Baptisteries in Greece and Cyprus

For some reason baptistery projects take a long time to come out. This week, two baptistery related projects of mine somehow reached milestones. It’s a Christmas miracle.

The first is the MASSIVE Cambridge Guide to the Architecture of Christianity edited by Richard A. Etlin. I had only a tiny contribution to this gigantic and long simmering project: “Early Christian Baptisteries.” From what I can tell, I started working on this project in 2010 or so. In fact, this project took so long to come to pass that you have to go to my OLD blog to find a draft of the published manuscript: You can read that draft of it here. You can check out the table of content here. I’m particularly pleased to have slipped an image of the Lechaion baptistery into this article!

Yesterday, I completed a draft of another long simmering project on the Early Christian baptisteries of Cyprus. It is a companion piece to one that David Pettegrew and I wrote on the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece.  

If you’re into baptisteries and into Cyprus, I think this as good a place as any to start. Note the bibliography at the end for key additional reading and reference!

The Baptisteries of Cyprus

Scholars have long recognized Cyprus as a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Roman period. This location of the island between the Levant, Asia Minor, and the Aegean and its wealth during the Roman and Late Roman period shaped its distinct ecclesiastical and Christian history. The island’s location made it a predictable stopover for St. Paul (Acts 9:27; 11:19-26). Its connection to the Levant inspired traditions of prominent early bishops on the island including Paul’s companion Barnabas and the resurrected Lazarus. By the fourth century, the island sent three bishops to the Council of Niceae including St. Spyridon and by the end of the century produced the charismatic St. Epiphanius whose status a heretic hunter drew him to Constantinople to participate, albeit briefly, in the machinations surrounding St. John Chrysostom’s condemnation at the Synod of the Oak in 403. The prominence of Cypriot bishops in the first half-millennium of Christianity is just one indicator of the political and religious significance of the island. Indeed, the sudden discovery of the relics of St. Barnabas in the 5th century, helped bolster the island’s case for ecclesiastical independence from the See of Antioch and reinforce the uniquely autocephalos relationship between the Metropolitan bishop of Cyprus at Salamis-Constantia and the Patriarch in Constantinople. The prominence of the church and its leaders also fostered the growing number of relics on the island and helped make the island a place for pilgrims to stop on their way to the Holy Land. Even in the 7th century, as the Late Roman Eastern Mediterranean started to dissolve under the pressures of religious and political schism, Cyprus remained a key node in Christendom. Displaced populations, such as thousands of Armenians captured during the Persian wars, and displaced bishops, such as Cypriot-born St. John the Almsgiver who fled Egypt in advance of the Persian attacks on Alexandria, found new homes on the island. Throughout the Early Christian period, the island’s location, economic and political prominence, and ecclesiastical stature ensured that its churches were both impressive and diverse in style and shape (see Gordon and Caraher 2018; Mecalf 2009; Zavagno 2017).

Considering its geographic, political, and ecclesiastical context, it is hardly surprising that Cypriot churches drew freely on the architecture of the Near East, Asia Minor, and the Aegean coasts. This diversity of church architecture on the island suggests the presence of different communities with different liturgical practices as well as different groups of builders with access to different material and techniques. Like many places in the Mediterranean, the paucity of clearly dated buildings also means that our chronology of these churches remains provisional. Only a handful of the over 100 Early Christian churches on Cyprus have dates established on the basis of published archaeological excavations (for the most recent catalogue of Cypriot churches see Maguire 2012). As a result, it is difficult to discern development over time or to link architectural trends to the ecclesiastical history of the island. This is particularly disappointing as Cyprus’s location, distinct ecclesiastical history, and remarkable continuity has make it a useful for understanding the dissemination and transformation of church architecture in the Early Byzantine period.

Despite the large number of churches excavated on Cyprus, there are only six well-preserved baptisteries. Three are in the neighborhood of Metropolitan See on the island, Salamis-Constantia: Ay. Epiphanios in the city itself, Ay. Triada and Ay. Philon on the Karpas Peninsula. The are also two well preserved baptisteries at the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the coastal site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias. Most recently, the Department of Antiquities excavated a baptistery at the site of Petounta in Larnaka district (Georgiou 2013). There are several poorly preserved or poorly published baptisteries that add to this meager corpus. At the site of Shyrvallos near Paphos, salvage excavations revealed a baptistery in the early 1960s (Metcalf 2009, 459 with citations). An unpublished baptistery stands to the west of the basilica excavated east of the harbor at Amathous. There is also evidence suggesting a baptismal installations at the Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos.

The small number of baptistries excavated on Cyprus appears to be partly an accident of discovery and partly a feature of the island’s distinctive ecclesiastical landscape. The best preserved examples of baptisteries suggest that there was a tradition of monumental and architecturally elaborate structures that often stood adjacent to, but separate from the main body of the church. As a result, these monumental baptisteries tend to appear most commonly at churches excavated extensively. Urban contexts for many of the churches on Cyprus and salvage excavation practices has meant that excavators only occasionally opened the kind of exposures necessary to reveal the presence of a baptistery complex. It is hardly surprising, then, that three of the six well-preserved baptisteries are associated with churches located amid large scale excavations (Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis, The Episcopal Basilica at Kourion, and the baptistery basilica at Ay. Georgios-Peyia). Conversely, the absence of monumental baptisteries at Paphos, for example, which was an important ecclesiastical city with Biblical associations and the absence of any substantial Early Christian remains from the city of Kition (modern Larnaka) almost certainly reflects accidents of discovery.

That said, there is also some evidence that Cypriots developed smaller and simpler alternatives to the large-scale baptisteries present at the basilicas identified by large-scale excavations. These alternatives may have included mobile fonts, the use of annex rooms common to the Cypriot churches, or even space in the aisles, atria, or narthex. The presence of the remains of a baptistery in the south apse of the Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos and may well indicate the use of moveable baptismal fonts. Stewart suggests that a gap in the opus sectile floor in the north apse of Amathus Acropolis basilica might represent the remains of a displaced baptismal font at this building that otherwise lacks a formal baptismal space (Stewart 2013, 292).

