Long Late Antiquity on Cyprus

This week I’m shifting gears from working on archaeology of contemporary America and returning to Late Antique Cyprus to prepare a paper for a conference in March on Cyprus and the Long Late Antiquity.

The abstract for my paper is here. As with so many conferences, I wrote my abstract in June 2019 for a paper in March 2020 and over the past 9 months reconsidered my paper significantly. This was in no small part to the paper that I wrote for a conference at Dumbarton Oaks on islands in the Byzantine period (you can read that here). At this conference, a number of the participants unpacked the notion of insularity (my review of that conference is here) along political, cultural, social, and economic lines. The result was a group of papers that explored whether the concept of insularity served to describe the definitive feature of islands in the Byzantine world. My paper proposed that Cyprus in Late Antiquity was sufficiently diverse that the concept of insularity was not particularly useful at least within the constraints of our existing archaeological knowledge.

My current plan is to expand these arguments into the realm of the “long late antiquity” by looking more closely at the situation at ancient Arsinoe in the village of Polis in the Chrysochous Valley. My plan today is work on the introduction. I have this idea that I’ll start with our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria and then move to the west to the site of Arsinoe. 

Here’s what I have so far:

Late Antiquity has been getting longer. This historiographic narrative is well known to the individuals in this room. Over the last 60 years, scholars of the Late Roman world have reconsidered the significance of catastrophic political or military events as the definitive markers in our chronological schemes. This, in turn, has discouraged view of Late Antiquity as a period of crisis that ultimately led to this or that catastrophic event. In the place of crisis or decline, scholars argue that Late Antiquity was a period of transition or dynamic transformation and have increasingly blurred the lines that describe our conventional periodization schemes. The ancient world, it would seem, did not end, but simply faded away.

Archaeology, of course, has played no small role in these changing attitudes. The ever later drift of our ceramic chronologies bolstered by the steadily expanding body of carefully published excavations and surveys from across the Mediterranean world has sought to detach archaeological narratives from political or military events. In Greece, for example, the Slavic invasion of the late 6th century no longer represents a catastrophic break and any number of urban and rural sites appear prosperous or at least viable into the mid-7th century. The evidence for the Islamic conquests of the 7th century in the Levant, as another example, remain uneven with some areas showing a rapid decline in the number of settlements, whereas other regions show little change or even expansion. In many cases, the material culture that plays such a key role in assessing the date and function of sites changes far more slowly than political or military events. On Cyprus, as this conference presupposes, the firm dates associated with the Arab Raids of the mid-7th century or the supposed depopulation of the island for the founding of Nea Justinianoupolis in 691 no longer mark a clear break in the material culture of the island.

This is not to suggest that the 7th and 8th centuries did not see significant changes on the island. Indeed, part of the challenge in dealing with the long late antiquity on Cyprus involves the wide range of situations on the island during these centuries. As Marcus Rautman has shown, the countryside appears to have endured significant depopulation by the middle years of the 7th century. At the same time, urban centers appear to have continued with Paphos showing signs of an Arab population in the 7th century, Soloi preserving signs of recovery after the Arab raids, Kyrenia remained an important port of the Byzantine fleet, and Salamis-Constantia and its neighborhood continued and rebuilt, and so on. Megaw argued that Kourion was abandoned after a late-7th century earthquake, Amathus’s decline was more graduate with the site continuing to produce coins, seals, and ceramics into the early-8th century, Kition remains largely unknown at the end of antiquity. Between the countryside and cities, ex-urban sites like the still lately unpublished Ay. Georgios-Peyias appear to have declined in the 7th century.

Another ex-urban site of Pyla-Koutsopetria, which Maria Hadjicosti excavated in the 1990s and a team that I co-directed with Scott Moore and David Pettegrew surveyed and excavated further in from 2005-2012, also appears to have declined in the 7th century. Our work can add a bit more nuance and detail to the diverse narratives of change present on the island and provide a bit of context for our recent work at the site of Arsinoe in Western Cyprus.

Three Thing Thursday: Multitasking, Jazz, and NDQ

Whether Three Thing Thursday is becoming a tradition or a routine depends, I guess, on your point of view. But once again, my week has become hectic and strangely the end of the week is more busy than the start. As a result, my world is pretty fragmentary and all that I have left are snippets of ideas, thoughts, and projects that swirl about my feet as I race from meeting to meeting.

