Movement and Empire in a Connected Mediterranean

I’ve finally found time to check out C. Concannon and L. Mazurka, Across the Corrupting Sea: Post-Braudelian Approaches to the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean. (Ashgate 2016). David Pettegrew and I were lucky enough to have an article in this volume which is joined by some find contributions from archaeologists working around the Mediterranean basin.

I was particularly excited to read Jody Gordon’s article, “To Obey by Land and Sea: Cultural Identity in Hellenistic and Roman Cyprus,” in part because it deals with issues that I’ve played with from time to time, and in part because I knew it to be a summary of some points in his massive dissertation from the University of Cincinnati. Gordon argues that the place of Cyprus in the Mediterranean situated its relations with various imperial states during the Hellenistic and Roman periods and fundamental inflected Cypriot culture. Gordon’s arguments, at their best, are nuanced and recognize that some elements of foreign influence on the island – like the Hellenistic style tombs from Paphos – are more likely to represent intrusions, whereas others – like the adoption of Roman style mosaic floors depicting games – are more likely to be hybrid expressions negotiated over centuries of sustained contact between Cypriots and the wider Roman world. What was particularly clever in Gordon’s piece is that he recognized that the Cypriots used their island status to negotiate its relationship between the various imperial forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. While he could not detail every opportunity for interaction, Gordon’s analysis could be extended both earlier and later than his article. For example, it is clear that Ptolemaic control over Cyprus in the Early Hellenistic period was not simply an expression of Ptolemy’s military and political superiority in the region, but a product of the  wrangling of the late Iron Age kingdoms on Cyprus which allied themselves with various external political powers (and here is clearly echoes of work being done on the contemporary Roman world). Cypriots on a smaller scale presumably negotiated similar understandings through their engagement with Hellenistic and Roman material culture, adopting expressions that served local and regional purposed while ignoring others. The assemblages that these relationships to larger imperial state and networks produced on the island – mitigated by economic, political, religious, and even vague social and cultural factors (taste? memory? internal rivalries between communities?) – created the complex tableaux of sites that constitute our understanding of Cypriot archaeology and history. Like a Foucauldian text, the very idea of Cypriot sites only appears in the relationships with others within the larger discourse of the Hellenistic and Roman world. Good stuff here!

Concannon and Mazurka volume does offer a bit more sweeping views of the Mediterranean. There is a timeliness to their revisiting of Braudel massive Mediterranean and his successors – particular Horden and Purcell’s equally monumental The Corrupting Sea. The notion of the Mediterranean as a place of interaction and in Horden and Purcell’s words, connectivity, is as visible in the contemporary European Union (or in the increasingly transnational economic agents who navigate both the physical and fiscal Mediterranean(s) of the contemporary world) and the current refugee crisis. The movement of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan to the coast of the Mediterranean reflects both the continuities that Braudel and others have described in the region as well as the breakdown of the national borders. In other words, the pre-national Mediterranean of Bruadel and Horden and Purcell does offer lessons and methods for understanding our increasingly post-national world present.

CAARI Monograph Series at the HathiTrust

Yesterday, I began messing around with sprucing up the venerable CAARI (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute) website. As part of that I thought I’d put together some links to the full and open digital texts of volumes in the CAARI monograph series published by the American Schools of Oriental Research.

A few years ago, the ASOR’s Committee on Publications under the leadership of Chuck Jones took steps to make out of print books published by ASOR open access through the HathiTrust. The most recent volume, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires, edited by Davis, Stewart, and Weyl Carr, is only a couple of years old, so it hasn’t been released yet (see my comments in this fine volume here). Oddly enough, the first volume, Res Maritimae, from 1994, was not picked up in The Googles scanning net, but I bet no one would object to a digitized copy of this book being made available. Maybe someone at CAARI can oblige! 

(As an aside, we hope that my volume with David Pettegrew and Scott Moore, Pyla-Koustopetria I: Archaeological Survey of An Ancient Coastal Town (2015) will be available in a linked, open format sometime quite soon!)

The only bummer about these volumes is that they are released under a CC-By-ND-NC license. This is a non-commercial license meaning that you can’t use these books for any commercial enterprise. Because this kind of license has been read pretty strictly, some (let’s say) benign commercial entities like universities and academic institutions have been reluctant to allow for the use of material released under non-commercial licenses in their classes, for example.

This is a quibble though because the books remain valuable contributions to our understanding of the island and they are now available for individual researchers to use for free. 

No. 1. Stuart Swiny, Robert L. Hohlfelder, and Helena Wylde Swiny (eds.). Res Maritimae: Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean from Prehistory to Late Antiquity, 1994.

No. 2. Stuart Swiny (ed.) The Earliest Prehistory of Cyprus from Colonization to Exploitation, 2001.

