Late Roman Pottery on Kythera and Middle Byzantine Pottery from Thebes and Chalkis

The most recent issue of the Annual of the British School at Athens is a treat! It contains an article on the pottery from the site of Kastri on Kythera and a chemical analysis of the “Middle Byzantine Production” pottery from the sites of Thebes and Chalcis. After the yesterday’s election, it seems appropriate to spend a little time thinking about Greece today.

Forty Years On: The Pottery from Historical Kastri Revisited” by A. Johnson, K. Slane, and J. Vroom re-examines some key depositions and assemblages at the site of Kastri on Kythera. This site was originally excavated and published by J.N. Coldstream and G.L. Huxley in the early 1970s and played a significant role in understanding the cultural and economic connections between Late Bronze Age Kythera and Crete to its east. The site of Kastri, however, continued to be occupied through the Medieval period, and the the long-running Kythera Island Project (KIP) reexamined the historic period pottery from the Kastri excavations in light of recent research. Of particular interest in this assemblage is the material from Late Roman and Medieval deposits. 

The Roman and Late Roman material was studied by Kathleen Slane. Of particular interest to me was the assemblage of African Red Slip and LRC (also known as Phocaean Red Slip) wares because these types have often served as useful indicators of regional trade networks and tastes. The presence of a remarkably robust assemblage of African Red Slip and a relatively common form of late Late Roman C ware (LRC 10c) indicate that trade networks continued to function in the Mediterranean well into the final decades of the 7th century. An earlier, but distinct Late Roman phase included a nice group of 4th and 5th century sherds. 

The later Late Roman material from this site is particularly interesting because it suggests that Kastri participated in similar economic networks as the site of Corinth, Argos, Emporio on Chios, and Saraçhane. What is absent is any evidence for Cypriot Red Slip (LRD) wares which we have come to understand continued to appear quite late (8th c?) and circulated as far as Crete and Chios as well as on the island of Cyprus, the Levant, and southern Anatolia where is was likely produced. Also absent were Cypriot produced Late Roman 1 amphoras, despite the regular contact between Cyprus and eastern Crete. Because we know that African Red Slip is not uncommon throughout Cyprus (and perhaps somewhat more common on the eastern part of the island) and even the latest LRC wares appear across the island in substantial quantities, it would seem that the distribution of LRD wares to sites on the Greek mainland and far western Aegean was rather less common. The movement of ARS west to east is not shocking, of course, but the presence of LRC wares does indicate movement of goods (at very least ceramics) east to west. The presence of some LR1 amphoras, probably from northern Syria or elsewhere in the Levant, further confirms the flow of good west even in the 7th century. The absence of LRD would seem to be a matter of taste or expense. Perhaps the ready availability of African Red Slips and some forms of LRCs drove out the Cypriot Red Slip as it would seem occurred at some sites on Cyprus itself. 

In the same volume is an article by S.Y. Waksman, N.D. Kontogiannis, S.S. Skartsis, and G. Vaxevanis on the “Middle Byzantine Production” (MBP) pottery from the city of Thebes and its port of Chalcis on Euboea. MBP is a group of pottery with green and brown glaze and sgraffito decorations largely dating to the 12th and 13th century. Before I go on, a disclaimer. I am not a ceramicist and my interest in Byzantine pottery production and circulation has largely been as a spectator. I’ve recognized the growing momentum over the last two decades to refine the current chronology of Byzantine fine wares that circulated widely in Greece and the larger Eastern Mediterranean. Waksman et al. conducted chemical analysis of fine ware of the MBP type from the 12th and 13th century context in the cities of Thebes and Chalcis. This study determined that pottery from the two cities are distinct, and, more importantly, these two groups appear to be manufactured locally based on comparisons with earlier locally made material from the region.

Identifying MBP as local to Thebes and Chalcis strengthens the growing impression that this region was an productive economic center in the Middle Byzantine period. We’ve recognized the city of Thebes as an important political center with landed wealth (visible in the so-called Cadaster of Thebes which dates a century earlier than the MBP group) and significant investment in silk and dye trade. Now it would appear that Thebes and Chalcis were deeply involved in pottery production as well. The MBP enjoyed a vast circulation with significant deposits appearing as far east as Cyprus and the Levant and as far west as Lyon and Italy. The primary market for these types, however, appears to be Aegean basin which scholars had long suspected as the production center for these types.  