Thing the First

One of the things that I love most about academia is the opportunity to multitask. By this I don’t mean having to flip back and forth between a bunch of open tabs in a browser and a stack of grading while preparing a class and writing an article (although that can also be fun!). What I mean is the inevitable overlap between projects that is so productive for new ideas. For example, I have learned a good bit about how archaeology works in practice through my work as a publisher. Thinking about the technical aspects of making a book has helped me to think more clearly about archaeology as a process of knowledge making that extends not just from the “survey unit” through the database to analysis and interpretation, but continues through the presentation, distribution, and reception of our arguments and data. Without working simultaneously on data collection in the field, computer aided analysis, writing, and publishing, I wouldn’t have entirely grasped this. Working both in the Bakken oil patch and in Greece and Cyprus has likewise informed my thinking on both projects, pushed me to read more widely, and muddied many ideas that I would have confidently said that I understood had I not tried to transfer them from one context to another.   

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to have to deal with just this kind of overlap as I continue to plod ahead with my book on the archaeology of the contemporary world and write a paper for a conference on “Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity: History and Archaeology between the 6th and the 8th centuries.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it harder to switch gears between project without a good bit grinding and clunking, but maybe that makes the need to switch gears all the more important.

Thing the Second

Recently, I’ve been very quietly working on new project for The Digital Press. What I write here doesn’t really constitute an announcement as much as an acknowledgement that this is something that might very well happen.

Over the past two years, I’ve discovered that I really like jazz. As with so many things in my life, this has slowly grown beyond a kind of casual interest or the vague appreciation of the odd John Coltrane or Charles Mingus album. My interest in jazz is on the very of becoming a full fledged obsession. To be clear, when I get obsessed with with something, it rarely follows a orderly trajectory. I’m not someone who tends toward the exhaustive. Anyone who knows me will admit that I’m a flâneur even when I should adopt a more rigorous approach. Fortunately my flânerie often leads me down some pretty interesting corridors and my interest in jazz led me to try to understand Sun Ra. 

Sun Ra’s discography is particularly baffling. It’s not only immense, but also complicated as his career spanned a range of labels including his own “El Saturn Records” label, Impulse!, and about 40 others. When I first started listening to San Ra’s music, I quickly became baffled especially when I encountered the myriad of re-releases and dodgy bootlegs of his live shows. One of my regular stops as a Sun Ra fan, however, became a series of blog posts called “Sun Ra Sundays”.  

This week, I’ve started a project to publish formally the Sun Ra Sunday blog in collaboration with its author Rodger Coleman (and thanks to some help from Irwin Chusid and Sam Byrd!) I’m pretty excited about being able to bring this to a wider audience, to give it a bit of a formatting, to get it circulating in paper, and to give it a good copy and content edit. Stay tuned.  

Thing the Third

It’s almost time to submit NDQ issue 87.1/2 to the University of Nebraska Press for typesetting and layout. That means this weekend, I get to spend time reviewing and re-reading the amazing contributions to the next issue. It’s one of the absolute best parts of my job at the University of North Dakota, and while I love to work on my own stuff, it’s never as rewarding as promoting the work of others. We posted the first peek at some of the 87.1/2 contents today over at the NDQ blog. Go check it out and stay tuned for more!

Three Things Thursday: Survey Archaeology, Western Literature, and Poetry from a Former Student

My body is gallantly fighting off a cold the week, so I don’t quite have the energy for a long involved post. So, instead, I’ll offer a little “Three Thing Thursday” as I try to keep the balls in the area down the stretch run of the week.

First Thing.

A colleague shared this article with me over the weekend: Kimberly Bowes et al. “Peasant agricultural strategies in southern Tuscany: Convertible agriculture and the importance of pasture” from The Economic Integration of Rural Italy. Rural Communities in a Globalizing World, ed. G. Tol and T. de Haas. (Brill 2017): 165-194. The article uses examples from her Roman Peasant Project to explore the interplay rural land use and the interplay between pastoralism and more settled agriculture. This team of scholars excavates five sites known from intensive survey archaeology from small ceramic scatters. Two were small seasonal or short-duration “work huts” and combining the modest architecture with botanical, palynological, and faunal material collected from the excavations, they were able to suggest that these structures served land that was likely used as pasture. Pasture plays a key role in strategies associated with ley agriculture which allowed fields to go fallow for years in order to restore the soil and stabilize yields. These small structures (and the small ceramic scatters), then, which a survey might have suggested represented the intensification of conventional agriculture, may, in fact, represent a less intensive strategy associated with ley farming.