The monumental baptisteries present on the island suggest adult baptism which perhaps correlates with the large-scale conversion of the island over the course of the 5th century. The baptisteries at Kourion, Ay. Philon, and Ay. Epiphanios are on slightly different orientations from their associated churches which would seemingly suggest either earlier or later construction. The excavators at Kourion and Ay. Philon, however, saw the similarities in form between the baptisteries and the basilicas at these sites as evidence for their close contemporaneity. Megaw largely dated the church at Kourion on the basis of coins found in foundation trenches and argues for a fifth century date for the basilica and links it to the prominent bishop Zeno who attended the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Megaw 2007, 158). Ay. Philon appears to have a similar date on the basis of numismatic evidence and the perhaps tenuous attribution of this church to Ay. Philon, a descendent of Ay. Epiphanios (Megaw and du Plat Taylor 1981). The church at Ay. Epiphanios was famously dated on the basis of the Life of Ay. Epiphanios in which God tells the fourth-century Bishop Epiphanios to build a church. This dates the church to the late 4th century at earliest and considering the scale and opulence of the building, it is probably safer to date the church to the early 5th century with modifications continuing into the 6th century. The baptistery is likely associated with the first phase of the building. The similarities between the baptistery at Ay. Trias and that of the nearby Ay. Philon (as well as the baptistery at Kourion and Ay. Epiphanios) would seem to support a 5th century date for that structure and coincides with the date assigned by Papageorghiou at least partly on the basis of a coin of Honorius (395-425) (Papageorghiou 1964, 372-374). The baptistery and basilica at Peyia with its Aegean influences is an outlier in terms of design, but seems likely to date to the 6th century if it is contemporary with its associated church (Papageorghiou 1985, 316). The baptistery at the site of Mazotos-Petounta produced coins dating from between the 4th and 7th century (Georgiou 2013, 123). Without additional context for these finds, it remains difficult to assign to this building a narrower date, but its general form suggests a fifth or sixth century date. These centuries represents a period of aggressive church building perhaps linked as much to the growing Christian population on the island at to efforts by Cypriot bishops to assert their independence from Antiochene authority at the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Maguire 2012, 138).

Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation offers the most convenient, recent, and thoughtful survey of the churches on Cyprus. He argues that the design of the four baptisteries – Ay. Epiphanios, Ay. Trias, Ay. Philon, and Kourion – served to support a processional baptismal rite (Maguire 2012, 97-139). To this we can add, albeit tentatively, the baptistery at Mazotos-Petounta. The basilica associated with this baptistery was not excavated, but it nevertheless shares sufficient similarities with the four studied by Maguire to be added to that group. He proposes a rite involving four spaces linked by corridors. A large atrium space allowed the catechumens to gather prior to the start of the rite itself. The candidate then proceeded into an apodyterion where pre-baptismal rites took place and the individual undress before moving to the font itself. Cruciform fonts suggest at least partial immersion and complemented the role of movement associated with the processional rite. The candidate would have walked down into the font by means of a staircase on one of the font’s cross arms and ascended, newly baptized, by another. They would then continue to the chrismarion where the newly baptized Christian received anointing with oil. Presumably then the fully baptized member of the church would enter the basilica and experience the full liturgy. Maguire suggests a link to the baptismal rituals and architectural forms at Jerusalem, Sidé in Turkey, Gerash, and the pilgrimage church at Qalat Sem’an in Syria. Considering the close, if sometime fraught, connections between the church on Cyprus and the ecclesiastical landscape of the wider Levant, this seems plausible. Moreover, the character of Cypriot baptisteries do appear to emphasize processional movement through a series of discrete spaces that mediate the converts liturgical and physical entry into the church.

A mild outlier of this group is the baptistery at Peyia. Its circular font is unusual for Cyprus, with only the poorly preserved font at the site of Shyrvallos in Paphos sharing this shape. The location of the Peyia baptistery to the west of the atrium rather than connected to the main nave may hint at an alternative baptismal liturgy, the use of the atrium as the start of the baptismal processional route, or just constraints imposed by the neighboring buildings. A similar arrangement is apparently present at the still unpublished basilica near the harbor at Amathus which might have reflect the physical limits of the church’s situation near the coast (Keane 2021, 52).

The association of baptisteries with the seats of bishops has largely been a given on the island. The close association of the imposing church of Ay. Epiphanios with the bishops of Salamis-Constantia make it the obvious cathedral. The size, location, and opulence of the Kourion basilica, baptistery, and residential space makes it the cathedral of that city. The baptistery at Peyia likely seems to be associated with a cathedral as is evident in the presence of a synthronon at the church and the adjacent elite residence plausibly associated with the bishop. The later synthronon at the site of Ay. Philon and the elaborate annex rooms may well indicate that it was also a probable cathedral. At the same time, the presence of a baptistery some 20 km away from Ay. Philon at the site of Ay. Triada suggests that some non-cathedral churches may have been also equipped with baptisteries on the island. Metcalf suggests that the church and the baptistery at Ay. Triada predated the more elaborate cathedeal at Ay. Philon and the bishop moved his seat sometime in the fifth century (Metcalf 2009, 275). It is more difficult to explain within the limits of contemporary evidence why some cathedrals lacked obvious baptisteries. The scant evidence for architecturally distinct baptisteries at the massive basilicas at Paphos, including the largely unpublished Chrysopolitissa church, may suggest that in these contexts baptisms took place using moveable fonts or less substantial installations that stood within the liturgical space of the church itself. This would allow us to understand, for example, the Chrysopolitissa as the cathedral of the city despite its lack of a formal baptistery.

