Writing the Western Argolid

Over the last few days, I’ve been working on a preliminary report for the Western Argolid Regional Project. I mentioned on Monday how writing a preliminary report is always a bit of a fraught exercise, but when actually writing, it is easy enough to put that out of your head and focus on the words on the page.

As part of writing the report, I re-read some of the rather scant ancient sources on our survey area. Pausanias 2.25.4-6 discusses our survey area specifically and twice he notes that there isn’t much to see. In general, Pausanias sees the Inachos valley as an extension of Argive territory and a route between Argos and the neighboring city of Mantinea in Arcadia. This same lack of interest shaped how 19th century travelers treated the region with none that I have encountered venturing beyond the Venetian (?) period fort at the site of Skala where the Inachos valley widens out onto the Argive plain. 

Later scholars – namely Kendrick Pritchett – attempted to reconcile Pausanias’s description of the site of Lyrkeia being 60 stades from Argos and Orneai being 60 stades from Lyrkeia. This involved him poking around the sites of Melissi where the French excavated some Mycenaean chamber tombs in the early 20th century and Chelmis, where there is a substantial scatter of Classical period material around a church dedicated to the Panayia. Since Pausanias’s notes that Lyrkeia was in ruins by his day and suggested that it was destroyed before the Trojan War, and hence, was left out of the the catalogue of ships in the Iliad, Pritchett is content to identify it with something in the vicinity of the Melissi tombs rather than in the neighborhood of Chelmis. More than that, he suggested that Chelmis does not seem to be on a major route through the area so seemed to be an unlike stop for Pausanias who seemed mostly concerned with sites along the Inachos river bottom. Greek scholars, Ioannis Pikoulas and Ioannis Peppas, have explored the region a bit more thoroughly but also tend to follow the routes along the valley bottom that Pausanias’s traced in his sojourns from Argos.

The entire effect of the tradition from antiquity to modern times is that this region is peripheral to Argos and a mostly a travel corridor from the Argive plain to points west and north. Our project essentially tested this hypothesis both by exploring intensively the valley bottom and surrounding region to determine whether Pausanias’s somewhat laconic description was justified, and by considering the region in its own right to understand whether networks of settlement and movement functioned independently of the “central places” of the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern world.

As a hint, we have found some evidence that this was, indeed, the case and the Pausanian landscape suffered from his general (and well-documented) lack of interest in post-Classical sites, but also the tendency of central places and their political and economic networks to overwrite and obscure patterns of settlement and movement in the landscape that reflect decentralized and more local traditions. As Tom Gallant noted 25 years ago, these decentralized networks of relations supported a kind of social insurance for communities by allowing them to diversify the risk that came with overly strong ties to central places. While these networks are pretty hard to see in archaeology, there are signs that they exist throughout our survey area and not only help us understand the presence of sites that don’t conform to the Pausanian itinerary but also reflect a dynamic countryside that was more than simply the productive coda to the consumer city.

Writing WARP

Over the last few months, I’ve been hiding from a line in a minutes from an early June meeting of the Western Argolid Regional Project: Preliminary Report… “ideally ready for submission by Christmas.” I had volunteered to take the lead in writing it and to marshal the contributions from various other folks on the project including two case studies. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened.

What makes it worse is that I’ve been thinking a good bit about how archaeologists write and archaeological publishing more broadly. Just this weekend, for example, I re-read Rosemary Joyce’s “Writing historical archaeology” in the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (2006). I also read Rachel Opitz’s recent contribution to the Journal of Field Archaeology titled ““Publishing Archaeological Excavations at the Digital Turn” (which I blogged about here), Amara Thortons,  Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018)  (blogged here) and thinking a bit about Ian Hodder’s well-known article from AntiquityWriting Archaeology: Site Reports in Context.” While these works all offer different angles on the archaeological writing and publishing, they did reinforce to me that archaeological writing and publishing are undergoing some pretty significant changes, but that these changes are also situated grounded in the goals of archaeological work. (In fact, I’m going to try to marshal some of my ideas on that in a paper that I’m giving at a conference at the University of Buffalo next year.) 

At the same time, I spent a few hours wrapping up the layout of volume two of the Epoiesen annual which should appear from The Digital Press before the end of the year. The Epoiesen annual is an interesting challenge because it is publishing a web publication in paper (and PDF form). Instead of thinking of the paper format as a degraded representation of a web version, I’ve tried to think of it as a transmedia opportunity to take something that was originally imagined in one media (i.e. the web) and reproduce in another. While we don’t take many risks in how we present Epoiesen on paper, the potential is certainly there and the very act of translating from one media to the next forces us to think about how entangled ideas and material are and how the paper (or even PDF version) of Epoiesen will offer readers a different experience than the online version.

