Ay. Lazaros and Panagia Angelokisti

Ay. Lazaros is one of the most visible monuments in Larnaka, Cyprus and among the most significant churches on the island. I’ve wandered around this beautiful church frequently over my years of working on Cyprus and staying in Larnaka.


Ironically, very little is known about this building. Historically associated with the relics of Lazaros who is said to have come to Cyprus and to have become Bishop of Kition after his resurrection, this church was constructed sometime in the Medieval period. In its present form, it stands as a series of cross-in-square churches terminating in a three apses. It has a later porch that extends along its south side and much later campanile. The church endured a significant fire in the 18th century when its domes collapsed. The church has seen relatively little archaeological study and despite some useful guides to its history and architecture, has not received comprehensive study.   


Last week, I was pretty excited to receive the monumental tome that is the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus from 2011-2012. It’s late, but that’s ok, because it remains a curio cabinet of archaeological knowledge about the island. It includes a fascinating article on the architecture of Ay. Lazaros, the Angeloktisti at Kiti and Ayios Antonios in Kellia west of Cyprus by a group of students from the University of Padova in Italy, Lucia Scudellaro, Isabella Zamboni, Alessia De Paoli, Monica Gamba, Michela Modena and Morena Tramonti under the supervision of Gian Pietro Brogiolo (RDAC 2011-2012, 821-853).

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(Another story for another time involves my toying with the idea of journal on the archaeology of Cyprus with a few colleagues. Fortunately some smarter people intervened gently to discourage us from starting such a thing, but I do admit to occasionally thinking about it still. Anyway, I’m glad the RDAC is back.)

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Their study of this important monument was hardly comprehensive, but it does hint at the potential of studying the standing walls of the church stratigraphically. They were able to identify at least four pre-modern phases including the tantalizing early phase that not only indicates that the church had always existed, more or less, in its current plan. The dating of this building, of course, remains unresolved, and it will remain perhaps the most significant, undated monument on the island. The possibility that it dates from the so-called “condominium period” (and here I’m speculating freely and irresponsibly) is intriguing. The building’s distinctive architecture, its association with Ay. Lazaros, and its role in constructing the apostolic landscape of Cyprus makes it a particular tempting object for future study. Some needs to sort this building out. 

The University of Padova team also studied the well-known Angelokisti at Kiti which appears in every survey of Early Christian art for its pre-iconoclastic apse mosaics. They’re amazing and worth seeing, but they’ve also always confounded me because the architecture of the church is clearly much later (probably 11th century or later) than the 6th or 7th century apse mosaic (dated on stylistic grounds). How do you preserve an apse while losing the church?

The Padova team carefully documented the various styles of construction and their relationships to show how the key phases in shoring up the inner apse and its mosaic stand with only the most ambiguous relationships to later phases. In other words, the fabric of the building, at least for now, offers little in the way of definitive chronology (relative or absolute) for dating the major reconstruction of the Angeloktisti and preserving the apse itself.

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Like the Ay. Lazaros, one of the most significant churches on the island remains a mystery in certain key ways, but the work from the Padova team provides plenty of incentive for these two buildings to see greater scrutiny. As the 7th-9th century on Cyprus has seen renewed interest and significant reconsiderations in the last decade, there is an additional opportunity for new fieldwork at these buildings to provide important insights into the history of the eastern part of the island at the end of antiquity. That relatively little is known about the Early Christian and Early Medieval history of Larnaka and Larnaka district adds local importance to this work and any future work that it might inspire.

More on the Historiography of Late Roman Cyprus or Writing up the Pyla-Koutsopetria Excavations (part 2).

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to pull into shape a conclusion for the second volume from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. I posted part of that conclusion a couple of weeks back, here’s some more (with a bit of overlap!):

Recent work on Cyprus has looked to recontextualizing the archaeology of the island in three basic ways. First, archaeologists have sought to continue the long-standing effort to locate Cyprus within the larger Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine worlds. G. Hill’s and T. Mitford’s argument that Cyprus was a quiet backwater of the Roman East, based largely on historical sources, has been fundamentally challenges by the work of Dimitri Michaelides (e.g. 1996), John Hayes’s publication of the ceramics from the House of Dionysios at Paphos (1991), and the work of John Lund (2003; 2006; 2015). These scholars and their younger contemporaries (e.g. Leonard 2005, Gordon 2012) have demonstrated that during the first seven centuries AD, Cyprus was deeply embedded in the economic life of the Roman East, traded extensively with their neighbors, reflected wider trends across the empire, and exploited their natural and agricultural resources for both public and private expressions of power and wealth. In the 21st century, recent work on connectivity, globalization, revised ideas of insularity, and hybridized culture have shaped our view of Roman Cyprus as a sphere for distinct forms of cultural and economic interaction that extends far beyond monumental architecture. The quantitative analysis of imported and local ceramics, evidence from shipwrecks and ceramic production sites (Leidwanger 2013; Demesticha 2013; Demesticha and Michaelides 2001), and survey and excavation at small harbors, emporia, villages, and non-monumental buildings have all contributed to a view of Cyprus that is deeply embedded in the Roman and Late Roman world. Moreover, by embracing theoretically rich concepts like globalization, insularity, and hybridity, they local the study of Roman and Late Roman Cyprus within a larger conversation about the island that extends from the Bronze Age (e.g. Knapp 2008) across most of antiquity (e.g. Counts 2008).