The handful of baptisteries on Cyprus reflect a certain amount of continuity of design, ritual and tradition likely centered on around the seat of the metropolitan bishop at Salamis-Constantia. There are, however, some indications for the perennial tension on the island between local practices and broader regional influences. The presence of an Aegean-style baptistery at Peyia on the western side of the island suggests that the influence of the church at Salamis may have had its limits. While this would be hardly surprising, the relative paucity of excavated baptisteries on Cyprus makes speculative any conclusion surrounding the traditions and practices broadly operating on the island. The likely use of moveable fonts which may have left only faint traces in the archaeological record, chronological ambiguities, and the limits to many excavations, further complicates our understanding of ancient practices on the island. The remains that do exist, however, suggest that Cypriot baptismal rituals centered on processional movements similar to those found elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Bibliography

du Plat Taylor, J. and A.H.S. Megaw. 1981. Excavations at Ayios Philon, the Ancient Carpasia. Part II. The Early Christian Buildings. Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 209-250.

Georgiou, G. 2013. An Early Christian baptistery on the south coast of Cyprus. Cahiers du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43: 117-126

Gordon, J. M., and W. R. Caraher. 2018. The Holy Island. In D. K. Pettegrew, W. R. Caraher, and T. Davis, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford University Press. 475-494.

Keane. C. 2021. “More than a Church: Late Antique Ecclesiastical Complexes in Cyprus.” Ph.D. Diss. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich.

Maguire, Richard. 2012. “Late Antique Basilicas on Cyprus sources, contexts, histories.” PhD diss., University of East Anglia.

Megaw, A. H.S. ed. 2007. Kourion: Excavations in the Episcopal Precinct. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

Metcalf, M. 2009. Byzantine Cyprus 491-1191. Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre.

Papageorghiou, A. 1964. Ἡ Παλαιοχριστιανικὴ καὶ Βυζαντινὴ Ἀρχαιολογία καὶ Τέχνη ἐν Κύπρῳ κατὰ τὸ 1963. Ἀπόστολος Βαρνάβας 25: 153-162, 209-216, 274-284, 349-353.

Papageorghiou, A. 1985. L’architecture paléochrétienne de Chypre. Corsi di Cultura sull’Arte Ravennate e Bizantina 32: 229-334.

Stewart, C. 2013. Military Architecture in Early Byzantine Cyprus. Cahiers du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes 43: 287-306.

Zavagno, L. 2017. Cyprus between the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (ca. 600-800): An Island in Transition. London: Routledge.

On the Edge of a Roman Port

I have to admit that today’s blog post is a bit of a hot take on the very recently published volume: On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007-2014 edited by Elena Korka and Joe Rife. I’m not going to come out and say that this is the perfect holiday read, but runs to 1376 pages (about 400 pages longer than the new Cambridge Centenary Ulysses for some casual perspective). Like Ulysses, it’s probably best to realize that this is not a book that one can read in a single sitting.  

That said, it is an interesting and, at least for those of us invested in the Corinthia, an important book. It describes three major campaigns of excavation at the coastal site of Koutsongila on the littoral of the Eastern Corinthia. Koutsongila stands just to the north of the site of Kenchreai and features not only the northern and eastern extent of the Roman settlement but also a per-urban graveyard. The site primarily saw activity from the first century BC to the 7th century AD and then again during World War II when the Germans fortified the Koutsongila ridge with gun emplacements and trenches. The project directors embraced a diachronic approach that understood the importance of later activity at the site both in its own right, but also as contributing to site formation processes and how they understood the earlier material.  

It is also a significant book for those of us invested in thinking about the future of archaeological publishing. My hot take will introduce this work and offer some thoughts after spending four or so hours with it yesterday afternoon. In other words, this is not a review or even a definitive “take” on the book, but a series of excited observations inspired by my first few hours with this volume.

Here goes:

1. Lavish. This book is almost absurdly lavish. The cover is spectacular, graphics are sharp and abundant, and the pages are glossy. The design draws on the familiar format of the journal Hesperia which makes sense since this is a volume in their supplement series. 

The book runs to two volumes which together must weigh close to 10 lbs. As a result, this is very much an office, library, sturdy end-table book as opposed to “a work room in Greece” or “toss it in your carry on to use in the field” book. This is a bit of a shame since the detailed catalogue would be nice to use on the pottery bench.

Fortunately, the book will appear at some point in digital form via Jstor. 

More fortunately, much of the finds data is available via Open Context including this sexy little piece of Slavic Ware, which can then be located in its trench and locus (or excavation unit). Unfortunately, I can’t seem to figure out whether the also recorded deposit numbers (that is stratigraphic units) as part of their published dataset. It wouldn’t be very hard, though, to create a concordance of deposits to loci to allow a user to access all the material defined by a particular depositional context.

I do wonder whether the digital version of the book will include hyperlinks to the online data. This could be  massively helpful (or even something that a clever user retrofits at a later date).

2. This Is the End. Over the last year or so, I’ve been chatting with a bunch of folks about the future of archaeological publishing. Hecks, Jennie Ebeling and I even wrote a little “Op-Ed” about it in Near Eastern Archaeology. Generally speaking, we’ve been talking about whether it is worth planning volumes as the final or definitive publication of an archaeological project or whether we should start to think in terms of a wider range of interrelated outputs.

The Koutsongila volumes are traditional archaeological publications in their most refined and “late” form. Even the impeccable design and layout sensitivities of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens publication office, however, fell short of making this a genuinely user-friendly publication. The brilliantly reproduced illustrations, for example, often were hard to connect to the text or appeared several pages before they were discussed.

This is not a criticism of the layout!

This is just the reality of a visually rich publication attempting to accommodate equally robust textual interpretation and analysis. In fact, the ASCSA publication office even included key artifact illustrations (for example) in two places — once near the description of their context and once in the catalogue — so that the reader doesn’t have to flip back and forth between two volumes. This is thoughtful, but also must have been very demanding on the design team. Even with this kind of thoughtful detail, however, my effort to coordinate the illustrations with the text was not instinctive or natural. 