Advertisement! You can get the first volume of Epoiesen at the low, low price of $6. SIX DOLLARS. That’s cheaper than a beer in New York City or about half the things on the Starbucks menu. 

A similar challenge will face my little press as we work on our next major project – a volume in collaboration with ASOR that presents a digital catalogue of votive figurines from Athienou on Cyprus. We will present these artifacts both through a traditional catalogue and high-resolution 3D scans presented both as a 3D PDF and through an online catalogue published by Open Context. It’ll be a big project full of challenges at the intersection of the paper codex and dynamic media.

While this might not seem immediately relevant to writing a preliminary report for WARP, it will push me a bit think about what kind of information is most appropriate for a print report and what kind of information is better to publish as data later on. 

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On top of that, I took a couple nice long walks with the dogs this weekend and those always give me a chance to think about big and small picture stuff. I started to think about the challenge of writing a preliminary report as a problem of definition. When is a project sufficiently complete for a preliminary report to offer provisional, but relatively secure, observations on method and results? On WARP, I get pretty anxious when I think of all the work we have left to do to make sense of our data; at the same time, I know that the artifact and main data collection phase of the project is over. What we have now is going to be the basis of both what we say in the final report and future analysis. Preliminary reports are hard to think about because of their liminal status. Archaeologists like to be authoritative in what they say about their work and analysis, and a preliminary report acknowledges that this is not the final word on the area and its material. 

Finally, there is a fear of the blank page. Fortunately, WARP has published a good bit already – here and there – so there is a kind of basis of already-written material upon which the preliminary report can draw. At the same time, there is the additional pressure of taking our analysis and presentation to the next level. This means more bibliography, more analysis, and more conclusions. This also means making sure that the voices of everyone on the project (and to be clear, folks will help me with this report!) will have space in the report even when we don’t all agree on how and what our analysis mean.  

Teaching Tuesday: Greek History

It’s the time of the semester where I tend to jot down some class notes for the classes that I’ve taught. Ideally, these notes are to serve as a guide for the next time that I teach a class, but in most cases are more effective as an opportunity to reflect on the semester rather than as a template for improvement.

This semester I taught my first “new prep” in about a dozen years. The course was a significant rethinking of my Greek history class that I taught in 2004. I expanded its coverage into the Medieval, Ottoman, and starting this week, the modern national period. Covering a such a wide span of history history for a rather narrow geographical area has proved challenging because I expect my students to have broad familiarity with the narrative of European history. A graduate-school mentor once noted that we tend to imagine classes with long time spans to be surveys and easier to teach and best suited to students at the introductory levels. Oddly enough, the ability to synthesize and to understand vast swaths of history is usually bound up with certain threshold concepts in history: managing and deconstructing issues of continuity and change, the ability to integrate simple and complex causality, and the relationship between disparate historiographic traditions. In other words, survey classes are often more appropriate pedagogically for upper division students, whereas more chronologically focused narratives often suit introductory level students better. (Of course, I do understand that chronology and focus are only part of what makes a class appropriate for a particular level of instruction. Writing and reading levels, performance expectations, and the ability to dig deeply in research and analysis also play key roles. 

In any event, my Greek history course brought with it some interesting challenges and opportunities. Here are some of them:

1. Narratives. I am not aware of any English language textbook that covers Greek history from Antiquity to the present. John Bintliff’s Complete Archaeology of Greece was the best that I could do and that book served as a de facto textbook. It’s emphasis on material culture, however, made it challenging to use to frame more historical (and political narratives). Johanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Era of Austerity (2017) offered another perspective for the class that allowed me to connect Greek antiquity with the modern period, but it overlooked the Frankish and Ottoman period and focused mainly (and appropriately) on the relationship between modern Greece and the West. The Edinburgh History of the Greeks is pretty remarkable, but far too expansive to use as a textbook.  

As a result, I had to craft a narrative of the Byzantine, Frankish, Ottoman, and Modern periods. On the one hand, this is my job as a teacher, but on the other hand, this was pretty hard! I had to both manage the complexity of unfamiliar periods and institutions with the students (e.g. feudalism, devşirme, the Septinsular Republic, et c.) while maintaining a useful tension between continuity and change. This means that students had to take notes!