No. 3. Diane Bolger and Nancy Serwint (eds.). Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus, 2002.

No. 4. Stuart Swiny, George Rapp, and Ellen Herscher (eds.). Sotira Kaminoudhia, An Early Bronze Age Site in Cyprus, 2003.

No. 5. Charles Antony Stewart; Thomas W Davis; Annemarie Weyl Carr (eds.) Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion, 2014.

Job Posting: Director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute

The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute has opened their search for a new director. For the past 15 years, CAARI has played an important part in my career as an archaeologist and historian, and the two directors of the institute played no small part in the success of my field project, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. Both the current director, Andrew McCarthy, and the previous director, Andrew McCarthy, have helped us extract ourselves from sticky situations in archaeological politics on the island and provided perspective on the complexities of both the Cypriot and the American archaeological community on the island.

Over the past couple of years, they’ve completed construction of an expanded library which will, apparently, house paper books. CAARI has also supported a vibrant community of fellows, regular academic lectures and conferences, and the annual summer archaeological workshop which brings together many of the archaeologists active on the island to present their most recent findings. While I’ve not done too much research in the library nor availed myself to the hostel or other amenities that CAARI provides for scholars, we have sent students to the library there on a regular basis and the library’s collection (including runs of some local and rather obscure journals) is a nice “one stop shop” for focused research on the material culture of the island.

I’m on the CAARI Board of Trustees, but I don’t know much about the job search or what the committee is “really” looking for. The list of responsibilities seem a bit out of sync with the qualifications. They seem to be looking for a building manager, event planner, administrator, and liaison who happens to also be an archaeologist. There is nothing, necessarily, that makes the responsibilities and qualification incompatible, but they seem to want two different things. 

In any event, CAARI is a good and valuable institution, they’re offering an attractive package of salary and benefits; here’s a link to the job announcement. Applications are due September 20th.

Pyla-Koustopetria Archaeology Project: Churning On

This blog began – back in 2005 or whenever – to share news from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project with our various friends, supporters, and colleagues. Since that time, I’ve written well over 100 posts on various PKAP related topics both on this blog and in the archive. It’s a bit sobering to realize that I haven’t posted about PKAP for so long, but since David Pettegrew, Scott Moore, and I have spent the last few weeks working on PKAP related materials, it seems like a fine time for an update.

J74701 Pyla Koutsopetria 1993 Ar I

We are working to prepare a complete draft of the excavations at the site. The PKAP team conducted three seasons of targeted excavation at the sites of Pyla-Vigla, Pyla-Koutsopetria, and (in a rather strange situation) at Pyla-Kokkinokremos. We are working to publish the results of our work at Pyla-Vigla and Pyla-Koutsopetria and the description of the stratigraphy and phases associated with our work is largely done. Pyla-Vigla is a Hellenistic fortified site with three very clear phases. Koutsopetria is an Early Christian basilica. 

We are also working to publish the results from two earlier campaigns of excavation at the site of Koutsopetria by Maria Hadjicosti and the Department of Antiquities in 1993 and 1999. During these campaigns an annex room (Room 1) and part of the apse of the basilica were exposed. This is a more complicated project since we do not have the excavation notebooks (if they ever existed) for the project, but have a record of inventoried finds and the context pottery from the various excavated context. Ordinarily this would be a massive challenge for anyone trying to reconstruct the stratigraphy and phases of the building, but we had two advantages. First, we had David Pettegrew’s meticulous patience and willingness to solve archaeological problems. He went through the all of the records that we do have – mainly elevations and horizontal grid coordinates. – and created a series of plausible levels and passes. The other advantage was that the excavations mostly removed collapse and encountered only very small lenses that can be associated with the site’s pre-collapse abandonment. Complementing David’s work is analysis of ceramic artifacts by R. Scott Moore and the analysis of the painted plaster, molded gypsum, and various architectural fragments by Sarah Lepinski. 

For my part, I’ve taken David’s careful analysis and combined it with the Scott Moore and Sarah Lepinski’s work to produce a narrative of the building excavated over 20 years ago. The results so far have been intriguing. Here are a few little things:

1. Abandonment. It seems almost certain that Room 1 was largely abandoned at the time of collapse, but the absence of material later than the first half of the 7th-century suggests that it wasn’t abandoned for very long. The presence of several almost complete artifacts – including an African Red Slip 105 plate – on the floor of Room 1 hint that some material remained scattered about the space. Graffiti incised on architectural features perhaps indicates that the room had acquired a more casual function toward the end of its life.

2. Collapse. Room 1 appears to have collapsed to the south. Roof tiles appear immediately above the floor on the southern third of the room suggesting that the roof and the second story slid fell onto the floor perhaps as the south wall of the room fell to the south. The northern part of the room has more debris above the floor and fewer tiles made it to the floor level, likewise suggesting that the north wall collapsed into the room toward the south pushing the roof into the southern part of the room.