The chemical difference between types associated with Thebes and those from deposits in Chalcis indicates that Chalcis was more than just an emporium for the city of Thebes, but a thriving production center in its own right. The significance of Chalcis as a production center is tied to the production chronology MBP throughout from the end of the Middle Byzantine period (with its attendant political disruptions) into the Frankish period where the Byzantine state largely ceased to function in the Aegean basin. In its place emerged new economic (as well as political) networks that leveraged existing production centers. For example, the production of ceramics at Chalcis benefited from the close relationship with that city and Venice in the Frankish period. This relationship almost certainly facilitated the distribution of MBP ceramics around the Mediterranean basin.

More Early Byzantine and Late Roman Cyprus

The quantity and quality of scholarship over the last few years on Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus has been quite remarkable. Just a two weeks ago, I reviewed here another edited volume, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires, bringing together a wide range of voices on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus. Before that review was even done, I received another volume on nearly the same topic in the Centre Cahier du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43 (2013) on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD).” This work is a conference proceedings from a gathering I’m honor of Athanasios Papageorghiou held in Nicosia in November 2013 and organized by M. Parani and D. Michaelides. This volume can be a bit challenging to acquire in the U.S., but it is well worth the effort.

Here are my quick notes on the highlights in the volume:

1. Insularity. Articles by Isabella Baldini and Salvatore Consentino discuss insularity and Late Antique Cyprus. Consentino’s work is the more sophisticated of the two and looks at the role of islands and insular connections within the Late Roman Mediterranean. He concludes, unsurprisingly, military requisitioning and the long tail of Late Roman trade allowed islands to prosper into 7th century, and, at least in the case of Cyprus, maybe into the 8th century as longstanding connections between regions in the Eastern Mediterranean resisted various political and military challenges. 

Baldini’s work compares the churches on Crete and Cyprus and noted the greater likelihood of direct imperial patronage on Crete. The provincial capital of Gortyn for example had two churches with liturgical arrangements similar to that of Ay. Sophia in Constantinople (including the telltale ambo in the central nave and the doomed basilica of Ay. Titus) point to close ties to the capital. In Cyprus, certain evidence for connections to churches of the Aegean basin exists in pockets on the island, but despite Baldini’s relatively optimistic reading of the links between Cyprus and the capital, the ties appear more tenuous.

2. New Excavations. Tom Davis provides a very useful summary of the first season of his new Kourion Urban Space Project (KUSP) which has begun to sketch out the extent and material culture of the Early Byzantine (post-earthquake) Kourion. Georgios Georgiou’s documents the excavations at Mazotos which revealed a lovely little baptistery. (As an aside Georgiou should be gently scolded for his rather clumsy use of 7th century coins to date the structure. Coins provide a terminus post quem and in the unstable economy and uncertain currency situation of 7th and 8th century Cyprus, they likely enjoyed a far longer life than typical coin finds). My friends Amy Papalexandrou, Brandon Olson, Scott Moore and I discuss our recent work at Polis. Eleni Procopiou provides an overview of recent work around Amathus and Despo Pilides details her work on the Hill of Ay. Georgios in Nicosia. These short treatments combined with the treatments in Balance of Empires to produce a fairly comprehensive handbook to recent work on the island.

3. Liturgical Furnishings and Decoration. One particularly useful article in this volume is Doria Nicolaou’s survey of liturgical furnishings on the island of Cyprus. As someone who came to study Cypriot churches from the relative uniformity of liturgical organization and furnishings of the southern Balkans, the diversity of floorpans and liturgical arrangements in Cypriot churches is bewildering. Nicolaou’s short article takes an important first step in sorting out the evidence for liturgical furnishings on Cyprus. Olivier Bonnerot’s work on the material used in wall mosaics adds a material science dimension to this work, and as his base of evidence expands, we could imagine this producing important understandings of the processes used to create Early Christian spaces.