The long tradition intensive and extensive survey archaeology on Cyprus has contributed to recent efforts to expand the scope of our understanding of Roman period on the island into the non-urban, ex-urban and suburban settlement. This complements a large trend toward rejecting the Finleyean conception of the ancient “consumer” city that merely drew resources from the countryside. In its place, scholars like Horden and Purcell (2000) have proposed a world of densely connected microregions that include both urban and rural spaces. This upset the tidy binary of producer and consumer spaces, and even in urban and rural (Viekou 2009; 2010) in the Roman countryside and offered new contexts to make sense of rural sites. Cyprus, despite its deserved reputation for dense urbanism, had a bustling or “busy” countryside. Hector Catling directed the Cyprus Survey Project in the 1950s and documented the Kornos cave (Catling 1970) and the Dhiorios settlement and ceramic works on the Kormakiti peninsula (Catling 1972). Both of these sites were rural and offered substantial assemblages of both local and regional Late Antique ceramics including kilns for the production of cooking ware vessels at Dhiorios. Excavations in the 1990s by Charalambos Bakirtzis revealed the massive ex-urban site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias with three basilicas, a bath, warehouses and other structure dating, it would appear, to Late Antiquity (Bakirtzis 1995). The initial excavations at Kousopetria by Maria Hadjicosti, at Kopetra, by Marcus Rautman (2003), at Alassa by Pavlos Florentzos (1996), and at Maroni-Petrera by S. Manning (2002) represented a watershed decade in the archaeology of non-urban Cyprus. The excavations at Kopetra and Maroni Petrera emerged from intensive pedestrian survey projects which likewise expanded our knowledge of Roman and Late Roman countryside. Recent work in the Troodos mountains by the Troodos Areas Environmental Survey Project (Given et al. 2013), for example, has demonstrated that the Troodos mountains continued to be exploited for iron into the Roman period and a number of other survey projects have produced a “busy countryside” of sites ranging from villages to isolated farmsteads (Rautman 2003), production sites, and even monumental Christian architecture (Procopiou 2013). While the excavation of these sites often added to the catalogue of Christian churches, more importantly, they also expanded our knowledge of the fabric of non-urban places and the productive landscape of the island and demonstrated the connections between non-urban spaces and the wider region. The Cyprus that emerged from this research was less a series of dots along the coast of the island, and more a tapestry of interconnected regions that includes places both on the island and in the wider Mediterranean.

Finally, Scholars of Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus, like so much of the Eastern Mediterranean, have increasingly placed the island chronologically within “the long Late Antiquity” which recognizes fundamental continuity between the 5th and 8th or even 9th centuries in the Eastern Mediterranean. For Cyprus, “long Late Antiquity” is complicated and punctuated by at least two Arab raids on the island that disrupted political and social life on the island and left their marks in both the architecture and archaeology. These raids, however, rather than being points of discontinuity in Late Antiquity, marked the start of the famous, if controversial, condominium period on the island that embodied aspects of both continuity and discontinuity in the island’s political arrangement and relationship with neighboring regions. Andreas Dikigoropoulos’s 1962 dissertation defined 7th to 10th century Cyprus in the famous phrase of the 8 th century pilgrim Willabald as “betwixt Greeks and Saracens.” His attention to the architecture of these centuries built upon A.H.M. Megaw’s studies of the vaulted churches of Cyprus (Megaw 1946), and, more recently, C. Stewart (2008, 2010) has continued to study the architecture of this period as a key to the island’s social, economic, religious and political status during these centuries. D. Metcalf (2004, 2009) and L. Zavagno (2011; 2011-12; 2017) have collated evidence from coins and seals to track continued ties between the economic and political ties between Cyprus, the Arab Caliphate to the east and Byzantine state in Anatolia and the Aegean. Important work has also focused on understanding the chronology of Late Roman ceramics both on Cyprus and across the region. P. Reynolds (2014; 2010), J. Vroom (2004; 2005; 2007), A. Vionis (2009), and P. Armstrong (2009), among many others, have pushed some common ceramics types, namely forms of widely traded Late Roman red slips and common transport amphoras, from the 5th and 6th century into the 7th and even 8th centuries. This work, in turn, has challenged the dating of buildings and sites on Cyprus by pushing destruction levels later than the Arab raids and demonstrating the urban areas continued to be economically connected and vital into the later 7th or even 8th centuries.

Writing up the Excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus, Part 1.

A few weeks ago, I boldly complained (in my head) that this is the February of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Since then, my colleagues and I have been working frantically to get the second volume of our work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus completed and ready for submission. The second volume documents our three seasons of excavation and a couple of seasons of early excavation at the site by the Department of Antiquities on Cyprus.

I was tasked with wrapping up the conclusion while I have most of the basic summary work done, I’m working this week on the historiographic components of the conclusion that frame my more summary remarks. I’m arguing that contemporary archaeology of Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine Cyprus is primarily concerned with three things: first, it continues the tradition of placing Cyprus within the economic and political context of the Roman East; second, it has expanded from being a largely urban archaeology (with a few notable exceptions) to an archaeology invested as much in the landscape and countryside as in the monumental urban centers; and finally, work on Cyprus has contributed to the growing interest in the “long Late Antiquity” in the Eastern Mediterranean that argues from continuities between the 5th and 8th or even 9th centuries there.

