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.”

Archaeological Returns

I think most archaeologists now think of their fieldwork projects as having a shelf life. In other words, we work at a site or in a region with an eye toward answering certain questions. When those questions are answered, we might begin a related project, but we less and less frequently dive into the same river again.

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The reasons for this are complicated and probably have as much to do with issues like funding (and the difficulty getting funding to support a career (or decades) long projects and building the kind of persistent and sustaining infrastructure to make such projects possible) as fundamental changes in how archaeologists (at least in the Mediterranean) think about disciplinary problems and challenges. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the publish or perish treadmill that pushes most archaeologists to juggle multiple projects with different timelines and trajectories which range from relatively long-term study projects to short-term and more incisive field work ventures.

Whatever the reasons, many archaeologists think of rather goal oriented fieldwork with specific aims in mind and “endgames” for final publications, archiving, and site conservation, presentation, or what have you. At the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP) my colleagues and I wrapped up almost 15 years of work in the coastal zone of Pyla village by passing the project onto colleagues who are just starting their careers. Even as we are finishing our book, they’re working with us to start a new campaign of excavation on a coastal height called Vigla where we set down ten fairly limited soundings over three field seasons.  

I visited their project and “lent a hand” over the last two days and enjoyed their hospitality and banter. (Lending a hand for me involved watching them excavate through collapsed mud brick and commenting on how hard it seems and how much work it must be to dig through it.).  It was a bit bitter-sweet as my memories of work on the site filtered through my memories, but it was also really cool to see the new team so excited and engaged and motivated.

Tomorrow, David Pettegrew and I return to a site called Lakka Skoutara. This is an early-20th century settlement that the permanent residents have largely abandoned. We originally visited this site in 2000 (I think?) and have revisited regularly to document the formation processes at work in the structuring throughout this small upland valley. I’m looking forward to being back in the field with David. We haven’t managed to spend time together doing field work for a few years and his insights have helped me refine my archaeological thinking and seeing. 

It’s interesting that, in some ways, returning to sites after a few years never fails to reveal more about them. So archaeological returns are always a bit tricky. On the one hand, my experience has shown that returning to a site always offers the potential for new knowledge and insights. At the same time, leaving a site for another field team to study, document, and analyze ensures that sites are seen with fresh eyes, provide evidence for new questions, and refract through different methods and approaches.

Contingency, Roads, and Formation Processes in the Greek Countryside

This last week I’ve been working on transforming a paper that Dimitri Nakassis and I wrote from the 2016 Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting. The paper was for a panel organized by Deb Brown and Becky Seifried on the topic of abandoned settlements. Dimitri and I wrote not so much about settlements as about roads and routes through the Greek countryside using the Western Argolid as an example. 

As I’ve worked to transform the paper into a proper article, I’ve started to try to weave together two complicated little strands related to regional level intensive pedestrian survey. One strand understands the countryside as contingent and dynamic and challenges the perspective that rural Greece was backward or unchanging guide to ancient practices. The view of the Greek countryside as stagnant and conservative drew heavily on both contemporary Western views of conservative rural life as well as Orientalist ideas that the East was resistant to change and, as a result, and unreceptive to the forces of progress (and perhaps resistant to the transformative power of capital). The most obvious expression of this among Classicists was the tendency to look to rural life and practices as a place that preserved ancient culture. Efforts to conflate ancient places with modern villages by the modern Greek state reinforced the plausibility of a conservative countryside. This, in turn, supported the nationalist narrative advanced by both the West and the Greek state itself that the modern Greek nationstate had it roots in the Ancient Greek world. By changing Slavic, Albanian, or Turkish place names to the names of Ancient Greek places, the modern state sought less to overwrite the more recent history of the region and more to restore the authenticity of the Greek countryside.