3. Residual Sherds. One of the coolest things about the levels excavated in 1993 is that they produced not only some relatively well-preserved Late Roman artifacts, but also a significant quantity of earlier material. Most of this earlier material – including easily identifiable Early Roman and Hellenistic fine wares – appears only as tiny sherds, typically smaller than 10 grams in weight. It would appear that most of this earlier material came from the coarse mortar used in the walls of Room 1 and in the packing associated with the floor of the second story. As we appreciated this residual assemblage of pottery deriving from various construction contexts in the building, we got to wonder about the scatter of Early Roman and Hellenistic pottery identified in the survey of the region and how much of that material might come from similarly residual contexts.

There is obviously much more that we can say about the excavations and as we pull together the finds, the phases, and the architecture. So stay tuned!

From Cyprus to Greece

I head from Cyprus to Greece this morning and transition from our work at Polis (which is publishing an excavated site) to field work with the Western Argolid Regiona Project

IMG 4673  1

I haven’t quite finished the last bits of my season report for Polis and there are a few little database issues to resolved over the weekend. It was a good season overall, and I’ll miss spending time with artifacts and colleagues. More on my work at Polis in the next few days.

Onward to WARP!

Even More Early Christian Cyprus

I keep slowly hacking away on my contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology which surveys the archaeology of Cyprus in the Early Christian period. My approach to the first draft of this contribution is highly modular with sections on the history of Early Christian archaeology, the textual sources for the period, churches, baptisteries, burials, and various small finds.

The modular approach to writing has allowed me to chip away at the project without the commitment to composing a single, complex, sustained argument. From a technical perspective, I suspect modular approaches to composition have contributed to the popularity of applications like Scrivener and, most recently, Manuscripts which break the long blank document of the traditional word processor into sections. Each section can have independent word counts and style sheet, and sections can move around easily in a document. For those of us who write reports as much as traditional scholarly articles, the value of software designed to accommodate documents composed in sections is a huge boon. For those of us who struggle to find time to write 2000 or 3000 words in a sitting or who tend to write articles that cohere through thematic unity rather than linear argument, this software facilitates this approach to composition.

Thematically, our chapter will consider the tension between local development of a Christianity material culture and influences from outside the island. Not only is this a useful way of understanding Cyprus as a “crossroads” in the Eastern Mediterranean, but it is also consistent with a generation of scholarship that sought to understand Cypriot culture as either a pale imitation of the capital or a thriving, generative (if provincial) center. Neither of these paradigms is completely satisfying; after all, culture – even material culture – does not have neatly defined limits and cannot be mapped like a genetic code from one variation to the next. (At the same time, I should note that individual objects, buildings, or even sites do not exist as discrete entities bounded spatially or physically, but produce meaning through their interaction with other places and objects). 

Here’s how some of these ideas play out in the section on Early Christian ceramics from Cyprus:

Fineware

Cyprus imported red-slipped table wares from across the Mediterranean with African Red Slip, Phocaean Ware (or LRC), and Cyprus Red Slip (or LRD) wares being the most common. John Hayes monumental efforts to develop a typology for these later Roman red-slipped, wares offers a convenient template for discussing and understanding the distribution and chronology of these common tablewares. These vessels were widely distributed on the island and appeared at both urban and rural sites suggesting that these red-slipped, fine fabric wares had a place on a wide range of tables in settlements and communities across the island. Certain forms of these vessels feature stamped cross decorations on the base of shallow bowls and dishes. These stamps do not, of course, indicate the the individuals who purchased, used, or discarded the plates were Christian or that they served a particular Christian function. At the same time, we can understand the appearance of table ware with Christian symbols as a broad indicator of the rise in a Christian culture on the island and the emergence of a Christianized material culture.

The earliest tableware vessels with Christian symbols appear in the fifth-century, on Form 2 of Late Roman D ware, also called Cypriot Red Slip. H. Meyza argues that these early LRD stamps which included a small cross inscribed in a circle, imitated those found on widely distributed African Red Slip vessels, although few examples of inscribed, fifth-century ARS vessels appear on the island. Hayes has tended to date LRD ware slightly than Meyza, but by the sixth and seventh-century inscribed variants of LRD wares had become rather more common appearing at Kopetra, Paphos, Kourion, Polis and the Kornos cave. later Recent excavations near the site of Gebiz in southern Asia Minor has revealed a kiln responsible for the production of LRD wares, numbers wasters and fragments of standard forms, and a tool designed to impress a cross stamp on the unbaked clay. This indicates that at least some LRD ware with cross stamps came onto the island from Asia Minor. Imported cross-stamped table ware likely represented one of the most common ways for Christian imagery to enter the home and the material culture of the island.