This is how I started this section today (and please excuse the incomplete and, perhaps, inaccurate citations!):

Historically, urban archaeology has dominated the study of Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine Cyprus. The impressive urban sites of Paphos, Kourion, Salamis, Soloi, Amathus, and even Polis-Arsinoe have received the majority of archaeological attention. This has largely followed long-standing interests in the Iron Age kingdoms of the island and the island’s reputation as one of the most urban landscapes of the Eastern Mediterranean. For Late Antiquity, this attention to urban contexts produced a bumper crop of monumental Early Christian basilicas and excavations at Paphos, Amathus, Kourion, and Salamis revealed multiple examples of elaborate Christian buildings. The emphasis on urban sites and Christian buildings contributed to argument for long-term continuity of settlement on the island from the Iron Age into the Roman and Late Roman periods. Moreover, it provided archaeological evidence for the antiquity of these urban episcopal sees that represented the famously autonomous Cypriot church in antiquity and demonstrated ecclesiastical continuity into the modern period. The archaeological attention received by monumental Christian architecture exerted a formative influence over the trajectory of Late Roman and Byzantine archaeology on the island. Church plans, architectural typologies, and less frequently decorative techniques, particularly mosaic and wall painting, formed the basis for interpreting the place of Cyprus in the both the history of Late Roman and Byzantine architecture, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. From G. A. Soteriou’s ambitious arguments for the central role of Cypriot churches in the development of Byzantine architecture more broadly (1935; see Davis and Stewart 2014) to A.H.M. Megaw’s famous article that asked whether Byzantine architecture on Cyprus was metropolitan or provincial (1974) and Slobadon Curcic’s 2000 reformulation of that question as provincial or regional, architecture, floor plans in particular, provided evidence for the relationship between Cyprus and the rest of the Mediterranean world. Unfortunately, in many cases, these urban churches remain little known beyond their plans (and their impressive remains) with few receiving careful publications and only two, the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the South Basilica at Polis, resting on a thorough study of stratigraphy supported by the analysis of small finds and context pottery. As a result, these buildings remain difficult to date archaeologically. Moreover, in many cases, these buildings remain detached from their larger urban contexts as excavators either focused their attention on monumental architecture or chose primarily to publish the results from this work. There are obvious exceptions to this, of course, at Salamis, Paphos, Kourion, and Polis, but the overall unevenness of both publication and excavation has made it difficult to contextualize Cypriot architecture and urbanism within the larger Roman and Late Roman world.

Recent work on Cyprus has looked to recontextualizing the archaeology of in three basic ways. First, archaeologists have sought to continue the long-standing effort to locate Cyprus within the larger Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine worlds. G. Hill’s and T. Mitford’s argument that Cyprus was a quiet backwater of the Roman East, based largely on historical sources, has been fundamentally challenges by the work of Dimitri Michaelides (e.g. 1996), John Hayes’s publication of the ceramics from the House of Dionysios at Paphos (1991), and the work of John Lund (xxxx). These scholars and their younger contemporaries (Leonard xxxx, Gordon 2012, xxxxxx) have demonstrated that during the first seven centuries AD, that Cyprus was deeply embedded in the economic life of the Roman East, trading extensively with their neighbors, reflecting wider trends across the empire, and exploiting their natural and agricultural resources for both public and private expressions of power and wealth. In the 21st century, recent work on connectivity, globalization, revised ideas of insularity, and hybridized culture have shaped our view of Roman Cyprus as a sphere for distinct forms of cultural and economic interaction that extend far beyond monumental architecture. The quantitative analysis of imported and local ceramics, evidence from shipwrecks and ceramic production sites, and survey and excavation at small harbors, emporia, villages, and non-monumental buildings have all contributed to a view of Cyprus that is deeply embedded in the Roman and Late Roman world.

Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology: A Preprint

I’ve been in a deep writer’s funk lately and struggling to get projects going, to make progress on existing projects, and to wrap things up on time and to spec. It’s been beyond frustrating. 

So it is with a bit of relief that I offer a preprint of the introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology that David Pettegrew and I have been working on for well over a year. As readers of this blog know, David and I adopted a rather unorthodox strategy that involved writing almost 30,000 words and then editing it down to a more manageable and appropriate 8,000-10,000. At that point we invited comments from everyone including our contributors and tweaked and massaged the text up to around 10,500 words or a little over 12,500 with bibliography.

You can download a PDF draft here.

We’re under no illusions that this is the final word on Early Christian archaeology, but we think that as a standalone text and as the introduction to our Oxford Handbook, it makes a meaningful contribution (and perhaps can be read alongside Kim Bowes 2008 article, “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field,” from Religion Compass).  

We have a couple more weeks before the entire Oxford Handbook gets sent into the black box, so if there is a glaring problem with the draft, please do not hesitate to let us know!

The Archaeology of Early Christianity: An Introduction

I know I’ve been promising to share a draft of our introduction to our Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology, but haven’t come through, 

Today, that changes. Here’s a link to a draft of our introduction to our Oxford Handbook project.

The challenge of this introduction stems our effort to do three things. First, we offer a brief survey of the history of Early Christian archaeology with particular attention to the Anglophone scholarship. Second, we introduced past, current, and future directions in archaeology as a discipline and argued for their impact on our understanding of Early Christianity. Finally, we offer a brief survey of the content of the volume. 

I do hope that some readers with an interest in Early Christianity and the Archaeology of the Early Christian world will take the time to offer suggestions, comments, or critiques of this draft introduction. We realize that it has some warts and some stylistic infelicities, but hope that this draft captures the general direction of our work.