Among the more interesting observations from this article are a two sites identified by low-density artifact scatters which produced no structures, but did reveal field drains dating to antiquity and probably the Roman period. These field drains consisted of cobble filled trenches. This is exciting to me both because I was unaware that field drains were used in the Roman period, but more importantly, there is relatively few publications that discuss drain building practices in the Roman period. The use of cobbles to slow the flow of water and to prevent the drains from carving deep channels in the fields offers some evidence for why the builders of the “South Basilica” at Polis may have created a “French drain” on the uphill, south side of the church to keep the rush of water down a natural drainage from undercutting the south wall of the basilica. It’s not a perfect analogy but suggests that my argument may not be entirely wrong.

Second Thing.

I’ve been reading John Beck’s Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature (Nebraska 2009). I really like the book. Whatever it’s academic merits (and I’m not really qualified to judge that), it has intrigued me. Beck uses literature to explore the character of the post-war, Cold War Western landscape through an emphasis on Japanese internment, the militarization of the landscape (and the Mexican border), the use of the west as a dumping ground for toxic, nuclear, and otherwise unpleasant waste, and the almost simultaneous emergence of the suburban ideal (cf. J.B. Jackson’s “The Westward Moving House”). Beck makes clear that works like Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian while situated in the past (in this case, the mid-19th century) nevertheless speak to the present situation in a Western landscape shaped by Cold War militarism and its consequences. Elsewhere he weaves together the critiques of Rebecca Solnit, Ellen Meloy, and Terry Tempest Williams which emphasize the role of industry in the refashioning of the Western landscape. While I am embarrassed not to know these works well, I can’t help but wondering whether they influenced somehow my own effort at a similar critique in my The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape. Don’t be surprised to see these works appear in the ole bloggeroo over the next few weeks. Solnit and Meloy remain priorities for my weekend reading list.

One of the reasons that Beck has excited me so much is that he has pushed me from thinking about archaeology of the contemporary world as a historical and social scientific window onto the contemporary American experience, toward thinking about the archaeology of the contemporary world as a distinctly cultural engagement with late-20th and early-21st century American life. This isn’t meant to deprecate the important work done by people like Jason DeLeon or Shannon Lee Dowdy or Bill Rathje, but to reframe their interventions as much as part of a much larger current of cultural critique. Instead of archaeology treating the contemporary experience as the object of study, archaeology of the contemporary world is (or at, very least, represents) the American experience. If we prioritize the notion of contemporaneity and suggest that it subverts the most common forms of disciplinary and historical detachment, then it makes sense that we can’t study or locate archaeology outside of American culture in the present. This, of course, remains a work in progress.

Third Thing.

I’m very excited to redirect your attention to the North Dakota Quarterly blog this morning. The blog features a poem from Amalia Dillin. Our hardworking poetry editor, Paul Worley, selected this poem for publication without knowing that Amalia was one of my former students at UND where she majored, I think, in Classics but also took history classes. She’s put those classes (and a bunch of her own hard work) to good use as a writer. You can check out her stuff here (although it’s very different from her poem)!

Go read the poem, it’s pretty great and I think summarizes neatly the anxiety that many of use feel in our media saturated lives. 

Cyprus in Global Late Antiquity

I’ve been working this week on adapting some of the paper that I gave at Dumbarton Oaks last month into a section in a short article with Jody Gordon. The article considers globalization as a paradigm for understanding Roman and Late Roman Cyprus. In my short contribution, I’m arguing that, in some ways, Late Antique Cyprus was indistinguishable from its neighbors in the region and, in some regards, represented a kind of Late Antique “non place” where most manifestations of distinctly Cypriot ways of life became manifest in the material culture of the wider Late Roman world. To make this argument, which frankly is a kind of “strawperson,” I explore both ceramics and ecclesiastical architecture on the island and argue that many of the key forms present are common in the wider region. 

The second part of the paper will complicate this perspective, by arguing that an emphasis on the global character of the Late Roman material culture of Cyprus obscures the variation across the island. If I can swing it, I want to suggest that our understanding of the global is, at least in the archaeology of the Roman and Late Roman world located at the intersection of issues of scale and the typologies through which we produce chronologically specific assemblages of material. I have more to do to get this contribution into shape, but if you’re interested in a draft, keep reading:

The Late Roman period on Cyprus shows so many of the hallmarks of globalization that it is tempting to read the Cypriot landscape as a series of premodern non places to appropriate the term that Marc Augé coined to describe the indistinguishable character of hotels, airports, and shopping malls in the globalized contemporary world (Augé xxxx). Indeed, G. Bowersock noted that the brilliant series of Late Roman mosaics from the House of Aion at Paphos depicting the life of Dionysos reflect a pan-Mediterranean fascination with Dionysos echoed in the 6th-century epic poem of Nonnos of Panopolis (Bowersock 1990, 49-53). In later Late Antiquity, Derek Kreuger has noted, the seventh century world that Leontios of Cyprus described in his lives of St. Symeon the Holy Fool and St. John the Almsgiver leveraged a range of features, economic and political realities, and landscapes that would be familiar to literate residents of Leontios’s native Neapolis on Cyprus, in St. Symeon’s Emesa, and St. John’s Alexandria where his lives were certainly read. The regular transit of bishops, pilgrims, and other Romans across the island ensured that Late Roman cities of Cyprus’s south coast formed part of a familiar landscape connecting the Egypt, North Africa, and the Levant with the Aegean. It is difficult to avoid the impression that whatever aspects of a distinctly Cypriot culture persisted into Roman period, by Late Antiquity, Cyprus emerged as a composite crossroads of Mediterranean influences.

The archaeological evidence from the island likewise reflects the global character of Cyprus during Late Antiquity. While there is no doubt that the basic settlement pattern that emerged over the course of the Cypriot Iron Age persisted into the 7th, 8th, and even 8th century, a new constellation of villages, ex-urban, and suburban settlements (e.g. Rupp 1997) came to complement densely urbanized southern coast of the island. Many of these settlements appear to have supported the place of Cyprus within the economy of the Late Roman Mediterranean. The ex-urban site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias near Paphos, for example, features warehouses that the excavator suspects to have supported the annona route from Egypt to Constantinope (Bakirtzis xxxx). The remarkable scatter of of Pyla-Koutsopetria may have emerged as an important harbor for the quaestura exercitus instituted in the mid-6th century (Caraher et al. 2014). The site a Dreamer’s Bay appears to be another significant entrepôt on the south coast of the island and recent work excavating warehouses promises to contribute to how we understand the island’s economic relationship with the wider region (GET CITE). The presence of kilns for Late Roman 1 amphora on the coast near the village of Ziyi provides more evidence for the role of ex-urban coastal sites in large scale agricultural produce from Cyprus during Late Antiquity. Even small sites like Kione on the Akamas Peninsula and the development of harbors Inland village sites such as Kalavassos-Kopetra situated in intermediate zones between the ore bearing Troodos mountains and coast also flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries (Rautman xxxx) and complemented ongoing extraction of copper from long-worked viens (Given et al. xxxx). A parallel development in the Karkotis valley documented by the Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project (TAESP) seems to have supported mine in the region of Skouriotissa (TAESP CITE; Rautman, Troodos xxxx). Rural settlement on Cyprus appears to have expanded in the Late Roman period leading Marcus Rautman to remark on the “busy countryside of Late Roman Cyprus” (Rautman xxxx) which appears to have prospered into the late 6th century. The intensity of settlement in the Cypriot landscape during Late Antiquity finds parallels across the Mediterranean world from the well-known “deserted village” of the limestone massif in Syria to the valleys of the Peloponnesus.

At a glance, the material culture of Cyprus tells a similar story. Cyprus saw a regular flow of imported fine or table wares particularly African Red Slip and Phocaean Ware (or Late Roman C ware). Archaeologists long thought that Cypriot Red Slip (Late Roman D ware) was manufactured on the Western side of the island perhaps near production sites of the earlier Cypriot Sigillata, but it now appears that most forms of Cypriot Red Slip were manufactured in Psidia (CITE). These fine wares, whatever their provenience, remain common in assemblages from across the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Levant. It remains difficult to identify the provenience of the ubiquitous Late Roman 1 amphora on Cyprus, but it appears likely that a substantial percentage of this common form originated in the Aegean or Anatolia. The same can be said for its successor, the globular Late Roman 13 amphora, which also saw production on Cyprus, but appeared extensive in 7th and 8th century assemblages in the Aegean and most famously Constantinople (Hayes, Sarachane xxxx). Cooking pots, including the well-known Dhiorios type known from kilns excavated by Hector Catling at the site of Dhiorios from which these pots get their name. Paul Reynolds and his colleagues have noted that cooking pots both in fabrics common to Beirut and elsewhere in the Levant appeared in common ”Dhiorios“ forms as early as the mid-6th century and circulated widely. In sum, the standard components of Cypriot ceramic assemblages throughout Late Antiquity are common not just on Cyprus, but across the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean at least through the end of the 7th century or the first decades of the 8th century. If the Cypriot landscape follows a pattern common to economic expansion across the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of antiquity, the ceramic assemblages suggest that the local economies were either integrated at a regional level or at least sufficiently related for common ceramic forms to appear form multiple, contemporary production sites in the Aegean, Asia Minor, and the Levant.