For archaeologists, this confidence in a stable Greek countryside arrived with the early travelers who took ancient texts as their guides and consistently noted practices that evoked those in ancient sources. By the 1980s and 1990s, however, intensive pedestrian survey and processual archaeology had begun to produce evidence for a more dynamic view of rural settlement patterns where even major settlements expanded, contracted, appeared, and vanished over the centuries. Attention to the Early Modern and Ottoman Greek landscape by the Argolid Exploration Project and in the Nemea Valley demonstrated that far from being ossified and unchanging, rural life, economic strategies, and settlement in the northeast Peloponnesus was in constant flux as denizens of the countryside adapted to local and regional economic and political opportunities. To put their conclusions in starkly contemporary terms, scholars like Susan Buck Sutton demonstrated that precarity of capitalism was alive and well in the Greek countryside throughout the Early Modern and Modern periods. While this may initially feel like something to celebrate as it makes clear that Greece was not an Oriental backwater, it should also give us pause as it reminds us that the self-sufficient farmer so celebrated for their independence was every bit a product of larger economic forces as any kind of individual will. Removing the condescending (and racist) burden of the Oriental conservatism from the backs of the Greek peasant and replacing it with forces of capital does not, necessarily, impart more agency in the Greek villager, farmer, or pastoralist. Agency within the capitalist system may appear more “modern,” but in some ways, it is only an inversion of an Orientalist reading of Greece by hinting that the instability, contingency, and precarity of rural life anticipates progressive modernity.  

Whatever the larger metanarrative at play, contingency is now a significant paradigm for understanding Early Modern and Modern Greece, and understanding the process of abandonment plays an important roles in recognizing change in the Greek countryside. Attention to abandonment involves a greater commitment to reading artifact scatters in the countryside as the products of archaeological and natural formation processes rather than palimpsests of settlement or other rural activities. As we come to privilege the contingency and dynamism of the countryside more, we also lose some of our confidence in assigning tidy functional categories to rural survey assemblages. Low density scatters of artifacts, for example, may well represent short-term habitation, low intensity rural activities, or even redistributive practices like manuring or dumping.

For our paper, the significance of contingency and our reading of formation processes intersect in our analysis of two seasonal rural settlements in the process of abandonment and the routes that connected these sites to larger networks of travel in the region. In traditional reading of the landscape of the Inachos Valley and the Western Argolid, scholars have tended to see modern routes along the flat valley bottom as more or less following ancient routes. In this context (and putting aside the role played by topography and geography, for example), long-standing roads serve as indicators of persistent patterns of movement, settlement, and the political relationship between places. A more contingent view of the countryside, however, forces us to consider the more ephemeral routes through the landscape that leave only fleeting traces in the landscape and connect less persistent settlements. 

Moreover, and this to my mind is really neat, roads and routes through the countryside also shape the formation processes at individual sites. For example, the proximity of an structure to an unpaved dirt road seems to have influenced whether that structure was maintained and used for storage or provisional discard. The dirt road, however, may not have any relationship to the earlier, simpler path that originally connected the settlement to other places in the region. Access by modern dirt road shaped the formation processes at play in the settlement. Structures only reached through footpaths tend to see less modern activity.  

For our paper, we present an example from the Western Argolid to demonstrate the presence and significance of these contingent routes through the countryside, to unpack the relationship of roads to formation processes at abandoned settlements, and to suggest that the contingent countryside is not simply about places, but also about all the interstitial spaces that define social, economic, and political relationships in the changing landscape. 

Corinthian Landscapes

Anything that Kostis Kourelis writes is a “must read” for anyone interested in the history of archaeology in Greece. Over the past ten years he’s written a book – more or less – on modernity, archaeology, and Greece with articles on the Byzantium and the avant-garde, the modern fictions of Byzantine houses in Mystras, and, this past week, “Flights of Archaeology: Peschke’s Acrocorinth” in the most recent issue of Hesperia.

Kourelis explores the intellectual and cultural world of the 20th century artist Georg Vinko von Peschke who worked in Greece in the service of American excavators. This article developed from his work organizing  an exhibit of Peschke’s works at Franklin and Marshall College and then Bryn Mawr a few years back. But as with so many of Kourelis’s articles, Peschke serves as a point of entry into the rich(er) world of early 20th century archaeology inhabited by architects and artists, archaeologists and poets, and numerous other cultural figures who embraced the avant-garde, modernism, as well as rigorous archaeological research. This article also featured the mountains of the Corinthia and Acrocorinth, in particular, as a Romantic backdrop to the rational archaeological work at the site of Corinth itself. Peschke’s 1932 painting of Acrocorinth served as a point of departure for Kourelis’s consideration of modernity and archaeological culture.

The article is too rich and complex and “Kourelian” to describe here in any detail, but two things struck me about this article:

First, it reminded me how much working in the shadow of Acrocorinth shaped my work. Within days of arriving in Greece for the first time, my friends and I hiked up the hill of Acrocorinth to survey the region. I remember being struck by the unkempt and confusing settlement between Acrocorinth’s two gates and the prominent mosque and church inside the course of its crenelated walls. As someone who has never embraced the formality required of careful excavation, exploring the abandoned and decrepit settlement on Acrocorinth and looking across the Isthmus offered me a perspective on the past that wasn’t to tightly bound to minute detail. If the rigor of modern excavation at the site of Corinth below caused me apprehension, the expansive views from Acrocorinth drew me into a landscape that seemed to resist tidy fragmentation and beg for grand (and probably overly general) diachronic and regional statements.  