As in the past, I’m using Hypothes.is to allow comments on our introduction. It’s a free, open-source application for commenting on the web! 

Check out our introduction here.

Defining Early Christian Archaeology

Over the weekend, David Pettegrew and I have been putting the finishing touches on the introduction to our Oxford Handbook to Early Christian Archaeology. We’re not only engaged in our typical struggled between length and content, but I also find myself returning again and again to the definition of Early Christian archaeology. Recently, I’ve been thinking a good bit about later late antiquity and the 7th century, in particular. While it is without a doubt that most of the connections, institutions, and trends present in the 7th century represent continuity with the preceding centuries and are properly described as part of “Late Antiquity” (whatever the limitations of this term), it is less clear whether we should see the 7th century as part of the Early Christian centuries or sufficiently far removed to be better associated with Medieval or Byzantine Christianity.

Determining the chronological limits to Early Christian archaeology involves defining what we mean by an Early Christian archaeology. To some extent, we can rely on the historiography which assigns the usual array of dates from Constantine and the peace of the church to late 5th century or the  reign of Justinian. In many ways these dates are associated with either political events in the life of the church (like the reign of Constantine) or dates that are political and “secular” in nature such as the reign of Theodosius and his legislation against paganism, the various sacks of Rome, or the death of a particular emperor. In many ways, these dates coincide with episodes of traditional interest among scholars of antiquity and late antiquity and represent the close connections between the study of late antique archaeology and the archaeology of Early Christianity.

The particular challenge of an archaeology of religion is that beliefs tend to leave very complicated traces in the material record. Sites like the famous fountain of the lamps at Corinth, for example, with their assemblage of inscribed lamps baring Christian, pagan, and completely ambiguous sentiments. These kinds of sites are not terribly unusual in the Mediterranean and, like the presence of pagan imagery on the floors of Early Christian churches, paint a picture where complicated notions of belief and religious identity are not clear cut and obvious in the material record (and this may well reflects the ambiguity of ancient religion (all religion?)). All this is to suggest that an archaeology of Early Christianity offers only a rather coarse tool to understand the spread of Christianity as a system of belief. This tends to be a major area of focus for scholars interested in the Early Christian period irrespective of methods.

With the archaeology of religion remaining a challenging intellectual task, scholars have looked to connections between the study of Late Antiquity and Early Christianity as a plausible reason to extend our definition of Early Christianity into the 7th century and to argue that the networks and relationships in which Early Christianity developed persisted into the 7th and 8th centuries in many parts of the Mediterranean. In this context, an Early Christian archaeology could well be defined by the networks that allowed for Christian material culture to circulate in the Mediterranean. The spaces of interaction present in this network ensured that distinctive development of Christian forms of representation and perhaps offer a useful perspective on understanding the development of Christianity as a system of representation. 

At the same time, recent discussion of archaeological methods, particular those focused on late antique archaeology, have considered whether there are distinctive methods that define an archaeology of late antiquity. This could, of course, be applied to the study of Early Christianity. There are, of course, types of monuments that are characteristic of the rise of the Christianity, particularly basilica-style churches, and particular questions that are salient to the study of Christian practices (i.e. liturgy, burials, and iconography) associated with those buildings. Whether these requirements rise the level of methodological concerns is difficult to say, but unlikely. Similarly, Christian burials (on a small scale) and Christian landscapes (on a larger scale) offer two extremes that might benefit distinctive methods and attendant methodologies. Indeed, some recent scholarship has hinted that Christian (and late pagan) ways of viewing the landscape has pushed archaeologists to think about existing sites in different ways. The long tradition of Christian archaeology and the wide range of techniques and levels of documentation used to publish Christian monuments presents an opportunity for archaeologists of this period to synthesize different traditions, types of evidence, and levels of certitude. This approach to studying Christian landscapes offers some new interpretative opportunities , but perhaps these have not risen to the level of methodology.

To return to the point of this post, as we wrap up the introduction to our Oxford Handbook, we are reminded of the challenge of defining Early Christian archaeology in terms of chronology, themes, and methods. None of these criteria are significant enough alone to map out a discrete (or unique) field of study, but perhaps in combination they set out the limits to what an Early Christian archaeology can know.

Future Directions in Early Christian Archaeology

Over the last few weeks, David Pettegrew and I have been slowly working to revise our introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. The final part to be written was a brief section on the prospect for an archaeology of Early Christianity. While one could identify any number of significant future lines of research for Early Christian archaeology (in fact, this could be an article in its own right), I focus on a number of areas which I think reflect the growing convergence of Early Christian archaeology, the archaeology of Late Antiquity, and trends within the larger field of world archaeology.

Nothing, of course, is cast in stone. So, let me know what you think:

As the archaeology of Early Christianity continues to converge with major currents in world archaeology, it continues a trajectory that fortifies archaeology as an independent source of knowledge about the Early Christian past and expand and complicated perspectives offered by sophisticated reading of Early Christian texts. This confluence opens up Early Christian archaeology to new research directions but also exposes the discipline to new challenges grounded the complicated issues of chronological and geographic definition and methods and questions. At the same time, Early Christian archaeology remains committed to traditional sites of biblical importance, architectural forms, and iconographic traditions that ensures continuity with the long tradition of Early Christian archaeology.