2. Continuity and Change. One of the great opportunities in teaching a class like this is that we can dig deeply into the significance of the classic “continuity or change” argument in history. Often the larger significance of the tension between continuity and change in how we understand and construct the past and the present gets lost in the details about a particular period. For my period, Late Antiquity, we fixate on ceramic chronologies, architectural change, and the appearance of new kinds of settlements and assemblages. The issue of continuity and change determines the relationship between (various) present(s) and (various) past(s), and while we can approach the question using empirical methods, the goal of this kind of question is usually associated with claiming the past for a particular identity. Obviously, discussions of continuity and change play an important role in the construction of modern ethnic and national identities and are often a kind of rearguard action used to reclaim useful pasts from the explicit discontinuities introduced by the Enlightenment’s effort to produce a narrative of progress. The nice thing about starting the class with Hanink’s book is that we begin our study of Greek antiquity with the recognition that we’re reading about the past through a series of modern narratives that, in some way, shape the kinds of questions, problems, and arguments that we can make. 

3. Social History. Unfortunately, my fascination with modernity and the Greek nation pushed me toward a rather top-down view of Greek past. I’m particularly envious of my colleagues who manage to integrate gender, race, and slavery into their courses on antiquity and to use the past to problematize pressing issues in the present. While I recognize that not all history classes can address all the pressing issues facing the world in the 21st century, I do feel a bit tone deaf when I have the class pivot around issues of modern political history to the exclusion of groups, processes, and events that fall (or where pushed) to the margins of national building and the construction of the Western world. The best I can hope for is that by acknowledging the parts of the story that I do leave out and by making clear that our view of the past exists in a particular political and social context that allows me to narrate history as I do.

4. Limping Lectures. Because I don’t have a textbook that offers the kind of narrative that I’d prefer, I’ve had to lecture in class. My students are clearly a bit uncomfortable with the “sage on the stage” scene and the classroom is rather ill suited to my approach. To be clear, I do work in regular discussions and try to be interactive with my lectures, but its pretty clear to me that the age of the lecture may be coming to an end. In any future versions of this class, I need to weave in more primary sources, more activities, and more opportunities for engagement than I do at present. 

What’s remarkable to me is that this shift from the expectation of lectures in an upper level history class to the expectation of more active learning has happened so suddenly. While I don’t teach very many upper level courses, between 2004, 2013, and 2018, the classroom environment has changed significantly. Ten years ago, I’d have to beg students to engage and to participate in classroom discussion or activities, whereas today, students know the drill and chime in with the understanding that participation is part of their educational experience. On the flip side, lecturing students now seems to all the more uncomfortable as students clearly struggle to take notes, process information on the fly, and recognize that listening to a lecture is a form of active learning.

5. Pacing and Coverage. Finally, I have basically three classes left to cover the 19th and early 20th century. The post-war history of Greece was covered in part by Hanink, but I’ll have to weave some of that into my class over the next few days (while also preparing them for a final exam). This is not entirely satisfactory, of course, and partly because I missed a few days for conferences throughout the semester. At the same time, I need to determine when and where to cut or compress material. It was easy, for example, to skip lightly through the Ottoman period which I began with a lecture on Mystras, discussed with readings from Evliya Çelebi and William Martin Leake, and wrapped up – more or less – with the Orlov Rebellion (1770).  I tried to introduce some of the themes present in Molly Greene’s history of Ottoman Greece, but my lack of ease with the Ottoman period certainly showed. By marginalizing the Ottomans in the history of Greece, I’m more or less continuing the kind of colonial practice that imagines away these centuries in the formation of Greek identity. My hope is that I still do enough to demonstrate that by recognizing the discontinuity in my own narrative, that I can problematize this decision for students. At the same time, I’ll draw rather freely from Tom Gallant’s volume in the Edinburgh history which uses a narrative grounded in a Thucydidean approach to causality to balance between the proximate and local (Ottoman) causes of the Greek War of Independence and the larger position of Greece in the European world. Compared the Hanink, Gallant spends little attention on the various 19th century Philhellenes and their economic and political bases in Western Europe, and instead focuses on Greece as a post-Ottoman state. In hindsight, I wish I had my students read Gallant’s book at the end of the class and compare it to Hanink’s, not to point one out as better and another as worse, but to wrap us the class with a good example of how the questions we ask of the present shape our view of the past.  

Teaching Thursday: Teaching Greek History

For various reasons, I dusted off my Greek history class this semester for the first time since 2004. I generally don’t teach upper level courses which at UND have a 300 or 400 designation. Since 2004, I think I taught Byzantine history once and that’s probably it for upper level offerings. But departmental needs change, so I offered Greek history.

