Long Late Antiquity in the Chrysochou Valley

My blog is a bit late this morning because I was finishing an almost final draft of my paper on the Chrysochou Valley. It comes in just under the 6000 word limit (with the abstract and citations). I’m pretty happy with it. 

Here’s the abstract:

Abstract

This contributionconsiders the long Late Antiquity in the areas of EF2 and EF1 at the site ofPolis (ancient Arsinoe). By exploring the fuzzy edges of our chronologicalunderstanding of the Roman and Late Roman periods on the island, this articleexpands the length of Late Antiquity. The changes in the area of EF2demonstrate that the work of lengthening Late Antiquity on Cyprus may beginwith exploring the Romanization of the urban landscape in the century after apossible 2nd-century earthquake. At the same time, the ever later drift of ourceramic chronologies has required us to decouple episodes of destruction,abandonment, and recovery from major historic events such as Arab raids orbroader narratives of decline. The comparison of the ceramic assemblage fromthe small suburban site of EF1 to that associated with the second phase of theSouth Basilica suggests that the reconstruction, expansion, and elaboration ofthat building may well date to 8th century. This suggests that patterns ofurbanism established sometime after the 2nd century AD continued for over fivecenturies along the northern edge of the city of Polis. 

And here’s the paper itself.

Lengthening Late Antiquity on Cyprus

I have been working on a contribution to an edited volume this week with a late-July deadline. The article is a revision of a paper that I gave in March at the Cyprus in long late antiquity conference (here’s a PDF). The paper that I gave considers the late 7th and 8th centuries at Polis (ancient Arsinoe) on Cyprus with particular attention to the South Basilica in the area of EF2 in the Princeton grid of the site and the area of EF1. Aside from the basic work of adding citations and making the paper a bit more polished, I’ve decided to add a short discussion of the Roman period at EF2 which proposes that we might consider extending the long late antiquity earlier as well as later.

I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far and I feel like I’m saying something new, rather than just reorganizing the old.

The earliest substantive phase of the area of EF2, around the South Basilica, dates to the Hellenistic and Early Roman period and includes a series of workshops that preserve evidence for metallurgical work, glass making, and ceramic manufacture. The numerous wells, cisterns, and drains across the site shows that the collection and channeling of water was an important consideration and an important asset to the industrial installations in the area. For example, immediately to the east of the apse later basilica stood a kiln apparently used in the production of lamps in the period before the middle-2nd century. The presence of shallow pool near this kiln shows that potters performed the water-intensive task of levigating clay acquired from the abundant local sources in the region. The industrial activity in this area is consistent with the kind of smoky, dirty, and water intensive activity often located around at the margins of settlement. The presence of a massive pile ancient slag to the north of EF2, shown on early modern maps and visible in the scarp of the current road from the village to the coast, hints at the scale hints at the scale of industrial activities across the northern edge of the city during the Hellenistic and Early Roman period.

The industrial area of EF2 appears to have functioned until sometime in the 2nd century. After this time, much of the area was covered in a fill layer. We dated this fill largely through the presence of Eastern Sigillata A and Cypriot Sigillata, and excavators encountered it consistently below Late Antique horizons under the South Basilica. It is tempting, of course, to associate this fill level with evidence for a mid-second century earthquake that destroyed the House of Dionysios at Paphos and resulted in the sealed deposits published by John Hayes in 1991 (202-203). Our efforts to trace the post-2nd century redevelopment of this area encounters the challenges associated with the 3rd-century ceramic typologies and chronologies across the island and the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly. That said, it is probable that the two well-paved roads that intersect in the area date in their current state to after the transformation of the industrial precinct in the area. This road system includes a series of pipes and channels designed both drain water from the roadbed. It seems probable that this water system also served to manage the flow of water down the coastal ridge from the city through the buildings situated along its northern edge. It seems likely that emphasis on drainage associated with this area complemented effort to level the entire area with the 2nd-century fill that served to reduce the flow of water down the natural drainage running through this area. The emphasis on drainage and leveling the region may well anticipate later efforts to forestall erosion in advance of redeveloping this district of the city.

