are now largely abandoned, but can nevertheless tell us a tremendous amount about the “small places” in the Greek countryside that played a vital role in the 20th century in the subsistence of its local population. The team documented the modern landscape of the valley through a series of regular visits, and these allowed up to observe the continued dynamism of changing land use patterns on a very small scale. In particular, we worked to document formation processes and life cycles of use, reuse, and abandonment connected with the modern structures in the valley. By combining archaeological survey with oral information obtained from local residents, we were able to reconstruct part of the landscape history of this small, low-density rural settlement and its relationship to the wider world.

Dream Archaeology

For over 1000 years excavators have relied upon dreams to guide them to hidden treasures, sacred buildings, and lost relics.  St. Helena’s excavations of fragments of the true cross and other stories of inventio inspired later Christian archaeologists to follow the inspiration of dream to find sacred relics. The practice was consistent and widespread enough to qualify as a form of Byzantine indigenous archaeology. In more recent times, excavators as revered as Anastasios Orlandos and Manolis Andronikos have recognized the influence of dreams on their own excavations. As Y. Hamilakis and C. Stewart have shown in their recent work that archaeological dreams played a key role in the developing Greek national consciousness. They do not, however, link these modern archaeological dreams explicitly to Byzantine and Early Christian practices.  This paper will not necessarily establish an irrefutable connection between modern and Byzantine dreams or argue for the presence of some unconscious continuity. Instead, I will sketch the outlines of an indigenous archaeology in Byzantine times and consider how such pre-modern practices can influence our ideas of archaeological knowledge in more recent times.

Which would you pick?


From the Corinthia to Sicyon

This weekend I spent some quality time with Y. Lolos newly published tome, Land of Sikyon. Hesperia Supplement 39 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011). It runs to close to 650 pages and provides a nearly comprehensive view on (as his subtitle states) the archaeology and history of a Greek City-State.  With a book of this size and level of detail, I feel a bit like a cat attacking a sofa. The best I’ll be able to do is attack various parts of it and then race off. That being said, over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting my observations on the book as I work my way through it. Scholars interested in the history, archaeology, and topography of the Corinthia and the northwest Peloponnesus have eagerly awaited this book (so eagerly, in fact, that it’s listed in World Cat as having been published in 2006, 2009, and 2011).

This weekend I took particular interest in Lolos detailed description of the history and land routes through the region. My very first article looked at a series of fortifications on the far eastern end of Mt. Oneion. In this article I discuss briefly the idea that an army could cross the eastern end of Mt. Oneion in order to enter the Peloponnesus while avoiding the fortifications around the city of Corinth.

From that article:

In addition, once an army crossed the mountain’s eastern end and moved south, it had bypassed the defenses of Acrocorinth and gained ac cess to a complex network of roads leading toward the population centers of the southwest Corinthia, such as Tenea, Kleonai, and Phlius, as well as the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea. Thereafter, an army could link up with routes into the Argolid or move toward the west through the uplands of the northeastern Peloponnese to descend into Sikyonia, Arkadia, and Achaia.

When I wrote this, however, I had only the faintest idea how a force could descend into Sikonia.  Historically, I knew it was possible, as Xenophon tells us (Hell. 7.1.18-19) that the Theban general Epaminondas did just that during his second invasion of the Peloponnesus in 386, despite efforts by the Athenians, Spartans, and Pellenians to hold the eastern side of the mountain.

Lolos’s book provides some crucial clarification on the route of this invasion. It seems likely that the Thebans must have marched to Phlious before moving south to Sikyon along the route of the Asopos river or alternately veering slightly further west and passing the sanctuary of Titane on a decent to the Sikyonian plateau.  Lolos’ book provides significant evidence for these routes through his thorough compilation of evidence for wheel ruts and road cuttings that suggest the presence of cart roads. Of course, the army of Epaminondas probably had very few carts as they had entered the Peloponnesus through a rather tricky march over the eastern part of Mt. Oneion.

While Lolos has worked out the routes west and south in Sikyonia and R. Bynum Jeanie Marchand, and Mike Dixon (all under the watchful eye of Prof. Ron Stroud) have pieced together the road networks of the southern and western Corinthia, as far as I know, no one has worked out the roads running south of Mt. Oneion from the area of Solygeia (and the modern village of Loutro Elenis) to the Xeropotamos River valley. This is a relatively small area, but one where one might expect to find areas of exposed bedrock that would preserve wheel ruts. Moreover, it’s tempting to imaging that the hills further south had watch towers to monitoring traffic obscured by the mass of Oneion.