So far, I’ve managed to stick to the original plan for the class which is a survey of Greek history from the Bronze Age to the modern period. The focus is on ways of seeing the past and starts with Joanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Age of Austerity (2017) before the typical litany of primary sources, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias, and this week Marinos’ Life of Proclus, as well as material culture using John Bintliff’s The Complete Archaeology of Greece (2012) as our guide. For each source, we consider how they understood and communicated the Greek past and the midterm and final ask students to bring this together.

So far, so good.

Now that I’m half way through the class, I’m confronted by several things.

First, the course is largely political history and maybe this is appropriate in a time seemingly dominated by politics, but it feel sort of olde skool to me. My original goal of starting with Hanink and thinking about how people in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era thought about the Greek past was to foreground and problematize the way that we think about the past. This is a very conventional historical approach which supports most critiques of the West, for example, as well as larger conversations about what matters in history. 

Recently, however, I’ve been following the work of various scholars who deal with complex issues of race and gender in antiquity and come to realize that structuring my course around a framework of political history profoundly shapes how students read the ancient sources (e.g. Rebecca Futo Kennedy and the various scholars who contribute to Eidolon as well as conversations with my old buddy Dimitri Nakassis). While the structure of a course and its goals will (and should!) always shape how we engage a text, it structure me that the chronological organization of my course into politically defined chunks (e.g. the Archaic period, the Classical period, Antiquity, the Byzantine period) move the students to read these same political priorities into the sources and makes it much more difficult to use these sources to read these sources as evidence for race, general, social institutions or even continuity (as opposed to historians persistent interest in change).  

Second, lecturing feels antiquated. My course is structured around the conventional lecture/discussion format. One out of every three classes focuses on a discussion of a primary source in a way that either ties this source into the themes of the course or uses the source to anticipate issues that will appear in the next few lecture. Today, we discuss Marinos Life of Proclus, for example, and that will intersect with my lectures on Christianization. (There will probably a powerpoint of Early Christian churches in the near future, just sayin’). 

This approach feels pretty tired to me. After a five years teaching in a Scale-Up style classroom and, in particular, after last semester, running a discussion-based class on the UND Budget Cuts and about understanding and documenting Wesley College, it’s really hard to go back to lecturing. It feels pretty stale. Moreover, it feels almost authoritarian. Of course, I have my excuse (that I tell to myself before every lecture class) that there isn’t really a single volume survey of Greek history from antiquity to the modern era so I HAVE to provide narrative structure (which is, of course, too often a code word for political history, see my first point).

The frustrating thing is that I know I can do better in this class, but more than that, I know that I can do this differently because I have in other classes. Version 2 of this course will be different. And as I look ahead to teaching Roman history (gasp!!), I realize that to be comfortable in the 21st century classroom, I need to engage it like a 21st century teacher.

Finally, while I love antiquity and have now spent the majority of my life thinking full-time about ancient things, my passions and interests have changed over the past decade. In fact, I often feel more nostalgic when preparing or teaching my Greek history course than genuinely passionate about the material (with some exceptions). Part of me realizes that the expectation that one feels passion for one’s work is the ultimate sign of privilege, but another part of me thinks that my students might be better served if I taught things in which I’m currently invested like publishing, digital concerns, or archaeology of the contemporary world.

 

Lakka Skoutara and Abandonment: PrePrint with Pictures

Over almost 15 years, David Pettegrew and I have been revisiting the rural settlement of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinthia and documenting the changes. At first, our interest was to document site formation processes at the site and observe how abandoned buildings and houses fell down over time.

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After only one or two visits, however, we discovered that these houses were not simply left alone to collapse in the Greek countryside, but continued to be centers of a wide range of rural activities. For example, several of the houses lost their ceramic tile roofs during over the past 15 years, and others have seen regular maintenance and, in at least one case, expansion. As a result, our research shifted from a rather abstract (and naive) view of this settlement as a case study for site formation to a more dynamic and complex project designed to document the material engagement with the Greek countryside over a period of 15 years.

While it goes without saying that the history of rural Greece continues to attract attention from anthropologists, historians, geographers, as well as local antiquarians, there has been relatively less formal and systematic archaeological study of 20th century rural sites. Our work at Lakka Skoutara is not entirely unique, but it makes a useful contribution to the small number 20th century rural sites that have received systematic and sustained archaeological study in Greece.

You can download a draft of our paper here. Or read about our most recent visit to the site here.