My point here is that the codex — even at its apogee — is not always well suited to reproduce in an intuitive way the complexities of archaeological information and the densely interwoven threads of archaeological knowledge making. This may be as far as our ability to adapt the codex form to intended task can take us. 

3. The Octagon. My hot take did go beyond my critique of the book’s form and consider its substance. The excavations at Koutsongila revealed a fairly lavish octagonal building dating to the 5th and 6th centuries that the excavators quite plausibly associated with some kind of Christian ritual activity at the site. Its connection with the surrounding cemetery and its octagonal shape make it plausible to assume that the building has connections to a local elite family or individual or even perhaps a local martyr cult. From what I could gather, the octagonal building does not have anything that they could plausibly associated with liturgical furnishings. So it seems unlikely to be a church. At the same time, its visibility and its contemporary date with the construction of a basilica on the south mole at Kenchreai suggests that it contributed to the Christianization of the town’s landscape and almost certainly reflected the growing prestige of town’s Christian community. It is interesting to note that the baptistery at Corinth’s western port of Lechaion is also octagonal in shape and plausibly associated with the martyr cult of St. Leonidas. Closer to Corinth, remote sensing near the still unexcavated so-called amphitheater church showed evidence for an octagonal anomaly that might be a baptistery. It seems that the Corinthians have a thing for octagons and the reproduction of this form at Lechaion, near Kenchreai, and perhaps at Corinth would have contributed to the experience of a Christian landscape.

4. Resilience. The excavators at Koutsongila do a great job demonstrating the resilience of the community over the 700 years of ancient activity at the site. By tracing the long life of structures at the site, the excavators demonstrate how the community adapted them constantly to changing needs and situations. 

Their ability to offer these kinds of observations and arguments emerges from the incredible care that the excavators took to document the material at the site. This includes analyzing of 220,000 objects (which must form an important dataset for making arguments about the kinds and proportions of material present at the site over time) and excavating with a keen eye for the human (and natural!) depositional processes  that shaped the site. As a result of this care, they have demonstrated how much it is possible to say about the long history of the site on the edge of a Roman port.

5. Koutsongila in Context. One of the great things about having such a thorough and thoughtful publication from a site in the Eastern Corinthia is that it raises the bar for everyone working in this region. More than that, it also presents a corpus of buildings, material, and developments that will invariably create a backdrop for analysis of, say, the analysis of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, the ongoing work of the Michigan State Excavations at Isthmia, and the ongoing work at the Corinth Excavations itself (not to mention ongoing field and publication work at Nemea, at the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project, at the Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project, and projects elsewhere in the region).

Even as my “hot take” cools to more tepid temperatures, On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007-2014 will continue to provide the kinds of fundamental data that will fuel  hypotheses ready to be tested, challenged, and confirmed with material, histories, and buildings across the region. I’m looking forward to digging into more of the book over the holidays!

Teaching Thursday: Reimagining my Roman History Class

Next semester, I am going to teach Roman History for the first time since 2005 (I think). My Roman historian friends have assured me repeatedly that not much has changed. (I’m probably kidding here.) 

That said, I still need to teach the class and it is clear that the traditional lecture+discussion format of my original, early-21st century class, is no longer an acceptable (or even familiar) approach to teaching for most of our students. In other words, not only is my content woefully out of date, but so is my pedagogy when it comes to this class.

I told myself this fall that I need to have the basic organization of this class together by November 15th. It’s an artificial deadline, to be sure, but I needed something to motivate me to figure out whether I need to order some books and, as likely, read some things.

Here are my tentative learning goals for the class:

1. Become familiar broadly with Roman history and culture. 

2. Improve our capacity to read and analyze a range of unfamiliar primary and secondary sources. 

3. Continue to develop the ability to write about the past effectively.

These are sufficiently broad to allow me to approach Roman history is a wide range of ways. I have two other things on my agenda.

First, I want to be more deliberate about “workload management” in this class. As I’ve said any number of times on this blog, a 16-week semester is too damn long.

Secondly, I want the class to offer a wider range of assessments than my standard: midterm + book review + primary source paper. I’m considering, for example, a paper written collectively by the class (but perhaps turned in individually?), oral presentations on a particular source, and perhaps more creative assignments that involve engagement with news media, fiction, films, or video games. My goal is to have 5 assessments in the class, each worth 20% of the final grade. 

Finally, I want to build the class on five, five-week modules, each with a primary source, but I want the first module to introduce students to the “grand narrative” of Roman history which we will proceed to question, ignore, and subvert over the course of the rest of the class.

So here goes:

 

Module One

Class 1: The Roman Republic

Class 2: The Republic to Empire

Class 3: The Principate

Class 4: Late Roman World

Class 5-6: Livy, Book 1

Assessment: Rome, America, and Popular Culture: In a 1000 word essay discuss three examples of how Rome appears in popular culture and the media. Each example must be from a different medium (e.g. news, video game, feature film, television, fiction, music, and so on).

 

Module Two: The Fall of the Roman Republic

Class 7: The Gracchi

Class 8: Pompeii and Cicero

Class 9: Caesar and Civil War

Class 10: Octavian to Augustus

Class 11-12: Sallust, The Conspiracy of Catiline.

Optional Book: Ed Watts, The Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny. 2020.

Assessment: Write a critical book review of one of the four optional books.

 

Module Three: The Empire and its Discontents

Class 13: The High Empire

Class 14: The Provinces during the High Empire

Class 15: Roman Religion and the Second Sophistic

Class 16-17: Apuleius, Metamorphosis.

Class 18: Writing a Primary Source Paper 

Optional Book: Sarah Bond, Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean. 2016.

Assessment: Work together to produce a primary source paper. 

 

Module Four: The Fall of Rome?

