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)

Conclusion

Bibliography

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.

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.