My inability to cope consistently with the routine of field survey complemented the lure of the mountains and drew me to working extensive in the landscape. This led to my first two archaeological publications which featured sites that I documented while hiking the mountains of the Corinthia. Years later, my work with the Western Argolid Regional Project continues to draw me to mountain tops and forgotten routes and passes. While my body is no longer able to endure quite as much adventuring as I could as a 20something, the pull is still there and I like to imagine that it came, in part, from my encounter with Acrocorinth.

Second, I wonder whether the weeks and months spent hiking about in the Greek countryside have shaped my view of our field of archaeology. While I recognize that Kostis’s article samples the most rarified air from a generation of fieldwork that included as much rigorous documentation as imaginative encounters – and indeed Peschke’s ability to cross between the world of high art and formal documentation is what make him and his archaeologist colleagues so worthy of attention, I wonder whether today our balance has tipped too far in the direction of industrial production and away from the spirit of craft?

I won’t allow this post to devolve on another preachy meditation on slow archaeology, but Kostis’s articles always make me wish for an archaeological practice more explicitly informed by craft. Of course, craft is present in field work. Watching an experience colleague or workman handle a trowel or a pick demonstrates a kind of embodied expertise that no field manual can instill. At the same time, as I work on the final publication for my project on Cyprus, I often feel that the goal of archaeological publication (and even documentation) is to remove the artistry from our experiences with both objects and the past.

Peschke’s art and Kostis’s vision of early 20th century archaeology reminded me that while disciplinary practices remained deeply embedded in industrial forms of organization and technics, a parallel course has long existed that recognized the deeply personal dimension of archaeological work. Archaeological work in this context was a form of expression that resisted narrow disciplinary definition, subservience to objectivity, efficiency, and clarity, and embraced the complexities of experience without marginalizing archaeology’s methodological or intellectual goals.

On The Classical Debt

Like 98% of the Classicists (or at least Hellenists) in the world right now, I’ve just finished reading Johana Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in an Age of Austerity (2017). It’s a remarkable book that traces the history of the concept of “Greek debt” from conversations about the West’s historical debt to Greek democracy, philosophy, and science to the recent economic crisis in Greece largely triggered by Greece’s economic debt to various Western European institutions. Hanink shows how these two concepts of debt are deeply entangled with the former working as an Enlightenment fueled spark that ignited Greek nationalism in the 17th and 19th centuries and the latter shackling the resulting Greek nation to the political and economic interests of Western European powers.

(Read my friend Dimitri Nakassis’s post on the book here.)

Hanink’s account begins in Classical antiquity where she argued that Athenian propaganda provided a foundation for later accounts of the “Greek miracle” which produced the flourishing art, architecture, philosophical life, and, of course, democracy. She located this propaganda within a critical context of the Classical period demonstrating that even in the 5th- and 4th-century Athens, dissenting views existed. In the end, the more heroic and triumphant narrative of Athenian and ultimately Greek exceptionalism came to dominate the canonical view of the Classical age owing in no small part to the Roman, Byzantine, and even Arab, Ottoman, and Medieval interlocutors who celebrated the monuments and literature of Pericles’ city.

Hanink largely overlooks the gap between the ancient and modern world and relegates a millennium of engagement with the Classical past to the status of passive “filters” that distilled the narrative of Athenian and Greek exceptionalism down to an almost irrefutable essence. This leap makes sense for the larger goals of her work which really begins with the potent re-imaginings of the European and Greek Philhellenes whose late 18th and 19th century work formed the basis for locating the Classical spirit in the landscapes, monuments, and people at the periphery of the shaky Ottoman Empire (with a brief, but significant passage through Evliya Celebi’s accounts of late-17th-century Ottoman Athens). In many ways, the paradoxes of this initial engagement of Europeans with the town of Athens culminated in Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon marbles and their bumpy journey back the England and into the British Museum (if not in the wayward Venetian shell that began the task of purging the Acropolis of later accretions). The desire to transform the physical place of modern Greece into a European home for democracy, philosophy, art, and literature came in the aftermath of the Battle Navarino in 1827, when the opportunity to construct a modern nation-state on the physical territory of the Classical past became clear. With inspiration from Byron and Koraïs, the European debt to Greek antiquity became politically manifest in the new Greek state and its reconstructed capital crowned by the Acropolis and the ageless Parthenon.