Legacy Data, Digital Heritage, and Time

Over the last couple of weeks, I continue to think about the role of legacy data in archaeology. This is for a paper that I’ll give next month at the annual Archaeological Institute of America. I’ve started to work through my ideas here and here.

At first, I imagined that I’d give a fairly routine paper that focused on my work with notebooks at the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis on Cyprus. As readers of this blog know, a small team of us have worked to analyze over 20 years of excavations at Polis and to move the data from a largely analogue, notebook system, to a relational database that we can query. This has not only allowed us to understand the relationship between the excavation, ceramic assemblages, and architecture, but also moved us toward a secondary goal of publishing the data from Polis.

At the same time that I was working on this stuff, I was also continuing to think about time and archaeology and reading some recent works including Marek Tamm and Laurent Olivier’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019) as well as some turn of the century works like F. Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015). These works consider the changing nature of time and heritage in archaeology and argue that emergence of the contemporary “heritage industry” particularly after 1989 (and September 2001) demonstrates a changing notion of time in which heritage largely serves the various needs of the present. This contrasts to an earlier regime of time which emphasized the past as evidence for progress into the future. It was interesting that the Tamm and Olivier book includes no sustained discussion of how the changing regimes of time influence the use of digital tools in archaeological practice.

This is all the more striking because the Hartog’s change in the nature of the past maps loosely onto our embrace of digital technology to facilitate to documentation and analysis of archaeological field work. One might argue that older techniques of documentation with their dependence on paper sought to create an archive that was designed as much for the future as for the present. We anticipated more sophisticated ways of analyzing our work and sought to document our practices, methods, and assumptions as carefully as possible. The practice of carefully archiving one’s field notes – typically on site – was fundamental to our notion of responsible excavation.

More recently, digital tools become a key component to documenting field work. Archaeologists have produced what Andy Bevin has called a “digital deluge” of data from our surveys, excavations, and research projects. The need to archive this data has remained significant, but, at the same time, there’s a growing quantity of “legacy data” that past projects have accrued. The concept of legacy data demonstrates an immediate awareness of the division between past data practices (whether digital or not) and contemporary needs. The expanding discourse on data preservation practices, archival format, and “best practices,” “standards” and meta-data traces our anxieties in the face of rapidly changing technologies and protocols. The fear, I’d suggest, is less about the future of our data and more about its present utility. This follows the increasingly blurred line between the archiving of data and its publication. The potential for re-use in the present has shaped much of the conversation about legacy data.

Legacy data, however, is about more than just reuse in the present. In fact, the formats, tools, and technologies that made data collected in the past useful in the past remain a key element to understanding how digital data came to be, how it was encountered, and how it was interpreted. The details about data how a project produced or collected – or the paradata – remain significant, but more than that, the technologies used to produce, store, and analyze data in the past are fundamental to understanding archaeological practice.

Scholars of video games, of course, already know this. Rainford Guins in Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) for example, has considered the role of the arcade, the video game cabinet, the art present in a video game cartridge, and the design of the video game console as well as its place in the home. For Guins the game code is just part of the video game as a cultural artifact. He documents the challenges associated with preserving vintage arcade games and the balance between allowing the games to be played and the wear and tear of regular use on cabinets, controllers, and increasingly irreplaceable CRT monitors. The impulse to preserve “legacy games,” if you will, allows us to make sense of these objects as complex cultural artifacts rather than simply vessels for digital code.

In an archaeological context, then, legacy data is about more than the code or the digital objects, but also about the range of media, technologies, tools, and practices that made this data possible. Our interest in the utility of digital data risks reducing digital heritage to an evaluation of present utility. If, as Roosevelt et al. famously quipped “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice,” we might also argue that our modern impulse to digitize or adapt legacy data is a destructive practice, “Digitization is Destruction.”

This isn’t to suggest that we stop engaging legacy data as important sources of archaeological information or that we only engage it using 30 year old IBM PC with a SCSY port Zip drive. Instead, I’m suggesting that our approach to legacy data gives us a useful way to reflect on the changing notion of time in archaeological practice and perhaps even speaks to the complicated relationship between archaeology and heritage practices.

Islands and Scale

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on my paper from next week’s Dumbarton Oaks colloquium titled The Insular Worlds of Byzantium. My paper is a bit of a rambling affair which seeks to consider whether island archaeology is a useful way to think about the island of Cyprus in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period.

