Climate and Religion in the Late Roman Mediterranean

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading about in the recent work on the climate history, climate change, and the Anthropocene. I’ve been sucked into John Brooke’s massive work, Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey (Cambridge 2014) and spent altogether too much time surfing the footnotes. To simplify a very complex and nuanced book, Brooke argues that large-scale climate change has had a direct impact on the development of human culture. In particular, he argues that “the structure of human history is distinctly “Gouldian”/punctuational, with long periods of relative stability (stasis) interrupted by well- de ned breaks best understood as episodic (not necessarily cyclical) global climate crises – Dark Ages, perhaps – increasingly augmented and surpassed by the eruption of epidemic disease and destructive warfare.” In other words, he human populations, culture, and society as stable and resilient. As a result, change has tended to come when particularly disruptive natural events (in contrast to the slow pressures of, say, population growth) push populations to adapt quickly. Not every natural catastrophe had this impact on human societies, but many did.

Last week, David Pettegrew took the first mighty swing at the introduction to our Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology.  He traced the history of Early Christian archaeology and left us looking ahead to a section on the future of the study of Christian material culture. One of the issues that Brooke’s book has pushed me to consider – as well as recent works (such as the admitted problematic works like Ronnie Ellenblum’s The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and Decline of the East 950-1072 (Cambridge 2012)) – is the role of natural disaster in the rise of Christianity. There is a growing body of evidence that Late Antiquity saw a series of closely clustered natural disasters that ranged from earthquakes and the onsets of plagues to the end of the so-called “Classical Optimum” which was characterized by relatively stable climates and warmer temperatures and the start of 400 year period of greater climate variability. For Brooke and others (most notably Michael McCormick), nature has an impact on the transformations marking the end of the ancient world.

Notable among these changes was the rise of Christianity in the Mediterranean. It is difficult to deny the rate of cultural change that took place over the Late Antique centuries. For example, the accelerated growth of Christianity during Late Antiquity (i.e. after, say, 300) paralleled changes in pagan beliefs. In fact, many of the these changes took place side-by-side and created wonderfully diverse examples of pagan-Christian syncretism. This is not to suggest that either Christianity or paganism was stable and unchanging during its previous centuries. In fact, the internal organization of Christianity from its earliest days in cities around the Eastern Mediterranean adapted to persist in a politically hostile environment which included periodically intense persecutions often triggered by local natural (or social) disasters. The ability for Christianity to survive and adapt to attacks by communities who saw Christians as disrupting social cohesion or the relationship between the community and the divine, almost certain served it well as plagues, climate change, and political and military challenges beset the region.

The challenge for an archaeology of Early Christianity remains identifying evidence for the interaction of Christianity and climate change in specific instances. 

The History of the Church at Koutsopetria

I have focused the last couple of weeks on finishing up a the first draft of our report on excavations at Koutsopetria on CyprusI posted something on the architecture of the Early Christian basilica excavated at the site last week. This week, I figured I might post something on the history of the building from an archaeological perspective. Next week, as an optimistic preview, I’ll have completed something on the artifacts.

The history below is unfortunately short on absolute dates and some nuance, but I think there is enough evidence to support our argument that the building endured a series of interventions over its relatively short life.

Here’s a plan of the remains set against a 5 m grid:

Scan310 cropped

Here’s a brief history of the building:

Unpacking the history of this site remains challenging as it involves integrating two different excavation methods over three campaigns of excavation. Nevertheless, the work at this site does provide a useful insight into the complex history of Late Antique ecclesiastical architecture on the island and cautions us against arguments that view the architectural history of the island as punctuated by catastrophic events rather than developing over the course of a number of small-scale interventions that combine to constitute the life of a building.