Hanink’s description of the modern debt crisis in Greece is among the best that I’ve read in that it both maintains the utter incomprehensibility of contemporary global finance while also driving home causes and consequences ranging from the 2004 Athens Olympics to the collapse of the Greek public sector and social safety net. (On a personal note, the trajectory of the Greek economic miracle of the late-1990s and early 2000s parallels my own discovery of Greece and two lengthy stints in Athens. Hanink doesn’t quite capture the pride that Athens felt being welcomed into the club of Europe (despite being part of the EU (and its predecessor the EEC since 1981) by adopting the Euro and ultimately hosting the Olympics.) The scorn that Greece attracted with the collapse of the Greek economy and the painful and humiliating bailout conditions appeared in the jeering cartoons published in multiple media outlets that framed the Greeks as unworthy heirs of their Classical legacy. Whatever debt Europe owned to Ancient Greece became a burden borne by the nation as it alternately reminded Europe of its intellectual and political history and endured the economic consequences of its modern legacy.

The book concludes with an epilogue the offers a way to engage with the narrative of Western Civilization that recognizes both ancient Athenian discourse and its influence on the modern construction of our own views of antiquity. At the same time, she urges teachers to consider alternate narratives that offer the potential to free ourselves from our debt to the ancient world (and Greece, in particular) enabling us, like modern Greece, to find a new way forward and to image new, less encumbered, futures.

This is a very good book. My only real critique of Haninck is that her work contributes relatively little upon which to form an alternative narrative of Greek debt. In fact, the book’s binocular vision of Classical antiquity and the modern world reduces the crucial two millennium between the peak of Pericles’ Athens and Renaissance to the passive status of filter. By doing this, she largely overlooks the contribution of the Roman second sophistic, the complicating burden of Christianity, the trauma of the Crusades, the Frankokratia, and Ottoman conquests, as well as the complicated and sometimes contradictory narrative present in contemporary Greek nationalism. Her reasons for overlooking these centuries are, of course, understandable considering the book’s accessible approach and, more importantly, her focus on a particularly influential strand in the current political discourse. At the same time, I suspect that understanding and even rehabilitating the filtering history of these two millennia offer the best hope of creating a new foundation for our own Western identity and freeing Greece from the pressures that Hanink rightly views as overwhelming and overwriting any autonomous and potentially liberating counter-narrative.

My point isn’t to undermine or question the motives of Hanink’s work, but to push it just a bit by suggesting that her own work does little to complicate the 18th and early-19th prefiguration of a “Greek” nationalism that emerged from the Classical discourse. For example, Evliya Celebi’s description of the light-filled mosque of the Parthenon is almost certainly an echo of the Byzantine tradition which celebrated the miraculous the light associated with the Parthenon as the cathedral of Athens. Anthony Kaldellis has argued that this  Medieval “filter” magnified this building’s renown during the Frankish period and ensured that the Parthenon would hold pride of place among Classical monuments in Greece. Elsewhere, she slips and says that the Greeks were never really colonized, but, of course, that overlooks the history of the Ionian Islands and the Dodecanese, whose identities and connection with Western Europe emerged in a kind of colonial continuity that extended from the Fourth Crusade to French Revolution (and beyond), as well as the unique political history of Crete. These places with their colonial histories provided modern Greece with many of its influential political leaders from Capodistrias to Venezelos. Finally, the Megali Idea, that fueled so much Greek nationalism of the first half of the 20th century, owed as much to ideas cultivated in a kind of post-Byzantine millenarianism that regularly witnessed a hope for liberation in religious images of the empty imperial throne in Constantinople.

The point of this isn’t to find a niggling examples with which to undermine her argument, but perhaps complicate it in a productive way. Her binocular attention to Classical antiquity and the modern world set in a kind of relief the two-millennium-long filtering process between various groups who made often-rival claims to the Classical past, inhabited its ruins, and negotiated a dense web of economic, religious, and intellectual debts. I suspect that these tangled, dynamic, and obscure millennia offer a key to a productive reconsideration of Greek debt, both in terms of our persistent interest in a shared (but diverse) narrative of Western culture and in the real consequences of the growing economic inequality between creditor and debtor nations that preserve the historical legacy of the  “Classical” Mediterranean.