My paper looks at two fairly well-known sources of archaeological evidence: fine ware ceramics and the architecture of Early Christian basilicas. To narrow the scope of my study further, I also focuses primarily on two sites: Polis Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. My paper begins (and stay tuned for a draft of it, probably early next week), with a reflection on island archaeology in the context of studies of the Mediterranean by Braudel and subsequent scholars informed by the Annales School concerns for geographically and chronologically expansive readings of history and archaeology.

I then pivot to the island of Cyprus and, narrowing my scope further, to the two sites of Polis and Koutsopetria. This shift from the macro to the micro paralleled the interest among Annalistes in detailed microhistories which might reveal the workings of long term trends (although it is telling that Braudel hesitated, in his master work, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, to connect the day-to-day events of Philip’s reign to the longer term trends that defined his Mediterranean World). 

As one might expect, the character of fine ware assemblages and Early Christian architecture at the two sites (and across the island) did not reveal a cohesive “island identity” for Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Instead, it demonstrated variability across micro regions and connections with both other sites on the island and wide networks for change and culture. Island archaeology, of course, might suggest that the connections between these sites and the wider networks is a feature of insularity itself. At the same time, this is a rather low threshold for insularity or the interpretative significance of island archaeology. In fact, most island archaeologists consider the oscillation over time between phases of isolation and connectivity to be a feature of island communities. 

This led me to several general conclusions about scale and island archaeology. These are not profound, but they help me organize my thoughts for the final push in writing this paper.

1. Islands and Time. The insular character of communities on any given landmass is most likely visible only over the longue durée. Period specific studies of islands during, say, Late Antiquity or the Early Byzantine period is likely to only capture one phase of the oscillation between isolation and connectivity. As a result, the distinctly insular character of the population, developed in periods of isolation, may be in abeyance at any given period.

2. Insular Islands. Studying one or two islands may not be the ideal way to reveal much about  insularity for any particular period. Insularity might be best understood across larger groups of islands (as well as over long periods of time). Any one island at any one period of time might be more or less connected or more or less isolated. The range of isolation and connectivity is best understood only over a larger body of islands at the scale of, say, the Aegean or the Mediterranean. 

3. Big Islands. It may also be that larger islands will tend to look less like islands and more like “mainlands.” Small islands, with fewer sites, more limited immediate hinterlands, may have more insular trajectories through time. This got my wondering what the breaks are on the concept of insularity. In other words, what historically stopped large islands from functioning in the same basic ways as smaller island. On the one hand, the ecological and environmental diversity of an island like Cyprus might set it apart from smaller, less diverse islands. It also seems that a more nuanced understanding of overland transportation and the ways in which medium and long distance road networks provided forms of connectivity between sites in ways that are distinct from maritime networks.     

4. Periods of Insularity. Jody Gordon, Derek Counts, and Bernard Knapp have argued that during particularly periods in the history of Cyprus — the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the Iron Age, and the Bronze Age respectively — a hybrid character of Cypriot identity becomes visible incorporating both distinctively Cypriot elements (defined as such not be any kind of racial or narrowly ethnic criteria and more as elements consistently visible in Cypriot culture over the longue durée) and with aspects imported from outside of the island during periods of intensified culture contact. By the Late Roman period, however, the distinctive integration of long-standing markers of Cypriot identity and the larger Hellenized Late Roman koine appears indistinct at best. Perhaps we could argue that settlement patterns persisted and accommodated the rise of the Early Christian ecclesiastical hierarchy on the island. We might also point to a shift away from the islands close economic and social relations with areas along the Levantine Coast and toward the Aegean, Anatolia, or the Western Mediterranean, but there is no real reason to imagine these relationships as mutually exclusive.

~

As I noted, these are pretty rough notes toward a conclusion for a fairly ragged paper, but I think my paper is finally heading someplace if not productive, at least rhetorically complete.

Is Cyprus an Island?

With the lovely fall weather, I’ve been taking the dogs on some long walks lately. This has not only given me the headspace to solve the world’s problems (if I only had a pen to write down the solutions before I forgot them all) and to work on a few papers that are looming in the near future. 

The one paper that has troubled me the most is one on the archaeology of Byzantine islands that I’m scheduled to give at a conference called “The Insular World of Byzantium” at Dumbarton Oaks in November. The question that I keep circling back to is whether it makes sense to think about Cyprus as an island during the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period. In other words, I’m thinking more and more about insularity as a historical situation rather than a geographic reality. 