There is limited evidence for architecture associated with this 2nd-century leveling phase. The main example is a building opening onto the north side of the east-west road that we have called the southeast rooms. It is clearly associated with the existing roads and while it may date to as early as 1st c. AD, it is more likely part of the post-2nd-century transformation of this area. In later centuries, the building underwent a series of modification including its division into two rooms which continued to stand along the east-west road until their destruction at around the time of the major reconstruction of the South Basilica.

The other structure in the area that dated to after the 2nd-century fill is a quadrifons arch which must post-date the construction of the Roman roads in the area. This feature is more significant for our understanding of this section of the city. The arch stood astride the north-south and east-west roads through the area. Its prominent location at the northern edge of the city makes it a suitable location for a display of civic euergetism which came increasingly to characterize Roman cities on the island. Such effort to aggrandize urban roads with colonnades and arches is characteristic of 2nd and 3rd century changes in cities across the Near East and Cyprus that Jody Gordon has associated with the Romanization of the island’s urban aesthetic (Gordon 2012). Thus, it is possible to imagine that the arch was the work of a civic benefactor who installed it to monumentalize the entry to the city from the coast. The arch post-dates the construction of the road. The southeast footing for the arch interrupts the original drain along the eastern side of the road necessitating a new drain cut into the road pavement to the west of the original drain. While we know little about the elevation of this structure, it appears to contribute to the transformation of the area from an industrial landscape, prior to the destruction of the workshops and kilns, to a monumental landscape at some point starting after the 2nd-century AD. The best parallel on Cyprus for this kind of feature is are the double tetrapyla associated with the southwestern and northwestern corners of the western court at the basilica of the Campanopetra at Salamis. These likely date to the 5th or 6th centuries and so it is possible that the quadrifons at Polis may date to many centuries after the renovated road (Roux 1998, 28-29).

The inability to date a feature such as this arch on the basis of its footprint alone demonstrates how the basic features of a monumentalized space developed with the Romanization of urban space on the island which accelerated in the 2nd century AD. This offers another perspective on the concept of the long late antiquity. Instead of focusing on extending the end of the Late Antiquity period into the 8th or even 9th centuries, this brief survey of the Roman period at the site of Polis-Arsinoe, suggests that some of the urban patterns present along the north edge of the city emerged along with the larger redevelopment of the area perhaps after a 2nd-century earthquake. The renovated road, the southeast rooms, and the quadrifons arch well mark the start of the long Late Antiquity at EF2.

Drafting the Long Late Antiquity on Cyprus

This month, I’m working on revising a paper that I gave in March on the Chrysochous Valley on Cyprus during the “long late antiquity” (here’s a PDF). To do this, I’m going to look both later and earlier at two areas at the city of Polis. To tighten the paper a bit, I’m going to cut most of the stuff about Koutsopetria and focus more on our work from Polis, particularly the areas EF2 and EF1 (which you can find described, loosely, here and here).

I’m working right now on a short introduction and this where I am right now. Enjoy:

Long Late Antiquity in the Chrysochou Valley

The concept of a “long late antiquity” appears to have emerged around the turn of the 21st century (Cameron 2001). Over the last decade, the phrase has increasingly emerged as shorthand for studies of late antiquity that conform to the more expansive view of the period introduced by A.H.M. Jones and Peter Brown (Jones 1964; Brown 1971; e.g. Marcone 2008; Izdebski and Mulryan 2018). While no one has written a critical history of this phrase and Marcone (2008) overview of scholarship on the long late antiquity oddly does not use the phrase at all beyond the title of the article, it is easy enough imagine this concept as a more expansive view of the ancient Mediterranean developed over the last three decades of the 20th century (although see Inglebert 2017 for the concept of the persistence of the idea of a “short late antiquity”). The development of this concept at the end of the 20th century may well have anticipated the end of that century and an awareness that the defining character of the 20th-century would continue into the 21st century just as the long-19th century extended from the French Revolution until the start of the Great War (e.g. Hobsbawn 1962; 1975; 1987).

Whatever the general context for this term, the concept of the long late antiquity in the 21st-century reflects an approach characterized by an effort to correct earlier chronological schemes overdetermined by catastrophic political or military events. Archaeologists, of course, have done their part to contribute to these narratives. They sought to correct the tendency of an older generation of archaeologists to associate modification to the urban fabric, damage to buildings, and changes in rural settlement with political and military events. In the place of event based archaeology, 21st-century scholars have increasingly come to study long term economic trends, the complexities of environmental change, and the persistence of forms of social organization and everyday practices. All this has tended to blur the tidy association of archaeological levels with particular historical events and consequently blurred the edges of the Late Antique world.

