The Late Byzantine Landscape

Last week I finally finished Foteini Kondyli’s recent book, Rural Communities in Late Byzantium: Resilience and Vulnerability in the Northern Aegean (2022). It’s really quite brilliant and offers a model for the kind of intensive regional study that is possible as the result of slow, deliberate, careful research across archaeological survey, texts, architectural study, and digital techniques.

The book considers the strategies rural communities on Lemnos and Thasos used to survive during the tumultuous 14th and 15th centuries. Kondyli anchored her argument in an extensive survey of the islands where she used surface ceramics to help date surviving churches, the remains of settlements, and the various towers and other sites that have left traces in the landscape. She supplements these with data from the Athonite monastic archive which provide insights to land tenure practices and the structure of settlement across the island. In this context, Kondyli is able to outline some of the strategies families used especially in the aftermath of the demographic changes visited on these islands during these convulsive centuries. These ranged from marriage strategies and other forms of bonds between families, settlements insulated from the presence of pirates in the surrounding seas, cooperation in the construction of military fortification such as towers and spiritual fortifications such as churches and monasteries, and forms of cooperation with the Byzantine state (and even Ottoman) state.

As per usual, I’m not going to really review the book, but highlight a few things that I stuck out to me.

First, I thought Kondyli’s emphasis on resilience is in keeping with contemporary conversations about continuity and change in the ancient and Medieval worlds. Of course, resilience has emerged as a key way to think about Late Antiquity and the degree to which a community could survive, rebuild, and persist amid economic, military, and political disruptions is crucial for understanding how deep structures which are not always readily visible in textual or archaeological sources held societies together at challenging times. Kondyli’s emphasis on resilience and social strategies is appropriate for the Late Byzantine period as well which endured its share of disasters.

Our attention to resilience, I think, shifts how we think about matters of continuity and change in the past. In this context, continuity and change represent strategies rather than evidence for a kind of absent minded persistence of existing social structures and institutions and change becomes a way to understand how communities adapt to circumstances that may well be beyond their control rather than the arrival of new circumstances themselves. As a result, and as Kondyli so cleverly shows, focusing on resilience foregrounds everyday life at the level of the community and how they respond economic, political, and military events.      

Second, for most of my career, I’ve been a bit of an evangelist for intensive, pedestrian, siteless survey. And I still think it’s the best way to do to field survey in the Mediterranean. 

That said, I’m becoming a bit more willing to see the value in intensive survey. Perhaps I should credit my new found appreciation of modern extensive survey to Yannis Lolos’s extensive survey of Sikyonia. I can add Kondyli’s book to the list of influences that are expanding my perspective on the value of modern extensive survey projects. In particular, I admire her willingness to identify the function of specific sites. One of the challenges facing intensive survey work is our tendency to produce vast carpets of artifacts that blur functional (and chronological) borders of sites until they are essentially disappear. To be clear, this is a rather uncharitable reading of siteless survey, but I suspect there is a kernel of truth to it. Kondyli’s willingness to build arguments on the chronological and functional identification of sites – with a certain amount of caution and perspective – opens the landscape of Aegean islandscapes to the kind of historical interpretations that our siteless survey sometimes resists. 

Third, Kondyli balanced her awareness of how islands function as islands (she avoid the term  “islandscapes” but the concept suffuses some of her arguments) with a strong sensitivity for local landscapes. I’ve participated peripherally in several recent conversations about islands and island archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean and this got me thinking a good bit about whether models for understanding islands in historical periods add much to our understanding of the Mediterranean, in general. For example, the mountainous landscape of Thasos exerted a far more obvious impact on settlement patterns than its situation as an island. This isn’t to say that its insularity didn’t play a role in the organization of settlement on islands, but that it might not be the dominant, determining role. 

This understanding feels consistent with the growing interest in microecologies or microregions which often function at level far below that of an island. If we regard the Mediterranean as a patchwork of microregions, then certain larger regional characterization of spaces—from islandscapes to administrative districts—might contribute less to how we understand resilience of communities than we might expect.

As readers of this blog likely know, my excitement for the archaeology of Greece ebbs and flows with my commitments to field work and my (declining!) ability to formulate research questions that keep me engaged. Kondyli’s book when set alongside other recent-ish books such as  Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016, blogged about here) and John Haldon, Hugh Elton, James Newhard, Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and its Environment (Cambridge 2018, blogged about here) has got me once again thinking a bit about how we understand the Late Roman and Byzantine countryside in the Eastern Mediterranean. I’m looking forward to getting back to the Mediterranean this summer and thinking in more in situ ways about issues introduced in these works.

A Memorial for a Digital Friend: Diana Gilliland Wright

Yesterday, I learned that Diana Gilliland Wright had died earlier this month. I didn’t know her very well and, in fact, I can’t exactly remember if I had ever met her. I knew her mostly via email, comments on my blog, and her own voluminous blogging output.

Over the last decade, as my research interest shifted toward the Argolid, she and I corresponded a bit more regularly as she offered us the occasional insight based on her years of work on the city of Nafplion and its environs. From what I can gather she wrote her dissertation on a 15th century Venetian administrator at Nafplion, Bartolomeo Minio. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read it. Nor have I read any of her formal scholarship. What I did read, quite regularly, were her blogs.