Class 19: The Crisis of the Third Century

Class 20: The Rise of Christianity 

Class 21: The Age of Constantine

Class 22-23: Augustine, Confessions.

Class 24: Writing Day

Optional Book: Giusto Traina, 428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire. 2009.

 

Module Five: Rome after Rome

Class 25: The World of Late Antiquity 

Class 26: The Age of Justinian

Class 27: Christology and Controversy

Class 28: The Seventh Century

Class 29-30: Corippus, In laudem lustini Augusti minoris.

Optional Book: John Haldon, The Empire that Would not Die: the Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640-740. 2016.

 

As always, I’m open to suggestions, observations, or outright attacks on my character (hacks, somebody’s gotta put me in my place). 

Thinking Big About Late Antique Polis on Cyprus

One of the things that I’m trying to do as I find myself well and truly a “mid career” scholar is to focus on small things. Maybe it has to do with my interest in craft and even slow practices. Maybe it has to do with my distaste for senior (generally male) scholars producing BIG BOOKS about BIG TOPICS. Maybe it just has to do with embracing the parts of archaeological and scholarly practice that I enjoy. 

At the end of the month, I’ll be giving a paper at the University of Cyprus’s Archaeological Research Unit (ARU). My paper will introduce our decade of work at the site of Late Roman Arsinoe at Polis on Cyprus. The first part of my paper will indulge my inclination to “geek out” on some of the more archaeological aspects of our work. I love the fussy forensics of archaeological argumentation and analysis and my hope is that the ARU will be a receptive audience to some of the work we’re doing to untangle chronology at Polis.

I also know that there will be an expectation that I demonstrate something more significant than my ability to think about chronology, stratigraphy, and architectural history within the confines of the trenches at our site. The second half of my paper (which will be a generous 50 minutes!) will try to focus a bit on how Polis can contribute to BIG PICTURE issues associated with both the archaeology of Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus as well as the archaeology of Late Roman Mediterranean more broadly. This isn’t the most comfortable space for me to operate, of course, but I suppose a lecture like this is a good opportunity to get a bit out of my comfort zone and indulge a bit of “speculatin’ about a hypothesis.”

My goal right now is to discuss four (or five?) things at the end of my paper. Because my paper will focus on the material from EF2 (that is the South Basilica) and from EF1 (which I’ve largely written up here), my evidence will represent only a very modest basis for any “speculatin’,” but I reckon that it will still contribute to some larger conversations. 

First, I think it’ll be useful to establish the relationship between the chronology of some of our “horizons” and assemblages and larger conversations about the dating of Late Roman ceramics. Getting the dates of our ceramic evidence right is important both because ceramics represent the most ubiquitous form of datable evidence from the ancient Mediterranean, and also because the chronology of this material is beginning to shift. This shift is mostly attributable to archaeologists relying less dogmatically on deposits associated with particular historical events (earthquakes, invasions, and the like) and on Cyprus, this involved a critical re-examination of chronologies established on the basis of the Arab Raids. I think that the excavations at Polis (as well as other nearby sites in Western Cyprus) have the real potential to establish new dates (at least relevant locally) for Late Roman and Early Byzantine ceramics. 

Second, establishing new ceramic chronologies also allows us to make some new observations on the economic (and even social) landscape of Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.This means recognizing that there seems to be connections between production sites and markets that persist into the later 7th and even 8th century. This not only suggests that the political disruptions associated with the Arab Raids in the mid-7th century did not complete destroy the economic ties between the island and its neighbors to the west. The appearance of late forms of transport amphora, tables wares, and various cooking and utility seem to parallel the growing body of evidence from coins and seals to suggest that 7th and 8th century Cyprus remained an economic crossroad characterized as much by resilience as economic contraction and political isolation. 

Third, these conclusions have some significance for how we understand “Cypriot Archaeology” more broadly. On the one hand, Cypriot archaeology has long been associated with the study of the Iron Age kingdoms. With their demise of independent kingdoms and absorption of Cyprus into the Hellenistic and Roman world, scholars have argued that what made these communities “Cypriot” became subordinate to the political realities of new regional and transregional polities. Of course, any number of scholars have challenged this perspective and for the Late Roman period recognizing the regional variations in material culture across settlements and sites on Cyprus suggests that “Roman” material became a medium that supported the persistence of Cypriot identity rather than its erasure. This opens the door for us to expand what we consider as “Cypriot Archaeology” into periods that have traditionally stood outside its core concerns.

Fourth, Cypriot Archaeology has historically focused on the political, religious, and social life of the city kingdoms. Implicit in this work is a concern for urbanism on the island which resonates with an interest in the form of cities at the so-called “end of antiquity.” One of the interesting challenges of Princeton’s work at ancient Arsinoe is that most of our excavations took place outside the ancient city center, which remains under the modern village. That said, these sites do offer subtle proxies for certain aspects of urban life. The use of peri-urban areas first as monumental spaces for religious buildings, arches, well-appointed well-houses, and then as cemeteries in Late Antiquity suggests changing religious priorities that are visible elsewhere on the island as well. The rapid reconstruction of the buildings along the northern side of Polis suggest that these spaces remained not only significant for throughout the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period, but also demonstrated that resilience and perhaps even the persistence of the basic urban structure into the post-Antique period.

The presence of large fills at the site of South Basilica offer a window into the material culture of Polis. Recent work that considers the character of fills in relation to peri-urban dumps, however, offers a lens through which to complicated views of these assemblages. This is particularly significant when comparing the massive fill level associated with EF2 and the South Basilica with the smaller fills associated with the construction and destruction of EF1. 

Finally, the ongoing concern for drainage along the northern slope of the city offers an opaque window into issue of water management at Arsinoe. Efforts to manage the flow of water around the South Basilica might indicate that the situation associated with upstream drainage had changed suggesting, perhaps, that certain elements of civic infrastructure had either fallen into disrepair or underwent a kind of catastrophic failure which permanently disrupted their consistent operation. At the same time, it is possible to imagine a model of urban change that suggests the use of marginal areas of the town — including those susceptible to flooding came into use.