A short take on Early Christian Burials from Cyprus

I’m still plugging away on a little essay on the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus. Over the last week I wrote a few hundred words on baptisteries and this slightly longer section on burials. 

Enjoy:

Christian burials represent another common, if complex, form of Christian material culture on the island. The earliest Christian tombs on the island appear to be associated with the burials of important, early bishops on the island. While there is reason to doubt the historicity of textual accounts relating the discovery of Barnabas’ tomb in the 5th century, it reflects the significance of Christian burials for creating a scared landscape and his body made Salamis and the Campanopetra church an important pilgrimage site. The burial of St. Epiphanios in a church that he commissioned at Salamis with its ambulatory, impressive decor and size as well as the presence of marble lined tomb at the east end of the southern-most aisle. The martyrium church at Soloi, the church of St. Heracleidos at Tamassos, and the church of St. Tychonas at Amathus, and the newly discovered church at Katalymmata ton Plakoton on Akrotiri appear to fit a pattern of martyr shrines across the island.

At churches like St. Tychonas, the burial of a fouth-century bishop appears to have attracted later burials including St. John the Almsgiver and a large number of otherwise unknown individuals indicating the church because a funerary basilica. The “south basilica” at Polis-Chrysochous attracted an assemblage of stone-lined burials and oriented east-west largely on axis with the church. Three prominent stone-lined graves, one with a marble lid, sit against the south wall of the south aisle. The ceramic material from these burials dates these tombs to soon after the construction of the church in the late sixth or early seventh century. One of these graves produced a bronze pectoral cross. To the south of the church are a series of burials which likely date to slightly later than the burials in the south aisle which produced well over 100 individuals. The church itself saw numerous later burials suggesting that the area remained an important site for inhumation perhaps even after the church went out of use. The nearby North Basilica contained seven 1×2 m and 1.5-3 m deep large stone-lined pits identified by the excavators as “burial repositories” which dated to before the seventh century. The repositories contained the disarticulated bones of numerous individuals with the largest containing as many as 30 adults and children. The grave good associated with these bones include rings, earrings, and bronze belt buckles. Quantities of an oil substance, charcoal, and lime may well preserve the remains of some kind of reburial ritual.

The site of St. George-Peyias produced a series of rock-cut tombs which served the needs of the local harbor community. Four of these tombs featured large central spaces surrounded by up to four loculi on each side. Three of these tombs preserved Christian crosses inscribed in the stone and the corresponding burials were presumably associated with the latest phase of the settlement which appears to have suffered abandonment in the seventh century. In his publication of these tombs, C. Bakirtzis noted that the paucity of datable tombs on Cyprus has made understanding the use and re-use of rock-cut tombs by Christian communities nearly impossible. Numerous similar inscribed and painted crosses appear associated with tomb loculi elsewhere in Cyrus including the well-known north cemetery at Paphos which dates to the Hellenistic and Roman period. The marking of specific tombs and loculi with Christian symbols seems to indicate that Christians and non-Christians could share the same cemeteries.

A cistern found at Sirmata basilica at the site of Kalvassos-Kopetra produced the remains of nine individuals. This church was a small monastery which included a subterranean crypt accessed from the narthex and two tombs. When the church endured major damage in the seventh century, the rubble was cleared from the crypt entrance to allow access and the tombs were used for new interments. At around the same time, nine bodies were interred in the cistern. The state of the bodies indicate that this was the primary interment for the bodies and the seventh century date tempted the excavator to associate these remains with the Arab raids of the mid-seventh century or perhaps with a plague of the Justinianic period. The practice of burying the dead in proximity to venerated bodies appears to have persisted even through the disruptions at the end of Early Christian period.

The Archaeology of Early Christian Churches on Cyprus

As the western churches start Holy Week, it seems appropriate to post something Christian and liturgical. So here’s a rough drafty-draft of a section on churches that I wrote for a contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. For more on that project, go here.

Monumental architecture, and basilica-style churches in particular, remain the most visible form of Early Christian material culture. Richard Maguire’s recent dissertation on the Early Christian churches of Cyprus counts over 70 buildings dating to this period. His 2012 work stands as the best, recent synthesis and catalogue of these monuments, and expands substantially on the work of Peter Megaw and Andreas Papageorghiou who published a series of synthetic articles in Greece during the 1960s. Papageorghiou sought to prove that Early Christian archaeology on Cyprus derived from Constantinopolitan precedents and tied the island closely to the culture of the imperial capital. Megaw’s important 1974 article which addressed the question “Metropolitan or Provincial?” for Cypriot architecture comes down largely in the latter camp for most Early Christian monuments on the island assigning many characteristic features of basilica-style churches to Levantine or Palestinian influences. Maguire’s dissertation is less committed to tracing lines of influence, and instead recognized the polyvalence of influences on ecclesiastical architecture on the island. The position of Cyprus astride a wide range of Eastern Mediterranean networks makes Maguire’s conclusions not only the most plausible but also consistent with what we read in textual sources for the island.