As a side note, it feels strange to blog on ancient Greece at a time when the modern Greece is in such turmoil. I wonder whether reading, thinking, and writing about ancient Greece provides me with a safe way to keep that place in my head without incurring the emotional cost of reflecting on its current troubles.

A New Mycenaean Center in the Corinthia

I just finished reading the T. Tartaron, D. Pullen, R. Dunn, L. Tzortsoulou-Gregory, A. Dill, and J. Boyce, “The Saronic Harbors Research Project (SHARP): Investigations at Mycenaean Kalamianos, 2007-2009,” Hesperia 80 (2011), 559-634. I rarely get excited about the Bronze Age, but it’s hard not to get excited about a major new site. Extending for over 7 ha and including over 50 buildings, the site of Kalamianos represented a major harbor on the Saronic coast. Constructed primarily of the grey Corinthian limestone, the outlines of the site remained visible on the surface allowing the SHARP team to outline the site and its buildings without excavating. Using the techniques of intensive pedestrian survey they produced a significant ceramic assemblage of material from the site which they feel grounds the site chronologically in the Late Bronze Age. A larger regional survey of the region north and west of the coastal village of Korphos has indicated that the area also had significant activity in the Early Bronze Age and rather little activity thereafter. Extensive survey of the hills and valleys surrounding Korphos has produced additional evidence for a vital Bronze Age landscape suggesting that the region was a particularly prosperous and well-developed corner of the busy Saronic world.

On a personal level, the documentation of activities in this area is interesting because the site of Lakka Skoutara where David Pettegrew and I have worked for close to a decade is just a few kilometers (as the crow flies) from their study area. The publication of the ancient, medieval, and modern landscape of Kalamianos and surrounding regions will form a key anchor to our analysis of Lakka Skoutara.

The most interesting thing to me is the methods used to document the site and the extraordinary transparency of the authors in describing their procedures. The integration of architectural, extensive, and intensive survey in a methodologically consistent treatment of a single area.  The use of kite and balloon photography to assist in documenting the visible architecture produced some rather striking images that were effective in conveying both the methods and the character of the preserved architecture.

Over the course of intensive survey, the SHARP collected ceramic material using the chronotype system from both specific rooms within clearly defined buildings and across survey style transects. Using a gridded system for the most part, their work follows a similar approach our large site in Cyprus, and this is unsurprising since both David Pettegrew and myself learned the craft of survey from Tom Tartaron, Daniel Pullen, and Tim Gregory over the course of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey.  When the final results are published, the survey work at Korphos will represent another good example of the “4th Wave” intensive survey in Greece which tends to focus intensively on single sites or microregions of a few square kilometers rather than the large areas typical of “Third Wave” regional survey in Greece.

NewImageFigure 40. Satellite image of the Korphos region with the locations of small elliptical stone enclosures indicated by open white ovals, and two larger Mycenaean enclosures indicated by filled ovals.

I was gratified to see that their systematic extensive survey produced a preliminary map (above) of the strange round enclosures found on numerous height in the area. In his preliminary study of these enclosures, M. Dixon argued that they were Classical or Hellenistic in date and represented a series of ad hoc fortifications designed defend a vulnerable landscape from the historically documented threat of the Athenian fleet (in the Classical Age) and the more persistent threat of local raiding during the unstable Hellenistic centuries. The SHARP team found little to support a Classical or Hellenistic date for these enclosures and, noting the absence of any substantial quantity of ceramic material, preferred an Early Bronze Age date on the basis of a few sherds found wedged in the walls.

I had the opportunity to look at some of these strange little “fortifications” first hand about a decade ago while documenting the site of Lakka Skoutara. The absence of ceramic material from these sites is, indeed, vexing. And a few Early Bronze Age sherds do little more, at present, than provide a terminus post quem for these rough enclosures.

There were any number of interesting tidbits from their preliminary publication, but a few really stood out to me:

First, I was pretty interested to see that they used the absence of later pottery collected by the survey to argue for the absence of later activity at the site. To my mind, this is an important step for the field of survey archaeology. We are often relatively confident in arguing from the presence of activity based on the presence of ceramics, but we rarely have taken the next step. The vagaries of site formation and the differential visibility of various periods in the surface record have usually led us to stop short of making arguments ex silentio.  But, I suppose the extraordinary geomorphological stability of the landscape around Korphos provided them with the confidence to make this claim.