Syllabusing Greek History

This fall I’m teaching Greek history for the first time since 2004. I’m a bit apprehensive about it. Instead of just focusing on the ancient world, I think I’m going to try to think about the complex relationship between antiquity and the post-ancient Greece up through modern times. Since rather few of my students will be particularly interested in antiquity and even fewer will be Classics majors, I think the approaching the class like this will make it more relevant for students. 

The main texts for the class will be Johanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt (2017), which I’ve blogged about here, and John Bintliff’s The Complete Archaeology of Greece (2013), in celebration of our department’s merger with anthropology. Each module will have a little lecture, a primary source, and some kind of material culture. There are still a few gaps in the syllbus – for example, I don’t have a primary source selected for Medieval Greece (maybe something from the Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents) – but I have time to clean that up over the next few weeks (and I’m mostly interested in finding online primary sources). The class will have a midterm and a final as well as a review of an optional book and a primary source paper and a group project probably related to Hanink’s book.

Introduction to Greece
August 21
August 23

Bronze Age Greece
August 28
August 30: Knossos, Linear B, and Mycenaea
Optional Book: Cathy Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism. Chicago 2009.

The Classical Debt
September 4
September 5
Required Book: Johanna Hanink, The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Era of Austerity. Harvard 2017.

Archaic and Classical Greece
September 11
September 13: Herodotus Books 1, 6, 7, and 8
Option Book: Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece – And Western Civilization. Simon & Schuster 2005.

Classical Greece
September 18: Athens
September 20: Thucydides Books 1, 2, and 6.
Optional Book: John M. Camp, The Archaeology of Athens. Yale 2004.

 

Hellenistic and Roman Greece
September 25: Athens and Corinth
September 27: Pausanias, Book 1 and 2.
Optional Book: Susan Alcock, Graecia Capta: The Landscapes of Roman Greece. Cambridge 1996.
Or David K. Pettegrew, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World. Ann Arbor 2016.

Late Roman and Byzantine Greece
October 2: Marinus, Life of Proclus 
October 4: Corinth in Late Antiquity
Optional Book: Amelia Brown, Corinth in Late Antiquity: A Greek, Roman, and Christian City. London 2018.
Or Richard Rothaus, Corinth, The First City of Greece: An Urban History of Late Antique Cult and Religion. Leiden 2000.

Byzantine Greece
October 9
October 11: Orchomenos and Osios Loukas
Optional Book: Anthony Kaldelis, The Christian Parthenon: Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens. Cambridge 2009.

Medieval Greece
October 16
October 18
Optional Book. Sharon Gerstel, Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium: Art, Archaeology, and Ethnography. Cambridge 2015.

October 23
October 25 Writing Day

Ottoman Greece
October 30
November 1 – Evliya Celebi
Optional Book: Fariba Zarinebaf, John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century. 2005.

Early Modern Greece
November 6
November 8 – Early Travelers
Optional Book: Eleni Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens: Planning the Myth. Cambridge 1999.

November 13
November 15 – Writing Day

November 20 – Paper due
November 22 – Thanksgiving

Modern Greece
November 27
November 29

Catch Up Days
December 4
December 6

 

Thinking about Modern Greece

One of the most remarkable things about the Western Argolid Regional Project is its commitment to documenting the recent past of the region. Over the last two days we had the good fortune to spend time with Guy Sanders and Kostis Kourelis who offered an impromptu seminar on Greek rural life and architecture.

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From this experience I’ve come away with a few things that will occupy my thoughts for a while.

1. The Modern Assemblage. One of the most interesting things about the site is the density of the modern assemblage. This represents not only the abundance of modern manufactured objects, which I’ve blogged about before, but also the level of preservation. At a single abandoned rural house in Greece, we had a bed from the 1930s, another from the 1950s, and another from the 1970s, all preserved and more or less in situ. In a similar space we had early 20th century farm implements and a water bottle with an expiration date in 2014. 

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I’m fascinated how the abundance and preservation of modern objects makes so explicit the  responsibility of the archaeologists for winnowing down our view of the site to a body of material that is meaningful for particular historical questions. Of course, I recognize that all archaeology involves producing meaningful assemblages from diverse groups of objects, but the modern period feels completely challenging not only because of the quantity but the rapid chronological superimposition of objects that makes a hash of the usual archaeological methods of discerning (archaeologically) distinct events. A century old house can have modern arthritis cream, half-century old farm tools, and a nearly contemporary water bottles and the order of their deposition is not entirely clear from either archaeological clues (that is stratigraphic relationships) or cultural clues. Even the assumption that the house is contemporary or earlier than, say, its roof tiles becomes a confusing interplay of reuse, curation, and discard. 