Among archaeologists, one of the key contributors to the long late antiquity is the ever later drift of our ceramic chronologies (e.g. Sanders and Slane 2005; Armstrong 2009) bolstered by the steadily expanding body of carefully published excavations and surveys from both on Cyprus (Rautman 2003; Caraher et al. 2019) and across the Mediterranean world. This work, which is so impressively represented at this conference, has managed to distance archaeological narratives from political or military events. In Greece, for example, evidence for 7th century pottery in the countryside and in urban centers reveals that the Slavic invasion of the late 6th century no longer represents a catastrophic break and many urban and rural sites remained viable into the mid-7th century (Gallimore and Caraher 2020). The evidence for the Islamic conquests of the 7th century in the Levant, as another example, remain ambiguous with some areas showing a rapid decline in the number of settlements, whereas other regions show little change or even expansion (GET CITE). 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 island’s material culture (see Zavagno 2017; Metcalf 2009).

This is not to suggest that Cyprus did not see significant changes in the 7th and 8th centuries. The varied character and extent of these changes, however, provides another key context for understanding the long late antiquity on the island. For example, as Marcus Rautman has shown, the countryside appears to have endured significant depopulation by the middle years of the 7th century (Rautman 2000). At the same time, urban centers appear to have continued and enjoyed ongoing prosperity with Paphos showing signs of an Arab population in the 8th century (Megaw 1988; Christides 2006), Soloi preserving evidence for recovery after the Arab raids (Des Gagniers and Tinh 1985, 115-125.), Kyrenia remaining an important port for the Byzantine fleet (GET CITE), Salamis-Constantia and its neighborhood witnessing ongoing investment and rebuilding (Argoud et al. 1980.), and so on. Even urban continuity, however, is not a rule: Megaw argued that Kourion was abandoned after a late-7th century earthquake, Amathus experienced gradually declined with the site producing coins, seals, and ceramics only into the early-8th century, and Kition remaining largely unknown. Between the countryside and cities, ex-urban sites such as Ay. Georgios-Peyias appear to have declined in the 7th century.

Despite the significant evidence that late antiquity continues for longer than catastrophic events might have suggested to an earlier generation of scholars, the concept of a long late antiquity is not limited to simply extending the period later. John Lund has noted generally (2015) that the absence of securely dated 3rd century contexts on the island should not necessarily represent a stark decrease in activity on the island during these period. Moreover, as Henryk Meyza work at Paphos has shown some of the ambiguity associated with the 3rd century on the island might be the result of our ceramic typologies (2007). On Cyprus, the division between the latest forms of Cypriot Sigillata, for example, and the earliest forms of Cypriot Red Slip (or Late Roman “D” ware) often falls during the 3rd century with the assumption that former is earlier and the latter is later. These kinds of chronological divisions reinforce periodization schemes that create a break between the Roman period proper and Late Antiquity.

This paper will consider a constellation of evidence from two areas at the site of Polis-Arsinoe which provides an example of the long late antiquity on the island.

Writing a Site Guide for Polis (Part 2)

Yesterday, I started to put some words on the page for a guide book to the excavations at Polis on Cyprus that Joanna Smith is spearheading. I focused on the site EF1 on Tuesday and today, I thought I would take a swing at the somewhat more formidable task of describing the neighborhood of the South Basilica. This also dovetails with my July writing project which involves turning my “The Chrysochous Valley in the Long Late Antiquity” paper (here’s a PDF) into an article.

So here goes:

In the sixth century, the South Basilica come to dominate the district known as EF2 on the basis of the Princeton excavation grid and it continues to be the most prominent structure visible in this area today. Originally constructed as a three-aisled basilica with three eastern apses and a wood roof. Fragments of mosaics found during excavations suggest that the apses likely had light catching mosaic decorations. The walls of the central nave stood higher than those of the flanking aisles and almost certainly had windows that bathed the central nave with light and both decorative and figural wall painting. 