4. Troodos. On Cyprus, the last frontier for understanding the Late Roman and Early Christian period are the Troodos Mountains. Tassos Papacostas provides a key introduction to the complicated situation of the mountains on Cyprus during Late Antiquity. While elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean during this period, increasingly marginal lands are being used and settled, on Cyprus, the Troodos mountains appear all but abandoned of significant (i.e. visible) settlement at this time. What is strange is that Cyprus appears to be prospering during Late Antiquity and settlement on the coastal plain expanding significantly. Moreover, recent work by intensive survey in the Troodos demonstrates that mineral resources continued to be extracted from long-known veins and the island contributed substantially to the increasing military requirements of the Late Roman state. So why there are so few settlements in the Troodos remains unclear. Perhaps the 4th century earthquake led to substantial population decrease or contraction of settlement leaving plenty of open land available for Cypriots at the end of Antiquity. Perhaps land in the Troodos was used only intermittently and seasonally leaving behind only very limited artifact scatters. Or perhaps, as Papacostas suggests, the large urban areas along the southern coast represented the outlets for goods from the mountainous interior and the economic centers of Cypriot settlement.

5. Early Byzantine and Late Roman Administrative Life. Charles Stewart and David Metcalf provide insights into the administrative life on the island. Stewart provides a much needed survey of the Late Roman fortifications on the island with special attention to the walls at Amathus, Salamis-Constantia, and Carpasia. David Metcalf uses the evidence from sealings to demonstrate that the island continued to be tied to the capital and Byzantine administrative structures even during the so-called Condominium period when the island was supposed to be under joint Byzantine and Arab rule.

This volume deserves place next to Davis, Stewart, and Weyl Carr’s Balance of Empires as a key recent contribution to the study of Late Antique Cyprus. For scholars interested in the next big thing, I’d start clearing space for some volumes on the archaeology and history of Hellenistic Cyprus.

Rural Roman Landscapes of Greece

Now that I’m back working in Greece, I’ll have to start paying closer attention to the annually published Archaeological Reports, and a number of my colleagues helped me out by tipping me off to some of the nice contributions to this year’s edition. Generally speaking, Archaeological Reports summarize recent research in particular chronological period, and mostly they have focused on newly discovered and published sites.  

I was especially glad to read Daniel Stewart’s summary treatment of rural Greece during the Roman period. He does a nice job surveying (pun, pun) the work of intensive pedestrian survey projects in Greece, and this is no easy task as many of these projects have not published traditional archaeological volumes, but in scattered articles in edited volumes and journals. Better still, he goes a step further and considers the general direction of intensive survey in Greece with special reference to the challenges of the Roman period. This attention transforms what could have been a parochial survey of newly discovered Roman rural sites into a must read for anyone interested in intensive pedestrian survey.

Stewart identifies four major areas of development in intensive survey: challenges to ceramic typologies, refined collections strategies, studies across landscape zones, and interdisciplinarity. He does a nice job communicating the problems associated with ceramic chronologies for the Roman period and the vexing, but somehow inescapable dependence on the Early, Middle, and Late Roman chronological division. (I blame prehistorians for passing this chronological structure onto us.) David Pettegrew’s landmark Hesperia article on the “busy countryside” of Late Roman Greece was cited with approval (pdf here). 

At the same time, I think any close observer of survey archaeology would agree with these developments broadly speaking, although one could also say that these recent development have characterized the general trajectory of intensive survey since the 1980s. For example, survey archaeologists have always been working to refine their collection strategies to sample more effectively the material on the surface, and Stewart’s attention to re-survey is less a product of recent methodological refinement and more of a particular opportunistic, expression of longstanding interest in how best to sample and document kaleidoscopic surface assemblages. Stewart is right in recognizing that site classification remains a challenge for intensive survey projects and this is tied directly to the intensity of sampling. More rigorous sampling techniques produce a greater range of sites both in terms of size and, in many cases, in terms of functional assemblage. In some conditions, as few as a handful of fine ware sherds can represent activity in the landscape, but they intensity, type, and duration of activities at that particular place must remain undefined. 

The same could be said for recent attention to interdisciplinarity. The earliest efforts at intensive survey in Greece incorporated ethnographic and scientific components to their work embracing the twin influences of processual archaeology and the unstructured perambulations of early modern travelers. By the late 20th century, it was unthinkable to conduct a survey without geologists, a plan for sectioning pottery, biologists to help understanding flora and fauna, and ethnographers to interpret local knowledge. It was odd that Stewart did not mention the influence of geologists as being particularly important to recent trends in intensive survey. 

Finally, efforts to survey different landscape zones has been part of the survey archaeologist’s tool kit from at least the dawn of the Second Wave of survey projects. This is hardly a new trend or one deserving particular mention. In fact, one could argue that recent (21st century) permit limits that impose a 30 sq km maximum study area for intensive survey project have led to a shift from more extensive approaches to the Greek landscape to a more intensive focus on collection and sampling strategies. Intensive survey is committed to saying more with less.  