For an archaeologist of any period, these buildings are interesting opportunities to think about time in the past and the present. 

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2. The Other Greece. They also offer perspectives on a Greek past that are different from the predominant national (and disciplinary) narrative of Classical antiquity. While we alluded to the well-worn (and inaccurate) idea that the Greek countryside was stable and slowly changing (and therefore a space to search for survivals of Classical antiquity), most of our work was focused around understanding how a small cluster of houses in the countryside responded to economic, political, and social changes in the larger region, in Greece, and across the Mediterranean.

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So much of the narrative of Greek archaeology and history has derived from a connection with Classical antiquity. On the one hand, this is understandable as Greece’s Classical past is a key element of the mythological prehistory of the nation-state. On the other hand, as folks like Johanna Hanink have recently reminded us, the legacy of Classical antiquity, both in the West and in Greece, comes with a particular baggage. Wandering around Chelmis and thinking about the archaeology of rural life in 20th century Greece was not entirely free of that baggage, of course. I was only doing archaeology in the 21st century in Greece as an American because of institutions like the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the tradition of Classical studies in American universities. At the same time, I felt that by walking around and documenting the site of Chelmis and thinking of it – as much as possible – on its own terms, I was escaping the pressures of Classical culture even if it was just for a couple days. 

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Thyrsos Basilica at Tegea

The folks on Western Argolid Regional Project are heading to the Tripoli museum and then to Tegea tomorrow while I stay back to take care of some editing and databasing. 

In anticipation of their trip, I looked up the section in my dissertation where I talk about the Early Christian basilica there that was excavated by Anastasios Orlandos and published in the 1970s. The calendar mosaic from the building is remarkable as is its metrical inscription.

Another scrappier inscription seems to evoke the sanctus and might be one of the few inscription from Early Christian Greece that preserves a clear liturgical utterance that has significance in the Christological controversies of Late Antiquity. Here’s a link to something I wrote a while back.

Here’s what I said 15 years ago in my dissertation.

The Thyrsos basilica at Tegea is quite remarkable. [82] The main nave is decorated with a grid of 16 panels containing personifications of the 12 months and at its eastern and western end the four rivers of paradise (figs. 75-82). Seven of the panels are well preserved and demonstrate careful workmanship. Each month is dressed appropriately for the season and is depicted performing some seasonally characteristic activity, except November whose activities are unclear (fig. 80). In the apse, a panel which is now destroyed showed two youths, identified as the “Kaloi Karoi”, carrying baskets of fruit and rushing toward a central figure of a man. At the western end, two putti hold a metrical inscription praising the Bishop Thyrsos, discussed in more detail in the next chapter (fig. 83). The presence of a tomb in the northern bay of the narthex hints at a possible funerary function for this church.

Mosaics depicting the months were very popular in Greece during Late Antiquity. Additional examples exist from The Villa of the Falconer at Argos, a Christian building at Thebes (figs. 32-35), and Loutro Hypatis. Perhaps the most famous of these is in conjunction with a falcon hunt mosaic from the Villa of the Falconer in Argos (figs. 21- 26). The presence of mosaics depicting the months in such a variety of locations emphasized that this motif had a meaning appropriate to a wide variety of contexts.

While Äkerström-Hougen’s thorough study of the mosaics from the Villa of the Falconer outside of Argos, stressed the relationship between the calendar mosaic there and illustrated Late Roman calendars, she also found this mosaic generally consistent with the calendars at Tegea, the preserved panels from Thebes, and the mosaic at Delphi even though the architectural context for these panels varied considerably. For example, at least one traditional festival is expressed in the calendars of the Tegea and Argos despite the fact that they derive from a “Christian” and “secular” setting respectively. In Argos, for the month of May, the mosaics depict a man with a basket of roses, a wreath of flowers, and a floral crown (fig. 23). At Tegea, the personification of May is shown with a basket of flowers and a floral crown (fig. 76). This mosaic at Argos makes a clear allusion to the rosaria or rosalia, initially a festival to honor the dead, but by the fourth century a feast to celebrate the arrival of summer. [83] A similar depiction of this feast is found on the Calendar of 354, which was prepared for an aristocratic Christian patron.84 Salzman, in her study of this important Late Roman calendar, emphasized the significance of this festival in both religious and economic terms. In religious terms she associated the importance of the Rose Festival, which was celebrated with games, to the rise in interest in astrological and seasonal celebrations during the fourth century. [85] While there is insufficient evidence to argue that the depiction of a May on the Tegea floor was a direct allusion to a pagan festival as it appears to be at Argos or in the Calendar of 354, the continued use of the iconography at Tegea reflects a preference for traditional symbolism over personifications of an explicitly non-pagan nature. The clear allusion to the Rose Festival in the mosaic in nearby Argos which appears roughly contemporary, places the Tegea mosaic in a discourse which operated to a considerable degree outside the specific religious context of the building. It seems, then, reasonable to consider that the floor at Tegea, like the floor at Argos, served to show the prosperity found within the cycle of rural life and linked this ideal to the patron, individual, or institution most closely associated with the floor. [86] This adds an additional level of meaning to H. Maguire’s already rich reading of this floor as a depiction of earth and ocean. [87] Now the earth and its prosperity is not only the domain of man, but also a world constituted in aristocratic terms and linked to the authority of the clergy through their privileged access to the central nave and the liturgical procession. 