Depending on length and my energy level, I might also talk a little about digital publishing and digital methods as a key component of our work at Polis, but I might be better served staying in my lane and talking about some of the larger issues that shape the Late Roman history of the island.

Lecture this Fall: Late Antiquity at Polis: Recent Research

I’m spinning my wheels a bit this fall and trying to get traction after a long and somewhat exhausting summer of research and other work. Fortunately, several projects have become a bit more insistent lately and some new projects have popped up to fill the void.

Among the projects that I have appeared from the ether to structure my semester is a talk that I was invited to give at the University of Cyprus’s Archaeological Research Unit.

Here’s the abstract that I submitted: 

Starting in 1984, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition excavated areas around the village of Polis-tis-Chrysochous in northwestern Cyprus. These excavations revealed a wide range of buildings and contexts dating from the Late Antique period including two Early Christian basilica style churches surrounded by various buildings that appear to stretch along the northern edge of the city. At some point in Late Antiquity, most of this area appears to have become a massive cemetery, presumably centered on the two churches. Recent research has revealed that the buildings along the northern edge of the city underwent continuous renovation and reconfiguration even as burials encroached.

Along with a few photos:

IMG 7550

South Basilica POT

IMG 3911

My current plan for the talk is to start the talk with a broad overview of Late Antique Polis and then focus on four or five issues that have emerged from our work. These issues will start with the most “settled” (and even published) and move onto some more speculative ideas about the city of Arsinoe in Late Antiquity.

1. Untangling Legacy Data. The first thing I’ll discuss is the challenges of working with “legacy data” at a project that flirted with the dawn of the digital age while still adhering to analogue practices. This will be a nice way to introduce the audience to the archaeological contexts for my paper’s analysis.

2. The Phases of the South Basilica. In some ways, this section will confirm that the methods we employed to combine legacy data with new analysis have the potential to produce meaningful results. It will largely summarize conclusions published a few years ago in Hesperia

3. Regionalism and Trade on Cyprus. This section will start to take our research into more speculative areas by demonstrative the value of publishing larger ceramic datasets and showing how they can contribute to understanding connectivity within a broader regional context. Some of our conclusions here have appeared in various publications, but they’re very much still tentative because of the changing chronologies associated with Late Roman ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly.

4. Creating Some Late Roman Horizons. As a follow up to the last point, I will introduce our efforts to construct some Late Roman “horizons” at Polis that have the potential to be starting point for both refining ceramic chronologies on the island and proposing new dates for the transformation of the built environment on the island from the 6th to 8th centuries.

5. Fragments, Features, and Functions in the Late Roman Cityscape. Finally, the paper will conclude with some observations on how excavations along the northern edge of Late Antique Arsinoe revealed by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition can offer a fragmentary, but suggestive view of the changing character of the city. In this way, we hope that the work at our site can contribute to our emerging understanding of Late Roman urbanism elsewhere on Cyprus.  

 

The lecture will occur, I think, on November 28th and delivered via The Zooms, so I should, hopefully, have a link to share with people closer to the date. I’ll also share the text of my paper once I get around to putting words on the page. 

Three Things Thursday: Early Christian Greece, Mineral Rites, and Jimmy Carter

I’m taking a real, honest to goodness vacation over the weekend. In fact, I’m going to vacation so hard that I’m not even taking a laptop! I reckon the last time that I vacationed without a laptop was in 2000 or 2001 when I was living in Athens.

To celebrate this unlikely situation, I’m going to offer a very short Three Things Thursday:

Thing the First

It’s pretty rare that I get genuinely excited about a new archaeological discovery and even less frequently that I get really excited about a discovery in the Late Antique Peloponnesus, but I was genuinely thrilled after reading Nikos Tsivikis’s recent article in the Journal of Epigraphical Studies 4 (2022), 175-197, titled “Christian inscriptions from a third and fourth-century house church at Messene (Peloponnese).” You can download it here.

This article provides some pretty solid evidence for a late-third century house church that continued in use into the fourth century. Tsiviki’s argument is grounded in both epigraphy and excavation evidence although the levels are primarily dated on the basis of numismatic evidence. The building is a modified urban villa in the city of Messenia and the inscriptions record the presence of a reader and then a bishop who provided a mosaic for the modified room.

Of course, textual evidence tells us that there were Christian communities in Greece from the first century AD, but archaeological evidence for pre-Constantinean Christianity in Greece has been pretty thin on the ground and comprised mostly of wishful thinking. In fact, there’s precious little indisputable material evidence for fourth century Christianity in Greece. This building will change that and provide the first archaeologically secure (at least to my knowledge) evidence for third (perhaps optimistically) or early fourth century (almost certainly) Christianity in southern Greece. This is exciting.

Thing the Second

I’ve been enjoying Bob Johnson’s Mineral Rites: An Archaeology of the Fossil Economy (Baltimore 2019). I’m not finished the book, but I appreciate his efforts to trace the significance of the fossil economy from the oil fields to the hot yoga studio. His efforts to demonstrate the deep entanglement of fossil fuels and our modern world is perhaps not entirely unexpected, but Johnson offers very readable and highly “textured” (to use a word from the book’s blurb) descriptions of how fossil fuels shape our daily lives. Johnson weaves fossil fuels into the story of the Titanic, various efforts to understand the human equivalency of fossil fuel energy, and a brilliant comparative chapter that considers the difference between Lewis and Clark’s journey and our modern road system. I’m still working my way through his study of the reality TV series Coal and the modern novel.    