Like most of the eastern Mediterranean, the earliest confirmed Christian buildings date to the end of the 4th century AD. The archaeological evidence for these churches remains unsatisfactory, but perhaps not entirely unconvincing. The earliest phase of the basilica associated with St. Spyridon at Tremetousia in Larnaka District has a mosaic that the excavator, A. Papageorghiou, dated stylistically to the 4th century. He combined that date with the reference to a pilgrimage church in the Vita of St. Spyridon and the bishop’s attendance at the Council of Nicaea in 325 to argue that the modest three-aisled basilica with stone columns. The 6th or 7th basilica of St. Auxibios at Soloi in Kyrenia Distract also has an early phase which various scholars have argued to be mid-4th century, again on the basis of mosaic style. An early, five-aisled basilica at the site, however, had several unusual features including a series of semicircular basins set into a flat eastern wall that caused Megaw to suggest that this building may be a nymphaeum rather than an early church, whereas Charles Stewart and the excavators have suggested that this early, hall-like structure should rank as the earliest Christian building on the island with the basins serving an unknown liturgical function. Several other buildings on the island have possible 4th century dates. Papageorghiou and Megaw have dated the massive, seven-aisled Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos to the 4th century based on mosaic styles, but the church remains unpublished. The basilica of St. Epiphanios at Salamis, where he was presumably buried after his death in 403. The account of the church’s construction in the Life of Epiphanios where the bishop commissioned the church before his death.

The reliance on stylistic dates for the earliest churches on Cyprus reflects a significant limits to our archaeological knowledge of the region. The great basilica of the Campanopetra at Salamis featured a colonnaded, double western atria and an atrium projecting to the east, a ambulatory surrounding a three-aisled nave, and numerous ancillary rooms. The church was almost certainly designed to accommodate pilgrims and, along with the fourth-century basilica of St. Epiphanios and the late-fifth century basilica dedicated to St. Barnabas, formed a pilgrimage center at Salamis for travelers on their way to the Holy Land. Unfortunately, we do not have published stratigraphy for any of these churches leaving Campanopetra to be dated on the basis of architectural sculpture and St. Barnabas dated on the basis of wall style. It seems likely that the churches at Salamis were built within a century of the impressive Episcopal compound at Kourion published in 2007 by Megaw. This church stood at the south end of the Roman agora on the site of fourth-century civic basilica. The earliest phase of the church dates to the 5th century but the building continued to enjoy expansion and elaboration into 6th century. Amathus, similarly featured at least two 5th-century basilicas – one, large 5-aisled church identified by the excavators as the seat of the bishop and the other, smaller 3-aisle basilica at the foot of the acropolis – although the rationale for these dates remain unclear. Despite the relative ambiguity in dating these buildings, it would appear that the 5th century saw the construction of monumental churches in urban centers of the island, and this was contemporary with the expanding resources of the ecclesiastical hierarchy across the Mediterranean and the autonomy of the Cypriot church.

The 6th century saw an expansion of monumental Christian architecture into the countryside. Marcus Rautman’s excavations at the village site of Kopetra are among the most significant in the Early Christian archaeology of the island. He revealed three basilica style churches at a village site in the Kalavassos Valley. Two date to the 6th century on the basis of rigorous stratigraphic excavation. A three-aisled church at the site of Sirmata may be associated with a monastery. Another three-aisled church is likely the main church in the village. The well-known church of the Panayia Karnakaria at the ex-urban site of Lythrankomi on the Karpas Peninsula preserved a significant, if highly fragmentary apse mosaic decorations dated by Megaw and Haskins to the end of the first third of the 6th century. The site of St. George-Peyia, an ex-urban, coastal settlement northwest of Paphos has produced three, unpublished basilicas which may all have 6th-century dates. The church at the small, rural settlement of St. Kononas on the Akamas peninsula is likely contemporary. The acropolis of Amathus saw an elaborate three-aisled basilica with numerous annexes in the 6th century, which remains largely unpublished and Paphos In an urban neighborhood of ancient Arsinoe (Polis-Chrysochous), the three-aisled south basilica dates to 6th-century on the basis of controlled excavation. The continued expansion of monumental architecture in both urban centers and ex-urban areas in the 6th century reveals the creation of a Christian landscape on the island.