Room 1 and environs appears to have been constructed at some point after the final quarter of the 5th century based on the highly disturbed fills beneath the packed earth floor in Phase 1 in EU13. The fill levels present in EU13 reveal the long history of the occupation at Koutsopetria with artifacts from Cypro-Classical period to Late Antiquity. The flecks of Roman period wall painting associated with the Phase 1 floor in EU12 indicate that the Roman period occupation of the site involved fine quality wall painting consistent with domestic spaces. The small sherds of earlier material from the collapse levels of Room 1 likewise preserve a scrappy material record for the occupation of the history of the site during the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

The excavation did not produce a conclusive date for the building of Room 1 other than some time later than the last quarter of the 5 th century. This is not inconsistent with the 6 th century date of many Early Christian basilicas on the island, although few of these buildings are dated on the basis of stratigraphy and the distinct arrangement of the central nave of the basilica at Koutsopetria occurs throughout what appear to be 5 th and 6 th century churches on Cyprus. Evidence from the excavations indicate that Room 1 was modified after its initial construction at least once with the walling up of windows, the replastering of the double arch, and repairs to the tops of the walls and the roof. The presence of 7th-century African Red Slip plate near the floor of Room 1, later forms of Cyprus Red Slip and Phocaean Ware, and a coin of Heracleios indicates that the modification took place before the7 th century when the room was presumably abandoned.

Initial publications of the site suggested that it was destroyed by Arab Raids and while it is impossible to rule out that a catastrophic event like an attack caused the room’s final demise, it appears more likely that abandonment of Room 1 took place in stages. Phases 3 and 4 in EU12 and EU13 represent repairs to the basilica. In EU12, a fragment of a small lugged basin found associated with the construction of a spur wall that buttressed the west wall of Room 1 joined with a fragment of the same basin found associated with the tumble of the double arch and buried well beneath the collapse of the room. This would indicate that the basin was either on the floor of Room 1 or from the second story. While the exact circumstances that led to this vessel being deposited in separate contexts are unclear, it indicates the building remained standing at the time when the spur wall was built and the damaged vessel were present on the floor of the room along with artifacts of a mid-7th century date. It is appealing to imagine that this interval allowed for the removal of the gypsum floor paving and the graffito of a ship on the central pillar of the double arch.

A later phase of repair, defined in EU12 as Phase 4 included numerous Late Roman rooftiles of the kind associated with Room 1, although not necessarily from that buildings, as well as Late Roman artifacts including a sherd of 7th c Cypriot Red Slip. This repair phase is perhaps contemporary with the reuse of a still-plastered wall fragment in EU13 in a later wall. While it is possible to construct a loose, relative chronology for these two phases of repair, their absolute date appears to be essentially contemporary with the latest phases of use in Room 1 suggesting that the room encountered a series of interventions over a short period in the 7th century. These modifications served either to repair the structure or to shore it up while marble revetment, floor tiles, roof tiles and other valuable parts of the room were removed for use elsewhere. A similar pattern of salvage seems to have taken place at the church at Kourion after it suffered significant damage in a seismic event (Megaw 2007, 134-135). It is tempting to imagine the fragments of Dhiorios type cooking pot rims found to the north of Room 1 to be the remains of a late-7th or early 8th century salvaging operation set up, like at Kourion, in the atrium of the damaged building.

The Church at Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks I’ve returned to writing up our excavation results from our project at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This site, for people new to this blog, is in the southeastern corner of the island some 10 km east of the modern Larnaka (or ancient Kition). The site was a coastal town during the Roman and Late Roman periods and featured an Early Christian basilica.

Very little of the church was excavated either during the initial seasons of excavation in the 1990s under the direction of Dr. Maria Hadjicosti or during our brief campaign in 2009. The main focus of this work was a small, if well appointed annex room that probably extended from the south or western wall of the atrium of the church. In 1999, excavations at the site revealed the central apse of the basilica. The apse is wide and relatively shallow and features the transverse passage on its southern side that runs between the south nave colonnade and the western wall of the church.

PKAP2 Hajicosti Excavations scan310 2

This transverse passage is relatively distinctive among churches on Cyprus appearing predominantly among buildings in the neighborhood of Salamis and the Karpas Peninsula. Megaw suggested that the church of Ay. Philon served as a kind of prototype for the buildings in this area, and as you can see in the image borrowed from Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation (as are the rest in this blog post), has a similarly shallow and wide apse and transverse passages between the main apse and the two, smaller, lateral apses.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 688 of 827

It may be that the builders of the relatively compact church at Ay. Philon modeled their building on the much larger pilgrimage church of Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis which shared the wide, shallow apse and the transverse passages. Both buildings likely date to the 5th century with the church of Ay. Epiphanios dated through a textual reference and Ay. Philon based on its stylistic affinities.  