I also think that Stewart’s emphasis on the fragility of the surface assemblage in light of more intensive agriculture and development in Greece is misplaced or, at least, poorly defined. It seems hard to image even the most intensive collection regimes putting much of a dent in the abundant material present in a surface assemblage. In fact, our work on Cyprus in conditions in every way compatible with those in Greece suggested that typical sampling methods for intensive survey (20% of the surface) collect less than 10% of the material visible and that assemblage of material is only a tiny fraction of the material present. While deep ploughing/plowing does present a risk to archaeological remains (not to mention soil health), from the perspective of intensive survey, the danger is more closely related to movement of artifacts in the landscape than to any significant destruction of the archaeological record. 

I would have liked Stewart to focus more (any?) attention on the reluctance of the significant second wave survey projects (i.e. Pylos Regional Archaeology Project (update: I included PRAP accidentally in this list!), Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, Kythera Island Project, et c.) to make their raw digital data freely accessible. This has had a substantial impact on our ability to comparing and synthesizing the landscapes produced by these projects.

I might have also liked to see some critique of the tendency toward parochialism in Greek archaeology of the Roman period. Of course, this is a generalization that some might see as unfair, but it nevertheless would have been useful to understand how our understanding of rural Greece in the Roman period contributes or responds to similar interest elsewhere in the Mediterranean. For example, scholars invested in intensive survey methods have focused on rural Roman landscape across the Mediterranean basin. The work of these scholars have produced significant data both in terms of material and methodology for any understanding of Roman Greece.  

Despite my critiques (which are mostly saying that I’d write a different article!), Stewart’s article provides a nice summary of recent work and a great point of departure for anyone interested in staying abreast of recent research in the rural world of Roman Greece. 

Check out David Pettegrew’s review of this article here.

Cyprus and the Balance of Empires

I was pretty excited to pick up at the ASOR annual meeting the volume titled Cyprus and the Balance of Empires edited by Tom Davis, Charles Stewart, and Annemarie Weyl Carr. The volumes consists of a series of papers focused on the period from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion originally presented at Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in a 2011 conference.  This work should be read alongside the recently published volume from the Cahier du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD)” to provide a sweeping overview of recent research on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus.

As per usual, I will not provide a full review of this volume, but make some quick observations. I’ll mainly focus on the first eight chapters which focus on the Late Antique and Early Byzantine period on the island. 

1. Churches. Like Cypriot archaeology, this volume is very interested in churches. It contains summary publications by D. Michaelides on his newly excavated church at Ayioi Pente in Yeriskipou, E. Procopiou from her martyrium at Katalymata ton Plakton on the Akrotiri peninsula, and a massive synthetic article by Charles Stewart on the development of Byzantine architecture on Cyprus.

The most famous of these churches is the massive martyrdom at Katalymata with its western facing apse. Procopiou interpretation of this building as a 7th century martyrdom with clear architecture ties to both Egypt and the Levant is almost certain correct, and reinforces the position of Cyprus as a major center of pilgrimage in the 6th and 7th centuries with important churches at Amathous, Salamis-Constantia, Limassol (Neapolis), and now on the Akrotiri peninsula.

D. Michaelidis publication of the salvage excavations at Ay. Pente expands the corpus of Early Christian churches on the island and provides particularly useful parallels for the basilica at Polis-Chrysochous which I’ve been working to publish. Both the Ay. Pente church and the South Basilica at Polis are surrounded by graves and the stone lined ossuaries at Ay. Pente are similar to those a basilica EG0 at Polis. The relationship between contemporary burials and cult activities across the island in the 7th century is quite clear and consistent. I was similarly intrigued by what appears to be a south porch on the basilica at Ay. Pente which is another feature shared with the South basilica at Polis. Unfortunately the plan of the church at Ay. Pente is pretty disturbed so it is difficult to understand whether this south porch was associated with a southern atrium like at the South Basilica. I’m beginning to wonder whether these south porches provided sheltered access for rituals attached to important burials on the island. 