The church underwent a series of modifications over the course of its six hundred years of existence. The most significant adaptation occurred in the 7th or early 8th century when it received a narthex to the east and porch that ran along the entire south side of the building. Originally, a series of arched opening supported the south porch which joined the narthex in the square annex room visible today to the south of the narthex. At the same time, the wood roof was replaced by barrel vaults supported by series of buttresses that are visible along the walls of the center aisle. The area between the south porch and the road was an open courtyard that stood atop a two meter deep fill of rubble which served as a drain designed to prevent the flow of water down the hill from undermining the church’s walls. It may be that the downslope flow of waters against the south wall of the church caused damage to the first phase of the church and led to the construction of the barrel vaulted second phase. Whatever the cause, it is notable that barrel vaults, narthexes, and south porches remain common features in the churches on Cyprus. 

At some point in the building’s history, the church itself and the surrounding area becomes a burial ground. The three well preserved burials stand in the south aisle of the church. These burials likely represented individuals with either a close connection to this particular church or status in the community or the ecclesiastical hierarchy. One of these individuals was buried with a decorated bronze cross suspended from a bronze chain. These burials may be the earliest around the church. The next few centuries saw over 150 interments to the south, east, and west of the church and these individuals represented a cross-section of Late Roman and Medieval Arsinoe. The burials are notable for the presence of personal effects especially stone pectoral crosses that marked out the piety and faith of the deceased.

The Medieval history of the building remains less clear. It appears that at least part of the western side of the church collapsed by the 11th century. It may be, however, that the central nave continued to stand and function as a truncated cemetery church for another century or so.  

The church building was not the only Late Roman and Medieval buildings in the area of EF2. To the south of the church stand the so-called “Southeast Rooms.” The earliest phase of these rooms appears to predate the basilica and might date to the 3rd or 4th century. They were modified in the 5th or 6th centuries and the large room was divided into two smaller rooms that appear to open onto the east-west road to the south of the basilica. These rooms were destroyed and covered with the cobble fill as part of the second phase of the South Basilica.

To the west of basilica on the west side of the north south room stood a small well house. This building appear to be contemporary with the basilica and is part of a larger transformation of this area in Late Antiquity. Fragments of mosaic found in the well itself indicates that the apsidal shaped well-house was probably covered by a half-doom decorated with mosaic. That and its elegant shape suggests that this building was an attractive contribution to the neighborhood of the church. The water from the well and the arched south porch of the church offered a welcome site to travelers entering the city from the coastal road.

The well-house and basilica marks the transformation of this area from being an industrial suburb of the city to a more monumental space. This transformation likely began with the construction of the quadrafrons arch at some point after the second century. The construction of the church marked would have marked Polis out as a Christian city and advertised the power of its bishop, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the Christian community. The subsequent growth of the cemetery demonstrated that the practice of burying the dead outside of the town’s center continued from antiquity and the significance of this Early Christian monument persisted for nearly a half-millennium. 

Writing a Site Guide for Polis (Part 1)

One of this summer’s projects is to write up a few sections that contribute to a new guidebook for the site of Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus. The site is currently undergoing adaptation to accommodate visitors in a more structured and informed way and the site guide will be part of this larger undertaking. Fortunately, we have a great writing team and I’ll collaborate with Scott Moore and Amy Papalexandrou to describe some sections of the sites and Joanna Smith is gamely marshaling others to bring this entire thing together.

This morning, I thought I’d prepare a draft describing the site of EF1. It’s a fun challenge because not only is it visible from the main road connecting the village of Polis to a popular beach, but it also is only partially excavated and its function is uncertain. Fortunately, I only need to produce 850 words so this is not a major component to the guide, but since it is a site that attracts some curiosity (and one that my colleague Scott Moore and I have worked on lately), I want to try to introduce casual visitors to the complexities of archaeology at Polis.

So here goes:

There are a small pair of rooms situated on the east side of the road from the village of Polis to beachside camping site. The site is known as “E.F1” based on its designation in the Princeton excavation grid system and it stands on the edge of the coastal ridge overlooking the flatter plains and the sea. It seems possible that an ancient road ascended from the coast in this area. 

The walls visible at the site represent three different Late Antique phases dating to the 6th and 7th centuries. The remains of a doorway facing the road is part of the earliest phases at the site and probably dates to the 6th century AD. It provides access to an east-west hallway that is visible to the east of the door, but is now interrupted by a later, north-south wall. 