Year ago, when blogging was still fresh and exciting and filled bloggers with hope, we envisioned a world where bloggers read each others’ work and reached out to one another and commented and shared each others’ work through hyperlinks and blogrolls and ultimately forged relationships across networks of blogs. Diana Wright did all that and was a regularly commenter on my blog from its earliest days (on Typepad!). And even as the promise of blogs as a corresponding medium faded a bit, she continued to reach out via email to offer comments and ask for publications. I remember sending her a few copies of North Dakota Quarterly at some point as well and hoping that she found the poetry and fiction in those pages interesting.

From what I can piece together she ran two blogs. The blog that I knew best was called “Surprised by Time” and it largely focused on the Medieval Morea (or Peloponnesus). Her interests were wide ranging and did much to make transparent murky waters separating the Medieval and Early Modern worlds. The scions of Byzantine elite families rubbed shoulders with Venetian administrators, on assignment, Ottoman officials, and Mediterranean diplomats, literati, and ne’er-do-wells. Palaiologoi cross paths with Italian merchants and Ottoman travelers, Pashas, and poets. Each of the over 200 entries, offered a startling glimpse into a world often overlooked by scholars preoccupied by tidier narratives of rise and decline of empire and neglectful of the messier interface of daily life among those most effected by political and cultural change. To Dr. Wright’s particular credit, the blog exists under a CC-By-SA license meaning that anyone can share her work as long as they credit her and make their work available under an open license. The blog appears to be fairly well archived by the internet archive, but I would be keen to entertain ways to preserve it more formally. 

For many years, she also maintained a landing page of sorts called “Nauplion.net” where she offered an index of her work and the work of her partner Pierre MacKay which featured regularly on her blog. It also featured links to many scans of hard to find primary sources some of which were translated on Surprised by Time. This site is no longer working and hadn’t been updated in many years, but it is preserved on the Internet Archive.

[By coincidence, I’m teaching Evliya Çelebi this week and using Pierre MacKay’s translation of Evliya’s visit to Corinth in my class. Diana Wright posted bits and pieces of Pierre’s translation and the story of his discovery of Evliya’s manuscript on her blog.]

Her other blog, Firesteel is an anthology of poetry gleaned from ancient and modern sources and from Greek, Ottoman, Arab, Italian, French and English language poets. I don’t know whether the poetry posted here and her more academic content crossed paths in some kind of formal way, but it really is an amazing collection of work (which I suspect violates all sort of copyrights, but I get the sense that Diana Wright just didn’t really care). 

~

As a small, digital memorial to Diana Gilliland Wright’s passing, I would encourage you spend a moment looking at her online legacy and recognizing it as a gesture of a kind of digital kinship that could connect individuals who had never met. For whatever reason, her profile included a link to John Coltrane’s 1957 recording of “While My Lady Sleeps.” It feels like an appropriate soundtrack for a visit to her digital world. 

. . . a little wine for remembrance . . . a little water for the dust.  

Ancient and Modern Argos

This weekend, on a lark, I read Jonathan Hall’s relatively recent book Reclaiming the Past: Argos and Its Archaeological Heritage in the Modern Era (2021). It was good and a must-read for anyone who plans to spend any time in Argos or the Argolid. The book does what it says on the cover: it explores the reception of archaeological remains from antiquity (narrowly construed) in the modern period (roughly the 18th century to the present). It does this with a minimum of theoretical bluster and the absence of much conceptual overburden. He acknowledges, for example, the long-standing debates concerning formation of modern Greek identity as both descendants of the ancient Greeks (Hellenes) and Christian Romans, but his nuanced narrative ensures that these longstanding models don’t over simplify complex processes and attitudes. In fact, Hall’s interest in digging into Argive attitudes toward antiquity produces a richly detailed narrative that draws from sources ranging from the Early travelers and Greek revolutionaries to archaeological publications, notebooks, and 19th and 20th century newspapers and media accounts. 

Here are three thoughts on the book:

First, this book defies academic convention by including so much description and narrative. While this is generally laced with analysis and interpretation, it is nevertheless clear that one of Hall’s main objectives was to recover Argive sources for the academic record and compile them. This isn’t to suggest that he wasn’t selective or careful, but instead to highlight his willingness to excavate material from a wide range of contexts in his search for Greek attitudes for the archaeological past of Argos. Our of necessity, this involved culling details from correspondence, newspapers, and local publications as a way to counterbalance the often stereotypical descriptions of Argos and its residents from contemporary travelers. 

Second, I know I will sound like a broken record here, but it bothers me a bit that the book spends so little time with the Early Christian, Byzantine, and Frankish periods in Argos. On the one hand, I get that these fall outside the antiquity-modernity binary and therefore are peripheral to the goals of this book. I also understand that assuming continuity across the centuries even for a city as well-known as Argos risks ignoring the sometimes catastrophic events that displaced its population and triggered cycles of demographic change and renewal. One the other hand, by downplaying the significance of sites such as the church of the Dormition as part of Argive strategies for reconciling Greek antiquity and identity with its Christian history, Hall perhaps removes key evidence for how residents of Argos may have formed their attitudes about the city’s archaeological heritage. I understand, of course, that Hall’s focus was far more directed toward monuments discovered in situ and of interest to foreign archaeologists (e.g. inscriptions, sculpture, and the like). That said, it struck me as a bit odd that despite his interest in how Argives viewed their archaeological past, he overlooked examples of spolia in Medieval and Ottoman buildings which seem to parallel in the more mundane practices using ancient blocks elsewhere. It seems to me that the focus on texts and archaeological heritage as the two interpretative poles of this book would complicate Hall’s efforts to understand local reception and understanding of antiquity because it is predicated on two analytical categories elite texts and the archaeology that these texts recognize and define that exclude a fair number of Argos’s inhabitants and their daily encounter with ancient things.   