2. Architectural Development of Churches on Cyprus. Charles Stewart’s sweeping review of church architecture on Cyprus deserves its own number in my non-review. His survey was, as one would expect, thought provoking. Stewart began his work by critiquing the dichotomies that have structured past studies of church architecture on the island. Starting with Megaw who asked whether Cypriot architecture was “metropolitan or provincial” and continuing through Curcic who asked whether Cypriot architecture was provincial or “regional” in character. Of course, Dikigoropoulos 1961 dissertation located Cyprus “betwixt Greek and Saracen” and numerous subsequent scholars have found both productive and reductionist parallels between the islands current divided political situation and its historical place a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Stewart, then, was right to critique the overdetermination of these binary readings of Cypriot architectural history. In its place, Stewart argued that throughout the Early Byzantine period Cyprus’ place in the Mediterranean shifted according to local political, economic, and religious influences. There was no single core for which the island stood as the periphery, but multiple cores and peripheries that shaped the island as an architectural space.

Without getting into the detail of Stewart’s article, I do wonder whether he replaced on set of dichotomies with another. He seemed inclined divide architecture influences between those from the island and those from outside the island creating a Cyprus: Not Cyprus dichotomy. While historically this makes sense, as the corpus of basilicas on Cyprus have generally been seen as unique, I do wonder whether we should look at the communities on Cyprus as independent actors rather than simply individual representations of some island wide tendencies. I suspect that some communities on the island looked at their neighbors for inspiration while others looked far beyond the island’s shores. 

3. Survey and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Marcus Rautman’s article provides a nice overview of the work done by regional surveys to illuminate the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods on the island, and the rural landscape in particular. A key point in this article is that the late 7th century and 8th century landscapes may be much more elusive from an archaeological perspective. Rautman argues that the disruption of region trade, particularly sponsored by the imperial government, created a landscape dominated by short-term settlements rather than substantial and stable investments on the countryside characteristic of 6th and early 7th centuries. These short-term settlements and more contingent practices are less visible to the archaeologist and sometimes misinterpreted as population decline or abandonment.

4. Chronology and Ceramics. It was pretty remarkable that a collection of articles dedicated to the Late Romana and Early Byzantine period on Cyprus did not include a single article focusing exclusively on ceramics. David Metcalf’s article on seals and coins and Maria Parani’s all-too-short contribution on everyday life reminded us that small finds can play a key role in understanding the island’s economic, social, and administrative context. The lack of an article dealing specifically with locally made cook pots, the long-lived Late Roman 1 amphoras, or the regionally produced Cypriot Red Slip table wares, speaks to archaeological traditions on the island that despite well-known contributions by no less a scholar than Hector Catling or David Soren, continues to be dominated by students of architecture, icons, styles, and top-down history of church patrons, imperial officials, and bishops. Davis’s and Stewart’s overview of the study of Byzantine archaeological work on Cyprus emphasized the long-standing nature of existing research agendas despite the continued inroads of scholars like Marcus Rautman, Michael Given, and … err… me, Scott Moore, and David Pettegrew.

The book has much to offer the student of Late Roman and Byzantine Cyprus and contributes to the impressive and growing body of knowledge about the island during these periods. Now, we just need to get scholars from outside the island of Cyprus to read and consider the work done on Cyprus, and for archaeologists who work on Cyprus to continue to work to place the island within a wider context. 

Connectivity in Cyprus and Corinth

Over the last few weeks, David Pettegrew and I have been working on an article that compares finds data from the Corinthia and from our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. We were particularly interested in understanding how the types of ceramics that we can identify in survey assemblages shapes the types of economic relationships we can recognize in the Eastern Mediterranean. As one might expect, our focus has been on the Late Roman world, and we have been particularly interested in the difference between the kind of economic relationships manifest in assemblages comprised of highly visible amphoras and those manifest in highly diagnostic Late Roman red slip wares. The entire project is framed by Horden and Purcell’s notion of connectivity and that’s the unifying theme of the volume to which this paper will contribute.

The paper is exciting because it represents a step beyond the work that David has been doing on his book on the Isthmus of Corinth. I’ve read a draft of the book and it’ll be exciting. It also represents the next step for our work with the Pyla-Koutsopetria data. It is significant that all of our survey data upon which this paper is based, is available on Open Context. Our book should be available in time for the holidays. 

The draft below is 95% of the way there with only a few niggling citations to clean up. Enjoy and, as always, any comments or critiques would be much appreciated!