This is not some kind of massive mental leap. After all, since the 1980s, folks have referred to Cyprus as a “matchbox continent” (Held in the 1989 RDAC seems to be the first use of this term in this context; it seems to be used to describe Madagascar as well) as a way to challenge its insularity and, instead, see it as a more or less self-sustaining entity. In this context, it might even be desirable to see the cities on Cyprus as a kind of archipelago gracefully defined by the regular distribution of cities along the southern coast. In the kind of connected world proposed by Horden and Purcell, for example, insularity may best define the microregion that could be more or less autonymous parts of proper islands or even represent groups of closely interdependent islands or units of islands and the mainland (in the case of near coastal islands in, say, the Peloponnesus).

On the other hand, places like the Peloponnesus could be easily seen in many periods as an island (as its name implies!). Watford City, North Dakota, was once known as the “Island Empire” (defined evidently by the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers) despite its location near the geographic center of North America. Likewise, Cold War-era West Berlin was sometimes thought of as “an island of freedom” surrounded by “the sea” of the DDR. 

These observations are not meant to diminish the significance of islands as an interpretative category, but to suggest that the concept of insularity is only as useful for any particular situation (whether formally an island or not) as it serves an interpretative function. For a place like Cyprus, this means thinking seriously about what aspects of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine history and archaeology of the island (or matchbox continent) would benefit from an approach that emphasizes their insularity and which do not. For example, understanding the claims of Cypriot ecclesiastical autonomy benefit from understanding the insularity and particular history of the island and its relationship to the Holy Land and the Levant in Antiquity. Insularity also plays a obvious role in considering the arrival of bishops on the island. Barnabas and Lazarus, to the most important and apostolic bishops on Cyprus, hail from the Levant. The 4th century bishop, St. Epiphanius of Salamis died on a sea journal as he was returning to Cyprus from Constantinople. St. John the Almsgiver, retreated to Cyprus across the sea, when his See of Alexandria was lost to the Persians in the 7th century. The sea both defined the island’s autonomy and became a medium through which the island received sanctifying visitors.

If one was to consider the material culture of Cyprus on a more granular level, however, insularity feels less compelling. For example, the ceramic artifacts preserved the sherds scattered in the plow zone or in buried strata produce assemblages that appear to vary as much across the island as between the island and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. Does thinking about Cyprus as an island help us understand this variation any more than thinking of a coastal site as part of a larger landmass or as a node in a dense network of connections? 

In the end, the concept of insularity is only as good as the questions that it helps to answer. This then brings me back to the basic struggle that I have with this paper: how does the concept of the insular help me understand Early Byzantine Cyprus?

Doing Late Antiquity

One of the funny things about expertise is that if you don’t practice being an expert on something, you begin not to be. Over the past few years, my interests have changed and my level of expertise has declined in general. I tend to see this as a good thing. My interest in the world is democratizing, but at times, I have nostalgia for the times when I knew enough to confidently critique a colleague’s argument or offer a nuanced understanding of a complicated problem.

Over the last few months, I’ve been quietly reading on Late Antiquity. I’m not arrogant enough to suggest that I am becoming an expert again, but it’s been fun to visit the Late Antique world, to write about, and to think about it again.

I’m just about finished reading Georgios Deligiannakis, The Dodecanese and East Aegean islands in late Antiquity, AD 300-700 (2016) in part because I’m preparing for a conference this fall on island archaeology and Byzantium and partly because I’m working on an article on the Western Argolid in the 7th century. Deligiannakis book includes both a useful gazetteer and a synthetic analysis of Late Antiquity in the Dodecanese with special attention to Rhodes and Kos.

The book is filled with useful observations and I’ll mention just two. First, he notes that the proliferation of churches on Rhodes where there are around 80 Early Christian basilica likely reflects changing practices in euergetism in the Christian community. Citing the work of Rudolf Haensch and Peter Baumann as well as the modest epigraphic record from churches in the Dodecanese,  he argues that Christian theology motivated more modest donors to churches and this expanded the resources available to both Christian communities and the emerging ecclesiastical elite. This is compelling to me. In fact, I made a similar argument – very quietly and without any confidence – in my dissertation

Deligiannakis pays particular attention to the 7th century. This is not only useful because I’m working on a paper on the 7th century (and have been a bit obsessed with it), but also because Deligiannakis goes to some length to demonstrate the issues with using coins to date deposits in the 6th and 7th centuries. On Cyprus, the tendency to date buildings and deposits by coins – rather than ceramics – has served to align archaeological evidence too neatly with literary sources, particularly on the impact of the Arab raids. This overlooks complicated issues like the supply of coins and their survival rates. On a larger scale, this practice tends to drag the dates for ceramics and sites (and destruction layers) earlier than the ceramics alone might suggest and to cluster diverse and diffuse events into periods well-represented numismatically. Thus, the reigns of Heraclius and Constans II tend to be overrepresented in archaeological narratives. Some of the buildings, deposits, and destruction (and construction) levels dated to the reigns of these two emperor should probably be dated later.