Recent works has shown that the Early Christian architectural traditions did not end with the political, military, and economic turmoil of the 7th century. While the absence of rigorously archaeological dating it remains difficult to determine when the churches built in the 5th and 6th century went out of use, it is evident that the persistence of basilica-style church architecture depended upon the structure and demography of settlement on the island, the role of seismic events in compromising the fragile fabric of these buildings, and the impact of military incursions. Amidst these challenges, communities continued to build new churches as carefully excavated examples from the rural coastal site of Maroni-Petrera and the inland village site of Kalavasos-Kopetra show. At the same time, an inscription commemorates the renovation of the large basilica at Soloi, perhaps in the aftermath of Arab raids. The south basilica at Arsinoe appears to have been converted from a wood-roofed building to a barrel vaulted structure. At the site of Kiti near Larnaka, the apse of an earlier basilica was incorporated in a new church in the early 7th century and decorated with a spectacular mosaic of the Panayia. In the mid-7th century, decorated apse of the church at Panayia Karnakaria at Lythrankomi saw a similar incorporation into a new building. Charles Stewart has recently argued that the small corpus of churches converted from wood-roofed to barrel-vaulted basilicas represents an 8th-century response to depredations of the 7th-century Arab raids. Recent study of the excavations at Polis-Chrysochous may suggest that this practice started a generation or two earlier. Whatever the cause and the specific date, Early Christian churches did not vanish from the island in the 7th century, and at least in some case continued to be the focus of investment for Christian communities into the Medieval period.

Texts and the Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

For those of you who suspect that I do nothing but watch cricket, write about the Bakken, and promote my digital press (CLICK HERE), I present below a little evidence for my continued interest in the history and archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus.

This is part of a chapter that I’m co-writing with Jody Gordon for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. This section looks at some of the key textual sources for the history of Early Christian (and Late Antique) Cyprus. It’s not meant to be exhaustive or even comprehensive, but to give a quick (<1000 words) overview key texts for the consideration of material culture during the Early Christian era on the island. Here’s an early draft of our outline and here’s an early draft of the introduction

The Christian history of Cyprus begins with Acts of the Apostles where the close ties between the island and the Northern Levant are made clear by the ease with which Paul and Barnabas transit to the island. Barnabas was a member of the Jewish community on the island, which was quite substantial. Various sources preserve accounts of the Jewish insurrection of 115/116 which engulfed Cyprus as well as Egypt and North Africa, although the figure of 240,000 dead from Salamis alone seems exaggerated. Hagiographic sources of dubious historicity link Barnabas and his later companion John Mark to early bishops on the island including St. Auxibios at Soloi and St. Heracleides at Tamasos. Both sites appear to have become pilgrimage centers by the end of antiquity.

By the 4th century, it would appear that the island had acquired the institutional apparatus for Christianity with several prominent bishops making their mark on an empire-wide scale. According to Socrates, St. Spiridon represented Tremithos attended the council of Nicaea in 325 and Sardica a decade later. At Nicaea, Spiridon was joined by two other Cypriots: Cyrillius of Paphos and Gelasios of Salamis; eleven additional bishops paper to have attended the Council at Sardica with Spiridon indicating that the island enjoyed a robust ecclesiastical community my the mid-4th century. In many ways, St. Spiridon is more famous for his holy relics which traveled first to Constantinople in the 7th century and then to Korphou in the 15th. The Acta of the Council of Constantinople in 381 recorded representatives of the sees of Paphos, Tremithos, Tamasos, and Kition. St. Epiphanios is perhaps best known 4th-century Cypriot bishop. As Bishop of Salamis from 368 until his death in 403, he wrote extensively on heresy and participated in the various Christological controversies of that century. He died aboard ship returning from his infamous persecution of St. John Chrysostom at the Synod of the Oak in 403. His body came to rest at Salamis in a church dedicated to his honor and attracted pilgrims both during antiquity before being removed to Constantinople in the ninth century. A letter penned by Epiphanius’s ally Theophilus of Alexandria and preserved in St. Jerome’s letters (Ep. 96), records 15 bishops from the island by the end of the 4th century. Leontios of Neapolis composed a life of Tychonas who, according to the Vita served as bishop of Amathus in the late 4th century before being buried in the city. By the first half of the 5th century, Sozomen notes that both urban centers and villages have bishops on Cyprus (7.19). St. Jerome’s Life of St. Hilarion documents the end of the Palestinian hermit’s life on Cyprus suggesting that Palestinian monasticism was part of the religious landscape of the island as early as the 4th century. Like so many of his holy colleagues, his body was spirited from the island after his death.

During the 5th century, the Cypriot church managed to wrest autonomy from the See of Antioch at the Council of Ephesus in 431. While Christological debates formed a backdrop to the clash between the bishops of Cyprus and Antioch, the close relationship between the Northern Levant with its major city of Antioch and the island extended to Antioch exerting political and ecclesiastical over the island. The island stood by itself in the list of signatories to the Cannons of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The victory for the church of Cyprus at Ephesus led to local efforts to reinforce the Apostolic origins of the church on Cyprus including such works as the Laudatio Barnabas that preserved the inventio of Barnabas. It is likely that the promotion of pilgrimage sites on the island reinforced the Apostolic succession of prominent, if ahistorical, early bishops in an effort to thwart later claims from Antioch. The proximity of Antioch and its political standing in the region required the autonomy of the Cypriot church to be restated as late as the Council in Trullo (Quinisext) of 692, albeit in a very different political circumstances.