Communities of Practice in Late Antique Roman North Africa

One the best things about being a sabbatiquol is getting a chance to make a dent in my backlog of reading. This week, I pushed on through Leslie Dossey’s Peasant and Empire in Christian North Africa (Berkeley 2010). I am only 5 years late!

As you might guess, I read the book as I am collecting my thoughts and citation for a short article with David Pettegrew comparing evidence for connectivity in the Eastern Corinthia (via EKAS data) and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus (via PKAP data).  David and I will, more or less, follow current trends in discussions of Late Roman trade, but trying to find the fine line between older arguments that recognize most ancient economic activity as state sponsored and more recent arguments that see the economic structure of the ancient world outlined in a series of relationships between interdependent, but relatively autonomous microregions. Juxtaposing these two understandings, of course, implies more of a dichotomy than actually exists. As I argued last week, there is an issue of visibility that complicates matters. Economic activity that took place at a scale sufficiently large to be visible was likely mediated by the state. In fact, most of our typologies of ceramics – particularly transport amphora from Late Antiquity – focus on vessels used for the distribution of agricultural goods on a very large scale. In fact, the scale alone the massive quantities of highly visible Late Roman amphoras compromises an romantic (and frankly silly) notion of an economy powered exclusively by small scale cabboteurs carrying a few amphoras from each port of call.  

Dossey’s book sets out one way to understand the relationship between individual communities and large-scale trade in the Mediterranean by arguing that indigenous communities (i.e. communities of not fully Romanized “peasants” in imperial North Africa) acquired growing access the diagnostic Late Roman material over the course of Late Antiquity. This access reflected both change in the status of peasants and, more importantly, the change in consumption patterns. The access peasants had to material associated in earlier periods with Roman or thoroughly Romanized populations of North Africa reflected decisions on the part of the Roman policy and peasant communities. The Roman and Romanized populations depended upon, the consumption of red slip pottery, as a marker of distinction and elite status during the initial centuries of Roman rule in North Africa. This occurred because the Romans undermined the traditional land tenure, village settlement structure, and production patterns in the region and drew peasants onto larger estates where the Romans could exert considerably more control over peasant consumption patterns through social pressures and the increasingly monetized nature of the Roman economy that focused on production for urban elites and export.

For Dossey, then, Roman rule led not to depopulation – as some have argued – but the collapse of an identifiable rural signature for the non-Roman population. The “reappearance” of the rural population in Late Antiquity occurred not because peasants began to reoccupy the countryside, as some have argued, but because of the breakdown of Roman social, economic, and – at least during the 3rd century – political organization. This breakdown had an economic impact in that it motivated the redevelopment of rural industry as it sought to fill the gap left by the larger disrupted economic relationships. The development of rural industry and the breakdown of traditional social and political order also created space for changes in peasant consumption. Not only did peasants have greater access to material, but they also took the opportunity to subvert weakening social pressure by adopting increasingly Roman habits.

While she doesn’t articulate it specifically in this way, Dossey describes Roman and Late Roman consumption patterns (and attendant archaeological visibility) in North Africa as a function of communities of practice. I’ve been messing with these ideas over the last year or so as a way to understand variation in Late Roman ceramic assemblages across the island of Cyprus. Our site at Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, showed a far greater variety of imported fine wares than, say, the site of Polis-Chrysochous on the western side of the island. Both sites showed signs of 6th century economic prosperity, but it manifest in substantially different assemblages of pottery. 

The idea that assemblages are not exclusively representative of access to materials, but also represent decisions by communities adds a level of complexity to my own tendency toward systemic arguments. Both the Eastern Corinthia and Pyla-Koutsopetria are areas that show significant engagement with the economic power of the Late Roman state. At the same time, both areas show distinct assemblages of table and fine ware that hint at the workings of communities there.  

Late Roman Economy and Formation Processes

I’ve spent some quality time with the most recent volume of Late Antique Archaeology this past month in preparation for writing a short contribution with David Pettegrew on connectivity in the Late Roman eastern Mediterranean. We plan to compare the Late Roman assemblages produced by two survey projects:  Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Project and Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeology Project. An important component of both assemblages is Late Roman amphoras: EKAS produced substantial quantities of Late Roman 2 Amphora probably produced in the Argolid; PKAP produced quantities of Late Roman 1 Amphora produced both on Cyprus and in southern Cilicia. We hope to discuss how the concentrations of these common transport vessels reflected and complicated how we understand economic patterns in the Late Antiquity.