The archaeology of Late Antiquity, for example, has increasingly extended the chronological and geographic limits of the ancient world beyond the conventional definitions of the discipline of Classical or Mediterranean archaeology. As efforts to refine the chronologies of Late Roman sites and monuments have demonstrated that the economic, social, and cultural relationships that defined the ancient world persisted centuries later than earlier scholars had anticipated. Scholars have increasingly subjected to scrutiny arguments for traditional divide between Christian Europe and Muslim Asia and Africa marking the end of antiquity. As a result, it now appears that conversion to Christianity was a much longer and less thorough process, longstanding economic relationships and expectations persisted into the 7th and 8th centuries, and Early Christianity communities continued to thrive even during the disruptions of the Arab invasions of Asia and North Africa. Complementing the expanded chronological definition of the Late Antique world is an expanded geographic range. With antiquity no longer being limited to simply the Mediterranean basin, there is a greater interest in exploring the spread economic and even political relationships, including the Christian church, across Asia and into Northern Europe. The chronological and geographic redefinition of Late Antiquity is part of a larger process of redefining the origins of the West at the end of the ancient world, and the distinct place of Christianity within this narrative will continue to play a key role in this reconsideration as well.

The convergence of Early Christianity archaeology with the larger discipline of Mediterranean archaeology has also expanded the context in which scholars have understood Early Christian monuments and artifacts. While churches continue to represent examples of Christian iconography, provide insights into liturgical practices, and trace the contours of Christianization, churches also represent important manifestations of economic organization, administrative functions, and even social order. Phenomena like pilgrimage, the production of objects with Christian symbols, or the craft workers required to decorate monumental Christian buildings provide significant evidence for organization of labor, connections between regions, and the economic health of communities. Churches and artifacts associated with Christian practice have come to stand as surrogates for settlement, particularly in the countryside and contributed to arguments for rural settlement patterns and integration of rural and urban life in the Roman world.

The continued interest in scientific practices range from efforts to date Early Christian monuments using dendrochronology or C-14 to the use of remote sensing technology to document buildings without excavation. These advances have expanded the traditional tool kit of archaeologists that has for so long depended upon excavation, seriation, typologies, and stratigraphy to produce meaningful, if relative, chronological relationships between sites and between classes of artifacts. The use of carbon-14 dating, dendrochronology, and other scientific approaches to measuring absolute age will refine archaeologists’ ability to link archaeological material to events more closely datable in textual sources. At the same time, the more systematic use of remote sensing technologies to locate and identify buildings beneath the surface of the ground offers a way to expand the number of known buildings especially in remote or difficult of access locations where traditional excavation is simply unviable. Finally, greater attention to the chemical composition of ceramics, plaster in wall painting, and even marble has played a growing role in articulating the economic relationships between areas, the role of various work crews in constructing Christian buildings, and patronage practices that simple typological or unaided visual inspection of artifacts and decoration can not reveal. These scientific approaches have real limitations ranging from expense and access to the very small number of trained individuals, and the time needed to process samples and data, but they do present new ways of approaching chronology, regional connections, and spaces that sometimes fall to the margins of accessibility and field work.

Scientific approaches to Early Christian material culture complement a growing interest in the larger context for the rise and development of Christianity in the Mediterranean. Interest in climate science, for example, has just started to explore connections between the “Late Antique Little Ice Age” and the rise of Christianity and Islam in the 6th and 8th centuries (e.g. McCormick 2012; Brooke 2014; Izdebski et al. 2015; Haldon 2016; Büntgen et al. 2016 with citations). This work steers clear of simplistic environmental determinism and instead locates the workings of culture within a dense network of human and environmental factors. Recent work in bioarchaeology, and paleo-epidemiology in particular, has refined our understanding of the various Mediterranean wide plagues in the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th centuries which appear in the work of Early Christian authors and which shaped the mortuary landscape of Christian communities (Harper 2015, 2016; McCormick 2012, 2015a, 2015b). Like climate change and other environmental factors, the biological and microbial landscape of the ancient world also shaped the development of Christianity and Christian culture (Little 2007; Stark 1996).

These new directions in the study of Christian archaeology have emphasized the embedded nature of Christian practices, objects, and culture within the wider matrix of the Roman and Late Roman Mediterranean. The recognition that objects, the environment, and even microbial entities all contributed to the network of relationships in which Christianity developed. For the most part, archaeologists of Early Christianity have only begun to explore the potential of understanding the development of Christian culture amid the dense web of relations and to recognize the potential of applying theories of agency, materiality, and the critical attention to ontology to sites, buildings, and artifacts associated with Christianity. Glenn Peers’s anarchaeologie, for example, offers one way forward to examining the series of small interventions that created a portable icon (Peers, this volume).. Considering the growing interest in this approach in archaeology more broadly (e.g. Hodder 2012; more citations here), at least one significant route forward for the archaeology of Early Christianity seems clear.

The past and future of Early Christian archaeology rests firmly on its autonomy as a source of knowledge about the Early Christian past. This autonomy, however, has never undermined its deep connection with other approaches and other evidence for the first Christian centuries. It is this tension between its status as an independent source of historical knowledge and its close connections to the study of texts, art, ritual, and theology that has ensured its ongoing relevance to scholars committed to understanding both these transformative centuries and the emergence of Christianity as a world religion. The last few decades has seen the archaeology of Early Christianity tap more fully into currents developed in world archaeology as well as by their colleges in Classical and Mediterranean archaeology. This has opened the field to new methods, new technologies, and new ways of understanding and presenting the Early Christian world. The contributions presented in this volume capture the field amid its ongoing transformation. The major currents, however, of both its past and future remain visible, and we hope that it stands as a meaningful and representative summary of this field as well as an indicator of new directions.