Finally, I couldn’t help but compare this book to Chris Witmore’s Old Lands: A Chorography of the Eastern Peloponnesus (2020). Witmore shares Hall’s interest in rich and nuanced description and the interplay between antiquity and the modern in the Greek landscape. He and Witmore also have the kind of deep understanding of their physical, archaeological, and historical landscapes that allow both books to situate ancient monuments in a diachronic perspective (albeit informed by different theoretical perspectives and approaches). Someone really should do a comparative review of these two books. 

As I’m teaching Greek history this semester, I couldn’t help but imagine that Witmore’s and Hall’s books could serve both as a way to decenter the often “Athenocentric” narrative of Greek history (past and present) and as a way to escape from viewing the past without taking into consideration the ways that modern attitudes have shaped what we encounter and value. Plus, they both return me to two of my “happy places” the northeastern Peloponnesus and the tangled byways of Argos and the Argolid!  

Seasonality in Cyprus

My stack of articles “to read” is pretty scary these days, but I was really glad to find time to read Michael Given’s 2020 article, “Attending to Place and Time: Seasonality in Early Modern Scotland and Cyprus” from the European Journal of Archaeology 23(3). This article is another in Given’s recent work to apply the concept of conviviality to the archaeology of Cyprus (and now Scotland). To summarize a complicated assemblage of ideas, Given argues that conviviality offers a perspective to unpack the complex series of relationship that dictates how individuals, animals, objects, and materials work together to create historical situations.

In this case, Given argues that by expanding our understanding of the relationship between Cypriots (and Scots!) and their environment, we can avoid overly simplistic views of seasonal movement the countryside. Given demonstrates that the use of land between the rugged slopes of the Troodos Mountains and the coastal plain gave Cypriot farmers and herders opportunities to adapt seasonal movements between upland villages in the summer and lowland fields in the winter depending on specific crops, tools, and the social organization of families and communities. This more expansive view of the relationships that constitute Cypriot life opens the analysis of seasonal movement to more variation and nuance. For example, the appearance of threshing floors around settlements associated with the fields on the plains indicates cereal cultivation and harvesting in the early summer as well as wintering flocks. Whether the same individuals occupied these settlements as different time a year is hard to know, but it demonstrates straight away that simple movements from mountain villages to seasonal settlements on the plain do not account for the range of activities. Given also notes that certain crops, such as vines and fruit and nut trees require regular attention that would not necessarily align with the kind of large scale movement between places in the landscape. The locations for these crops moreover may not align with the mountain-plain dichotomy and instead occupy niche ecologies where these crops can thrive. The location between mountain villages and the plains once again suggest movements that are not strictly seasonal in character, but move fluctuate between various landscapes at various times.

This might not seem deeply profound, but it offers a very practical view on a research site where I worked a few years ago with the Western Argolid Regional Project. The WARP team and I documented a whole group of house at the site of Chelmis in the Inachos valley (and published our results here and here). These houses served several functions, it would appear. First, they clearly served as shelters for shepherds who moved their flocks from their main mountain villages to the plains in the winter even today. Second, the presence of threshing floors indicates that in the summer, these houses sheltered individuals who had come to harvest and thresh grain grown on the terraced fields around the settlement. Finally, at some point, families occupied some of the houses year around. A similar site in the Corinthia, Lakka Skoutara, seems to follow a similar pattern of occupation that goes well beyond any narrow concept of seasonality (you can read about that here).

  

The Byzantine Peloponnesos

I read a bit randomly these days in Byzantine archaeology. When something comes across my desk, I tend to read it, and even as my attention has been on revising my book and a couple archaeology of the contemporary world projects, I’ve recognized that things are happening in Byzantine archaeology. A couple of weeks ago, a colleague drew to my attention that the most recent issue of Archaeological Reports includes an article on “The archaeology of the Byzantine Peloponnese: new research perspectives” by Rossana Valente. 

The article is nice survey of the archaeology of Byzantium over the last two decades. It’s very much worth a read for anyone even casually interested in the subject. (I also look forward to reading the survey of work on prehistoric Cyprus as well in the same issue). I won’t try to summarize its content, but do have a few observations:

1. Periodization. This article demonstrates the utter impracticality of a periodization scheme which separates the “Late Antique” from the “Early Byzantine.” Many of the sites and issues raised in this piece have origins in the 5th (or even 4th century), which even the most doctrinaire editor of the AJA would place firmly in the Late Roman or Late Antique period. It is clear, however, that trends, sites, and questions emerging from these centuries continue to be relevant to the study of the 7th and 8th centuries, which might be called by some the “Early Byzantine” period. In fact, the supposed disruption of life in the Peloponnesus caused by the so-called “Slavic Invasions” of the late 6th century appear to be increasingly problematic and perhaps even illusory as this very article shows. It is interesting that the academic infrastructure as represented by the Archaeological Reports periodization scheme preserves a division that is no longer particularly relevant to the material on which it reports. (This is not meant to be a criticism of the Valente who clearly is operating under the guidelines of the journal and convention!)