Over the past half-century two basic models for the Late Roman economy have emerged. The earlier models saw the state as the primary engine for trade in antiquity. More recently, however, scholars have argued that the core feature of ancient trade is small-scale interaction between microregions across the Mediterranean basin. While there is undoubtedly some truth in both models, the latter has substantially more favor among scholars at present and the volume dedicated to connectivity focuses on the kind of small-scale interregional exchange that created a network of social, economic, and even cultural connections that defined the ancient Mediterranean world. The classic question introduced to complicate our view of ancient connectivity is: if the ancient Mediterranean is defined by these small-scale connections, then why did the political, economic, social, and even cultural unity of the communities tied to the Middle Sea collapse with the fall of Roman political organization in Late Antiquity?

Figure4 18

This is where David and I want to introduce the complicating matter of formation process archaeology. The substantial assemblages of Late Roman amphora represent the accumulation of discard from two “nodes” within the Late Antique economic network. These two nodes, however, are particularly visible because of the substantial concentration of a class of transport vessel.

These transport vessels most likely served to transport supplies to imperial troops either stationed in the Balkans or around the Black Sea, or in the case of the Eastern Korinthia, working to refortify the massive Hexamilion Wall that ran the width of the Isthmus of Corinth or stationed in its eastern fortress near the sanctuary of Isthmia. The visibility of these two areas depends upon a kind of artifact associated with a kind of exchange. As David has noted the surface treatments associated with LR2 amphora make them highly diagnostic in the surface record. LR1s, in turn, have highly diagnostic, twisted, handles that make them stand out from a surface assemblage dominated by relatively undifferentiated body sherds. In other words, these amphora assemblages represent a visible kind of economic activity.

The impact of this visible type of economic activity on our understanding of Late Roman connectivity is complex. On the one hand, the kind of persistent, low-level, economic connections associated with most models of connectivity are unlikely to leave much evidence on the surface. The diverse and relatively small group of very diverse amphoras, for example, found upon the coasting vessel at Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus would have been deposited at numerous small harbors along its route. Moreover, the fluidity of the networks that characterized connectivity would have made the routes of caboteurs irregular and contingent on various economic situations throughout the network of relationships. This variability and the small-scale of this activity is unlikely to have created an archaeologically visible assemblage at any one point on these routes. More than this, overland trade in wine or olive oil may not have used amphoras at all further impairing the archaeological visibility of the kind of low-level connectivity characteristic of Mediterranean exchange patterns. Between ephemeral containers and variable, low-density scatters, the regular pattern of archaeological exchange characterizing connectivity will never be especially visible in the landscape.

In contrast, imperial provisioning requirements, fueled for example by the quaestura exercitus, would present exceptionally visible assemblages of material. The interesting thing, to me, is that the amphoras visible on the surface in the Korinthia and at Koutsopetria  are not what is being exchanged, but the containers in which exchange occurs. The material exchanged, olive oil and wine, are almost entirely invisible in the archaeological records on their own. The visibility of these two places reflects the presence of outlets for a region’s produce. The produce itself, however, leaves very little trace, and we have to assume that networks that integrated microregions across the Mediterranean functioned to bring goods from across a wide area to a particular site for large-scale export.

The collapse of these sites of large-scale export during the tumultuous 7th and 8th centuries did not make trade between microregions end, but it made it more contingent and less visible, as I have argued for this period on Cyprus. The absence of large accumulations of highly diagnostic artifact types in one place represent a return to our ability to recognize normal patterns of Mediterranean exchange as much as the disruption of this exchange. The decline of these sites both deprived archaeologists of visible monuments of exchange and ancient communities of a brief moment of economic stability within longstanding contingent networks.

Connectivity on Cyprus and Corinth

David Pettegrew and I are working up a paper for a volume on connectivity in the ancient Mediterranean. Connectivity has been a buzz word in Mediterranean archaeology since Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea used it to describe the regular pattern of small-scale connections between microregions. These microregions depend upon connectivity for political and social stability and economic subsistence.  

Our original plan was to compare the artifact assemblages at our two research sites on Cyprus: Polis-Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria and show how these two sites engaged the broader Mediterranean world in a different ways. They not only showed links to different regional networks of exchange, but also showed different kinds of relationships to these networks. Polis, for example, was a small city and Koutsopetria seems to have been a regional emporium directed toward the export of agricultural goods. 