The north-south wall is part of the second phase at the building as is the east-west wall visible on the northern side of of the site. A doorway preserved in this wall stands at a significantly higher elevation than the door near the road indicating that it is almost certainly later. It appears that the drain running through the eastern part of the building dates to this phase as well. The presence of a drain here suggests a renewed interest in controlling the flow of water down the coastal ridge and hints at changes to water management in the ancient city upslope. It may be that erosion at the site led the builders to reinforce the structure by thickening the walls. A similar strategy of wall thickening is visible at the South Basilica and in Medieval churches throughout the area. Despite these efforts, it appears that the building collapsed at some point in the 7th century. It may have been already abandoned as the drain was clogged with debris and a layer of rubble, including a well-preserved glass window, covered floors that were largely devoid of artifacts.   

With few artifacts associated with the building’s use, it is difficult to understand its function in antiquity. The excavators found a significant quantity of slag during their excavations that they originally speculated might reflect an industrial function for the building. Most of this slag, however, appeared in the lowest levels of excavation and probably represents industrial activities in this region prior to this building’s construction. In fact, early maps of the area show a “heap of slag” that likely dates to antiquity and the presence of workshops in Roman levels surrounding the South Basilica likely accounts for the presence of industrial debris in the area. Of course, this does not provide us with any particular insights into the function of the Late Roman phase of the building. The well-preserved window glass and the nicely designed doorway, however, hints that these rooms may have been part of a domestic structure which would have been well-situated to catch seas breezes and to have a clear view of the coast.

At some point after the building’s abandonment and collapse, a woman was buried along the south side of the site immediately to the east of the large north-south wall. She was buried with a lead sealing inscribed with the name Stephanos, a local aristocrat known from other seals dating generally to the early 8th century. The sealing presumable sealed a document of some importance to the deceased and since the seal must predate the burial, it suggests a mid-8th century date for the abandonment of the site. It may be that this burial along with those surrounding the North and South basilicas mark the transformation of the northern side of the city into a cemetery precinct. 

Small Rural Sites in Cyprus

This weekend I read Catherine Kearns’s and Anna Georgiadou’s recent article in the Journal of Field Archaeology (2021): “Rural Complexities: Comparative Investigations at Small Iron Age Sites in South-Central Cyprus.” The article is good for a number of reasons and should be added to any reading list on rural Mediterranean landscapes. If you have time (and are into that kind of thing), you should just go read it.

Without summarizing a fairly short article, Kearns and Georgiadou report on their work at two rural sites which they documented using intensive survey, remote sensing (magnetometry and ground penetrating radar), and targeted excavation. But that’s not all! The site of Kalavasos-Vounaritashi was initially identified by the Vasilikos Valley Survey and the site of Maroni-Vournes by the Maroni-Vournes Archaeological Survey Project. The former took place in the 1970s and 1980s and the latter in the 1990s. Kearns and Georgiadou’s work, then, not only followed recent trends toward examining using more intensive methods small sites initially identified by archaeological survey  (perhaps best exemplified in the Roman Peasant Project) and also reflects a growing interest in rural landscapes defined by small (and sometimes ephemeral) scatters of ceramics. 

Both sites stand in the territory of the city of Amathus in valley that connected copper ore producing area of the Troodos Mountains to the sea and also provided access to timber, gypsum, and undoubtedly agriculturally productive area upon which the city and local communities could draw. These rural sites, however, were not simply economic outposts of the urban center, but also defined regional religious landscapes with shrines, defensive landscapes with military installations, and transportation landscapes with routes and roads. For archaeologists, however, the challenge has been that these landscapes have largely been assumed rather than argued. Unpacking the function of sites in rural landscapes is a long standing challenge for archaeologists as short term or seasonal habitation, short lived religious sites, temporary or periodic fortified locations, and a wide range of small scale production sites can all produce surface assemblages of remarkably similar appearance. Moreover, many small scale rural activities are likely not to appear at all on the surface or blink on and off according to plough zone activity, erosion, and seasonal changes in visibility.