Years ago, my buddy and collaborator Bret Weber suggested that we write a paper or an essay that tracked a drop of oil from the well to the atmosphere. Because I’m kind of a jerk, I rolled my eyes and said something jerk-ish about that idea. Years later and after giving it more and more thought, I think it’s really brilliant. In fact, I think Johnson’s book provides an appealing model for how the life of that “drop” of oil could be traced through our system and how much “life” it provides.

Thing the Third

There are a couple cool things from North Dakota Quarterly this week. First, I’ve posted over on the NDQ a poem by David Starkey which will appear in a forthcoming collection from the author. It’s a pretty nice little poem that features a cigarette as a prop. As I say in my post, I like poems that feature things.

There’s also this blog post about the time that NDQ published some of Jimmy Carter’s poetry. For some reason the pages of this issue were scanned or processed out of order so you have to scroll back from the first page, but do check out Lane Chasek’s post here and follow his link to NDQ 60.1 where we feature four of Carter’s poems. Then scroll backward from the first poem to read the three others.

From Corinthian Twilight to the Busy Countryside: Remaking the Landscapes, Monuments, and Religion of the Late Antique Corinthia

One of my summer projects was collaborating with my good friend and colleague, David Pettegrew on an article that surveys the Corinthian landscape in Late Antiquity. It’s for an edited volume published in Germany and directed primarily toward a European audience. 

This paper doesn’t so much propose any radically new analysis or interpretations, but offers a solid step toward a new synthesis of what we know and how we understand the Corinth and the Corinthian countryside.  

Since we have no real idea when this will come out, we thought we should share a complete working draft should anyone be interested. 

You can download it here.

This years should be a banner year for those interested in the Roman Corinthia. First, in May, Paul  Scotton, Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool, and Carolynn Roncaglia have published The Julian Basilica: Architecture, Sculpture, Epigraphy, which is Corinth XXII for those of you who still keep a scorecard. Here’s the announcement.

Earlier this month, John W. Hayes and Kathleen Warner Slane published Late Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Pottery, which is Isthmia XI on your scorecard. Here’s the announcement.

Finally, I remain optimistic that we’ll see Eleni Korka and Joe Rife’s On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007–2014 which will appear as a Hesperia Supplement. Here is the announcement page for this volume.

Three Things Thursday: Late Antique Corinth, Travel, and End Games

In about 5 days, I return home from my first summer field season in the last three years. It was productive and honestly exhausting even if I never did any real field work and spent most of my time looking at material excavated years ago. Most of our progress, then, hasn’t been revealing or creating new knowledge, but marshalling what already existed into more easily digested forms.

Thing the First

Some of the most useful moments in a field season come from casual conversations over coffee, a meal, or a beer. Last week, my long-time buddy and collaborator, David Pettegrew and I talked about a article that we are writing that surveys research on Late Antique Corinth. The article starts predictably with Oscar Broneer’s famous description of Late Antique Corinth as an “unhappy period of twilight” in his 1954 article on the south stoa.

Within ten years, Dimitrios Pallas unearths the Lechaion basilica, which was among the largest churches in the world in the 6th century. The building was not only architecturally imposing and sophisticated in design, but it was also lavishly adorned with imported marble from imperial quarries. Whatever one thinks of the aesthetics of Early Christian Greece, this building does little to suggest that the city or the region has entered a period of “unhappy twilight.” In fact, the Lechaion church represents just one example of elaborate monumental architecture in the region revealed over the course of the middle decades of the 20th century outside the city of Corinth (and largely, although not exclusively conducted by Greek archaeologists). In this way, interest in the Late Antique city mapped onto the different political and academic agendas pursued by archaeologists with the Americans at Corinth continuing to research the Greek (and Roman) city and the archaeologists in the countryside often working to understand the substantial remains of Late and Post Roman within a different discourse. Archaeologists such as Dimitrios Pallas, for example, sought to locate Early Christian architecture within a continuous tradition of Greek Christianity and, in this context, it less about a twilight of some putative Classical past and more about the emergence of new forms of political, religious, social, and cultural expression both anchored in Classical antiquity and anticipating Medieval and even modern forms of identity. This tension is, of course, bound up in a wide range of commitments that range from the national (or very least broadly political) to the institutional.

Thing the Second

Man, traveling sucks. I spent about four hours in the Athens airport standing in line, sitting in waiting areas, and shuffling amid various crowds of travelers. I was surprised to see the number of American groups in the Athens airport. Most of the groups seemed to be students and there was a palpable excitement surrounding them.

I know it’s not nice to be annoyed by another people’s excitement, but it’s going to take me a while to acclimate to the experience of navigating the traveling public and both ignoring and (whenever possible) avoiding the outward manifestations of other people’s encounters with a new and different world.

On a more positive note, our global COVID sabbatical has certainly made some things more obvious and I wonder whether this will not only require us to re-establish our tolerance for others and consider whether this tolerance is a good thing.

Thing the Third

Now, that I’m back in Cyprus, we have to wrap up the 2022 Polis study season. This involves not only checking the various finds that we’ve catalogued, illustrated, described, and analyzed, as well as going through the massive document that we’ve produced over the last four weeks and figuring out whether all the moving parts work together and make sense.

This is, as you might guess, a pretty miserable task because the best case scenario is that we’re wasting time checking things that don’t need to be checked and worst case scenario triggers frantic work of revision and reassessment. So far, things have been balanced enough not to trigger panic, but also to feel productive. I’m looking forward to sharing some of our work with you next week!

The Catholic Conference and UND’s Code of Life

For better or for worse, my blog rarely deals with contemporary affairs, but occasionally a situation arises in our community that intersects closely enough with my professional and personal interests to warrant some comment. 