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 775 of 827

Later buildings in the area, like the Panayia at Aphendrika carry on the tradition into the 6th century (at least according to the conventional date associated wth this building).

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 657 of 827

The regional distribution of churches of this type is intriguing. They appear on the Karpas and around Salamis and then across the northern coast of Cyprus including at Lambousa and as far west as Soloi.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 808 of 827

This corpus of buildings seems to be significantly different from the churches across the more densely-settled southern coast of the island where polygonal apses are more common and the churches lack the transverse passages between the central apse and the flanking spaces.

In our survey monograph, we argue that the site of Kousopetria was situated at an important route of travel through the area. The inland road linking the coast of Larnaka Bay to the city of Salamis joined the coast at our site in both antiquity and the modern period. We argue that the remains of an Iron Age sanctuary at or near our site likely reflected the regions liminal state on the political boundary between Salamis and Kition. The presence of a late Cypro-Classical fortification at Vigla reinforced the  Obviously such political boundaries faded to unimportance during the Hellenistic and Roman period when the island became part of a single imperial state, but it remains possible that these buildings preserve echoes of these borders carved into the landscape through persistent patterns of movement between major urban centers. It may be that the church at Koutsopetria represented the southern most reach of the bishop of Salamis or even just the influence of such significant buildings as the pilgrimage church at Ay. Epiphanios. 

More on a Method for Late Antique Archaeology

Needless to say,  L. Lavan and M. Mulryan eds. Field Methods and Post-Excavation Techniques in Late Antique Archaeology (Brill 2015) has attracted my attention. First, it has to do with methods (see my post last week), but it also has to do with whether we think of about archaeology in terms of period specific methods. This winter, for example, I’m co-writing an introduction to a volume on Early Christian Archaeology, and my co-author, David Pettegrew, and I have been talking about whether the study of the Early Christian period (and this topic) requires a particular methodological toolkit. I have also been turning over in my head the idea for a small book on the archaeology of the contemporary world that considers both the methods for interrogating the contemporary (and modern) world and how the methods used by archaeologists (and their tools) can as easily become the objects of archaeological study. In short, I’m thinking about periods and methods a good bit these days and the Lavan and Mulryan book added fuel to the fire.

On a superficial level, I think most archaeologists will agree that the study of certain periods (and places) privilege certain questions. For example, Richard Blanton’s famous “Mediterranean Myopia” (Antiquity (2001), 627-629) article reflects (among other things) the disjunction between Mediterranean and New World conceptualizations of regional level intensive survey. It goes without saying that the concept of the region is historically and geographically constituted. The methodological (and procedural) limits on regional survey are shaped in large part by these historical and geographic research questions.

Luke Lavan’s contribution to the first section of the book was particularly intriguing to me. He frames his discussion of an archaeology of Late Antiquity around the questions that scholars of Late Antiquity tend to emphasize. Since scholars (ancient and modern) have tended to define Mediterranean antiquity as an urban phenomenon, our methods for documenting the “late” period of antiquity have focused on urban transformation. Lavan’s methodological reflections stopped short of declaring that the archaeology of the Late Antiquity requires a distinct methodology and instead emphasized how the careful inspection and documentation of urban spaces can reveal often overlooked evidence for change. For example scrutiny of building blocks and brick can reveal subtle indications of repairs. The original location of graffito and inscriptions can point to places of public display in late cities. Careful attention to spoliation, to micro repairs, and to the movement of material around urban sites can reveal the transformation of the urban fabric which represents a basic characteristic of the ancient world. 

(One could imagine a careful post on the role of the archaeology of the Late Antique countryside by David Pettegrew!) 

As for Early Christian archaeology, the challenge is a bit different. The attention to the intersection of ritual and scriptural texts and material culture could be a point of emphasis for scholars, it’s unclear how this text-centered focus shapes archaeological practice. The search for subtle traces of Christian origins might shape certain aspects of archaeological practice in the field, but even that seems unlikely to fall outside the range of typical, careful archaeological methods.