After mulling this paper over for a few weeks (and missing some deadlines and conjuring enthusiasm for various arguments), we decided to take a shot at making a very generous deadline extension and turn the paper in a different direction. David is almost finished his book on the history of the Corinthian Isthmus based heavily on the work of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) and we have also recently submitted our completed manuscript documenting our intensive survey at Pyla-Koutsopetria. So it occurred to us that we might productively compare the results from these two survey projects as they share methods and sampling strategies.

More than that, the assemblages produced by comparable methods have certain clear similarities. Both study areas produced an abundance of Late Romam material particular easily-identified Late Roman amphoras. In the case of Koutsopetria, these are largely Late Roman type 1 amphora. In the Corinthia, the survey area produced a substantial quantity of Late Roman type 2 amphoras. While neither amphora was produced locally, both are regional types and LR1 kilns are known on Cyprus and there are LR2 kilns in the Southern Argolid. Both of these amphora types have been associated with forms of administrative trade in the Late Roman world, and provisioning the army on the borders of the empire in particular. 

Connectivity has tended to focus on the small-scale trade between interdependent microregions rather than the larger-scale, administrative trade. In fact, considering the role of this larger-scale trade in our notions of connectivity marks a return to older notions of trade in the Late Roman world which saw economic activity largely stimulated by the requirements of supplying the capital and the armies. The Corinthian Isthmus featured both imperially funded construction in the Hexamilion wall and, at least in the 6th century, a garrison of troops at fortress at Isthmia. The appearance of LR2 amphora in this context suggests the movement of goods into the area most likely to provision the garrison and to supply construction crews associated with the Hexamilion wall renovations in the 6th century.

At Koutsopetria, the abundance of LR1 is perhaps tied to the need to supply the army in the Balkans. The site may have served as a transshipment point for agricultural produce leaving Cyprus through the small embayment there. The numerous fragments of amphora there makes it unlikely that they represent goods coming into a small community, but more likely represented exports. The uniformity of the amphora types also suggests that goods are flowing out from the site in a systematic way.

The advantage of comparing these two study areas is to present a useful counterpoint  to the common view of connectivity that emphasizes links between microregions. Our paper will return to a view of the Mediterranean that considers the links between small places and the center while at the same time attempting to understand how these connections influence their relationships to other small places in their regions.

Archaeology of Sound

Every now and then when I’m in the field, I panic about falling behind in my journal reading and letting the ENTIRE DISCIPLINE PASS ME BY.

WHAT?? Archaeological Dialogues has an issue dedicated to ROMANIZATION? I thought about that once, like four years ago! I must… read… now!

WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY has forthcoming volume dedicated to the archaeology of sound? I know people working on that RIGHT NOW and how can I possibly interact with them without being familiar with soon-to-be-published articles. More than that, I’m an audiophile and I need to understand the archaeology of connectors. And I’ve done archaeology of the contemporary world (forthcoming) so I must understand what was albums were found on the floor of a commune where the Grateful Dead once live.  

It’s not that it has to happen eventually – like say while I’m on sabbatical – it has to happen now.

So instead of spending a weekend catching up on vital scholarship and remaining relevant to my discipline, I decided to clean up some audio file that I captured over the past few weeks in the field.

On my hike to the cave, I encounter a fairly agitated hawk and this what he (or she) sounded like:

We’ve also had the good fortune of encountering some very vocal goats:

And some excitable frogs (especially at night!):

Finally, you can faintly hear the bells of the church at Kaparelli at the western edge of our survey area:

A Bridge

This is mainly to start a blog post with the line that I want you use at the beginning of an important article:

“The study of Ottoman bridges in the Western Argolid remains in its infancy. The goal of this brief article is to bring attention to a small, but important body of Ottoman bridge work in this region.”



This lovely arch spanned a small ravine and carried a switchback kalderimi road down a low saddle to the village of Lyrkeia and our survey area. The stone work is lovely consisting of local grey limestone faces with smaller stones used as chinking. The arch itself is made of thinner stones arranged carefully with a substantial quantity of pebbly white mortar.

The road that leads to this bridge runs on its own carefully wrought terrace through olive groves. The is evidence that the bedrock had been cut back to let the road pass more easily. The bedrock was close enough to the surface to allow it serve as paving for part of the route, and it probably made this particular field appealing for use as a road (and less than appealing for agriculture!).