This past week, North Dakota’s Catholic Conference penned a letter to the Catholic parents urging them to contact the University of North Dakota concerning its ongoing work to revise its gender inclusion policy. In my memory, this is the first time that the Catholic Conference has weighed in publicly on something at UND (although I might be wrong here). They seem to be concerned about UND’s effort to make their policies comply with federal law protecting the rights of transgender and nonbinary individuals in housing and student activities. The policy is in draft at this stage and the letter urges concerned citizens to reach out to UND and to urge them to produce a policy that protects individuals who uphold the primacy of “assumption of binary, or biological based gender.” UND’s president responded to the letter pointing out not only that the current policy is still at the draft stage and that the letter itself included a number of misunderstandings and outright misstatements of fact. 

These mistakes suggest that this letter was not a good faith effort to influence UND’s policy, but is another example of a dogwhistle designed to elevate a particular group’s anxieties and to use these anxieties as an opportunity to forge a greater degree of social cohesion. Indeed, obedient to the dogwhistle’s call, a number of local conservative politicians supported the letter publicly on social media suggesting that some folks were ready and eager to take sides. 

Whatever its resonance with immediate social concerns among the state’s political, social, and religious conservative leadership, I would also suggest that this letter reflects several proximate and longstanding concerns of the Catholic Church. To be clear, I am not an expert of contemporary Catholicism nor do I have any particular insights into the workings of the local Catholic community. So this post today is a bit of me “shooting from the hip” as I try to wrap my head around this unusually public statement.

It is my effort to answer the question: why would the North Dakota Catholic Conference decide that this is worthy of a public letter?

To this end, I have four observations.

First, I suspect this letter has as much to do with drumming up support for Catholic schools, colleges, and universities as actually urging UND to violate federal law. We are at the start of spring admission season and undoubtedly college-aged students and their parents are thinking about what they will be doing next fall. Catholic institutions have recently, at least it seems to me, doubled down on the Catholic aspects of their educational missions and for many this has involved a more conspicuously conservative public face. In this context, this letter represents a bit of a marketing move designed to juxtapose public institutions with pious Catholic ones. 

Second, I can’t help but see this within the larger context of the sexual abuse scandals that have wracked the church over the last thirty years. This has not only heightened concerns about sexual morality, but, perhaps more significantly here, cast light on the relationship between issues of gender and sexuality. I’ll unpack this more below.

Third, the Catholic Church in the US has long had to negotiate the tension between the idea that the family is the heart of moral life and Christian values and the fact that the clergy and many of the most revered members of the Catholic community do not live in conventional families. This is not an unreconcilable tension, but the sexual abuse scandals within the church have resonated with long standing prejudices against men living in homosocial conditions.

To be clear: I’m not in any way suggesting that priests, men, or women who chose to live with others of the same gender or sexuality are any more likely to be sexual predators than anyone else. This is patently not true. 

That said, there is a perception that individuals in these circumstances are somehow sexually suspect in part because their sexuality doesn’t have the “traditional” heterosexual outlets present within conventional family life. Again: I am not saying this is the case in reality, but this argument is part of a larger constellation of homophobic rhetoric designed to mark individuals living outside of heterosexual family life as deviant. 

Thus, the Catholic Church especially in the US is in a bind. Its spiritual leaders and exempla often live outside the conventions of sexual morality that they advocate. Not only have the innumerable scandals brought this tension into high relief, but practices of Catholic clergy and members of religious orders contrasts with the situation in most Protestant churches — especially mainstream evangelical churches — which allow pastors to marry and have families. 

Fourth, even my rusty memory of the Early Church history is replete with non-gender conforming individuals. Holy women, in particular, often so thoroughly rejected their traditional gender and sexual roles that they manifest as holy men. Roland Betancourt’s recent book, Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages (2020) offers a well curated litany of non-gender conforming saints (and there are, of course, many others: Gilian Cloke’s classic This Female Man of God Women and Spiritual Power in the Patristic Age, AD 350-450 (1995) and, of course, the work of the late Elizabeth Clarke; for a particularly recent take on the complex issue of women clergy in the Early Church, check out Sarah E. Bond and Shaily Patel’s piece at the LARB). Some of these saints possessed such extraordinary piety that they lived in monasteries among fellow ascetics of the “opposite biological sex.” Far from being a sinful situation, this ability to shed the outward trappings of one’s gender was seen as a mark of particular devotion and faith. “Biologically male” ascetics likewise shed outward trappings of masculinity by rejecting not only their roles as biological fathers, but often in public life as well. Retreating to a monastery and rejecting the trappings of masculine ambition, whether in war, business, politics, or social life, contributed to their sanctity and their ability to be closer to God. As Matthew 22: 23-33 famously states at the time of the resurrection men and women will not be married, but become like angels, and it is clear that some achieved a similar sanctity by anticipating this moment.

In other words, contemporary priests, monks, and nuns, continue to live in same sex accommodations and develop deep and meaningful homosocial friendships and spiritual lives in part by through rejecting conventional sexual and gender roles. These practices contribute to a tension between contemporary anxieties about sexual morality and gender conformity, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, living traditions of sanctity established by the Early Church. 

Thus, I would urge UND and anyone else who has read this letter to ignore its vaguely prurient and plaintive efforts to influence public policy and instead consider the tune played by its dogwhistle. This letter is not about the obligations of a public institution toward vulnerable members of its community, changing standards of diversity and inclusion, or even federal laws, but about the deep anxieties present in the contemporary Catholic Church.

It seems to me that we should probably read this letter more as a piece seeking to define the character of Catholic education or as a subtle manifestation of the anxieties about the relevance of the Catholic church in ongoing discussions about changes to the traditional family or even as a public effort to struggle with the place of the clergy in a world where historical notions of sexuality, gender, and justice form only a cryptic cypher for contemporary practice. 

It is particularly unfortunate that Catholic Conference chose to engage these valid, genuine, and even pressing concerns to the Catholic community in a letter misrepresenting the efforts of a public institution to protect vulnerable members of North Dakota society. 

This is not a good look.

Moreover, it suggest that some of the church leadership are more interested in forging unity through promoting an anxious view of the modern world than through thoughtful engagement with the Church’s recent and ancient past.