Work like that done by Kearns and Georgiadou plays a key role in not only understanding rural landscapes but also the relationship between surface and sub-surface material in the countryside. What was particularly valuable about this article is that that authors demonstrated how their methods – from survey to remote sensing – did not necessarily produce the kind of obvious correlations between the data collected from the surface and excavation results. In fact, the excavated remains were quite modest (and pretty reminiscent of the results from our first season of excavation on the height of Pyla-Vigla). It strikes me that this kind of transparency in the publication of problem-focused and methodological archaeological field work is pretty valuable.

Finally, the focus of this article on the Cypriot Iron Age reminds me that if I had to do it over again, I might have focused some of my research on this important transitional period on the island. The political coalescing of the Iron Age kingdoms, the changes in rural settlement and economy, and the role that sanctuaries and fortifications played in defining the these kingdoms’ territories offer a brilliant range of significant questions for archaeology. 

One last thing. As far as I can tell, this article also included the first reference to Katie Kearns’s book, which is listed as “in press” with Cambridge University Press. I’m looking forward to reading it:

Kearns, C. In press. The Rural Landscapes of Archaic Cyprus: An Archaeology of Environmental and Social Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Good Friday, the Epitaphios, and COVID-19

This week is Holy Week for many Orthodox Christians, but like last year, the COVID pandemic has changed some of the basic rituals of Orthodox life. Giorgos Papantoniou and Thanasis Vionis in a very recent article in the journal Ethnoarchaeology titled “Popular Religion and Material Responses to Pandemic: The Christian Cult of the Epitaphios during the COVID-19 Crisis in Greece and Cyprus.

Papantoniou and Vionis document how practices surrounding the Epitaphios ritual changed in Greece and Cyprus during the pandemic. The Epitaphios is an elaborately decorated wooden bier meant to symbolize the tomb of Christ. The decoration of the bier, generally done by women, is a long-standing tradition during Holy Week that precedes a ritual procession of the Epitaphios by the entire community. The procession of the Epitaphios culminates in the Good Friday mass.

(As an aside I have the fondest memories of watching the Epitaphios processions at East in Athens. It felt like it caused the city to pause for a moment and brought various neighborhoods together both to mourn Christ’s crucifixion, but also to start the final crescendo toward the release of Easter.)

Papantoniou and Vionis document the various ways that people adapted the Epitaphios traditions and rituals to accommodate lockdowns and bans on gatherings. For example, some individuals decorated home made biers in their own homes converting a community and public tradition into a private one that could then be shared on social media with a wider community. They also documented how the church transformed the Good Friday procession of the Epitaphios, another event that precipitated a heighten sense of community typically manifest in the bustling collective ritual, into a remote rite where the community engages with the ritual movement of the Epitaphios from a distance or in virtual ways.

The authors suggest that studying the changes that the pandemic brought to the Epitaphios traditions and rituals offers a model for how rituals change during crisis and both reveals certain underlying values that structure the practices and demonstrates how crises can prompt the adaption of rites. While their research has the feeling of being rather preliminary, it offers an intriguing lens through which to think about materiality during the COVID pandemic by considering a ritual with a rather formal structure and practices. It may be that their work is a point of departure, then, for studies of the post-pandemic world that consider the changes that COVID wrought in our everyday lives.

For all my colleagues and friends who observe, have a blessed and restorative Holy Week! 

Roman and Early Christian Cyprus

This weekend I read the latest in a spate of edited volumes on the history and archaeology of Cyprus: From Roman to Early Christian Cyprus: Studies in Religion and Archaeology edited by Laura Nasrallah, AnneMarie Luijendijk, and Charalambos Bakirtzis. The book continues in a tradition begun by the late Helmut Koester by bringing together historians, art historians, and archaeologists to discuss the context for Early Christianity in a particular locale. As the title of this book suggests, the volume considers Cyprus.

A quick skim of the table of contents reveals that this volume has brought together an impressive group of senior scholars who represent a wide range of approaches to Roman, Late Roman, and Early Christian Cyprus. They do a nice job of approaching a rather limited body of material from the island in new and intriguing ways. In other words, if you’re familiar with the archaeology and history of Cyprus, you won’t encounter new evidence in this volume, but quite possibly some interesting new interpretations.