2. The Slavs and Ethnicity. If obsolete debates over periodization continues to loom large over the field of archaeology, Late Antique and Early Byzantine archaeology continues to fret and fuss over identifying ethnicity in the archaeological record. The weight of national archaeologies both in Greece and in the Balkans more broadly continues to lean on our field as we scrutinize every piece of handmade pottery for Slavic fingerprints. It is clear that scholars continue to walk a fine line in these debates between acknowledging a tradition of ethnic identification of particular classes of material culture, recognizing parallels between certain forms present in the Peloponnesus and those found elsewhere in southeastern Europe, and centuries old debates over the origins of Slavic speakers and the “Greekness” of the residents of the Peloponnesus. At some point, of course, we will probably stop talking about the “Slavic invasions.” In fact, one would hope that the current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, where migrants seeking sanctuary from poverty, violence, and social disruption move across arbitrary political boundaries, might inform historical debates about the arrival of new groups in the Late Antiquity Peloponnesus.

3. Texts. Of course, the argument for a Slavic invasion is not simply a modern fantasy. As this article reminds us, The Chronicle of Monemvasia describes just such an event and for over a century scholars have been willing to take this problematic document at face value. Recent work by Anagnostakis and Kaldellis, however, have suggested that the narrative of invading Slavic hoards was as useful in the Byzantine period as it has sometimes been to contemporary archaeologists and pushed back against the slavish (heh, heh) acceptance of this textual source as explicating certain elements of material culture. 

The discussion of The Chronicle of Monemvasia in a survey of the Byzantine Peloponnesus is a nice reminder of the role that texts play (and don’t play) in the archaeology of this period and place. Archaeologists of Medieval Greece have long felt a certain kinship with scholars working on prehistoric periods owing to our shared lack of textual evidence for our periods. It seems like this relationship and willingness to go beyond texts (something that many of our Classical and Roman period colleagues continue to struggle with mightily!) provides us with a methodological foundation for a more critical engagement with how texts work to describe our region and its past. In this situation, then, we shouldn’t have to rely on the scholars such as Anagnostakis and Kaldellis (whose abilities with Byzantine texts are impressive to be sure) to tell us that our inadequate and problematic efforts to reconcile the archaeology with the textual evidence might be unnecessary and wrongheaded.

4. Cities, Baths, Sites. Three more little things. I continue to be excited about new evidence for very late Roman (or Early Byzantine) baths throughout the Peloponnesus. If I had another life and another dissertation to write, I would write it on very Late Roman baths (7th-9th century). The evidence continues to pile up suggesting that baths underwent significant changes during this period and as a result, provided opportunities for architectural innovation. I was also excited to see the continued reevaluation of Late Roman and Early Byzantine cities and cityscapes which continues both to unpack changes to the fabric of the traditional urban core and to recognize an expansive array of extramural production and habitation sites. Finally, it is hard to avoid the feeling that most of the sites producing significant information about the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period are sites of significance in Classical Antiquity. This is unavoidable, of course, in light of the greater investment in Classical archaeology in Greece, but it always makes me hope that perhaps sometime, before too long, we can start to complement these sites with carefully excavated data from sites that appeared during the Medieval period. 

Two Article Wednesday

I’m obviously out of sync with my use of alliteration, but I am working my way through my “articles to read pile” albeit rather haphazardly. This week, I read two articles from the most recent Journal of Greek Archaeology 6 (2021), both of which were pretty cool.

The first was by Chris Cloke whose relatively recent dissertation analyzed the off-site ceramics from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (NVAP). As a young survey archaeologist in Greece, this project was the bee’s knees and a model for how we thought about intensive pedestrian survey. The survey part of this project was published primarily through a series of articles which, in turn, focused primarily on on-site data. Cloke’s work brings to light the significant quantity of off-site data which he marshals to contribute to ongoing discussion about the changing character of the Classical to Late Roman landscape of the northeastern Peloponnesus. 

Cloke’s article on the JGA is titled “Farming on the Fringe: Diachronic Changes in Land-Use Patterns and Agricultural Strategies in Ancient Nemea” and it considers two variables. First (and most interesting to me) he considers the average size (in weight) of sherds found in off-site scatters from the Nemea Valley survey area and compared them to the size of “on-site” sherds. He discovered that artifacts in lower density assemblages (that is off-site) from the Classical and Hellenistic period tend to be about the same size as those from higher density “on site” assemblages. In the Roman and Late Roman period, however, he noted that the average sherd size for artifacts in off-site scatters was much lower than those found on-site. To Cloke, this suggests that during the Roman and Late Roman period off-site scatters represented different formation processes. The tendency for low-density, low artifact weight scatters to present a halo around sites from those periods may indicate manuring during these periods. The theory is that smaller sherds were more likely to be transported with other waste into the fields as fertilizer whereas larger sherds are likely to represent damaged objects associated with primary discard in proximity to habitation.

What makes this argument particularly clever is that Cloke goes on to suggest that the evidence for manuring coincides with a general intensification of agriculture during the Roman and Late Roman period in the region. There is abundant evidence for this during the Roman and Late Roman period across Greece and in the northeast Peloponnesus more specifically. More and more marginal lands appear to come into cultivation culminating with the 5th and 6th century agricultural boom where nearly every corner of the region appears to see Late Roman activity. If there was going to be a time where manuring happened, it would be in Late Antiquity.

I would have loved to be reminded a bit about how NVAP identified and collected from sites and off-site scatters. Cloke argues that the assemblages from both appear fundamentally similar suggesting that collection strategies did not bias one assemblage over the other. The main difference I would see is that off-site units are so much larger than the gridded collections (if memory serves) conducted on-site. How the differences in unit size might bias collection is a bit hard to know, but I’d be keen to see the variation in artifact size for off-site scatters. I’m wondering whether the appearance of larger sherds in any number indicate on-site scatters but even in these units, lower density scatters of smaller sherds remain ubiquitous. As a result, large units will naturally collect more smaller artifacts from expansive low density scatters. Or something. This might change how we understand the scatters of small artifacts, however, if on-site scatters are merely the presence of larger sherds and not the absence of smaller ones.