The Center of the Late Antique World

I read with some interest the first volume of Studies of Late Antiquity. (And I realize that the volume came out some months ago, but, I had a hectic spring!). 

From the introduction by the editors, the goal of the journal is to situation late antiquity in more of a global and transdisciplinary perspective. That seems like a noble undertaking and more or less consistent with both longterm trends in both ancient history and archaeology as well as in the study of Late Antiquity. It is appropriate then that Mark Humphries offers a reflective essays that seeks to place Late Antiquity into the narrative context of world history. The article is available for free along with the entire first issue of the journal. 

Humphries argues that the position of Late Antiquity shapes its place (literally in some way) within the narrative of antiquity or the Middle Ages. The location of Late Antiquity between these two major narratives has focused attention on the West and its centers, in particular, Rome. This explains, to over simplify, why the “fall of Rome” in 476 continues to attract so much attention. It is both an ancient center and the heart of Medieval Europe and it becomes a kind of synecdoche for the ancient world.

The article would be great for an undergraduate class on Late Antiquity because it examines critically debates that shape the so-called master narrative over the past two decades as scholars have tried to understand the “end of antiquity” in the context of deconstructing the West and western traditions. In light of this trend, Humphries article does a nice job of showing how the work of the ancient historian presents futures from the past. Opening up the study of Late Antiquity to more global perspectives offers new ways to contextualize events like the fall of Rome and the reposition the Late Antique world and the futures it implies.

At the same time, Humphries perspectives on Late Antiquity rings a bit hollow for anyone who regularly does archaeological field work that focuses on Late Antiquity. The world that my research occupies, for example, does not really intersect with the master narratives centered on Rome or even Constantinople. The small world of my research has a center somewhere in the southern Aegean between the coasts of Cyprus and the Peloponnesus without much concern for affairs in major Late Roman centers. I suspect that many archaeologists similarly deal with such “small worlds” that offer another avenue to destabilizing master narratives. While transregional events and institutions regularly intersect with lives on Cyprus and in the Peloponnesus, the responses to these influences were consistently local.

It would be a fun exercise (in results, if not in process) to plot the places mentioned in my scholarship, David Pettegrew’s scholarship, R. Scott Moore’s scholarship and our other colleagues and to set this plot against the places mentioned in, say, a list of 25 books (or articles) that we have found influential and inspiring over the last several years. This would provide a rough geographical map of our intellectual world. For a start, we could compare our worlds with a map of the places  places present in our Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology, but the wider potential for mapping scholars “small worlds” is intriguing.


There are two design issues that I don’t entirely enjoy. First, as a journal that will have a more significant digital circulation than paper circulation, not having either linked endnotes that would allow a reader to go to an endnote and back to the text is a real drag. If you’re not doing linked notes, then stick with footnotes so a digital reader doesn’t have to scroll through a document to find a citation. Secondly (and more superficially), I don’t love the sans serif subheadings in the journal. They seem too much of a break with the otherwise staid serifed text block.

One other issue, that readers of this blog might suspect. The price of this journal has tempered my enthusiasm a bit. For a journal professing to offer global perspectives on Late Antiquity and to push Late Antiquiters to cross disciplinary boundaries, the price of the journal (which is by no means particularly exceptional) would tend to reinforce a kind of parochial discipline. After all, an academic journal that costs $75 per year for an individual subscriber is unlikely to be an appealing investment for someone outside the field of Late Antique studies or at a university outside of the U.S. where research support, funding, and library access might be more limited.

At some point soon, we need to stop creating new subscription based journals.  

An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology

My colleague and friend David Pettegrew and I have been working on a massive Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology project for the last 30 (or, like, 3) years. As an upshot of this, I’ve been able to re-familiarize myself scholarship on Late Antique and Early Christian archaeology. It is also a fortuitous time for me to renew my interest in this field. Over the past decade there has been a remarkable outpouring of good and, more importantly, interesting scholarship in this field. 

As we worked on the various manuscripts and the introduction to the Oxford Handbook, David and I got to talking about writing a short introduction to Early Christian archaeology, and we have accidentally written close to 30,000 words as a start. Over the last few weeks, we’ve also been working on grant applications to support this project. 

Here’s a rough sketch of our ideas so far:

The book will be concise (<100,000 words), emphasize the role of archaeological methods in constructing Christian identity, and intended for an audience of both scholars and students of the Early Christian world.