Next, it is remarkable, however, that there is very little discussion of Byzantine material. The site of Stiri features a significant Middle Byzantine church dedicated to the Panayia. It was the katholikon of a monastery that may have been visited by Os. Loukas and is attested in census records as late as the 18th century.  It probably functioned in some capacity into the 19th century. Remarkably, the area around the church which is strewn with important Early Bronze Age remains seems to have produced almost no Medieval pottery (according to their admittedly preliminary report). This may be the result of local geomorphological activity – the church site in a polje filled with sediment that may have covered the Byzantine surface – or perhaps a preference of non-cermaic material at the site during the Byzantine period (although this seems a bit unlikely).

Finally, it is a bit troubling, however, to imagine a Byzantine church leaving almost no trace in the local ceramic assemblage and, then, using that same assemblage to date walls visible on the surface. I have no reason to doubt their confidence in assigning Late Bronze Age or Early Bronze Age dates to features in the landscape, but I anxiously await a more systematic treatment of their results to understand the complexities of site formation in this area.

In my informal visits to the area over the years, I’ve seen significant evidence for Late Antique activity in the area including some Early Christian mullions at the church of Ay. Pantes in the village of Korphos itself. It was interesting to note that the SHARP team found a Late Roman kiln site amidst the ruins. Their suggestion that the center of habitation in the region moved to the location of Korphos town during antiquity seems plausible.

One last thing: the color photographs and illustrations in the article are fantastic!

A Paper on Corinthian Peasants

As regular readers of this blog know, David Pettegrew and I have been working on a paper about peasants in the Corinthian countryside for a joint APA/AIA panel at this years annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

Here’s the panel and the details:

Session 5J:
Joint AIA/APA Colloquium: Finding Peasants in Mediterranean Landscapes: New Work in Archaeology and History
1:30 p.m.−4:00 p.m.          
Independence Ballroom
Organizers: Cam Grey, University of Pennsylvania, and Kim Bowes, University of Pennsylvania

1:30 introduction (10 min.)
1:40 Producing the Peasant in the Corinthian Countryside 
David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College, and William Caraher, University of North Dakota (20 min.)
2:05 Placing the Peasant in Classical Athens
Robin Osborne, University of Cambridge (20 min.)
2:30 Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Cereal Farmer? The Evidence from Small Rural Settlements in the Cecina valley in Northern Etruria 
Nicola Terrenato, University of Michigan, and Laura Motta, University of Michigan (20 min.)
2:50 Break (15 min.)
3:05 Stuffed or Starved? Evaluating Models of Roman Peasantries
Robert Witcher, University of Durham (20 min.)
3:30 Excavating the Roman Peasant
Kim Bowes, University of Pennsylvania (20 min.)

And here’s the paper:

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters

Some More Corinthian Bodies

It was a pleasure to see another Corinthian article in this month’s American Journal of Archaeology. Betsey Robinson’s study of the Eutychia mosaic from Corinth introduces us to this frequently overlooked mosaic and another pair of Corinthian bodies.

NewImageFig. 2 (p. 106) Room C of the South Stoa at Corinth, viewed from the north, showing robbed eastern wall, mosaic, and marble-revetted bench against southern wall. (for more pictures go here).

The mosaic stood in a room in the Hellenistic South Stoa, but the mosaic dates to the 2nd century.  Robinson walks us through the iconography of this mosaic which shows a half-nude seated female with a shield inscribed with the word Eutychia (or fortune) and a nude youth with a victory crown. The central panel is surrounded by corner panels featuring various birds. The mosaic has been traditional associated with the administrator of the Isthmian games (the agonothetes).

Robison suggests that this mosaic should be understood as a personification of Corinth and the youth should be associated with the Isthmian games. She is careful, however, to articulate the way in which viewers would have come to these interpretations. Her analysis did not derive from a detached scholarly view of typology, but a careful consideration of ancient ways of seeing and producing art.  This grounding in ancient ways of seeing opened the door to significant ambivalence in how ancient viewers might have understood this mosaic. Rather than being a liability, she suggests that such ambivalent relationships with ancient iconography are the inevitable products of the Greek – Roman hybridization that occurred in the provinces. All in all, this is a very clever and subtle reading of a neglected mosaic.