82. The mosaic found at the so-called basilica of Thyrsos at Tegea has evoked considerable debate over the 100 years since its discovery. The building itself was originally reported as a single naved, oriented, apsidal structure. Spiro, suggested that the building was perhaps a secular audience hall on account of the inscription at the west entrance to the building which she considered to be of “the kind of inscription one would expect to find in the more secularised atmosphere of an audience hall in which “the most holy Thyrsos” held court.”(Spiro, Critical Corpus, 181.) She further argued against this building having a liturgical function because of the lack of any evidence for such basic liturgical furnishings as the foundation of an ambo or chancel screens. The east end of the church, including the mosaics in the apse there, is very poorly preserved leaving open the very real possibility that these features did actually exist. Orlandos in his general discussion of the Christian monuments in Tegea, considered this building as a three-aisled basilica on account of the presence of a narthex to the east of the paved nave and the discovery of several cross-inscribed ionic impost capitals, which as I have shown are rare outside a liturgical context (Orlandos, ABME 12 (1973), 66-69.). Furthermore he mentioned in his general survey of Early Christian architecture in Greece that he was aware of an unpublished sigma table excavated from the Thyrsos basilica suggesting some liturgical activity in that place, although not necessarily confirming the building as having a primarily liturgical function since such tables have been found in a wide array of contexts, including villas such as in Athens (Orlandos, Hē xylostegos palaiochristianikē basilikē (1956), 485). A tomb arranged parallel to the north wall of the western antechamber further suggested the presence of a narthex. This, along with evidence for the use of several ionic impost capitals points to this being a three-aisled basilica (Orlandos, AMBE 12 (1973), 12-19, 22-81). Avramea, quite recently, has argued unconvincingly that this building was a martyrium to the bishop Thyrsos and that the tomb found to the north of the narthex chamber belonged to the esteemed bishop (A. Avramea, DXAE (1999), 35-40; cf. D. Feissel, BE (2000), 797.). To the north of the central nave there exists another series of inscribed mosaic panels whose relationship to the main nave is unclear. Orlandos has suggested that this room was a parecclesia, but examples of this feature are rare in Greece. The mosaic inscription which separates the two badly damaged panels runs, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God with the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and this could allude to a liturgical utterance, and thus suggests a liturgical function for the room. The published reports and studies are quite inadequate making it unlikely ever to determine the form and function of this building. The presence of a tomb mitigates against it being a reception hall, and the reference to a bishop in the inscription makes the most likely identification of this building as a church or a very large private chapel.

83 G. Äkerström-Hougen, The Calendar and Hunting Mosaics, 80.

84 M.R. Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Antiquity. (Berkeley 1990), 96-99.

85 Salzman, On Roman Time, 129, 183.

86 Parrish, Season Mosaics of Roman North Africa. (Rome 1984), 13. “In an imperial context, this term [felicitas temporum] had a propagandistic meaning, referring to the Emperor’s beneficent rule and the promised return of the golden age. But in a private house, the seasons had more generalized associations with prosperity and good fortune, and lacked any direct political overtones.”

87 Maguire, Earth and Ocean, 21-28.

Distributional Analysis

One of the challenges of siteless survey is shifting our intention from a focus on sites to the distribution of artifacts across a landscape. Over the last four years at the Western Argolid Regional Project we have collected artifact level data from over 7000 survey units that cover a significant percentage of our 30 sq km survey area. 