Some sense of the political turmoil associated with the late 6th and early 7th century manifests itself in the Leontios’ Life of John the Almsgiver, the Bishop of Alexandria. John grew up in Amathus, before ascending to the episcopal throne in Alexandria. He fled Alexandria to Cyprus sometime after fall of the city to the Persians in 616 where he died and was buried at the church of St. Tychonas at Amathus. Leontios of Neapolis also wrote the Life of St. Symeon the Holy Fool which, while not set in Cyprus explicitly, presents a bustling picture of the Early Christian East at the end of antiquity. John Moschos’ who also composed a Life of John the Almsgiver, may have encountered the bishop in Alexandria. His Spiritual Meadow provides some insights into life in 7th century Cyprus including the presence of monasteries and the arrival of refugees fleeing the Persian invasion. The monophysite bishop John of Ephesus noted that monophysites refugees were granted land on Cyprus and undoubtedly complicated the ecclesiastical landscape of the island.

The mobile character of populations, saints, and relics in the history of Cyprus reinforces the deep engagement of the island with its region, political pressures, and religious conflicts. While the insularity of Cyprus did little to insulate the institutions and populations from larger trends, the ecclesiastical elite nevertheless adopted strategies designed to advance their political and ecclesiastical interests. The prominence of hagiography that celebrates bishops who represented Apostolic succession, for example, almost certainly served to reinforce local claims to ecclesiastical autonomy. These historical circumstance and hagiographic claims intersect with the archaeology of the island with emergence of pilgrimage sites at Soloi, Salamis-Constantia, Tamasos, Amathus, and other churches associated with ecclesiastical history of the island. While it would be naive to simply interpret all Early Christian archaeological finds according to the authority of texts, it is nevertheless useful to recognize that texts and archaeological objects, buildings, and landscapes work together to produce meaning.

An Introduction to the Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

Hot off the word processor, here’s my first stab at writing an introduction to an article-length survey of Early Christian archaeology on the island.

The Early Christian period on Cyprus extends from the first century A.D. to the 7th-century or even later. In contrast to other periodization schemes which emphasize the island’s political relationship to either the Roman state and its attendant economic networks, or the Byzantine commonwealth and its political entanglements in the region, the Early Christian period on Cyprus reinforces a period of religious and cultural continuity that extends from the antiquity to the modern period. As a result, the focus of a distinctly Early Christian archaeology on the island favors issues of continuity with the politically tumultuous 7th-10th century on the island and the formation of a distinct political identity for Orthodox Christian Greek Cypriots in the Ottoman and modern eras. The political implications of religious component of Greek Cypriot identity has taken on a political cast since political independence and the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island. This has led to the suspension of work at important Christian centers like Soloi and Salamis-Constantia and a focus on the urban sites along the southern coast of the island. The Christian communities in these urban centers produced monumental Christian architecture by the start of the 6th century. In the last few decades, intensive pedestrian survey and the expanding development on the island has shed light on Christian communities in rural, ex-urban, and sub-urban sites which also saw monumental Christian architecture during this period. As a result, it is possible to discuss the emergence of a distinctly Cypriot Christian culture on a regional scale.

According to Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew who became one of the Apostles. He accompanied Paul in his travels to various meetings of Christians in Antioch and Jerusalem and to newly founded Christian communities in Asia Minor. Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of the Cyprus, invited Paul and Barnabas to the island to challenge the teachings of the “magician and false prophet” Bar-Jesus. Later Acts tell of Barnabas and Paul having a falling out and Barnabas and John Mark traveling to Cyprus where according to the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas, he was martyred in Salamis. The travels of Paul and Barnabas to and from the island underscored the close connections between Cyprus and the Aegean Sea, Anatolia, and the Levant.

The 6th-century Laudatio Barnabas may well mark the earliest instance of Christian archaeology on Cyprus. Anthemios, the late-5th-century bishop of Salamis on the west coast of Cyprus, has a series of dreams which led him to grave of St. Barnabas. When he excavated the body, he discovered it clutching the Gospel of St. Matthew.  The discovery of St. Barnabas’s body on the island wth the authoritative (and liturgically significant) Gospel book in his hands reinforced the autocephalous character of the Cyprus church which the Council of Ephesus (431) established. The Apostolic origins of the Cypriot church set it apart from the acquisitive and heretical position of the church in Antioch especially, and, if we are to trust the late 5th-century setting of the Laudatio Barnabas, it may well point to the tumultuous reign of Peter the Fuller as a suitable occasion to excavate additional evidence for the autocephaly of the Cypriot church.