By connecting events, cities, and places to bodies, I couldn’t help but think about some of Kostis Kourelis’ recent posts which find parallels between the Byzantine water altar at the site of the former Asclepeion in Athens and an etching on an architectural discovered at the site (see here and here). The architectural fragment depicted an individual drinking from a flagon and showed the interior of the vessel flowing into the distended belly of the drinker. Here’s Kostis’ sketch of the etching:


The etching of the drinker conceptualizes the experience of the water altar in distinctly in human terms and space. The prevalence of the body as a spatial metaphor for all kinds of ancient buildings, events, places, and features makes it unsurprising to find water features paralleled with the body. All the same, Kostis’ timely post presents a nice parallel as Robinson suggests that the bodily metaphor for Corinth might evoke the personification of Peirene fountain which is sometimes also associated with the Isthmian games (other Panhellenic games have fountains associated with them).  Perhaps the appearance of springs with their gaping caverns or the flow of fluid within made them particularly suitable for personifications. Or maybe the association of springs with the nymphs who frolic in their grottos.

Robinson identified the birds around the central panel as “conventional ‘hospitality gifts’ ” (p. 107). These birds may remind the view that the mosaic itself was a gift and perhaps related to the liturgies associated with the Isthmian games. Various birds are relatively common in Early Christian mosaics across the Eastern Mediterranean and it got me wondering whether the birds that appear in this context draw are likewise to draw a parallel between hospitality gifts and acts of munificence to the church.

The other thing that was interesting was that the mosaic was repaired in Late Antiquity. That suggested that the mosaic remained visible for hundreds of years. It is interesting that Robinson was willing to entertain a certain amount of ambiguity in how “contemporary” viewers saw the mosaic, but it is more challenging to understand the “contemporary view” of a mosaic that lasted at least two hundred years.  The article, in general, lacked a clear since of “now” for the viewer. My guess is the late antique viewers who chose to renovate the mosaic had different goals in mind, interpretative lenses and local contexts from viewers contemporary with the mosaics original construction.

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters.

Barbarians at the Gate

One reason I love Corinthian Matters is that David Pettegrew’s loyal bots constantly crawl the web looking for new academic articles on Corinth. As anyone who attempts to keep abreast of new scholarship on any topic knows, it is almost impossible to do so without some loyal human and software allies.Recently, he brought to my attention Amelia Brown’s recent contribution to the publication of the 6th biennial Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity Conference from 2005 at the University of Illinois. Her article titled “Banditry or Catastrophe?: History, Archaeology, and Barbarian Raids on Roman Greece” takes on the perennial issue of the impact of raiding, rampaging, barbarians on the end of public, civic life in Late Roman Greece. She looks at the Costobocs, Heruls, and Goths in particular and makes the argument that there is very little archaeological evidence for these raiders. Moreover, the textual evidence that does exist is highly problematic and fits poorly with the long-standing empirical expectations held by more archaeologists. In other words, the destructive rampage of Alaric or the violent reconquest of Stilicho left almost no evidence in the archaeological record. Earlier thoughts to the contrary were almost always the product of overly optimistic interpretations of problematic contexts or have been overturned with revised ceramic chronologies introduced through the more controlled stratigraphic excavations.

This is fine. The ancients liked to punctuate their history with barbarian raids, natural disasters, and other catastrophic events as much as modern scholars. The catastrophic events fit ancient communities and narratives into a wider conversation by making heroism, treachery, or divine displeasure recognizable to an audience. Similarly, archaeologists have looked for episodes of catastrophe in their excavations to align archaeological contexts with known historical events (and if possible dates!). Just as real or imagined tragedies created relevance for individuals living in the past, Mediterranean archaeologists have treasured evidence tying their labors to historical experiences conjured so dramatically in texts. Just as Mediterranean archaeologists have become more confident in the autonomy of their own discipline, so have they gradually shrugged off the ties of the world that they excavate to textual traditions championed by generations of Classicists.

The result of this work is not just to call into question the past distilled from a carefully empirical reading of texts, but also to call into question the periodization schemes, narratives, and research agendas dictated by these texts. This has led to a sometimes violent rupture between traditions of humanistic scholarship that have contextualized research and teaching for centuries and the results of archaeological investigation. As you can imagine, research like Brown’s that asks us to re-interpret such basic narratives as those surrounding the end of the ancient world do more than challenge the narrative of ancient Greece, but bring into question the line between barbarian and civilized that has been so central to the differentiation between the glorious, civilized Classical past and the brutish, uncivilized, Medieval time.

By absolving the barbarians of some of the blame for the end of Classical public life, Brown has offered a modest challenge to the master narrative and begun the arduous process of using the very tools produced by a system that championed the Classical age to undermine its esteemed place in our society today.