Perhaps the intersection of believe (even faith) and materiality is where an archaeology of Early Christianity could carve out some methodological autonomy, but it remains to be seen how this would be different from an archaeology of religion or philosophy or even just the illusive “archaeology of the senses.” That being said, there is a certain attitude toward materiality in Early Christianity that informed the veneration of relics, the important role of icons, and the significance of particular historical places and monuments. This may be where an archaeology of Early Christianity can produce a distinct contribution to archaeological method. 

An Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

Over the last six months or so, Jody Gordon and I have been working on a survey article on the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. I think the draft is more or less ready for sharing.

We’ve titled it “The Holy Island: An Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus” and here’s the abstract:

The archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus represents one of the most significant case studies of how early Christianity developed because of the island’s unique geohistorical background and the diverse nature of its material remains. When combined with local hagiographical resources, Cyprus’ material culture illustrates the gradual development of a unique form of Early Christian society between the fourth and seventh centuries CE that drew on both local and imperial influences. This chapter contributes to such perspectives by offering an introduction to Early Christian Cyprus’ archaeological corpus vis-à-vis the island’s unique Late Antique eastern Mediterranean context. It examines basilicas, baptisteries, mosaics and church décor, funerary structures, coins and seals, metalwork, epigraphy, and ceramics to reveal the discipline’s main research foci and suggests topics for future investigation. 

I’ve uploaded a draft to my academia.edu page here.

It might be fun to read this paper with a unpublished paper that I wrote with R. Scott Moore on the history of settlement in Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries. I’ve posted that paper to academia.edu as well.

If I was ambitious and had time and energy, I could imagine these two papers being the start of an archaeological history of Early Christian Cyprus.

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 Temples of Noricum and Panonia

The destruction of temples in Late Antiquity has long conjured images of fanatical Christians destroying pagan temples and violently ending traditional, urban and monumental religious practices. Even in antiquity, this view of Christianity carried some prestige with texts like the Life of Porphyry of Gaza depicting the violent destruction of the great temple of Zeus in that city. The vivid descriptions in texts like this seemed ripe for generalization, and the destruction of temples became a fixture in how many scholars understood archaeological evidence from around the Roman world.   

Scholarship over the last 40 years has challenged this long-held view and hinted that pagan practices were not static but constantly changing and that practices associated with monumental temples was in abeyance or decline. In other words, we might see Christian “attacks” on pagan temples as salvage operations for building materials rather than efforts to destroy thriving pagan worship sites. The challenge associated with unpacking the final days of these temples is that the early excavation dates, complex urban histories, and underdeveloped ceramic typologies compromised our ability to make sense of the archaeological evidence from these buildings. 

David Walsh’s recent article in the American Journal of Archaeology offers a serious attempt to marshal the evidence from temples in Noricum and Panonia on the Roman Empire’s northern frontiers. He argues that by the late-3rd-century and into the 4th-century, the building and maintenance of urban temples declined. Since most temples were the product of public benefaction, their construction and upkeep depended upon their continued centrality to social and religious life of the communities. By the time of the Tetrarchy, he suggested that energies shifted to building walls and fortifications to protect communities from the destabilization of Rome’s northern frontier, and this contributed to a changing culture in these provinces away from monumental public religious practices and toward smaller, private temples. Walsh noted that the increased use of spolia in both public buildings and fortifications in the 4th century reflects the abandonment monumental temples. 

In Noricum and Panonia, then, the rise of monumental Christianity was likely a separate from and unrelated phenomenon to the decline in urban paganism. The rise of both Christian communities and their construction of monumental buildings in urban space. This offers a distinct context for the rise of Christianity in the 5th and 6th century. Rather than representing the replacement of monumental urban paganism with a monumental, urban Christianity, churches competed with public buildings in transformed urban landscapes of the Mediterranean. It also means that it drew resources away from public buildings (baths, basilicas, et c.) which often served non religious or civic functions for their communities. This shift not only makes manifest the growing authority of the church in religious, social, and formally civic terms, but also offers an opportunity to consider the ways in which the emergence of monumental Christianity encouraged a change in social practices in the community. For example, with resources being drawn to larger, Christian buildings in the urban core, the construction and maintenance of large bathing establishments suffered, and this might explain the tendency for bath houses to be smaller in the 6th and 7th century and the eventual decline of baths as important social places in Late Antique and Early Byzantine urban space.

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.