The second article looks at the distribution of Middle Byzantine churches in the Peloponnesus. Maria Papadaki’s “Church Construction as a Proxy for Economic Development: the Medieval Settlement Expansion Phase in the Peloponnese” offers a sweeping and thoughtful view of the Middle Byzantine landscape based on an impressive catalogue of 240 churches constructed between the 10th and 12th centuries.

I’m less interested in the specifics of Papadaki’s argument, which I suspect are sound, and more in the general trend in recent years to thinking about the Byzantine (and broadly Medieval) landscape more broadly. Papadaki brings together survey data with architecture, for example, to argue that Byzantine churches can be a persistent proxy for settlements as well as local wealth, demography, and connectivity within larger economic and political networks. 

The growing interest in Medieval landscapes that integrates architecture, art, archaeology, and texts feels like the foundation of new ways of thinking about Medieval Greece.

Writing the Greek Revolution

This weekend, I read Mark Mazower’s latest book, The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe (2021). Despite being another in the long list of recent “big books by academic men,” it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Mazower is a good writer and he manages the transform the basic narrative of the Greek Revolution, which is fairly well known among scholars of Ancient and Modern Greece, by infusing it with exceptional detail and nuance.

I am not invested enough in the study of Modern Greek History to offer any kind of critical review of the book, but I can offer a few observations that situate the book in some more popular (and better known) trends in the history of modern Greece. Since I’ll be teaching the History of Greece in the spring, the book did serve both to situate the Greek War of Independence within some broader historiographic trends that I think that an undergraduate student could readily apprehend. My observations below represent my thoughts about the book partly in this context.  

1. A Greek, Greek Revolution. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Mazower’s detailed efforts to unpack and analyze the motives, activities, and positions of the various Greek factions during the revolution. While most of these groups, from the klefts such as Kolokotronis to Peloponnesian grandees such as the Notaras family, shipping families from Hydra and Spetses (e.g. the Kountouriotis brothers) and Greeks arriving from Russia (Capodistrias and the Ypsilantis brothers) and Constantinople via points west (Mavrokordatos) are well-known to even those casually interested in the Greek Revolution, Mazower’s explication of the complicated interplay between these individuals and their factions was revelatory to me. 

This is particularly useful as I’ve tended to understand the Greek Revolution in the context of larger European politics which exerted a significant influence over its outcome especially after 1825. Mazower’s attention to the internal wrangling between groups in Greece and their diversity of motives demonstrates how a Greek identity emerged against a backdrop of various interests during the War of Independence. For example, Mazower argues that Georgios Karaiskakis, the famous armatoloi leader who operated across central Greece before meeting his end at the siege of Athens in 1826, had shifted his political identity from being a leader of an independent armed band (initially in the service of Ali Pasha) to being a fighter for the Greek people or the Greek nation. This shift did not occur through the explicit influence of Enlightenment ideas circulating in Western Europe, but through his experiences particularly during the third siege of Missolonghi. Mazower likewise observes that during the long third siege of Missolonghi, a kind of collective identity emerged among the city’s inhabitants which revealed a sense of shared Greek identity in the chaos and crisis of the war. This stood in clear contrast to the constant wrangling and fighting among various factions in the Peloponnesus who were continuing to fight, for example, over control of Nafplio and found any coordinated strategies against Ibrahim Pasha’s army impossible.

There is something quite Romantic about Mazower’s argument here and perhaps that’s what makes it so compelling. For Mazower, Greek national identity was neither an ill-fitting construct imported from Western Europe or the Ionian Islands, but an organic development spurred by the war itself and the growing realization that Greek and Albanian speaking Christians in Roumeli and the Morea had a shared fate. 

2. Who are the Greeks? Another key argument that emerges from Mazower’s book is that the Greek War of Independence did not rely upon a narrowly ethnic, linguistic, or cultural sense of emergent or incipient national identity. He regularly stressed the diverse backgrounds of major players in the war. The prevalence of Albanian speakers, for example, both in Roumeli and the Morea created connections between groups (who often discussed strategy in Albanian) on the basis of language. In other cases, kleftic leaders like Kolokotronis found common ground with British Philhellenes through their time on the Ionian islands which were under British control. Other groups, were familiar with one another through shared time fighting for and against Ali Pasha, the independent minded provincial ruler in Ioannina, whose semi-independence and life came to end at the hand of an Ottoman army in 1822. 

The diversity of the Greek forces and their leadership in the War of Independence makes clear that narrowly linguistic or cultural concepts of being Greek do not apply during the war. Moreover, Mazower regularly notes that not all Greeks or even most Greeks existed within the area wracked by the Revolution. And Greek communities in Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere often had a jaundiced eye toward the war and its goals (including many of the important early leaders of the Greek state such as Capodistrias!). This, of course, also serves as a useful reminder to those who like to imagine nationalism as depending on cultural, ethnic, and linguistic cohesion. While Mazower leaves no doubt that a sense of shared identity and fate emerged in some corners over the course of the war, he is equally clear that those who fought under the Greek banner during the War of Independence were a remarkably diverse lot. 