The Laura Nasrallah’s and Henry Maguire’s discussion of the well-known inscriptions from the House of Eustolius at Kourion, for example, reminded me of just how complicated these texts are as testimony for the place of Christianity in the life of 5th-centuy Kourion. Drew Wilburn’s article on the ritual specialists and Demetrios Michaelides contribution on mosaic workshops unpack the relationship between the productive and ritual economies. Athanasios Papageorghiou and Nikolas Bakirtzis, Stephanos Efthymiadis, and Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou and Giorgos Philotheou discuss hagiography, art, and archaeology. Andrew Jacobs and Young Richard Kim discuss Epiphanius. And so on.

The insights of these thoughtful scholars make the volume worth reading and every article contains some worthwhile insight. At times, however, I wished that the contributors spoke to one another in a bit more of a sustained way. For example, it would be intriguing to understand whether the diversity of church forms on the island followed any recognizable patterns of theological, economic, or cultural diversity (although I suspect that the answer is… not that we can discern).

More interesting still is that most of the papers focus on Salamis, Paphos, and Kourion without only brief detours to other cities on the island (although Charalambos Bakirtzis’s update on the site of Ay. Georgios tis Peyeias was worthwhile). Polis is barely mentioned at all and Kition garnered very little attention. I suppose this is consistent with a view of both the Christianity as an urban religion and Roman Cyprus as an urban place. Of course, we also know that Cyprus featured a “busy countryside” with ex-urban places such as Alassa, Koutsopetria, Ay. Georgios, and Ay. Kononas on the Akamas (and, in fact, David Pettegrew and I were discussing this very thing this past week). These places made me wonder whether the Christianity that appeared in our texts would be different if we assumed that there were at least as many rural Christians as urban ones.

It was also interesting that for all the deserved attention to Barnabas and Epiphanius, there was little discussion of the status of Lazarus who at least according to tradition was the Bishop of Larnaka and had his relics translated to Constantinople in the 9th century. In some ways, he suggests a possible rival to Salamis-Constantia’s claim to Barnabas’s Apostolic primacy on the island perhaps associated with Kition? While there are few sources for Late Roman Kition and the story of Lazarus my well be post-antique, it still got me curious about how these stories (and buildings such as Ay. Lazarus in Larnaka) might reveal tensions that are not entirely visible in the more mainstream sources.

The same could be said about things like the architecture of churches on the island which seems to suggest relationships between communities, builders (or architects), and liturgies both on the island and off the island. Of course, these relationships can’t be traced precisely in most cases and the chronologies are fuzzy, and many of these buildings have no been excavated or published to the most rigorous standards, but they still present some potential narratives that complicate the more unified or islandwide perspectives.

That being said, it was great to read a book that sought to contextualize Early Christianity (and to some extent, Late Antiquity) in the transition from the Roman to the Late Roman period. As I noted last week, this was a version of the “long late antiquity” that I missed at the conference I attended two weeks ago. This isn’t so much a critique of that conference, but more a thought about how the period of Late Antiquity might free itself from a view antiquity that stressed or expects continuity, say, in economic activity and urbanism. By emphasizing religious change and the emergence of Christianity provides another lens to complicate the endless debates concerning continuity and change at the end of antiquity. 

Cyprus and the Long Late Antiquity

Last week, I attended a virtual conference on Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity convened by Ine Jacobs and Panayiotis Panayides at nominally hosted by Oxford University. The conference was a wonderful cross section of recent research on Late Antique Cyprus and brought together specialists on both a wide range of material culture and texts from that period. 

The talks generally revolved around a few common themes. Many sought to push the late antique period into the 8th century and beyond the disruption traditionally associated with the Arab raids and the so-call “condominium” period of the middle 7th century. As one might expect, most talks stressed continuity between the 6th and 8th centuries. Many also emphasized the persistent connectivity of the island during the 6th to 8th centuries which manifest itself in the appearance of imported ceramics, coins, seals attesting to the connection with imperial and ecclesiastic officials, external influences on architecture, and the cosmopolitan lives of Cypriot saints. Of course, these two things are not unconnected as imported wares, off-island influences, and regional administrative and ecclesiastical connections often serve as easily datable benchmarks in the history of the island and demonstrate that the later-7th and 8th centuries were not periods of isolation and economic and political disruption. 