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The material includes several clear clusters of high density units some of which are associated with known sites as well as a wide scatter of material clustered in different ways across the modern countryside. The temptation is to focus on the larger and higher density clusters which have produced more robust assemblages of material and are more susceptible to analysis on the basis of function, chronology, and settlement structure. In fact, there is no escaping from the fact that the more material an area produces, the more we are able to say about the areas history, use, and regional context. What is harder to understand is how areas or even single survey units that produce small assemblages can contribute to the greater understanding of the landscape and region. 

I’ve spent the last two weeks attempting to figure out how to describe the contours of the artifactual landscape of our survey area as a whole and to pull apart the high and low density clusters that constitute the artifact distribution. Some of the things that I had to consider are how to define a cluster: is it related to the number of objects? do the units that produced artifacts have to be contiguous or can they be interrupted? how do we control for surface visibility, background disturbance, and other variables that impact recovery rates on individual units? 

Even when I was able to use various kinds of buffering and neighborhood analysis to create archaeologically plausible clusters of units with material from various periods, we then had to determine the arrangement of these clusters across the landscapes. The distance of one group of cluster from another (and the impact of the vagaries of our survey area on this kind of distribution) would appear to offer at least one indication of connectivity in our survey area and perhaps an indicator of density or intensity of human activity in the landscape. At the same time, factors such as period length and recovery rates associated with particular classes (or types) or artifacts likewise shape the visibility of periods and functions in the landscape.

Developing a template or a lens through which we define and construct assemblages for analysis is among the most challenging aspect of siteless survey and one that will likely occupy my time and energy for a quite some time to come!

Lakka Skoutara: (Almost) 20 Years at a Rural Site in Greece

This past week, David Pettegrew and I revisited the rural site of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinth. This is a settlement that developed over the course of the  first half of the 20th century with around 15 houses loosely clustered around a rural crossroad with a church dedicated to Ay. Katerini. There is also the crusher base for what must have been an olive press that likely dates to before the 20th century settlement, a number of impressive threshing floors, and series of cisterns providing water to this dry upland depression. Residents from the nearby village of Sophiko had occupied the houses in this valley periodically over the course of the 20th century usually during the harvest. There were periods when residents lived more or less full time in these houses in an effort to escape from the mid-century disruptions of World War II and the Greek Civil War. In 2001, we visited the valley and found that the houses were in various states of abandonment that ranged from total abandonment to occasional use and seasonal re-use.

The goal of our visit yesterday was to see how houses that we have documented (somewhat) regularly over the last 19 years were holding up. The initial goal of the project, when we started it, was to use these houses to think about formation processes in the Greek countryside. This visit was our first since 2009 (although we seem to recall a visit in 2012, but so far we can’t seem to find the photographic evidence for that trip). Having decade between visits meant that we had to get re-oriented to the area, but after a bit we were able to find our study houses, take some (but not nearly enough) photographs, and think about change (while) in the Greek countryside.

We have three snap impressions from our day wandering this settlement:

1. Houses fall down at an irregular pace. One thing that we certainly noticed is that relatively little had changed for buildings whose walls had collapsed prior to our first visit in 2001. In some cases, the walls were more visible because of changes in vegetation. But the general character of the collapse and associated material appeared more or less unchanged with some of the same scatters of artifacts present collapsed houses being more or less stable over the past 10 years.

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The reasons for this are, of course, obvious. The largely collapsed houses are less the focus of human activity and, as a result, less susceptible to various curation strategies and various other intentional and accidental human interventions. The remains of these houses are more resistant to various natural processes as most of the vulnerable elements in the houses have already given way, collapsed, or otherwise deteriorated. The remains, for example, of a brick and tile oven look essentially the same after 10 years.  

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2. Wall plaster disappears quickly. When we first encountered House 14 in 2001, it had some of its roof intact as well as plaster on its exterior walls and on a plaster-and-lathe dividing wall that originally separated two rooms. By 2009, the roof had collapsed and exposed the walls and the plaster-and-lathe wall had fallen to the floor. In 2018, most of the plaster had melted from the exterior walls and the plaster on the lathe wall had vanished to the point where the wall was no longer visible.

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3. Continuous Change. One of the less surprising aspects of Lakka Skoutara is the continuous change to the region and to its buildings. In one house, that appeared to be maintained but not in significant use, a plaster-and-lathe dividing wall was carefully removed. 

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Another house, constructed of cinderblocks in rough courses received a new balcony and a series of nicely built patios suggesting a transition from a kind of rough functionality to perhaps a more recreational purpose.

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The western part of the Lakka has seen the development of all sorts of new structures.

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These include some curious examples of reuse.

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Lakka Skoutara remains a dynamic landscape even in “abandonment.”