The excavation of holy personages, real or imagined, has continued to play a role in grounding communities in their Christian past across the island. The church of St. Lazarus in Larnaka, for example, marks the place where Lazarus, friend of Jesus’s body was discovered in the 9th century. The association of Lazarus with the See of Kition established a kind of Apostolic authority for the city even after the body was translated to Constantinople by the Emperor Leo VI. Later travelers observed that Cypriots sometimes prayed at caves containing the bones of pygmy hippopotami thinking them to be saints. In the 20th century Peter Megaw, the first director of the island’s Department of Antiquities, tells of villagers excavating around the floors and foundations of the church of the Panayia Skyra to appease the Panayia during a period of draught. A later director of the department of antiquities, Vassos Karageorghis told of the priest from the village of Astromeritis on Morphou Bay who visited him asking that he help the community find the bones of the 1st-century St. Auxibios who he reckoned was buried nearby. St. Auxibius was the first bishop of Soloi and University of Montreal excavated a basilica-style church probably dedicated to this early, holy bishop.

While excavation of Christian sites on Cyprus has its roots in the Early Christian era, it has continued into the era of more scientific excavation by disciplinary archaeologists. A predictable interest in the Christian past of the island characterized Peter Megaw’s term as the island’s first director of the Department of Antiquities (1945-1960) which began with his study of barrel-vaulted basilicas on the island and continued into the 21st century with the posthumous publication of the great ecclesiastical complex at Kourion (Megaw 2007). Like so much of the subsequent architectural and archaeological work on the island, Megaw sought to locate Cyprus within larger Mediterranean patterns of building style, decoration, and influence. His important 1974 article “Byzantine Architecture and Decoration in Cyprus: Metropolitan or Provincial” remained a touchstone for a generation of scholars who looked toward architectural typology a evidence for chronological and interregional continuity. Andreas Papageorgiou work to excavate and catalogue the archaeology and, above all, the architecture of Cyprus during the 1960s provided the foundation for later works exploring the Constantinopolitan and “foreign” influence on Early Christian architecture on Cyprus (Papageorgiou 1986).The long-standing interest in the development of Cyprus architecture has persisted into more recent work by Charles Stewart and Richard Maguire’s substantial, synthetic 2012 dissertation on Late Antique church architecture on the island which emphasized Cyprus’s insularity.

The long-standing interest in the typology of church architecture has shaped the character of their excavation and publication. An emphasis on architecture phases in the careful publication of the basilica at Soloi (Tinh 1985), the episcopal complex at Kourion, or the Campanopetra basilica at Salamis (Roux 1998) has followed the interest in typology in architecture. A group of recent publications, however, has expanded the context of Christian basilica churches on the island. The excavations of Marcus Rautman at Kalavassos-Kopetra (Rautman 2003), of pre-historian at Maroni-Petrera (Manning 2002) and the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis-Chrysochous, have published significant assemblages of pottery, small finds, and, at Kopetra and Polis, human burials. At Kopetra, Polis-Chrysochous, and sites like Pyla-Koutsopetria, there is a growing understanding of the structure, organization, and material culture of local settlement, particularly below the level major urban centers on the island. An expanding appreciation of imported ceramic fine wares, for example, has provided insight into the economic and social networks that both shaped the taste of Christian communities on Cyprus and also connected them regional and transregional networks. Scholars have looked to understand the role of the church in the trade of Cypriot agricultural produce and the transshipment of grain from Egypt and other Eastern Mediterranean commodities. Local artistic traditions, including several examples of pre-iconoclastic figural decoration in both mosaic decoration and fresco, as well as work in under appreciated media like molded gypsum reinforce the distinct status of Cyprus as crossroads of a wide range of economic, social, religious, and cultural currents. The Early Christian archaeology of Cyprus offers significant opportunities to consider how its insular character filtered external influences and provided access to regional communities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Finally, the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus is inseparable from the political history of the island. An Early Christian archaeology must recognize that Christianity remains an important element of Greek Cypriot political and cultural identity, and this identity, incubated during the centuries of Ottoman control over the island, has shaped the trajectory research for over a generation. While in some ways, this work has been a boon for scholars of the Early Christian period, it is nevertheless shaped by and infused with the political baggage of the 1974 invasion and the occupied state of the northern part of the island. There is no doubt that the Early Christian period represents the start of nearly two millennia of Christian influence on the island, but this should not overdetermine the historical trajectory of communities on the island. This brief survey of the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus demonstrates how the material manifestations of Christianity reflected a diverse, fluid, and dynamic local identity that belied the insular geography of the island.