Now, off to actually write about Late Antiquity. I might not be an expert any more, but I’ve certainly forgotten enough to find it fascinating. 

Slag

I read over the weekend Michael Given’s article titled “The materiality, monumentality and biography of copper slag on Cyprus” in the relatively recently publish festschrift for Anthony Snograss.  

Given explores the materiality of slag which is ubiquitous on Cyprus. Slag preserves in a tactile way the history of its production with the bubbles and rivulets on its surface reproducing the flow of molten metal from the furnace. The orderly deposition of slag near production sites created platforms for the superimposition of smelting kilns atop one another.  These form of slag and surfaces capture the work of producing copper from the rich ores of the Troodos mountains.

The article inspired me to think about two things.

First, slag is very common across the excavations at Polis-Chrysochous. This summer, in fact, we studied a layer of slag deposited below a floor surface and apparently used as a leveling fill. The presence of a slag heap dated by early archaeologists in the region to the Roman period likely served as a useful deposit of building material. The same slag may have also been used to pave the roads around our sites and accounts, in part, for the presence of slag in upper levels throughout the area. 

Second, I got to thinking a bit about how Given’s study of slag might inform of my thoughts about the production of refined oil in the Bakken oil patch in North Dakota. Given’s emphasis on flow as physically manifest in the form of slag, has obvious parallels with the flow of oil not only from the depths of the Bakken and Three Forks formation, but also through pipes onto trucks and through pipelines to refineries. If flow is the quintessential metaphor for modern understandings of productivity and capital, oil is the physical manifestation of this metaphor. It not only produces so much of the wealth necessary for the expansion of the modern economy (and ideas of prosperity, democracy, and social equality), but it also represents the flow of populations, wealth, and capital.  

Defending the Edge of the Empire

On my flight home from Greece, I read Fotini Kondyli’s recent(-ish) article in the The Annual of the British School at Athens 112 (2017), titled “Lords at the End of the Empire: Negotiating Power in the Late Byzantine Frontiers (14th-15th Centuries).”  It’s a nice article that explores the complex relationship between semi-autonomous rulers of the Byzantine frontiers and the Emperor as well as the techniques these rulers used to ingratiate themselves to the local populations and to organize their dominions.

I’m still thinking about the archaeology of islands in the Byzantine period and how insularity shaped the history of Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Kondyli’s carefully researched paper argues that the weakened centralized state and Emperor encouraged the promotion of autonomous border lords who were given territory, land, and tax incentives to defend the frontiers. What interested me, in particular, was how the geography of the frontier supported the autonomy of these border lords. Kondyli examines the topography and view sheds of the border lords’ towers and fortification, for example, that allowed them to monitor traffic through and around their domains. In cases like this, a balance emerged between the political insularity that reinforced autonomy, and the discontinuous character of late Byzantine grants of land and the connections, however symbolic and tenuous, with central Byzantine state, that required connectivity.

While this doesn’t map neatly onto the situation on Cyprus at the end of antiquity, various officials did leverage the island’s insularity to buoy their claims to autonomy, from the bishops who demanded the island’s autocephalous status in the East to Heraclius using the island as a basis for his coup in 610 and later as the launching point for his military expeditions in the Levant. The usual political arrangement on the island at the end of the 7th century (whatever the specifics of the so-called “condominium” arrangement between the Byzantine state and the Califate) reinforced the islands frontier status and the distinctiveness of the arrangement would have encouraged the local elite to respond in ways that negotiated between their precarious status at the edge of the empire and the historical ties to Byzantine authority. The negotiation between the island’s status as a frontier and long-standing political ties to the capital culminated, perhaps, in the Middle Byzantine period with the rise of Isaac Komnenos whose ham-fisted efforts to secure Cyprus as a base for his ambitions and appetites both failed and brought grief to the island.

Kondyli’s article does not consider Cyprus, but her general observation that frontier border lords encouraged a tension between the autonomy of their domains and their ties to the imperial center provides a lens through which to consider Cyprus in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period as both insular (literally and politically) and connected.