This book is significant in two ways. First, the field of Early Christian archaeology largely falls outside of the Anglophone academic tradition. While scholars in France, Germany, Italy, and Greece have organized the use of material culture and archaeological evidence to study Early Christianity into a distinct and thriving field (see Deichmann 1983; Frend 1996; Bowes 2008 for surveys), scholars from North America and the U.K. who have focused on objects, architecture, and materiality in the Early Christian remains scattered across the disciplines of history, art history, Early Christian and Biblical studies, and Roman, Late Antique, and Byzantine archaeology. As a result, there has been a tendency for religious studies and archaeology to talk past each other despite some recent efforts to align research questions and various classes of evidence (e.g. Koester 1995; Friesen, Schowalter, and James 2014; Harrison and Welborn 2015) or to offer an encyclopedia overview of Early Christian material culture (Finney 2017). For example, a recent volume in the Brill series Late Antique Archaeology asked the question of whether the study of Late Antiquity (generally dated to the fourth to seventh centuries AD) warranted a distinct archaeological method (Lavan and Mulryan 2013). Applying a similar question to the archaeology of Early Christianity opens both archaeology and Early Christian studies to new opportunities for reciprocal critique. The relationship between material culture and belief, the architecture of Christian ritual, and the construction of Christian identities in landscapes densely populated with pre-existing religions, monuments, and memories push the theology of the incarnation, relics, and Christian materiality from theological works and scripture to real objects, buildings, and places. An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology looks to continue efforts begun in the Oxford Handbook to examine the confluence between Early Christian archaeology as a field and the study of the Early Christian world as a topic of transdisciplinary interest.

The second aspect that makes this work significant is that it intends to emphasize a greater degree of methodological rigor than many previous surveys. The Anglophone academic tradition can take credit for many key advances in archaeological method in the past century from stratigraphic excavation to New Archaeology, intensive pedestrian survey, phenomenological approaches to the landscape, and reception theory in art and archaeology. The application of these methods in an explicit way to Early Christian material culture introduces a more critical approach to objects, buildings, chronologies, and narrative than currently common in world archaeology. The intent of this project is to expand the interpretative potential of Early Christian archaeology by grounding it in contemporary methodology. For example, archaeological methods have offered a revised, later date for the monumentalization of the Christian landscape around the city of Corinth. The later date of several buildings has suggested that they might not reflect the rapid, fifth-century expansion of Christianity in this provincial capital, but rather the growing investment in monumentalizing theological positions in the vigorous Christological disputes of the sixth century. Case-studies like these will demonstrate the value of rigorous archaeology for both a specialist audience looking for survey of how archaeology expands what we know about Early Christian society as well as a more general audience seeking to understand how a critical, contemporary approach to Christian material culture can expand our understanding of the spread of Christianity in the ancient world.

This project extends form my work on Early Christian place (Caraher 2014a), architecture (Caraher 2014b), ritual (Caraher 2015), and memory and abandonment (2010) primarily in the hinterland of the city of Corinth. This important Roman, Late Roman, and Early Christian city had a Christian community from the first century AD and appeared in both the New Testament and both contemporary and later non-canonical works. The community becomes visible in the archaeological record in the fifth century with the construction of a series large and elaborate of basilica-style churches and through the appearance of a corpus of Christian inscriptions. Since 2003, I have also worked on two sites on Cyprus with significant Early Christian phases. The site of Pyla-Koutsopetria included a partially excavated Early Christian basilica with features distinctive to the northeastern part of the island (Caraher, Pettegrew, and Moore 2014; Caraher, Pettegrew, and More, in preparation). The site of Polis-Chrysochous, on the far western side of the island, includes two basilica-style churches, extensive burials, and a substantial body of material culture (Caraher, Papalexandrou, and Moore 2013; Caraher and Papalexandrou 2012, Caraher, Papalexandrou, and Moore, under review). Like Corinth, Cyprus also appeared in the New Testament as well as in later hagiographic, historical, and epigraphic traditions as well as leaving behind a significant archaeological record (Caraher and Gordon, forthcoming).

This work as well as the Oxford Handbook will form the basis for An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology which will be a collaborative project with David Pettegrew at Messiah College with whom I have worked on several projects for more than a decade. Over the last four months, we inadvertently prepared a 30,000-word introduction to our Oxford Handbook. While this introduction is currently being compressed to about 8,000 words to fit the requirements of that volume, it nevertheless offers an initial framework and basis of collaboration for the short book that we intend to produce. Our current plan for the book includes the following chapters. Each chapter will emphasize a particular issue central to the study of Early Christianity from an archaeological perspective and include both a survey of key monuments, evidence, and arguments as well as a brief case study highlighting how archaeological approaches can expand how we understand the Early Christian world:  


Introduction. The Archaeology of Early Christianity (historiography, approaches, and concepts)

Chapter 1. The Empty Tomb: The Archaeology of the New Testament (texts and archaeological contexts in the New Testament world)

Chapter 2. The Intangible Church (Christianity and the archaeology of religious communities in the first-second centuries)

Chapter 3. The Living Dead (Christianity and the mortuary archaeology in the third century)

Chapter 4. Building the Kingdom (Analysizing Early Christian architecture in the fourth to sixth centuries)

Chapter 5. The Quest for the Holy (Christian objects and identity from late fourth to sixth centuries)

Chapter 6. Sacred Landscapes (Constructing of Christian landscapes in the fifth to sixth century)

Chapter 7. Christian Capitals (Christianizing urban space in the sixth-seventh centuries)



Bowes, K. “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field.” Religion Compass 2.4 (2008): 575–619.

Caraher, W. 2015. “Epigraphy, Liturgy, and Imperial Policy on the Justinianic Isthmus,” in “Bridge of the Untiring Sea”: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity (Hesperia Suppl. 48) ed. E. Gebhard and T. E. Gregory.

-, 2014a. “Patronage and Reception in the Monumental Architecture of Early Christian Greece,” In Approaching Monumentality in Archaeology. IEMA V. James Osborne ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014.

-, 2014b. “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City,” for Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. Eds. S. Feisen, D. Schowalter, S. James. Leiden: Brill.

-, 2010. “Abandonment and Religious Continuity in Post-Classical Greece” The International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14 (2010).