3. The Power of Narrative. Finally, Mazower offers a clear reminder of the power of a narrowly defined and detailed narrative. Over the past couple of decades, I have enjoyed the recent outpouring of books that have looked to situate modern Greek identity within the complicated legacy of European Enlightenment thought its commitment to the study of Ancient Greece as a model for new forms of social and political organization. We can appreciate how Greece in some ways was (and is?) a reflection of our veneration of Classical antiquity, but Mazower spends precious little time on the machinations of Philhellenes in the course of events in Greece.

More recently, scholars have argued that the current debt crisis reflects a long term pattern of Greek dependence on foreign capital and traces its origins to the first set of loans extended to Greek government to help finance the war. Without denying that impact of economic colonialism in shaping the modern world, Mazower distances his arguments from this narrative as well.

By focusing more narrowly on the individuals, groups, and relationships that defined the course of the Greek Revolution on the ground, Mazower offers a view of Greek history that avoids both a dismissive (and honestly Orientalist) perspective of Greeks as incapable of real independence outside of Western European support and a view of Greece as a fragile and imperfect reflection of European classicizing fantasies. The result isn’t a tidy and honestly isn’t pretty, but it is distinctly Greek. 

And to my mind, this is the strength of this book. It tells the story of a distinctively Greek revolution. 

Corinth Excavations, Preliminary Reports, and Time

This week, I read the recently published report on the 2019 excavations at Corinth in Greece by Christopher Pfaff. The report is the second in his tenure as director of Corinth excavations and while this report is less amazing than the report on work at the site in 2018, the 2019 article is thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking. I would contend that if the report on work in 2018 is an intensive meditation on things in excavation, the report on work in 2019 begins a subtle exploration of the nature of archaeological time.

It’s worth noting that Corinth is a bit of an odd excavation. Started over a century age, it is now the major training excavation for American archaeologists in Greece. It operates as an extension of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and general excavates every year as much to address long term research questions relating, primarily, to the work of past excavators as to provide opportunities for graduate students in Classics, Ancient History, Art History, and archaeology an chance to dig at a site using stratigraphic, open area excavation practices. Five years ago, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota published a version of The Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual, that provides a good survey of the methods and techniques used at the site. You can download that for free here.    

From the start, this report defies categorization. As with the report on the 2018 season, it is nowhere clear whether this is a preliminary report although the article hints occasionally throughout that further work and future excavations will clarify issues. I also have to assume that the rather fragmentary reports of archaeological contexts and assemblages will be expanded in the future. That said, Corinth publications tend to proceed at a rather deliberate pace with sites, classes of material, and contexts often taking decades to appear. The rapid publication of these annual reports, then, creates a kind of syncopation with their less complete analyses appearing regularly and larger, more comprehensive publications appearing at less frequent intervals. (Someone should sonify the Corinth publication history  with larger works being longer and deeper notes and shorter works being shorter and higher notes!)

The preliminary report is a strange beast in archaeology. I suppose they started as an effort to create a buzz about work and to keep a (general? Or academic?) public informed about progress at a site. Today, they tend to be more methodological papers or used to highlight especially significant finds that can stand on their own. Less frequently, preliminary reports offered broad overviews of the work that address a project’s major research questions albeit in a provisional way. The Corinth report represents the earliest tradition of preliminary reports which served primarily to keep stakeholders informed of the ongoing progress of work. In other words, the report lacks any attention to methodology or to a larger research question with significance beyond the site itself.

That does not mean, however, that the report should be relegated to the “news and notes” folder and read only as a friendly update from an interesting project. The publication of an inscribed magic ring, for example, apparently recovered in a Late Roman context is notable in its own right and offers yet another insight into the complexities of syncretic Corinthian religious practice in the Roman and Late Roman period. 

There are other intellectual opportunities that emerge from this report that are almost certain to engage the imagination of the reader. I love the element of ambiguity in some of the descriptions. For example, Pfaff suggests – almost with a shrug – that the status of a concreted pile of rubble as a wall is doubtful. Elsewhere depositional processes are proposed as possible. In some cases, there are likely contaminants. With these words, a reader can see the process of archaeological interpretation playing out as hypotheses emerge and resist resolution constantly blurring what qualifies as knowledge.

I think the nuanced language here offers an intriguing foil to the current efforts surrounding our knowledge of the COVID virus, vaccinations, and the social impacts of the pandemic. In this context, the provisional character of knowledge pops off the page and situates this publication in a continuum that spans for pure ignorance to absolute certainty. The role of narrative practices in constructing the temporal axis of this continuum supports assumptions that the future will resolve doubt, likelihoods, and possibilities. It marks out the present as a time of uncertainty that the future will resolve. It is hard to imagine that Pfaff wrote this article without the COVID pandemic in mind. His work resonates so strongly with how we are experiencing science at present this simply could not be unintentional.

More practically and materially, the work in the area northeast of the theater sets the stage for any number of interesting arguments regarding the interplay between various pasts and various presents in this area. The publication of part of a 19th century house is really intriguing because the house appears to sit atop a road with both Ottoman and earlier Byzantine phases. This suggests that the road network in the area was changing by the the 19th century, but also that the road itself continued to function as a surface within the house. Elsewhere wells cut the trenches left by robbed out walls and walls stand as assemblages of earlier material redeployed for new tasks. Scholarship in the late-20th century was particularly preoccupied with spolia and spoliation and the aesthetics and intentionality of reuse. It feels like scholarship in the third decade of the 21st century is interested in time and the relentless materiality of things, objects, and features. Pfaff’s article dispenses with our formalized fascination with spoliated material and returns us to the more gritty and basic material of the past. The archaeology of the area northeast of the theater is unlikely to tell us anything that we don’t already know about the city of Corinth, but what it does offer is detailed case study of how the past remains visible, active, and material.  