I was pleased, then, that my paper which was rather focused on our work at the sites of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Polis fit into these wider conversations and both echoed their findings and benefited from the complementary perspectives. For example, Pamela Armstrong and Guy Sanders argued that we can push the chronology of well known forms of imported pottery – namely African Red Slip 105 – into the 8th century, and this helped make sense of the later history of the site of Polis and Koutsopetria by showing ongoing activity and perhaps prosperity at these sites in the century after the Arab raids. The continued vitality of trade and administrative networks that extended to North Africa, the Aegean, and the Levant indicates that the island’s role as a highly integrated hub of Mediterranean connectivity endured even as the political landscape in the region changed.  

The keynote talk by Marcus Rautman situated the study of Late Antiquity on Cyprus within both wider historiographic trends and work on the island. He managed to describe a trajectory of research that culminated in current trends that have expanded late antiquity into later periods. At the same time, he gently identified some gaps in the paper’s presented at the conference and which did not address environmental history, for example, and avoided probing the connection between our study of the Late Antiquity on the island and Cypriot nationalism especially over the last 50 years.

Maybe it’s the looming shadow of recent political events that influenced my attention to papers at the conference, but it was rather striking how little our contemporary situation seemed explicitly to influence the papers. Of course, I wasn’t expecting papers to evoke Brexit, Trump, this summer’s riots in the US (and ongoing racial tensions in Europe) or the riot at the Capitol, but at the same time, I thought that the growing attentiveness to the politics of the past, and the notion of Late Antiquity, might be more visible in the papers.

For example, it’s obvious enough to understand the desire for persistence on Cyprus as part of a long-term effort to negotiate the origins of modern Europe (made most obvious in the work of Henri Pirenne, but also present in Peter Brown’s efforts to locate Late Antiquity). The situation of Cyprus, “betwixt the Greeks and the Saracens,” established not only the place of Cyprus adjacent to the Arab Levant, but also the chronology of Late Antiquity which juxtaposes the ancient world, epitomized by Greekness, and the Medieval and indeed Modern Mediterranean, shaped by the rise of Islamic states. Arguments for the persistence of antiquity into the 8th century (and later) feel like efforts to forestall the inevitable transformation of Mediterranean and the island by extending the reach of the ancient world. 

To be clear, this isn’t to say that I’m skeptical of these efforts. Indeed, my scholarship has tended to see in the 8th century similarities with the 5th and 6th century rather than differences. The issue is, rather, whether the 5th and 6th centuries should be understood as more similar to the ancient world than to the world of the 10th century. Does our effort to extend antiquity later overlook the fundamental differences between the Late Antique world that earlier periods on Cyprus. By this I don’t mean simply the appearance  of Christianity or the various re-organizations of the Roman Empire, but the connections between Cyprus and its surrounding regions as manifest in ceramics, architecture, and movement. When, for example, did the economic networks that produce Cyprus’s distinctive Late Antique assemblage of ceramics emerge? I would assume after the 2nd century and perhaps amid the ambiguities of the 3rd and 4th centuries on the island.

This is significant because it complicates the notion that the ancient world, even the late ancient world, ended with the disruption of the Persian invasion of the Levant, the rise of Islamic states, or the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate. It seems like Cyprus should be a key place to complicate our notion of what constitutes antiquity and to even negotiate a new period, free of some of the contemporary (and, indeed, modern) political baggage of antiquity.

The general absence of theory at the conference — assemblages were just groups of artifacts and no one mentioned ontology, agency, or any other watchwords of the archaeological and critical theory toolkit — was actually not unpleasant, but one wondered whether it made it more difficult to engage with the larger project of interrogating the long late antiquity?

In any event, this is a minor and perhaps idiosyncratic critique that should take nothing away from the remarkable range of papers presented last week. Apparently a publication is planned and perhaps that will give us all a chance to expand, refine, and complicate our arguments and the definition of a long late antiquity.

Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity

This morning, rather early my time, I’ve started to attend a conference on Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity where I’m giving a paper later this morning.

The line up is impressive and I’m looking forward to getting up to date on a range of people’s work on Late Antique Cyprus.

My paper seeks to weave together some of the latest material from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria and our recent work on Polis (ancient Arsinoë). For close followers of our work on Cyprus, this will likely feel summative rather than distinctly significant. At the same time, I do like to think that the paper shows some small, incremental, refinements in our analysis of the city of Arsinoë at the end of Late Antiquity. 

You can read the program or enroll in the conference here.

You can read my paper here.