Caraher, W., A. Papalexandrou, R.S. Moore. 2013. “The South Basilica at Arsinoe (Polis-tes-Chrysochou): Change and Innovation in an Early Christian Basilica on Cyprus,” Cahiers du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43: 79-92.

-, under review. “The South Basilica at Polis on Cyprus” Hesperia.

Caraher, W., and A. Papalexandrou. 2012. “Arsinoe in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” for Polis: City of Gold. Eds. W. Childs and J. Smith. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, R.S. Moore. 2014. Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, R.S. Moore. In preparation. Pyla-Koutsopetria II: Archaeological Excavation of an Ancient Coastal Town. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, T. Davis, eds. Forthcoming. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caraher, W. and J.M. Gordon. Forthcoming. “Early Christian Cyprus,” in W. Caraher, D. Pettegrew, T. Davis, eds. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deichmann, F.W. 1983. Einführung in die christliche Archäologie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Finney, P.C., ed. 2017. The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Frend, W.H.C. 1996. The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Feisen, S., D. Schowalter, S. James eds. 2014. Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. Leiden: Brill.

Harrison, James R., and L.L. Welborn. 2015. The First Urban Churches I: Methodological Foundations. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Koester, H., ed. Ephesos, Metropolis of Asia: An Interdisciplinary Approach to its Archaeology. Religion, and Culture. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995.

Two Articles on Early Christian Archaeology

This year, I’ve been returning to my roots and thinking more seriously about the archaeology of the Early Christian world. I’ve been reading a bunch of the recent work focusing on the intersection of Early Christian studies and archaeology, and surfing through some of my favorite journals to catch up on recent articles on issues like Christianization and the construction of Christian landscapes. I was fairly intrigued by Troels Myrup Kristensen’s article in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, “Landscape, Space, and Presence in the Cult of Thekla at Miriamlik” and Jacqueline Sturm’s, “The Afterlife of the Hephaisteon: the Interpretatio Christiana of an Ancient Athenian Monument,” in Hesperia

Troels’ article examined the creation of a Christian landscape in the complex space of Thekla’s shrine at the ancient site of Miramlik in Turkey. He interleaves the two, well-known texts associated with Thekla, the rather early Acts of Paul and Thekla, and the fifth-century Miracles of Thekla, with a sensitive reading of the region around Miriamlik’s landscape and history. The site of Miriamlik has seen relatively little formal archaeological investigate over the past century, but there remained plenty of significant archaeological analysis possible on the basis of what is already known.

For example, Troels notes that as late as the fifth century, the pagan landmarks remain sufficiently well-known to represent a significant foil to the Christian landscape constructed on the basis of Thekla’s miracles. He also unpacked potential political, religious, and even visual relationships between the site of Thekla’s sanctuary the nearby city of Seleukeia, the pagan sanctuary of the Sarapeion, and the surrounding productive landscape. The links between the city of Seleukeia and the sanctuary as well as between Miriamlik and the coastline defined more than simply routes of travel, but also the relationship between the site and pilgrims, local ecclesiastical official, and other travelers. Finally, Troels explores the experience of a pilgrim to the site and the contrast between the open space of the basilica-style church and the more enclosed and intimate space of a cave sanctuary (which evoked other cave sanctuaries in the region and in the Christian tradition)l  The article unpacks the complexity of the local landscape, the role of two prominent Early Christian texts, and the place of the cult of Thekla in both the experiences of visitors and in establishing new relationships in the region. 

Jacqueline Sturm’s article on the Christianization of the Hephaisteion is remarkable for several reasons. First, like the site of Miriamlik, the Hephaisteion has not seen significant new archaeological investigation for two generations. In fact, there has been little significant archaeological work on the Christianization of Athens in the last 50 years and most of the more recent scholarship has been a reconsideration of longstanding archaeological evidence with all of its limitations and ambiguities. Sturm’s article argues that the Centauromachy on the temple’s frieze was susceptible to an interpretatio Christiana which saw the battle as the conflict of good versus evil. This led to the temple undergoing a “gentle” conversion to a church in the fifth-century rather than showing evidence for more destructive forms of spoliation and conversion. 

Sturm does a nice job exploring the role of iconography in Christian practice and the context of the building in the Christianization of Athens. The challenge, as always, is chronology. No major Christian or Christianized monument in Athens has been dated on the basis of stratigraphic excavation. Instead, the evidence comes from a small number of literary sources (most notably the Vita Procli of Marinus), evidence for reuse of spolia from better known monuments, and the poorly understood role of historical figures like Eudokia and events like the Visigothic raid to punctuate the lives of various buildings throughout the city. Like the shrine at Miriamlik, the conversion of the Hephaisteion represents a negotiation between the needs of the Christian community, persistent notions of civic identity, spatial politics, and economic realities of the Late Roman world.    

Both articles consider some central themes to the study of Early Christianity through archaeology. First, they recognize the vital role of urbanism and pre-Christian religious practices in the ordering of Early Christian space. Second, both article understand the intersection of Christian visual culture and both texts and the wider monumental and iconographic world of antiquity. Third, they seem to understand that Christian landscapes and monuments are fundamentally social objects and the creation of Christian space relied on memory as a contemporary practice as opposed to some disembodied residue that clung to old things. Finally, the archaeology of Early Christianity involves both archaeology and material culture as well as the excavation of earlier field work with all of its limitations and potential.