Perhaps it’s best to leave this mini-review with the observation that Pfaff is very deliberate with the interplay between the concept of “remains” and the use of the verb “to remain.” This reveals in vivid style the interplay between the provisional character of the present and the fragmentary nature of the past. Remains remain resolute.

A List: The 15 Best Early Christian Baptisteries in Greece

The other day, mostly on a lark, I posted to Twitter a list of the top 15 baptisteries in Greece. It was 60% done as a kind of silly joke designed to spoof the ubiquitous “listicles” that fill our social media feeds and 40% done because David Pettegrew and I needed to cull our list of around 65 baptisteries to 15-20 for a publication. In any event, the list proved more popular than I imagined which has prompted me to post it here to the ole blog. 

It also got me thinking about maybe doing a little weekly list of things which I post to Twitter and then, perhaps, share them on my blog. One of the major trends of the last five years or so is that blogs like mine have declined in regular readership. Some have argued that Twitter threads and other forms of “long form” social media engagement have created new reading habits. The rise of newsletters has also drawn readers away from stand along blogs. Finally, the blogging landscape itself has changed. The slow and steady grind of research blogs stand out less visibly against blogs engaging more fully with debates that have attracted considerable public attention. In other words, it’s no longer enough to just blog and hope for readers. Today, one has to understand the digital media landscape and have a sensitivity to wider concerns both within and outside of the academy.

My effort to produce a fun little listicle is probably not a useful step in any particular direction for this blog, but it was fun so I’ll share it here with my few remaining (but dedicated and committed) blog readers:  

15. Ay. Sophia at Panormos on Crete. It’s a bit weak, but it’s ranked 15 so there’s that. It also has some archaeology to it and some phasing (it seems to have been added in the 5th century). A little architectural adaptation goes a long way in this list.

14. Kenchreai Basilica (Corinthia). I mean the Pauline tie-in makes it a lock for the list (even though the church is much later. Plus, it’s mostly under water now which is cool. And the swimming there is nice. Otherwise, pretty garden variety.

13. Kos-Zepari Kapama. No list of baptisteries is complete without at least one from Kos or Rhodes. These islands consistently produce great content. In fact, the competition is so intense that these baptisteries are often overrated by fans and critics alike. This one has style.

12. Argos – Aspis Church. I have a soft spot for the Argolid and everyone knows that. This baptistery brings the ROUND and offers just a hint of synchronism for all you old school conversion fans out there. It won’t win a prize for style or design, but it’s there all day long.

11. Aigosthena-Attica. This church is just great and the site (ashlar walls, the sea, the mountains) is almost enough to move it into the top 10. For now, it’s the number 2 baptistery in Attica.

A solid building, good font, probably some arches, but it’s all about the setting.

10. Ialysos-Rhodes. You can’t talk baptisteries without Rhodes and Kos and this little gem is more than representative of the baptismal landscape there.

Apsidal room – check.
Cruciform font – check.
Parapet screen – check.
On an ancient acropolis – check.
Top 10 – check.

9. Brauron-Attica. This basilica is great, but the baptistery is show stopper. Curving walls, a circular baptismal chamber, some apses, and some changes in elevation. This place is special and almost anticipates a day when curves matter. It’s not Ronchamp, but it’s 6th c. Style.

8. Philippi-Octagon. Don’t let the church or the Pauline associations distract you! Here it’s all about the FONT. Square room, busy building, but then: BLAM: cross pattée. It is FLASH. Like someone wanted to show that EC architecture wasn’t all geometric forms and columns.

7. Nea Anchialos – Basilica C. This baptistery is a sleeper. Two phases. Subtle. Small, but complex. From a free standing building to an integrated one. It has a story to tell. Maybe from adult baptism to child baptism? Maybe changing styles and liturgy? There’s a lot going on.

6. Dion – Basilica B. Simple can be better. Octagonal font and three room baptistery:  Apodyterion-Font-Chrismarion. Textbook with just enough style to let people know that they planned this thing. Not quite top 5, but you can feel conversion here.

Oh, man. I’ve gotten so excited that I had forgotten to enjoy my pair of post-prandial Twizzlers!! This never happens except when I’m dropping some public science and doing my baptistery thing!!

Top 5. Here we go.

5. Paros Katapoliani Church. This church speaks for itself and the baptistery is part of that conversation. Apses and aisles and cruciform font. Maybe a dome. This is class in a church that makes me pun Theoktiste and want to escape from pirates to live there alone for 35 years.

4. Metropolitan Church at Gortyn on Crete. Is this controversial? Sure. Is it free standing. Without a doubt. There is a lot going on here: lobes, ambulatories, octagons, quatrefoil fonts. Maybe earlier doubters pushed this up the list a bit, but how could it not be top 5?

3. Kraneion-Corinthia. You’d have to be living in a jar not to it in the top 5. This church is all about SUBSTANCE. The baptistery is apsidal, the font is octagonal with steps, there is an ambulatory. Plus enough burials in the church and the area to remind you of life and death.

2. Damokratia Church – Demetrias. I know this will be controversial. It doesn’t bring the architectural bling of some, but the church is flashy and the baptistery is substantial. Damokratia did this church the right way and this baptistery deserves its spot in the list.

1. Lechaion. The Lechaion baptistery shines brighter than (and predates?) the church itself. Multiple geometric forms, visible adaptations, multiple fonts, apses, parapets, opus sectile, revetment. Plus possible martyrs who died by drowning?

There’s nothing more to say here.

 

 

 

Preliminary Thoughts on Artifact Recovery Rates from the Western Argolid Regional Project

This past week, I’ve started the intimidating task of crunching the data produced over three field seasons with the Western Argolid Regional Project. While we’ve made a few efforts to make sense of the data over the past five years, our dataset has been varying degrees of provisional and more pressing matters in the field and in the storerooms often attracted our attention. With the field and storeroom over five thousand mile away and our data as clean as any project can reasonably expect, now is the time for number crunching! 

In the past, we have tried to focus on a number of rather well defined publication projects: a preliminary report and various side projects that required some attention. This year, we wanted to shift our attention back to analysis and instead of producing fully formed publishable quality manuscripts, we wanted to produce some reports and moved the project forward without the pressure of polished final publications.

This summer, I elected to look at the variables that shaped artifact recovery in the field with the hope that this might inform how we analyze artifact patterns in the landscape. So far, I’ve just started but I can make a few observations (and these, if I recall correctly, largely follow observations that I made several years ago when analyzing a rougher version of the same data).

First, the most significant variable in artifact recover is surface visibility. Survey archaeologists have know this for years so it comes as no surprise. It appears that sherd density tracks pretty closely with density up to the highest visibility units (100%) where densities drop rather steeply (as does sample size!).

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 43 32

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 44 16

 

 

Tile densities track visibility a bit less regularly and follow a kind dromedary curve with a hump at 40% visibility and another peak at 90%. The reason for this is a bit unclear. It may be that tiles are generally a bit more visible in the plow zone so surface visibility doesn’t impact their recovery quite as dramatically. A good example of this is that many of the highest density units with tile are from the immediate vicinity of collapsing houses at Chelmis and Iliopouleika (6 of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20), and these units tend to have visibility below 50%. In these units, tiles are abundant and often fairly well preserved and this likely contributed to their relatively high recovery rates even from units with lower visibility.

Second, my old buddy David Pettegrew has been running similar analyses on the EKAS data (which is rapidly becoming available at Open Context). Of particular interest to him (and to us!) is the impact of background disturbance on artifact recovery rates. As we say in the WARP field manual: this category represents the degree to which a field walker’s ability to see artifacts on the ground is hindered or obscured. This is a distinct category from visibility since even a field with 100% visibility could still have heavy background disturbance. A useful rule of thumb is that when walkers are spending much of their time picking up rocks they think are pieces of pottery, the background disturbance is heavy.

There are any number of ways to measure background disturbance. For example, units with high background disturbance took about 2 minutes longer to walk than units with moderate or light background disturbance despite having an average visibility of 68.5% as compared to 47.3% and 57.0% for light and moderate background disturbance respectively. Units with high or moderate background disturbance had a tendency to produce more “Stone, Unworked” (which are really just rocks) than those with light or none (2.8 and 2.3 rocks from units with high and moderate background disturbance and 1.9 rocks from those with light and none). 

On EKAS, there was a relationship between background disturbance and artifact recovery rates. In fact, David has proposed a metric that takes into account background disturbance and visibility to understand recovery rates in those units (and he has plans to unpack some of this in a future publication). That said, when we analyze the background disturbance from the Western Argolid, it doesn’t seem to have a particularly strong relationship with recovery rates at least as manifest in artifact densities. 

For units with the heaviest background disturbance (n=672), in fact, artifact densities tracked more or less along with those from similar visibility units with the exception of two spikes at 40% (n=33) and 90% visibility (n=88) where units with heavy background disturbance produced higher densities than might be expected from visibility alone. In contrast, units with moderate and light background disturbances more or less followed the expected trajectory based on visibility alone. This suggests that background disturbance did not exert a predictable influence over artifact recovery.

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 45 08

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 45 59

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 46 42

We obviously recorded more variable than background disturbance and I have began to run quarries on our data that looks at these variable as well. So, if you’re a survey archaeology “method-head” you might want to stay tuned for more “exciting” methodological reflections in the coming week.

In the meantime, I also ran some queries based on artifact recovery and vegetation in our units. We had standardized recording terms for vegetation in each unit which ranged from “weeds,” “maquis,” and “phrygana,” to “citrus,” “olives,” “grain,” and “grain stubble.” It was possible to select multiple vegetation types for each field resulting in 27 combinations which appeared in at least 50 units. Various combinations produce artifact densities that under performed what one might expect from visibility alone.

The lowest visibility were typically flat units lower elevations (< 200 masl) with citrus or stone fruits (and not infrequently weeds). My guess is that these units were as likely to be shaped by their proximity to the Inachos River and its wandering course that deposit sediments carried toward the Argolidic Gulf. In contrast, units with higher slopes and elevations, often populated with olives, weeds, and (mostly volunteer) grains produced artifact densities that exceeded those predicted by visibility alone. This is as likely the result of historical phenomena as artifact recovery variables and shaped by the dense scatters associated with the fields around the acropolis of Orneai.

As you might guess, such hypotheses will have to be tested using our GIS data, but for now, I’m mostly just crunching numbers without too much attention to spatial concerns. Once again, this means more “method-head” goodness is likely to appear in these pages in the near future!